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Geoscientist Online

The Abyss of Time

sryiIn his latest book, Paul Lyle presents a learned, well-designed and readable account of time in a geological context, drawing its title from James Playfair’s famous aphorism when reflecting on the enormous length of time revealed by the Siccar Point unconformity. It might perhaps have been subtitled ‘The intelligent person’s guide to eternity’, as its intended audience is those with a general interest in the natural world, its development and its future.

Specifically it is aimed at those making environmental and development policy who should be better informed of the temporal and geological contexts of their decisions.  Plentifully illustrated with well-chosen good quality examples, it would also be a valuable source for introductory geology courses and for those working in the peripheral areas of the Earth sciences.

Lyle recounts how our thinking about deep time developed historically in the different perspectives of those who have contemplated it, from the ancient and medieval philosophers, through James Hutton and the Scottish Enlightenment, to the famous geologists and theorists of more recent times.

He reviews the formative debate about uniformitarianism and catastrophism, introduces the concepts of time’s arrow and time’s cycle and presents an elegant and succinct overview of the processes working on and within our planet, as we now understand them.

He describes the Earth’s development since the beginning, using time as a framework to explain the changes wrought on the Earth both by slow earth processes and by isolated events. Finally he examines contemporary phenomena, both natural and anthropogenic, and applies plate tectonic theory to peer further into the future. In the great scheme of things, while some may think of Man as the most significant being on Earth, we are left perhaps to infer that our effect on the planet itself and its ultimate future is likely to be negligible in the very long run.

Tangentially, useful and informative accounts are presented of methods of dating, from semi-quantitative approaches of sedimentology and palaeontology, to quantitative radiometric, dendrological and magnetostratigraphic methods.

Paul Lyle has spent a lifetime contemplating, teaching and writing about the unusually varied geology of the north of Ireland. For recreation he translates the poetry of Ancient Greece. Here he presents a philosophical account of the life of the Earth and reassures those who agonise over the ‘future of the planet’ that the Earth will indeed continue to change and life to evolve, with or without our own transitory species, and despite its behaviour.

Reviewed by Mike Young

THE ABYSS OF TIME by PAUL LYLE, 2015. Published by: Dunedin Academic Press 204pp (hbk) ISBN: 9781780460390 List price: £24.99. W: