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The Abyss of Time

The Abyss of Time


Scotland is part of the bedrock of geology, so to speak.

In the late 18th century, Scottish farmer and scientist
James Hutton helped found the science of geology. Observing how wind and water
weathered rocks and deposited layers of soil at his farm in Berwickshire,
Hutton made a conceptual leap into a deeper and expansive view of time. After
spending decades observing the processes of erosion and sedimentation, and traveling
the Scottish countryside in search of fossils, stream cuts and interesting rock
formations, Hutton became convinced that Earth had to be much older than 6,000
years, the common belief in Western civilization at the time.

In 1788, a boat trip to Siccar Point, a rocky promontory in
Berwickshire, helped crystallize Hutton’s view. The Operational
Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired
this image of the area on June 4, 2018, top. A closer view of Siccar Point is


At Siccar Point, Hutton was confronted with the
juxtaposition of two starkly different types of rock—a gently sloping bed of
young red sandstone that was over a near vertical slab of older graywacke that
had clearly undergone intensive heating, uplift, buckling, and folding. Hutton
argued to his two companions on the boat that the only way to get the two rock
formations jammed up against one another at such an odd angle was that an
enormous amount of time must have elapsed between when they had been deposited
at the bottom of the ocean.

He was right.

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