2015 is the Year of Mud

We take a lot for granted, but England’s Geological Society is here to make sure that mud isn’t one of them. The society declared 2015 the Year of Mud, says the website, to celebrate “a resurgence of interest in that most common of materials.”

There’s more to mud than most people realize. According to the Geological Society’s website

Mud represents both an end and a beginning—the end of the cycle of erosion and transport, and the beginning of the generation (through burial and transformation) of new materials of great value to society. 

Mud may begin as wet dirt, but it ends up in all kinds of useful places. Its texture and malleability make it a favorite building material of people all over the world. Liquid mud, or slip, is an essential component of pottery. Sedimentary rocks like shale are actually made of mud. Tourists and spa visitors pay good money to be plastered with therapeutic mud. And millions of creatures, great and small, make their homes in mud puddles, banks, and riverbeds.

To celebrate and raise public awareness of mud and mud science, the Geological Society scheduled a year’s worth of lectures, conferences, and activities. During Mud Monster week, the Society invited nursery school classes to adventure into the “Mud Monster Swamp” for a half-day of monster-building and geological education.

If you’re just finding out about the Year of Mud now, don’t fret: There are still a few months left to celebrate. UK citizens can attend the remaining events in person, and the rest of the world can catch up on lectures like The Glories of Mud via the Geological Society’s YouTube channel.

It’s a good day to take a good look at the ground beneath your feet. Earth Science Week is October 11 to 17. In an unrelated move, the United Nations General Assembly has also declared 2015 the International Year of Soils

Human Activity Has Permanently Altered Earth, for Better or Worse (Mostly Worse)

Modern humans have roamed Earth for just a few hundred thousand years. In the grand scheme of things, that's a very short period. But in that time, we’ve triggered mass extinctions of plants and animals, polluted the planet, and developed nuclear weapons—and our legacy will linger in both nature and the geologic record long after historical records have been lost, according to Ted-ED’s video below.

Modern humans have altered the Earth’s landscape and atmosphere so profoundly that some scientists say we’ve ushered in a new epoch called the Anthropocene, or "new age of humankind," from anthropo (human) and cene (new). Before this, we were living in the Holocene (meaning “entirely recent”), which began around 11,700 years ago and faded sometime around 1950.

The 1950s ushered in both the plastics revolution and the atomic age, both of which permanently introduced chemicals into Earth’s fossil record. Meanwhile, humans have also shaped long-term plant and animal evolution with agriculture, fishing, and hunting. In short, our actions have long-term consequences, even if the human species ends up being a blip on the geologic time scale. Remember that the next time you drink from a plastic bottle, or see a cloud of smoke billowing through the sky.

This Just In
Spelunkers Discover New Caverns in Montréal's Ancient Cave Network

An ancient cave system beneath a Montréal park is much more vast than experts believed, the National Post reports.

In 1812, a farmer discovered a cave underneath his property in Montréal’s present-day Saint-Léonard borough. Once used to stockpile ammunition and conceal soldiers during the Rebellions of 1837, the Saint-Léonard cave system in Parc Pie XII is today a tourist attraction and historical landmark. But some speleologists (cave experts) suspected there was more to the natural wonder than met the eye.

Beginning in 2014, two amateur explorers named Daniel Caron and Luc Le Blanc began searching for undiscovered passages in the Saint-Léonard caverns, according to National Geographic. By 2015 they had some leads; in October 2017, they used drills and hammers to break down a cave’s wall to reveal a new cavern.

The stalactite-filled chamber has soaring 20-foot ceilings, and it's connected to a serpentine network of underground tunnels. These passages formed during the Ice Age around 15,000 years ago, when glacier pressure splintered underground rock.

So far, Caron and Le Blanc have explored between 820 to 1640 feet of virgin cave passage, and expect to find even more. They believe the vast network sits atop an aquifer, and ultimately leads to the Montréal water table.

Spelunking the Saint-Léonard cave system is challenging—some passages are filled with water or require special climbing or rock-breaking equipment. The explorers hope that the caves will be easier to investigate during the dry season, and that the receding waters will allow them to reach new depths below Montréal’s surface.

[h/t National Post]


More from mental floss studios