Nature’s Underground Libraries

The city of Oxford (UK), where I have relocated since my last editorial, is a provincial metropolis of some 150,000 souls about 90 km northeast of London. Oxford is famous for its ancient collegiate university, with colleges dating back to 1096. The University of Oxford is slightly less well-known for its remarkable Bodleian Library, created in its present form in 1598 by Sir Thomas Bodley. It is one of just six copyright libraries in Britain and Ireland. A copyright library (or ‘library of legal deposit’) is one that, since 1662, has the right to request and store for posterity a copy of every new work published in English. As you can imagine, one copy of every book published in English amounts to quite a few books over the years. The challenge for any of the copyright libraries is where to store them all. For the Bodleian, in the spirit of the iceberg, the answer lies under the surface, where a substantial fraction of its 13 million print items is stored in vast underground vaults.

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Alps as Inspiration

Looking down on the Earth from space, the Alps appear to be a small, and possibly unimportant, adornment to the tremendous girdle of “Alpide” orogens that stretch the full width of the southern margin of the Eurasian continent. But seen up close, and with historical perspective, the Alps punch far above their weight. From the deepest prehistory of our hominid ancestors to the modern age, the Alps have been a formidable barrier to trade, communication, migration, and conquest across the small, but storied, “peninsula” of Europe—a fact brought home for me when I recently toured a museum in Bolzano (Italy) dedicated to the life and remains of “Ötzi”, a man who met his end five thousand years ago in the high peaks and ice fields of the Ötztal Alps.

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Fluids and the Field

As someone who firmly sits on the “Lab Rats–Computer Geeks” binary join of the geoscientist ternary diagram (Fig. 1), putting together this “Hydrothermal Fluids” issue of Elements has brought back some vivid memories of my yearly foray into field teaching. Faced with the task of explaining some complex, but fundamentally important, geological process encoded into the face of an outcrop, I would get the inevitable student question: “But why does that happen?” Invariably, my mumbled response would be, “Because of fluids….”. As pointed out – more expertly – by this issue’s guest editors Matthew Steele-MacInnis and Craig Manning, very little happens on Earth without with involvement of fluids, a fact that becomes immediately evident in the field, well away from the clean, dry and highly controlled laboratory environment that I am more comfortable inhabiting. Having finalized this issue, I am looking forward to giving much more detailed answers in the future!

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A Date for Odysseus

Time is a big deal for us geologists. Rates of Earth processes range from the mind-numbingly slow (mantle convection) to the catastrophically fast (volcanic eruptions) with everything in between. Geologists move effortlessly from units of seconds to giga years in a way that often confounds scientists in other disciplines; no geologist is unaware of humanitys’ fleetingly brief tenure of the planet in the grand scheme of things.

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Popping the Geosciences’ Bubble of Limited Diversity

One of the pleasures of serving as a principal editor of Elements is working with people from across the whole Earth science community, many from places, subjects and institutions who I wouldn’t encounter in the rest of my professorial life. This issue is a good example: its contributing authors and editors include men and women from four continents and seven countries, studying everything from isotope geochemistry to mining to advanced batteries to medical biochemistry, while working in universities, national labs, technology and mining companies, consulting agencies, and a medical center. This breadth reflects the efforts Elements makes to assure that the words in our pages capture the full range of insights and experiences of the diverse minds that are engaged in the Earth sciences. We are proud that many issues of Elements have authors and editors that almost represent a cross section of the world.

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A Symphony of Electrons

The concept of oxidation as the process that turns iron metal into rust is familiar to all of us. We might be equally familiar with reduction, the “reverse” of oxidation, by which iron metal is produced by heating iron ore with coke in a blast furnace. Rusting and smelting of iron are just two examples of reduction–oxidation (“redox”) reactions. As one species (e.g., the iron ore) becomes reduced, so the other (e.g., the coke) becomes oxidised. In redox, there is always something being oxidised and something else being reduced; it’s the yin and the yang of geochemistry, as the guest editors of this issue of Elements refer to it (cover).

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Our Academic Family

This past year has seen the departure of many of our great colleagues who shaped the fields of mineralogy, petrology, and geochemistry. They were part of our extended academic family and will be greatly missed. Although their academic contributions can be found in their curriculum vitae and scientific publications, their personal histories, the things that shaped their lives and careers, are more elusive. However, personal histories, where published, can capture the “human” aspect behind the scientist and include stories filled with happiness and humor, hardship and perseverance, and, above all, serendipity.

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The Once and Future Hydrogen Economy

I would like to know, now that we’ve reached the year 2020, where is the hydrogen economy I was promised? Hydrogen fuel cell cars lurk at the margins of the marketplace, and several governments and corporations continue to make large bets on hydrogen’s future, but as I look out the window at my battery assisted, hybrid car, I’m still left wondering “what went wrong”?

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