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10 New Year's Resolutions for Geologists


New Year's Day is the traditional time to make new resolutions, but a birthday or the start of school or any other day works too. Just as every place is at the center of a round world, so is today always the central point between past and future—the only time when a change in direction is possible. With that, here are some recommendations for a resolution.

1. See more rocks!

This one is easy to make (finding the time, maybe not so easy). Seeing more rocks makes you a better geologist, whether you're an enthusiast or a professional. At the same time, look more closely at rocks too, the minerals and fossils and features they contain, and don't forget the landforms where they crop out. And be sure to annotate the rocks you bring home.

2. Make a realistic life list.

Everyone says they want to see the dinosaur beds of the Gobi desert, an Antarctic glacier and the fall of a meteorite, but how many of us will ever actually succeed with that kind of life list? Better to make a list of geologic sites and destinations that you have a fair chance of completing. Better, perhaps, to make a list that matters by (1) having a time limit on it and (2) forcing you to go a little farther than before, not hopelessly farther.

3. Take a field trip. Or another one.

Anyone can do this, and it always stretches your mind. If you're attending a meeting, see what field trips are offered in the days before and afterward. If you're at home, get a field-trip guide for your region; pick one and follow the road log and locality notes on your own. Or join a local interest group, whether it's for rockhounds, fossil hunters or geoscientists, and enjoy some time in the field with them. You can even repeat a field trip but with different routes and schedules—sites can look completely new this way.

4. Appreciate your local resources.

Whether it's metal ore, aggregate, topsoil or geographic attractions, your area has Earth resources that contribute to your local economy and culture. Get closer to them in some way. Perhaps you can be included in a special tour—maybe as a class parent along with your kids. Do geology-related businesses support campaigns in your city? Seek them out and give them recognition. Are geologic resources unappreciated? Highlight them. Are they threatened? Defend them.

5. Add to your field equipment.

Here's another easy one. Whether it's a specialized pry bar or a better GPS unit, there's something new that will make your activities more productive. But also consider donating old field clothing and equipment to your car trunk. Someone saved my hide once in 2005 by pulling out an extra poncho. And you can never have too many magnifiers.

6. Get a local geologic map.

Let it show you your local landscape in a new guise. Researchers are always revising and improving the old maps, not just with new observations but with new explanations based on contemporary theories. Government agencies have extensive programs for publishing maps of bedrock, surficial deposits, soils and hazard susceptibility. Make use of this tax-supported asset. And one way or another, let a child stare at a geologic map and help it make sense to him or her. Maps can bring a kid's mind to life.

7. Speak up on a geologic issue.

Even if you don't know much about geology, you know more than most voters—and most government officials. If you think, as I do, that civilization would run better if it worked within its geologic constraints, then we have a lifetime's work ahead and this year is time to get started. This resolution is easy to satisfy with a letter-to-the-editor, or by keeping up a sustained, thoughtful presence on a popular blog. But if you have the credentials, consider speaking in person to an organized group or showing up to testify at a government hearing.

8. Try a new journal.

I say "journal" because that's what I read the most, but there is something for you whatever your level, starting with general-interest publications like Scientific American or, for geology, Earth. Even a subscription to my free weekly e-mail newsletter can satisfy this one. At the professional level, a possibility is to use the prepaid plans from GSA and AGU that let you pick a certain number of individual articles from a whole range of journals. These days, e-journals do away with the excuse that the bookshelves are full. I also think professionals should read a few popular geology books, just to know what the public is learning.

9. Put together a hazard kit.

Every place has some sort of hazard that involves Earth science. Mine is earthquake, but some of my neighbors also face floods, landslides, liquefaction and wildfire too. List all of yours, then learn what you need to get through at least three days without housing or power in good shape. Put together a survival kit. This is a resolution that all of us are bound to fail, because there's never enough preparation—after securing yourself, work on your neighborhood, workplace and city next.

10. Share your knowledge.

This resolution is an element of some of the previous ones. But what I mean here is to talk about geology to nongeologists, talk about science to nonscientists, talk about your version of the landscape to people who do other outdoor activities. I have a special request for geologists that I've been making for many years: Add something of your own to the Web, something in your own words and from your own heart. Inspire yourself by picking a few favorite geology blogs—maybe you'll start one too. For geology to assume the role it deserves, more people must learn what geologists know, what moves them and how their discipline is practiced.
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