Wednesday, March 21, 2007

McPhee, Alden, and Schott about Chalk

John McPhee just published a great new piece about Chalk in last week's New Yorker. It is apparently now too late to get anything but the abstract online, unless perhaps you are a subscriber. My mother promised to save me her copy.

Andrew Alden, who writes for, was apparently the first blogger to mention the new McPhee piece. Writing on Monday, Alden made the tragic mistake of stating that chalk is "largely unknown in the United States." On Tuesday, March 20th, Ron Schott left a friendly comment correcting Andrew's post and wrote a post of his own discussing the thick and paleontologically rich chalk beds of Kansas and the Great Plains of the midwestern United States. Ron excused Andrew's ignorance in lieu of the fact that Andrew now lives in California and presumably has little acquaintance there with rocks deposited in the Cretaceous embayment.

Andrew has today replied that his own remark about the dearth of chalk in the United States was actually more or less copied from John McPhee. He also notes that both he and McPhee are quite familiar with the geology of the eastern United States where they never heard any mention of chalk. Well, not so fast.... As I just commented in both Ron's blog and Andrew's blog, there is chalk throughout the Cretaceous embayment, east as well as west of the Mississippi River.

We may not have the Cliffs of Dover here, shown in the photograph above. Nonetheless, the chalk is so thick and dense in both Mississippi and Alabama that it retards groundwater movement and has important implications for both the migration of existing hazardous waste and possible deep storage. I believe that deep well injection into and beneath the chalk there is already being done, for example. Chalk microfossils are also studied by paleontologists here in the Southeast, many of whom work in the petroleum industry.



At 5:46 PM , Blogger Ron Schott said...

Ooohhh, the chalk is cropping out all over the place! Thanks for your comments, Don!

At 6:42 PM , Blogger Don Thieme said...

Well, unfortunately there are not many outcrops. So perhaps that is why McPhee underestimated it in eastern U.S, I have seen marl outcrops.

At 7:43 PM , Anonymous Andrew Alden said...

I appreciate the attention I'm getting, but really, I make mistakes all the time! This is not special! And I have never complained about learning something new, like the great extent of American chalk. I've just never been where it crops out yet.

The other nice thing about this conversation is discovering yet another good scientific blogger--Don, you may enjoy the About Archaeology blogger/writer, Kris Hirst, at

At 8:36 PM , Blogger Don Thieme said...

I am not a very popular blogger yet. So although I am very sloppy, I manage to get back in and fix most of my mistakes before anyone gets around to reading them. No one has caught one yet, at any rate. I do get caught all of the time on contract reports and drafts of papers in press.

At 8:34 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll also mention the Austin Chalk, of petroleum fame, in Texas.


Photos of outcrops


At 9:42 AM , Blogger Don Thieme said...

Outcrops... as close to heaven as I've been!

At 8:58 PM , Blogger GeologyJoe said...

One of these days Ill get out to Kansas and see this for my self. Then I can 'chalk' that up to experience.
I'm a New England geologist, so chalk is only for blackboards...wait to they still use those?

At 10:08 PM , Blogger Larry Keiler said...

The photo reminds me of Lawren Harris' arctic paintings.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home