Lessons from Middle Earth

Therese Dunphy

August 1, 2009

by Bill “Bilbo” Langer

 “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

This quote is from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which is still one of my favorite books. As a geologist with a special interest in the aggregates industry, I, like hobbit Bilbo Baggins, have spent many a day enjoying the comforts of a hole in the ground. Much of my knowledge about the aggregates industry has been gleaned from studying the faces of gravel pits and the highwalls of quarries. Even lunch “in the pits” is a pleasure, dining on a sandwich and soda while visually exploring the structures in the sediments or rocks from my seat on the bottom of an overturned 5-gallon sample bucket.

But I am not alone in enjoying the comforts of a hole in the ground. All over the world, the exposures in quarries and pits help geologists unravel the mysteries of our planet and how life has evolved. The geologic information mined from quarries and pits contributes to economic development by improving our ability to find new mineral resources, and plays an important role in understanding geologic processes such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, flooding, and landslides. And let us not forget the important role that aggregate operations play in the education of the budding geologists of tomorrow.

Sustainability has given birth to a new word — geodiversity — which is a term used primarily in the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Australia. Geodiversity is the geological equivalent of biodiversity and, in general, means ‘the variety of geological features.’ Frequently, geodiversity is used to emphasize the importance of geology in our daily lives and to encourage the conservation of areas that display diverse geologic conditions. 

The concept of geodiversity and geologic conservation presents a novel opportunity to aggregate operators. As stated above, quarries and pits can be a vital resource for geological education, training, and research. Aggregate operators can present this educational resource to schools and communities so they can discover and understand the world at their doorstep, and to universities and scientific organizations to conduct detailed scientific research.

Geological conservation does not inevitably require preserving features. For example, as quarry excavation advances, one exposure often is replaced by another of comparable interest. Aggregate companies can make a significant contribution to the study of geodiversity simply by allowing and encouraging research and educational visits. This can be accomplished by allowing scientists access to the quarry and by holding quarry tours, constructing self-guided viewing platforms, and providing on-site interpretative material such as information boards, leaflets, and maps for the general public. Interpretive information can describe geology and geologic processes, demonstrate links between geology and quarrying, and show how industry and people use the products from the pit or quarry.

Geodiversity presents a huge opportunity for the aggregates industry to create a better understanding of its work and leave something of lasting value to future generations. What does the industry have to gain? In the words of Tolkien…

“This is the story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected…He gained — well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.”

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