As a past student of Australian ecology, I have come to understand the immense gulf in character between the soils of Australia (and sub-Zambezian Africa) on the one hand and those of the rest of the (non-equatorial) world on the other. Owing to the fact that they have not been rejuvenated by mountain-building or glaciation, soils in Australia and sub-Zambezian Africa contain orders of magnitude less bioavailable phosphorus than other soils outside equatorial regions. The result is unique floral adaptations through features like proteoid roots and a vastly different hydrology that requires immensely larger storages to regulate rivers.
Serpentine soils, which are found in specialised geological situations whereby dense rocks are forced to the surface by plate collisions, are in this context interesting because they provide the only example in other temperate regions of soils comparably infertile to typical soils in Australia and sub-Zambezian Africa. Serpentine as a rock has been known since classical times, but the study of its peculiar mineralogical properties dates only from the era of systematic botany beginning around two hundred years ago. At the time, the most accessible examples of serpentine were to be found in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern North America, and it is on this that Dann focuses in "Traces on the Appalachians".
The book consists of a history of the serpentine "barrens" (so called because of their lack of vegetation even in a wet climate) of such states as Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas. Beginning with surprisingly good details of the Native American occupation of the area, he traces the history from that time up to when the "barrens" were first recognised as unique floral communities tightly related to their unique geology. Dann then looks at the history of the mining of serpentine lands, in a reverse chronological manner that manages to be very effective at showing how serpentine has been recognised through both history and prehistory. He then looks at the study of the evolution of serpentine from
and beyond, showing how ophiolites (the group of rocks which includes serpentine) arise as part of plate collisions (as I noted above). The last part looks at the broader history of ophiolites and how they are connected to findings that part of Newfoundland protruded above a relatively thin ice sheet during the Quaternary.
All in all, though this part is not as well-done as the others, it is still informative, and adds further to an impressive book that perhaps should have focused more on the problems serpentine soils pose for agriculture and other land uses owing to their low fertility and erosion risk - but otherwise comes definitely recommended.
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Traces on the Appalachians: Natural History of Serpentine in Eastern North America Paperback – 1 November 1988
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There is an imaginary line, a green line made of rock called serpentine, that stretches along the eastern part of North America, from Georgia to Newfoundland. This line marks the ancient ""geosuture”-the joining place of the North American and Eurasian continents during the geologic past. Kevin Dann’s Traces on the Appalachians is a natural and human history of serpentine. Geologists have pondered the serpentine for the story it tells of earth history. The gray-green serpentine outcroppings represent traces of the earth’s mantle, transported by sea-floor spreadings and thrust into the margins of the continent. They mark the collisions of tectonic plates and the birth of mountain chains. Botanists have puzzled over the strange plants that hopscotch their way along the dotted serpentine line, unable to live on more hospitable soil. To archaeologists, the artifacts carved from serpentine’s companion rock, soapstone or steatite, have yielded precious clues to the human past. Native Americans used soapstone for heating-stones, bowls, pipes, and oil lamps. Vikings gratefully recognized the soft stone in the New World and fashioned it into their own household objects. Today, we put it to use in pancake griddles, wood stoves, and chemistry lab sinks. Writing in the tradition of John McPhee, Kevin Dann brilliantly interweaves new and old science with tales of human endeavor, local history, and personal exploration. Any reader with a taste for natural history will want to join his search for serpentine.
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- Language : English
- Paperback : 150 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0813513243
- ISBN-13 : 978-0813513249
- Customer reviews:
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