15 February 2019 Excellent article in Forbes Magazine entitled THE GEOLOGY OF JULES VERNE’S JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH by geologist David Bressan who works in the eastern Alps.
A lovely area and where the Gartnerkofel core was drilled to examine the chemical changes across the biggest extinction of them all – the Permo-Triassic Boundary. I talk about this in my book ARCHITECTS OF ETERNITY in the section entitled ‘Drilling for the End of the World’
Here’s an excerpt:
Drilling for the End of the World. Gartnerkofel, near Reppwand, Austria, 46.30N, 13.15E. Sometime in the late 1980s
This high up the cold wind blowing round the shoulder of the mountain cut through Bill Holser’s fur-lined jacket like a scalpel even in the height of the Austrian summer. To the south the curtain of snow was still blowing off the summit of Mt Sernio. The snow plume seemed to be a permanent feature, or at least it had been in the three days since the scientific party had arrived. It formed a shimmering veil against the pale azure of the Italian sky. Further to the south the still bluer pool of the Adriatic lay in the crescent arms of Italy and Croatia. The air was crisp, the view spectacular. The mountains of the Carnic Alps towered all around him, a jagged and overlapping sequence that looked like tank-traps left over from the Second World War, isolating him from the rest of the world. This was the best part of being a palaeontologist, the places that you visited, the scenery you saw; in short: the fieldwork.
But to appreciate this place properly required imagination. You needed to see it with the four-dimensional eye of the palaeontologist. And that was what he could see in his mind’s eye now. Before it had been thrust into the sky by the Alpine mountain-building episode, he imagined it when it was still a shallow sea close to a shoreline pushing out into the western edge of the transglobal superocean called Palaeo-Tethys – the ‘father’ of the Mesozoic era’s Tethys – and therefore the ‘grandfather’ of the present-day ocean: the Mediterranean. In the days of the Palaeo-Tethys, the continents of the world were not as they are today. If man had been around then – some 250 million years ago – it would have been possible for him to walk from the Arctic to the Antarctic – a 12,000-mile journey across the supercontinent known as Pangea – the land mass that had been all the world of the late Permian, the last period of the Palaeozoic era.
And that was what brought him and the team here today. That deceptively simple question: just what was it that made the Permian the last period of the Palaeozoic? The argument was at least vaguely circular, the Permian was the last period of the Palaeozoic because its top was defined by a major mass extinction horizon, one that was big enough in fact to dwarf even the better-known K–T boundary. Many miles due south a line drawn from Holser’s current position would cross the coast betwen Venice and Trieste cross the norther Adriatic Sea then intersect the south-east-trending coastline of Italy, further on it would bisect the steepening mountainsides of Italy’s central spine until it arrived near a small town nestling in the Apennines: Gubbio; and just up the valley from there to the north-east the clay layer in the Bottaccione Gorge, the progenitor of their current enterprise.
That was it, that was why they were here, to see if they could repeat the Alvarez team’s success. The sound of a big engine starting split the quiet. The truck that had brought the rig up from Bolzano was reversing into position, grinding backwards until it was perfectly positioned over the white markers painted on the grass, then with a hiss of hydraulics the stabilisers winched down on to the frozen ground, the deck of the truck tilting and settling until it was perfectly flat, the frame of the rig now stark against the sky and surrounding mountains. A concentric circle of scurrying activity as the scientific crew ran around, hauling cables between the rig-truck and the electronics van which housed the gear the geophysics guys would use to monitor the down-hole parameters – principally gamma ray resistivity – which would tell them the density of the rock they passed through, a shorthand signature of the different formations penetrated, until they reached the rock layer that was their target.
A few miles to the west, in the direction of Tesero, were the local outcrops that had given their name to the formation that they sought far beneath their feet. The Tesero formation was the boundary bed, the thin division that separated the vast thickness of the Permian Belerophon formation from the overlying Triassic Werfen formation. The names of the narrower time divisions that these rocks represented were if anything even more exotic, the Dorashamian, the last period of the Permian, and the Scythian, the first period of the Triassic.
All over the Southern Alps parts of these formations were preserved but the overall thickness of the sedimentary sequence in this area – the very thing that made it valuable in fact – meant that all that could be seen were bits and pieces, small fragments of the total picture. And yet this succession in the southern Alps was the thickest and most continuous section of this age in all the world. Never mind the rumours that the newly discovered succession in South China was as good; even if that were true the palaeomagnetic reconstructions of the plate positions in the late Permian showed positively that the south China plate could not have collided with ancient Pangea at that time. Therefore its faunas could not be taken as representative. South China had been an island continent – a refuge that had finally collided with Pangea in the early Triassic – it had missed the main action. So, if they wanted to understand the extinction at the Permo–Triassic boundary then they needed an ‘edge’. A new angle on an old problem. And, after years of trying to organise financial and logistical support, they had made it.
They were finally going to get the ‘edge’ they needed – they were going to drill right through the Triassic and into the Permian.
Copyright Richard Corfield. Taken from ARCHITECTS OF ETERNITY All Rights Reserved.