Join a Series of Geological Treasure Hunts With Earth Science Week 2014

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Mammoth Rocks
Mammoth Rocks, Sonoma County (Andrew Alden)

Every year, around the opposite side of the calendar from Earth Day, is a loosely organized event called Earth Science Week. (It also has a Facebook page.) Earth Science Week is October 12-18 this year, and the special theme for 2014 is "Earth's Connected Systems." Think of it as a series of treasure hunts with a mass demonstration in the middle.

Sunday the 12th launches Earth Science Week with International EarthCache Day. EarthCaches are a science-oriented kind of geocache—you visit a precise location, using a GPS instrument, and follow a set of instructions to learn about what geological feature you're seeing there. Unlike ordinary geocaches, you don't retrieve a hidden box and trade for one of the trinkets inside. But you can earn a special EarthCache souvenir that day.

Monday is Earth Science Literacy Day. Task forces of geologists have been debating the concept of "Earth science literacy" for the last few years, deciding what are the most important things we want you to know. The Earth Science Week website suggests that you start with nine "big ideas." This page is pitched at teachers, but you can be your own teacher any time.

Honeycomb weathering at Pebble Beach, San Mateo County

Tuesday is No Child Left Inside Day. Teachers are finding it more and more of a hassle to take their classes outdoors, despite the well-known benefits of simply getting outside and walking around. Why not skip the permission slips and do it yourself, with or without a child of your own. Teachers of all kinds, even informal ones like most of us, can use a page of ideas and guidelines from the Earth Science Week organizers.

National Fossil Day is Wednesday, October 15. This is mainly celebrated by the National Park Service, and events are scheduled across the country. If you happen to be in Washington DC, the Smithsonian Institution is sponsoring a set of activities. But my friends on Twitter will surely be showing off their fossils that day too.


Thursday coincides with the Great California ShakeOut. Participating is very simple to do—at 10:16 that morning over 10 million people across the state will conduct a massive "drop, cover, and hold on" drill. This is something that we need to work into our culture—consider it a part of your identity as a Californian, and it only takes a minute. If you have more time, there are plenty more steps you can take on the ShakeOut site. My favorite easy-to-remember tip is "text first, talk second" after a major earthquake to save the load on the mobile phone network.

Thursday is also tagged as Geoscience for Everyone Day. Earth science Week's sponsor, the American Geosciences Institute, pitches this as a day for people to explore careers in the geosciences, especially those from under-represented groups. I've written more about that for KQED.

Serpentinite in the Oakland Hills, Alameda County

Friday is Geologic Map Day, celebrating one of my favorite things in geology, the colorful maps that show the different types of bedrock in a region. Geologic maps aren't just beautiful and interesting—they're useful for planning anything that digs up the ground, for finding minerals and avoiding hazards, and for a deeper understanding of the countryside around us. The California Geological Survey has a bunch of free maps online on its Information page.

Saturday winds up the week with International Archaeology Day, sponsored by the Archaeological Insitute of America. There are many events scattered around the country and the calendar, but I suggest that your nearest natural history museum would welcome visitors, that day or any other one.

Earth's connected systems reach into the atmosphere and space as well as into the ground and the deep past. That's why the space agency NASA is getting involved, too, with a set of events aimed at students and teachers. Perhaps you'd like to learn about clouds with a team of NASA atmospheric scientists; that's happening Friday morning.

Sedimentary rock
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,

All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.

Walt Whitman

The connections of the Earth's systems mean that everything geologists study can be brought to bear on global problems, often in unexpected ways. The central problem of climate change, and how we can cope with it, has connections throughout Earth science. Keep that in mind as you learn more about geology, the central science, next week.