Taxonomy term

david b. williams

Geology shaped outcomes of Civil War battles

About 10 years ago, Scott Hippensteel decided to trace the footsteps of an ancestor who fought in the Civil War at the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Md. His relative, William H. Tritt, fought with the Union in the 130th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, which, on Sept. 17, 1862, attacked Confederate soldiers entrenched in the infamous Sunken Road, a wagon-worn dirt road atop an embankment that farmers used to bypass the town. As Hippensteel walked the rolling topography himself, he quickly realized the tactical advantage the landscape afforded: The Union men became visible to their enemies only in the last 150 meters or so of their approach. Because of the single-shot rifle technology of the time, each Confederate soldier would have only had time to fire a few shots at their attackers, facilitating a more vigorous assault by the Union. The Union forces suffered heavy losses in driving the Confederates from the Sunken Road, but their ultimate success pierced the middle of the Confederate line at Antietam and led to the roadway being renamed “Bloody Lane.”

01 Jul 2016

Benchmarks: May 12, 1905: Andrew Carnegie donates 'Dippy the Dino'

As one of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists, Andrew Carnegie had come to expect that people would praise and honor him, but May 12, 1905, would be an unusual day for the Pittsburgh steel magnate. Never before had he been honored for donating a dinosaur. Carnegie’s contribution of a massive plaster model of a Diplodocus — at the time the largest-known animal to have ever trod the planet — to London’s Natural History Museum was part of the Scotsman’s dream to rid the world of war, which he called “the foulest blot upon our civilization.”

12 May 2016

Benchmarks: December 10, 1930: Seattle’s Denny Hill disappears

Few cities in the United States can rival Seattle for the scale of reengineering to its landscape. Not only did its citizens make more than 890 hectares of new land in its harbor, but they also replumbed the city’s largest lake, completely changing its drainage pattern and drying up its main outlet, and regraded tens of millions of cubic meters of its hills. The most famous of these projects was the elimination of Denny Hill, a 73-meter-high hill that stood at the north end of Seattle’s central business district.
10 Dec 2015

Public improvements, private funding

Seattle city engineer Reginald H. Thomson may have been the driving force behind the Denny Hill regrades, but they could not have occurred without public support. In order for a regrade to proceed, at least 50 percent of the people who lived in the affected areas had to sign a petition. For example, the Second Avenue regrade needed the signatures of 67 property owners. A completed petition triggered the next phase, which was a city council ordinance that defined the boundaries of the regrade. A second ordinance then provided the funding mechanism, or what was known as a Local Improvement District (LID). 

10 Dec 2015

Geomedia: Toys: LEGO® geoscientists break through the brick ceiling

Many adults probably remember the childhood fun of LEGO® toys, the plastic bricks from which you could build forts, cars, houses, planes, cities and even whole universes. The few simple shapes and colors encouraged unlimited creativity, limited only by the number of LEGO pieces you had, which could total in the thousands. 
18 Aug 2015

Tiny plant fossils offer big view of ancient ecosystems

A key part in understanding a terrestrial ecosystem is analyzing its vegetation structure: How dense is the foliage? Is its canopy open or closed? How much sunlight reaches the ground? Answering these questions about a modern plant community is relatively easy, but for paleoecosystems, such analysis has not been possible until recently. Now, a new study published in Science reports a novel way to create what lead author Regan Dunn calls a “3-D look” at ancient ecosystems.
13 Jun 2015

More warming may mean more lightning

Add more lightning to the list of predicted effects of climate change. A recent study in Science forecasts a significant increase in the number of lightning strikes within the continental United States over the next century.

13 May 2015

First tsunami refuge under construction on Washington coast

In April 2013, voters in two counties on Washington’s Pacific coast approved a $13.8 million bond for school renovations in the shared Ocosta School District. The bond had failed twice before, but this time — when the measure included funds to construct a “tsunami refuge for students, staff, and community” — it passed with the support of 70 percent of voters in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties. It will be the first structure of its kind in the country.

13 Mar 2015

Seattle's landslide risk greater than thought

Landslides have been part of Seattle’s history “from a time to which the memory of man runneth not back,” wrote famed city engineer Reginald Thomson in 1897. A new study shows that landslides will also play a central role long into the future. They will be “extensive and potentially devastating, causing direct losses and impeding recovery,” reported a team in Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

17 Mar 2014

Benchmarks: April 1916: "Jingo the Stegosaurus" campaigns to keep the U.S. out of World War I

One side effect of the discovery and popularization of dinosaurs in the latter half of the 19th century was their introduction into the vernacular as a metaphor, particularly concerning international politics and war. For example, just prior to World War I, one writer compared Russia to Diplodocus, “a vast inert creature,” only saved from extinction because of English expansionists. To French paleontologist Pierre Marcellin Boule, however, Diplodocus provided a more dangerous comparison, at least in reference to Germany: “an overgrown brute, specialized in strength, mad with its own might.” 
10 Apr 2013