The Sciences

Calling on Californians: West Coast Represent!

The IntersectionBy Sheril KirshenbaumJul 19, 2010 2:16 AM


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Nishanta Rajakaruna, a professor of botany at College of the Atlantic, sent me UC Davis geologist Eldridge M. Moores's list on why serpentine should remain the State Rock of California (background here). Why should you care? It's simple: When politicians make so-called "scientific" decisions based on nonsense, it's our collective responsibility to call them out on it! Alright, so what can you do? Judgment on the bill in question (SB624) happens this week, so if you live in CA, please email/call: 1. Senator Feinstein 2. Senator Boxer 3. The Governor 4. Gloria Romero who is naively pushing for this (and we're not sure why) 5. Your state assembly person Let them know that sound science must play a role in the policy-making process. Here are Eldridge's talking points:

  • Serpentine is closely associated with gold deposits in the foothills, with the California Gold Rush, and California's history;

  • Serpentine is formed by hydration of rocks (peridotite) that come from the Earth's mantle, the layer beneath the Earth's crust.

  • Principally, serpentines and associated rocks are part of rock suites called ophiolites that are fragments of ocean crust and mantle emplaced in continents;

  • Ophiolites are widespread in California--in the Coast Ranges, the Klamath Mountains, the Sierra Nevada, along other parts of the western margin of North America, in the Appalachians, and in Latin America, Eurasia, and elsewhere. Thus these rocks are important for a full understanding of the complex evolution of the California landscape and our planet.

  • Serpentines are fairly easy to identify, being mostly shiny black or green. Many serpentines are also weak rocks and prone to landslide. Having serpentine as California's State Rock calls attention to these issues in many places; and provides a "teaching moment."

  • The asbestos in serpentine is mostly the less-harmful form, chrysotile, rather than the more dangerous form - amphibole. The latter forms by different geologic processes from a variety of rock-types;

  • Having children possess samples of serpentine should not endanger their health any more than samples of many other rocks;

  • Many rare species of plants grow only on serpentines, including special trees, shrubs, and non-woody plants. California is world-famous for these plants: indeed many grow only in California. These plants also provide a "teaching moment".

  • Serpentines and their original mineral, olivine are increasingly viewed as an ideal repository of carbon dioxide (CO2), because they chemically combine to fix the CO2 in the solid mineral magnesite (magnesium carbonate). This possibility is important for the future of California serpentines, for the US's efforts to control its greenhouse emissions, and provides an additional "teaching moment" for all of us.

  • Serpentine plays an important role in small movements (creep) where serpentine is present along active faults, reducing the hazard of large earthquakes.

  • "Defrocking" serpentine as the California State Rock is not going to make any of these issues go away. It will, however, make it more difficult to communicate the many issues, both bad and good, to the public in California.

Related, there's now a Serpentine Protest Song. Update: Helpful linksThe Law Against Serpentine: The Attorneys' ArenaGeotripperHighly Allochthonous Twitter: #CAserpentineSerpentine: A Group of MineralsThrowing the Baby Out with the Bathwater: The Serpentine Issue in CaliforniaAsbestos in California's State Rock? Not Really

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