President’s Column – September 2001

Title: Cape of Good Hope

Author: Susan Landon

Publication: The Outcrop, September 2001, p. 3, 5

Many of you know that my husband is an astronomer (we have the heavens and the earth covered!) and he is also part of a near-fanatical group known as eclipse chasers. The primary purpose of our trip was to observe the total eclipse of the sun near Lusaka, Zambia. We had clear skies as the group set up equipment adjacent to a field of paprika at Lamilonga Farm north of Lusaka. It was a spectacular eclipse and Dick’s attempt to video the inner corona of the sun was a success. Experiencing a total eclipse is breathtaking and cannot be compared to a partial eclipse of any kind. If you ever have the opportunity to see a total eclipse, I highly recommend it. The local neighborhood will have a chance when totality will cross Casper in 2017 — make your hotel reservations soon.

Total Eclipse of the Sun on June 21, 2001, from near Lusaka, Zambia. Photo by Susan Landon.

The trip included a couple of days at Victoria Falls and several days surrounded by elephants at Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe. Although there have been some problems in this part of the world, the tourist areas of western Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls remain stable and a wonderful place to visit. The local population (whose livelihood depends on tourism) made sure we had a great time, seeing lots of wildlife and eating wonderful food. Who knew how fond I would be of roast warthog? And ostrich is better than beef!

Glacial striations on Precambrian igneous rocks overlain by the Gondwana Dwyka Tillite (Permian) north of Kimberley, South Africa. Photo by Susan Landon.

After the initial half of our trip, traveling with the NASA Astronomical Society from Houston, Dick and I rented a car and drove from Johannesburg to Cape Town. One of the highlights included going underground at a DeBeers diamond mine near Kimberley and, as I stepped out of the cage at about 2500 feet down, I realized I had been involved with wells that weren’t as deep as where I stood. It gave me a chilling vision of a new logging method — but I think personal inspection of the wellbore isn’t necessary. I will stick with logs and core. We enjoyed driving across the Great Karoo (think Wyoming) and, after crossing the spectacular coast ranges, appreciated the verdant vegetation, flowers, and beaches of the Garden Coast. A visit to the Cape of Good Hope had been much anticipated and, with beautiful weather, we looked out across the mixing waters of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. In case you are ever called to be on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” the Cape of Good Hope is not the southernmost point of Africa. That spot is at Cape Agulhas about 150 kilometers to the east and 30 minutes further south.

Rainbow at Victoria Falls in a view from the Zimbabwean side of the Zambesi River. The Zambesi River is a couple of kilometers wide as it falls into a narrow chasm. Photo by Susan Landon.

In preparation for the trip, I tracked down some geologic literature and enjoyed reading the 1952 edition of du Toit’s Geology of South Africa. To my surprise, the first chapter discussed continental drift and its impact on the geology of South Africa. Dick and I sought out the 300 million year old glacial pavements and Gondwana tillites near Kimberley. As I stood on those beautifully exposed pavements, I remembered the acceptance of continental drift in du Toit’s book. I realized that geologic evidence of continental breakup and movement was compelling in the southern hemisphere. The geological community in the northern hemisphere, without significant local geologic evidence, was not convinced of continental motion until mountains of data were provided by geophysical evidence — and then only grudgingly. It reminds me of a statement by an unknown geologist:

“The best geologist is the one who looks at the most rocks.”