Geology: the (almost) musical

Whilst reading through the song-related submissions to the current, geo-arty edition of the Accretionary Wedge, my mind was cast back to my dim and distant undergrad days, when no field trip was complete without sem-drunken final evening entertainments, and the highlight was usually a trio of our years’ finest wits (not me) getting together and summarising our excursion through the medium of modern pop music. The following was composed during a tectonics field trip to Greece; it’s possible that you had to be there (and possibly also pickled in retsina) to find this funny, but I’ll give some background after the fold.

(to the tune of Pulp’s Common People)

We came to Greece we had a thirst for knowledge.
We studied geology at a Cambridge college;
that’s where I
caught James’ eye.
He told me about vertical fissures.
We said, “In that case all faults must be vertical”.
He said, “No!”
and then in thirty seconds time, we said:

We want to know about normal faulting;
we want to know whatever normal faults do;
we want to sleep under a normal fault;
we want to sleep under a normal fault – like you.

So he took us to a rubbish dump.
We don’t know why but he had to start it somewhere -
so he started it there.
He said, “Pretend you’ve got no compass-clino”
We said, “In that case we can’t measure any dips and strikes”
So we went home.

Are you sure…
You want to know about normal faulting;
You want to know whatever normal faults do;
You want to sleep under a normal fault;
You want to sleep under a normal fault – like me?
But we didn’t understand,
we called it fault breccia and raised our hands.

Drink retsina,
draw a log,
grow your goat and look at rocks,
smoke cigars and play the fool,
tell the kids “Go back to school!”.
But you’ll never get it right
‘cos though you think you’ve seen the light,
you’ll draw your faults as vertical,
and if you called Doctor Jackson you could stop it all- yeah!

You’ll never know about normal faulting,
you’ll never know what normal faults do;
you’ll never fail like a normal fault,
you’ll never bust like normal faults do.

Like Rachel Flecker at the outcrop,
she will quiz you and never warn you.
Look out! She’ll draw your knowledge out.
Cos demonstrators hate the students
- especially ones who think it’s all such a laugh,
and that gyros stains from Greece
will come out in the bath.
And you’ll never understand
how the big guys control the land.
You’re amazed that they exist,
and their slip’s so big that you can only wonder why…

You’ll never know about normal faulting,
you’ll never know what normal faults do;
you’ll never fail like a normal fault,
you’ll never bust like normal faults do.
We wanna know about normal faulting like you,
wanna know about normal faulting like you,
wanna know about normal faulting like you…
la la la la la la la,
la la la la la la la,
la la la la la la la – oh yeah!


Greece is an area of active extensional tectonics, where most of the major topographic features, such as the Gulf of Corinth, are grabens formed by large normal faults. What makes this region particularly interesting is that it is all above the sea: you can drive up, over and around fault escarpments (which often seemed to have rubbish dumps at their base – the Greeks knowing what to do with a convenient hole in the ground), map how different fault segments interact, and even seek out and trace the surface ruptures formed by modern earthquakes. The latter are the ‘vertical fissures’ referred to in the first verse: this is often what you get when the earthquake rupture propogates through weak and unconsolidated surface sediments, even if the actual fault plane beneath the surface is dipping at an angle – as most of them are. This has apparently been a source of some confusion in the past, and it was only by bringing together surface and seismological observations in a geologically active area like this that people realised that they should stop extrapolating vertical fault planes down into the lower crust. Our trip leader, James Jackson, also talked a lot about how most of the regional deformation in the area could be understood solely in terms of the motion of the ‘big guys’ – the biggest faults which produced the largest earthquakes.
Ah, this brings back memories, some of them rather fuzzy…

Categories: bloggery, geology, tectonics

Comments (8)

  1. Julia says:

    That is quite possibly the second best geology song ever (after my own version of Wonderful World…). Remind me to dig that out sometime.

  2. Silver Fox says:

    Quite a good one, really!

  3. Tuff Cookie says:

    Wow…and I thought the interpretive dance version of the formation of Waipio Valley (from a recent trip I took) was inspired.
    Methinks this is good material for a musical Wedge.

  4. Ursula says:

    I don’t really remember the songs (though I remember singing), but I do remember there was a sketch on our Sedbergh trip that had Darth Rickards, Dark Lord of the Schist. I wish I could remember more about it…

  5. Lynn says:

    Brings to mind a drunken night in Jackson Hole singing, to the tune of Blue Moon, “Caldera, wider than a mile, we’ll be hiking you in style some day” Can’t remember much more than that, really.

  6. Silver Fox says:

    Re field camp:
    Leavin’ on a carryall
    Don’t care if I get back at all…
    (Tune, “Leaving on a Jet Plane)

  7. Lynn says:

    Uh, I meant Moon River. Makes more sense, if you know the songs.

  8. Alessia says:

    Hey, I went on that field trip !! It was actually one of the triggers that got me to switch from an astrophysics Msci to a seismology PhD. Great memories…