556: Fieldwork by Christopher Scholz

by Gerard


556.883. Scholz, Christopher. Fieldwork: A Geologist’s Memoir of the Kalahari. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997. 190 pp. ISBN 0-691-01226-1.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 550: Earth sciences (geology)
  • 556: Earth sciences of Africa
  • 556.8: Earth sciences of Southern Africa and the Republic of South Africa
  • 556.88: Earth sciences of Namibia, Botswana. Lesotho, and Swaziland
  • 556.883: Earth science of Botswana and the Kalahari Desert

In 1974, Dr. Christopher Scholz, a newly-minted professor of geology at Columbia University, received a rather interesting and unexpected phone call. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization called to ask him if he would want to serve as an earthquake consultant in Botswana. The U.N. was trying to run an agricultural project in the Okavango Delta and wanted to know what, if any, threat was posed by earthquakes changing the way that the delta flows and drains. A simple enough project, everyone thought. As Scholz writes in Fieldwork, “Africa is a continent like no other.” And his work there would be like no other as well.

Trying to record earthquakes in a desert is just about as hard as eating soup with a fork. The seismometers have to be planted in solid rock in order to capture the waves that are propagated by micro-earthquakes. Much of Scholz’s time is spent looking for suitable areas to place the equipment all while avoiding hazards such as camp thieves, bureaucratic bungling, and funding mishaps. More often than not, it’s the African wildlife that becomes a hazard. He soon learns that it’s the elephants, and not the lions, that actually rule the landscape, and a thundering herd can easy cause for a panic at camp.

This book was entertaining and interesting in a way that you don’t books on geology to be. The only thing missing from this book are more maps and illustrations. It’s part travelogue, part scientific nonfiction, part adventure novel. I learned far more about rift systems in Africa than I ever thought possible. Scholz’s passion and glee for his field bleeds through the writing. He would make for a rather splendid professor if you ever got to chance to study with him. Through all his adventures in the Kalahari Desert, he still manages to gather data that bolster his theory about the East Africa Rift System. All in all, an engaging and fun read.