Hole in the Clouds

Tag: Harold Stowell

The professor and the monk

Dec 11, 2009

Geology professor Harold Stowell from the University of Alabama recently taught a workshop in Beijing and then caught a train on the new railroad connecting China and Tibet. After a ride lasting forty-eight hours along the highest train tracks in the world, he got off near this monastery, where he says a monk approached him and asked to have this picture taken.

Dr. Stowell , who was my master's adviser at Alabama, started out in geology the old-fashioned way, prospecting for gold and uranium in Alaska. One summer, he found a nice gold mine in a spectacularly beautiful setting at the mouth of a fjord in southeast Alaska. He showed the mining company just where they should come in and tear up the mountain, scarring a pristine landscape and leaching poisons into the fjord. They would have to start by building a road two thousand feet up the mountain to access the best approach to the gold. But in that part of Alaska, land at two thousand feet above sea level is buried in snow and ice almost the entire year. The company decided that a mine so high up would be uneconomical, and Dr. Stowell recalls that he expected to feel disappointed but actually felt tremendously relieved. The place wouldn't be ruined after all.

His latest research projects involve fieldwork in Doubtful Sound and Secretary Island, New Zealand, where he is trying to figure out "the relationship between partial melting, garnet growth, and strain during late stage extension of the lower crust." I would have to agree with him that not enough is known about that stuff, even though it won't help anyone find more gold or platinum or oil or anything else useful.

Harold Stowell   Alaska   Tibet