GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Accompanying travelers to the national park since 2002

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Living in the Anthropocene, Part IV

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Many nonprofit organizations are making a difference in how we use and affect Earth. They are offering programs that train young people to value and care for our special lands and resources. In the U.S. these include the Nature Conservancy, NatureBridge, and the Student Conservation Association.

Individuals are also making a difference in mitigating the changes humans have brought to Earth. I have come up with three small examples. Stanford University graduate student Mike Osborne and friends have set up a series of podcasts and a website they call Generation Anthropocene [1]. They have interviewed and posted essays by scientists and others who are working full time on the big problems. A quote I like from their website goes, “If humans are the force that has harmed the Earth, we are responsible for turning it around.” Osborne is ultimately optimistic: Humans “thus far have demonstrated that we’re perhaps the most adaptable organism in the history of the planet. We are amazing innovators, and you have to believe that we’re an evolutionary success. . . .“

On Hawaii’s island of Oahu, a land and town planner named Bruce Tsuchida runs a small planning company that creates land and water conservation plans for numerous native Hawaiian organizations, including educational components for high school students. The goal of the high school program is “to protect this very important cultural landscape and see that it is used in culturally appropriate ways. . . .” [2]

Karen Chapple backyard cottage in Berkeley My daughter Karen Chapple is a University of California—Berkeley associate professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning and the faculty director of their Center for Community Innovation. In connection with her concern that many more units of affordable housing are needed in the San Francisco Bay area, she has built a tiny “green” cottage at the back of her Berkeley property. She says it “helps people understand how they could reduce their material possessions and carbon footprint” [3].

Maybe the new word Anthropocene or the question of declaring a new epoch are not important to everyone, but the human-caused problems are the concern of us all. We can try to understand, ponder, and discuss the implications of the Anthropocene, and we can contribute in our smaller or larger ways to the goal of allowing Earth to support human life for as long as possible.


[1] Generation Anthropocene podcasts and essays
[2] The Ka’ala Farms project that planner Tsuchida is involved with: Cordy, Ross. “Archaeology: How the land tells its story,” Ka’ala Farm blog, April 17, 2013.
[3] Dr. Karen Chapple’s backyard cottage featured: Maclay, Kathleen. “With streamlined regulations, in-law units could boost East Bay affordable housing stock and economy, study finds.” UC Berkeley News Center, September 13, 2011.

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The magma system or reservoir under Yellowstone is 2.5 times larger than previously known

Recent articles including “supervolcano” in the headline in the blogosphere and in media such as the New York Post shout “We’re probably doomed” and tell us of “a volcano that could wipe out U.S.” That gets people’s attention! The whirl of media activity is all due to research presented at last week’s American Geophysical Union (AGU) annual meeting in San Francisco.

An interesting session and a poster presented by Drs. Robert Smith and Jamie Farrell have stirred up a lot of emotional response, as has a November earthquake swarm in the area. The more these things are discussed in the media, the less rational readers seem to become. Media loves sensation. Perhaps the scientists whose work inspired the sensationalism will soon issue something to calm people down. Meanwhile, I’ll do what I can with this post.

I attended Smith’s 15-minute session at AGU and read Farrell’s poster last week. I am not a scientist, but I know enough about Yellowstone and current research to say this: The size of the magma reservoir below Yellowstone tells us nothing about when it will explode. Just as a reminder, magma is liquid or molten rock, including any dissolved gases or crystals, found deep within Earth.

More and more researchers are using various methods and instruments (seismometers, strainmeters, geochemical analyses, geodesy, instruments measuring electrical conductivity, and so on) to study what is under Yellowstone and its surroundings. Let’s wish them well and not panic about a catastrophe that is very unlikely to happen within the lifetime of anyone who can read this.

What about those earthquakes? One useful conclusion reached by this recent research is: “A large earthquake at Yellowstone is much more likely than a volcano eruption,” according to Farrell.

ON THE WEB: Here is some reliable and interesting information:
1. University of Utah’s Seismology and Active Tectonics Research Group’s faculty member Bob Smith stated on December 5th that U. of Utah’s seismographs will “continue to monitor Yellowstone earthquakes and will provide additional information if the earthquake swarm activity increases.”

2. U.S. Geological Survey’s Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. Swarms of (usually small) earthquakes have been reported frequently over the years; they are detected by the USGS seismograph array in Yellowstone.

3.’s article called “Study: Yellowstone magma much bigger than thought (Update).” A relevant quote serves to sum up my comments here: “For years, observers tracking earthquake swarms under Yellowstone have warned the caldera is overdue to erupt. Farrell dismissed that notion, saying there isn’t enough data to estimate the timing of the next eruption. ‘We do believe there will be another eruption, we just don’t know when,’ he said.”

ON THIS WEBSITE: For more about the quest to understand what’s under Yellowstone, be sure to read the nuggets called “The Yellowstone Supervolcano,” “The Yellowstone Hot Spot: History of the Science“, and “The Yellowstone Hot Spot: Modern Science“.

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Understanding the science of Yellowstone

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My first mission in recent years has been to create a guidebook to Yellowstone that will stimulate others to visit and stay longer, helping them see, enjoy, and begin to understand all the amazing treasures the park has to offer. But exploring Yellowstone science is my second mission.

We can only become interested in subjects or activities after something or someone stimulates our curiosity. Think of your own elementary and middle school teachers or family members who have taken you out fishing or on long walks in the countryside, where they pointed things out to you. Several such teachers stimulated my curiosity and then encouraged me and helped me look further into aspects of the natural world. I remember particularly a teacher who was also a family friend. She introduced me to the variety of trees in our town by picking up leaves with me and teaching me their names and then pressing them. One year around the second week of August, she also taught me about the Perseid meteor shower, which fell so brilliantly in our clear Montana skies.

Many years later—concentrating often on the geology of Yellowstone—I’ve taken numerous summer courses offered by the Yellowstone Institute. I highly recommend those courses ( I also audited a couple of Brown University geology classes, listened to and picked the brains of geologists, and most recently took in some sessions of the 2012 annual conference of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. 


A readily available source of recent Yellowstone scientific information is the journal Yellowstone Science, now available online (

Any of the above are good ways to begin to understand some of the basics of Yellowstone’s science. And the new fourth edition of Yellowstone Treasures is a good source too, because we have brought the scientific information as up to date with recent research as we can make it without technical language.

Three books I’d like to recommend that deal in different ways with Yellowstone geology are Roadside Geology of Yellowstone Country by William J. Fritz and Robert C. Thomas, Geology Underfoot in Yellowstone Country by Marc S. Hendrix, and Windows into the Earth by Robert B. Smith and Lee J. Siegel.

I’m planning to blog this fall about two other geological subjects: Why geology is not taught in our high schools nearly as often as are chemistry, physics, and biology, and the very big subject of what mankind is doing to our earth.

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Cutting edge science and Yellowstone

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Every day last week I attended the American Geophysical Union annual [2012] meeting with a press pass. Along with some 25,000 researchers and others interested in research advances in the geological sciences, I attended short presentations about cutting edge research; poster sessions, where a scientist explains his or her work to individual listeners; and three press conferences or lectures on earth science-related subjects.

I learned as much as I could about three questions: What is underneath Yellowstone and how did it get there? What are microbiologists learning about the microbes that live in hot springs? How have humans been affecting the earth in the last century or so—and what should be done to reduce the damage?
It takes a while to digest all that, but in the next few weeks I will write blog posts and perhaps a new nugget about what I learned.

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Visitor Center at Old Faithful Village

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When I first heard they were putting up a new visitor center and planning to call it a Visitor Education Center, I confess to wondering if that name would put people off. Do people really want to come to Yellowstone to be educated? Don’t the kids who have escaped school for their all-too-short summer vacations want to just enjoy the park and all it has to offer?

Well, they didn’t listen to my (unvoiced) objections, and the new center will be officially opened on August 25th [2010]. I admit I can hardly wait to see it and have planned my own time in the park this year around that date. I would love to tell the NPS officials in charge of the ceremony how I fondly remember the combination ranger station, museum, and amphitheater where I got to spend happy times two visitor centers ago, when my family lived at Old Faithful for four great summers.

I particularly remember the model geyser in the little museum and the samples of the rocks to be found—which, I later learned, are actually created in Yellowstone. The museum also had some labeled plant samples, so I began to learn the differences between lodgepole pines and the other evergreen trees in the park. I believe there were also some sample mounted animals, but I was never a big animal person (live or stuffed), unlike most of the children who come to the park.

The amphitheater was where my family spent many pleasant evenings listening to ranger talks and singing western songs that many people knew in those days. I’ve wondered since that time why they did not have an amphitheater when the visitor center was replaced about forty years ago, but there will be a state-of-the-art indoor theater in the new building.

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More about the Burns TV documentary

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On the National Parks Traveler website, a former park superintendent discusses some interesting issues about the parks that were not covered in Ken Burns’s fine TV documentary aired this past fall. Read his post.

I agree with much of what Rick Smith says. However, he couldn’t begin to cover national parks from all angles even in the twelve hours allotted for the episodes. Burns’s emphasis was history and the contributions of people who aided the parks’ creation, and he covered those aspects very well.

There is a small fallacy in former superintendent Smith’s paragraph about other countries reserving protected areas. He writes:

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature reports that there are now over 100,000 established protected areas in the world, not all of them national parks, of course, but all established to preserve and protect natural and cultural resources. These areas cover approximately 11.63% of the world’s terrestrial and marine areas. Yellowstone was the first such area created in the world. . . .

If you include all types of national reserves such as national monuments and seashores, Yellowstone was not the first area protected and set aside. Back in 1832, the Hot Springs Reservation in Arkansas was created by Congress, granting federal protection of the thermal waters. Yellowstone (established in 1872) was the first to be called a national park.


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Janet Chapple’s Bio, 2009

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author Janet ChappleBorn and raised in Billings, Montana, I was the second daughter of musician parents: my mother gave piano lessons for most of her life, and my father taught piano, organ, and voice until the World War II years, when he became a teller and later an officer in a bank.

My association with Yellowstone goes back to very early childhood, when both parents worked in Old Faithful Inn in 1939 and my father worked further summers as transportation agent. I trace my love of Yellowstone Park to memories of wonderful times with my sister Joan: waiting for geysers to erupt, visiting with rangers, attending slide shows and sing-alongs in the amphitheater, playing hide-and-seek in the inn, and watching as my father assigned passengers to the big yellow tour buses.

After college at Stanford, U. of Washington, and U. of Southern California, I married Bill Chapple, who was also from Billings. He took all his degrees at Caltech in geology, later becoming a professor of structural geology at Brown University. While raising three daughters, I worked as a professional performer and teacher of cello and spent over forty years in Rhode Island.

In 1981 I lost Bill to a very rare form of cancer. In the next few years I sold my house, lived about a year and a half in a graduate dorm at Indiana University, and received my Master of Music degree in cello performance. Then in 1984 I married Bruno Giletti, a geology department colleague of Bill and a good family friend for over twenty years. This increased the count of daughters to five–and now the count of grandchildren has risen to six.

In 1995 I began research for the guidebook that became Yellowstone Treasures in 2002, and by 2000 I had retired from teaching cello and from the musical groups I played with. That’s also the year I formed my own publishing company, Granite Peak Publications.

Since all our daughters had long since left New England, Bruno and I decided to enjoy our later years in a year-round pleasant climate, and we both favored the San Francisco Bay Area for that and for its beauty and cultural attractions. So 2004 found us buying a condo in the area, choosing to be near friends Bruno had known since high school. We kept up a bi-coastal existence until late October of 2005, when we condensed our life from nine rooms in Pawtucket to five-and-a-half in Menlo Park. Then in 2010 we moved to the best retirement community anywhere around, Lake Park Retirement Center. There are three of us here (out of about 200) who are not retired. Publishing, researching, and writing about Yellowstone still occupy most of my time, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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