An Engineer in Wonderland – 10 million tonnes of rock

Living in the UK, you get a certain view of things which leads to surprises when you go to other countries.

new-zealand.jpgLiving in the UK, you get a certain view of things which leads to surprises when you go to other countries.

For example, the UK is largely stable geologically, and not very steep.

This contrasts with New Zealand which is both steep, and a bit lively on the tectonic front.

Cycling around that fine country a while ago, I got invited in for a coffee by a retired guy who turned out to be: a, very interesting and; b, mostly mad.

The mad bit was confirmed when I was ushered into his living room and had to share it with a dismantled car engine – which is not too unreasonable in my opinion – and quite a few ducks which were happily quacking around on the none-too-clean floor.

I had food poisoning for a couple of days afterwards. I wonder where that came from.

Anyway, whereas the coffee temporarily changed my internal fauna, Mr Mad Bloke’s wisdom permanently changed my view on civil engineering.

It turned out that he used to be a blaster, blowing large chunks of mountain away to get roads from town to town – and he once blew himself up, which might have explained his unusual user-interface.

Whilst I was happy to use these roads, at the time I viewed the making of them as a destructive act – no one has ever accused me of being consistent – And I said this too him.

He patiently explained to me that every year, 10 million tonnes of rock was washed down the nearby Buller Gorge by natural floods, and that made any blasting by humans pale into insignificance.

Now, I have no idea how much rock is actually washed down the Buller Gorge, but he had made his point.

In mountain environments, it is only humans that moan about the look of the place. Nature doesn’t really care what shape the rock is.

Since then, I have taken a whole different view about all sorts of civil engineering and quarrying because, in the great scheme of things, a quarry is just a different shape surface for nature to get to grips with.

Of course there are limits.

I am only enlightened regarding the digging up, shifting, and dumping of neutral materials.

And still some how fail to see the good side of, for example, gold processing which ends up with mercury pouring into rivers, or of the carbon-awful extraction of oil from tar sands.


If you can answer this, respond below, or to alice@electronicsweekly.

(Photo: Buller Gorge by Phillie Casablanca, under Creative Commons Attribution Licence)

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