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I have always been fascinated by geological time. From the time I was walking around on two billion years old rocks in Suriname, and saw the whole geological history reflected in the wide landscapes of the Colombian Andes, I cannot resist the thought that we human beings, with a history of mere 150,000 years, are only newly born babies for the Earth. We are just the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob of the Eiffeltower, as Mark Twain puts it. We have experienced near to nothing of what the Earth is capable of.
Yet we behave as if we are the masters, the proprietors, the caretakers of the Earth; as if our ecological footstep is so huge that it tends to destroy the Earth. It is a sad, narrowly anthropocentric view. The Earth couldn’t care less. All disasters mankind is afraid of have already occurred in the geological past: carbon dioxide levels ten times as high as at present during a Greenhouse Earth without any ice caps at all; sea level 200 m above and 120 m below the present level, volcanic eruption beyond any human imagination. Our footstep is wiped off the wet beach at the next high tide.
That is the main theme of my first book The human scale – the Earth in 10 000 years from now. I look at earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, climate change, sea-level , river behaviour and evolution, starting each time on the human, daily scale, and then proceeding to ever increasing scales of time and space. I think it is relevant to consider longer time scales in all aspects of daily life. If we can consider the effect of storage of nuclear waste in 10 000 years from now, why not do the same for climate? The book was awarded the Eureka prize for the best popular science book in 2007.
My second book Why hell stinks of sulfur - Mythology and geology of the underworld is an account of my voyage to the centre of the Earth, in the footsteps of Homer, Virgil, Dante, Leonardo da Vinci, Descartes, Jules Verne, and modern science. I want to see with the eyes of a geologist, armed with hammer and compass , what hell consists of, where the sulfur and the tar come from, how much fantasy people needed to understand what’s inside the earth, and how much fantasy we need even now to that end. We have travelled to the moon, but not to the centre of the Earth, which is not farther away than Washington from Paris. The Earth should not be seen as a supermarket for human needs, as a black box to dig tunnels through, or as an easy receptacle for dead bodies and human waste. The Earth is an immensely rich archive, it is its own history book, and any hole we dig in it destroys a part of that history. Moreover it is a unique ecosystem, the wealth of which we have only just started to fathom. The book was longlisted for the Bob den Uyl prize for literary travels.
Tipping point: How the largest inland sea on earth lost its biodiversity (2019)
Geologists and paleontologists in the team went back intothe fossil record to study how the original fauna had evolved. At the same time geneticists studied the molecular clocks of living specimens to reconstruct the pedigree of the vanishing species. It appeared that at least four of such crises have occurred in the past fifteen million years. Plate tectonics, sea level fluctuations, climate change and ice ages caused alternating periods of isolation of the Caspian Sea and reconnection to the neighbouring Black Sea and Mediterranean, and even to the Arctic sea. Each sea-level lowstand led to freshening of the sea water by river inflow and finally desiccation and virtual extinction of the extant species. Each sea-level highstand opened the way for the introduction and evolution of a whole range of new species, not only molluscs, but also sturgeons, seals and dolphins. The history of the Caspian is one of continuing tipping points of creation and destruction of habitats by natural processes.
So what makes the twentieth century crisis different from the previous ones? Of course in the first place that it was caused by man. Conservation programs are in progress to protect threatened species from extinction and save vulnerable ecosystems. Yet the turbulent history of the Caspian poses the question: do we want to restore nature to its 'original state'? Do we want to reestablish 'nature in equilibrium'? Isn't this an anti-Darwinistic thought?There is no 'original state'. The origin of species is a matter of change in nature, notof equilibrium. Conservationists should address such dilemmas, and this book shows there is no better place to do this than the Caspian Sea. Nature is what you get if you don't interfere. All the rest is just gardening.
Read: available at my Researchgate.net
Atlas Contact, ISBN 97-89045037-29-5
Why Hell Stinks of Sulphur: Mythology and Geology of the Underworld
Subterranean mythology is geologist Salomon Kroonenberg’s point of departure. With Dante’s Inferno to hand, he takes the reader on a journey in the footsteps of Homer, Virgil, Da Vinci, Descartes and Jules Verne. Along the way he turns a scientific spotlight on the background to myths of the underworld. At a small lake near Naples he searches for the gates of hell, as described in Virgil’s Aeneid. Kroonenberg’s vast reserves of knowledge and his expressive prose allow him to transform even inconspicuous features of the landscape into fascinating sites.
Read: the sample translation of "Why Hell Stinks of Sulphur".
Reviews: NLPVF, Reaction Book, Times Higher Education, Publishers Weekly, Inside Higher Ed, Maclean's, LA Review of Books, The Times
Reviews in german: Primus Verlag, Welt Online, Media Mania
Atlas Publishers, ISBN 97-89045018-76-8
The Human Scale: The Earth Ten Thousand Years from Now
Kroonenberg takes the reader around the globe from the Caspian Sea (with its extreme changes in surface level) to the Columbian volcano Nevado del Ruiz, which spewed tons of mud over the small town of Armero in 1985, turning it into a necropolis. At the same time he produces chains of facts and correlations, which he binds together into a kind of geological Theory of Everything. He offers a surprisingly new and topical perspective by forcing the reader to look over the edge of a vast abyss of time, measured in billions of years.
The Chinese translation has got a prize from the influential literary journal China Weekly Reading, and is recommended by the Chinese National Library as the best Non-fiction book of 2012.
Read: the first chapter of "The Human Scale".
Reviews: NLPVF, Süddeutsche Zeitung (german), Letterenfonds
Atlas Publishers, ISBN 97-89045006-81-9