The slowest, most amazing thing in the world

English: Mount Everest North Face as seen from...

English: Mount Everest North Face as seen from the path to the base camp, Tibet. Español: Cara norte del Monte Everest vista desde el sendero que lleva al campo base en el Tibet (China). Français : Face nord du Mont Everest vue du chemin menant au camp de base. Tibet. Italiano: Faccia Nord del monte Everest vista dal sentiero che porta al campo base in Tibet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every so often, Mother Nature gives us a short, sharp lesson in who’s boss. Whether it is the enormity of Hurricane Katrina or the tsunamis that have struck twice in recent history in Asia, these brutal events unfold with ferocity and yet when you see the video coverage, they seem to  move incredibly slowly. No doubt for the people on the ground facing them, they move plenty fast enough.

The sheer power of the forces involved is difficult to comprehend because most of the time, our landscape changes so very slowly. Our tectonic plates shift and collide (or separate) by distances that can be measured in centimetres every year. London sinks whilst the West of the UK rises. But when you look around at the scenery that surrounds us, every mountain, every hill and every valley has been formed by elemental, natural forces over an incomprehensible time period.

There is no shortage of impressive natural features in this world and they look wonderful in their own right, but once you understand how they came to be formed, they become even more epic in scale. The fjords of Norway were all cut by glaciers over millennia. The Grand Canyon was carved by the endless erosion of the Colorado river. The Alps and Himalayas formed by two tectonic plates squeezing together for a very long time.

There are experts who argue that mankind is causing irreversible damage to the planet and that climate change is a very real phenomena. The average temperature is rising and so are the sea levels. But there are as many experts that argue against climate change citing that temperatures and sea levels have a history of changing on a geological scale. I’m no expert but I’m certainly getting fed up of being rained on and I can’t help but feel that we’re not doing the planet any good.

I can only imagine that it must be frustrating to be a geologist – knowing that all these elemental forces have shaped the entire planet and that the best you can hope for is to see Mount Everest grow by about a foot in your lifetime.