“I would like Richard Herring to jump into a volcano.”

-foreword: Richard Herring has a fab show out at the moment called We’re All Going To Die! This is a reply to his article in the Metro last week, enjoy –


Dear Richard Herring,

I must admit I read your article in the Metro last week with great interest, for I am a geologist and as such I feel I am adequately qualified to assist you in your volcano-jumping quest.

I am very much in accord with your desire to become a perfect fossil, a symbol to the future for our times. But there is one very important thing you must understand first: in order to become a perfect fossil, you must choose the method with the greatest – dun dun duuuun! – PRESERVATION POTENTIAL!

For example, you could choose to walk into the lava lake of the fabulous Nyiragongo. But the surface temperature of the lava here is more than 1000°C. Your body matter would quite simply burn away and leave no trace in the fossil record. Darnit! It would have looked lovely and dramatic too!

Nyiragongo in full blazing lava-lake glory!

Okay, so no jumping into actual lava. What now? Well, you could try jumping into the centre of a dormant volcano, like the island of Vulcano in Italy. There’s no lava, but there are enough poisonous gases to put an end to things within minutes. These gases are so heavy they cannot rise through the lighter air, so stay sunken in the crater waiting for an unsuspecting potential-fossil.

Image of Vulcano's craterBut this option has its downsides too. The dormant volcano may become active again in future, and a massive explosion may blast you out of the crater along with the volcanic plug that’s blocked it up for all that time. Your preservation potential would be – literally – shattered. So maybe this option’s no good..

We could try one of Vulcano’s cousins, Stromboli. If you are lucky enough to get close to Stromboli while it’s erupting, you might stand a chance of being hit in the head by a boiling lava bomb (like my old teacher did – don’t worry, he survived – it was not his time to become a fossil!).

Stromboli generally being badass

Provided enough lava bombs by chance hit you, you could become buried in rapidly cooling rubble, which has a little more preservation potential than the previous options.

But we’re going for perfection here. Let’s skip across to Vesuvius. Everyone knows AD79, the eruption that decimated Herculaneum and Pompeii, right? Okay, most people in that debacle died in the massive pyroclastic flow (a mess of fluidised ash, air and hot stuff from the earth’s belly) that engulfed the region. Pyroclastic flows can move as fast as a car on the motorway, and it would be a pretty quick way to go! Maybe this would be a good option, then? You would be fossilised in ash, provided that nobody disturbed your remains. For what would happen if you were disturbed?

Some bodies from Pompeii, lacking detail in their features.

Volcanic ash is not the strongest of materials, even when it forms a concrete-ish mass called an ignimbrite. It’s still quite easy to disturb, and in a volcanic area, earthquakes and future eruptions seriously lower your chances of perfect preservation. There’s also the fact that the intense heat from the pyroclastic blast will strip away the finer features of yourself, the minutiae that would render you a perfect fossil.

So what is the ultimate solution? There has to be one, right?

Oh, and there is:

Your best bet really is just to wait until a massive volcanic eruption or meteor strike occurs, and while the ensuing particles to taint the atmosphere and the oceans with poison, wait in a shallow muddy sea until the water becomes completely devoid of oxygen (ensuring all the fishy things in the sea won’t nibble at your body), then wait until the toxic atmosphere really takes hold.

Et voilà! A couple of million years from now and your body will be perfectly, wonderfully preserved! (Provided plate tectonics doesn’t get in the way in the meantime!) You would have successfully become a Lagerstätte, which is the word we geologists use for the most amazingly preserved fossils in the world!

Amazingly preserved ichtyosaur agerstatte

Yours most sincerely,

Cambriangirl 😀


What Watt is what? An experiment with 27 candles.

27 candles on a coffee table

It’s cold today, and my new house has one of those annoying pay-as-you-go electricity meters with a horribly expensive energy company that I’m pretty much stuck with until I get it all changed to my preferred energy supplier.

It’s all electric heaters here, and loath to guzzle more electricity, I was doing ok in the cold until I realised one of my pet rats had started hibernating. That’s worrying, because rats don’t naturally hibernate. Something had to be done.

Now, I do have enough on the meter to get us through this cold patch, but I also have rather a lot of candles – a whole box full in fact – lying around since the move. And in my realisation that the candles could be placed on the coffee table far closer to my pets’ cage than the electric wall heater, lo and behold, a scientific experiment was born.

It’s a known fact to everyone who has stuck their hands too close to a fire that fires generate heat as well as light. So I wanted to know how much I could heat the room by burning candles. And I want to know the output in terms of Watts, so I can compare it to the power of my electric heater.

To start with, it is helpful to know what a Watt is. It’s a SI unit for power, measured in Joules per second.

Tea lights weight roughly 20 grams and burn for around 5 hours – that’s four grams an hour.
6 inch dinner candles weigh 60 grams and burn for around 6 hours – that’s ten grams an hour.
3 inch high pillar candles weigh roughly 300 grams and burn for around 40 hours – that’s 7.5 grams an hour.

So it seems that the tea lights burns the least grammage per hour and the tapers the most grammage per hour. But how does that convert to heat? Which is better?

I am going to approximate that all my candles are made from paraffin wax. Now, paraffin wax burns at about 43kJ per gram of material, or 43000 J per gram.
For my tealights, at 4 grams an hour, that’s 4 x 4300 = 172,000 J per hour
For my tapers, at 10 grams an hour, that’s 10 x 43000 = 430,000 J per hour
For my pillar candles, at 7.5 grams an hour, that’s 7.5 x 43000 = 322,500 J per hour.

I have 21 tealights, 3 tapers, and 3 pillar candles.
(21 x 172000) + (3 x 430000) + (3 x 322500) = 5 869 500 Joules per hour.

But remember, Watts are Joules per second. So we need to convert this.

There are 3600 seconds in an hour, so we divide our answer by this to get the Joules per second.
5 869 500 / 3600 = 1630.41667
That’s ~ 1630 Watts for my 27 candles.

Now, the average candle emits light at only around 0.05% efficiency. So the most significant part of that wattage output is as heat (infra-red) rather than visible light, and therefore it’s really negligible to try and calculate how much of that total radiative power is emitted under the visible spectrum rather than the infra-red so I’m just going to leave it out.

My electric heater produces 2000W (in other words 2000 Joules per second).
1630W for my 27 candles really isn’t all that bad in comparison. I know that the amount of joules per second will vary as the candles will run out at different times, and I know that this is a very sketchy exercise in a field I’m no expert in, but it’s still a pretty decent amount of energy being emitted.

For now, though, I am going to whack the heater on full blast in addition to burning the candles. And Porkchop, my wee pet that started this entire exercise, is certainly benefiting from this double output of heat.

Fun facts I didn’t know before I started this exercise: The temperature in the centre (blue bit) of a candle can get up to 1000 degrees Celsius! And light is measured in lumens, the SI unit of luminous flux (or the portion of radiative power falling in the spectrum of visible light).

Top Tunes To Watch The World End By

I was thinking about this a lot today, after a conversation with a friend. What songs would I want to listen to if I thought the world were ending? Would I want to get into the apocalypse and disaster theme? Hell yes.

Let’s have a bit of fun, and pretend the tales of impending doom surrounding tomorrow the 21st December are true. If the world is ending, at least we can have a good time and pretend that we’re the stars of some day after the day before nonsense Hollywood film. But caution: let’s not start believing it’s actually true! So without further ado, here’s my list of Top Tunes.

1. Apocalypse Please – by Muse.

This is a classic. The frenetic piano and the thudding, marching drumbeat with Bellamy’s plaintive wailing make this a distinct and no-holds-barred contender on the list.

2. Apocolips – by Turin Brakes.

Okay, this may just be my favourite. I’ll be the clouds, you’ll be the rain. Hey, we’ll find another way. I’ll help take away all your pain. The enunciation is slightly off-kilter and just perfect. The mood is one of sombre and jittery anticipation. Flowers by the roadside is all that is left you can feel your hands feel your pockets for your last breath. God it’s the best!

3. Reign – by UNKLE.

A song full of feeling. A personification of the storm. A feeling of being caught unawares by it. You thought a different day had come… With gentle orchestral strings culminating in a symphony of strained sound, it’s well worth a listen

4. The Catalyst – by Linkin Park.

I really like the Thousand Suns album by Linkin Park. Influenced by the Japanese atom bombings, it’s so different from their usual nu-metal fare and – such emotion! The Catalyst is strained and almost distressing, proper end-of-world fare, all the more emotive because of the real-world catastrophic roots in which it is based.

5. Apocalypse – by Neva Dinova.

Just put it on and listen to the lyrics. It will chill you.

6. The Finish Line – by Snow Patrol.

Another slow-onset one like Neva Dinova’s. Listen to the lyrics and relax. It’s beautiful.

7. Spirit of Survival – by Yes.

This one is a more positive song – depicting a struggle of sorts, the desire to live on in a world shunned by the gods. This gets in the top ten for its epic soundtrack, mixing a real orchestra with the prog prowess of Yes. It’s a good nine minutes but it’s worth it. Did I mention it was epic?

8. When The World Ends – by the Dave Matthews Band (Oakenfold remix).

I love the Oakenfold remix of this song! It’s actually from one of the Matrix soundtracks, and it really delivers on the apocalyptic front.

9. 6 to 8 – by AFI.

Six figures enter, they’ve come to destroy the world… A soulful AFI number here.  The whole song is a gradual crescendo from delicate, haunting guitar work to echoey rock with a punk chorus. Many, many good feels!

10. Doomsday – by Nero.

Now to finish up why don’t we have some fun, silly all-round epic dubstep? No? Well tough. Doomsday by Nero is my final choice. I can totally imagine Morpheus’s followers rocking out to this one in Zion.

Other songs that deserve a mention but didn’t quite make it to my top ten:

  • Witness – by Show of Hands
  • When The Sea Comes – by Duels
  • Radiation – by I Am Kloot
  • The Tempest – by Pendulum
  • The 2nd Law: Isolated System – by Muse
  • The Sky Is Falling – by Thrice
  • The Furies – by Duels
  • Fly on a Windshield – by Genesis
  • Rapture – by Laura Veirs

I have made this a Spotify playlist if anybody would like to have a listen!
Here is the Spotify URI: Songs To Watch The World End By


What apocalypse songs would YOU like to listen to at the end of the world? Make a suggestion and I can add it to the playlist!