The Earth After Us by Jan Zalasiewicz

by stephenpalmersf

In The Earth After Us, the noted field geologist and palaeontologist Jan Zalasiewicz imagines a time one hundred million years in the future when alien beings arrive at the Earth, find nobody home, and decide to investigate the rocks to determine what has happened to the planet over its lifetime. This brilliant set-up allows the author to describe how the aliens might do such a thing.

An experienced geologist who also teaches, the author is in his element here, describing the various types of geology, the scientific principles behind them, how fossils form, and how fossils appear and disappear in surface rocks. His ultimate aim is to show what a minuscule, almost invisibly small proportion of the sediments of planet Earth would contain any record of our presence, and this he brilliantly achieves – the book is beautifully written. For those, like me, who love works spanning huge time scales, this is an engaging read.

Towards the end of the book Zalasiewicz begins to home in on his goal – the nature of what might be found of our existence, and where that evidence might be. He concludes that if you wanted to have the best chance of existing in some way after your demise, you should let yourself or your artefacts drop into coastal sediments, where, over millions of years, they would be covered, compressed, and turned into sedimentary rock. That rock might be found millions more years later by the hypothetical aliens.

This is no dry text book, it’s a fascinating account of geological processes on Earth. I loved it.