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Sensory Earth header image

"All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to understanding, and ends with reason."  -Immanuel Kant

Science begins with observation.  Millions of years of evolution have given us incredible senses to analyze our planet.  We look, listen, touch, smell, and, in certain non-poisonous situations, taste the world around us and use that data to inform our perceptions of the world.

As good as our senses are, they still have their limitations.  We can only see a small fraction of light’s full spectrum; we can only hear sounds within a relatively narrow envelope.  But in combination, our senses unlock our world in amazing ways. We don’t just savor the sight of snow-capped mountains, we feel the cold air in our lungs and breathe in the aroma of pine and dried leaves.  We don’t just watch the waves crash against the shore, we listen to their rhythmic beat and feel the coarse sand beneath our toes.  Our knowledge of our environment is deepened when more of our senses are engaged.

To better understand our planet, geoscientists turn to strange and wonderful methods to improve our sensory perception.  These approaches are creative, often crazy-sounding, and at times seemingly the stuff of imagination.  But, as the legendary Dr. Seuss put it:

Think left and think right, think low and think high.  Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try.

Welcome to Sensory Earth.

My name is Miles Traer, and I’m a geoscientist.  Below, I present four short stories (and more to come) about how Earth scientists see water buried hundreds of feet underground from hundreds of miles above, listen to screaming volcanoes, visualize mathematics in breathtaking beauty, and gaze upon our planet from 750 million miles away.  So perk up your senses and open your imagination… it’s time to explore.

  • Seeing groundwater from space title card fade
    Seeing groundwater from space title card
  • Listening to Volcanoes image title
    Listening to Volcanoes image
  • Earth From 750 Million Miles Away title image
    Earth From 750 Million Miles Away image
Acknowledgements: A special thank you to the web development team of Ken Sharp and Aaron Cole, without whom this project would not have been possible (or nearly as pretty).  Thanks also to all of you (too many to name) who read drafts of each of these stories and improved them all.