BOULDER, CO—A team of geologists from the University of Colorado announced at a press conference Wednesday that they had made a significant discovery concerning the world’s silt deposits, but stated that they understand if you aren’t interested in that sort of thing.
The consortium of silt experts—who acknowledged that the analysis of the loose sedimentary material that gathers in lakes, rivers, and forests was not necessarily up everyone’s alley—nonetheless stressed that the results of their research had wide-reaching implications for those in their specific field of study.
“We’ve made quite a substantial breakthrough in our understanding of how slope stability is impacted by the silt composition in different layers of alluvial soil, but, of course, I’m well aware that isn’t everybody’s thing,” said study director Stephen Powell, who admitted that investigating the movement of silt was, after all, a relatively niche field, so he certainly didn’t begrudge anyone who is not as excited as he is by such research. “If it piques your interest, that’s great. If it doesn’t, that’s no problem either. So, I’m just going to put our findings out there, and you can decide for yourself if this is something that you’d like to know more about: In some regions of northern Colorado, the silt fraction is actually dominated by coarse silt versus middle or fine silt.”
“We were surprised and intrigued to learn that, and perhaps you are as well,” Powell continued. “That being said, if you don’t want to learn about silt, that’s perfectly reasonable too. Really, not a big deal to us.”
With plans to publish the findings in the Journal Of Sedimentary Research, the scientists said that while their study had garnered a wealth of new information relevant to those who are passionate about topics like loess strata, clay content, and rock weathering, they would not blame anyone for deciding that dozens of pages about silt was much more than they would care to read.
Citing their methodology, which included field mapping, drilling, and shear strength measurements, the research team suggested that perhaps the average person might at least appreciate the processes by which the data was collected. But they also raised the possibility that one may not have any special affinity for soil analysis at all and would prefer skipping the research altogether.
The geologists added that either scenario was fine with them.
“I’ve been a researcher and professor of sedimentary geology for the past 35 years at one of the region’s top public universities, so am I going to be thrilled when there’s a major development in the area of silt? You bet,” said Powell, speaking in front of a projection of the first slide of his team’s presentation, which read “The Mechanical Properties Of Quaternary Sediment And Their Impact On Slope Dynamics: Not For Everyone.” “That’s just who I am. I find the way silt forms on the earth’s surface fascinating. Silt erosion; silt lattices; the chemical breakdown of silt—these are all things I think about on a daily basis. When I attend conferences, I regularly speak on these matters and how they relate to the broader spectrum of soils in general. In other words, I like silt. However, our intention here isn’t to force anyone to share my enthusiasm about silt. Not in the least.”
“After all, it’s silt,” he continued. “I get that.”
Recognizing the lay reader’s possible hesitation, the scientists proposed that it might be worth just flipping through the report to see if anything catches their eye, adding that there was “actually some pretty interesting stuff in there” on how silt layers are deposited when subject to periglacial processes.
Yet researchers were quick to note that if it sounded like they were trying to sell you on silt, that’s really not how it was meant to come across at all.
“Let me say it as simply as I can: This is a discovery about a granular sediment whose primary audience is other academics in the field,” Powell said. “So, yes, I readily admit my excitement about verifying that the stability of slopes exceeding 27 degrees is controlled by five distinct phases of slope formation, each corresponding to a different sedimentary profile. But then again, silt research is of personal interest to me. No one’s holding your feet to the fire and saying you have to feel the same way I do about silt.”
Added Powell, “On the other hand, though, we have a report about shale coming out next month that’s going to blow your goddamn mind.”