It what sounds like the coolest job description going, the BBC reports that “scientists have been sailing across the Atlantic in a bid to track down sand from the Sahara Desert.”
They are chasing an aerial landform whilst plying currents through the sea – terrestrial stability is nowhere in sight.
[Image: Photo by Thomas J. Abercrombie].
Tracking that desert in the sky, then, the scientists have already “encountered two large sand storms during their cruise and recorded footage of their dust-drenched experience for the BBC News website.”
It’s airborne geology, of a different kind.
Of course, the Sahara is always popping up in unexpected places. A few quick links away from the BBC and we find that Saharan sand even peppered the ground in Wales last month; and that desert often blooms northward to cover parts of France, Italy, and Mediterranean Europe more generally, going as far north as England. It’s like some shapeless, living landmass from Greek myth – or from the tales of Scheherazade. (Leading me to wonder aloud: are the world’s religious texts an untapped resource of ideas for avant-garde landscape design?)
[Image: The Libyan Sahara; photo ©Jacques Herman. Will arches like this someday stand in Rome, made of storm-blown Saharan sandstone? How might we track the future sedimentary geology of Europe?].
So here’s a landscape design project for your next summer school studio: go around Europe tracking down the Sahara. Map these sites of territorial spread. Find where airborne terrains stratigraphically settle onto fields and cities elsewhere. Photograph zones of undisturbed deposition – small pockets of sand in a gully in eastern Spain – where it’s already compressing to form stone.
Then you hear rumors of a particularly violent storm that blew grains as far as Japan… and so off you go in your personal jetliner, sponsored by SCI-Arc.
In any case, the future geology of Europe will come down to it from the air, a distant lamination of the Sahara. Landscape at a distance.
If we stop sweeping the streets, what new rocks are forming here?
Perhaps that famous graffiti from Paris in May 1968 got it all wrong. Instead of: “Beneath the paving stones – the beach!” It should have read: “Above these roofs – the desert!”
It seems worth asking what new terrains might be settling down upon the roofs of your city right now, forming the stones of tomorrow. What strange processes of sediment are you even now witnessing – and how might we keep better track?
Sailing across the Atlantic, scanning for nomadic side-storms of the Sahara, seems like a good place to start.