Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Catastrophism, the idea that natural disasters have had a significant influence in moulding the Earth’s geological features. In 1822 William Buckland, the first reader of Geology at the University of Oxford, published his famous Reliquae Diluvianae, in which he ascribed most of the fossil record to the effects of Noah’s flood. Charles Lyell in his Principles of Geology challenged these writings, arguing that geological change was slow and gradual, and that the processes responsible could still be seen at work today - a school of thought known as Uniformitarianism. But in the 1970s the idea that natural catastrophes were a major factor in the Earth’s geology was revived and given new respectability by the discovery of evidence of a gigantic asteroid impact 65 million years ago, believed by many to have resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs.

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  • Andrew Scott 2 episodes
    Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Jan Zalasiewicz No other episodes
    Senior Lecturer in Geology at the University of Leicester
  • Leucha Veneer 2 episodes
    Visiting Scholar at the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Manchester

Reading list

  • The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record
    Derek Ager (MacMillan, 1973) Google Books →
  • The New Catastrophism: The Importance of the Rare Event in Geological History
    Derek Ager (Cambridge University Press, 1993) Google Books →
  • Lyell: The Past is the Key to the Present
    D.J. Blundell and A.C. Scott (eds.) (Geological Society, 1998) Google Books →
  • The Fontana History of the Environmental Sciences
    Peter J. Bowler (Fontana, 1992) Google Books →
  • Reliquiae Diluvianae; or, Observations on the Organic Remains Contained in Caves, Fissures, and Diluvial Gravel, and on other Geological Phenomena, Attesting the Action of an Universal Deluge
    William Buckland (J. Murray, 1823) Google Books →
  • Ice Ages: Solving the Mystery
    John Imbrie and Katherine Palmer Imbrie (Harvard University Press, 1986) Google Books →
  • Geology and Religion: A History of Harmony and Hostility
    M. Kolbl-Ebert (ed.) (Geological Society, 2009) Google Books →
  • Principles of Geology
    Charles Lyell (Penguin, 1997) Google Books →
  • The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths and Myth in Greek and Roman Times
    Adrienne Mayor (Princeton University Press, 2011) Google Books →
  • The Meaning of Fossils: Episodes in the History of Palaeontology
    Martin Rudwick (University of Chicago Press, 1985) Google Books →
  • Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution
    Martin Rudwick (University of Chicago Press, 2005) Google Books →
  • Strata and Time: Probing the Gaps in Our Understanding
    D.G. Smith, R.J. Bailey, P.M. Burgess, A.J. Fraser (eds.) (Geological Society, 2014) Google Books →

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Programme ID: b03s9tlz

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Auto-category: 551.21 (Catastrophism)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, 65 million years ago, a massive object from outer space slammed into what is now the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.