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Roger Weller, geology instructor

by Jesse Waite
Physical Geology
Fall 2016

Gone:  Weathering and Erosion

            Since the dawn of man the goal we have strived to achieve is to last as long as possible on this highly corrosive yet beautiful planet we call home.  We transform the land, we try to control the weather, and we build structures we call “Invincible” to the elements.  However, nature has a tendency to prove us wrong and wrong again.  The fact is our planet, no matter what we do, will eventually devour our cities, homes, technology and eventually our bodies.  To comprehend the end of our race is such an alien concept that we are starting to ignore the symptoms of our diseases, start to dig our own mass graves, and somehow still have the audacity to suggest we have control of the situation.  In a certain perspective that may sound bleak, “You’re just being negative”, is probably the first thought of the reader.  Although our demise has not happened worldwide yet, there is proof that nothing last forever.  In this paper I hope to show examples of three cities in distinct environments. These places were built in an attempt to conquer nature but the very reason for which these towns were founded eventually led to their demise.  From being trapped in a scorching desert, to being surrounded by an ocean, and to be slowly over taken by the forests that were originally cut down.

The Namib Desert is an inhospitable part of earth located in the African continent. With its shifting sand dunes, high temperatures, and ravishing dust storms, the thought of living there would be a mad one.  However, in 1908 a rail worker who was shoving sand off the train tracks in that the area discovered diamonds in the hot sand.  Soon after that, large plots of the land where bought off and eventually the German Government founded the city of Kolmaskop.  The town flourished early but unfortunately ended just four decades after the World War which caused the diamond prices crashed.  This gem was also eventually mined out of the area and a richer deposit was found further south.  In just forty years the future the residents imagined for the city was gone and was given to the dunes.  (The Travelling Chilli)  As the town became abandoned, the desert started to move in with force.  Like a flood from a hurricane the sand started to flow inside the buildings that froze doors in place and busted out walls.  The wind and sand griound away the exteriors of the buildings forming holes that undercut the buildings until gravity turned the buildings to dust. The dunes flowed over the town burying the memories of the people lived there.  Even in a desert where there is very little life, the Earth still find a way to grind away her scars caused by man.  They came here for precious gems but when that ran out, so did the town’s future.




However, thousands of miles away, another city was founded once again for a prospect of mining another mineral. In 1810 coal was discovered around a slab of rock off the coast of Japan.  Undersea mines were created to excavate this black gold and in 1916 the first large reinforced concrete apartment building was made. Soon enough, the city of Hashima was founded and eventually was bought by an engineering giant, Mitsubishi.  The city grew from having one seven story building to an entire city with schools, pachinko parlor, and even a cinema that rose from the middle of an ocean.  This was city that it held a population of over five thousand citizens of workers and their families. (Gunkel)  With such a bright looking future though it is hard to imagine what went wrong.  Despite it being a symbol to Japan’s industrial revolution, the city holds a very dark past.  Hashima, during World War II, became a forced labor camp for hundreds of Korean laborers and Chinese prisoners whose death toll was over thirteen thousand.  Now the city lays empty because as petroleum eventually replaced coal, the city became less useful to Mitsubishi.  (Magnay) For forty two years the city slowly turned to ruin.  Walls facing the sea have been stripped of all its concrete as the sea air and ocean waves rubbed it down to the bones.  The metal rebar that is now exposed corroded and rusted by the humid salty air.  The rust caused metal to expand in the buildings which broke the remaining concrete.  While outside washed away, the wooden interiors rotted away as well.  All that is left behind are gray tombs that people once called home.  This city has not fared well in the sea.  It was often referred to as “Battleship Island” because its distinctive look gave it the shape of a ship. Unfortunately, this ship ran on coal and once that ran out of usefulness, this ship started to sink.


On April 25, 1986 the world was shocked to hear that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant had melted down and exploded in the Ukraine.  Nuclear power is, for the most part, considered a safe and efficient way to create electricity.  Uranium is an abundant element that is mined from the earth and used as fuel for the power plants.  When a uranium nuclei is split, a huge amount of energy is released.  This energy from radiation is the biggest source of kinetic energy. Once the heat is produced inside the reactor, it causes the water in it to turn into steam which eventually creates electricity. (ENEC)  Unfortunately, when mistakes are made and safety fails then this safe, clean energy form becomes a deadly bomb.  When Chernobyl melted down it sent a cloud of radioactive particles that affected all of Europe.  The most affected area was the city of Pripyat, a place built to home the workers of the power plant. The city with a population of over fifty thousand people was abandoned overnight when the Chernobyl’s fourth reactor had a total meltdown.  Since then, nearly thirty years has past, the city remains empty and slowly being taken back by nature.  The roads in the city have plants growing in cracks and when those plants die they create a layer of fertile compost that allows more plants to grow on top.  Eventually they swallow the roads until grassy fields are left behind.  The buildings are slowly being torn apart from rust and the roots growing in cracks in the buildings.  The possessions of the people living there were left behind to be plundered by thieves not knowing that they are bringing home radioactive treasure along with them.  During the winter when ice freezes it causes the buildings to open up by expanding and wedging open the cracks that formed in nearly every building.  The forest that surrounded the city initially died after the explosion but as time passed, nature regained her footing.  Seeds blown in by the wind allowed trees and other plants to take root on the rooftops.  While the trees from the forest grow further and further through town.  Although there is radiation still in the area, nature has flourished with life over the past few decades.  It seems that not even one of man’s biggest environmental disasters cause stop the flood of life. (Chernobylwel)


Life has a way of working around our destruction.  Earth will not notice us gone and none of our marks on earth will last forever.  This report may sound incredibly bleak and dark but it gives you perspective.  Nothing is lasts forever but nothing ever ends as well.  In Kolmaskop, the city ended when the gem they were looking for no longer proved useful to them.  However, despite the city being in ruins, life still goes on there.  Animals have made the buildings their homes. Hashima was built on top of a lifeless slap of rock to try to harness the power of coal.  It may have worn out its welcome with its dark history, but thanks to the introduction of man it now has green plants sprawling all over the once lifeless island.  Pripyat was covered in radiation because of a series or reckless decisions that resulted in the meltdown of the Chernobyl power plant, but without the interference of man in the area, nature has made a comeback in a big way.  Cities may rise trying to harness the earth and they may fall by the very minerals they built themselves on top of but they will never truly be dead.  We as people push the planet to the limits and when we fall, earth will always be there to pick up the pieces and reclaim our realm as her own.



Chernobylwel. “Chernobyl history, Chernobyl accident and radiation risk nowadays in Chernobyl.” Chernobylwel. n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.


ENEC. “ENEC: How does nuclear energy work.” Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation. n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.


Gunkel, Christoph. “Vergessene Orte: Geisterstadt Im Ozean - SPIEGEL ONLINE.” SPIEGEL ONLINE, 27 Nov. 2009,


Kolmanskop Ghost Town - From Diamonds to Dust - The Travelling Chilli

Magnay, Diana. “Japan’s 007 Island Still Carries Scars of Wartime Past.” CNN. CNN, 13 June 2013. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.