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Science Lightbox: Beauty in Geology, by Ethan Welty

Stories in geology, geomorphology, ecology, and climate unfold in small moments and expansive vistas. Ethan Welty pairs breathtaking photographs of natural features with extended captions that tell the rest of the story.

Images from the U.S., Mexico, Morocco, and Nepal invite us to notice the details (a lizard's-eye view of dune creation in Morocco, ice worms dwarfed by an exploded balloon on a Washington glacier) and take in wider perspectives (sherbet-colored hills in Oregon; a climber balanced on a knife edge of the Northern Cascades; a vast canyon in Chihuahua, Mexico). Learn why hills have rounded shapes, how lava tubes form, and how patterns from tiny ridges of beach sand to dunes to large fluvial networks form.

Ethan Welty is a gifted photographer ( and an INSTAAR/Environmental Studies PhD student. Ethan holds the copyright to all images; used with permission.

Download PDF of photo captions

Whitechuck Glacier, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Washington. A ruptured green balloon lies among ice worms, slowly photodegrading on the Whitechuck Glacier, on the slopes south of Glacier Peak in WashingtonTwisp Pass, North Cascades National Park, WashingtonPainted Hills Unit, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, OregonOn the Pacific Coast near the village of Mazunte, Oaxaca State, MexicoOn the trail to Everest Base Camp, Himalaya Mountains, NepalEmerging landscape at Columbia Glacier, AlaskaView of the Picket Range from Luna Peak, North Cascades National Park, WashingtonCoastal salt flats near Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, MexicoDry wash in the Mancos Shale badlands near Caineville, UtahFrost-rimmed rock shards near Caineville, UtahSea stacks at Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WashingtonCopper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre) and the town of Urique, Chihuahua State, MexicoJumbo Rocks, Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaWest branch of the Columbia Glacier, AlaskaIndian Tunnel lava tube, Craters of the Moon National Monument, IdahoRocky shore of Pescadero State Beach, CaliforniaDunes of Erg Zehar, two days by camel from MFactory Butte at sunrise, near Caineville, UtahQuartz veins, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WashingtonAerial view of fluvial network in the sagebrush steppe of northern ArizonaWater-filled pothole near Caineville, UtahMancos Shale badlands near Caineville, UtahSecond Beach, Olympic National Park, WashingtonAbyss Pool, West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming