An Aerial View of Geology

Photographer Michael Collier and his Cessna 180 bring North America’s coastal landscapes into focus.

(Michael Collier)

It looks almost like a celestial map from another century, swirls and loops gracing a page of parchment. But in reality, those lines and whirls are tracks from all-terrain vehicles marking the shoreline of California’s Salton Sea. “Any animals that might once have nested on these sands have long ago been driven away,” writes Michael Collier in his new book Over the Coasts: An Aerial View of Geology (Mikaya Press, 2009).

In this book, third in a five-part series, Collier once again combines geology and aerial photography, hoping to give the layman “at least a passing acquaintance with the essence of geology, and how to see the stories that are in landscapes.”

Collier’s first attempt at flying would have discouraged almost anyone else. Using a secondhand hang glider—and having no hang-gliding instruction—Collier decided to jump off a 200-foot cliff near Point Arguello, California. “The first and final sortie,” he writes, “involved multiple crashes at 40-foot intervals on my way down the cliff.”

Click on the images below to see more of Collier’s photographs, and to read excerpts from our interview. To learn about National Geography Awareness Week, and events held at the National Air and Space Museum to promote interest in geography, click here.

All photographs by Michael Collier; used with permission from "Over the Coasts: An Aerial View of Geology," by Michael Collier, Mikaya Press 2009.

Bear Glacier

(Michael Collier)

Collier has spent the last two years completing a book on climate change in Alaska, commuting from Arizona in his Cessna 180. “I bought it 23 years ago, and I’ve taken it to Honduras, Alaska, and Maine,” says Collier. “It’s a bush plane, a tail-wheel plane made for flying into silly places. The 180s are meant to be beat up. They’re pickup trucks.” He’s spent more than 3,500 hours in the Cessna; his wife is convinced its tail wags when it sees him coming.

“Bear Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska, is a tidewater glacier,” writes Collier of this photograph, “that is, one that disgorges ice directly into the sea. The ice at the glacier’s terminus is breaking up faster than it can be delivered down from the mountains, which means that Bear Glacier is retreating.”

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