Over the Coasts: An Aerial View of Geology by Michael Collier

Review by Sid Perkins

Natural forces typically take their sweet time sculpting Earth’s surface, sometimes millions of years. But where the land meets the sea, land can be shaped quickly, as revealed in dramatic, ever-changing scenery. In evocative words and stunning images, aerial photographer and geologist Michael Collier chronicles changes that have occurred — and are occurring — along North American coasts: the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico.

In his new book, the latest in his Aerial View of Geology series, Collier begins his tour along the Gulf Coast. There, prodigious amounts of sand and sediment — much of it flushed from America’s heartland by the Mississippi River — line the shore from Texas to the Florida Keys.

Next he proceeds to the long, low barrier islands along the Carolinas, which contrast sharply with Maine’s craggy headlands, where long-gone glaciers scoured terrain down to bedrock.

While hurricanes, ice and tectonics were some of the main forces shaping shores in ancient times, today humans play an increasingly dominant role.

The effects of human activity aren’t always immediate, but Collier’s images show that such influences can be long-lasting. A photo of the northern end of San Francisco Bay reveals sediments choking now-unsightly marshes. Much of that material was mobilized in the Sierras during the California Gold Rush more than 150 years ago, he notes. The vivid text accompanying the beautiful photographs make Over the Coasts as much an informative geology primer as it is an attractive coffee-table book.

Miyaka Press, 2009, 120 p., $34.95.