Musings about the word “absolute” in Earth science literature



Rather than face the prospect of old age and retirement sometimes disturbed by the niggling feeling that I should have said something earlier, here is a public statement about a pet peeve concerning the use, if not the abuse and misuse, of the word absolute as it appears in a variety of Earth science literature. The triggering event for taking action, after a couple of decades of inaction, was seeing yet another title of the sort “The Absolute Age of the… Volcanic Rock”, combined with a little too much spare time during evenings in a lonely, isolated field camp.

Because my interests are principally in magmatic systems and secondarily in global plate tectonics, I see absolute used mostly with reference to the ages of igneous rocks and to the motions of lithospheric plates. People in other fields of Earth science surely will think of their own examples.