Geological Flowers

These strange flower-like formations appear in a former limestone quarry in France. The black that you see is bitumen, or asphalt. These dendritic structures appear in spots where the rock has fractured. Originally, two rock faces met here, with a thin layer of bitumen glued between them. As one face pulled away, air began to seep into the space between, slowly injecting itself into the more viscous bitumen. Just as we observe in the laboratory, the air and bitumen formed viscous fingers, creating a classic pattern known as the Saffman-Taylor instability. It’s so cool to see an example of this in nature! You can see more photos of the formations here. (Image credit: P. Thomas)

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