Geology/Topography

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How old did you say that fossil was, professor?

The Blow Sky High Raid

The episode mission briefing
The Rat Patrol is hastening to reach a German radar installation in time to destroy it before the radar spots the approaching Allied bombers.  They must get there before Dietrich and his men can reach it to defend it.  The Rat Patrol put all their hope in the fact that Moffitt can find a mountain pass that he heard about years before when on a fossil hunt in the area.  As expected, he does find the pass, but in the process he also finds a rock we presume contains a fossil recognisable to Moffitt.  He tosses the rock to Troy, saying, "It's a few thousand years old, give or take a day or two."


"A few thousand years old."

If Moffitt had said 'a few hundred thousand years' it might have been a more believable age for the fossiliferous rock in his hand, and to be on the safe side a few million years would have been even better.  It generally takes millions of years to make a solid sedimentary rock so it seems highly unlikely that Moffitt found a fossil in a solid rock as young as a few thousand years, even if one does add on that extra day.

 

There are many fossiliferous rocks in North Africa containing remnants that might have been in that rock of Moffitt's.  Perhaps he saw a small nautiloid or a plant impression in his rock sample.  Libya has fossils of a wide variety: clams and fish, whales, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles (as big as 8 metres long), horses and elephants.  There have been portions of fossils from the dinosaur Spinosaurus found in Libya too (a forty foot long carnivorous dinosaur with six foot long spines along its back) .  It is clear that the North African desert lands were not always arid and were once, a very, very, very, very long time ago, well populated with 'critters'. 

for more about the real fossils of Libya check out (fairly technical content):
http://www.diplomatsinternational.com/Paleopublications.htm#Libya

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Admiring the desert land


Opening dune leap

The Sahara desert, and specifically the part where the Rat Patrol would have really travelled, the Libyan Desert, is said to be the most arid part of the huge Saharan desert.  The landscape of that desert land is not restricted to massive fields of shifting sand dunes (areas called ergs) where the dunes can be as much as 300m (1000 feet) high although it is images of jeeps leaping dunes that come first to mind in The Rat Patrol.  The Libyan desert also includes great plains of rocks (areas called regs) and rocky plateaus, and The Rat Patrol showed a variety of landscapes.

There are generally five types of sand dunes that might be found in a desert (although they often combine to make complex forms). 

Barchan (crescentic) - parabolic - linear (longitudinal and transverse) - star - dome

Suncompass doesn't know if all dune types are visible in The Rat Patrol, but chances are they are all present in the deserts of North Africa. 

for more about dune basics see
http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/deserts/dunes/


opening sequence from RP
(those two dots are jeeps)

 

One cannot talk about sand dunes without mentioning R.A. Bagnold. (yes, the very man who founded the Long Range Desert Group upon which the Rat Patrol may be loosely based).  Bagnold is probably the most widely quoted reference on sand formations.  He was in the deserts of North Africa well before the war and his many skills were far-reaching.  Not only did he research and write definitive works on aeolian deposits of the desert, he also invented and redesigned a number of devices (including the sun compass) that allowed his later-created military 'machine' to so effectively travel in the wartime desert and do the job they did so well.

A short biography of Bagnold may be accessed at:
http://www.weru.ksu.edu/symposium/proceedings/underwoo.pdf

Not to be missed!  A super report about Bagnold and his instrumental role in the creation of the LRDG may be read at:
http://www.lrdg.org/Bagnold's%20Bluff.htm


from opening of Chain of Death Raid but also seen in Pipeline to Disaster Raid

Mud Cracks or Dessication cracks - not an uncommon feature in very fine grained  deposits (clay) and indicates a formerly aqueous environment that has then been exposed to air and drying conditions.  Sometimes the cracking makes astoundingly regular straight-edged polygonal shapes.

[Suncompass suspects the shot of the mud cracks for the episode was meant to remind the viewer how very dry the episode was going to be for the two chained 'enemies'.]

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Surface Patterns

Chase of Fire Raid

The episode mission briefing
The Rat Patrol lose a member of their foursome and as a replacement, sergeant Moffitt is assigned for a special mission to find a buried British ammo and petroleum dump.  Moffitt, being an expert in 'meteorology, sand conditions, odds and ends', is recruited to guide the Rat Patrol to the prize. The surface pattern of the sand he sees is a key to their success because it runs against the prevailing Khamseen.

for more about the Khamseen, see Meterology)

The surface of sand is often rippled into small roughly parallel ridges.  These sand ripples form with their long axes at right angles to the wind, just like their much large counterparts, the linear dunes (there are other differences as well).  Assuming Moffitt's mentioned 'surface pattern' meant sand ripples, then one assumes that the direction of the ripples over the buried dump ran perpendicular to the ripples created elsewhere in the area by the prevailing Khamseen winds.  How exactly this came to be isn't clear to Suncompass, but no matter.  Ripples make an interesting texture overlying the desert, and clearly Moffitt found them a useful indicator when seeking a buried fuel dump.

for more about ripple, dune, and desert feature formations see  http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/deserts/eolian/


Sand ripples background
Chase of Fire Raid


Sand ripples in background
David & Goliath Raid


Dunes and sand ripples 
Chase of Fire Raid

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Between a rock and a hard place

The Holy War Raid

The episode mission briefing
Dietrich puts together a team of four men and two jeeps, dresses them up like the Rat Patrol, and sends them on a mission to kidnap the holy man from a nearby Arab tribe.  His plan is to 'buy' Arab favour by later 'rescuing' their holy man and casting the Allied Rat Patrol in a bad light. Dietrich hadn't counted on the blood ties between Moffitt's father and the Arabs which gives our lads time to pull success from the fire.  Moffitt, apparently an expert in the hard rock geology of the country, uses his expertise and a chance chunk of quartz to locate the area where Dietrich is holding the holy man.


from Holy War Raid

Libya does have rock types that could host quartz veins so it is indeed possible that the rock Troy and Moffitt are examining in this picture really is quartz.  Whether Moffitt could realistically distinguish that particular sample of quartz as occurring in a specific location is another matter, however.  This isn't to say it is impossible though - and besides, everyone knows that anything is possible in TV land and in the hands of the stars of a series.

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