The eight cochampions of the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee
The eight cochampions of the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee. Credit: Congressional Quarterly/CQ-Roll Call Group/Getty Images

This week, National Harbor, Md., was swarmed by more than 560 elementary and middle schoolers who took to the stage to compete in the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee. This year’s bee moved into “uncharted territory” as round 18 commenced, according to the official pronouncer, Jacques Bailly, who said that they may run out of words difficult enough to challenge the remaining finalists.

Zaara Noor in the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee
Speller Zaara Noor from Detroit, Mich., was given the word “seism”—another word for earthquake—to spell in the third round of this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee. Credit: Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee, CC BY-NC 2.0

After 3 buzzing preliminary rounds, 5 high-flying finals rounds, and 12 stinging championship rounds, a record eight cochampion spellers were left standing.

None of the words given to the spellers were easy, but some of the competitors earned their stripes with Earth and space science words. From fossils to minerals to meteorology to Mars, these geoscience words from the bee will get your brain buzzing.

Tardigrade: four-legged microscopic invertebrate

Microscopic water bears couldn’t bring down Nicole Chowdhury.

Dolomite: calcium magnesium carbonate mineral

Honey Advani was solid as a rock spelling this component of compact limestone.

Stibnite: sulfide mineral containing antimony

Jeremiah Markose wasn’t antimon-ated by this slate-gray mineral.

Areology: the study of Mars

Vikram Goddla showed that his spelling skills weren’t rusty (like Mars’s surface).

Vayun Krishna in the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee
Vayun Krishna from Palo Alto, Calif., correctly spelled two complicated geoscience words: “fossiliferous,” which means to contain fossils, and “pyrheliometer,” an instrument for measuring the Sun’s energy at Earth. Credit: Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee, CC BY-NC 2.0

Pumice: pockmarked volcanic glass

This word couldn’t grind down Sophia Grierson’s confidence—it was smooth sailing.

Cirrocumulus: high-altitude rounded clouds

Correctly spelling this word had finalist Joseph Moran floating on a cloud.

Fluviatic: belonging to rivers or streams

Connor Greally’s spelling on this one didn’t quite flow, but things will get better downstream.

Frontogenesis: two air masses making a front

When this word collided with finalist Navneeth Murali, there were no stormy skies—just sunshine.

Ornithichnite: fossil imprint of a bird

Pavani Chittemsetty left a lasting impression by correctly spelling this one.

Chernozem: dark-colored zonal soils

After avoiding karst’s pitfalls earlier in the week, Aritra Banerjee kept it cool with this one—as cool as the climates these soils are found in.

Tufan: violent storm

Pranav Chandar was definitely tufan-ough for this one.

Darian Douglas in the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee
In round 6, Darian Douglas from Kingston, Jamaica, correctly spelled “schlieren,” an inception-like lithology of one rock type within another. Credit: Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee, CC BY-NC 2.0

Bremsstrahlung: radiation from a charged particle’s rapid slowdown

This one didn’t slow down Saketh Sundar. He charged right on ahead.

Omphacite: a green variety of pyroxene

After clear skies with “frontogenesis” earlier in the day, Navneeth Murali put the “omph” in this championship round word.

Paulopost: changes in igneous rock after consolidation

Change is good: With her first geoscience word of the bee, Shruthika Padhy consolidated her place in round 12.

Rina Olsen in the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee
In round 3, Rina Olsen from Hagåtña, Guam, correctly spelled “fulgurant,” meaning to flash like lightning. Credit: Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee, CC BY-NC 2.0

Trachyte: volcanic rock with potash feldspar

Sohum Sukhatankar “feld” that he was “spar”-ed a tough elimination with this one.

Allothimorph: bits of metamorphic rock with original crystal boundaries

Another rock-solid spelling from the mineral dictionary from Sohum Sukhatankar in round 14.

Cytherean: about the planet Venus

Saketh Sundar’s spelling of this round 15 word was out of this world.

Tjaele: permanently frozen ground

Rishik Gandhasri didn’t freeze on this round 16 word.

Moazagotl: clouds on a mountainside in warm, dry conditions

Warmed up after 16 prior rounds, Shruthika Padhy floated through this one.

How well would you have done in an all-geoscience spelling bee? Get together with your science hive and give it a try. It’s sure to bee a good time.

—Kimberly M. S. Cartier (@AstroKimCartier), Staff Writer


Cartier, K. M. S. (2019), Un-bee-lievable geoscience words in record-breaking spelling bee, Eos, 100, Published on 31 May 2019.

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