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  • richardmitnick 11:20 am on May 12, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "The Great Unconformity", , Geology,   

    From UC Santa Barbara: “The Great Unconformity” 

    UC Santa Barbara Name bloc
    From UC Santa Barbara

    May 7, 2020
    Harrison Tasoff
    (805) 893-7220
    harrisontasoff@ucsb.edu

    A billion years is missing from the geologic record; one UC Santa Barbara scientist believes he knows where it may have gone.

    1
    Francis Macdonald walks along a road near Manitou Springs, Colorado, where an exposed outcrop shows a feature known as the “Great Unconformity.”

    2
    Francis Macdonald. Photo Credit: UC Santa Barbara

    The geologic record is exactly that: a record. The strata of rock tell scientists about past environments, much like pages in an encyclopedia. Except this reference book has more pages missing than it has remaining. So geologists are tasked not only with understanding what is there, but also with figuring out what’s not, and where it went.

    One omission in particular has puzzled scientists for well over a century. First noticed by John Wesley Powell in 1869 in the layers of the Grand Canyon, the Great Unconformity, as it’s known, accounts for more than one billion years of missing rock in certain places.

    Scientists have developed several hypotheses to explain how, and when, this staggering amount of material may have been eroded. Now, UC Santa Barbara geologist Francis Macdonald and his colleagues at the University of Colorado, Boulder and at Colorado College believe they may have ruled out one of the more popular of these. Their study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    “There are unconformities all through the rock record,” explained Macdonald, a professor in the Department of Earth Science. “Unconformities are just gaps in time within the rock record. This one’s called the Great Unconformity because it was thought to be a particularly large gap, maybe a global gap.”

    A leading thought is that glaciers scoured away kilometers of rock around 720 to 635 million years ago, during a time known as Snowball Earth, when the planet was completely covered by ice. This hypothesis even has the benefit of helping to explain the rapid emergence of complex organisms shortly thereafter, in the Cambrian explosion, since all this eroded material could have seeded the oceans with tremendous amounts of nutrients.

    Macdonald was skeptical of this reasoning. Although analogues of the Great Unconformity appear throughout the world — with similar amounts of rock missing from similar stretches of time — they don’t line up perfectly. This casts doubt as to whether they were truly eroded by a global event like Snowball Earth.

    Part of the challenge of investigating the Great Unconformity is that it happened so long ago, and the Earth is a messy system. “These rocks have been buried and eroded multiple times through their history,” Macdonald said.

    Fortunately, the team was able to test this hypothesis using a technique called thermochronology. A few kilometers below the Earth’s surface, the temperature begins to rise as you get closer to the planet’s hot mantle. This creates a temperature gradient of roughly 35 degrees Celsius for every kilometer of depth. And this temperature regime can become imprinted in certain minerals.

    As certain radioactive elements in rocks break down, Helium-4 is produced. In fact helium is constantly being generated, but the fraction retained in different minerals is a function of temperature. As a result, scientists can use the ratio of helium to thorium and uranium in certain minerals as a paleo-thermometer. This phenomenon enabled Macdonald and his coauthors to track how rock moved in the crust as it was buried and eroded through the ages.

    “These unconformities are forming again and again through tectonic processes,” Macdonald said. “What’s really new is we can now access this much older history.”

    The team took samples from granite just below the boundary of the Great Unconformity at Pikes Peak in Colorado. They extracted grains of a particularly resilient mineral, zircon, from the stone and analyzed the radio nucleotides of helium contained inside. The technique revealed that several kilometers of rock had been eroded from above this granite between 1,000 and 720 million years ago.

    3
    Zircons from Pikes Peak. Photo Credit: FRANCIS MACDONALD

    Importantly, this stretch of time definitively came before the Snowball Earth episodes. In fact, it lines up much better with the periods in which the supercontinent Rodinia was forming and breaking apart. This offers a clue to the processes that may have stricken these years from the geologic record.

    “The basic hypothesis is that this large-scale erosion was driven by the formation and separation of supercontinents,” Macdonald said.

    The Earth’s cycle of supercontinent formation and separation uplifts and erodes incredible extents of rock over long periods of time. And because supercontinent processes, by definition, involve a lot of land, their effects can appear fairly synchronous across the geologic record.

    However, these processes don’t happen simultaneously, as they would in a global event like Snowball Earth. “It’s a messy process,” Macdonald said. “There are differences, and now we have the ability to perhaps resolve those differences and pull that record out.”

    While Macdonald’s results are consistent with a tectonic origin for these great unconformities, they don’t end the debate. Geologists will need to complement this work with similar studies in other regions of the world in order to better constrain these events.

    The mystery of the Great Unconformity is inherently tied to two of geology’s other great enigmas: the rise and fall of Snowball Earth and the sudden emergence of complex life in the Ediacaran and Cambrian. Progress in any one could help researchers finally crack the lot.

    “The Cambrian explosion was Darwin’s dilemma,” Macdonald remarked. “This is a 200-year old question. If we can solve that, we would definitely be rock stars.”

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education CoalitionUC Santa Barbara Seal
    The University of California, Santa Barbara (commonly referred to as UC Santa Barbara or UCSB) is a public research university and one of the 10 general campuses of the University of California system. Founded in 1891 as an independent teachers’ college, UCSB joined the University of California system in 1944 and is the third-oldest general-education campus in the system. The university is a comprehensive doctoral university and is organized into five colleges offering 87 undergraduate degrees and 55 graduate degrees. In 2012, UCSB was ranked 41st among “National Universities” and 10th among public universities by U.S. News & World Report. UCSB houses twelve national research centers, including the renowned Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:46 am on May 9, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Survival in the Atacama Desert", , , Chroococcidiopsis – a cyanobacteria commonly found in deserts – and gypsum in Chile’s Atacama Desert., , Geology   

    From COSMOS: “Survival in the Atacama Desert” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    From COSMOS

    05 May 2020
    Nick Carne

    1
    Gypsum rocks in Chile’s Atacama Desert. Credit:Jocelyne DiRuggiero

    It’s not quite life on Mars, but it may be a pointer.

    US researchers have shown that, as some had suspected, microorganisms can survive in the harshest of conditions by extracting water from the rocks they colonise.

    A team from the University of California (UC) and Johns Hopkins University (JHU) studied interactions between Chroococcidiopsis – a cyanobacteria commonly found in deserts – and gypsum in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

    1
    An international team of scientists has found that a strange type of bacteria can turn light into fuel in incredibly dim environments. Similar bacteria could someday help humans colonize Mars and expand our search for life on other planets, researchers said in a statement released with the new work.

    Organisms called cyanobacteria absorb sunlight to create energy, releasing oxygen in the process. But until now, researchers thought these bacteria could absorb only specific, higher-energy wavelengths of light. The new work reveals that at least one species of cyanobacteria, called Chroococcidiopsis thermalis — which lives in some of the world’s most extreme environments — can absorb redder (less energetic) wavelengths of light, thus allowing it to thrive in dark conditions, such as deep underwater in hot springs. [Extreme Life on Earth: 8 Bizarre Creatures]

    “This work redefines the minimum energy needed in light to drive photosynthesis,” Jennifer Morton, a researcher at Australian National University (ANU) and a co-author of the new work, said in the statement. “This type of photosynthesis may well be happening in your garden, under a rock.” (In fact, a related species has even been found living inside rocks in the desert.)

    When grown in far-red light, this cyanobacteria, called Chroococcidiopsis thermalis, can still photosynthesize where others falter. Credit: T. Darienko/CC BY-SA 4.0

    Or below it, to be precise. The Chroococcidiopsis exist beneath a thin layer of rock that gives them a measure of protection against the high solar irradiance, extreme dryness and battering winds in what is the world’s driest non-polar region.

    When gypsum samples were studied back in the lab, the most striking discovery was that the microorganisms change the very nature of the rock. By extracting water, they cause a phase transformation of the material – from gypsum to anhydrite, a dehydrated mineral.

    Intrigued, the researchers ran some experiments, allowing the organisms to colonise half-millimetre cubes of rock, called coupons, under two different conditions: one in the presence of water, to mimic a high-humidity environment, and the other completely dry.

    Amid moisture, they found, the gypsum did not transform to the anhydrite phase.

    The cyanobacteria “didn’t need water from the rock, they got it from their surroundings”, says David Kisailus, from UC Irvine. “But when they were put under stressed conditions, the microbes had no alternative but to extract water from the gypsum, inducing this phase transformation in the material.”

    Kisailus’s team used a combination of advanced microscopy and spectroscopy to examine the interactions between the biological and geological counterparts, finding that the organisms bore into the rock by excreting a biofilm containing organic acids.

    UCI’s Wei Huang then used a modified electron microscope equipped with a Raman spectrometer to discover that the cyanobacteria used the acid to penetrate the gypsum in specific crystallographic directions – only along certain planes where they could more easily access the water existing between faces of calcium and sulfate ions.

    “Researchers have suspected for a long time that microorganisms might be able to extract water from minerals, but this is the first demonstration of it,” says JHU biologist Jocelyne DiRuggiero

    “This is an amazing survival strategy for microorganisms living at the dry limit for life, and it will guide our search for life elsewhere.”

    The findings are reported in a paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

     
    • Skyscapes for the Soul 4:37 pm on May 9, 2020 Permalink | Reply

      A post about life in the Atacama desert is of great interest. It had long been a place on my bucket list – until Murray Foote visited and mentioned the altitude. Ugh, this low desert rat would not survive such heights. Nice though to hear that other researchers can bring me interesting news from there.

      Like

  • richardmitnick 8:22 am on April 27, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Ancient Australian Rocks Suggest Earth's Continents Were Shifting Earlier Than Thought", , , Geology, Pilbara craton in Western Australia,   

    From Science Alert: “Ancient Australian Rocks Suggest Earth’s Continents Were Shifting Earlier Than Thought” 

    ScienceAlert

    From Science Alert

    26 APRIL 2020
    CARLY CASSELLA

    1
    (Jeff Schmaltz/NASA)

    Earth’s continents are constantly on the move, it’s a key feature of our planet, but that wasn’t always the case.

    While some scientists think Earth’s tectonic plates began pushing and pulling only a billion years ago, others think the whole process started nearly four billion years ago, when our planet was but an infant.

    That’s quite the discrepancy, and as usual, general agreement lies somewhere in between. Today, it’s commonly thought Earth’s tectonic plates began moving around 2.8 billion years ago, when the interior of our planet was just the right temperature to allow for the formation of 15 rigid plates.

    Even still, disagreement reigns. Direct evidence from this time is hard to come by, and now some of the oldest rocks on Earth suggest we may have been more than 400 million years off the mark.

    Analysing magnetism in ancient rocks from Australia and South Africa, researchers at Harvard and MIT claim tectonic plates were moving at least 3.2 billion years ago and maybe earlier.

    “Basically, this is one piece of geological evidence to extend the record of plate tectonics on Earth farther back in Earth history,” says Alec Brenner, who researches paleomagnetics at Harvard University.

    “Based on the evidence we found, it looks like plate tectonics is a much more likely process to have occurred on the early Earth and that argues for an Earth that looks a lot more similar to today’s than a lot of people think.”

    The Pilbara craton in Western Australia is one of the oldest slices of Earth’s ancient crust and contains fossils for some of the earliest organisms on our planet.

    2
    A gorge at Karijini National Park shows off the rocks of the Pilbara craton. Credit: iStock

    Stretching nearly 500 kilometres across (300 miles), this chunk of primordial crust was formed as early as 3.5 billion years ago.

    Drilling into a portion of this craton, known as the Honeyeater Basalt, researchers used state of the art magnetometers and demagnetising equipment to uncover the region’s magnetic history.

    Roughly 3.2 billion years ago, their data reveals a shift from one point to another, a latitudinal drift of 2.5 centimetres a year.

    Or, as the authors put it, “a velocity comparable with those of modern plates.”

    “It’s very comparable to the speeds of plate motion that we can see happening on the modern Earth,” earth scientist Alec Brenner from Harvard told MSN.

    “It’s also the oldest example that we know of in which a piece of Earth’s crust drifted long distances over the surface.”

    But that’s about all they can say for now. While it’s clear these rocks experienced some sort of horizontal movement, it’s unclear if that shift was due to local effects or the rotation of the Pilbara craton as a whole. It could even be a combination of both.

    There’s actually a hypothesis that, in the beginning, Earth’s tectonic plates moved in episodes of stops and starts that lasted for several billion years before more modern tectonic movements began.

    This could be an explanation for the movement in Pilbara between 3.35 and 3.18 billion years ago, although the authors think the timing hints otherwise.

    Still, while it’s true the data could support episodic movements rather than gradual plate motion, geophysicist Stephan Sobolev, who was not involved in the study told Science News there is another explanation.

    Some regions of crust may have started to move and subduct earlier than other areas, broken apart by meteorites or some other powerful force.

    Given how quickly East Pilbara was moving, however, even Sobolev admits “large-scale subduction must have been involved”.

    There was clearly something big happening here, and if that something is widespread tectonic movement, that has important repercussions for the formation of habitats and life on Earth.

    It also could apply to other planets out there.

    “Currently, Earth is the only known planetary body that has robustly established plate tectonics of any kind,” explains Brenner.

    “It really behooves us as we search for planets in other solar systems to understand the whole set of processes that led to plate tectonics on Earth and what driving forces transpired to initiate it.

    “That hopefully would give us a sense of how easy it is for plate tectonics to happen on other worlds, especially given all the linkages between plate tectonics, the evolution of life and the stabilization of climate.”

    The study was published in Science Advances.

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 11:37 am on March 20, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "U.S. Readies Health Response for the Next Big Eruption", , , , Geology, Mount St. Helens spawned a new field of science concerned with the health impacts of volcanoes in the short and long term., Volcano experts meet regularly to discuss eruption forecasting and hazard modeling.,   

    From Eos: “U.S. Readies Health Response for the Next Big Eruption” 

    From AGU
    Eos news bloc

    From Eos

    12 March 2020
    Kimberly M. S. Cartier

    Forty years after the explosive eruption of Mount St. Helens, scientists, communities, and civic officials are evaluating plans to best protect public health before, during, and after an eruption.

    1
    A Plinian eruption column billows from Mount St. Helens on 18 May 1980. Credit: USGS/Robert Krimmel.

    Whakaari volcano in New Zealand erupted on 9 December 2019. Although experts had warned for weeks that the stratovolcano was showing signs of unrest, Whakaari remained open to tourism. Forty-seven people were reported to have been on Whakaari, or White Island, when the eruption happened. Twenty-one people have died.

    A month later, Taal volcano in the Philippines erupted and spewed a 15-kilometer tall ash plume into the sky. Lava fountains, sulfuric gas, volcanic earthquakes, and more ash plumes followed. Nearly half a million people lived within the 14-kilometer radius danger zone, but only about 70,000 of those people are estimated to have sheltered in evacuation centers. The price of certified breathing masks inflated tenfold after the eruption. The Philippine Department of Agriculture estimated that ash has destroyed roughly US$60 million in crops. Some residents of Taal have lost everything.

    “We live on a very, very active planet volcanically speaking,” said Janine Krippner, a volcanologist at the Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program in Washington, D.C. “Those types of volcanoes and the eruption styles that we’ve seen now could absolutely happen in the United States in a wide range of sizes—from White Island being very small [to] Taal being a moderate eruption which has the potential to be bigger,” she said.

    It has been 40 years since Mount St. Helens in Washington state erupted. On 18 May 1980, the event killed 57 people, including a volcanologist monitoring the ongoing activity. Since then the volcano experienced some sustained eruptive activity between 2004–2008, largely creating a lava dome beneath the surface, but occasionally sending up some ash. That means it’s been 40 years since U.S. agencies have had to coordinate to keep a major eruption on the mainland from becoming a public health crisis—and experts have found that it’s long past time for a more modern game plan.

    It’s About Who You Know…

    A lot of recent interagency work has focused on bringing volcano response plans in line with the newest science, response structures, and communication platforms.

    Regional and state emergency divisions have kept an ongoing dialogue with the Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO) on the hazards specific to their areas. The National Science Foundation, NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine conducted a 2-year investigation about how to improve eruption forecasting. Volcanologists, too, have been developing a research coordination network to organize scientific investigations of an eruption, which will inform future response plans.

    In 2018, the eruption of Kīlauea in Hawaii became a proving ground for some of these new response networks.

    3
    Lava bursts from a fissure on the flanks of Kīlauea volcano. As new lava flows and as Kilauea evolves, new landscapes in southeastern areas of the island of Hawai‘i are beginning to take shape. Credit: Mario Tama/Staff/Getty Images News/Getty Images

    Local response teams, USGS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and scientists worked together to gather and disseminate information to affected populations. Many of those involved consider the overall response a great success.

    Volcano experts meet regularly to discuss eruption forecasting and hazard modeling. But there’s still more work to be done in understanding the health risks form volcanoes and coming up with action plans to mitigate those risks.

    In the current framework, response would start at the city level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (CDC ATSDR) told Eos in a statement. “Local authorities could declare an emergency or disaster and likely would request state assistance. The governor of the state would request federal help if needed. The state request could prompt a presidential declaration and the National Response Framework would activate under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).” The National Response Framework, a federal guide to disaster and emergency response, was not in place when Mount St. Helens erupted but has since been used to guide the response to eruptions in Alaska, Hawaii, and the Philippines, ATSDR said.

    “At the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980…there were many agencies and thousands of individuals involved in all aspects of the disaster,” explained Peter Baxter, a volcano health expert at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Baxter, who was part of the response team in 1980, said that the eruption was an “unknown entity” in terms of the human health impacts and the practical challenges of ash deposits in community.

    “People had to learn from scratch,” he said. “Although some of the lessons have been relearned at other volcanoes around the world since, a lot of valuable practical experience is being lost as people retire.”

    “When you do disaster response work, you want to have relationships in place,” said David Damby, who researches the health impacts of eruptions at the USGS California Volcano Observatory in Menlo Park. “During a crisis it’s really hard to meet people and spin up a working relationship on the spot.” If an emergency manager needs a particular piece of information about an ongoing disaster, he said, the key to responding quickly is knowing ahead of time who holds that information.

    …And Also What You Know

    Before the Mount St. Helens event, the last time a major volcano had erupted in the conterminous United States was the 1914 Lassen Peak eruption in California. Unlike the very active volcanoes in Hawaii and Alaska, active volcanoes in the rest of the country erupt twice a century on average. That makes it difficult to predict the potential health hazards that stem from any one specific volcano.

    Mount St. Helens spawned a new field of science concerned with the health impacts of volcanoes in the short and long term. As far as case studies go, that eruption is still one of the most extensively studied to date, but it’s still just one example of the type of eruption that might take place. Volcanologists, out of necessity, study examples from around the world to learn more about what the next Cascades eruption might look like.

    “There was an eruption of El Chichón in 1982 in southern Mexico, and 1,500 people died from pyroclastic flows,” said Carolyn Driedger. “People were not organizing. They had not built trusting relationships with their local communities at risk.” Driedger, a hydrologist and outreach coordinator at CVO in Vancouver, Wash., also witnessed and responded to the Mount St. Helens eruption.

    Then came the eruption of Nevado del Ruiz, Colombia, in 1985 and the Armero tragedy, in which more than 20,000 people in the city of Armero died as a result of mudflows issuing from the eruption.

    “Scientists came into [Armero] and tried to talk to local people, but…they weren’t trusted,” Driedger said. “There were vested business interests that were interfering with the messaging. The lahar came through.”

    A lahar is a volcanic mudflow, Driedger explained. “It’s debris and mud and boulders and anything the flow can pick up and carry.”

    “It was just your worst nightmare,” she said. “It was a dark and stormy night, 11:30 at night, when the lahar came through; 25,000 people died. That showed us lahars are huge hazards and getting information about these hazards to people is so important.”

    From the 1991 eruption of Pinatubo, Philippines, “we learned a lot about eruption prediction and how lahars can affect areas for generations after the initial occurrence,” Driedger said. “Now we know it’s not over when it’s over.”

    Other scientific disciplines aid volcanic research, too. “There’s been a lot done on anthropogenic pollution, for example,” Damby said. “Understanding the impact of particulate matter on people’s health is something that we’re really tuned into because volcanic ash, at the end of the day, is particulate matter.”

    Volcanologists have spent decades building a body of knowledge about how a volcanic eruption might make people sick. That knowledge can be of critical use to agencies and health professionals who don’t exclusively deal with volcanoes.

    “If you’re a health professional who’s never dealt with a volcanic eruption before—which anyone in the U.S. who didn’t respond to 1980 Mount St. Helens is in that same boat—then it’s nice to be able to have the USGS say, ‘Here’s what we know. Here’s what problems might be. Here’s what we need to test for,’” Damby said.

    Evolving Eruptions

    However, predicting an eruption’s hazards is not as easy as saying “Volcano X will produce Hazard X” and “Volcano Y will produce Hazard Y.”

    “Volcanic eruptions can evolve,” Krippner said. “They can get bigger or smaller, or they can pause and then continue. The different hazards can change through that time as well and the extent of those hazards.”

    Disaster mitigation plans work best when the people at risk understand those risks. “There are areas which are excelling at this, but generally speaking, every single aspect of volcanism seems to be misunderstood,” she said.

    For example, simply using the word “smoke” instead of “ash” implies a different set of health hazards and protection measures. “I’d say everything—the terminology, what the hazards are, what they mean for people, what the impacts to people actually are, and how people can stay safe—every single aspect of volcanology has to be better understood by the community,” said Krippner. She noted that official communications about the 2018 Kīlauea eruption were superb.

    “What we focus on the most, because it puts the most people in immediate harm’s way, is lahars,” said Brian Terbush, who heads the earthquake and volcano program at the Washington State Emergency Management Division.

    “All of our volcanoes have a lahar potential and especially the larger ones with huge glacier cover that have river drainages that go into populated areas, such as Mount Rainier,” Terbush said. “About 80,000 people could potentially be at risk from the lahars.” That’s just those at risk from the most immediate lahars near Mount Rainier, Terbush said. Downriver lahars, some experts say, could endanger more than 100,000 residents, employees, and tourists.

    “They are highly destructive,” Driedger added, “so it’s maybe less a health hazard and more a matter of life and death as to your getting out of the way.”

    4
    An eruption of Mount Rainier would cause lahars to sweep through the surrounding area and toward the Puget Sound. Many of the cities at risk for lahars plan and practice evacuation routes. Credit: USGS

    And then, of course, there is volcanic ash. “When ash falls, everything that is covered is impacted and that includes the air,” she said. “Most of the time ash is a nuisance to people, but the people who already have compromised breathing are at risk just as they would be in a place with dense pollution or smoke in the air or a dust storm.”

    Volcanologists and emergency responders are using ash dispersion models, like Ash3d, more often. These models use weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to predict what areas might experience ashfall. Information from NOAA is also needed after an eruption has ended, when ash can be resuspended in the air by wind and continue to endanger people with compromised breathing.

    “When an eruption is developing, it’s a very confusing time,” Krippner said. “There’s a lot of conflicting information. Scientists are figuring out what exactly is happening, how big this eruption might be, and what areas are being impacted. The groundwork needs to be done beforehand.”

    It’s Not Over When It’s Over

    There’s still a lot of work to be done assessing the long-term health impacts of an eruption, including the secondary health impacts that can occur long before or long after an eruption.

    The sometimes-prolonged period of anticipation preceding an eruption can affect the mental health of emergency managers and the at-risk population. “Even before the lahar even happens…there’s the mental stress of knowing what can happen in your beloved community. I don’t discount that as a medical issue,” Driedger said.

    Sometimes eruptions build up slowly over months, Terbush added, but sometimes they can escalate in a matter of hours (as happened with Taal). For emergency managers, “just the unpredictability of what’s actually going to happen in an eruption, unpredictability in the timeline and unpredictability of which hazards are going to be impactful… if people are activated and responding, especially media response for all that time, that is going to wear on everybody involved.”

    And then there are the myriad of ways that ashfall, lahars, and, to a lesser extent, lava flows, damage critical infrastructure that protects public health. “All the health issues related to relocations—not just temporary evacuation but in many cases final relocation—all those health issues, mental and physical, are applicable with lahars,” Driedger said.

    Ashfall and lahars can cause power outages and leave hospitals and at-home medical devices without power. Wet ash slicks roads and reduces visibility, which can lead to car accidents. Ash can damage a plane’s jet engines, which can hinder evacuation and relief efforts, she added. Local transit authorities, the U.S. Department of Transportation, or the National Guard might aid an evacuation.

    Toxic salts, or leachates, can form on ash while its still in the plume and then wash out into groundwater after ashfall. Livestock that eat contaminated grass or soil can get sick or die.

    “It’s easy to just say ash is ash is ash,” Damby said. “But depending on the composition of the volcano that it erupted from, each ash sample will differ from every other ash sample erupted at a different volcano.” Ash particles around 2.5 and 10 micrometers in size are particularly bad for respiratory health.

    Lahars sweep away bridges, buildings, cropland, and forests, and they can also threaten the local water supply for years. “Lahars are the lasting legacy of volcanic eruptions,” Driedger said. Lahar damage to water treatment plants can lead to higher disease rates. Sediment that is resuspended in water and moved down the valley can keep land unsuitable for settling for generations, she said. Agencies like the CDC, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Environmental Protection Agency might be called upon to assess land and water toxicity and help recovery efforts.

    And although lava generally moves slow enough that people can get out of the way, lava flows “can gobble up plenty of good orchard and agricultural space that can impact people,” Driedger added. “When you impact personal economies or the economy of the community, you are impacting the health of the people within it.”

    Plan, Practice, Educate, Communicate

    In the time between the recent Whakaari and Taal eruptions, there were actually dozens of volcanoes erupting around the world. “So to only have two making the news in a month or so shows you how little people are actually aware of the amount of activity we have on this planet,” Krippner said.

    Moreover, the unpredictability of eruption hazards presents a challenge for putting together an effective response plan, Terbush said. “Overall, there’s been a shift at the county and local levels with the recognition that any volcanic disaster is going to affect every area a little bit differently.” In areas that were affected by Mount St. Helens and those in the possible path of lahars, there is a cultural awareness of the dangers people might face.

    “The city of Puyallup has been excellent [in volcano readiness],” Terbush said. “This is one of the [municipalities] immediately in Mount Rainier’s lahar zone. This past year they evacuated 9,000 students, did a full school drill of 20 schools.” The drill, which took place on 17 May 2019, was the largest volcano evacuation drill in U.S. history.

    Volcano hazard work groups throughout the Cascade region bring emergency managers from local, regional, state, and tribal areas together with volcano experts to develop coordinated action plans. More cities every year practice lahar evacuation plans like Puyallup’s. Regional volcano observatories work with policy makers to make land use decisions that consider volcano hazards.

    But Driedger argues that volcano awareness and preparedness cannot end at the borders of Washington and Oregon. “Volcanic eruptions are pretty much out of the modern-day person’s personal experience,” she said. “Earthquakes you can feel—you know what a rumble is. You understand the concept of flooding or of a wind storm or a snow storm. But with volcanoes, they’re so multifaceted. It takes an extra amount of effort for us to talk about it with people and get them to understand. They fail to recognize that an eruption in Alaska can affect them in Wisconsin.”

    “We live in such a global society now, too,” she added. “People come to volcanic areas, and they don’t understand what the threats are….It’s the residents and it’s people who visit there, and it’s the taxpayers who are all funding risk reduction measures in some way or another.”

    Raising the base-level understanding of volcano hazards, Krippner said, will also go a long way toward combating the deluge of misinformation that spreads around the globe at lightning speed. In a crisis, finding good information fast saves lives.

    “If we have more sources of information that are consistent, easy to find, and [distributed] in more ways,” Krippner said, “and if we have people with larger followings out there that can point to these things rapidly, I think that would begin to solve the problem.”

    See the full article here .

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    Eos is the leading source for trustworthy news and perspectives about the Earth and space sciences and their impact. Its namesake is Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, who represents the light shed on understanding our planet and its environment in space by the Earth and space sciences.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:19 am on March 18, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Faults slip slowly in Cascadia", A new study reveals what this means for future large earthquakes in the region., , , , Geology, Just off the Pacific Northwest coast the Juan de Fuca Plate collides with the North American Plate., , The Cascadia Subduction Zone plate interface slips every few hundred years in very large earthquakes with magnitudes approaching or even above 9.0.   

    From temblor: “Faults slip slowly in Cascadia” 

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    From temblor

    March 17, 2020
    Noel Bartlow, Ph.D., Assistant Researcher, Berkeley Seismology Laboratory

    The Cascadia Subduction Zone has occasional large earthquakes and frequent slow-slip events. A new study quantifies how these slow-slip events accommodate tectonic plate motion.

    Subduction zones such as the one beneath the U.S. Pacific Northwest and British Columbia are capable of generating very large and destructive earthquakes. But not all of the tectonic motion accommodated in these areas causes earthquakes that can be felt. Episodic tremor and slip, a type of aseismic fault slip or slow slip, accounts for a large amount of fault motion on the deeper extent of the Cascadia Subduction Zone. A new study reveals what this means for future large earthquakes in the region.

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    Seattle, Wash., sits on top of the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Credit: CommunistSquared

    A quiet Cascadia comes to life

    Just off the Pacific Northwest coast, the Juan de Fuca Plate collides with the North American Plate. Here, the Juan de Fuca Plate slides beneath North America, forming the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The contact between these two plates, called the plate interface, is stuck due to friction. Slip on the plate interface is necessary to accommodate the collision of the two plates. The Cascadia Subduction Zone plate interface slips every few hundred years in very large earthquakes with magnitudes approaching or even above 9.0. These earthquakes generate dangerous tsunamis similar to the 2011 magnitude-9.0 Tohoku-Oki earthquake and accompanying tsunami in Japan. The last such event in the Cascadia region occurred more than 320 years ago on January 26, 1700.

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    Map showing the Cascadia subduction zone, the Gorda and Explorer “plates” are part of the larger Juan de Fuca tectonic plate, but move in slightly different directions and can be considered sub-plates.

    In between large earthquakes, the plate interface is not silent. Instead it chatters to life every few months with episodic tremor and slip events. In these events, the plate interface slips as it would in an earthquake but takes much longer to do so, releasing the same energy as an earthquake with a magnitude of up to 6.8 over a period of a few days to weeks. These events do not produce dangerous shaking, but they do contain information about how the subduction zone is behaving. An episodic tremor and slip event differs from other slow-slip events in that episodic tremor and slip events recur frequently and are also accompanied by numerous tiny earthquakes called tremor, which are too small for humans to feel.

    In a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, I reveal how much plate motion is accommodated by these events in the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

    Using GPS satellites to observe plate motion

    Knowing where and how much slip occurs during these events helps scientists understand how they may influence the location and timing of a future large earthquake.

    Measuring slip on a plate interface is not as easy as pulling out a yard stick, however.

    The plate interface lies below Earth’s surface, so to find out how much slip occurs during these events, we needed to look at what we can see—the ground beneath our feet. This is where satellites come in.

    In this study, I used satellite GPS observations to determine how much ground motion occurs during each event. I then calculated how much slip had to occur along the plate interface at depth to account for that ground motion. I tallied up ground motion during these events to find the cumulative effect of all episodic tremor and slip events across the Cascadia Subduction Zone over the last 15-25 years, averaged over time. Applying this systematic approach across the region revealed that not all parts of the subduction zone are behaving the same.

    A highly variable system

    GPS observations and other data collected over the past few decades show that the Juan de Fuca and North American plates are moving toward each other at 40 millimeters per year in the northern part of the subduction zone near Seattle, and 31 millimeters per year in the southern part near Cape Mendocino, CA. The rate of motion between the two plates defines the “slip budget”, or the total amount of slip that must be accommodated everywhere on the plate interface. I compare this total to the amount released in episodic tremor and slip to understand its role in the overall accommodation of slip on the plate interface.

    Episodic tremor and slip events accommodate a highly variable amount of slip along the length of the subduction zone. This has implications for how stress is distributed along the plate interface, and thus where future large earthquakes may nucleate.

    In some areas, the slow-slip events account for all of the measured plate convergence. In the very southern part of the subduction zone, slow slip actually releases more slip than the expected convergence rate of the two plates. This might mean that the plates are moving together faster than previous estimates in this region. In other areas of the interface, the slow-slip events accommodate only a fraction of the convergence motion of the two plates—one-fourth or less of the motion in some places. This means that a lot of the motion between the two plates must be released in another way, most likely as steady creep of the plates past one another but potentially also in future earthquakes.

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    Motions of GPS sites in the Cascadia region during episodic tremor and slip events, modified from Bartlow (2020). Each arrow represents one GPS station and its motion relative to the subducting plate. Motions are greatly exaggerated.

    Identifying regions at risk

    Previous work on the plate interface in this region revealed the locations where the plate is locked—that is, where friction prevents slip between the two plates (Schmalzle et al., 2014). Large earthquakes occur in these locked sections when the lock is abruptly broken. My results show that slow slip generally occurs in a region offset from the locked section of the plate interface. This means that at present, these events are less likely to trigger large earthquakes than if they were located right at the edge of the locked zone.

    The main region of episodic tremor and slip in Cascadia is in an area with no locking. This means that the full slip budget is accommodated by episodic tremor and slip. In the majority of the subduction zone where episodic tremor and slip takes up less than the full slip budget, the plate interface is creeping along at a slower rate between these events.

    It is possible that over time the episodic tremor and slip events will migrate closer to the locked zone over time. If this were to occur, it may indicate that the next big earthquake is on the horizon. It is also possible that slow-slip events will become larger or more frequent when a large earthquake is imminent. It is therefore important to monitor episodic tremor and slip in Cascadia over time. The method we applied here can be used to detect these changes and therefore remains an important tool in earthquake hazard monitoring.

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    A) Time-averaged episodic tremor and slip rate (colors) and contours of density of tremor detections (brown lines) on the Cascadia plate interface (modified from Bartlow, 2020). B) Same as A, but with a comparison to the location of the locked zone (red and yellow colors) from Schmalzle et al. (2014).

    See the full article here .


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    Earthquake Alert

    1

    Earthquake Alert

    Earthquake Network project

    Earthquake Network is a research project which aims at developing and maintaining a crowdsourced smartphone-based earthquake warning system at a global level. Smartphones made available by the population are used to detect the earthquake waves using the on-board accelerometers. When an earthquake is detected, an earthquake warning is issued in order to alert the population not yet reached by the damaging waves of the earthquake.

    The project started on January 1, 2013 with the release of the homonymous Android application Earthquake Network. The author of the research project and developer of the smartphone application is Francesco Finazzi of the University of Bergamo, Italy.

    Get the app in the Google Play store.

    3
    Smartphone network spatial distribution (green and red dots) on December 4, 2015

    Meet The Quake-Catcher Network

    QCN bloc

    Quake-Catcher Network

    The Quake-Catcher Network is a collaborative initiative for developing the world’s largest, low-cost strong-motion seismic network by utilizing sensors in and attached to internet-connected computers. With your help, the Quake-Catcher Network can provide better understanding of earthquakes, give early warning to schools, emergency response systems, and others. The Quake-Catcher Network also provides educational software designed to help teach about earthquakes and earthquake hazards.

    After almost eight years at Stanford, and a year at CalTech, the QCN project is moving to the University of Southern California Dept. of Earth Sciences. QCN will be sponsored by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC).

    The Quake-Catcher Network is a distributed computing network that links volunteer hosted computers into a real-time motion sensing network. QCN is one of many scientific computing projects that runs on the world-renowned distributed computing platform Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC).

    The volunteer computers monitor vibrational sensors called MEMS accelerometers, and digitally transmit “triggers” to QCN’s servers whenever strong new motions are observed. QCN’s servers sift through these signals, and determine which ones represent earthquakes, and which ones represent cultural noise (like doors slamming, or trucks driving by).

    There are two categories of sensors used by QCN: 1) internal mobile device sensors, and 2) external USB sensors.

    Mobile Devices: MEMS sensors are often included in laptops, games, cell phones, and other electronic devices for hardware protection, navigation, and game control. When these devices are still and connected to QCN, QCN software monitors the internal accelerometer for strong new shaking. Unfortunately, these devices are rarely secured to the floor, so they may bounce around when a large earthquake occurs. While this is less than ideal for characterizing the regional ground shaking, many such sensors can still provide useful information about earthquake locations and magnitudes.

    USB Sensors: MEMS sensors can be mounted to the floor and connected to a desktop computer via a USB cable. These sensors have several advantages over mobile device sensors. 1) By mounting them to the floor, they measure more reliable shaking than mobile devices. 2) These sensors typically have lower noise and better resolution of 3D motion. 3) Desktops are often left on and do not move. 4) The USB sensor is physically removed from the game, phone, or laptop, so human interaction with the device doesn’t reduce the sensors’ performance. 5) USB sensors can be aligned to North, so we know what direction the horizontal “X” and “Y” axes correspond to.

    If you are a science teacher at a K-12 school, please apply for a free USB sensor and accompanying QCN software. QCN has been able to purchase sensors to donate to schools in need. If you are interested in donating to the program or requesting a sensor, click here.

    BOINC is a leader in the field(s) of Distributed Computing, Grid Computing and Citizen Cyberscience.BOINC is more properly the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, developed at UC Berkeley.

    Earthquake safety is a responsibility shared by billions worldwide. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) provides software so that individuals can join together to improve earthquake monitoring, earthquake awareness, and the science of earthquakes. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) links existing networked laptops and desktops in hopes to form the worlds largest strong-motion seismic network.

    Below, the QCN Quake Catcher Network map
    QCN Quake Catcher Network map

    ShakeAlert: An Earthquake Early Warning System for the West Coast of the United States
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    The U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) along with a coalition of State and university partners is developing and testing an earthquake early warning (EEW) system called ShakeAlert for the west coast of the United States. Long term funding must be secured before the system can begin sending general public notifications, however, some limited pilot projects are active and more are being developed. The USGS has set the goal of beginning limited public notifications in 2018.

    Watch a video describing how ShakeAlert works in English or Spanish.

    The primary project partners include:

    United States Geological Survey
    California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES)
    California Geological Survey
    California Institute of Technology
    University of California Berkeley
    University of Washington
    University of Oregon
    Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

    The Earthquake Threat

    Earthquakes pose a national challenge because more than 143 million Americans live in areas of significant seismic risk across 39 states. Most of our Nation’s earthquake risk is concentrated on the West Coast of the United States. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has estimated the average annualized loss from earthquakes, nationwide, to be $5.3 billion, with 77 percent of that figure ($4.1 billion) coming from California, Washington, and Oregon, and 66 percent ($3.5 billion) from California alone. In the next 30 years, California has a 99.7 percent chance of a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake and the Pacific Northwest has a 10 percent chance of a magnitude 8 to 9 megathrust earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone.

    Part of the Solution

    Today, the technology exists to detect earthquakes, so quickly, that an alert can reach some areas before strong shaking arrives. The purpose of the ShakeAlert system is to identify and characterize an earthquake a few seconds after it begins, calculate the likely intensity of ground shaking that will result, and deliver warnings to people and infrastructure in harm’s way. This can be done by detecting the first energy to radiate from an earthquake, the P-wave energy, which rarely causes damage. Using P-wave information, we first estimate the location and the magnitude of the earthquake. Then, the anticipated ground shaking across the region to be affected is estimated and a warning is provided to local populations. The method can provide warning before the S-wave arrives, bringing the strong shaking that usually causes most of the damage.

    Studies of earthquake early warning methods in California have shown that the warning time would range from a few seconds to a few tens of seconds. ShakeAlert can give enough time to slow trains and taxiing planes, to prevent cars from entering bridges and tunnels, to move away from dangerous machines or chemicals in work environments and to take cover under a desk, or to automatically shut down and isolate industrial systems. Taking such actions before shaking starts can reduce damage and casualties during an earthquake. It can also prevent cascading failures in the aftermath of an event. For example, isolating utilities before shaking starts can reduce the number of fire initiations.

    System Goal

    The USGS will issue public warnings of potentially damaging earthquakes and provide warning parameter data to government agencies and private users on a region-by-region basis, as soon as the ShakeAlert system, its products, and its parametric data meet minimum quality and reliability standards in those geographic regions. The USGS has set the goal of beginning limited public notifications in 2018. Product availability will expand geographically via ANSS regional seismic networks, such that ShakeAlert products and warnings become available for all regions with dense seismic instrumentation.

    Current Status

    The West Coast ShakeAlert system is being developed by expanding and upgrading the infrastructure of regional seismic networks that are part of the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS); the California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN) is made up of the Southern California Seismic Network, SCSN) and the Northern California Seismic System, NCSS and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN). This enables the USGS and ANSS to leverage their substantial investment in sensor networks, data telemetry systems, data processing centers, and software for earthquake monitoring activities residing in these network centers. The ShakeAlert system has been sending live alerts to “beta” users in California since January of 2012 and in the Pacific Northwest since February of 2015.

    In February of 2016 the USGS, along with its partners, rolled-out the next-generation ShakeAlert early warning test system in California joined by Oregon and Washington in April 2017. This West Coast-wide “production prototype” has been designed for redundant, reliable operations. The system includes geographically distributed servers, and allows for automatic fail-over if connection is lost.

    This next-generation system will not yet support public warnings but does allow selected early adopters to develop and deploy pilot implementations that take protective actions triggered by the ShakeAlert notifications in areas with sufficient sensor coverage.

    Authorities

    The USGS will develop and operate the ShakeAlert system, and issue public notifications under collaborative authorities with FEMA, as part of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program, as enacted by the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977, 42 U.S.C. §§ 7704 SEC. 2.

    For More Information

    Robert de Groot, ShakeAlert National Coordinator for Communication, Education, and Outreach
    rdegroot@usgs.gov
    626-583-7225

    Learn more about EEW Research

    ShakeAlert Fact Sheet

    ShakeAlert Implementation Plan

     
  • richardmitnick 10:59 am on March 12, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Microbes far beneath the seafloor rely on recycling to survive", , , Geology, International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 360, , ,   

    From Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: “Microbes far beneath the seafloor rely on recycling to survive” 

    From Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

    March 11, 2020

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    Detailed examination of rocks nestled thousands of feet beneath the ocean floor revealed life in plutonic rocks of the lower oceanic crust. Shown here is a thin section photomicrograph mosaic of one of the samples. (Photo by Frieder Klein, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.)

    Scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) reveal how microorganisms could survive in rocks nestled thousands of feet beneath the ocean floor in the lower oceanic crust, in a study published on March 11 in Nature. The first analysis of messenger RNA—genetic material containing instructions for making different proteins—from this remote region of Earth, coupled with measurements of enzyme activities, microscopy, cultures, and biomarker analyses provides evidence of a low biomass, but diverse community of microbes that includes heterotrophs that obtain their carbon from other living (or dead) organisms.

    “Organisms eking out an existence far beneath the seafloor live in a hostile environment,” says Dr. Paraskevi (Vivian) Mara, a WHOI biochemist and one of the lead authors of the paper. Scarce resources find their way into the seabed through seawater and subsurface fluids that circulate through fractures in the rock and carry inorganic and organic compounds.

    To see what kinds of microbes live at these extremes and what they do to survive, researchers collected rock samples from the lower oceanic crust over three months aboard the International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 360. The research vessel traveled to an underwater ridge called Atlantis Bank that cuts across the Southern Indian Ocean.

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    There, tectonic activity exposes the lower oceanic crust at the seafloor, “providing convenient access to an otherwise largely inaccessible realm,” write the authors.

    Researchers combed the rocks for genetic material and other organic molecules, performed cell counts, and cultured samples in the lab to aid in their search for life. “We applied a completely new cocktail of methods to really try to explore these precious samples as intensively as we could,” says Dr. Virginia Edgcomb, a microbiologist at WHOI, the lead PI of the project, and a co-author of the paper. “All together, the data start to paint a story.”

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    Researchers Benoit Ildefonse (left) of University of Montpellier and Virginia Edgcomb of WHOI select a sample for microbiology during the expedition at Atlantis Bank, Indian Ocean. (Photo by Jason Sylvan, TAMU.)

    By isolating messenger RNA and analyzing the expression of genes—the instructions for different metabolic processes—researchers showed evidence that microorganisms far beneath the ocean express genes for a diverse array of survival strategies. Some microbes appeared to have the ability to store carbon in their cells, so they could stockpile for times of shortage. Others had indications they could process nitrogen and sulfur to generate energy, produce Vitamin E and B12, recycle amino acids, and pluck out carbon from hard-to-breakdown compounds called polyaromatic hydrocarbons. “They seem very frugal,” says Edgcomb.

    This rare view of life in the far reaches of the earth extends our view of carbon cycling beneath the seafloor, Edgcomb says. “If you look at the volume of the deep biosphere, including the lower oceanic crust, even at a very slow metabolic rate, it could equate to significant amounts of carbon.”

    This work was supported by the National Science Foundation.

    The research team also included colleagues from Tongji University, University of Bremen, Texas A&M University, Université de Brest, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

    See the full article here .

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    Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

    Vision & Mission

    The ocean is a defining feature of our planet and crucial to life on Earth, yet it remains one of the planet’s last unexplored frontiers. For this reason, WHOI scientists and engineers are committed to understanding all facets of the ocean as well as its complex connections with Earth’s atmosphere, land, ice, seafloor, and life—including humanity. This is essential not only to advance knowledge about our planet, but also to ensure society’s long-term welfare and to help guide human stewardship of the environment. WHOI researchers are also dedicated to training future generations of ocean science leaders, to providing unbiased information that informs public policy and decision-making, and to expanding public awareness about the importance of the global ocean and its resources.
    Mission Statement

    The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is dedicated to advancing knowledge of the ocean and its connection with the Earth system through a sustained commitment to excellence in science, engineering, and education, and to the application of this knowledge to problems facing society.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:01 am on March 6, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Geology, , , Speleology-the study of caves   

    From Horizon The EU Research and Innovation Magazine: “Cave rock studies provide window into ancient civilisations” 

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    From Horizon The EU Research and Innovation Magazine

    05 March 2020
    Caleb Davies

    There is a certain romance to speleology, the study of caves, if you can see past the cold and the damp and the dark. Caves are ancient and often beautiful places. And they can be useful. Rock formations in caves, it turns out, hold within them chemical secrets that provide a window on both ancient civilisations and the climate of the future.

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    Speleothems, such as stalactites and stalagmites, may hold the secrets of why ancient civilisations collapsed. Image credit – Sebastian Breitenbach.

    Many people think of speleothems, or cave rocks, as being dull and brown. But they come in a wide palette of colours. ‘I was recently with a friend in an abandoned mine where there were some rocks that had a bluish, greenish sheen because they had a lot of copper in them,’ said Dr Sebastian Breitenbach. ‘It’s really rare to see that.’

    Think of a speleothem and you’re probably imagining stalactites and stalagmites. (To remember which is which, try thinking of stalactites having to hold on tight; they’re the ones that hang from the ceiling.) These rocks are formed as water drips into a cave and the dissolved carbonate it contains gradually precipitates out. You also get flowstones formed from underground streams and thin-walled tubes of rock known as ‘soda straws’.

    These rocks grow achingly slowly: a few tenths of a millimetre per year in the fastest cases. This means stalactites can be tens of thousands of years old. And because cave rock is laid down gradually by individual drops of water, it stores a record of their chemical composition.

    It turns out that some of these chemical signatures vary depending on the climate at the time. Take for instance the ratio of two isotopes of oxygen, oxygen-16 and oxygen-18. Rainwater contains a specific ratio of the two and so by grinding down samples from speleothems and analysing the isotope ratio at different points along the length of the rock, geochemists can get a hint of how rainy it was, or where the rain originated from when the rock formed. There are plenty of other proxies besides oxygen too.

    Ancient

    This record of ancient climate entombed in stone turns out to be useful in giving us a handle on what life was like for ancient civilisations. It can also tell us about periods such as the mysterious Bronze Age collapse.

    This was the 50-year period in which several major civilisations in the Mediterranean, including the Egyptian empire, the Mycenaeans and the Hittites, all collapsed about 3,000 years ago. Some reckon this might have been to do with a megadrought that hit the region. But this is a controversial idea and there are plenty of other theories. Some ancient texts pin the blame on invading hordes known as the ‘sea peoples’.

    ‘Turkey has been home to many important ancient human cultures, from some of the world’s earliest farming societies in the Palaeolithic to more modern societies like the Hittites, classical Greeks, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires,’ said Dr Ezgi Unal-Imer at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. ‘We are sure that they must have been heavily influenced by (changing) environmental conditions.’

    That’s why she began the Speleotolia project, with the goal of collecting high resolution paleoclimate data from Turkey. She has been collecting samples from caves over the past few years including 10 stalagmites from western Turkey.

    Five of these cover the Holocene period and she has one sample that provides a continuous line of growth going back 1,825 years. ‘This covers almost the entire common era – it’s a really good sample,’ she said.

    She’s currently about halfway through drilling 420 samples, which will help her reconstruct the past climate conditions. Dr Unal-Imer is excited about what they’ll uncover. We just don’t know what we will find, she says.

    Rain

    One thing her project won’t do, however, is quantify how much rain fell in any given year in the past.

    At the moment, most speleothem data can only signal short-term climate trends, says Dr Breitenbach who is based at Northumbria University in Newcastle, UK. In other words, it can tell us a certain period was much rainier than the one before – but not how many millimetres of rain fell. Why so?

    Well, let’s take the ratio of oxygen isotopes in a rock again. In truth, though this is influenced by rainfall it is also nudged up and down by other factors like temperature, and the topography and humidity of the particular cave.

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    Organo-metallic molecules in cave rock may be able to tell scientists about historical temperatures. Image credit – Adam Hartland.

    The QUEST project that Breitenbach led is trying to change that uncertainty, using two strategies. The first involves detailed work on one of the Waitomo caves in New Zealand. The plan is to measure many proxies in parallel and see how they all vary over time. Variations in one proxy might be caused by several factors and it’s impossible to know how much each contributed. But look at the variations in 10 or 15 proxies in tandem and there should be only one hypothesis for how the rainfall has changed quantitatively, say, that fits all the facts. ‘Then it’s like an Agatha Christie crime novel,’ said Dr Breitenbach. ‘All the facts that we learned from the proxies must fit in the interpretation.’

    One minus to this strategy, however, is that it requires a detailed understanding of the cave where the speleothem samples were taken. This means the researchers would have to summon their inner detective afresh with nearly every rock sample.

    The second strategy is to discover new proxies that really are only impacted by one variable and so can provide quantitative data directly. Dr Adam Hartland at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand has been leading this part of the work.

    Calibrate

    He’s discovered some molecules known as organo-metallic complexes for which it’s possible to quantify how they change in cave rocks in response to temperature in great detail. The trick will be to calibrate this proxy, so that we can say a measurement of a certain amount of the complex signifies a certain temperature. ‘We know how to do that – but we haven’t quite done it yet,’ said Dr Breitenbach.

    What does all this have to do with the future though? Well, harvesting information about the past is crucial for answering questions about what will happen to rainfall and temperature in the face of the climate emergency. Take the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a weather pattern that affects ocean temperatures and shifts rain around in the southern hemisphere with catastrophic effects on fishing and farming.

    At the moment, we have a poor grasp of how ENSO was affected by climate change in the past. But with speleothems, we can go back in time and look at a period that was particularly warm. ‘We can see how often there were El Niños, how strong were they, and where were their strongest impacts? Then we can use the past as a key to the future,’ said Dr Breitenbach.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 8:31 am on March 6, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Geology, Laura Haynes a paleoceanographer, , , , The month–long International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 378,   

    From Rutgers University: “Postdoc Laura Haynes Searching for Climate Change Clues Under the Ocean Floor” 

    Rutgers smaller
    Our Great Seal.

    From Rutgers University

    February 24, 2020 [Just now in social media.]
    Craig Winston

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    Laura Haynes cruises the world searching for core samples.

    It’s hard to pinpoint where you might find Laura Haynes, an EOAS post-doctoral fellow, for an interview. During a telephone chat she sounded far away. She explained why in a subsequent email.

    “I was actually in Fiji, eating breakfast before we headed out to board the ship,” she wrote. “We are now transiting nine days to our first coring site and will be drilling to about 670 meters below the sea floor in the hopes of recovering the K/Pg boundary.”

    Translation: The Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary marks the mass extinction of the Earth’s dinosaurs more than 60 million years ago. It’s represented by a thin band of rock [Actually, it is marked all around the world by a layer of Iridium, found by Luis and Walter Alvarez].

    Haynes, a paleoceanographer, is sailing on the month–long International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 378 with a collective of scientists from countries including Australia, China, Japan, Korea, and Brazil. They staff a floating lab, covering it 24/7 on rotating 12-hour shifts. (The ship travels the world, drilling at five to eight locations on a cruise; this time there is only one stop for a long core drill.) The crew hopes that drilling into this new, unbroken core will enable them to reconstruct climate change in one location millions of years ago, revealing the answers to questions about the Earth’s climate history.

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    International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 378 South Pacific Paleogene Climate.

    “It was records from ocean drilling that first showed that the ocean floor is spreading apart and causing the movement of tectonic plates, and that rapid climate change has happened in Earth’s past,” said Haynes. “While there are records of Earth history from many crucial time periods that exist on land, they are patchy and not always continuous. By contrast, sea floor muds can build up continuously and slowly over time and give us continuous records of Earth’s climate history.”

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    Laura Haynes in the lab.

    Back in the lab, the scientists examine core samples from the drilling and meet twice a day to discuss their findings. Haynes’ role on the ship is as a sedimentologist; she describes the core samples that come up from the sea floor and determines their composition: fossil, clay, sand, or volcanic ash. The expedition continues long after each member returns home with samples they take back for further study. Their scientific community will stay intact as they synthesize their findings over the next few years.

    Her itinerary during the last year is an enviable one. Haynes earlier sailed on the Chilean drilling ship on a cruise to the Chile margin led by the Rutgers postdoc researcher Samantha Bova and EOAS faculty member Yair Rosenthal, both of the Department of Marine and Coast Sciences. They sought to understand how Patagonian glaciers and the South Pacific Ocean responded to climate change. “It was a huge success and a wonderful first experience on a drillship,” she said. “I am coming to understand that I was spoiled by the incredible wildlife we saw on the ship; we were encircled by albatrosses and seals for most of our expedition.”

    Her primary field of study involves using fossilized shells of plankton, “foraminifera,” to reconstruct the history of climate change. The shells are preserved in deep sea muds, and their chemical composition can indicate past climate such as ocean temperature, acidity, and circulation. “These are all things we’d like to understand so that we can better predict how modern climate change will affect the Earth system in the future.”

    Haynes was inspired to pursue a career in the sciences when she had an awakening in high school after watching “An Inconvenient Truth,” former Vice President Al Gore’s 2006 documentary intended to educate the public about global warming. After that, she intuitively understood that she wanted to dedicate her career to studying the environment.

    Haynes said: “When I got to undergrad, I was incredibly lucky in that my freshman adviser suggested I take a geology class. After going on my first few field trips, I knew that this was the field I wanted to be in, but I also knew that I wanted to apply it to understanding modern environmental change. With the study of past climate histories, I found this perfect balance.”

    Her educational background prepared her well for her research career. Haynes earned her undergraduate degree in geology from Pomona College (Claremont, Calif.), and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in Earth and Environmental Sciences from Columbia University. For her doctoral dissertation, she analyzed living foraminifera, spending two months in coastal field stations at Catalina Island, Calif., and Isla Magueyes, Puerto Rico.

    Perhaps a telltale sign of Haynes’ future came from her first job at age 14— as a counselor at a science camp for elementary students.

    “I didn’t have any idea then that I would be a scientist, but it does make a lot of sense in retrospect. “

    During her latest cruise, Haynes answered several questions about her work and life. A condensed version of her comments appears below:

    What was your best day on the job?

    In the lab, I always love a day when I get new data off the machine, knowing that I am the only person in the world that has this tiny new piece of knowledge.

    What are your career goals?

    I am incredibly excited that I will start an assistant professor position at Vassar College this fall. In my new position, I am thrilled to usher undergraduates through the research process, to conduct research on our new sediment cores, and to teach interdisciplinary classes related to oceanography, biogeochemistry, mass extinctions, and science communication.

    What’s your secret skill?

    I am very good at manipulating dust-sized microfossils with the smallest possible paintbrush. Working in paleoceanography has certainly honed my fine motor skills.
    Which professional accomplishment has given you the most pride?

    I got to mentor an undergraduate student, Ingrid Izaguirre, through a summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates project in 2018 at Columbia. She did a fantastic job and presented her findings at the American Geophysical Union conference that winter, explaining complicated ocean chemistry to interested listeners for four hours straight. I was incredibly proud of her work and presentation, and still get to see her progress as she is now a graduate student in paleoceanography.

    See the full article here .


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    Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is a leading national research university and the state’s preeminent, comprehensive public institution of higher education. Rutgers is dedicated to teaching that meets the highest standards of excellence; to conducting research that breaks new ground; and to providing services, solutions, and clinical care that help individuals and the local, national, and global communities where they live.

    Founded in 1766, Rutgers teaches across the full educational spectrum: preschool to precollege; undergraduate to graduate; postdoctoral fellowships to residencies; and continuing education for professional and personal advancement.

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  • richardmitnick 4:34 pm on March 4, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Strong earthquakes on Turkey-Iran border trigger scientific cooperation", A pair of conjugate faults—two faults that intersect like an “X” through Earth’s crust —is to blame., , , , Geology, Goharan Fault in Iran, Saray Fault on the Turkish side,   

    From temblor: “Strong earthquakes on Turkey-Iran border trigger scientific cooperation” 

    1

    From temblor

    March 3, 2020
    By Elisabeth Nadin, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Alaska Fairbanks, U.S.
    Haluk Eyidoğan, Ph.D., Professor of Seismology, Istanbul Technical University, Turkey
    Ali Moradi, Ph.D., Director of Iranian Seismological Center and Assistant Professor, Institute of Geophysics, University of Tehran, Iran

    *editor’s note: Haluk Eyidoğan and Ali Moradi provided significant insight into this piece, in addition to their attributed material.

    On February 23, 2020, two earthquakes struck the Turkey-Iran border. Scientists from both countries are now working to figure out which faults ruptured during this event.

    Faults don’t recognize international boundaries. When large earthquakes occur in border regions, scientists are often left piecing together data from different sources to figure out what happened. This is critical to assessing further seismic hazard in the area.

    In the early morning hours of February 23, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake rattled the border between Turkey and Iran. That evening, a magnitude 6 quake struck in the same area. Ten days later, geologists in both countries are still trying to figure out exactly which of the numerous faults in this region ruptured.

    1
    A cluster of earthquakes recently struck the Turkey-Iran border, destroying or damaging thousands of buildings. Credit: Temblor.

    A cluster of earthquakes

    The February 23 events were among several notable quakes in the region in recent days. A cluster of earthquakes occurred in northwestern Iran over the past few weeks, including a magnitude-4.7 on 16 February. The magnitude 5.8 caused 10 fatalities in Turkey, more than 100 injuries between the two countries, and thousands of destroyed or damaged buildings. Ten hours later, the magnitude-6 struck within the same cluster.

    Although seismic hazard agencies around the world calculate earthquake magnitude and location within minutes to hours of any large event, it can still be difficult to know exactly which fault ruptured, and what its precise orientation is. This information is important to understanding future earthquake risk in a region because in some cases energy released during one earthquake could increase stress on a neighboring fault, driving it toward failure.

    Science across borders

    Seismologists Haluk Eyidoğan of Turkey and Ali Moradi of Iran are trying to converge on what faults in the region slipped during this series of earthquakes. They suspect that a pair of conjugate faults—two faults that intersect like an “X” through Earth’s crust —is to blame.

    The complex network of faults throughout Turkey and Iran result from the tectonic march of the Arabian plate into the Eurasian plate, resulting in the rise of the Zagros mountains. “Conjugate fault structures are a common feature in the eastern Anatolian tectonic region,” notes Eyidoğan.

    The two scientists believe that on the Iranian side of the border, the Goharan Fault, oriented northwest–southeast, slipped predominantly by right-lateral motion during the 5.8-magnitude quake. Its conjugate—the other arm of the X—the northeast–southwest-oriented Ravian Fault, slipped by left-lateral motion during the magnitude-6 quake.

    As these faults don’t stop just because there is a national border, it is important to know how their traces continue into Turkey. Differing fault naming and measurement conventions can obscure the continuity of faults from one country to another and make rapid post-event analysis challenging. “As far as I understand, the continuation of the Ravian fault is called the Başkale Fault on the Turkish side,” says Eyidoğan, a professor at Istanbul Technical University. “Can we propose that the Goharan Fault in Iran is the continuation of the Saray Fault on the Turkish side?” he suggests.

    A region at risk of damaging earthquakes

    Earthquakes along strike-slip faults, like those that exist throughout this region, tend to have lower magnitudes than those at convergent margins, but these can still be quite large. The Başkale Fault is capable of producing a magnitude-7 earthquake, for example (Emre et al., 2016). In fact, in 1930 there was a magnitude-7.1 within the same region, on the Salmas Fault parallel to the Goharan–Saray Fault.

    The proximity of the 1930 earthquake and this recent cluster “is important in terms of the energy accumulation in the area, the interaction between the seismogenic sources, and the possible maximum magnitudes for seismic hazard assessments,” notes Farnaz Kamranzad, a seismologist at the University of Tehran. She suggests that this earthquake cluster is similar to an event that occurred in the area in 2012, noting that “moderate earthquakes are quite frequent in the northwest part of Iran.”

    The two recent earthquakes of February 23 were particularly destructive for their size. This is because they occurred at shallow depths—about 10 km for both. The closer to the surface an earthquake nucleates, the less energy dissipates before it reaches the surface, and therefore the more shaking that occurs.

    Knowing the potential for destruction during earthquakes is integral to preparing regions for shaking hazards. Turkey’s most recent earthquake hazard map, published in 2018, indicates that the Başkale fault is capable of generating a magnitude-7 temblor. Despite this warning, this cluster of earthquakes from February, as well as the January earthquake about 500 km to the west on a different fault system, “showed us how unprepared the settlements are for earthquake risks,” says Eyidoğan. He adds, “We are sadly watching how the stone masonry and adobe masonry structures in rural areas are weak, and the so-called reinforced concrete carcass multi-story buildings are demolished in cities.” It is clear that more work is to be done to understand the geology in this region, to better prepare citizens of both countries for future damaging earthquakes.

    See the full article here .


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    Earthquake Alert

    1

    Earthquake Alert

    Earthquake Network project

    Earthquake Network is a research project which aims at developing and maintaining a crowdsourced smartphone-based earthquake warning system at a global level. Smartphones made available by the population are used to detect the earthquake waves using the on-board accelerometers. When an earthquake is detected, an earthquake warning is issued in order to alert the population not yet reached by the damaging waves of the earthquake.

    The project started on January 1, 2013 with the release of the homonymous Android application Earthquake Network. The author of the research project and developer of the smartphone application is Francesco Finazzi of the University of Bergamo, Italy.

    Get the app in the Google Play store.

    3
    Smartphone network spatial distribution (green and red dots) on December 4, 2015

    Meet The Quake-Catcher Network

    QCN bloc

    Quake-Catcher Network

    The Quake-Catcher Network is a collaborative initiative for developing the world’s largest, low-cost strong-motion seismic network by utilizing sensors in and attached to internet-connected computers. With your help, the Quake-Catcher Network can provide better understanding of earthquakes, give early warning to schools, emergency response systems, and others. The Quake-Catcher Network also provides educational software designed to help teach about earthquakes and earthquake hazards.

    After almost eight years at Stanford, and a year at CalTech, the QCN project is moving to the University of Southern California Dept. of Earth Sciences. QCN will be sponsored by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC).

    The Quake-Catcher Network is a distributed computing network that links volunteer hosted computers into a real-time motion sensing network. QCN is one of many scientific computing projects that runs on the world-renowned distributed computing platform Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC).

    The volunteer computers monitor vibrational sensors called MEMS accelerometers, and digitally transmit “triggers” to QCN’s servers whenever strong new motions are observed. QCN’s servers sift through these signals, and determine which ones represent earthquakes, and which ones represent cultural noise (like doors slamming, or trucks driving by).

    There are two categories of sensors used by QCN: 1) internal mobile device sensors, and 2) external USB sensors.

    Mobile Devices: MEMS sensors are often included in laptops, games, cell phones, and other electronic devices for hardware protection, navigation, and game control. When these devices are still and connected to QCN, QCN software monitors the internal accelerometer for strong new shaking. Unfortunately, these devices are rarely secured to the floor, so they may bounce around when a large earthquake occurs. While this is less than ideal for characterizing the regional ground shaking, many such sensors can still provide useful information about earthquake locations and magnitudes.

    USB Sensors: MEMS sensors can be mounted to the floor and connected to a desktop computer via a USB cable. These sensors have several advantages over mobile device sensors. 1) By mounting them to the floor, they measure more reliable shaking than mobile devices. 2) These sensors typically have lower noise and better resolution of 3D motion. 3) Desktops are often left on and do not move. 4) The USB sensor is physically removed from the game, phone, or laptop, so human interaction with the device doesn’t reduce the sensors’ performance. 5) USB sensors can be aligned to North, so we know what direction the horizontal “X” and “Y” axes correspond to.

    If you are a science teacher at a K-12 school, please apply for a free USB sensor and accompanying QCN software. QCN has been able to purchase sensors to donate to schools in need. If you are interested in donating to the program or requesting a sensor, click here.

    BOINC is a leader in the field(s) of Distributed Computing, Grid Computing and Citizen Cyberscience.BOINC is more properly the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, developed at UC Berkeley.

    Earthquake safety is a responsibility shared by billions worldwide. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) provides software so that individuals can join together to improve earthquake monitoring, earthquake awareness, and the science of earthquakes. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) links existing networked laptops and desktops in hopes to form the worlds largest strong-motion seismic network.

    Below, the QCN Quake Catcher Network map
    QCN Quake Catcher Network map

    ShakeAlert: An Earthquake Early Warning System for the West Coast of the United States
    1

    The U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) along with a coalition of State and university partners is developing and testing an earthquake early warning (EEW) system called ShakeAlert for the west coast of the United States. Long term funding must be secured before the system can begin sending general public notifications, however, some limited pilot projects are active and more are being developed. The USGS has set the goal of beginning limited public notifications in 2018.

    Watch a video describing how ShakeAlert works in English or Spanish.

    The primary project partners include:

    United States Geological Survey
    California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES)
    California Geological Survey
    California Institute of Technology
    University of California Berkeley
    University of Washington
    University of Oregon
    Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

    The Earthquake Threat

    Earthquakes pose a national challenge because more than 143 million Americans live in areas of significant seismic risk across 39 states. Most of our Nation’s earthquake risk is concentrated on the West Coast of the United States. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has estimated the average annualized loss from earthquakes, nationwide, to be $5.3 billion, with 77 percent of that figure ($4.1 billion) coming from California, Washington, and Oregon, and 66 percent ($3.5 billion) from California alone. In the next 30 years, California has a 99.7 percent chance of a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake and the Pacific Northwest has a 10 percent chance of a magnitude 8 to 9 megathrust earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone.

    Part of the Solution

    Today, the technology exists to detect earthquakes, so quickly, that an alert can reach some areas before strong shaking arrives. The purpose of the ShakeAlert system is to identify and characterize an earthquake a few seconds after it begins, calculate the likely intensity of ground shaking that will result, and deliver warnings to people and infrastructure in harm’s way. This can be done by detecting the first energy to radiate from an earthquake, the P-wave energy, which rarely causes damage. Using P-wave information, we first estimate the location and the magnitude of the earthquake. Then, the anticipated ground shaking across the region to be affected is estimated and a warning is provided to local populations. The method can provide warning before the S-wave arrives, bringing the strong shaking that usually causes most of the damage.

    Studies of earthquake early warning methods in California have shown that the warning time would range from a few seconds to a few tens of seconds. ShakeAlert can give enough time to slow trains and taxiing planes, to prevent cars from entering bridges and tunnels, to move away from dangerous machines or chemicals in work environments and to take cover under a desk, or to automatically shut down and isolate industrial systems. Taking such actions before shaking starts can reduce damage and casualties during an earthquake. It can also prevent cascading failures in the aftermath of an event. For example, isolating utilities before shaking starts can reduce the number of fire initiations.

    System Goal

    The USGS will issue public warnings of potentially damaging earthquakes and provide warning parameter data to government agencies and private users on a region-by-region basis, as soon as the ShakeAlert system, its products, and its parametric data meet minimum quality and reliability standards in those geographic regions. The USGS has set the goal of beginning limited public notifications in 2018. Product availability will expand geographically via ANSS regional seismic networks, such that ShakeAlert products and warnings become available for all regions with dense seismic instrumentation.

    Current Status

    The West Coast ShakeAlert system is being developed by expanding and upgrading the infrastructure of regional seismic networks that are part of the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS); the California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN) is made up of the Southern California Seismic Network, SCSN) and the Northern California Seismic System, NCSS and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN). This enables the USGS and ANSS to leverage their substantial investment in sensor networks, data telemetry systems, data processing centers, and software for earthquake monitoring activities residing in these network centers. The ShakeAlert system has been sending live alerts to “beta” users in California since January of 2012 and in the Pacific Northwest since February of 2015.

    In February of 2016 the USGS, along with its partners, rolled-out the next-generation ShakeAlert early warning test system in California joined by Oregon and Washington in April 2017. This West Coast-wide “production prototype” has been designed for redundant, reliable operations. The system includes geographically distributed servers, and allows for automatic fail-over if connection is lost.

    This next-generation system will not yet support public warnings but does allow selected early adopters to develop and deploy pilot implementations that take protective actions triggered by the ShakeAlert notifications in areas with sufficient sensor coverage.

    Authorities

    The USGS will develop and operate the ShakeAlert system, and issue public notifications under collaborative authorities with FEMA, as part of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program, as enacted by the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977, 42 U.S.C. §§ 7704 SEC. 2.

    For More Information

    Robert de Groot, ShakeAlert National Coordinator for Communication, Education, and Outreach
    rdegroot@usgs.gov
    626-583-7225

    Learn more about EEW Research

    ShakeAlert Fact Sheet

    ShakeAlert Implementation Plan

     
  • richardmitnick 1:50 pm on February 23, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Where is the greatest risk to our mineral resource supplies?", , , , Geology, , USGS-US Geological Survey   

    From the United States Geological Survey (USGS) via phys.org: “Where is the greatest risk to our mineral resource supplies?” 

    From the United States Geological Survey (USGS)

    via


    phys.org

    February 21, 2020
    Alex Demas, United States Geological Survey

    1
    Bastnaesite (the reddish parts) in Carbonatite. Bastnaesite is an important ore for rare earth elements, one of the mineral commodities identified as most at-risk of supply disruption by the USGS in a new methodology. Credit: Scott Horvath, USGS

    Policymakers and the U.S. manufacturing sector now have a powerful tool to help them identify which mineral commodities they rely on that are most at risk to supply disruptions, thanks to a new methodology by the U.S. Geological Survey and its partners.

    “This methodology is an important part of how we’re meeting our goals in the President Trump’s Strategy to ensure a reliable supply of critical minerals,” said USGS director Jim Reilly. “It provides information supporting American manufacturers’ planning and sound supply-chain management decisions.”

    The methodology evaluated the global supply of and U.S. demand for 52 mineral commodities for the years 2007 to 2016. It identified 23 mineral commodities, including some rare earth elements, cobalt, niobium and tungsten, as posing the greatest supply risk for the U.S. manufacturing sector. These commodities are vital for mobile devices, renewable energy, aerospace and defense applications, among others.

    “Manufacturers of new and emerging technologies depend on mineral commodities that are currently sourced largely from other countries,” said USGS scientist Nedal Nassar, lead author of the methodology. “It’s important to understand which commodities pose the greatest risks for which industries within the manufacturing sector.”

    The supply risk of mineral commodities to U.S. manufacturers is greatest under the following three circumstances: U.S. manufacturers rely primarily on foreign countries for the commodities, the countries in question might be unable or unwilling to continue to supply U.S. manufacturers with the minerals; and U.S. manufacturers are less able to handle a price shock or from a disruption in supply.

    3
    A graph showing the net import reliance of the United States for more than 90 different mineral commodities. Credit: USGS

    “Supply chains can be interrupted for any number of reasons,” said Nassar. “International trade tensions and conflict are well-known reasons, but there are many other possibilities. Disease outbreaks, natural disasters, and even domestic civil strife can affect a country’s mineral industry and its ability to export mineral commodities to the U.S.”

    Risk is not set in stone; it changes based on global market conditions that are specific to each individual mineral commodity and to the industries that use them. However, the analysis indicates that risk typically does not change drastically over short periods, but instead remains relatively constant or changes steadily.

    “One thing that struck us as we were evaluating the results was how consistent the mineral commodities with the highest risk of supply disruption have been over the past decade,” said Nassar. “This is important for policymakers and industries whose plans extend beyond year-to-year changes.”

    For instance, between 2007 and 2016, the risk for rare earth elements peaked in 2011 and 2012 when China halted exports during a dispute with Japan. However, the supply of rare earth elements consistently remained among the highest risk commodities throughout the entire study period.

    In 2019, the U.S. Department of Commerce, in coordination with the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies, published the interagency report entitled “A Federal Strategy to Ensure a Reliable Supply of Critical Minerals,” in response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13817. Among other things, the strategy commits the U.S. Department of the Interior to improve the geophysical, geologic, and topographic mapping of the U.S.; make the resulting data and metadata electronically accessible; support private mineral exploration of critical minerals; make recommendations to streamline permitting and review processes enhancing access to critical mineral resources.

    The methodology is entitled “Evaluating the Mineral Commodity Supply Risk of the U.S. Manufacturing Sector,” and is published in Science Advances.

    See the full article here .

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    About Science X in 100 words

    Science X™ is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004 (Physorg.com), Science X’s readership has grown steadily to include 5 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Science X publishes approximately 200 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Science X community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.
    Mission 12 reasons for reading daily news on Science X Organization Key editors and writersinclude 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

    Created by an act of Congress in 1879, the U.S. Geological Survey has evolved over the ensuing 125 years, matching its talent and knowledge to the progress of science and technology. The USGS is the sole science agency for the Department of the Interior. It is sought out by thousands of partners and customers for its natural science expertise and its vast earth and biological data holdings.

    On March 3, 1879, we were established by the passing of the Organic Act through Congress. Our main responsibilities were to map public lands, examine geological structure, and evaluate mineral resources. Over the next century, our mission expanded to include the research of groundwater, ecosystems, environmental health, natural hazards, and climate and land use change.

     
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