Here are my thoughts on the big stories of 2007 for the earth sciences in Arizona. This is not going to be the traditional "top 10" list of stories nor is it comprehensive. It's biased highlights of what I saw, who I know, what I read.
You can't pick up a newspaper (and fewer are doing that) without seeing a significant story about water in Arizona. There is a growing public realization that we can't continue to over-appropriate an already stretched resource and pretend it will all be okay. Colorado River water is allocated among the western states based on overly optimistic long-term runoff estimates. Besides that, climate change is predicted to hit the Southwest particularly hard in terms of reduced rainfall. Together with booming population growth, these make a water crisis seem more likely and imminent.
Herb Guenther, director of the Arizona Dept. of Water Resources set precedent by rejecting a Nevada company's request to export up to 4.5 billion gallons of water per year to Mesquite, Nevada.
More local jurisdictions, including Pima County, are looking at more realistic assessments of groundwater resources before allowing new developments to be built.
For mining in Arizona, it was the best of times and the worst of times. The price of copper stayed in the $3-$4 per pound range, keeping Arizona as the number one mining state for the second year in a row. New mines are under construction and exploration is going on everywhere. Old mines are being considered for re-opening from Bisbee to Jerome. Freeport McMoran and Phelps Dodge completed their merger in March 2007, with the new combined Freeport McMoran Copper & Gold now the world's largest copper producer, and headquartered in Phoenix. [above: Morenci mine, courtesy Freeport-McMoran C&G, Inc.]
Mining contributed over $6 billion to the state economy but apparently that is too little to make it worthwhile for some. Pima County politicians are almost tripping over themselves to oppose new mines in the county. Their arguments are that mining is a small part of the overall economy and thus can be sacrificed, that mines bring no benefits and only nuisances or pollution. Representatives Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords jointly introduced HR4228 in Congress, banning mining on federal lands in Pima and Santa Cruz counties.
The battle over Augusta Resource's proposed Rosemont copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains was the focus of a lot of the mining controversy. Both Rosemont and their opponents, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, ran high profile public relation campaigns, including dueling ads on Tucson's morning public radio station.
Meanwhile, uranium exploration is going on full blast in parts of northern Arizona, with the re-opening of a mill near Blanding, Utah. Exploration for gold and a number of other minerals continues unabated although with less fanfare than copper.
The Arizona Geological Society's Ores and Orogenesis symposium in Marana, drew over 900 attendees from 27 countries and was widely praised as the best such event in the past decade or more.
The EarthScope project finished installing 58 broadband seismic stations across Arizona as part of the Transportable Array to investigate the earth's crust in North America. The stations are part of a 10-year rolling deployment, and will be here for two years before moving eastward. Efforts are underway to see if we can keep some of the stations here permanently.
An abandoned mine was the site of a fatal accident in August when a young girl on an ATV died after falling in. Her sister was rescued. It highlighted the fact that 10,000 abandoned mines are known in the state and as many as 100,000 exist in total.
Flooding hit a few areas but not anywhere to the extent that occurred in 2006. The bigger issue about floods was FEMA's reclassification of areas in Marana as being in flood plains, resulting in massive increases in insurance rates. However, locals argued successfully against some of the analyses that initially claimed levee structures were not adequate.
Earth fissures continue to attract attention. Monsoon rains opened a fissure gully in August in the Queen Creek area, trapping a horse that died despite a massive rescue attempt.
The AZGS released earth fissure planning maps in June, showing for the first time, all the known fissures in the state. Since then, 34,000 maps have been downloaded from our website, along with 10,000 copies of the accompanying report. A separate technical report on what further needs to be done to predict and mitigate fissures has been downloaded over 1250 times alone in just the past 3 weeks.
Geophysicist Matthew J. Fouch from Arizona State University was among 58 recipients of the 2006 prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).
Matt, an associate professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration was recognized in a ceremony at the White House on Nov. 1. He was honored for "developing new approaches that integrate geophysical data types – seismic and geodetic – to help researchers and students better understand deformation beneath continental North America."
University of Arizona professor Jonathan Overpeck, was one of only 33 lead authors on an IPCC assessment report released earlier this year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was one of the winners of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. "Peck" as he is known to friends and colleagues, is director of the UA's Institute for the Study of Planet Earth and professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences. He was a coordinating lead author, Chapter 6 (Paleoclimate), for the IPCC’s fourth assessment report.By the way, Peck and I shared a grad student office in the unheated attic of the geoscience department at Brown University back in the late Holocene.
The University of Arizona-led Phoenix Mars Mission was picked by NASA as among the U.S. space agency's top 10 exploration and discovery stories of 2007. The Phoenix mission was launched Aug. 4, and will be the first mission to touch the planet's water-ice. The project's principal investigator is Peter Smith of the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.
The UA's center for Sustainability of Semi-arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas (SAHRA) was a co-winner of the 2007 UNESCO International Great Man-made River Prize, that "rewards remarkable scientific research work on water usage in arid areas as well as areas subject to drought and also for the development of agriculture for the benefit of humanity and the environment."