Saturday, May 31, 2008

Asarco's assets sold to Indian company

India's biggest nonferrous mining and metals company, Sterlite Industries, will buy almost all of Asarco's resources, including three open-pit copper mines and a copper smelter in Arizona, as well as a copper refinery, rod and cake plant and precious metals facility in Texas, for $2.6 billion. [right: Mission Mine, south of Tucson; credit Asarco]

-->The deal is still subject to approval by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas. Within hours, Grupo Mexico, which bought Asarco in 1999, said it will do everything within its powers to stop the sale.
Asarco produced 259,043 tons of refined copper in 2007, making it the third largest copper producer in the U.S. It had total revenues of nearly $1.9 billion for the year ending December 2007, according to a statement from Sterlite.

Friday, May 30, 2008

BHP Billiton files to take over Rio Tinto

BHP Billiton, formally filed with the European Commission for approval to take over Rio Tinto on Friday. A decision is expected by July 4.

The combined firm would control about one-third of the world's ocean trade in the steel-making materials. BHP has indicated it could divest itself of certain commodities, including some copper properties. That has implications for Arizona, in that Rio Tinto operates the Resolution Copper project as a cooperative venture with BHP. Resolution is waiting for a federal land exchange to be approved before moving forward with drilling a 30 foot diameter shaft 7,000' to the copper body near Superior.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

AAPG discovers geo-blogging

The June issue of AAPG Explorer is running a story on geo-blogging with a reference to this "Arizona Geology" blog and a few quotes from me as well as from some of the senior bloggers in the field.

At the AAPG annual meeting in April, I joked with the Explorer managing editor Vern Stefanic that since I was blogging about the meeting, I should be allowed into the press room with all the great food and drink. The next thing I knew, Vern had me hooked up with reporter David Brown for a story on the geoblogosphere.

The field is growing dramatically with more and more professional blogs online. Some of the best information I find about natural resources and activities in Arizona comes from the pros who now use blogs as their principal publishing outlet.

There is also a camaraderie among geo-bloggers where we find tips and good stories on each others' sites and pass them along, typically with our own spin or emphasis.

ASU gets 3 AGU Outstanding Student Paper Awards

AGU published more Outstanding Student Paper Awards from the Fall 2007 meeting held last December. Three ASU students were recognized:


Kevin C. Eagar, Arizona State University,
Tempe, Receiver function imaging of upper mantle
discontinuities beneath the Oregon High Lava
Plains and surrounding regions.


Olaf Zielke, Arizona State University, Tempe,
Effect of fault roughness on scaling relationships
among earthquake magnitude and rupture characteristics.

Volcanology, Geochemistry, & Petrology

Abigail L. Bull, Arizona State University,
Tempe, Using a new multi-discipline approach to
predict seismic tomography from geodynamical
models of mantle convection.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Rosemont copper mine all over the news

Yesterday's Arizona Daily Star carried three stories on the proposed Rosemont copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains. The front page headline story reports that the mining company will use "dry stacking" a mining technique developed for extreme arid climates to use only 5,000-8,000 acre feet, half as much water as expected for an operation of its size. The water table in the Upper Santa Cruz basin is dropping a reported 2-4 feet per year from exising agriculture, residential, and industrial uses of more than 20,000 acre feet. The paper says AZ Dept. of Water Resources satellite interferometry data shows subsidence of 3 cms last year, centered over the pecan groves in the area.

The local section of the paper says Rep. Raul Grijalva and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords asked the Forest Service to start over with the public comment scoping process that has been under way for more than two months.

Third, there is a report that the Forest Service defends its selection of SWCA Environmental Consultants, noting the company has carried out other mining projects of similar scope in Arizona and has worked repeatedly for the Forest Service.

I also saw an guest op-ed in the Tucson Weekly by a self-described opponent of the Rosemont mine offended that our local public radio station KUAT, accepted donations from the company to be a sponsor of NPR's Morning Edition. The premise of his complaint is that "Companies that haven't been caught doing something unseemly rarely waste resources running feel-good ads to enhance their images." Does that mean all the sponsors of public radio and tv are engaged in unseemly activities? I noted here a few months ago that both Rosemont and "Save the Scenic Santa Ritas" had dueling blurbs on KUAT during the morning drive to work .

The rhetoric seems to be heating up in recent weeks, along with summer temperatures. [above: credit - Save the Scenic Santa Ritas]

Meanwhile, the Sky Island Alliance gave Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll their Public Service Award, in large part for his "exceptionally strong and vocal opposition to the planned Rosemont Mine."

Massive new copper reserves at Bingham Canyon mine: are there more in Arizona too?

Rio Tinto last week announced that they found an additional 628 million tons of copper ore (at 0.48% copper) below the current Bingham Canyon mine [right: copyright Michael Collier] outside Salt Lake City, Utah. According to, that brought the new total to 637 million tons, meaning the mine previously had only 8 million tons left.

Rio Tinto is the operator of the proposed Resolution copper mine in Superior, AZ, in partnership with BHP Billiton.

This discovery begs the question, do Arizona copper mines have similar potential resources under their current known resources?

Larry Fellows to receive AASG award

Larry Fellows, director of the Arizona Geological Survey and its predecessor organizations for 26 years, will receive the Distinguished Service Award from the Association of American State Geologists on the occasion of their 100th anniversary.

Larry served as AASG president in 1988-89 as well as on more than 20 committees and panels over the years, half of which he chaired. Even after his retirement in 2005, Larry continued supporting AASG by chairing the Honorary Members Committee. When I became State Geologist of Utah in 1989, Larry served as a mentor and role model. Whenever I had a tough problem, Larry was the go-to guy with ideas on how to solve it. It was a role he played for many of us.

The award will be presented at the AASG annual meeting in Shepherdstown WV at the end of June.

Geologists - "coolest, sexiest,..."

This video shows why we really got into geology - for the public adulation!

[click on the picture to watch the clip]

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Climate change report: Arizona hardest hit

A report released yesterday by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) - "Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3: The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity in the United States" - shows that Arizona and adjacent areas of the Southwest and West will experience a 10-25% decrease in surface water runoff due to climate change, the worst in the nation. [below: median changes to runoff by USGS water resources regions. Numbers inside the regions are effectively a confidence measure. Fig 4.10 from the report]

Other impacts they report for this area include:
  • Forests in the the Southwest are already being affected by climate change with increases in the size and frequency of forest fires, insect outbreaks and tree mortality. These changes are expected to continue.
  • Increased drought conditions have occurred in the West and Southwest.

  • Weeds grow more rapidly under elevated atmospheric CO2. Under projections reported in the assessment, weeds migrate northward and are less sensitive to herbicide applications.
  • There is a trend toward reduced mountain snowpack and earlier spring snowmelt runoff in the Western United States.
  • Invasion by exotic grass species into arid lands will result from climate change, causing an increased fire frequency. Rivers and riparian systems in arid lands will be negatively impacted.

"Explore Arizona" opens in Phoenix

Our new book/map store and outdoor information center, developed in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, opened for business today in downtown Phoenix. The center is still under construction, but we wanted to meet our customer's needs as soon as we can. A formal grand opening will be held this summer.

"Explore Arizona" is a one-stop shop for federal and state materials and publications on recreation, natural history, natural resources, and environment, with an emphasis on Arizona's public lands.

The center is on the ground floor of the Phelps-Dodge Tower at One North Central in Phoenix. We validate parking in the P-D Tower underground garage. Hours are 9am-6pm M-F. A preliminary website is up at

Monday, May 26, 2008

Phoenix landing photographed from orbit

The UA- managed HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught the Phoenix Lander as it descended yesterday by parachute to the surface of Mars.

UA says this is the first time a spacecraft landing has been photographed by another spacecraft.

Navajo's Desert Rock power plant stirs controversy

The Houston Chronicle reports on the controversy within the Navajo Nation over the construction of the $3 billion Desert Rock Energy Facility (coal-fired power plant - artist's rendition at right) in northwestern New Mexico. If constructed, the plant will use low-sulfur coal from the Black Mesa coalfield on tribal lands in Arizona. A panoramic video of the proposed site is available at

The Chronicle reports that the plant "would bring $52 million a year in revenue to the tribal government and provide up to 400 jobs on a reservation where unemployment hovers around 50 percent." Coal production on the reservation was devastated when the Henderson, Nevada electric plant shut down two years ago. It was the primary user of Black Mesa coal.

The plant will sell electricity to whoever needs it, Phoenix or Las Vegas are described as likely customers.

The controversy exists because the reservation's 2,000 megawatt Four Corners Power Plant to the north is routinely identified by environmental groups as the worst polluting plant in the nation. The Desert Rock plant's emissions are expected to be only about 20% of the Four Corners plant and according to the plant's web site, will be cleaner in all but one area than a Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) power plant, a technology generally touted as "clean coal."

Despite that, the article says EPA estimates the new plant would produce 6,644 ton of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, 5,529 tons of carbon monoxide; 570 tons of particulate matter; and 166 tons of volatile organic compounds, plus trace amounts of lead and mercury.

Permafrost on Mars?

The first color photos from the Phoenix Lander on Mars show the polygonal ground typical of permafrost regions on the Earth.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

First photos from Phoenix Lander

First observations - no boulders, no topography, it reminds me of patterned ground in the terrestrial arctic.

"Tucson, the Phoenix has landed!"

At 4:38 pm MST this afternoon, Tucson greeted it's new sister city - the Martian arctic plain.

Hundreds of Tucsonians crowded three buildings on the UA campus to watch the landing and celebrate with cheers when word came at each stage - separation from the mother ship, atmospheric entry, parachute deployment and detachment, heat shield detachment, then finally, the amazingly slow retrorocket descent of the last couple thousand feet. Touchdown was as much relief as celebration.

UA organized telescope viewing, a multitude of kids activities, rows of exhibits and displays, including wall-sized HiRISE camera flyovers of Mars that made you feel you were in orbit.

As the landing time approached, overflow crowds were directed to outside tents with large monitors. The campus buildings were standing room only.

For updates and Lander photos, try both NASA and UA project web sites:

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Drilling program announced for Tombstone area

Tombstone Exploration Corporation announced Friday that they will drill 23 core holes to intercept extensions of the State of Maine mine, Merrimac zone, Bonanza-Solstice mines and the Ace-in-the-Hole-Black Horse mine trends in the historic mining district.

The company has the mineral rights to approximately 13,500 acres of historical mining land in the areas around Tombstone, Arizona and says it is now the largest land holder in the Tombstone mining district. [right: State of Maine stope; credit Tombstone Exploration Corp.]

Arizona mines looking for workers

News reports have talked about it for the past year - the demand for workers at Arizona mines continues to grow. Coming through Clifton yesterday, just south of Morenci on state highway 191, the new housing development across the canyon is impressive. And next to it, big equipment was scraping ground to add what looks like just as many new homes.

Down the road at the junction with highway 78, the BHP Billiton billboard is recruiting for workers at the Pinto Valley mine.

As I blogged early, the Carlota mine plans on increasing their staff from 153 to 230 in the next quarter.

In April, Arizona lost 4,600 jobs, 3,200 of which were in construction. About 1,000 jobs were added in leisure and hospitality and another in government (federal and schools mostly). Mining added 100 jobs in April statewide.

Carlotta copper production by year end

Quadra Mining CEO and President Paul Blythe told shareholders last week that the new Carlota open pit copper mine [right: credit Quadra Mining] in the Pinto Valley west of Miami should begin to produce copper cathode by the last quarter of the year.

Carlota has reserves of 77 million tonnes at 0.45% copper. The mine should produce 66 million pounds of copper per year. The mine employs 153 but expects to be at 230 by the end of the quarter according to a story in the Copper Country News. The paper also reports that recent price increases for fuel and acid, the life of mine cash cost of copper produced is estimated at about $1.40 per pound, which is up from the company's previously estimated cost of $0.99.

The company expects the cost of developing the mine will be within 5% of the original budgeted construction cost of $218 million. They report having $305 million in cash on hand at the end of March.

Deep aquifer in Pine?

The Payson Roundup reports on a controversy over claims that an untapped deep aquifer can supply all of the town of Pine's water needs and is justification to lift a building freeze. [right: credit Rim Country Regional CC]

The paper says the 1,000-foot-deep well drilled by a local realtor, found water at 620 feet, below the typical depth of about 400 feet or less, which flowed up to 240 gallons per minute during a weeklong test. Geologist Mike Ploughe is quoted as describing the water source as a regional aquifer.

Critics claim the flow is not sustainable and sediment in the water will impede production.

Geology diorama a surprise in Safford

We stopped by the Chamber of Commerce in Safford for directions and discovered a wonderful diorama of Pleistocene-Holocene geology. Mammoths roam the end-of-Ice Age terrain, with tapirs, sloths, and sabre-toothed cats.

Around the corner is a mammoth tusk, tooth, and other bones found locally.

In a land so fill of geologic diversity and abundance, it's a recurring treat to find such small treasures in unexpected places.

Navajo Nation Oil & Gas Co. looking for new resources

The Navajo Nation Oil & Gas Company (NNOGC) is blazing a new trail as an integrated oil company, along the lines of many national oil companies. NNOGC is 100% owned by the Navajo Nation and works on their behalf. They own and operate producing wells, explore for new fields, run pipelines, operate gas stations, and are looking at opportunities both on and off reservation lands.

I spent a few hours on Thursday with CEO & President Wilson Groen, geologist Stephen Hines, geophysicist Mustapha M'Rah, and engineer Chalmers Bitsoi.

NNOGC moved into their new headquarters in Window Rock, in December 2005, after working out of a couple of motel rooms. Today, they have about 30 staff plus another 70 or so in gas stations.

The company manages oil and gas resources for the Navajo Nation. In the past, that mostly meant leasing the Nation's lands and collecting royalties. Today, the company is an active partner in fields, is taking over full operation of fields as old agreements expire, is carrying out an aggressive exploration program, and undertaking a comprehensive resource assessment of tribal lands. Tribal production increased 45% in 2007 to 2122 BOPD and proven oil reserves increased 150% to 28.8 million barrels. The company's financial results are equally or more impressive: revenues up 51%, operating income up 112%, net income increased an astounding 994%, with net assets up 66% and total assets up 155%. The results for FY2008 are being reviewed now and should be available soon.

Most of the Nation's oil and gas resources are in Utah and Colorado. NNOGC has a 25% in the giant Aneth field in the Paradox basin. Parts of it have been successfully flooded with CO2 in an enhanced oil recovery operation. A full field enhancement program is expected to cost $750 million.

The company has a block of land covering about 5 townships on the western side of New Mexico's San Juan basin that is prospective for coalbed methane.

The company recently shot 3-D seismic over the Canal Creek acreage block and drilled two wildcat exploratory wells. They are focused on tribal lands but have the authority to go anywhere in the world.

Looking at the tribes lands, it's clear that the Arizona part is under-explored. The Arizona oil fields agreement ends in 2012 and NNOGC already has plans once they assume control.

Showcasing deep time at the Grand Canyon

Last week, on my way from meeting with the folks at Grand Canyon Association and heading to Window Rock, I stopped at the Yavapai Museum in Grand Canyon National Park. Despite the controversy of recent years about selling an anti-science book in the park's store, the Park Service exhibits on the geology of the canyon are based on solid science.

The displays take you step-by-step through the entire geologic history of the canyon region. The museum sits on the canyon rim and is fairly unassuming. I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth and quality of the exhibits.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

U.S. mineral production shows economic slowdown

The decline in U.S. mineral production of construction materials reflects drops in the domestic housing market. U.S. Geological Survey data shows "significant declines in domestic production for a number of construction materials, including cement, gypsum, construction sand and gravel, and crushed stone." For example gypsum production dropped 11% from 4th quarter 2007 to the first quarter of 2008 and declined 14% compared with that of the first quarter of 2007. [above: Western Mining & Minerals, gypsum for portland cement]

This is the first time the USGS has publicly released the same data provided to the Federal Reserve System's Board of Governors used to prepare its index of industrial production, a principal economic indicator.

According to the USGS, "This index measures the output of factories, mines, and electric and gas utilities. Output reflects changes in price and demand for mineral commodities used by industries such as construction, transportation equipment and agriculture. Output is an important early indicator of changes in economic activity in those industries."

New Arizona fossil discoveries

The Eastern Arizona Courier reports a skull of a rhynchotherium 2.5 million year old relative of the extinct mastodon with four tusks is being excavated on BLM lands near Safford.

The fossil was discovered by Larry Thrasher, a geologist for the Bureau of Land Management in Safford, who also found bones from a fossil duck and three-toed horse.

In Gilbert, city officials announced the discovery of an upper-foreleg bone of a large camel known as camelops [right: camelops hesternus]. Dr. Robert McCord, chief curator of the Arizona Museum of Natural History in Mesa, is quoted in the Arizona Republic as saying "camelops measured 7 feet tall at the shoulder and roamed the earth between the late Pliocene period and the Pleistocene, until about 10,000 years ago. The exact age of the specimen found in Gilbert is hard to determine since the species thrived for almost 2 million years." It is the third discovery of a fossil camel family member in Maricopa County and the first record of camelops. The fossil find was made by crews building the South Water Treatment Plant.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Mars University" readies for Phoenix lander

The University of Arizona has events across campus and the community to mark the Phoenix Mars Lander touchdown on Sunday at about 4:38 pm, to start a 3-month exploration mission.
Public Landing Celebration

On Sunday, the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and Flandrau: The UA Science Center will host a public landing celebration on the campus mall in front of Flandrau and the neighboring science buildings – the Sonett Space Sciences Building and the Kuiper Space Sciences Building.

It will feature live coverage of events taking place at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, plus provide access to the science center, children’s activities and presentations by UA scientists involved on the Phoenix and other Mars missions. Many of the buildings will feature displays of extraordinary space images generated by instruments developed by UA scientists.

The UA Museum of Art also will host a landing celebration in conjunction with its exhibit of the work of legendary space artist Robert McCall.

Kuiper Building: 3-8 p.m.

  • NASA TV streaming in atrium and rooms 301, 308, 309 and 312
  • Space Imagery Center tours from 3-4 p.m. (Room 450)
  • Children’s science activities and experiments
  • Presentations by Bill Boynton, Daniel Janes, Alfred McEwen and Rob Bovill, all with the UA’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory

Sonett Building: 3-8 p.m.

  • NASA TV streaming in lobby and small conference room
  • The “HiWALL,” a floor-to-ceiling computer display of the giant and dramatic images of the surface of Mars, taken from the UA’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera that now orbits the Red Planet.
  • Video presentations

Flandrau: The UA Science Center: 3-8 p.m.

  • NASA TV streaming in gallery
  • Exhibits will be open top the public at no charge
  • Free planetarium shows at 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. A telescope will be opened for Mars viewing after dark (Mars will be visible in the western sky around sunset)

Campus Mall: 3-8 p.m.

  • Overflow seating in case of large turnout (main tent will seat 100)
  • NASA audio feed
  • Solar telescopes for viewing from 3-5 p.m.
  • Physics Factory shows

UA Museum of Art: 1-4 p.m.

  • Robert McCall’s space art exhibit, “Imagination Unbound,” will be open to the public
  • Presentation by the Postal History Foundation about McCall’s postage stamp design
  • Hands-on children’s activities that merge science and art

There will be free parking in campus garages for landing-day events. Bathrooms will be available inside the Sonett, Kuiper and Flandrau buildings.

TV Coverage of Landing

Coverage of the Phoenix landing will be broadcast live on:

NASA-TV: 3:30 p.m. PDT/6:30 p.m. EDT

The Science Channel: 4 p.m. PDT/7 p.m. EDT

Discovery Channel Canada: 4 p.m. PDT/7 p.m. EDT

Cox Communications announced this week that it will add the digital NASA-TV to its local lineup in Tucson so that its viewers can enjoy the coverage of the Phoenix landing and science operations.

Staying Connected


Daily e-mail updates will be available via UANow, the UA’s daily newswire. Subscribe at


Visit the UA’s Mars main Web site at for news, images, links and resources to follow the Phoenix Mission as it unfolds.

Mission Web site:




Watch daily media briefings live on NASA TV, which Cox Communications will carry in Tucson between May 23 and June 26. A live online feed of NASA TV is also available at

Arizona's role in going 'back to the moon'

I had a chance to drop into the USGS Astrogeology branch in Flagstaff this afternoon. Chief Scientist Jeff Johnson gave me a quick overview of large array of planetary exploration missions their group is working on with NASA, including the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter which is scheduled to launch this October. Three planetary scientists from Flagstaff are working with ASU on the science team - pretty rare to have that many from one group on a mission. [right: Shoemaker Building, home of the USGS Astrogeology branch, named after Eugene Shoemaker, legendary planetary geologist]

One of the highlights of the tour was working with 20-cm resolution digital 3-D imagery from Mars. Its' only semi-jokingly referred to as the Mars spy satellite data.

Therizinosaur exhibit in Flagstaff

The therizinosaur exhibit at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff blends dinosaur skeletons [right, with curator Dave Gillette], a true-to-life recreation of the Tropic Shale quarry, videos, and an innovative use of digital photo frames to show stop-action geologic history of the region. There is even a very cool robot plesiosaur [below].

Dave says they debated the exhibit intensely and decided to tell a complex and intriguing about how a land-living dinosaur ended up in the bottom of a shallow ocean, 60 miles from shore. Instead of following the advice of many to keep the narrative at the 4th grade level, the exhibit challenges the viewer. It's worth the drive.

I'll also let you in on a something you 're unlikely to see at the Museum unless you know to look for it. A few feet north of the entrance off the highway, there is a steel pteranodon with a 14 foot wingspan, mounted on a twenty foot pole, surrounded by a flock of the Cretaceous equivalent of seagulls, but with teeth! Almost no one spots the sculpture because it blends into the pine trees around it.

Dave jokes that he encourages birders to come and add these Mesozoic birds to their spotting list.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Resolution Copper's core facility is breaking new ground

I spent a few hours today at Resolution Copper's operations center outside the town of Superior, being blown away by their core operations. My guide and host, geologist Brad Calkins, is understandable proud of the team, facilities, and procedures they've put together.

Resolution currently has 7 drill rigs running 24/7 although two are gathering hydrogeology data and one geotechnical information. The others have been coring down 2,100 meters with multiple, directional boreholes from each main hole. [right: old shaft #9, which will eventually be used for ventilation in the new mine]

Every core is oriented, and each hole has borehole video and acoustic logs run. The breadth and detail of structural, textural, and compositional information collected is staggering. Another surprise is the extent of quality control and ability to re-capture any data misplaced or mishandled. Brad said their procedures manual is 170 pages long and repeatedly revised.

Any given joint, fracture, or fault, may have a half dozen or more descriptors with it. Every core is slabbed and photographed. The cores are tied to the borehold image logs and descriptions are entered into a custom-built database. All the information goes into 3-D models, while some of it is used for specialized studies on mechanical properties in the proposed mine. They have designed and built their own core racks for examining and describing the new cores.

Company policies prohibit any photos from inside the main gate otherwise I would have loved to grab shots of the many innovations Resolution is employing.

Based on what international visitors all tell them, Brad says the Resolution core analysis program is the most advanced in the world. I've never seen anything to compare to it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

UA finds dust devils on Mars

The UA HiRISE camera has identified dust devils on Mars reaching up to 9 kilometers above the surface.

[right: dust-devil tracks in southern Schiaparelli Basin, Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona]

According to the HiRISE announcement, "This observation shows a region near the Martian equator that is a perfect tablet for the scribblings of dust-devils. This region is made up of dark bedrock that is thinly blanketed by bright dust. Dark tracks form when dust-devils scour the surface, exposing the darker substrate. The tracks tend to cluster together, as dust-devils repeatedly form over terrain that has been previously scoured and is consequently darker and warmer than the surrounding surface. Once lofted by a dust-devil, the fine dust can be transported great distances before it settles again onto the surface.

Thanks to for showcasing this item.

Prescribed burn in Coronado National Forest

AZGS geologist Joe Cook captured this photo of a prescribed burn in the Coronado National Forest last Thursday. The underbrush was mostly burned away, leaving larger plants (mostly mesquite, ponderosa pine, and creosote) untouched.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

UA ensures two prominent scientists will stay

The University of Arizona is working hard to keep two prominent scientists on campus.

Planetary scientist Peter Smith, principal investigator of NASA’s Phoenix Mars Mission, has been named the first Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Chair in Integrative Science, which is established to reward top faculty in transformative science.

Smith is responsible for all aspects of the $420 million Phoenix Mars Mission and his team will control the lander from the UA’s Science Operations Center in Tucson after it lands on Mars on May 25.

Meanwhile, UA administrators agreed to construct a new $90 million building housing environmental researchers from several departments, hire more faculty in environmental science and give a 22 percent salary boost to Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist, who co-authored last year's IPCC climate change report that shared in the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore. Peck was a finalist for a position at the University of Wisconsin, but will stay at UA.

However, funding for the UA's proposed Environmental and Natural Science Building is stuck in the state legislature due to the budget shortfall, so it's not yet clear how the university will follow through on its commitment.

SR87 landslide clean-up, mitigation, ahead of schedule

ADOT may open all 4 lands of State Route 87 (Beeline Hwy) between Mesa and Payson by early to mid-week. The road was closed for 6 days after a landslide on Good Friday. It's been restricted to one lane in each direction while the slide was cleared off, the slope cut back, and a safety wall emplaced to prevent further slumping on to the highway.

[right top: steel girders are placed into holes more than 40 feet deep, reaching below the slide plane, forming a wall along the base of the slide]

According to Wayne Harrison, geologist with DM/JM Harris, core drilling found the slide plane about 45 feet down from the surface on the hillside above the road. A 'retaining wall' structure is being built along the slide area. About 200 feet of it will be done across the main area, providing a safety zone for traffic, while the rest of the mitigation efforts continue. This will allow southbound traffic to move back into the southbound lanes, rather than sharing the northbound side.

[bottom left: Wayne Harrison describes map of slide extent to Thomas Soteros-McNamara of the Governor's Office of Strategic Planning and Budget]

[bottom right: core hole will hold one of 3 inclinometers across the slide to monitor possible further movement]

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rosemont offers public tours of copper mine area

The ad in the Arizona Daily Star is simple black type on the white background, but it grabbed my attention. Rosemont Copper is offering tours to the public of the proposed copper mine in the Santa Rita mountains.

The tours will be offered from now through July, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, from 9 am to noon. They are limited to 10 people.

The tours will visit the geology exploration camp, historic mining areas, the old quarry, weather station, and the future copper pit location.

The ad states that "Rosemont's plans for reclamation, re-vegetation and water conservation will make this a world-class facility."

To register for the tours, call 520-343-1730.

Peck to Congress: climate change reducing our water supply

UA geosciences professor Jonathan Overpeck ("Peck") [right, credit UA] testified to the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology today that "Current scientific understanding of both climate variability (drought) and climate change indicates that there is a real future likelihood of both natural and human-caused reductions in climate-related water supply" especially for the West, Southwest, Texas, and across to the Southeast areas of the country.

I took particular note of his comments on groundwater:

"How much groundwater exists locally around the country, and how quickly can
groundwater be recharged in the future, both by precipitation, and/or human
mechanisms? Many parts of the country, particularly in the West, consider
groundwater to be a principal source of water, at least in times of surface-flow
shortage. And yet, precise information about the volume of these underground
water resources is often not available, nor is the full potential of underground
water banking fully understood. This limits realistic planning."

UA's Paul Kapp awarded Donath Medal

Paul Kapp (UA- Geosciences Dept) has been named the 2008 recipient of the Donath Medal (Young Scientist Award). The Donath Medal, established in 1988, is awarded to a young scientist (35 or younger) for outstanding achievement in contributing to geologic knowledge through original research that marks a major advance in the earth sciences.

The award, consisting of a gold medal called the Donath Medal and a cash prize of $20,000, was endowed by Dr. and Mrs. Fred A. Donath. The medal will be awarded at the Geological Society of America meeting in Houston this fall.

Paul works in structural geology-tectonics to understand processes of continental lithosphere deformation.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Anxiety increases as Phoenix landing date nears

The last five Mars landings by NASA have been successful, but the landing method being used for the Phoenix mission has not been used in 32 years, and the spacecraft that was the model for Phoenix disappeared when it attempted to land in 1999.

Overall, 55% of landing attempts on Mars failed, leading to a lot of anxiety as the May 25 landing date for Phoenix approaches. [right: artist's impression of Phoenix Mars Lander. Credit: NASA]

Peter Smith at the University of Arizona is the lead scientist on the project.