Thursday, July 31, 2008

Phoenix Lander confirms water on Mars

The mission team at the University of Arizona announced that the Phoenix Lander has confirmed the presence of water in soil samples. Water had been detected by the Mars Odyssey orbiter in 2002 and disappearing chunks of samples last month seemed to imply ice was sublimating away, but UA team scientist William Boynton said,"this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted."

The next questions are whether the water ice ever thaws enough to be available for biology and if carbon-containing chemicals and other raw materials thought to be needed for life are present.

Meanwhile, NASA announced that the mission will be extended by 5 weeks, through Sept. 30.

[above, current trenches (blue) and areas for future digging (yellow). Credit, NASA/JPL-CalTech, UA, Texas A&M]

Unconventional natural gas

A study released by the American Clean Skies Foundation (ACSF) and Navigant Consulting, Inc. indicates the United States has 2,247 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas reserves, which is enough to last more than 100 years.

The report says "existing forecasts from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) have historically underestimated and understated the contribution and potential of unconventional natural gas from three sources: tight sands, coalbed methane and gas from shale formations."

Shale gas is making headlines in Oklahoma's Woodford play and Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale, and other locales as a major resource. Arizona is not on the industry's list of primary exploration targets but AZGS oil and gas administrator Steve Rauzi has compiled a list of 11 Arizona shale units that warrant further investigation. [above, Mancos Shale, northern Arizona. Credit]

UA identifies ethane lake on Titan

An instrument on the Cassini spacecraft run by the UA Lunar and Planetary Lab has detected liquid ethane forming a 150-mile long lake on Saturn's moon Titan. The report is published today in Nature by UA scientist Robert Brown and his colleagues.

The UA press release says the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) aboard NASA's Cassini orbiter captured this detailed, partial view of Titan's Ontario Lacus at 5 microns wavelength from 1,100 kilometers away, or about 680 miles away, on Dec. 4, 2007. Only part of the lake is visible on Titan's sunlit side. What appears to be a 'beach' is seen in the lower right of the image, below the bright lake shoreline. [NASA/JPL/University of Arizona]

Bottom: Cassini's Imaging Science System took this image of Lacus Ontario in June 2005. [NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute]

Now, if there were only a way we could pump this back to Earth, it might solve a lot of our energy problems.

McCain on mining law reform, nuke waste

John McCain spoke out in favor of mining reform on the campaign trail in Nevada, but took some heat from "I Think Mining" blogger Jack Caldwell (who sounds like he might be a McCain supporter), who posted a commentary including, "He seems to want it all way. A new mining law; but no fees. Yucca Mountain; but no nuclear waste."

Sen. McCain said he supported the Yucca Mountain site for nuclear waste storage but also wants reprocessing of nuclear waste. He called for reform of the 1872 Mining Act but doesn't necessarily support increasing fees for companies mining on public lands.

These the first reports I've seen from the presidential campaigns that address mining issues. All the discussions of resource issues so far seem to be on offshore drilling for oil.

China to need 55% of world's copper by 2010

Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll predicts that China will account for 55% of world copper demand by 2010, up from 26% in 2007. China's economic growth is referred to as 'resilient' compared to global concerns about sluggish development.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Copper demand to increase 3.9% in 2008

World consumption of copper is expected to grow 3.9% in 2008 driven in part by an 8% increase in demand from China, according to a Scotiabank economic forecaster. In 2007, China's demand for copper grew 16%. That's still pretty healthy when everyone's talking about recession.

U.S potash prices to rise 48%; competition for Arizona resources

Scotiabank reports that the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, the world's largest producer, is raising U.S. dealer prices for ‘granular material' by $250 per short ton on September 1. That will push taking prices from $522 (FOB mine in Saskatchewan) to $772 (US$850.97 per metric tonne), a 48% jump. A year ago Potash Corp potash prices were only $196. Spot prices in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Brazil hit $1025/ton for granular material and are expected to hit $900 at the Port of Vancouver by year end.

Arizona's potash resources are being quietly, but quickly tied up in a mineral rights and land rush in the Holbrook basin [right, Painted Desert; credit NPS] setting up a possible conflict with acquisition of some of those lands for expansion of Petrified Forest National Park. Congress approved adding 129,000 acres to the Park in 2004 but did not appropriate funds for it. At least one large ranch owner put his tract up for sale earlier this year after expressing frustration over the Congressional delay.

Meanwhile, the PFNP sent out a General Management Plan Amendment for Park Addition Lands this week to stakeholders asking for input on how to manage the lands they expect to get.

Monitoring quakes in Arizona

Arizona news media have been peppering AZGS staff with questions about the state's seismic hazards, in the aftermath of yesterday's moderat 5.4 quake in the Los Angeles basin (I haven't seen reports about which fault this was on, but it seems to be near the Whittier-Elsinore system).

Channel 5 in Phoenix did a nice job describing the new program to hold on to USArray stations in Arizona. Channel 12's story is below.

Wave Lengths premiers

A quarterly 30-minute tv show on science at the University of Arizona, "Wave Lengths," premiered on public tv last night here in Tucson, right after "Nova." A tough act to follow, but Wave Lengths held its own.

Vicki Chandler, director of the UA BIO5 Institute, serves as host and clearly is having way too much fun to classify this as work.

The inaugural show introduced Vicki and how she found a career in science, then covered six research projects at UA with short interviews and video clips:
  • Super Green Rice
  • Hubble’s Successor
  • Mosquito Control
  • Skin Cancer Prevention
  • Valley Fever Cure
  • The Genographic Project
No geosciences in the first episode, but I'm sure they'll get to it soon. The UA bench in geosciences, hydrology, planetary science, and others, is world class with lots of fascinating research to showcase. In fact "Nova scienceNOW" will feature the Mars Phoenix Lander mission tonight on PBS.

The one thing I found disconcerting in the program was that after each segment, they posted a "Did you know?" question that had nothing to do with anything else on the show. I really expected something about rice after that segment. The same for each other segment and each time I expected a follow up to the prior segment.

I expect the production crew will be finding their voice more clearly as time goes on, but they did a superb job out of the blocks on this first episode.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Decision on Navajo's coal-fired plant expected

The EPA is under court order to issue a decision on permitting a 750-megawatt coal-fired power plant on the Navajo Nation near Shiprock, NM by July 31. The state of New Mexico and some Navajos are fighting the plant, arguing it will produce mercury and greenhouse gases.

The Desert Rock power plant is a joint venture between the Navajo Nation and a New York based company, that's expected to bring $50 million per year in revenues to the tribe. The state argues that EPA cannot possibly respond to 1200 public comments on air quality by the deadline. The new plant is touted as being cleaner than any of the other 3 coal-fired plants in the region. The plant is expected to burn 6.25 million tons of coal per year, mined from the nearby Navajo Mine.

This could be a test of the EPA's position on carbon dioxide as a pollutant, a conclusion made by the courts but not embraced by EPA. A lot of folks will be watching Thursday.

What happens when the "Big One" rolls across Arizona?

Today's magnitude 5.4 earthquake in the LA basin has the phones ringing here at AZGS with reporters wanting to know about the earthquake hazards in Arizona.

In addition to our own home-grown faults, Arizona may be shaken by quakes in northern Sonora (such as happened in 1887) and by the mother of all western faults, the San Andreas.

The Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) ran their Terashake simulator through a number of possible earthquake models for Southern California, all but one of them evaluating a fault rupture that begins in the south and moves north. However, one simulation [right, screenshot of Terashake simulation of north to south fault rupture on th e San Andreas fault. credit SCEC] does show what happens if the fault starts rupturing in the LA basin and moves southeastward.

What you see is a broad region of ground shaking rolling into and across southern Arizona. Unfortunately, the model only goes a little ways across the border into Arizona. But it's enough to get me wondering just what is going to happen to the 5 million or so people living in the jello-like basins around Phoenix and Tucson.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Biologist bashes Rosemont copper project

The Arizona Game and Fish Department letter to the U.S. Forest Service was labeled 'harsh' by the Arizona Daily Star in its front page story on the issue. The letter, authored by Joan Scott, Habitat Program Manager, has been widely quoted as concluding "the project will render the northern portion of the Santa Rita Mountains virtually worthless as wildlife habitat and as a functioning ecosystem..."

Scott also declares that "the highest value of Arizona public land is for open space, public recreation, and wildlife." This position would appear to challenge the basis of public lands as multiple-use and would effectively eliminate mining, logging, and any activity that creates "noise, light, and physical disturbance" on public lands, including some types of recreation. The letter indicates damage to Forest lands will be permanent and that promises by the company to restore the ecosystem are "fantasy."

The 6-page letter offers no scientific data or references to studies to back up these claims. The AGF letter requests a copy of the biological report for review but then goes on to say that they disagree completely with it.

Those are indeed harsh statements, and set the bar pretty high to back them up with documentation.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

New model for monsoon formation

CalTech researchers say they have found a better explanation for monsoons. They attribute them to collision between tropical circulation and large-scale turbulent eddies generated in the atmosphere in middle latitudes.

[right, ASU School of Geographical Sciences]

The traditional model for monsoons is that they form from temperature differences between warmer land and cooler ocean surfaces. This goes back to the ideas of astronomer Edmond Halley (ie, Halley's Comet) in 1686.

In the new model, the atmospheric eddies crash into the tropical circulation like waves on a beach, which can quickly change the circulation pattern and produce high winds and heavy rainfalls typical of monsoons. It seems like this could lead to more accurate forecasting of locations and severity of monsoon storms.

Asarco buyer Vedanta in India controversy

Politician's have been lining up for and against Vedanta Resources, the parent of Sterlite Industries, over the companies bid to buy Asarco from bankruptcy court. Opponents are raising questions about Sterlite's environmental credentials. It appears that one of the biggest reasons for this is Vedanta's plans to open a bauxite mine in the remote mountainous region of Orissa in India, inhabited by the 8,000 member Dongria Kondh tribe. The UK Telegraph describes the Kondh as one of the most isolated tribes, that believes in witch doctors and animal sacrifices, and opposes the project.

The government of Orissa originally planned the mining project and awarded the mining contract to Vedanta. Vedanta saya they have "already built schools, roads, a medical centre and a hospital in the region, and taught farmers how to increase their yields" and "also pledged to bring health care, sanitation and education to an area where many die of preventable diseases, and where tribe members have in the past sold their babies to buy food."

The battle is attracting international attention and may be a (the?) source of the environmental challenges in the U.S. Stories I've read indicate the Orissa state government is widely viewed as hopelessly corrupt so that no matter what Vedanta may do, the benefits will not get to local citizens and especially to the Kondh people.

Vedanta argues that the area involved is a tiny fraction of the Kondh's traditional lands, and will be returned to its natural condition once the mining is over.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Western Climate Initiative

The Western Climate Initiative, a coalition of governors of 7 western states, including Arizona, yesterday released a draft plan for a regional CO2 cap and trade program. Under this plan, companies that achieve clean emissions could sell credits to companies that can't cut their emissions because of technical or cost challenges.

Another piece of the climate change challenge is geologic sequestration of CO2. Just a few years ago, it was generally assumed this would be straightforward and easy. But increasingly, there are concerns about the chemistry of putting large amounts of CO2 into the ground, the certainty of long-term storage, and the capacity of geologic units to absorb the volumes of CO2 proposed. Plus, the local geologic conditions near each power plant or other CO2 emitter are turning out to be critical in the success or failure of the current sequestration tests. What works or doesn't work in Illinois or Kentucky may act very differently in Arizona and elsewhere. We have a lot of homework to do in Arizona on sequestration.

Audit criticizes federal handling of abandoned mine lands

An audit [C-IN-MOA-0004-2007, Abandoned Mine Lands in the Department of the Interior] by the Dept. of Interior Inspector General criticizes the management of abandoned mine lands by BLM and the National Park Service in California, Nevada, and Arizona. The report states:

We concluded that BLM and NPS are putting the public’s health and safety at risk by not addressing hazards posed by abandoned mines on their lands. Although NPS has been more effective at protecting the public, there are still many more sites that need to be mitigated. Mines located on BLM and NPS lands primarily in the western states of California, Arizona, and Nevada. We identified abandoned mines where members of the public had been killed, injured, or exposed to dangerous environmental contaminants. Growth of the population and use of off-road vehicles in the West will increase the likelihood of additional deaths or injuries.

While BLM has the clear majority of abandoned mine sites on DOI lands, we found that it has an ineffective program to address them. BLM’s abandoned mines program has long been undermined, neglected, and marginalized by poor management practices and insufficient staffing and resources.

We found that NPS has mitigated many of its high-risk, easily accessible abandoned mine sites; however, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of sites that still need to be addressed.

[above: Sunnyside adit, Alum Gulch, AZ. Credit: BLM/USFS]

disclaimer: AZGS is in partnership with BLM-AZ in running the "Explore Arizona" outdoor information center and store in Phoenix.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

AGU: the demise of print

AGU will cease print subscriptions to its journals in 2010, the first of what be I expect to be a rush of geoscience societies turning to electronic publication only.

AGU attributes the decision to the problem of printed versions increasingly differing from electronic versions, and to the increased costs of producing and mailing the printed versions.

The announcement is in the July 8 issue of EOS that I just read tonight. It's a modest story in the "About AGU" section. Maybe that's why we haven't heard much about the decision. Or perhaps more likely, it's not that big a deal for most of us.

Even a few years ago, such a move could have generated shock waves and outcries across the community. Today, we expect it and most will welcome it. It will be interesting to see how the other professional societies respond to this decision.

And how long before our daily newspaper is no longer delivered to our porches and driveways? I suspect that once a big paper makes the move, it will be like dominoes across the country. We live in a time of changing paradigms.

AFL-CIO endorses Vedanta/Sterlite bid for Asarco

The President of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney, issued a statement yesterday, supporting the bid by India-based Vedanta Resources, parent company of Sterlite Industries, to buy Asarco.

Sweeney said, "We urge those decision makers to support the bid by Vedanta Resources PLC to assure a future for the workers and their families at ASARCO and to reject the competing inferior offer by the other bidder, Grupo Mexico.

"When ASARCO was controlled by Grupo Mexico from 1999 to 2005, labor relations were marked by constant strife. The company unilaterally cut health care benefits for hundreds of retirees and halted disability benefits for other employees. Grupo Mexico has stripped ASARCO of its most valuable assets. ASARCO was then starved of essential equipment for its U.S. operations."

The Vedanta/Sterlite offer has been challenged by some congressional representatives and environmental groups over concerns about the company's environmental commitment.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Solar land rush under way in the Southwest

Spanish solar energy company Abengoa paid Arizona farmers $45 million for 1,920 acres that had an assessed value of only few hundred thousand dollars, to build the 280-megawatt Solana Generating Station power plant [right, artists conception of a Solana solar trough. credit, Abengoa] near Gila Bend, according to a story in the July 21 issue of Fortune magazine. The company may be looking to buy more land but said it is worried about the rush of land speculators flooding the region.

The magazine describes parcels in California that sold for $500 an acre a decade ago, going for $10,000 today. Abengoa is reported as buying a 3,000 acre California block for $30 million.

Environmentalists are raising alarms over the potential impacts of large solar arrays on the desert tortoise or Mohave ground squirrel, among other concerns. The Fortune story describes investors ranging from new solar start-ups to giant corporations including Goldman Sachs, putting claims on enough federal lands to theoretically generate 60 gigawatts of electricity in California, or nearly twice the 33 gigawatts that entire state currently uses in a year.

Update (7-24-08, 10 am): After posting this, my colleague and former grad-student office-mate Frank Horowitz, who blogs from Down Under (at "franks blog") noted that a watt is power but energy is power delivered for a given time period (eg, kilowatt-hours). So, saying California uses 33 gigawatts in a year is meaningless. I'll re-read the Fortune article to see if I misquoted them or simply passed along a common mistake confusing power and energy.

EPA proposes regs on geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide

EPA would govern geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide under proposed regulations released yesterday. The rule would create a new class of injection wells under the authority of the Safe Drinking Water Act's Underground Injection Control program.

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials will hold a hearing on carbon sequestration on July 24, focusing on its risks to drinking water.

According to the EPA Injection Well Inventory, Arizona has over 27,700 injection wells [right]

BLM issues draft regs to open up 800 billion barrels of oil from shale

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management published proposed regulations to establish a commercial oil shale program that could result in the addition of up to 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil from lands in the western United States.

The largest known deposits of oil shale are located in a 16,000-square mile area in the Green River formation in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Shale formations in that area hold the equivalent of up to 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Federal lands comprise 72 percent of the total surface of oil shale acreage in the Green River formation.

The oil shale management proposed regulations are available in the Federal Register at:

Climate change impacts on Arizona will be "substantial"

Climate change will impact Arizona with early snowpack, degraded air quality, urban heat islands, wildfires, heat waves, and drought, according to a new report released by EPA, and as result, climate change will have a "substantial" impact on human health.

The report from the interagency Climate Change Science Program, is entitled Analyses of the Effects of Global Change on Human Health and Welfare and Human Systems.

The table shows Arizona impacts as part of the "Mountain" line, below.

Supporters come out for Sterlite's bid for Asarco

The battle over who will win control of Asarco has spread out of the bankruptcy court and into the political and public relations arenas.

On Monday, State Representatives Pete Rios, [left] D-Dudleyville and Barbara McGuire, D-Kearny [right] held a press conference along with Pinal and Gila county supervisors and the mayor of Hayden to support Sterlite's offer, and to oppose returning Asarco to Grupo Mexico's ownership.

Yesterday, Steelworkers demonstrated at the Asarco Ray mine, saying hundreds of workers would leave their jobs if Grupo Mexico took control of the company.

This counters announcements by ranking members of the U.S. Congress' Judiciary Committee who recently raised concerns about Sterlite's environmental stewardship, echoing similar statements by local reps Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Freeport's profit drops as copper production costs double

Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold announced that their 2nd quarter profits dropped as copper production costs more than doubled, in part due to higher energy costs, and production dropped from their large Indonesian mine.

At least one analyst is still speculating that Brazilian-based Vale is still considering a buyout of Freeport, despite Vale's specific denial last week.

Arizona #1 in the world for oil and gas investment

Arizona is the most attractive jurisdiction in the world for investing in oil and gas exploration, according to a new study by the Fraser Institute and reported in the Oil and Gas Journal. Nine of the top 10 locations are in the U.S. with Saskatchewan filling the #6 slot. The rankings are based on having low barriers to investment.

Bolivia was ranked as the least attractive country for petroleum investment in the Global Petroleum Survey 2008 which was completed by companies that accounted for more than 1/3 of of the petroleum industry's global spending on exploration and production.

The other top US areas are Arkansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Ohio, Texas, New York, Kansas, and the US Offshore. Colorado is reported as falling out of favor because of more permit requirements and stringent regulations, resulting in drilling costs increasing by $60,000 to $600,000 per well. Also on the outs are Alaska and California.

Geoscience departments in the U.S.

Arizona has a modest number of geoscience departments in 4-year universities compared to a lot of other states, but the faculty-student ratio is good, at 6-9 students per tenure-track faculty member.

The new AGI Geoscience Currents puts Arizona in the middle of the pack in numbers, well behind the big population states.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Minor uplift from groundwater recharge in Phoenix area

Four areas in Phoenix's west valley are seeing minor uplift since the initiation of groundwater recharge. Geologists with the Arizona Dept of Water Resources, using InSAR satellite inteferometry data, have seen uplift in the Vidler, Hieroglyphics, Tonopah, and NAUSP areas. ADWR geologist Brian Conway reports that the Tonopah recharge site [right, brighter colors indicate greater amounts. Credit ADWR] has seen 2.5 centimeters of uplift since the beginning of 2006 when basin recharge began. in its basins.

Brian calls the Tonopah recharge uplift "quite impressive, encompassing more than fifty square miles. A couple of ADWR Index Wells that are located in the area of uplift have shown a dramatic increase in the groundwater level. Some wells have had the groundwater level come up more than one hundred feet in one year after the uplift reached that area."

30 million cubic yards of sand removed at All American Canal

A 23-mile segment of the earthen All American Canal [right, credit US Bur. of Reclamation] west of Yuma is being replaced with a concrete-lined parallel canal to reduce the amount of water lost by leaking into the sand dunes. It's expected to save 67,700 acre feet of water per year, equivalent to the needs of 500,000 southern Californians. An estimated 30 million cubic yards of sand are being excavated before the new canal will be lined according to the Yuma Sun.

The project was challenged by groups concerned that the leakage is a major recharge source for the Mexicali Valley aquifer.

EarthScope seismic stations to stay in Arizona for hazard analysis

FEMA announced they are funding a consortium led by AZGS to acquire 8 or so of the EarthScope USArray seismic stations currently deployed in Arizona [right, seismic stations and earthquakes detected by the USArray], to be used for a state-wide seismic hazard analysis. All three state universities, UA, ASU, and NAU, are partners in the project.

FEMA is putting up about $493,000 with another $172,000 in matching funds from the universities and AZGS. The FEMA grant is through the Arizona Division of Emergency Management and is considered precedent-setting by the seismology community.

The USArray stations are temporarily in Arizona for about 2 years before they will be moved east as part of a rolling deployment that will provide nationwide coverage over a 10-year period. The first USArray stations are scheduled to be pulled out of Arizona starting this October. Mimi Diaz (AZGS), Matt Fouch (ASU), David Brumbaugh (NAU), and Susan Beck (UA) are evaluating the 58 existing stations to select the highest quality and most strategically located stations to become permanent.

Other western states had begun buying or replacing USArray stations to enhance their existing networks, but this is the first time that FEMA has put up funds to acquire stations. EarthScope and other states have been following the Arizona approach closely to see if it might be emulated elsewhere.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

New copper mines could add $3 billion to Arizona economy next year

Arizona State Mine Inspector Joe Hart says new copper mines proposed or under development could add another $3 billion to copper's already large economic impacts in the state.

Joe's comments follow release of the annual report on copper by the Western Economic Analysis Center, which showed direct economic contributions from copper production in 2007 of $3.2 billion, and $6.84 billion when the multiplier was factored in. Joe referred to new mines in various stages in Superior and Safford, and Pima County as sources of the added production.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Potash hits $1000 per ton

Major potash suppliers are investing more than $2 billion to increase production to meet demand. Potash prices have risen tenfold in the past few years to $525 per ton with new contracts announced at $1000. Arizona has large potash resources that have never been developed because they were not thought to be economically competitive.

On Wednesday, it was announced that "Canpotex confirms that it has now concluded significant volumes for shipment to Asian spot markets in the fourth quarter at a price level of USD 1000 for standard grade material ($1025 for granular grade). As a result, Canpotex is advising it's customers that all new sales for shipment through the balance of 2008 will be priced at these new and higher levels. The new pricing will also apply to all new sales to customers in Brazil and Latin America.

"These new and higher price levels are supported by continued strong offshore potash demand and by the historically low potash working inventories that have resulted from record demand this year. These factors have created an extremely tight supply situation for potash and this supply/demand scenario is expected to continue into 2009."

The world's largest fertilizer producer, Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, announced yesterday they will invest $1.6 billion to add 2.7 million tons capacity at three of their Saskatchewan mines and mills. The Russians also announced they have investors putting $630 million into vast potash resources in that country.

A number of companies are actively exploring and evaluating Arizona's potash, with large blocks of mineral lands being leased. AZGS is preparing a technical report on the size of the Arizona potash deposits that should be released shortly.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Interior Dept says Congressional halt of uranium exploration is not valid

KSWT, Channel 13 in Phoenix reports that a senior official in the U.S. Department of Interior has written to Congressman Nick Rahall [left] , chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, telling him that the resolution passed on June 25 to halt new uranium exploration on a million acres of public land in northern Arizona is not valid because the committee did not have a quorum. Rahall disputes that claim.

The resolution was introduced by Rep. Raúl Grijalva [right] of Tucson, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

Meanwhile, Mineweb analysis suggests that uranium prices have bottomed out [right, credit] in light of record oil prices and increasing demand for nuclear power.

UA's Charlie Prewitt awarded first International Mineralogical Association Medal of Excellence

Charlie Prewitt [center, in blue shirt, second row from the top. Robert Downs Mineralogy & Crystallography Group, 2008 ] pin the University of Arizona Dept. of Geosciences has been awarded the International Mineralogical Association Medal of Excellence for lifetime achievement in mineralogy. The IMA medal is awarded for excellence in mineralogical research and is to be considered as one of the pre-eminent awards in this discipline. The recipient is chosen for scientific eminence as represented primarily by scientific publications of outstanding original research in mineralogy. This award was founded in 2006 and approved by the IMA council in July 2007. Charlie is the first recipient of this award.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pima County special meeting on Santa Cruz river

Pima County Supervisors have called a special meeting this Friday morning to discuss the recent action by the Army Corps of Engineers to revise their two-month old decision designating parts of the Santa Cruz River as navigable. Opponents of the Rosemont copper mine hoped having the river determined as navigable would slow or stop the mine from being developed because the river would be subject to the Clean Water Act, which restricts development that impacts it.

The Corps said they need to reconsider the decision in light of a Supreme Court decision. Mine opponents are raising question as to whether the change is politically motivated.

Interestingly, the Green Valley News reports that a state commission in the 1990s ruled that no part of the Santa Cruz River was navigable.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More calls for environmental review of Asarco bidders

Two ranking members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee are calling on the U.S. Attorney General to investigate the environmental records of companies bidding to take Asarco out of bankruptcy, but focused on Sterlite Industries and its parent company Vedanta.

In a news release committee chairman Rep. John Conyers, Jr., D-Michigan, and ranking Republican committee member Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas said they want the Attorney General to order the Justice Department look at the companies.

Arizona reps Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords have previously issued a similar call.

Simulated Mars landing site in Tucson

A near-replica and full size Mars Phoenix Lander and simulated landing site in Tucson [right] are being used by project scientists in testing tools and techniques before they are applied with the real Lander on Mars.

The Phoenix team is trying out a previously unused rasp to scrape shavings from the hard icy soil for additional tests in the Landers oven.

Budget cuts threaten Science Friday

NPR is cutting funding by 60% for the immensely popular Science Friday starting in October, as part of budget problems. SF has 1.3 million listeners per week and 10 million podcast downloads plus science videos, blogs (it has the only full time science reporter based in Beijing), and more. It is one of the successes in engaging the public in science but also talking to scientists ourselves.

An email forwarded from former NSF director Rita Colwell, says the show is short about $500K of the annual $950K budget, which means Science Friday will either go off the air or stay on in a greatly diminished form until or unless new funds are found. What's most surprising to me is that NPR says it will no longer seek foundation underwriting for Science Friday: Rita says if Science Friday is to stay on the air, it is up to the scientific community to raise the money for it.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Copper mining jobs increase 25%; more likely

Jobs in the copper mining industry increased by 25% in 2007 according to the annual report of the Arizona Mining Association, from 8,200 to 10,300 . A summary in the Arizona Daily Star also listed a direct economic impact of copper mining to Arizona of $3.2 billion. The average salary is $40,000, probably the highest industry average in the state. [right, Morenci mine, Arizona's largest copper mine]

Other projects could dramatically increase copper mining in the region: the Resolution mine near Superior, the Rosemont mine south of Tucson, reopening the Lavender pit at Bisbee, and the imminent reopening of the Johnson Camp mine between Benson and Willcox.

There's an interesting opinion piece by Steve Emerine in yesterday's Inside Tucson Business, entitled, "Pima County should butt out of Rosemont mine controversy." Emerine asked two questions,

1. Why is a Democratic-controlled Board of Supervisors, which claims to support high-paying jobs and stronger unions, working so hard to kill a high-paying project on private land on the other side of the Santa Rita Mountains?

2. And why do all five supervisors contend that extending the Central Arizona Project pipeline to Sahuarita is an evil plot if Augusta pays for it but wonderful if we taxpayers fund it?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Nevada-Utah battle over water pipeline through Arizona

The Salt Lake Tribune reported extensively on the battle between Utah and Nevada over Colorado River water, including a proposed pipeline across Arizona to deliver water to southwestern Utah.

Asarco unions and Sterlite agreement extends to 2013

Unions for Asarco have a collective bargaining agreement with Sterlite Industries if the Indian company's purchase is approved by the bankruptcy court. The current agreement will be extended three years to 2013.

Santa Cruz river may lose 'navigable' designation

Last week the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended it's recent decision to declare two stretches of the Santa Cruz river [right, part of the Gila river watershed] as navigable. Designation as a navigable stream means anyone altering the stream or major tributaries by developments, would need a federal permit.

This was expected to impact the proposed Rosemont copper mine and possible housing developments in the area.

The two river stretches were considered navigable because of effluent discharges from wastewater plants. The Corps is reconsidering the decision of two months ago, in light of a Supreme Court decision on the Clean Water Act.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Molybdenum supply deficit predicted in 2009-10

A proprietary report from CPM Group predicts a supply deficit for moly for 2009 and 2010 because of delays in new moly and moly/copper mines going into production. They expect supplies to catch up during the 2011-14 period.

Moly is produced in Arizona as a copper by-product at the Bagdad [right, credit Webshots] and Sierrita mines.

Solar energy projects would cover large tracts of Arizona lands

"Solar energy may be clean and green, but it requires electrical transmission lines, uses water and takes up land that provides habitat for plants and animals" according to a story in the Arizona Daily Star on the BLM hearing about solar energy projects on public lands.

Adding up all the projects proposed for Arizona solar projects brings the total to 359,454 acres just on BLM lands. This is raising environmental concerns here and across the West that are just starting to be addressed by BLM and others.

The largest solar project, Solana Generating Station near Gila Bend, is entirely on private lands. It will be built by Spanish company Abengoa for Arizona Public Service. According to an article in the new issue of Civil Engineering magazine, Solana will cover about 3 square miles, making it larger than the combined area of all other solar plants in the U.S.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Bill to bring religion into the classroom ran out of time

Arizona House Bill 2713, the Student Religious Liberties Act appears to have failed to make it out of the Legislature before they adjourned. It passed both the House and Senate comfortably, but the bodies adjourned without resolving differences between the two versions.

The bill's key sections state that:

A. A public educational institution shall not discriminate against students or parents on the basis of a religious viewpoint or on the basis of religious expression.

B. If an assignment requires a student's viewpoint to be expressed in coursework, artwork or other written or oral assignments, A public educational institution shall not penalize or reward a student on the basis of religious content or a religious viewpoint. In such an assignment, a student's academic work that expresses a religious viewpoint shall be evaluated based on ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance.

C. Students in public educational institutions may pray or engage in religious activities or religious expression before, during and after the school day in the same manner and to the same extent that students may engage in nonreligious activities or expression.

D. Students in public educational institutions may wear clothing, accessories and jewelry that display religious messages or religious symbols in the same manner and to the same extent that other types of clothing, accessories and jewelry that display messages or symbols are permitted.

There has been no word about whether the sponsors plan on bringing it forward next year. Much of the public debate centered on critic's concerns that hate language on clothing could be targeted toward certain religions or lifestyles. At least one bill supporter encouraged this view by declaring that homosexuality needed to be challenged in this manner. Others questioned what problems a shirt with an admonition such as "kill the infidels!" would create in the classroom.

The section of the bill that was being most closely followed on the national level but which got little attention in Arizona, was the provision that would mandate full academic credit for personal religious views offered as answers to tests and assignments. This is viewed by watchers of the evolution battles as a new tactic to bring creationism into the classroom. Passage of the bill was expected to bring legal challenges.

U.S. mining companies attractive to foreign acquisition

Standard & Poor project that foreign companies will actively acquire U.S. mining companies and resources because of the weak dollar, the need to gain economies of scale by expanding operations, and the desire to get a foothold in the U.S. market.

This report comes on top of an analysts conclusion that mining company stocks are under-valued compared to the price of commodities. Together, these suggest we should expect a wave of foreign bids for U.S. mining properties and companies.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Assessor: earth fissures drop home value 60%

A decision by the Pinal County Assessor's Office to cut the property value 60% for a residential lot cut by earth fissures is being described as a first-ever move and by some as precedent-setting. The size of the reduction is attracting attention and may be a factor in setting selling prices on other properties with fissures that similarly affect structures.

Pinal County reduced the assessed value Joan Etzenhouser's 3.3-acre lot in the San Tan mountains area, from about $160,000 to about $64,000 last week. The decision has to be finalized by the County Board of Supervisors in July

The East Valley Tribune quotes Joan as saying the decision also froze her property value unless the fissure issue worsens, which implies the assessed value could drop more.

A spokesperson for the county however, said individual valuations are not precedent setters and that appraisals of other properties with fissures may yield different results.

Citigroup: copper to $5 this year; $5.50 by 2010

A report on says Citigroup is predicts "the copper price is bottoming, and will move sharply higher in 2009 and 2010."

Citigroup increased its price forecast for copper from US$3.50 to $5 per pound in 2008, from $3 to $5.50 per pound in 2010, and upped its long term price from $1.45 to $1.60 per pound.

One of the driving forces is continued rapid economic growth in underdeveloped nations. Citigroup says Chinese copper demand is expected to increase at around 15% per year.

Another factor is that copper production does not seem to be growing to keep pace with demand.

Monday, July 07, 2008

New book: "Anatomy of the Grand Canyon"

A copy of Ken Hamblin's magnificent new book, "Anatomy of the Grand Canyon: Panoramas of the Canyon's Geology" arrived today, and after a couple of minutes flipping through it, I knew I had to take it home and savor it leisurely.

The 143 page, large format book is dominated by dozens and dozens of two-page panorama photos from the river, the canyon rims and from the air. Each panorama has an accompanying geologic cross-section to put it all in perspective. Ken has admirably achieved his goal of creating a dazzling geologic tour that is understandable and inviting to the completely uninitiated reader who opens the cover, while still fascinating to the most jaded geologist. The book is visual. Beautiful block diagrams and shaded relief maps show the geology and geomorphology, juxtaposed with striking photos. Text is limited, simple, but compelling.

The picture above is a bit misleading. It is actually more elongated that it appears, ensuring the panoramas are maximized on the page. The production standards are wonderful, although Vulcan's Throne is spelled "Volcans Throne" on p111, the Hurricane Fault is difficult to delineate from another in one of the cross sections, and the figure caption formation names are cut off on p135. These are trivial problems in an otherwise beautiful and engaging volume that I expect to pick up again and again.

The book is published by Grand Canyon Association and sells for $49.95. We expect to carry it in our stores in Tucson and Phoenix.

Hearing set on Resolution Copper land exchange

A bill to exchange public and private lands to allow the Resolution Copper mine to be developed will have a hearing in the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests on July 9 in Washington DC. The bill (S3157) was introduced last month by Sen. Jon Kyl to try to resolve issues holding up the mining operation.

The Arizona Republic newspaper this morning ran an editorial entitled "Shiny Outlook," noting the economic benefits of the mine and endorsing efforts to work out the environmental and cultural issues that may be affected. Interestingly, they praised the average $60,000 wages expected for the 1,200 workers at the mine.

In contrast, last week, the Tucson Citizen ran an editorial blasting the proposed Rosemont copper mine south of Tucson for it's expected $59,000 average salaries, arguing that surely some workers would make a lot more than that, so others would actually be making low wages with no benefits, and we don't need more low wage employers.

I urge you to read and compare the two editorials.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

New Mexico geothermal plant to power Phoenix

The first commerical geothermal power plant in New Mexico is expected to deliver 10 megawatts to the Phoenix area by December.

Raser Technologies Inc. of Provo, Utah will provide the power to Salt River Project to supply about 5,500 homes.

The 2,500-acre Lightning Dock geothermal field in Hidalgo County has 41 wells with water temperatures from 250 to over 300 degrees (F). It has supplied hot water to greenhouses in the area for many years and generated binary power for local use. Raser expects to expand the facility to maximize the resource at a later date. [photo: binary power unit at Lightning Dock field. Credit, Geo-Heat Center]

Proposal: a federal Earth Systems Science Agency

A group of highly respected former federal science officials is calling for merger of the USGS and NOAA into an Earth Systems Science Agency. The proposal is in the new issue of Science:

The United States faces unprecedented environmental and economic challenges in the decades ahead. Foremost among them will be climate change, sea-level rise, altered weather patterns, declines in freshwater availability and quality, and loss of biodiversity. Addressing these challenges will require well-conceived, science-based, simultaneous responses on multiple scales, from global and national, to regional and local. The executive and legislative branches of the federal government and of the states will have to transcend bureaucratic boundaries and become much more innovative in developing and implementing policy responses

We strongly believe organizational changes must be made at the federal level to align our public institutional infrastructure to address these challenges. The most pressing organizational change that is required is the establishment of an independent Earth Systems Science Agency formed by merging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The lead author on the Science proposal is Mark Schaefer, a former acting director of the USGS and senior official in the Interior Dept. Mark and I served on the National Research Council’s Board on Earth Sciences and Resources (BESR) a few years ago, and with Steve Bohlen, then head of the Joint Oceanographic Institutions, wrote a letter to the chair of BESR, urging a re-examination of the federal earth science agencies.

Among the recommendations we made in the July 4, 2005 letter were:

Overall, we see the need for better coordinated policy formulation and implementation for the national earth science enterprise. The geological, hydrological, and biological work of the USGS, coupled with the oceanic and atmospheric work of NOAA, offers a potentially integrated approach to earth science.