Monday, May 31, 2010

Who's doing the most searches for 'geothermal energy'?

Where are most Google searches for 'geothermal energy' coming from? If you guess it's from the western states where hydrothermal power is most prevalent, you'd be way off.

It's Iowa, Maine, Ohio, and New Hampshire. Not your typical 'hot spots.'

Charles Baron, Google's renewable energy manager, speaking at the Geothermal Energy Association forum last week in DC told us the most interest is focused on ground loop heat systems or heat pumps.

Ground loop systems can operate virtually anywhere in the country, although here in the Southwest they haven't caught on as developers figured out how to maximize their application in relatively dry soils.

We now have 46 states participating in our national geothermal data project and many of them are gathering info on soils, conductivities, thermal gradients, and case studies aimed at the ground loop market.

Sustainability of metals - mining above ground

Demand for metals over the past century are leading to a dramatic shift from a geologic resource base to a metal-stock-in- society approach, according to a new report by the UN.

The report, "Metal Stocks in Society" notes that "if the total world population were to enjoy the same levels of use as the industrialized countries, the amount of global in-use metal stocks required would be 3−9 times those existing at present."

Metals such as copper have a lifetime of 25-40 years in buildings, after which they can become targets for 'urban mining', or 'mining above ground.'

It turns out that copper is one of only four or so metals for which there is information to analyze the stocks available in the post-geologic environment.

The UN report is the first of 6 planned to examine long term metals supplies globally.

Water issues of Rosemont copper mine

Water attorney Hugh Holob published in the Tucson Citizen a substantive piece on the ground water issues around the proposed Rosemont copper mine.

I was struck by the comparisons between Rosemont's planned water use and that of existing users.

Holub says Rosemont has an ADWR permit for up to 6,000 acre-feet per year which is about one-tenth the amount used by agriculture and mining in the Green Valley area currently. Golf courses in the area use about 4,500 acre-feet. [right, ground subsidence in Green Valley - Sahurita during the period 2-2007 to 3-2008, based on satellite interferometry. Credit, ADWR]

New enthusiasm for geothermal energy

It's hard to understand why geothermal gets overlooked so often in the discussion of renewable energy. It runs 24/7, produces almost no emissions, and is economically competitive with traditional energy sources. But time after time, public discussions list solar, wind, and biofuels only. Charles Baron from Google noted that YouTube videos labelled 'geothermal' were uploaded 4,500 times, compared to 70-80,000 for solar and wind, and 209,000 for 'dancing babies.'

That may be changing. We attended the DOE Geothermal Technology Program Peer Review in the DC area recently and were astounded at the breadth of research, innovation, success stories, and overall enthusiasm in the geothermal community. DOE has 200 externally funded projects in the queue (including our work to build, deploy, and populate the National Geothermal Data System). Industry and local communities are pouring matching funds into the pot to leverage the one-time federal monies coming from the stimulus package.

Worldwide, 10,000 MW of geothermal produced electricity is meeting the needs of 52 million people. DOE official Steve Chalk said there is 3 GW of geothermal electricity producing today in the US with 7 GW of new production in the construction pipeline.

But the big news is the expansion of geothermal from traditional utility hydrothermal power production to small, distributed low-temperature resources. This includes projects like Chena Hot Springs (Alaska) production of electricity from 165F water using a binary power plant [right, Credit, Chena Hot Springs]. Resort owner Bernie Karl has become a legend in the industry for pioneering this use of low temperature water.

There was $274 million of new financing for geothermal energy in the 1st quarter of 2010 and more companies are moving into the market place, including Siemens who will manufacture geothermal turbines.

I could go on with lots of examples from the many pages of notes I took from the presentations and discussions, but I'll do that with some later posts.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Freeport considering $5B investment in Philippines gold mine

Business World is reporting that Phoenix-based Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold is ready to invest $5 billion in the Siana gold mining project in the Philippines. They quote the Mines & Geosciences director who said he met with Freeport's VP of Exploration David Potter.

Siana is run by Australian mining company Red 5 Ltd and is expected to start production in 2011.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

UArizona scientists stirring things up, again

Challenging the savanna evolution of humans says "Ardipithecus ramidus - a purported human ancestor that was dubbed Science magazine's 2009 'Breakthrough of the Year' - is coming under fire from scientists [including geologist Jay Quade of the University of Arizona,who say there is scant evidence for her discoverers' claims that there were dense woodlands at the African site where the creature lived 4.4 million years ago."

Mystery of Martian ice cap solved

"Researchers have reconstructed the formation of two curious features in the northern ice cap of Mars: a chasm larger than the Grand Canyon and a series of spiral troughs. The group studying a canyon feature called Chasma Boreale included Shane Byrne from the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. Jack Holt and Isaac Smith of The University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics are the papers' lead authors." [taken from the UA news release] [right, looking up Chasma Boreale. Yellow line indicates ground track of SHARAD (Shallow Radar) in orbit. Credit: NASA/Caltech/JPL/E. DeJong/J. Craig/M. Stetson]

Some thoughts upon 2000 blog posts

My 2000th post went up on this blog on May 20 but there's so much going on, I haven't had time to step back and take stock of the last 3-1/2 years of blogging.

The bi-millenial (is this a word?) post was made from a hotel in Arlington, Virginia while I was at the DOE Geothermal Program Peer Review.

That evening, a handful of us who were at the conference ended up on Roy Mink's boat berthed at the marina on the Potomac around sundown. Roy and his wife lived on boat when he was the director of the DOE geothermal program and they kept it even after they moved back to Idaho.

Lots of stories were shared about geologic exploration exploits around the world. The sun set with the Washington Monument lighting up just over the bow, and Marine 1 helicopter made a number of fast and low trips along the river. It was a fitting way to celebrate even though I didn't realize it at the time.

The blog continues to meet the goals I laid out when I started, the biggest being a way to share news and information about the Arizona geoscience community. One of the surprises is just how much I enjoy doing this. There's also a wonderful satisfaction from the many kind folks who tell me how much they enjoy this blog and follow it regularly. Thanks to everyone who's posted comments, emailed, or spoken to me about the blog.

Now, for those of us who need metrics, I started tracking the analytics in April 2008, about 15 months after the blog started. So, in that period of just over 2 years, there have been 217,327 visits and 320,323 pageviews. The single biggest day was April 5 this year, with over 3,000 pageviews of the Easter Baja (El Mayor-Cucapah) earthquake posts.

The top five posts in terms of visits, are:
1. 6-figure salaries in the oil industry
2. The coming tellurium rush
3. Grand Canyon (Havasu Canyon) flood
4. Abandoned mines in Arizona
5. Time to buy a gold mine in Arizona?

But there's no time to dwell on the past. I have a list of other potential posts calling for attention, at least three recent books that need to be reviewed, and a huge stack of emails full of interesting news.

Grand Canyon gigaviews

I just stumbled across Grand Canyon GigaView, a blog site documenting an 18-day raft trip down the Colorado River with an extensive collection of gigapan camera views.

The author/photographer is Thomas Hayden who explained how he got started:

I was one of the original producers of the street-level, 360 degree imagery that made it possible. In 2006 and 2007, I drove thousands of miles across America in a VW Beetle with a specialized 360 degree camera on the roof and high-end GPS instrumentation onboard capturing images of everyday locations that captivated the world. My dream has long been to take the idea to the next level and capture immersive imagery of unique locations in the same manner.

Last March, I had my chance to turn this dream into a reality by taking another camera technology, the GigaPan, with me on an 18 day wilderness rafting expedition through the Grand Canyon.

The next step is to return to the Grand Canyon with a 360 degree video camera (as I had for Google Street View) and capture everything.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

We got gonged by DOE, but it's good!

The giant gong sitting outside the office of the Assistant Secretary of Energy in Washington was rung yesterday for the AZGS-run geothermal data project. But rather than a replay of the infamous Gong Show, it was a small celebration.

When something news worthy happens in the DOE Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy program, the responsible team is supposed to assemble by the gong while the responsible team member hits the gong with a large mallet hard enough so the entire office can hear it. Once that happens, the senior management and their staff emerge and the team member relays the news. Upon hearing the news, the communications director immediately issues a broadcast email to all 600.

Our gong (only the second for the DOE Geothermal Program since the ritual began) celebrated adoption of the National Geothermal Data System (and Geoscience Information Network - GIN) as a prototype for data integration in the world’s petroleum industry.

Trail of Time symposium at Grand Canyon

The Trail of Time ("an interpretive walking timeline trail that focuses on Grand Canyon vistas and rocks to guide visitors to ponder, explore, and understand the magnitude of geologic time and the stories encoded by Grand Canyon rock layers and landscapes") will have its formal opening in conjunction with a symposium on new approaches to geoscience education in the National Park System, Oct. 13-15.

The 4.56 km long trail is marked every meter to represent a million years in the 4.56 billion year history of the earth. Portal and wayside signs, rock exhibits and viewing tubes are currently being installed along the trail.

Second small quake near Hurricane Fault

We've had a second minor earthquake in the past week in northwest Arizona just west of the surface trace of the west-dipping Hurricane fault. The M1.7 event occurred at 9:40 am today, about 16 miles SSE of St. George, Utah.

There was a M1.5 event in the same area on May 22 but it's no longer on the USGS current earthquake list and not in the archives yet that I can find.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Reports from the Colorado River origins workshop

Geologist, guide, and writer Wayne Ranney is blogging from the Colorado River origins & evolution workshop in Flagstaff with some in-depth and insightful descriptions of the debates at his blog Earthly Musings. [right, regional map posted by Kyle House]

I won't try to summarize them here. You need to read Wayne's posts. The workshop continues through today. Abstracts and data files are posted on the workshop web site.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Exogeology ROCKS!

One of the newest members of the online geoscience community is 13-year old Zoë Bentley, a homeschooler and Sahuaro Girl Scout who created the Exogeology ROCKS! website that came in second in the NASA No Boundaries project. In her description of the site, she writes,
Hi, I’m Zoë. I’m very interested in exogeology. I hope to become an exogeologist and get data from Mars rovers. I love rocks and geology, as well as astronomy, so this is a great topic to research! I also like reading and writing about different science related topics, including time travel and geology.

An article in the Tucson Sentinel says the Sahuaro Girl Scout Council's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Program matched Zoe with UA chemical engineering student Laura-Ann Chin, who served as a mentor.

Freeport exceeds targets in Congo

Freeport-McMoRan says it's Tenke Fungurume copper and cobalt mine in Congo has reached production capacity and will exceed targets for 2010, according to an interview they gave to Reuters. They say,
"Freeport-McMoRan has a 57.75 percent share of the project, which has cost $2 billion to set up and is Congo's largest private investment. Tenke produced 29,000 tonnes of copper and 2,300 tonnes of cobalt in the first quarter of 2010, on track to break a year-end target of 115,000 tonnes of copper and 8,000 tonnes of cobalt.

The project, estimated to have reserves of 119 million tonnes with average ore grades of 2.6 percent copper and 0.4 percent cobalt, produced 70,000 tonnes of copper and 2,600 tonnes of cobalt in 2009. It reached full production in October last year after testing began in March."

Copper at top of commodities list

Goldman Sachs' commodity research head says copper is the leader among the only four commodities that have strong potential for long term price increases. Crude oil, corn, and platinum are the others. Short term, they expect copper prices to pull back to $7,500 per tonne, according to the report on [right, credit, Freeport McMoran]

Monday, May 24, 2010

Phoenix Lander after a Martian year

The latest HiRISE image appears to show that a solar panel of the UA's Phoenix Mars Lander has collapsed [right, dark spot in near center. See the original for a clearer view of the components. Credit, UA HiRISE].

Phoenix landed on Mars on May 25, 2008.

Team members Alfred McEwen and Mike Mellon have analyzed the lighting and shape of the components in some detail. They suggest that a thick layer of carbon dioxide frost accumulation put more weight on the panel than it was designed for, causing it to collapse.

Rare earthquake in eastern Arizona

Eastern Arizona experienced a rare earthquake just after midnight today. The magnitude 3.7 event occurred 25 miles northeast of Clifton and near the border with New Mexico, hitting at 12:27 a.m. local time. It was recorded by the Douglas AZ seismometer (Station 319A) in our broadband network creating a short sharp waveform at 07:27 UTC on the chart at left.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Origin and evolution of the Colorado River system

Geologists are gathering in Flagstaff a decade after a seminal conference at Grand Canyon to share what we have learned since then about "Cenozoic evolution of the Colorado Plateau- Rocky Mountain landscape, including the upper and lower Colorado River system, uplift of the plateau, and carving of Grand Canyon."

AZGS geologists Jon Spencer, Phil Pearthree, and Charles Ferguson are all making presentations but mostly participating in the informal discussions. Given how much study has been of the area, it can be surprising to hear how many topics are still in debate.

The organizers plan to prepare a summary paper of the "last 10 years of progress and continued challenges to be submitted as the “Introduction” to a Geosphere theme issue, and 2) Individual research papers from the community to be solicited for the Geosphere issue for 12 months after the workshop."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Impact of copper industry on Arizona economy

Arizona's copper industry produced about 814,000 tons in 2009, down about 13% from the previous year, but that still amounted to direct impact of more than $3 billion including $767 million in personal income, $2.1 billion in business sales and almost $152 million in state and local government revenues.

The annual report released by the Arizona Mining Association, "The Economic Impact of the Arizona Copper Industry 2009," by George Leaming of the Western Economic Analysis Center, shows "total, direct employment in Arizona’s copper mines and process facilities in 2009 was about 9,100 employees, compared with 11,200 in 2008."

The AMA report says "Arizona’s economy gained almost $9.3 billion and 52,500 Arizona residents had jobs in 2009 as a result of the combined direct and indirect contributions of the copper industry to personal, business and government income in the state."

National Geothermal Institute

DOE is funding the creation of a National Geothermal Institute through a coalition of universities around the country, and headed by the University of Nevada, Reno's Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy.

The NGI will be recruiting a director this fall and is talking about creating a physical entity. Courses will be aimed at students, industry, and government and many will be online, through a distributed network of schools.

UNR's new Redfield campus will serve as the NGI hub. It is adjacent to the large Steamboat Springs geothermal power plant [right, hot springs near Steamboat Springs. Credit, NREL] and will provide field trip and hands-on classes. DOE is providing $1.2 million as start-up funding.

Other schools involved the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell University, Stanford University, the Oregon Institute of Technology, the University of Utah and possibly others as the program expands.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Geologic and natural history guidebook along US 93

The latest in a series of popular guidebooks published by the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, in collaboration of the Arizona Geological Survey, showcases the rocks, plants, animals, and historical places and events along U.S. Highway 93 between Wickenburg, Arizona and Jackpot, Nevada. The tour begins in Arizona's Sonoran Desert, travels through parts of the Mojave Desert, crosses the Great Basin, and ends at Nevada's northern border, with side trips to mining towns, a national recreation area, a national park, and the northern edge of the Basin and Range Province.

The work is illustrated with sketches, over 260 black and white photos, and 12 color plates that document features described in the text. Detailed route maps are included. A table in the back lists GPS coordinates that correspond with sites of interest noted throughout the text.

The book will be available from both NBMG and AZGS. Our volumes have been shipped from the printer and will arrive in Tucson shortly.

A Geologic and Natural History Tour through Nevada and Arizona along U.S. Highway 93, with GPS coordinates by Joseph V. Tingley, Kris A. Pizarro, Christopher Ross, and Philip A. Pearthree, (2010), NBMG Special Publication 35/AZGS Down-to-Earth 19, 175 pages, 12 color plates, 260 b/w photos, numerous illustrations and maps, plastic coil binding, $27.95

M5.1 aftershock from El Mayor - Cucapah quake

The USGS is reporting a magnitude 5.1 earthquake on the Calif - Baja border in the midst of the largest cluster of aftershocks from the April 4 El Mayor -Cucapah earthquake.

Cracking up in Arizona

Phoenix magazine's article on the Earth fissure program run by AZGS titled "Cracking Up," has a couple of the best lines of the year:
Since 2007, Joe Cook has had his head up a crack somewhere in Maricopa County. It’s not a very sexy job, but then again, that’s the life of someone who studies Earth’s layers for a living.
[right, Queen Creek "Y crack" fissure, 2005]

Heat mining

Geothermal energy supplies 3 GW of electricity today, grew last year at a much greater percentage than other renewable energy resources such as solar and wind, and has 7 GW of power projects 'in the pipeline.' I particularly like Lauren Boyd's use of the term 'heat mining' in noting that geothermal energy is the only baseload renewable energy resource (ie, it runs 24/7, compared to wind and solar which supply energy only when the wind blows or sun shines.) [right, Clifton Hot Springs, AZ, geothermal test well, 2005]

The geothermal community is cautious but optimistic about the USGS assessment that there is 500,000 MW of enhanced geothermal system (EGS) potential under the western U.S. and the MIT study that suggested 50 GWe of geothermal energy capacity installed by 2050.

The geothermal movers and shakers are here at the DOE Geothermal Technologies Program Peer Review where program managers gave their assessments in the morning plenary session.

DOE's distinguished scientist program

The U.S. Dept. of Energy will announce a new interagency program to bring "distinguished scientists" from academia to Washington for up to two years to provide the agency with critical scientific input on both technical and policy issues. Steve Chalk, Acting Assistant Deputy Secretary for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency at DOE, briefly mentioned the program to us this morning at the opening session of the DOE Geothermal Peer Review in DC and said it should be announced publicly within a few weeks.

This seems to be an outgrowth of the DOE's growing use of 'distinguished' outside consultants, reviewers, and advisors.

Data project called cornerstone of U.S. geothermal effort

The National Geothermal Data System was described as the "cornerstone" of the nations geothermal program for the next few years, by the Dept of Energy's geothermal head, Dr. Jay Nathwani, this morning in Washington DC.

AZGS is the prime contractor, acting on behalf of the Association of American State Geologists, on an $18 million project to deploy the NGDS across the country and populate it with state-specific data. There are 5 projects involved in NGDS, with combined budgets of $33 million

Jay spoke at the plenary session of the 3-day long annual Peer Review of the 200 geothermal projects DOE is funding.

We launched our project yesterday with a full partners meeting in DC. We have 46 states involved in "State Geological Survey Contributions to the NGDS." The big challenges in the next couple of months are is getting detailed annual work plans for each state in place and setting up preliminary web services to enable core network functions.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Vacancy on Oil & Gas Conservation Commission

Michelle Negley turned in her resignation as a member of the Arizona Oil & Gas Conservation Commission because she's moving out of state for due to a job change. Gov. Brewer will appoint her replacement to the unpaid position.

The Commission is an independent body that regulates oil, gas, geothermal, CO2, and He drilling in the state as well as underground storage of propane. The Commission has no staff, so AZGS provides all of its technical and administrative support.

Coal ash ponds affected by EPA decision

Energybiz Insider put out an analysis of EPA's options on dealing with coal ash ponds and concludes that they will "opt for more incremental changes, choosing to toughen disposal standards and to let the states maintain their leadership role."

Coal ash is the waste product from burning coal for electric power generation. The ash is either a liquid stored in large surface impoundments or a solid that goes into landfills. EPA proposes to phase out the liquid ponds over five years. There are two coal ash impoundments in Arizona - one in Willcox [right, pond at AEPCO's Apache Generating Station] and one at the Cholla power plant near Holbrook.

But EPA is considering regulating coal ash as a hazardous material, rather than as a nonhazardous byproduct. The difference will mean nearly a billion dollars in costs to the electric utilities in disposing the ash.

About 54 million tons of coal ash are currently recycled into concrete, cement, and wallboard which keeps those volumes out of landfills. EPA wants to allow this practice to continue. Ash from the Apache Generating Station was used in construction of the Federal Building in downtown Tucson.

Energybiz concludes that President Obama has many other high profile issues on his plate and will avoid the big fight over this one.

Governor signs mining bill, vetoes light bulb act

Gov. Jan Brewer signed the HB2617, which prevents state agencies from adopting rules more restrictive than federal requirements, unless they get legislative approval. But she vetoed HB2237, that would have promoted tungsten-based light bulb manufacturing in Arizona as a challenge to federal authority. This would have required tungsten mining and milling in Arizona. [right, a tungsten filament for incandescent bulbs]

A full list of bills signed or vetoed is posted by the Arizona Capitol Times.

Who owns the bed of the Salt River?

Catching up on my inbox, I see that the Arizona Court of Appeals unanimously that a special commission was wrong and the Salt River was navigable at the time of Arizona statehood. That affects who owns the land in the riverbed, and that affects rights of sand and gravel companies and others who thought they had legally purchased land. The new ruling says the state owns the river lands. [right, historical photo fo the Roosevelt dam on the Salt River. Credit, Salt River Project]

Arizona Republic reporter Howard Fischer runs through the legal history and quotes an attorney for a public interest group saying the ruling will set standards for examining ownership of the Verde, San Pedro, Santa Cruz, and Gila rivers as well.

Environmental impacts of visitors on Grand Canyon

Its the elephant in the room that is not often mentioned. Grand Canyon National Park gets millions of visitors a year, arriving in gasoline or diesel powered vehicles, staying in large hotels and lodges along the Canyon rim, and enjoying the full range of comforts from home. There is an environmental impact of potentially loving the area to death. National Geographic briefly examines

This video struck me in part because AZGS is currently a cooperating agency with the BLM's EIS process to look at the potential environmental impacts of uranium breccia pipe exploration and mining in northern Arizona. I don't know how the tourism impacts would stand up to the same rigorous scrutiny.

AGU's hiring of a non-geoscientist as Executive Director

The new Executive Director of the 55,000 member American Geophysical Union is not a geophysicist or even a scientist but someone with extensive experience running non-profit organizations. This is a departure from practice of all the geoscience professional societies that come to mind.

Former Exec Director Fred Spilhaus took AGU from a little subsection of another organization and over four decades led it to being the largest geoscience society in the world. It can be viewed somewhat like a garage startup by someone or a couple of people with vision and drive, but once successful, the management and leadership requires a much different set of skills.

There is a big difference between the Google that two guys ran from their dorm room, and the giant corporation of today. AGU seems to have embraced that same vision. It's going to be real interesting to see how things change now.

Christine W. McEntee is coming in from a job as Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Institute of Architects. Previously, she was Chief Executive Officer of the American College of Cardiology and its affiliated Foundation. Prior to that she was Executive Vice President of the American Hospital Association.

McEntee's educational training includes a bachelor's degree in nursing from Georgetown University and a master's degree in Health Administration from George Washington University.

Bedrock geology & GIS map for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The National Park Service's Geologic Resources Inventory (GRI) Team announced the completion and availability of digital geologic map coverage for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (ORPI). Providing parks with digital geologic maps meets the geologic inventory goal defined by the NPS Inventory and Monitoring Program. This map is provided in full GIS coverage. [right, Arch Canyon area of the park. Credit NPS-ORPI]

AZGS is currently mapping the surficial geology in parts of Organ Pipe, in cooperation with NPS to complement the bedrock geology in this newly released map.

Ref: Skinner, L.A., Haxel, G., and Umhoefer, P.J.,2008, Geological Reconnaissance at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument,Arizona: Northern Arizona University, Unpublished Digital Data, 1:24000

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Political fallout over the Resolution copper mine

The Washington insider news source, The Hill, analyzes the political repercussions of the federal legislation for a land exchange needed to allow the Resolution copper mine to be developed near Superior. They say that the land bill could hurt the re-election chances of both Sen. John McCain, a Republican, and Rep. Anne Kirkpatrick, a Democrat. [right, Apache Leap, an area of contention. Credit, Resolution Copper]

Potash core holes permitted in Holbrook basin

Drilling permits were approved by the Arizona Oil & Gas Conservation Commission today for a Moab, Utah company, Potash Green, to drill two 1,500 ft deep core holes on State Trust Lands near Holbrook, as stratigraphic tests.

Steve Rauzi, our Oil & Gas Administrator, said the core holes could be spudded within a week.

Permit 987 is for a core hole in Sec 12, T17N, R25E, and permit 988 is for a location in Sec 20.

[right, potash thickness in Holbrook basin, AZ.

Putting solar projects on mine tailings

The idea of installing solar power plants on mine tailings got more attention this week at a business-organized conference in Phoenix. The Arizona Republic reports that Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc. has proposed "building the biggest photovoltaic solar-panel power plant in the state" (15 megawatts) at its Bagdad mine [right, credit Google Earth].

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New report on Sedona sinkholes

AZGS published Paul Lindbergh's extensive study of seven sinkholes in the Sedona area, with explanation of the geology and hydrology that produced them.

Paul reports that "Devils Kitchen sinkhole has historic records of collapse in the 1880s, 1989 and 1995, and it will continue to collapse in future years. Six additional sinkholes are in various stages of collapse from modern time and possibly to the end of the last Ice Age. While the danger
of future collapse is probably minimal to humans, unregulated septic leakage into hidden
sinkhole breccias within the town limits could contaminate groundwater being tapped for
municipal use or the contamination of the Page Springs outflow."

Paul provides detailed maps and cross sections of each sinkhole. The report can be downloaded at the AZGS web site.

Ref: "Sedona Sinkholes and Groundwater Flow: The Geologic History of Their Evolution Coconino and Yavapai Counties, Arizona," P.A. Lindberg, 2010, AZGS CR-10-C.

Sampling Arizona for the North American Soil Geochemical Landscapes Project

The North American Soil Geochemical Landscapes Project, funded by the USGS Mineral Resources Program, will have crews sampling in Arizona and 14 other states this summer. An update from David Smith in the program this afternoon provided these details: "This project was established in collaboration with the Geological Survey of Canada and the Mexican Geological Survey with its long-term goals to (1) produce a soil geochemical database for the continent of North America, (2) interpret the observed geochemical patterns in terms of process, and (3) establish a soil sample archive for future investigators. We have selected 13,596 sites for the continent using a generalized random tessellation stratified design. This represents a density of approximately 1 site per 1,600 square kilometers, with 5,813 sites falling within the US. We officially began sampling in 2007 after a 3-year pilot phase. The results of this pilot phase were published as 21 papers in a special issue of the journal Applied Geochemistry in August 2009. The 2010 field season should mark the completion of sampling in the conterminous US (4,871 sites)." [right, map of arsenic distribution in soils and other surficial materials of the conterminous United States based on 1,323 sample localities as represented by the black dots. Credit, USGS]

The states that will be sampled this summer are
AZ, CA, IA, IL, IN, KY, MI, NC, OH, OR, TN, TX, VA, WA, and WI.

New Natural Resources advisor to Gov. Brewer

Former Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold executive Kevin Kinsall is taking over the position of Natural Resources Policy Advisor to Gov. Jan Brewer, replacing Micheal Anable, who is returning to his consulting business at the end of the week.

In this new position Kevin will be Governor's primary contact point with 40 state agencies and boards, including AZGS, but also State Land, ADEQ, ADWR, ADMMR, Game & Fish, State Parks, etc.

The announcement by the Governor's office says, "Mr. Kinsall has 25 years of strategic planning and consensus building in the legislative and regulatory arenas. He was employed for more than 17 years in various leadership capacities with international mining company Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold. Throughout those years Mr. Kinsall managed tax research and analysis and state and local government relations. His legislative experience includes leadership roles in the Arizona State Senate, including Acting Majority Staff Director, Financial Affairs Advisor and Special Assistant to Majority Leadership. Mr. Kinsall’s professional affiliations include having served as Chairman of the Board for the Arizona Tax Research Association as well as the Arizona Foundation for Resource Education. He has previously served on the boards of the Arizona Tax Research Foundation, the Arizona Mining Association, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Arizonans for Electric Choice and Competition and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Arizonans track down new Wisconsin meteorite

Marvin Killgore, the curator of meteorites for the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, and his wife, Kitty, recovered a 300-gram chunk of breccia that is so far the largest piece of a meteorite that exploded over Wisconsin on April 14.

NASA estimated the incoming meteor was about a meter across and blew apart with the force of 20 tons of TNT. According to the UA, "Killgore estimated the rock first detonated at 30 kilometers – about 18 miles above the Earth's surface – with the first radar signature occurring at about 30,000 feet, sending a two-mile wide,14-mile-long shower of fragments into the Wisconsin countryside."

The piece will be on exhibit with other meteorites from the UA collection June 12-13 at the Foothills Mall in Tucson.

Watch the dark sky light up as the meteor comes into the atmosphere, followed by an explosion.

Desert pupfish 'friskier' after earthquake

Devil's Hole pupfish exhibit higher spawning activity after earthquakes.

The University of Arizona has released more information about the unique video taken by a graduate student on April 4, showing the seiche on the Devil's Hole pupfish pond in Nevada.

According to Paul Barrett, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who leads the Devils Hole Pupfish Recovery Team,

"Quakes can serve a useful purpose in shaking silt and other fine particles that have washed into Devils Hole off of the spawning shelf and into the deeper waters. This frees important space between the substrate particles where the Devils Hole pupfish larvae seek refuge."

The UA article says the National Park Service recorded a slight increase in larval abundance as compared to a similar survey a few weeks before the earthquake occurred. "Federal and state surveys done within a week after the earthquakes revealed about 118 fish in the pool, compared to about 70 the year before. Also, biologists saw newly hatched larval fish and evidence that the fish were spawning."

Graduate student Ambre Chaudoin observed that after previous disturbances, for example an earthquake in Chile and violent winter rain storms, the fish exhibited higher spawning activity than usual: "They were going crazy the next day."

[right, UA graduate student Ambre Chaudoin observes Devils Hole pupfish on a research platform installed above the pool that forms the cave entrance. Photo by Olin Feuerbacher]

[taken in part from the UA news release]

Monday, May 10, 2010

Planning the next uranium resource assessment

Will the next uranium assessment by the USGS follow traditional patterns and look at the resource only or will it take a life-cycle approach to include environmental and economic factors; will it cover the entire US or selected focus areas; or will it be deferred because all the staff will be carrying out a long-term monitoring and evaluation of the Arizona Strip as part of a withdrawal of federal lands?

These were some of the questions that underlay a two-day workshop organized in Denver last week with representatives from Colorado Plateau region state geological surveys, including myself for Arizona.

Many of the authors of the USGS' recent report on uranium in the Arizona Strip were there, gave summaries of their results and discussed the level of certainties and the unknowns.

The uniqueness of Arizona's uranium breccia pipe province really stood out compared to resources in the other Plateau states and Wyoming: the richness of the pipe mineralization and the potential for vastly greater numbers of previously undiscovered breccia pipes. I showed a slide from Quaterra Resources of the geophysical anomalies that exploration companies are discovering in the region, that may indicate vastly more breccia pipes being present than ever imagined. We don't know at this point how many of the anomalies will be confirmed as pipes and how many of them will be mineralized. But it certainly raises the possibility that northern Arizona could hold not only one of the richer but also one of the larger uranium resources in the country and the world. [right, some uranium breccia pipes and exploration targets in the Arizona Strip. Credit, Quaterra Resources]

The USGS minerals group is talking about the need for an updated national uranium assessment but the extent and nature of that undertaking is still in preliminary form. The recent USGS report on northern Arizona appears to be the first integrated ("life-cycle") approach they've taken for minerals. It seems to me that they will continue with this, despite the larger staff and financial resources needed to undertake studies like this.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Copper mine diorama unveiled at Mining & Mineral Museum

The new diorama of a modern copper mine and plant had it's grand opening at the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum in Phoenix yesterday. The
29’ by 20’ HO-scale (1:87) model of modern copper mine & plant equipment was funded by a private family foundation related to the Mining Foundation of the Southwest

The exhibit includes video displays of processes of getting copper from ore to wiring.

In situ copper mine plans for Florence area

The proposed Florence Copper Project could produce as much as half of the 2.8 billion pounds of copper reserves at the 300 foot deep deposit through in situ processes, according to a lengthy description of the project in the TriValley newspaper site.

Mine operator Curis Resources Ltd. plans on spending $45 million over the next two years to bring the project online for a possible 15-20 year production run. [right, project site. Credit, Curis Resources]

The company says the in situ methods will dramatically reduce or eliminate many of the environmental and other impacts associated with open pit mines.

More details on EPA's fight with Denison's #1 Arizona uranium mine

The website for World Nuclear News is offering some more details on the EPA's charge that Denison's #1 Arizona uranium mine is operating illegally, without all the needed permits. [right, Denison uranium properties on the Arizona Strip. Credit, Denison Mines]

Energy Fuels Nuclear Inc obtained authorization from the EPA to construct and operate the Arizona 1 mine. However, this approval - granted in August 1988 - would only remain in effect as long as "the Arizona 1 mine is operated as an active underground uranium mine" by Energy Fuels. The permit stated that this approval "is not transferable to another owner or operator." Although Energy Fuels had partially developed Arizona 1 for underground mining, the mine was inactive from the early 1990s until late in 2009.

The EPA says that the permit is no longer valid because of the "long period of inactivity at the mine and because of the transfer of ownership."

The article says EPA is also challenging ADEQ's authority to issue an air permit to the mine. That, along with Denison's claim that they thought they were operating legally, raises the question of whether this is a battle between EPA and ADEQ with Denison caught in the middle.

Meanwhile, Denison reported 1st quarter financial results this week. The company reported sales from U.S. production were 210,000 pounds U3O8 at an average price of $56.30 per pound. I think all of this is from the #1 Arizona mine.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

California lessons for the Gulf of Mexico oil leak

The web site Deepwater Horizon Response is described as "The Official Site of the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command." There's an extensive collection of videos, pictures, and current updates on the leak containment and clean-up efforts.

In 1971, I worked for the Calif. Division of Oil and Gas and one of my duties was to take unannounced fly-over inspections of offshore rigs in the wake of the infamous Unocal blowout of 1969. A complication was that the Santa Barbara Channel and other areas are rife with natural oil seeps. Some companies later built underwater canopies to collect the seeping oil at the sea floor and take it out of the marine environment. It looks to me to be the basis on which the current BP cofferdam process is predicated. [right, cycle of oil seeps offshore Calif. Credit, John E. Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution]

Last year there was a study on the Coal Oil Point seeps offshore California, that found they have released up to 80 times the amount released by the Exxon Valdez.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

LIDAR topography of El Mayor - Cucapah earthquake region

Chris Crosby with the OpenTopography project at San Diego Supercomputer Center reports that they have acquired "5 meter resolution LiDAR topography data for the epicentral region of the Sunday, April 4th 2010 magnitude 7.2 El Mayor - Cucapah earthquake in northern Baja, Mexico. These data, which cover an area of over 2,000 square kilometers southwest of Mexicali, were acquired in 2006 by the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI), a Mexican government agency." [right, full INEGI data set area, outlined in light blue. US/Mexico border in yellow. Mexicali is in upper right. Credit, OpenTopography]

Chris expects that new, high resolution LiDAR data will be acquired for the earthquake rupture zone in the next few weeks, which will "present an exciting opportunity for comparing pre- and post-event data to calculate near-field deformation along the rupture. "

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Geothermal data grant awarded today

The geothermal data grant from the U.S. Dept of Energy Geothermal Technologies Program was officially awarded today to the Arizona Geological Survey, which is acting on behalf of the Association of American State Geologists.

Over the next 3 years, data relevant to geothermal exploration and development will be digitized and published online from 46 states in a web-based, distributed, interoperable National Geothermal Data System (NGDS).

The $18 million grant is the second largest one awarded by DOE for geothermal energy out of federal stimulus funds.

AZGS is already a partner in the Geothermal Data Coalition effort based at Boise State University to design and build the NGDS.

The new effort will deploy the network nationwide with a node in each state, and populate the NGDS with terabytes of state-specific data. The AZGS has been developing a collaborative data effort between AASG and the USGS for the past 3 years under the Geoscience Information Network (GIN). The data integration mechanisms in GIN will power the NGDS data discovery, access, and interoperability components.

Other partners on the new grant are the USGS, Microsoft External Research, and the petroleum industry consortium, Energistics, Inc.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

EPA weighing options for Iron King Mine, Humboldt smelter Superfund sites

EPA officials held a town hall meeting in Dewey-Humboldt last week to report on the results of their testing of the Iron King Mine and Humboldt smelter Superfund sites. The Prescott Daily Courier reports that EPA project manager Leah Butler said "It's too early to say what will be done. It's likely that the cleanup will involve a combination of consolidating, capping and removal (of contaminants from the mine and smelter)."

EPA is offering free testing of soils for contaminants for local residents.

Sinkholes in the Kaibab Limestone

Here at the AZGS, we get many hundreds of inquiries - from homebuyers, exploration companies, news outlets, rockhounds, other government agencies, and people just curious about the geology and geography of the state.

I got an email the other day from someone who had flown over Arizona on their way from California to Texas who was amazed by Meteor Crater but puzzled by large circular holes in the ground to the east. He asked if we could explain what he had seen.

AZGS Senior Geologist Jon Spencer suspects he was looking at a cluster of sinkholes produced where evaporates dissolved from the Supai Formation, leading to collapse in the overlying Kaibab Limestone [right].

[update 5-3-10, 11:30] AZGS geologist Steve Rauzi weighed in this morning, saying that the photo shows the McCauley Sinks south of Winslow along the western edge of Permian salt in the Holbrook basin. He also pointed me to a paper by James Neal describing these features in some detail.

Ref: Neal, James T., Robert Colpitts, and Kenneth S. Johnson, 1998, "Evaporite Karst in the Holbrook Basin, Arizona," in: Land Subsidence Case Studies and Current Research, Proceedings of the Dr. Joseph F. Poland Symposium, edited by James W. Borchers, Special Publication No. 8, Association of Engineering Geologists, pp 373-384.

Colorado Front Range coated in Arizona dust, again

A storm in northern Arizona blew dust across Colorado that mixed with local moisture to coat Front Range residents cars with a layer of "clay-like glue" according to University of Colorado Geology professor Jason Neff in a story that ran on Denver's Channel 9 News. See the video clip below.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Geoscience enrollments up 7% - fluke or trend?

The American Geological Institute continues its series on the geoscience profession with a new analysis of college enrollment levels. Geoscience Currents #31 finds that geoscience enrollments hit their highest levels in a decade with 23,983 majors in 2009-10, which is a 7% increase over the previous year. Graduate enrollments went up 15.7%, showing the first increase in 5 years.

Before we get excited about a boom in career interest and demands in geoscience, look at the charts over the last 20 years. This years increase is significant, but not out of line with some previous one-year changes. It will take a few more years before we know if this is sustainable.