Saturday, April 30, 2011

Two UA geoscientists elected AGU Fellows

Two University of Arizona professors have been elected Fellows of the American Geophysical Union. They will be formally inducted at the Fall Meeting in December.

Forest Service invites comments on silver exploration program near Patagonia

The Coronado National Forest is "considering a request by Arizona Minerals Inc. a.k.a. Wildcat Silver for approval of a Plan of Operations to implement a minerals exploration program on National Forest land at their Hardshell Mine project in the Patagonia Mountains" about 6 miles southeast of Patagonia [right].

The company proposes to have four rigs drilling up to 15 wells to depths of 2,500.'

The USFS invites comments:

Written comments may be sent by U.S. mail to Mr. Richard Ahern, Minerals Program Manager,
Coronado National Forest, Supervisor’s Office, 300 West Congress Street, Tucson, AZ 85701;
by facsimile to his attention at (520) 388-8305; and by email to

To receive full consideration and to best assist the Forest Service in this effort, your
comments should be submitted within 30 days of your receipt of this notice.

Please identify your facsimile and email comments with "Arizona Minerals Exploration NEPA" in the subject line.

To provide telephone or in-person comments and for further information on the project, please
contact Mr. Ahern at (520) 388-8327, by email at or visit the Forest
Supervisor’s office at the address above between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily,
Monday through Friday, excluding Federal holidays. Questions on the NEPA process may be
directed to Ms. Andrea W. Campbell, Forest NEPA Coordinator, at (520) 388-8352.

Arizona Mineral Education web site

AZGS launched a new web site on Arizona Mineral Education -

This is a project in progress, so we would love to get your ideas and comments, and links to more events, resources, activities, etc. [right, wulfenite from the Red Cloud mine, La Paz, County, AZ. Photo by Roger Weller from the Flagg Collection]

Disaster photo library from FEMA

"The FEMA on line Photo Library contains more than 16,500 disaster related photographs made since 1989. The collection is composed almost entirely of declared disasters" but also includes FEMA response efforts, training exercises and Washington DC events.

"The photographs are of Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Floods, Typhoons, Fires, Avalanches, Ice Storms, Blizzards, World Trade Center and Pentagon Terrorist Attacks, Earthquakes, and the Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster."

Of the 14 photos for Arizona, only one is of an actual disaster [right, Wenden, AZ, 10/21/2000 -- This community was flooded twice in late October when waters from Centennial Wash swept into town. Photo courtesy of U.S. Small Business Administration]. The rest are of signing ceremonies or similar.

Thanks to Magma Cum Laude for pointing out this site.

Uranium in the Colorado River and implications for mining

AZGS released a new report yesterday intended to address concerns raised that uranium mining in northern Arizona could contaminate the Colorado River. This fear is one of the main reasons that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar 'segregated' nearly 1 million acres of federal land, putting them off limits even to exploration, while an EIS is prepared to determine if the lands should be closed to mineral entry for 20 years. The AZGS is a formal Cooperating Agency with the BLM in the EIS and AZGS Senior Geologist Jon Spencer undertook the study to evaluate the potential for contamination. The report summary states:

The Grand Canyon region contains over 1300 known or suspected breccia pipes, which are vertical, pipe-shaped bodies of highly fractured rock that collapsed into voids created by dissolution of underlying rock. Some breccia pipes were mineralized with uranium oxide as well as sulfides of copper, zinc, silver, and other metals. Renewed exploration during and following a steep rise in uranium prices during 2004-2007 led some to concerns about contamination of the Colorado River related to uranium mining and ore transport. Total breccia-pipe uranium production as of Dec. 31, 2010 has been more than 10,700 metric tons (23.5 million pounds) from nine underground mines, eight of which are north of Grand Canyon near Kanab Creek. Colorado River water in the Grand Canyon region currently contains about 4 µg/l (micrograms per liter) of uranium (equivalent to 4 ppb [parts per billion by mass]), with approximately 15 cubic kilometers annual discharge. Thus, approximately 60 metric tons of dissolved uranium are naturally carried by the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in an average year. We consider a hypothetical, worst-case accident in which a truck hauling thirty metric tons (66,000 pounds) of one-percent uranium ore is overturned by a flash flood in Kanab Creek and its entire ore load is washed into the Colorado River where it is pulverized and dissolved during a one-year period to become part of the dissolved uranium content of the river (such a scenario is extremely unlikely if not impossible). This addition of 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of uranium over one year would increase uranium in river water from 4.00 ppb to 4.02 ppb. Given that the EPA maximum contaminant level for uranium in drinking water is 30 ppb, this increase would be trivial. Furthermore, it would be undetectable against much larger natural variation in river-water uranium content.

Ref: Breccia-pipe Uranium Mining in the Grand Canyon Region and Implications for Uranium Levels in Colorado River Water, Jon Spencer and Karen Wenrich, 2011, AZGS Open-file Report 11-04, 13p.

Saving the historic Vulture Mine

Efforts to preserve the 1863 Vulcan gold mine and adjacent Vulture City, got a boost with a $5,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, according to the Arizona Republic. The Republic editorialized support for the preservation efforts today.

The Vulture Mine Preservation and Restoration Association says that "The Vulture mine not only financed the growth of Wickenburg but also that of Phoenix. In 1867 Henry Wickenburg, Jack Swilling and others associated with the mine provided the capital to build the system of canals that made possible the development of the Salt River Valley and eventual statehood for Arizona." [right, Vulture Mine assay office. Credit VMPRA, via the Desert Caballeros Museum]

Check out the VMPRA web site for some great photos and details on the fundraiser scheduled for May 21.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Environmentalists debate big solar plans

Opponents of large scale solar power plants are arguing that "big environmental organizations have been co-opted by grants from solar developers intended to buy their acquiescence" and that these large operations will "worsen the environmental catastrophe they are trying to avert."

'Big Solar' advocates counter that opponents are marginalized, local NIMBYs.

The anti-big solar case is made in an article in the latest issue of Miller-McCune, "Are New Solar Power Projects Anti-Environmental?"

The debate is over giant centralized solar plants covering thousands of acres vs distributed power generation that lets you drop off the grid. It seems to me we need the ability to do both. There is no single magic bullet that is going to meet our energy needs within all the economic, environmental, and political constraints.

Factors for water quality in basin fill aquifers

A new report from the USGS Southwest Principal Aquifers (SWPA) study looks at the factors that affect water quality in basin-fill aquifers in the Southwestern United States including the Basin and Range basin-fill aquifers in California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.

"Four relatively common contaminants (dissolved solids, nitrate, arsenic, and uranium) and two contaminant classes (volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and pesticide compounds) were investigated for sources and controls affecting their occurrence and distribution above specified levels of concern in groundwater of the case-study basins."

Ref: Bexfield, L.M., Thiros, S.A., Anning, D.W., Huntington, J.M., and McKinney, T.S., 2011, Effects of natural and human factors on groundwater quality of basin-fill aquifers in the southwestern United States—conceptual models for selected contaminants: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011-5020, 90 p.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

BLM to put solar, wind lands off limits to mining claims

We got the notice in the mail yesterday from the Bureau of Land Management, announcing plans to prohibit mining claims to be filed on lands set aside for solar or wind energy. A story on today reports that 437 mining claims were filed on lands claimed for wind energy and 216 claims filed on lands for solar projects in western states including Arizona. Officials speculate the mining claims are mostly speculative, since the renewable energy projects cannot proceed as long as mining claims exist. The plan is to ban mining claims for two years with a possible two year extension. [right, BLM solar lands in red, southern AZ and CA. Credit, BLM Geocommunicator]

Hawthorne Nevada earthquake swarm

NASA's Earth Observatory image of the day is of the recent earthquake swarm near Hawthorne, Nevada. Over 400 quakes have been recorded since April 10 ranging from magnitude 1.0 to 4.6. The active area is near the Aurora-Bodie Volcanic Field, although the events are considered to be tectonic rather than volcanic in origin. [right, NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using data from Landsat 7 and the Nevada Seismological Laboratory]

There are some analogies to the San Francisco Volcanic Field near Flagstaff, where the bulk of Arizona's seismic activity occurs.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Verde River subflow

Phil Pearthree, Chief of the AZGS Environmental Geology Section, is speaking tonight to the Verde Valley Water Users Association in Camp Verde, about our recent report and maps delineating Holocene river alluvium and other geologic units along the river and its tributaries.

AZGS mapped the Verde River corridor under contract from the AZ Dept. of Water Resources for use in water adjudication hearings.

Reporter Steve Ayers explained the significance of this work very clearly in a story in the Verde Independent:
Of all the decisions made to date in the 35-year-old statewide water rights adjudication case, one of the most significant was the court's determination of what constituted subflow.

They defined the subflow as the water contained within the "saturated floodplain Holocene alluvium," the geologic formation consisting of sand, gravel and loose rock deposited in the river's floodplain over the last 10,000 years.

The definition is significant because the subflow of a stream is treated that same as water flowing above ground, as far as state law is concerned.

Which means, in order to legally use subflow, you must have a surface water right. In the Verde valley there are over 7,000 residential wells, the vast majority of which are pumping in or in close proximity to what is assumed to be the subflow zone of the Verde River and its tributaries.
[right, index of geologic maps completed by AZGS]

Ref: Mapping of Holocene River Alluvium along Oak Creek, Wet Beaver Creek, West Clear Creek, Fossil Creek, and the East Verde River, Central Arizona, 2010, J.P. Cook, P.A. Pearthree, J.A. Onken, E.R. Bigio. AZGS DM-RM-03, 43-p report and 10 map sheets, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J (5 plates).

Arizona STEM Network: Making a Difference in Education

The Arizona STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) Network has a new video, hosted on the Science Foundation Arizona YouTube channel. AZGS is one of the original participants in the initiative.

Delaminating the Colorado Plateau

A paper published today in Nature is attracting surprising public attention in addition to a lot of buzz in the science press. The headlines generally say
"Geologists solve mystery of Colorado Plateau."

[right, denser lithosphere (blue) is delaminated from below the Colorado Plateau and replaced by less dense partially molten material (gold) that drives Plateau uplift. Credit: Levander Lab/Rice University]

Ref: A. Levander, B. Schmandt, M. S. Miller, K. Liu, K. E. Karlstrom, R. S. Crow, C.-T. A. Lee, E. D. Humphreys. Continuing Colorado plateau uplift by delamination-style convective lithospheric downwelling. Nature, 472, 461-465 (27 April 2011) DOI: 10.1038/nature1000

Monday, April 25, 2011

Small quake in Lake Mead

The USGS reports a magnitude 2.2 earthquake at 10:21 am local time this morning, on the Arizona side of Lake Mead, near Boulder City, Nevada.

The Arizona Republic ran a story saying the USGS reported a M2.4 quake occurred 47 miles northwest of Kingman at 12:04 pm. However, that does not appear on the USGS earthquake website, and Lisa Linville at the Northern Arizona University Earthquake Information Center cautions that this event may be a man-made blast instead.

AZGS publication on San Pedro River wins national award

The John C. Frye Memorial Award in Environmental Geology is being awarded to a team led by AZGS geologist Joe Cook, for our report, “Mapping of Holocene River Alluvium along the San Pedro River, Aravaipa Creek, and Babocomari River, Southeastern Arizona” [right, poster compiled from report map sheets].

The award is co-sponsored by the Geological Society of America and the Association of American State Geologists for the best publication in the field of environmental geology published by a state geological survey or by GSA during the past three years.

The report is the result of a project funded by the Arizona Dept. of Water Resources for use in groundwater adjudications.

The award, including a check for $1,000, will be presented at the GSA Annual Meeting, to be held this year in Minneapolis, October 9 - 12. The award will be announced at the Presidential Address and Awards Ceremony Sunday evening, and the award will be presented at the AASG Mid-Year Meeting held in conjunction with the GSA meeting.

This is the third time that AZGS geologists have received the prestigious Frye Award.

Ref: Cook, J.P., A. Youberg, P.A. Pearthree, J.A. Onken, B.J. Macfarlane, D.E. Haddad, E.R. Bigio and A.L. Kowler, 2009, Mapping of Holocene River Alluvium along the San Pedro River, Aravaipa Creek, and Babocomari River, Southeastern Arizona, 76 p., 6 map sheets, DM-RM-1.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Endless battle over copper mine south of Tucson

The seemingly endless debate over approval of a copper mine 20 miles south of Tucson, in the Santa Rita Mountains, continues. Rosemont Copper reportedly lined up business and union supporters to push the U.S. Forest Service to expedite the environmental review process.

Meanwhile, Pima County is aligned with the Save the Scenic Santa Ritas group in opposing the mine and attempting to slow the permitting process as one way to make it too costly too pursue.

Interestingly, Arizona Daily Star editorial cartoonist David Fitzsimmons ran a cartoon [right] on Friday that is a surprise, given his self-identification as a liberal.

Julia Fonseca let us know that Pima County's three-dimensional model of the site of the proposed Rosemont mine has been on tour in Vail and Sahuarita, but will be in downtown Tucson this next week for viewing, then off to Sonoita.

April 25th - May 6th
County Admin building, First Floor Lobby
130 W. Congress, Downtown Tucson

May 7th
Fiesta Grande Street Fair in Tucson at the SSSR table

May 14th
The model will be on display in Sonoita (location/hours to be determined)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

How much runoff can Flagstaff volcanic lakebed hold?

Last August we were in Flagstaff as the giant Copeland Canal was under construction to divert flood waters from the Timberlake area below the Schultz fire burn area, to Cinder Lake, a dry lakebed filled with volcanic cinders of unknown depth.

Now, according to a story in the Daily Sun, officials are trying to determine how much water the lakebed sediments can hold and what impact they could have on the adjacent unlined landfill. [right, county, state, and Forest Service officials are briefed on the newly dredged channel emptying into Cinder Lake, August 25, 2010. AZ Div. of Emergency Management Director Lou Trammell is in the light colored shirt in the center. AZGS geologist Ann Youberg is in the purple shirt at right. My photo]

Sarewitz: U.S. science agencies should emulate DoD approach

Civilian science agencies "are ill-structured to create and sustain essential links between knowledge generation, technological innovation and desired social outcomes" and need to emulate the attributes of the Dept. of Defense: "its focused mission, enduring ties to the private sector and role as an early customer for advanced technologies" if the U.S. is going to "transform its science enterprise to enhance links between research and its application to national needs."

These are the conclusions of
Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University, who is based in Washington DC, in a recent op-ed in Nature. [photo credit, Breakthrough Institute]

Dan is a geoscientist and contrarian/iconoclast who repeatedly causes me to stop and rethink established paradigms. He's doing it again.

One of the comments to his column suggested that Dan's argument would essentially establish an industrial policy approach, which is a major shift in thinking. And one worth further discussion.

Social media in the geosciences

There are still a lot of skeptics and naysayers in the scientific community on the use of social media such as blogs and Twitter, according to Kea Giles, Managing Editor for Communications at Geological Society of America. She's posted an extensive commentary on "Social media for science: The geologic perspective" on Scientific American online. She traces social media back to the origin of the internet, describes current geoscience activities (including a brief mention of this blog) and concludes that "Engagement in social media provides your scientific society with the opportunity to be a thought leader." [photo from Kea's blog, Dragonfly Wars]

Profile of geologist Chris Condit's work in Arizona

Chris Condit is a professor of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, but he is active in Arizona geology in a number of ways. The Amherst Bulletin published a profile of him yesterday that talks about his work on the NASA Mars exploration simulations that use Flagstaff area volcanoes as test beds. Chris also continues to bring students to Arizona each summer for detailed geologic mapping of the Springerville volcanic field, where he did his PhD. [right, Chris with NASA's Surface Exploration Vehicle, a prototype Mars rover. Credit, UMass/AP]

Chris got his master's degree at NAU and often piloted small planes with prominent Flagstaff photographer/author Michael Collier, whose aerial photos of the state are renown.

I met Chris through his now-wife Laurie Brown, when I was a grad student at UMass, and attended their wedding. They hosted me last fall in Amherst when I received the departments Distinguished Alumnus award.

Chris's work creating the Dynamic Digital Map was groundbreaking and one of the primary inspirations for the digital data networks we are building at AZGS.

Potash exploration ramping up in Holbrook basin

Last week we reported that American West Potash has permitted 14 exploration core holes in the increasingly active Holbrook basin potash play. [right, the AWP locations are the easternmost in the basin so far. AZGS potash viewer]

More insights on this new player in the basin comes from the Form 8-K for Prospect Global Resources:

"Our principal business is conducted through our investment in American West Potash LLC, a Delaware limited liability company pursuant to an operating agreement with The Karlsson Group, Inc. American West Potash's objectives are to explore, develop and produce potash reserves located in the Holbrook Basin of eastern Arizona. The Karlsson Group has contributed to American West Potash leasehold positions consisting of approximately 32,000 gross acres in the Holbrook Basin in consideration for a 50% interest in American West Potash. We will provide to American West Potash technical resources, mining expertise and industry knowledge together with a cash investment of $11.0 million in consideration for a 50% equity interest. Pursuant to the operating agreement, we invested $2.2 million in January 2011 and must invest an additional $1.0 million by May 1, 2011 and an additional $7.8 million within 90 days of delivery of a N1 43-101 compliant mineral resource estimate report, a technical report issued by third party experts with respect to the potash reserves on the property. We also intend to prepare an Industry Guide 7. Pursuant to the terms of the operating agreement, we are the exclusive operators of the project. We and The Karlsson Group each designate two managers of American West Potash and a fifth manager is mutually selected by The Karlsson Group and Prospect."
Another online analysis reports that:
"In February 2011, the Company [Prospect Global Resources] commenced the acquisition of over 50 miles 2D seismic data and in the second quarter of 2011 plans to commence the drilling and coring of 10 to 14 holes. Prospect also contracted North Rim Exploration Ltd, a leading third party engineer, to supervise the seismic and drilling efforts and prepare the NI 43-101 mineral resource estimate report (“Reserve Report”), which they expect to receive during the second half of 2011."
The Form 8-K shows that AWP's president and CEO is Patrick L. Avery, who previously was president of Intrepid Potash, the world's 11th largest producer and the largest U.S. producer, with mines in Utah and New Mexico.

Ron Blakey's maps bring alive Visible Paleo-Earth

These animations bring alive Earth's tectonic history in a way you've never seen before. Check out all the visualizations.

An Earth Day press release announced that the "Visible Paleo-Earth (VPE), the first collection of photorealistic visualizations of our planet from space in the last 750 million years, is released today by The Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL) of the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo (UPR Arecibo). The VPE visualizations show in real true colors the changes of land and vegetation experimented by Earth in thirty frames starting from 750 million years ago to today."

"The VPE visualizations were constructed by combining the color images of Earth from NASA's Next Generation Blue Marble with the well-known global paleo reconstructions of Ronald Blakey from Northern Arizona University and Christopher Scotese from University of Texas at Arlington."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Asarco copper production down, Freeport's up

Grupo Mexico reported a 47% increase in net earnings for the 1st quarter on a 5.2% increase in copper production, but subsidiary Arizona-based Asarco saw a 13.5% decrease in production, blamed on lower grade ores at the Ray and Mission mines, according to

Phoenix-based Freeport McMoRan is the world's largest publicly traded copper company [photo credit Freeport]. They announced a 57% increase in income for the quarter:

Net income attributable to common stock for first-quarter 2011 was $1.5 billion, $1.57 per share, compared to net income of $897 million, $1.00 per share, for first-quarter 2010. Consolidated sales from mines for first-quarter 2011 totaled 926 million pounds of copper, 480 thousand ounces of gold and 20 million pounds of molybdenum, compared to 960 million pounds of copper, 478 thousand ounces of gold and 17 million pounds of molybdenum for first-quarter 2010.

Consolidated sales from mines for the year 2011 are expected to approximate 3.9 billion pounds of copper, 1.6 million ounces of gold and 73 million pounds of molybdenum, including 965 million pounds of copper, 365 thousand ounces of gold and 17 million pounds of molybdenum for second quarter 2011.

Interview with Molycorp CEO on Arizona rare earth acquisition

There's an interview (and podcast) online at with Molycorp CEO Mark Smith that covers this weeks acquisition of Arizona-based rare earth metal and alloy maker Santoku America. They discuss Molycorp's strategy of creating a fully integrated supply chain for rare earths. [right, rare earths in the auto industry. Credit, Molycorp]

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New player in Holbrook basin potash exploration play

The Arizona Oil & Gas Conservation Commission issued permits for 16 more exploration core holes in the Holbrook basin potash exploration play. Two went to the HNZ Potash joint venture, which is currently drilling their previous permits. Fourteen permits were issued to Denver-based American West Potash, the first for this company.

The new permits have not yet been posted on the Potash Viewer that AZGS maintains but they should be up in the next couple of days.

Speed interview - 5 topics, 9 minutes

I missed out on speed dating by a generation or two, but last night I got a taste of what it must be like. Ted Simons, host of the public affairs show "Horizon" on PBS Channel 8 in Phoenix interviewed me, covering five topics in 9 minutes, 11 seconds. We talked about the Arizona Mining & Mineral Museum, seismic safety of Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, the AZGS-run earthquake monitoring network, earth fissures, and potash exploration near Holbrook. Wow.

The show started out with a lengthy segment on the mineral museum and those who are concerned about the future of the collections or opposed to its conversion to the "Arizona Experience" in celebration of the centennial next year.

The studio is in the new Cronkite School of Journalism building just north of downtown and the facilities are spectacular. ASU students are involved in or running every aspect of the production. Everyone I met was gracious and professional. And Ted is the consummate moderator. I didn't think we could cover all these topics in the time available but he gave all the right subtle hints -posture, tone, gestures - to keep me on track. The gaffes are all mine.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

US manganese production could resume in Arizona

There's an interesting story this week in Manganese Investing News on developments in using manganese in lithium-ion batteries, saying "energy density and recharge rates are improved dramatically." They report that the "new Chevy Volt uses a version of a lithium-ion manganese rich battery."

Apparently China produces 97% of the world's electrolytic manganese metal (EMM) and puts a 20% export tariff on it, while the U.S. imposes a 14% import tariff.

Now, here's where the local comes in. There is currently no manganese production in the U.S. but the news report suggests that two ventures in Arizona, could become domestic manganese producers. They say "American Manganese which could be the lowest cost electrolytic manganese producer in the world at $0.44/lb compared with$0.98/lb in China. The second company is Wildcat Silver that is working on its Hardshell property in Arizona."

AZGS has a report by Jon Spencer on the Artillery manganese district in our 1991 Arizona Geology newsletter. Historically, Arizona produced over 200 million lbs of Mn, with 95 million of that coming from the Artillery mineral district in Mohave County. [right, schematic stratigraphic section of the upper Artillery Fm. Fig. 2, Arizona Geology, v21, #3, Fall, 1991]

Monday, April 18, 2011

Arizona rare earths operation is first to run on U.S. minerals

A press release from Molycorp, Inc. today announced that its wholly owned subsidiary Molycorp Minerals ("The Rare Earths Company"), has acquired Arizona-based Santoku America, Inc. "one of the leading producers of high-purity rare earth alloys and metals outside of China, in an all-cash deal for $17.5 million."

The company
"will immediately begin sourcing rare earth feed stocks for production of its products from Molycorp's Mountain Pass, California rare earth mine and processing facility, making it the first rare earth metal and alloy producer in North America that is not dependent on rare earth materials sourced from China. Based in Tolleson, Arizona, the facility has been producing specialty alloys, including rare earth alloys, for more than 30 years."

Molycorp says the acquisition provides it with "the capability to immediately begin manufacturing and selling rare earth alloys for the production of neodymium iron boron (NdFeB) magnets (used in electric and hybrid cars, advanced wind energy turbines, and many high tech electronics and applications) and samarium cobalt (SmCo) magnets (used in defense and other applications), as well as a variety of other specialty alloys and products."

Analysts describe Molycorp's rapid evolution to a rare earths conglomerate, saying "the company has gone from owning a closed mine, to becoming a minerals processor on two continents armed with a strategic plan to build products from those minerals."

Arizona moves up to 15th in State Technology & Science Index

Arizona moved up to places to 15th nationwide, in the Milken Institute's State Technology and Science Index (STSI). The report offers that "successful state and regional economic development in the United States is increasingly tied to harnessing and nurturing the innovation assets present within their borders."

The State Technology and Science Index provides a nationwide benchmark for states to assess their science and technology capabilities, along with their ecosystems for converting them into companies and high-paying jobs. There are 79 individual indicators. Each indicator is computed and measured relative to population, gross state product (GSP), number of establishments, number of businesses, and other factors. Data sources include government agencies, foundations, and private sources.
The indicators are subdivided into five equally-weighted major composites:
  • Research and development inputs
  • Risk capital and entrepreneurial infrastructure
  • Human capital capacity
  • Technology and science workforce
  • Technology concentration and dynamism
Arizona's neighbors rank all over the map - California was steady at #4, Utah moved up 3 positions to #5, New Mexico down 2 to #18, and Nevada dropping 1 to #46.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sabino Canyon's 'gneiss' rocks

There's a multi-page article and photo-tour of the rocks of Sabino Canyon in Sunday's Arizona (Tucson) Daily Star. AZGS's Mike Conway was consulted on the geologic history and road log, in the story ("Sabino's a gneiss canyon") by reporter Doug Kreutz with photos by Dean Knuth. [right, my photo, 2006]

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Form letters dominate comments on uranium EIS

The BLM has received 161,647 total letters as of April 7 on the uranium EIS for Northern Arizona, according to Chris Horyza, the project coordinator. However, of those, 152,723 are form letters, and 1717 are letters that either aren't about this project or are not comments.

BLM has received 483 unique letters, which is where the bulk of substantive comments will probably be found. The public comment period was extended to May 4 to accommodate requests from groups reviewing the vast amount of materials used to prepare the draft EIS.

AZGS is a formal cooperating agency with BLM on the EIS process. The debate over mineral exploration in northern Arizona is highly emotional with public perceptions that mines will be placed on the rim of the Grand Canyon, or even within the canyon. [right, former uranium mine in northern Arizona. Credit, VANE Minerals]

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Creating a More Disaster Resilient America

The second day of the meeting of the Advisory Council of the National Science Foundation's Geoscience Directorate (GEO) gets underway in a few minutes here in Arlington Va. I've got a lot of things to blog about already and today's agenda is packed.

But a quick note on a new program that I am only just learning about - "Creating a More Resilient America" (CaMRA), is a $10 million initiative intended to improve forecasting and prediction of national and man-made hazard events. NSF is developing a formal solicitation for proposals now. [right, debris flow in Sabino Canyon, Catalina Mountains, AZ. Credit, Chris Magirl, USGS]

The sense I'm getting is that GEO and NSF overall, is looking more at science aimed at addressing critical societal issues. Long known for fostering basic scientific research, NSF is making a major investment in Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) with a proposed $338M increase in FY12 ($87M of that would go to GEO).

CaMRA and SEES are two of 4 focus areas, along with Cyberinfrastructure and continued investment in basic research, education and diversity, and scientific infrastructure.

More on these topics in future posts.

Monday, April 11, 2011

USGS groundwater model won't affect uranium EIS

The USGS is scheduled to release a Northern Arizona Regional Groundwater Flow Model [right, model area. Credit, USGS] this week, aimed at addressing issues in the Big Chino watershed but also covering the million acre area where uranium exploration has been halted while an EIS is completed. I raised the question whether this new report was included in the EIS preparation, or if not, would it be used now. John Hoffman, Director of the USGS Arizona Water Science Center in Tucson, emailed this afternoon to say,
"The regional groundwater flow model referred to in the news release does not have any new information about groundwater that is not already described in [USGS] SIR 2010-5025. There is a limited amount of hydrogeologic information in that area and what is there was very simplified within the model for the purpose of simulation of water-budget components. This model does provide a great foundation for subsequent work; however, unless more information were available, this model would probably not be appropriate for use in the final EIS."
Public comments on the northern Arizona uranium draft EIS are being accepted through May 4.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bullish on copper prices

"Copper Survey 2011" released by research house GFSM is described by as going into "immense detail of the copper industry all across the supply and demand chains." They echo other analyses that the copper market is in a supply deficit for the year which could lead to near record prices of $11,000/tonne. Rio Tinto predicts a higher deficit of 500,000 tonnes this year, with the supply deficit lasting into 2013. [photo credit, FCX]

However, GFSM and others warn about a pullback in prices in the near term, due to possible slowdown in growth in China, in the BRIC group, drawdown of stockpiles, or other factors.

I am not trying to serve as an investment advisor with these posts, but since Arizona produces roughly two-thirds of the nation's copper supply, developments in the red metal are important here.

Renewable energy standard ruling benefits geothermal energy

The Arizona Court of Appeals has upheld the authority of the Arizona Corporation Commission to establish a Renewable Portfolio Standard, or Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (“REST”) . In somewhat of an oversimplification, the standard was set in 2006 requiring public utilities to produce 15% of their electricity from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and biogas. It also allows distributed power generation rather than large-scale centralized power plants.

The 2006 decision not only increased the goal but added geothermal for the first time. While Arizona doesn't have any commercial geothermal power plants, there is a growing number of ground source (goethermal) heat pumps in residences that contribute by reducing demands for electricity. [right, geothermal well test at Clifton Hot Springs, Arizona, 2005. Credit, APS]

"Fracture": new Arizona geo-mystery published

Susan Cummins Miller's new geology murder mystery, "Fracture" is set in Tucson and California. Susan is a Tucson-based geologist and author, who sets her books in Arizona and surrounding regions. Fracture is the 5th book in the Frankie MacFarlane mystery series. I've read and recommended all of Susan's previous mysteries and will be diving into this one shortly.

The publisher's comments offer this synopsis:

Geologist Frankie MacFarlane and P.I. Philo Dain, just back from Afghanistan, are packing for an R&R trip to a cooler clime when Philo's Aunt Heather is murdered in her empty Tucson mansion. Her husband, wealthy developer Derek Dain, is the prime suspect. The day before, Heather had left town with the Dain coin collection, worth millions. Now it's missing.

Though Philo and his uncle haven't spoken in years, Philo and Frankie agree to backtrack Heather on a quest that takes them from the sun-baked Tucson Basin to the foggy San Francisco Peninsula. Among California's fault-scarred hills they uncover painful secrets from Philo's past--and clues to a mysterious chess set worthy of kings, long protected by one family and long coveted by another. A treasure worth killing for--but who will survive to claim it?

Susan and I were undergrads together at UC Riverside, and I went to field camp with her now husband, Jonathan Matti, who works for the USGS in Tucson. Their son Jordan is doing an internship with AZGS this semester.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

N. Arizona groundwater model embroiled in controversy

The Northern Arizona Regional Groundwater Flow Model is scheduled to be released by the USGS publicly on Tuesday but it's already embroiled in controversy. [right, USGS map of study area]

The Prescott Daily Courier reports that Prescott and Prescott Valley officials were worried about the model conclusions impacts on Big Chino water rights and turned to Congress.

"Then-Congressman John Shadegg of north Phoenix met privately with the USGS director in Washington, while Congressman Paul Gosar of Flagstaff posted a You Tube video of himself grilling a USGS associate director about the issue on March 2. Gosar represents this region."

All this maneuvering is drawing complaints about possible 'tainted science.'

However, the Daily Courier story doesn't mention the possible impacts of the USGS study on the Northern Arizona uranium EIS that is underway. The USGS report covers the 1 million acre area that is proposed for withdrawal from mineral exploration and development for 20 years. One of the biggest issues is the potential impacts of uranium mining on groundwater. The draft EIS was released two months ago and I have to presume that the BLM did not have the USGS groundwater study results to use in making their recommendations.

The EIS comment period has been extended 30 days to May 4, because some stakeholders needed more time to review the vast amount of data. What impacts will this major new groundwater study have on our understanding of potential uranium mining and will it be significant enough to affect the EIS process or decisions?

Geologic mapping in Springerville Volcanic Field

The USGS will fund mapping under the EDMAP program for Dr. Christopher Condit and his students at University of Massachusetts, for geologic mapping in the Springerville Volcanic Field, east-central Arizona, in parts of two quadrangles: southeastern part of the Horseshoe Cienega Quadrangle, and the southwestern part of the Greens Peak Quadrangle.

The proposed mapping in this area will complete a large part of the remaining unmapped sections of the Springerville Volcanic Field, considered one of the most scientifically important such features in the world. The planned flow-by-flow mapping will provide important constraints and documentation on the origin of the field, but also has near-term practical applications for groundwater resources for the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

AZGS anticipates publishing the maps when completed.

Mining & Mineral Museum volunteers recognized

Volunteers and donors to the Arizona Mining & Mineral Museum were honored last night in Phoenix at an annual banquet held in the museum.

Volunteers contributed 9,730 hours to the museum in 2010, which is equal to nearly four full time workers for a year.

Anniversary of the El Mayor-Cucapah earthquake

April 4 was the one-year anniversary of the magnitude 7.2 El Mayor-Cucapah earthquake in northern Baja California. Geology grad student Austin Elliott, is just back from 3 weeks of field work on the quakes effects and posted the first of a series on the aftermath on his blog, The Trembling Earth. He's got photos and videos I haven't seen before and promises to post quite a few more.

Austin has a video clip in his post showing a spectacular swimming pool seiche but that links to another 20 or so videos on YouTube, many showing swimming pools sloshing heavily in the ground shaking such as the one below. The quake occurred on Easter Sunday so there are a lot of home videos of family's celebrating that catch the action.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Key provisions of Mines Dept. - Geo Survey consolidation

The ADMMR-AZGS agency consolidation bill, SB1615, was sent to Gov. Brewer on Monday for signature. Here is the summary of the key provisions, as provided by Legislative staff:

Department of Mines Minerals and Resources Transfer to Arizona Geological Survey

· Transfers all of the duties and responsibilities of the Department of Minerals and Mining Resources (DMMR), including the director membership on the Centennial and Mining and mineral Museum advisory council, to the Arizona Geological Survey.

· Repeals statutes relating the DMMR including the Board of Governors for DMMR and the Mines Minerals Resource Fund.

· Specifies that this act does not alter the effect of any actions that were taken or impair the valid obligations of DMMR in existence before the effective date of this act.

· Stipulates that the administrative rules and orders that were adopted by DMMR continue in effect until superseded by administrative action by the Arizona Geological Survey.

· Specifies that all certificates, licenses, registrations, permits and other indicia of qualification and authority that were issued by DMMR retain their validity for the duration of their terms.

· Transfers all equipment, records, furnishings and other property, all data and investigative findings and all appropriated monies that remain unexpended and unencumbered on the effective date of this act from DMMR to the Arizona Geological Survey.

· Stipulates that all personnel who are under state personnel system and employed DMMR are transferred to comparable positions and pay classifications in the respective administrative units of the Arizona Geological Survey on the effective date of this act.

Mines and Minerals Fund

· Transfers $32,200 from the Mines and Minerals Fund (MMF) to the Arizona Historical Society Revolving Fund and the remaining monies in the MMF to the Geological Survey Fund.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Geology curator sought for rededicated Arizona museum

The Arizona Historical Society has opened two museum curator positions for the new "Arizona Experience." The new museum is being built from the Arizona Mining & Mineral Museum which was transferred from the Dept. of Mines & Mineral Resources last year. The original concept for a Centennial Museum [right] based on Arizona's historical 5 C's has undergone considerable evolution and will focus more on Arizona's future.

The senior position is described as "a leadership position in the agency that will assist senior staff in determining program policy. The Museum Curator has principal responsibility for daily management and operation of the facility and it programs. In conjunction with appropriate staff, the position helps research, develop, and implement public programming. The position serves as the museum's "first" point of contact with the public thereby representing the agency to its diverse audiences. Working with a variety of stakeholders, the position has an opportunity to shape the museum's future direction."

The Arizona Historical Society also seeks a Curator 2 "having geological expertise to manage mineral collections and associated educational programming at its new museum, The Arizona Experience, a project of the state's 2012 Centennial. The position participates in the development of exhibits, programs, events, and other museum activities by performing technical and specialized work in these areas."
This position requires a Bachelor of Science Degree in Geology with specialized knowledge of Arizona minerals/mineralogy; knowledge of research techniques; preparing, selecting, and cataloguing specimens; one year experience equivalent to curator responsibilities.

Preference will be given to candidates having a degree in a mineral-related field with museum experience.

*Familiarity with the discipline of geology
*Specialized knowledge of Arizona minerals/mineralogy
*Research techniques, preparing, selecting, and cataloging specimens
*Museum policies/procedures, and collections management
*Ability to establish and maintain effective working relationships among team members and volunteers
*Ability to apply sound critical judgment
*Skills in oral and written communication
*Skill in conducting research
*Skill in curatorial skills such as handling and displaying specimens
*Skill in interpersonal relations and skills useful for interpreting and maintaining a historic building and/or modern facility.
*Skill in preparing exhibits and in preserving museum objects and document
*Skill in locating objects and documents for collection and/or loan
*Skill in registration, cataloging, and archival techniques
*Skill in basic photographic techniques, scanning and equipment use
*Skill in applying/interpreting historic research
*Ability to write reports, grant requests, research reports, etc.
*Ability to continue education or professional development through various settings-there should be a continuing program of acquiring and developing skills through study-practice and through attending workshops.

Applicants should go to the State Jobs site, and search for Curator or click here.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

ASU's SESE recruiting video

ASU's School of Earth & Space Exploration was formed almost five years ago and it's still getting the message out about who they are. A new video explains the learning opportunities, "from Earth and Environmental Studies to Astrophysics, Geology, Engineering and Science Education."

Tucson as Science City

A proposal by UA Dean of Science (and Geosciences professor) Joaquin Ruiz to brand Tucson as "Science City" got a lot of attention in today's special newspaper section on jobs in southern Arizona in the Arizona Daily Star. The idea of using "UA's status as a top-20 U.S. research university to foster business growth and economic development" has been around for years, but there is growing business and community interest in the concept.

And it's not just research and technology jobs. A companion story by Alex Dalenberg points out that Biosphere 2 will draw 100,000 visitors this year, and Kitt Peak Observatory attracts 45,000 visitors annually, contributing to southern Arizona's science tourism economy.

S. AZ consensus: We need science-based jobs

'Science City' fits Tucson's image

UA a driving force for jobs in science

High-tech employment presents mixed picture

Phoenix utility proposes 20% renewable energy by 2020

The non-profit Salt River Project is not bound by state rules to produce electricity from renewable sources, but the utility announced plans on Friday to ramp up its voluntary goals of renewable energy and energy efficiency from 15% in 2025 to 20% by 2020. Ryan Randazzo writes in the Arizona Republic that management is taking the plan to its board of directors for approval. [right, credit SPR]

The Arizona Corporation Commission had previously set a goal of a 15% Renewable Portfolio Standard, that includes distributed generation - ie, renewable energy generated at customers homes or businesses - which has encouraged utilities to subsidize these systems to limit the need for building large, centralized power plants.

The new RPS approved by ACC included geothermal energy for the first time, and we assume SRP will also include geothermal in its program. The company's renewable energy web page says,
SRP has signed a 30-year agreement to purchase the entire output of the Hudson Ranch 1 project, a new 49-megawatt (MW) geothermal power generation project located in the Imperial Valley of Southern California. Construction of the plant is underway. The builder of the facility, EnergySource LLC, expects it to become commercially operational in early 2012.

Changes in Mineral Resources management at USGS

Kate Johnson, who has been manager of the USGS Mineral Resources Program since 1998, has moved into a new job as the Senior Management Advisor for the Energy and Minerals, and Environmental Health Mission Area at USGS.

Jeff Doebrich is serving as the Acting Program Coordinator for the USGS Mineral Resources Program beginning March 28, 2011. We're told that a vacancy announcement for the Mineral Resources Program Coordinator position will be posted in the next few weeks.

The announcement to staff in USGS said:
Kate has very ably led the Mineral Resources Program (MRP) since December 1998. Notable accomplishments under her leadership include: serving geology, geochemistry, geophysics, and mineral locality data for the Nation via MRP’s innovative internet data source, MRDATA; collecting the 14,400 soil samples required for a comprehensive new database of soil geochemistry of the lower 48 States; the first-ever global mineral resource assessment; and establishing the USGS Mineral Resources External Research Program, which has awarded over $2.6 million in research grants to 44 State agencies, academic institutions, and private research companies in an annual peer review process since 2004. Kate also participated in developing and sustaining the USGS Human Health Coordinating Committee, and fostered a strong collaboration with the Energy Resources Program on uranium research. She has actively supported the growth of mineral resource knowledge and exploration in Afghanistan, Iraq, and numerous other developing countries.

Jeff has been an economic geologist with the USGS for the past 28 years and the Associate Coordinator for the USGS Mineral Resources Program since 2006. Jeff holds a BSc in Geological Engineering and MSc in Economic Geology, both from the Colorado School of Mines. His research has focused on deposit genesis and understanding regional geologic controls on the distribution of nonfuel mineral resources, in the Great Basin of the western U.S., in Central Asia, and in the Middle East. He has held postings in Denver, Reno, and Reston, and served two tours of duty with the USGS Saudi Arabian Mission, including one as Mission Chief Scientist. Jeff has coordinated large regional mineral resource assessments in the Great Basin and Central Asia, including initiation of the USGS mineral resource assessment of Afghanistan. Most recently, Jeff led the overall USGS effort in Iraq, a multidisciplinary effort involving mineral and water resource studies, establishment of an Agro-meteorological network, and creation of a national spatial data infrastructure.