Monday, December 31, 2007

Top Arizona geology stories for 2007

Here are my thoughts on the big stories of 2007 for the earth sciences in Arizona. This is not going to be the traditional "top 10" list of stories nor is it comprehensive. It's biased highlights of what I saw, who I know, what I read.

You can't pick up a newspaper (and fewer are doing that) without seeing a significant story about water in Arizona. There is a growing public realization that we can't continue to over-appropriate an already stretched resource and pretend it will all be okay. Colorado River water is allocated among the western states based on overly optimistic long-term runoff estimates. Besides that, climate change is predicted to hit the Southwest particularly hard in terms of reduced rainfall. Together with booming population growth, these make a water crisis seem more likely and imminent.

Herb Guenther, director of the Arizona Dept. of Water Resources set precedent by rejecting a Nevada company's request to export up to 4.5 billion gallons of water per year to Mesquite, Nevada.

More local jurisdictions, including Pima County, are looking at more realistic assessments of groundwater resources before allowing new developments to be built.

For mining in Arizona, it was the best of times and the worst of times. The price of
copper stayed in the $3-$4 per pound range, keeping Arizona as the number one mining state for the second year in a row. New mines are under construction and exploration is going on everywhere. Old mines are being considered for re-opening from Bisbee to Jerome. Freeport McMoran and Phelps Dodge completed their merger in March 2007, with the new combined Freeport McMoran Copper & Gold now the world's largest copper producer, and headquartered in Phoenix. [above: Morenci mine, courtesy Freeport-McMoran C&G, Inc.]

Mining contributed over $6 billion to the state economy but apparently that is too little to make it worthwhile for some. Pima County politicians are almost tripping over themselves to oppose new mines in the county. Their arguments are that mining is a small part of the overall economy and thus can be sacrificed, that mines bring no benefits and only nuisances or pollution. Representatives Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords jointly introduced HR4228 in Congress, banning mining on federal lands in Pima and Santa Cruz counties.

The battle over Augusta Resource's proposed
Rosemont copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains was the focus of a lot of the mining controversy. Both Rosemont and their opponents, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, ran high profile public relation campaigns, including dueling ads on Tucson's morning public radio station.

uranium exploration is going on full blast in parts of northern Arizona, with the re-opening of a mill near Blanding, Utah. Exploration for gold and a number of other minerals continues unabated although with less fanfare than copper.

The Arizona Geological Society's Ores and Orogenesis
symposium in Marana, drew over 900 attendees from 27 countries and was widely praised as the best such event in the past decade or more.

The EarthScope project finished installing 58 broadband
seismic stations across Arizona as part of the Transportable Array to investigate the earth's crust in North America. The stations are part of a 10-year rolling deployment, and will be here for two years before moving eastward. Efforts are underway to see if we can keep some of the stations here permanently.

abandoned mine was the site of a fatal accident in August when a young girl on an ATV died after falling in. Her sister was rescued. It highlighted the fact that 10,000 abandoned mines are known in the state and as many as 100,000 exist in total.

Flooding hit a few areas but not anywhere to the extent that occurred in 2006. The bigger issue about floods was FEMA's reclassification of areas in Marana as being in flood plains, resulting in massive increases in insurance rates. However, locals argued successfully against some of the analyses that initially claimed levee structures were not adequate.

Earth fissures continue to attract attention. Monsoon rains opened a fissure gully in August in the Queen Creek area, trapping a horse that died despite a massive rescue attempt.

The AZGS released earth fissure planning maps in June, showing for the first time, all the known fissures in the state. Since then, 34,000 maps have been downloaded from our website, along with 10,000 copies of the accompanying report. A separate technical report on what further needs to be done to predict and mitigate fissures has been downloaded over 1250 times alone in just the past 3 weeks.


Matthew J. Fouch from Arizona State University was among 58 recipients of the 2006 prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

Matt, an associate professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration was recognized in a ceremony at the White House on Nov. 1. He was honored for "developing new approaches that integrate geophysical data types – seismic and geodetic – to help researchers and students better understand deformation beneath continental North America."

University of Arizona professor Jonathan Overpeck, was one of only 33 lead authors on an IPCC assessment report released earlier this year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was one of the winners of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. "Peck" as he is known to friends and colleagues, is director of the UA's Institute for the Study of Planet Earth and professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences. He was a coordinating lead author, Chapter 6 (Paleoclimate), for the IPCC’s fourth assessment report.

By the way, Peck and I shared a grad student office in the unheated attic of the geoscience department at Brown University back in the late Holocene.


The University of Arizona-led Phoenix Mars Mission was picked by NASA as among the U.S. space agency's top 10 exploration and discovery stories of 2007. The Phoenix mission was launched Aug. 4, and will be the first mission to touch the planet's water-ice. The project's principal investigator is Peter Smith of the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

The UA's center for Sustainability of Semi-arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas (SAHRA) was a co-winner of the 2007 UNESCO International Great Man-made River Prize, that "rewards remarkable scientific research work on water usage in arid areas as well as areas subject to drought and also for the development of agriculture for the benefit of humanity and the environment."

Friday, December 28, 2007

WikiProject Geology aims to improve Wikipedia coverage of geology

Wikipedia recently started WikiProject Geology, "a collaboration area and group of editors dedicated to improving Wikipedia's coverage of geology." The project site lists the editors who will be contributing to the project and proposed subjects (

If you look at geology topics in Wikipedia now, it's pretty incomplete and eclectic. While a number of scientists disparage Wikipedia for its reputation of errors and biases, it is still one of the main online resources, especially for students and others not familiar with geology. It behooves the geologic community to help make sure geology is well represented and accurate online.

Recommendations released for predicting, mitigating earth fissures

The Arizona Land Subsidence Group released a new report on "Land Subsidence and Earth Fissures in Arizona" ( and, that calls for research into the origin, mechanics, and behavior of earth fissures and subsidence. The report, jointly authored by the group, also calls for finding ways to identify areas of potential subsidence and fissuring, and developing engineering practices and mitigation measures to reduce risk .

ALSG proposed setting up research centers at Arizona universities, establishing a long-term monitoring program, creating an online interoperable data network, and partnering with other states and countries that have similar hazards.

The AZGS is carrying out a fissure mapping program that is likely the most extensive and sysematic in the nation, but ALSG noted that this is only one step in the comprehensive approach needed to deal with the severity of the problem.

Since the ALSG report was posted on December 12, it has downloaded over 1250 times. The story was covered by several Phoenix area newspapers and KGUN tv (Ch 9 Tucson) weather did a piece on earth fissures that includeda short note about ALSG. Additionally, a summary of one of the newspaper articles was picked up and broadcast by several prominent web sites, including

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Call for a presidential science debate

I signed up today in support of a presidential debate on science. Specifically, I endorsed the following statement:

"Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we, the undersigned, call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Medicine and Health, and Science and Technology Policy."

You can go to to learn more and add your name to the list. The proposal for a presidential debate only went public on December 10 when my colleague, science journalist Chris Mooney and Matthew Chapman (screenwriter and great grandson of Charles Darwin) went public with their proposal. They had lined up a stellar list of endorsements from prominent scientists and political leaders as well as an amazing cadre of bloggers. Their blogs and op-ed pieces hit the nation's news media and airwaves overnight. The national response is amazing - Science Debate 2008 has legs and it rhymes well too!

While I was at the AGU meeting in San Francisco two weeks ago, I met with Steve Croft, a Berkeley astronony and one of the field's brightest young stars (pun intended). Along with Judy Scotchmoor, my fellow conspirator at COPUS (, and Sue Wells, our mutual friend who got us all together, we brainstormed about a meeting Steve set up for the following day with a confidant and major financial supporter
of one of the leading presidential contenders, to talk about the role of science in the presidential campaign. [I'm not saying who and what campaign because it was not my meeting and I don't want to break any confidences.] Steve, along with UCSD astrophysicist Joel Primack and environmental attorney and writer Nancy Ellen Abrams (the latter two recently co-authored "The View from the Center of the Universe"-, spent over an hour with this political insider and heavy-weight, making the case for Science Debate 2008, and describing some of the real impacts of political decisions on science funding, priorities, and results.

Afterwards, I joined Steve, Joel, and Nancy for lunch across from the Moscone Center in SF. They were encouraged with the response they got. No firm commitments but a sense that science is recognized and valued in some political circles.
Too often in recent years I've felt science is on the defensive. It's energizing to see scientists take to the streets, even metphorically, and change the nature of the debate.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Starting salaries for geoscientists and more in new workforce series

"The American Geological Institute (AGI) Workforce Program has initiated Geoscience Currents, a new series covering geosciences workforce and educational data snapshots, that are expected to be released on a near-weekly basis. Geoscience Currents are delivered via email. These data snapshots and short reports shed light into the issue of the overall health of the geoscience fields. From scholarships to employment opportunities, the effect of retirements, to university enrollment trends, Geoscience Currents provides up-to-the-minute glimpses into all areas of the geoscience fields, from academia, government, and industry to educational opportunities and university demographics. Go to to subscribe to these free data snapshots. Also available as part of this website, you will be able to view past Geoscience Current issues, read other reports completed by the Workforce Program, and access other resources pertaining to geoscience careers." - forwarded by the Triangle Coalition

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Buffelgrass invasion will cause more geologic hazards

UA researchers are finding more buffelgrass and at higher elevations in the Santa Catalinas than expected. Because this invasive species pushes out native plants with deeper roots and is much more prone to fire (11 months of the year in this area), brush fires will be more likely to travel from the base of the mountains to the tops throughout the year. Ann Youberg, a geologist at AZGS, warns that, as a result, we can expect to see huge geomorphic changes from post-fire erosion. This could mean more debris flows and over a larger area than before.

Aaryn Olsson, a Research Specialist at the Arizona Remote Sensing Center at UA, is seeking historical photos of the Catalinas to compare them with the current distribution to track the spread of buffelgrass and other invasive species. Forward your photos, with the date they were taken, to Aaryn Olsson,, or 1955 E. 6th St, Rm205, Tucson AZ 85719.

Aaryn's posted some of his photos at, including the one at right of Sabino Canyon in the Catalinas.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

New drilling target in Rosemont area

Mike Clarke with Augusta Resources described an area north of the proposed Rosemont copper mine as an "excellent target" for an underground mining operation, with ore containing up to 1.3% copper. Drilling is underway now around the old Narragansett mine workings, a half mile or so north of the proposed boundary of the Rosemont pit. He also indicated that Augusta is looking for additional targets in the area that may be hidden by faulting.

Mike made his comments in a technical talk at the SME Tucson conference on Monday at the El Conquistador Resort. Attendance was over 380.

Mike's talk offered reconstruction of the structural history of the Rosemont geology, with an early down-to-the-west normal fault that decapitated the igneous intrusion, and after a large rotation, now gives the confusing appearance of a west-verging thrust fault.

Despite a hundred years (plus or minus) of mineral exploration across this section of the Santa Ritas, it's amazing to see what careful geologic exploration can discover.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Global Warming Hoax Includes Phony UA Scientists, Dept.

A phony scientific paper has the blogosphere and global warming skeptics in an uproar.

The Nov. 3 online publication in the "Journal of Geoclimatic Studies" is attributed to Daniel Klein and colleagues in the Dept. of Climatology at the University of Arizona and elsewhere. Klein, his colleagues, the Dept. of Climatology, and the journal, however, don't exist. They are the apparent creation of David Thorpe, a UK-based journalist and web-site designer, who posted the phony report online to "test the scientific illiteracy and credulity of global warming skeptics" (see his description of the hoax at

The phony study claimed that global warming is caused by large quantities of CO2-emitting bacteria on the sea floor, and not by humans.

Reuters News Agency put out a story ( /) about skeptics being taken in by the hoax, at least briefly, spreading the word that, "This could not be more damaging to manmade global warming theory..."

The blogosphere is rife with stabs at the skeptics, including Rush Limbaugh, for being so gullible, while the skeptics are claiming to have spotted the hoax very quickly and grumbling about 'black ops' tactics by the other side.

There is a nice summary of the hoax at

The hoax paper is now posted as a pdf at

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Planet Bob, EarthScope, and other videos from ASU

I applaud ASU for its creative use of videos to help explain and communicate science.

The ASU International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE) launched a media campaign to raise public interest in cybertaxonomy. View the trailer at It's also posted on YouTube, and while not as popular as dropping Mentos into a Diet Coke, it's attracting attention.

Another video, featuring Matt Fouch, looks at the "Bigfoot" seismometer array deployed in Arizona as part of the EarthScope USArray program.

Google energy plan includes geothermal

In a press released issued today, Google announced "a new strategic initiative to develop electricity from renewable energy sources that will be cheaper than electricity produced from coal. The newly created initiative, known as RE (less than symbol) C will focus initially on advanced solar thermal power, wind power technologies, enhanced geothermal systems and other potential breakthrough technologies.

The full announcement can be read at

Google's philanthropic arm,, "will make strategic investments and grants that demonstrate a path toward producing energy at an unsubsidized cost below that of coal-fired power plants. Google will work with a variety of organizations in the renewable energy field, including companies, R&D laboratories, and universities."

Oil crunch coming?

The International Energy Agency (IEA) last week reported in its annual energy outlook that it cannot rule out a "supply-side crunch" in world oil markets by 2015. IEA projects even faster demand growth than it did last year.

Experts say the recent run-up in oil prices to nearly $100 per barrel is being driven by global demand outpacing supply, rather than the pattern of recent decades where oil producers cut back supply or political unrest pushed up prices. [photo courtesy of Ks Geol. Survey]

Of particular concern to the U.S. is the forecast from Canada's National Energy Board for production from the Alberta tar sands, currently running about 1.3 million b/d, which is starting to slip. The Board now believes that we should expect a daily production of 2.8 million b/d by 2015, down from the 3.0 million b/d that had been forecast.

Citing higher production costs as the reason why it was reducing its forecast, the Energy Board clearly left open the possibility of further cost-related reductions in the years ahead. According to the report, “a number of companies are reassessing the economics of their projects.”

Monday, November 26, 2007

More twists in BHP - Rio Tinto merger proposal

Speculation last week was that Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold might be a target of a takeover attempt by London-based Rio Tinto to thwart the proposed $150 billion takeover of Rio Tinto by BHP Billiton.

Rio Tinto and Freeport are partners in the Resolution copper mine under development in central Arizona.

In recent days market analysts are speculating that China is opposing the BHP-Rio Tinto merger because it would consolidate the world's biggest iron ore producers. The combined company would control 40% of the world market for iron ore, according to Economist magazine. The analysts say China's growth is consuming half of the world's iron ore and they want more competition to lower prices, so they may working behind the scenes to prevent the merger. German steelmakers are opposing the merger as well.

Rio Tinto is fighting the merger proposal by raising its dividend by 30%, and increased the expected savings from buying Canada's Alcan in July by over 50%, promising $940 million a year. Rio Tinto also plans to triple its iron-ore output, in part by investing $2 billion in its Western Australian mine complex.

What role Freeport may play in this international game is still to be seen.

Monday, November 05, 2007

UA's SAHRA wins UNESCO prize

The UA's NSF-funded Science and Technology Center for Sustainability of Semi-arid hydrology and Riparian Areas (SAHRA) is a co-winner of the 2007 International Great Man-made River Prize. The prize is awarded every other year by UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Science, and Culture Organization.

SAHRA is a joint winner of the prize with the Center for Hydrometeorology and Remote Sensing (CHRS) at U.C. Irvine.

The UNESCO prize "rewards remarkable scientific research work on water usage in arid areas as well as areas subject to drought and also for the development of agriculture for the benefit of humanity and the environment."

NSF officials have told me that SAHRA is the model they point to on how to run a science and technology center. This augers well for SAHRA's continuation after NSF S&T center funding ends.

Oil and gas estimates released for NW Arizona

The USGS released a new assessment of oil and gas potential that includes the extreme NW corner of Arizona, in the Sevier thrust belt. The USGS estimates mean reserves of 301 million bbls of oil (MMBO) and 100 billion cubic feet (BCFG) of natural gas but since the area is predominantly in Utah, we can't tell how much may lie in Arizona.

Last year, my colleagues in the oil business in Utah told me a leasing play was underway in northern Arizona, following the thrust belt discovery by Wolverine Exploration in central Utah. It seems clear this is the target they are after.

The USGS estimates range from 33 MMBO and 10 BCFG (at a 95% confidence level) to 809 MMBO and 279 BCFG (at a 5% confidence level) for the Sevier thrust belt. Only a small part of that is likely to occur in Arizona.

The full report is at "Geologic Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources of the Eastern Great Basin Province, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Arizona," USGS Digital Data Series, DDS-69-L, Version 1.0, 2007.

Arizona geothermal in new renewable energy report

A report on Arizona's renewable energy resources commissioned by Arizona's three largest utilities, Arizona Public Service (APS), Salt River Project and Tucson Electric Power (TEP), identified more than 5,000 megawatts (MW) of untapped renewable energy resources in Arizona.

Two geothermal sites in eastern Arizona, Clifton and Gillard hot springs, were estimated to be able to produce 20 and 15 MW of electricity, respectively, for a total of 215 GWh/year. Because the production tax credit will expire before they can be brought online, there costs will be high, but comparable to solar power currently.

AZGS received well cores from the Clifton prospect, which are available for research.

The Arizona Renewable Energy Assessment is available on the Black & Veatch Web site at:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

USGS' 6 goals for the coming decade

The USGS identified 6 strategic goals for the coming decade in an article published this week in Science magazine (

They include:
1. Understanding ecosystems and predicting ecosystem change
Climate variability and change
Energy and minerals for America's future
National hazards risk and resilience assessment program
The role of environment and wildlife in human health
A water census for the United States

The full report on the USGS plan is published in
USGS, "Facing tomorrow's challenges: U.S. Geological Survey science in the decade 2007-2017" (Circular 1309, USGS, Reston, VA, version 1.0, April 2007); available at

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

States filling gap in science and technology

States are filling in the gaps in science and technology and related policy created by a waning investment and support at the national level. That's a conclusion I came away with from the past two days in a national convocation organized by the National Academies (Science, Engineering, Medicine) and others, to examine the growing role of states in science and technology.

While there has been widespread recognition in the past couple of years that the US is falling behind in science and technolog, it has been largely viewed as a national problem. Now, however there are many large, innovative efforts underway at the state level. States are seen operating as mini-nations in this arena, a concept that should not be surprising when you realize that state economies equal those of other nations.

Gov. Napolitano really brought this to national attention with her "Innovation America" initiative as head of the National Governor's Association last year (

A new report by the Pew Center on the States and the NGA describes what's happening at the state level and Arizona is cited as one of the more innovative states with impressive results (

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

San Tan homes being built in fissure area

Today's East Valley Tribune carries a front page story about new homes being built in an area of known earth fissures in the San Tan area souteast of Phoenix (

The fissures appear on older AZGS maps and have been known by locals for years, prompting some to post a warning sign along the road in an old tractor tire.

A representative of the developer told the Tribune reporter that a well-known geologist was hired to verify there are no fissures on the property, but he couldn't remember his name.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Arizona copper companies soaring

Two Arizona companies made it onto Fortune magazines list of 100 Fastest-Growing Companies 2007: Southern Copper (#9) and Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold (#19).

Southern had earnings-per-share growth of 83%, revenue growth of 67%, and total return of 83% (all 3-year annual rates). Freeport's numbers were 127%, 51%, and 44%.

Baseline magazine also just selected Southern Copper as the #1 company in the country at using information technology to increase productivity, with a return on IT investment of 1290%, adding $1.098 billion in value to the company. Southern Copper credited deployment of business intelligence software and Internet telephony.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Arizona copper production up 3% to $5.6 billion

Employment in Arizona’s copper industry grew 19 percent to 8,200 jobs in 2006, and the industry’s total economic benefit to the state was up 34 percent to more than $4.7 billion, according to the latest annual study prepared for the Arizona Mining Association ("The Economic Impact of the Arizona Copper Industry 2006" -

Arizona copper companies produced 787,236 tons of copper and other minerals with a total value of $5.628 Billion (59% more than in 2005).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

U.S. critical mineral stockpile "ineffective"

A new report from the National Research Council concludes , "Neither the federal government nor industry have enough accurate information on supplies of minerals critical to the economy and national security," while a second new report says that, "the National Defense Stockpile of materials reserved for emergencies is ineffective for such purposes. Systematic approaches are needed to collect better data on supplies of critical minerals and to manage national security needs."

The reports and summaries can be read or purchased at

Copper rates a 3 on a scale of 1-4 in impacts from a supply disruption (see figure above), but it has the lowest supply risk of the 11 critical minerals studied, because so much in produced domestically (read that as "Arizona").

The study highlighted economic, technical, and political factors limiting supplies of critical minerals for national defense, including noting that urbanization has effectively removed copper reserves near Florence, between Phoenix and Tucson, from development.

The primary use of copper is in building and construction but the most critical national defense use is for telecommunications which uses 5% of the supply (see table).

Two Arizonans served on the NRC panels that produced these studies: Dr. Madan Singh, Director of the AZ Dept. of Mines and Mineral Resources, was on the committee for
"Managing Materials for a 21st Century
Military" and Dr. Mary Poulton, Chair of the
UA Dept. of Mining and Geological Engineering, was on the committee for "Minerals, Critical
Minerals, and the U.S. Economy.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Sabino Canyon debris flows on new Google Earth photos

Google Earth posted new photos of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson that show spectacular views of the debris flows that tore up much of the canyon in July-August 2006. Go to Google Earth and search on "Sabino Canyon."

The light colored streaks running from upper left to lower right are debris flow chutes. Stop 9 on the shuttle route is marked by a blue dot in the upper right. That location was buried by 8-10 feet of boulders and debris.

Notes from the AGS field trip to Zacatecas, Mexico

Participants on the AGS Ores and Orogensis field trip to silver mines in Zacatecas, Mexico, led by Peter McGaw, found their way there from the Tucson symposium via a myriad of pathways. My friend Tom McCrory made a fairly straightforward trip by planes from Tucson to Dallas, Mexico City, and Zacatecas before grabbing a taxi for the last 30 miles to the field trip jumping off point in Fresnillo. Pity the poor woman from Kosovo who went from the meeting in Tucson to Zacatecas by a 22 hour bus ride.
Tom, whose Spanish is nearly as poor as mine, says that by the end of the trip, he could shout "Donde esta mi muletas!" ("Where are my bags!") with the best of them.  [He is third from the right in the back row, by the way]

Tom reports that, "The field trip went underground all three days they were there, including five hours in the largest producing silver mine in the world [note: in 2006, the Penoles' Proano (Fresnillo) mine produced 33.49 million oz Ag] What the picture doesn't show is the incredible heat and humidity near the working faces. In this mine they have intercepted five veins, the longest of which is 6.5 kilometers from east to west (typical precious metals ore shoots run less than one kilometer). As most of the district is under alluvial cover, and has never been explored with modern methods, it is entirely possible it could hold more than 10 percent of the entire world reserves of silver."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sputnik heralded geologic revolutions

The launch of Sputnik 50 years ago today is being rightly celebrated as the start of the space race and a shot across the bow of America's scientific supremacy. It also helped trigger the start of two geologic revolutions - plate tectonics and planetary geology. It was the synoptic views of Earth that galvanized a new generation to think seriously about the previously outrageous concept and start looking at geology on a global scale. And suddenly we had a dozen other worlds to compare to the Earth to understand just how unique the geology of this world is.

The excitement of seeing pictures from new worlds has been for me comparable to historical terrestrial explorers who found new lands and peoples.

Without Sputnik, there may not have been the U.S. investment in all areas of science in order to compete with the Soviets. There is a wistful hope among many scientists today for another Sputnik moment to galvanize the public and political leaders once again and recognize the importance of science to our lives, our well-being, and our national security. [right: geologist Harrison Schmitt on the moon]

White House calls for National Water Census

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a study on the three national scientific and technical challenges to adequate fresh water supplies:
1. Measure and account for the Nation's water
2. Develop methods that will allow expansion of fresh water supplies while using existing supplies more efficiently
3. Develop and improve predictive water management tools

A major proposal is to develop a National Water Census. At last fall's GSA meeting, Gene Whitney of OSTP (the only geologist in the White House) gave a talk on the Census, describing it this way: "Such a census would require us to develop and adopt data collection, data communication, and data availability standards and protocols for all surface water, groundwater, and water quality measuring and monitoring systems nationwide. A census would integrate existing water monitoring networks to provide uniform water measurements nationwide, and would develop a strategy to establish regional and national priorities for the highest level needs for surface and groundwater monitoring in the U.S. Such a water census might also include implementation of the National Water Quality Monitoring System."

The full report, "A Strategy for Federal Science and Technology to Support Water Availability and Quality in the United States" is posted by the Office of Science and Technology Policy at

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Water on Mars as rare as in Arizona

A special issue of Science magazine focuses on reports by Arizona planetary geologists Alfred McEwen (University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Lab), WL Jaeger (USGS Astrogeology Team in Flagstaff) and their colleagues, in which it's concluded that "evidence for liquid water [on Mars] is rare and difficult to discern."

The collection of articles in the Sept 21 issue on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter report that fields of boulders up to about 2 meters in diameter occur in areas previously thought to be riverbeds and ocean floors. Some landforms thought to have been formed by flowing water are now seen as evidence of flowing lava.

Sounding more like Arizona every day.

Dr. Alfred McEwen discusses the findings in a related podcast interview at

ASU-authored geology textbook creating a buzz in educational circles

A new introductory geology text by ASU professor Steve Reynolds and colleagues is designed to address how students think, learn, and study. Although it was only published in June (too late for most professors to select it for fall classes) it's been picked up by at least four universities and is creating buzz in education circles because of it's innovative use of cognitive research in how visualization affects learning.

Exploring Geology by Reynolds/Johnson/Kelly/Morin/Carter (and published by McGraw-Hill) is built around nearly 2,700 photographs and illustrations laid out entirely in two-page spreads. Each two-page spread is a self-contained block of information about a specific topic.

It's organized differently from all the other texts I've seen as well. When Steve showed me a copy at last week's AGS conference, I wanted to run off with it, find a quiet corner, and pour though it. It's true: a good illustration is worth at least a thousand words.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Feature story on earth fissures and ground water

The Tucson Weekly for Sept 27 has 3 full pages dedicated to earth fissures and in particular, their potential to serve as conduits to ground water. See the full story by Sam Stoker at

This is their annual "best of..." issue which means it's widely read, but also snapped up from the newstands quickly.

Arizona Section of AEG approved

The national Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists (AEG) approved creation of an Arizona Chapter at their board meeting on Friday. For the past 2+ years, we have had an AEG section in Phoenix as part of the Las Vegas-based Southwest Chapter. There is also a student chapter at the University of Arizona.

Section presidents Jessica Humble and now Ken Fergason, with great support from many others, have done incredible jobs building the section into a dynamic professional organization. The next question is now that we have an Arizona section, when will it be active in Tucson?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Old mines to re-open

The Phoenix Arizona Republic ( reported last week that Freeport McMoran is considering re-opening inactive mines in Arizona and Colorado because copper and molybdenum are near all-time high prices (a story apparently not picked up by the news media here in southern Arizona).

Freeport is reported as looking at reopening or expanding Globe/Miami, Bisbee, Clifton/Morenci and Leadville, Colo. They have been drilling at the Lavender Pit in Bisbee which has been closed since 1974 [right].

Insiders tell me not to believe everything in the article but that the gist of it is correct. I asked if the Ajo mine was on the list to possibly reopen and the laughing response was that it could probably be purchased for a pretty low price. (It's currently a candidate for an expensive reclamation and thus a liability on the books.)

To meet the demand, Freeport is running 7 days on, 7 days off, for workers driving or being bussed from cities around Arizona. The latest word is that the labor shortage is so severe that they will be flying in workers from Las Vegas and Dallas for one week shifts at Morenci.

On another note, Paul Lindberg enthused about the mineral resources still in the ground at the Jerome mine. During his talk at the Ores and Orogenesis talk in Oro Valley on Friday, he told how there were few assays or other analyses during the mine's early exploration and much of the potential was not determined. He estimated only 20% of the ore body has been exposed or excavated. The mine was a major producer of copper, zinc, lead, silver, and gold from 1883 to 1953.

AGS symposium - "best of the past decade"

The technical program for the AZ Geological Society's "Ores and Orogenesis" symposium wrapped up Saturday evening with a 'beer bash' where participants uniformly described it as the best scientific event many had attended in the past decade.

That was evidenced by almost everyone packing technical talks until 5 pm on a Saturday.

Most speakers are expected to contribute a written version of their talks to a proceedings volume due out next year.

[right: crowds during coffee break and in the exhibits area]

[below: Paul Lindberg displays sample of a Proterozoic black smoker following his talk on the massive sulfide deposit at Jerome, AZ]