Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Freeport's Quirk 4th highest paid woman exec in U.S.

Fortune magazine lists Kathleen Quirk, Executive VP, CFO, and Treasurer of Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, as the 4th highest paid woman executive in the U.S. In 2007 her total compensation was $16.3 million.

Desalination of brackish groundwater in Arizona

Arizona has an estimated 600,000,000 acre-feet of brackish groundwater at depths of less than 1,200 feet according to a talk given at last week's joint AIPG - AZ Hydrological Society conference in Flagstaff. Edwin McGavock of Errol L. Montgomery & Associates out of Prescott, described the locations and characteristics of some of the largest brackish water resources as well as costs and barriers to developing them.
[right, Yuma Desalination plant. Credit, Southwest Hydrology]

Two challenges are energy costs for desalination and the disposal of the resulting brine. Apparently, Arizona classifies all aquifers as "Drinking Water Aquifers" including those where the salinity of the waters exceeds that of seawater. McGavock concluded that since "brine injection in deep saline aquifers is often the best, or only, feasible method of brine disposal, the ability to utilize Arizona's abundant brackish groundwater resources may depend on a reappraisal of the aquifer classification system in the state."

Suit filed over uranium exploration in Arizona Strip

The Center for Biological Diversity is touting their agreement with the US Forest Service over requiring a full EIS for uranium exploration in northern Arizona near the boundaries of the Grand Canyon park, but yesterday they filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne, Dept. of Interior, and BLM for reportedly defying a US House resolution calling for halting of exploration activities. [right, geometry of a typical breccia pipe in the Arizona Strip. Credit, Quaterra Resources, Inc.]

Interior argued that the House committee was 3 members short of having a quorum and therefore the resolution was not binding.

Since the resolution passed in June, companies filed four new mining claims and four notices for uranium exploration were accepted by BLM in the lands designated by the House committee.

The Grand Canyon Trust and the Western Mining Action Project joined CBD as plaintiffs.

Monday, September 29, 2008

101 geoblogs

German blogger geoberg.de has compiled a list of 101 geoblogs. I'm reposting them here to help spread the word. There are a lot of talented people sharing fascinating and well-written ideas and news out there. The role of geoblogging is still in its formative stage. It's exciting to see how quickly it's growing and diversifying. Thanks to Callan Bentley at NOVA Geoblog for spotting this list.


(Palaeo-) Climatology

Geo-Hazards / Geoengineering

Geo-Information (GIS etc.)

  • The Geo Factor by Ron Exler - Blog about GIS, GPS etc.
  • Geologic Froth - blog about geoscientific data-processing with focus on GPS and GIS
  • MiGeo - Blog from Peru about web-based geoscientific applications (in Spanish)


  • Arctic and Alpine by Dawn and Dave Nicholson - news, discussions and links about geomorphology in cold climates


Hydrogeology / Hydrology


Petrology/Mineralogy/Economic Geology

Quarternary Geology

Regional and Local Geology

  • Arizona Geology by Allison - diverse geo-topics about Arizona and neighbouring states
  • Oakland Geology by Andrew Alden - geological outcrops in Oakland
  • proreg news by Michael Hahl - articles about the geology of the German Odenwald (in German)


Structural Geology/Tectonics


  • ECRIS & CEVP - comprehensive articles about the European Cenozoic Rift System (ECRIS) and the Central European Volcanic Provence (CEVP) (in German)
  • Eruptions by Dr. Erik W. Klemetti - Blog about active volcanos worldwide
  • Magma Cum Laude - blog about volcanos and their molten and solidified products
  • Volcano Summer - Blog about a research stay of a geology student at Mauna Loa (Hawaii)
  • The Volcanism Blog by Dr. Ralph Harrington - Blog about worldwide volcanos, especially Chaitén, Llaima, Kilauea and Tungurahua


NASA extends Phoenix Mars Lander until it freezes

NASA extended the mission of the Phoenix Mars Lander today, saying it will operate the lander until it dies in the cold and dark of the Martian winter.

The mission has lasted 120 days so far, past the initially planned 90 days. The Lander team continues to dazzle the scientific community with new discoveries and observations.

Copper hits nine-month low

The price of copper dropped to $2.9065 a pound in response to Congresses defeat of the credit bill. Analysts fear a credit shortage will slow growth in the U.S., Europe, and China. China has accounted for 40% of the demand growth for copper recently.

Copper hit a record price of $4.2605 on May 5, but is down 25% the past quarter, the most ever.
[above, cathode plates, Freeport McMoRan]

View Hotel opens December in Monument Valley

The new View Hotel that is opening in December in Monument Valley is drawing attention from travel writers across the country. The hotel, which describes itself as the only one located inside Monument Valley adjacent to the Monument Valley Tribal Park Visitors Center, prides itself as meeting "green” building standards and environmentally friendly operating procedures.

The building offers panoramic views of the the East and West Mitten Buttes on the Arizona side of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

[photo credits, www.monumentvalleyview.com]

Snowfall on Mars; Lander on ancient puddle?

News from Mars continues to pour in. The Phoenix Mars Lander team at UA today announced they detected snow falling from clouds about 2.5 miles above the landing site, but vaporizing before it hits ground.

The other news is that the Lander soil experiments found evidence of calcium carbonate and clays that only form in the presence of liquid water on Earth. The implication is that the Phoenix's landing site was once wet.

[right, samples from the "Snow White" trench found to contain carbonates. Credit, NASA/JPL-Caltech/University Arizona/Texas A&M University]

UA's Phoenix Mars Lander finalist for innovation award

The Phoenix Mars Mission has been named a finalist for the Arizona Governor's Celebration of Innovation's Innovator of the Year Award in the academia category. The Phoenix Mars Mission was selected as the 2007 Innovator of the Year in the same category.

The Innovator of the Year Awards will be presented Nov. 13 at a gala at the Dodge Theater in Phoenix. The annual awards event, which honors technology and innovation leaders statewide, also includes a technology showcase featuring the finalists' innovations.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

UA's HiRISE camera finds deformation bands on Mars

The UA's HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted hundreds of deformation bands that are thought to have served as conduits for ancient groundwater flow in equatorial Mars, according to a new study published in GSA Bulletin by Chris Okubo of the USGS in Flagstaff and co-authors.

[right, deformation bands form linear ridges in this HiRISE image. Credit, NASA/JPL-CalTech, Univ. of Arizona]

UA releases 1,000 more Mars HiRISE photos

The Lunar and Planetary Lab at Univ. of Arizona released 1,005 new images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera, totaling 3.4 terabytes. The images cover the period of April - July, 2008.

UA has released 7,100 HiRISE images so far, totaling 26.9 terabytes.

There is a section on the HiRISE Web site with 3-D photos that are being used to evaluate potential landing sites.

New mining truck "more mind-boggling than vegan pork rinds"

At last week's MINExpo in Las Vegas, even many of the most seasoned veterans were clamboring around the big machines that filled the convention center. Boys and their toys.

So, it's fun to see what happens when newbies see the scale of the equipment. The folks at Wired magazine are suitably blown away by Caterpillars new 795F truck, in an online article titled, "Big Honkin' EV Hauls 345 Tons." They're particularly impressed with the fact that it's dual diesel-electric.

They call it "more mind boggling than vegan pork rinds."

It's a fun read. [right, the Cat 797F]

Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau

One of the late-night movies that impressed me as a kid was the 1936 "Invisible Ray" in which Boris Karloff builds a machine capable of reaching out into space to capture light waves that left Earth millions of years ago. With this amazing device, he watched as if in high orbit, as a meteor of rare composition struck western Africa in the distant geologic past.

As I became a geologist, I occasionally thought how wonderful it would be to have Karloff's machine so I could watch the entire geologic evolution of the Earth from above and fill in all the gaps in our knowledge.

Now, Ron Blakey and Wayne Ranney have essentially built their own time machine to examine the geologic history of the Colorado Plateau, just as if you were capturing Karloff's invisible rays from the last billion plus years.

"Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau" just published by the Grand Canyon Association, contains more than 70 paleogeographic maps of the Colorado Plateau (and sometimes half the globe) that give the reader the sense that you are seeing images captured throughout geologic history by some paleo-astronauts.

Ron and Wayne have compiled a wealth of detailed stratigraphic and other data to provide a substantial technical basis for their recreations. What makes this book unique and so spectacular, is the authors application of modern geologic analogs to the limited information in the geologic record to create plausible and striking images of the ancient landscapes of the region.

It seems that every geologic formation on the Plateau has it's own map. There are more than another 100 illustrations and photos that tie the maps to the outcrop. I have never seen paleogeographic maps that are this exciting and thought-provoking. The artistic quality is superb and I especially like that all the modern political boundaries are subdued enough that you can easily ignore them to better view the geology. When you want to put it back in perspective I found it only takes a second or two to refocus and see where you are.

This is a bold interpretation of the history of the Colorado Plateau and one that will fascinate the casual reader and dazzle even the most experienced Plateau expert.

Friday, September 26, 2008

EIS required for uranium exploration near Grand Canyon

The Center for Biological Diversity issued a press release late today saying that they, Grand Canyon Trust, and Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter reached a settlement agreement with the US Forest Service and VANE Minerals over uranium exploration on national forest land south of Grand Canyon National Park.

The settlement requires the Forest Service and VANE Minerals to withdraw the drilling approval previously issued and to undertake a full Environmental Impact Statement process prior to any renewed effort to drill at the sites.

[right, Pine Nut uranium mine, Arizona Strip. Credit, Vane Minerals]

Video is of Vane geologist Kris Hefton at one of the uranium-bearing breccia pipes in northern Arizona.

Candidates on science and technology

The journal Nature published Barack Obama's answers to 18 science-related questions; John McCain's campaign declined to respond. Answers to additional questions (on topics including biosecurity, the nuclear weapons laboratories and US participation in international projects) can be found at http://www.nature.com/uselection. Nature noted what McCain has said at other times on these topics.

On the topic of evolution, Obama said "I believe in evolution, and I support the strong consensus of the scientific community that evolution is scientifically validated. I do not believe it is helpful to our students to cloud discussions of science with non-scientific theories like intelligent design that are not subject to experimental scrutiny."

Nature reported that "McCain said last year, in a Republican primary debate: "I believe in evolution. But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also." In 2005, he told the Arizona Daily Star that he thought "all points of view" should be available to students studying the origins of humanity. But the next year a Colorado paper reported him saying that such viewpoints should not be taught in science class."

The candidates answered another set of questions prepared by ScienceDebate2008. Responses from McCain and Obama are presented side by side for comparison. They address water and energy among specifics on health care, space, and general questions on scientific intergrity, innovation, and funding.

This has to be the most intense focused scrutiny the scientific community has ever placed on presidential candidates. And the most attention offered by the candidates?

McCain, Obama supporters on energy and climate change

The World Public Opinion group examined the views of supporters of senators Obama and McCain on energy and climate change and concluded there is a lot of agreement between the two camps. A couple areas where there are bigger differences are in building coal or oil-fired power plants, and in the U.S. committing to a global treaty for reducing greenhouse gases.

Geoscience input for the next President

The geoscience community is actively engaged in raising issues and recommendations for the next President of the U.S.

AGI has released a report on "Critical Needs for the Twenty First Century: The Role of the Geosciences." Key recommendations are to:

  • Establish a Natural Resources Advisor within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Invest in mapping, monitoring, assessments, and surveys of natural resources
  • Invest in R&D on Earth processes for sustainable consumption of resources, enhancement of environmental quality, and resilience from risk
The state geologists, through AASG, have also prepared a short briefing of key issues facing the nation that the geoscience can help address. AASG addresses water, energy, natural hazard, climate change, and resource issues.

This is the first time the geoscience community has taken the initiative in the transition. In the past, professional societies might weigh in with a recommendation or endorsement of possible candidates for heading geoscience programs in federal agencies, but not much more than that.

The next step is to get these materials to each campaign's transition teams (yes, the teams are in place and working away on their post-November plans).

Wasatch fault video

The Utah Geological Survey has produced a Google Earth fly-by video tour of the Wasatch fault and posted it on YouTube. It briefly shows the fault within the Intermountain Seismic Belt that extends into northern Arizona.

The 10-minute video is not only engaging, the narrative is fully understandable by non-geologists without dumbing down the information.

This is circulating among state geologists across the country as a great example of how we can better communicate with our constituents. The State of Utah is showcasing it. But unfortunately, we are hearing from a number of other states that not only are their computers blocked from viewing or uploading materials to YouTube, a number of them are even prohibited from viewing Google Earth.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Unintended consequences on Arizona hydrology

A new article in the journal BioScience by a team of ASU scientists found that creation of artificial lakes and canal systems along with extensive groundwater pumping have had "unintended impacts on nutrient cycling." [above, Tempe Town Lake. Photo by Greg Folley]

The study concludes that water systems such as canals "cut across stream channels, disrupting the flow of water and sediments from tributary networks to the main channel. In pristine streams, sandbars and other patches created where these sediments collect are often ideal places for nutrient cycling. By starving streams of their historic supply of this material, canals accidentally alter the way nutrients are cycled in stream ecosystems."

The authors report that "surface and subsurface hydrologic network is short circuited with water entering the channel from well and canal sources, and water leaving by evaporation, seepage, and canal redirection."

Science appointments in the next Administration

The National Academies released Science and Technology for America’s Progress: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments in the New Administration, advising the next President on filling up to 80 key high-level S&T appointments. The report recommends an accelerated process for appointing and confirming S&T leaders, particularly the President’s top advisor on S&T matters, whose role should be returned to a more central place in White House decision-making.

The Director of the USGS is one of the 80 positions identified. A number of other positions could be filled by geoscientists.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hi-res airphotos along AZ-Mexico border region

The National Geospatial Data Agency (NGA) is collecting control data now in preparation for capturing 1-foot resolution aerial photos along the Mexican border region. California and Arizona are high priorities. Photos will be taken in a swath extending 30 miles on the U.S. side and 10 miles on the Mexico side. Final permission to fly over Mexico is pending, but NGA hopes to fly the region in October and process the films this winter. The aerial photos will be publicly available, according to a briefing we got at the Arizona Geographic Information Council's Data Committee meeting this morning in Phoenix.

A sister project along the U.S. -Canada border is nearly complete.

Copper deficit this year

There's a very powerful description of a talk at MINExpo yesterday that concludes "everything that could go wrong is going wrong" with global copper production.

The Bloomsburg Metals Economics analyst forecast "a reduction in copper mine production, as well as a deficit of refined global copper this year." [right, copper cathodes. Credit, Asarco]

Problems include power shortages in Chile, lack of trained personnel, higher development costs, constraints on access to water, higher prices for oil, sulfuric acid, and labor, and bottlenecks in getting production equipment.

This should lead to at least maintaining copper prices.

Arizona mining updates

Nord Resources Corp said it is on track to start mining new copper ore at the reactivated Johnson Camp Mine, 65 miles east of Tucson, in the first quarter of 2009. CEO John Perry said the company expects to get up to full production of 25 million pounds per year by Spring of 2009. [right, Burro pit, Johnson Camp mine. Credit, Nord Resources]

Asarco has asked a U.S. District Court judge to award it $10.2 billion in damages and stock from Grupo Mexico. Asarco wants Southern Peru stock worth $6.7 billion they argue was improperly stripped from the company and award it $3.5 billion in monetary damages. Interestingly, the bankruptcy judge said in a separate action that creditors have to be allowed to vote for either Grupo Mexico's and Asarco's reorganization proposals, but he has not decided if the votes will have any meaning.

A Reuters interview with Freeport McMoRan CEO Richard Adkerson indicates that the company's strong cash flow and sharply reduced debt means the company is moving forward with exploration and development projects worldwide, despite the turmoil in the credit markets.

Mineral Museum gets grant for educator-curator

The Mining Foundation of the Southwest will fund an Outreach Program for the Arizona Department of Mining and Mineral Resources museum in Phoenix. The grant will fund an Education Curator for a period of three years and assumes the State will step in and fund the position after that. The MFSW Education Curator will conduct classes on minerals and mining in schools and community colleges throughout Arizona.

Given the State's increasing budget shortfalls, getting new State funds in the next year or two will be a real challenge. The Governor just today put out an announcement describing a 2.8% reduction in the number of state employees since a hiring freeze was imposed this past spring.

DMRR director Madan Singh has told AZGS that we will have to move our Phoenix branch office out of the DMRR building when the new curator is hired. We are considering a couple options for relocating the AZGS office.

Freeport is 10th fastest growing company in U.S.

Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold is #10 on the Fortune magazine annual list of the 100 fastest growing companies in the U.S. and the only one from Arizona. Fortune said Freeport's revenues increased 92% last year to over $20 billion.

Arizonans receive awards at AIPG annual meeting

The American Institute of Professional Geologists presented awards at a reception in Flagstaff last night, wrapping up their annual convention, held in conjunction with the AZ Hydrologic Symposium.

AIPG Arizona Chapter President Barbara Murphy received the Award of Honorary Membership, given for exemplary record of distinguished service to the profession and to the Institute.

I was greatly honored to receive
the John T. Galey, Sr., Memorial Public Service Award, given for service to the public.

Mining industry - optimistic but wary

The past two days, I've talked with dozens of miners, from geologists, to engineers, prospectors, suppliers, consultants, and so on. There is an overall sense that the mining industry is prospering with a long term bright future. But that's tempered with an underlying concern about the current economic crises and a frustration that the nation does not recognize or appreciate the challenges mining faces in maintaining America's economy and national security.

[top, Leica Geosystem's US office is in Tucson]

One shorter term problem in Arizona is the high price of sulfuric acid used in heap leach operations. Companies are eagerly looking for new supplies of sulfur.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mining industry is economic bright spot

Attendance at MINExpo here in Las Vegas is an indication of strong demand and high prices for many mineral commodities. It appears to me that every square foot of exhibit space has been taken by vendors in the endless LV Convention Center.

At yesterday's opening session, coal was center stage at the National Mining Association's panel on the state of the industry.

The forecast is for 1.2 billion tons of U.S. coal production in 2008, up from 1 billion tons in 2006. Exports of coal are expected to triple to 85 million tons. One coal company rep who stopped by the State Geologists (AASG) booth, told me that a lot of it is going to China, which relies on coal for 80% of its electric generation.

It was noted that the U.S. has 27% of the world's coal reserves, an amount roughly equal to Saudi Arabia's share of world oil reserves or Russia's share of world natural gas.

Monday, September 22, 2008

MINExpo draws 40,000

MINExpo opened today in Las Vegas today, attracting a reported 40,000 attendees, 10,000 more than the last time it was held, in 2004.

I'm staffing the State Geologists booth and talked with a steady stream of visitors through the day about mining in Arizona. The first question came within minutes of our opening this morning from a company geologist looking for potash resources. I was able to hand him the new issue of "Arizona Geology" that came out on Friday, describing the first assessment of potash in Arizona.

Others wanted info on gold, aggregate, geothermal, potential for supplying services to the mining industry, and a lot of basic questions about Arizona geology. It was a steady stream all day long.

I had only a short time to get out and see other exhibits but expect to see more tomorrow and hope to have more to blog about.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Geothermal power plant being considered for Nutrioso area

At yesterday's Arizona Geothermal Working Group meeting in Tucson, the CEO for Navopache Electric Cooperative, Dennis Hughes, described their plans to build a geothermal power plant in the Nutrioso area of east central Arizona, capable of generating 50 MW of electricity. If successful, this would be the first geothermal power plant in Arizona.

Geothermal consultants are reviewing the area's potential now for the Co-op. A 1985 well found 174 degree water at a depth of about 4400 feet. Dennis says they will likely have to drill to about 9,000 feet to find sufficiently high temperatures. The Co-op has leased 6 sections in preparation of starting development. A transmission line passes right over the site.

Resolution Copper responds to concerns over land exchange

Resolution Copper has released the letter they wrote to Rep. Raul Grijalva last month, addressing concerns he raised earlier this year about the proposed copper mine and the complex federal-state-private land exchange needed to make it happen. [right, Resolution president David Salisbury]

Among the points Resolution president David Salisbury makes is that block caving is the only viable mining technique that will work in the operation.

A Congressional hearing was held earlier this summer on the legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Jon Kyl for the land exchange. Rio Tinto, majority owner of Resolution,previously committed $652 million to the pre-feasibility study towards developing the mine.

Strategic plan for Arizona geothermal energy

The Arizona Geothermal Working Group met in Tucson yesterday and agreed on preparing a strategic plan as a critical step in developing the state's geothermal resources.

Paul Morgan, professor emeritus at NAU, laid out a compelling case for determining the state's potential and what needs to be done to take advantage of it. Paul runs the Group's web site, but when funding for it runs out in a year, AZGS has agreed to serve as a long-term online repository to make sure no information is lost. AZGS is building a geothermal page for our Web page now.

Arizona has few ground source heat pumps, no electrical generation from geothermal, but a few commercial direct-use applications, mostly for greenhouses.

Arizona has a reputation for dry soils that are not well suited for heat pumps but consultant Jim Witcher [right] noted that similar types of settings in New Mexico and West Texas have successful heat pumps in operation.

Amanda Ormand, who organized the meeting, is contributing to a study to delineate renewable energy resource zones that will affect placement of new transmission lines.

First look at Big Chino regional groundwater model

The Prescott area Water Advisory Committee got it's first look on Wednesday at the regional groundwater flow model for the Big Chino and Verde River watershed [right, ADWR].

USGS hydrologist Jim Leenhouts told the group that the model will require a lot more data to make the model useful and much of that data is not available. The Northern Arizona Regional Groundwater Flow Model is intended to be used on varying water scenarios to predict the impacts on the aquifers.

No date was set for when the model will be completed.

AZGS will begin quadrangle-scale geologic mapping in the region this fall under the Statemap program with the intent to provide greater geologic framework information to constrain groundwater models.

Mars, chile peppers, and Tucson's Dark Skies

NPR's Science Friday broadcast from the UA in Tucson yesterday. They covered what planetary scientists know about Mars and what remains to be discovered. Guests included Peter Smith and Alfred McEwan from the UA Lunar & Planetary Laboratory and William Hartmann from the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson.

In the second segment, they covered both chile peppers and the reasons southern Arizona is close to heaven for astronomers. Host Ira Flatow interviewed Adam Block from the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter and Douglas Isbell from Kitt Peak.

University of Arizona reorganization

Meetings will be going on across the UA campus during the next week to discuss the process of developing proposals for department consolidations and realignments.

University president Robert Shelton holds a town hall on Sept. 23. Dean Joaquin Ruiz will give his views on possible reorganization of the College of Science on Sept. 24 to staff with a meeting on Sept. 26 for classified and appointed staff about the continuing state budget cuts and the reorganization of the College of Science.

Herculaneum - buried by 60 feet of boiling mud and ash

After the OneGeology meetings in Rome last week, I took two days off to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum outside Naples. Both cities were destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

Pompeii was filled with ash falls and many of the residents died from poisonous gases.

Herculaneum, further west around the volcano, was filled with 60 feet of so of lahar deposits - a molten hot slurry of volcanic materials and mud

that flooded the walled city. We took the Circumvesuviana metro line to Ercolano and walked less than a kilometer down the city streets to the Herculaneum excavation. The top photo shows the old sea front of the city, with arched boat alcoves to the left. Note the vertical wall on the right is the excavated lahar deposit.

The lahar carbonized wood in the houses and buildings of the city but preserved tiles, mosaics, frescos with a freshness not found elsewhere in the old Roman Empire. The lower photo shows frescos and exquisite tile work in a Herculaneum home.

There is virtually no mention of the cause of the burial of either city in the ruins. Above Herculaneum and next door to the Pompeii ruins are modern bustling communities, forming part of the greater sprawling Naples region, all of which circle the base of this still active volcano. It last erupted in 1943 with minor ash and gases.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Grand Canyon not as old as recently claimed

Geologists Phil Pearthree and Jon Spencer from AZGS, and Jim Faulds and Kyle House from the Nevada Bureau of Mines are challenging a recent report that claimed the Grand Canyon started forming 17 million years ago. [right, National Park Service]

Tomorrow's issue of Science carries a technical comment that rebuts the interpretation of Victor Polyak and associates published last March, that used cave deposits to track water-level declines and attributed them to downcutting of the Canyon. The Polyak article received widespread attention in the geologic and general news media.

Our team determined instead that "water-table declines at these sites were more likely related to local base-level changes and Miocene regional extensional tectonics." They conclude that geologic evidence shows the Colorado River arrived in the western Grand Canyon region about 5-6 Ma.

A second critique of the Polyak interpretation is authored by Joel Pedersen and his colleagues, and raises complementary concerns.

The rebuttal by Polyak et al, comes down to them arguing that they see no absolute data that negates their interpretation, so therefore, they must be right. Not the most compelling argument, but read the whole debate yourself.

Dust devil on Mars

The Phoenix Mars Lander photographed a series of dust devils on Sept. 9. The start of a video sequence can be seen in the upper left of the photo. Follow the link below to see it move across the landscape.

According to the project Web site:

"The dust devil visible in this sequence was about 1,000 meters (about 3,300 feet) from the lander when the first frame was taken, and had moved to about 1,700 meters (about 5,600 feet) away by the time the last frame was taken about two and a half minutes later. The dust devil was moving westward at an estimated speed of 5 meters per second (11 miles per hour), which is similar to typical late-morning wind speed and direction indicated by the telltale wind gauge on Phoenix. This dust devil is about 5 meters (16 feet) in diameter. This is much smaller than dust devils that have been observed by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit much closer to the equator."

Arizona potash resource estimate released

The Arizona Geological Survey released the first calculation of potash resources in the Holbrook basin of east-central Arizona, indicating there may be more than 2 billion tons present. [right, isopach map of potash in the Holbrook basin from the report]

Calculating tonnage for the entire deposit, assuming 6% and 20% grades, as reported by exploration programs, yields 682 million metric tons to 2.27 billion metric tons, respectively.

The deposit underlies 600 square miles east of Holbrook, Arizona. The top of the potash is situated from 700 to 2000 ft below the ground surface; most of the deposit is found at about 1200 to 1300 ft deep. Maximum thickness of the potash is about 40 feet. Total volume estimates range from 5.68 to 6.45 cubic kilometers.

The report, “Potash and related resources of the Holbrook Basin, Arizona” (AZGS Open File Report 08-07) is by AZGS geologist Steve Rauzi, and is based on analysis of drill hole logs and cores. A summary of the report is in the AZGS quarterly newsletter published today that is being mailed out to 4,000+ readers, and available to read or download at our Web site.

The Arizona deposit is not currently included in the U.S. resource inventory of 6 billion tons, so could increase the national resource base by more than a third. Our release of these resource estimates comes amidst reports of potash shortages. Last week there was only 75,000 tonnes of inventory in North America at a time when there should have been 1 million tonnes, and warehouses in Port of Vancouver were described as effectively empty.

The Potash Corp. of Sasketchewan (PCS) says potash prices have more than tripled to more than $1,000 a tonne this year and inventories are at record lows. The PCS CFO said yesterday that potash producers are unable to supply 8 to 10% of world demand this year. He predicts a potash shortage for the next five years. A year ago, potash spot prices were about $200 per tonne and three years ago were in the $50-100 range.

Back from the OneGeology meeting in Rome

I'm just back from the kick-off meeting of the OneGeology-Europe (1G-E) initiative in Rome, a 29-nation project to build a continent-wide geoscience data network, comparable to the Geoscience Information Network (GIN) that AZGS is heading up in the U.S.

The project, funded by the European Union, invited me to be on their advisory board to help ensure our two networks will be integrated and interoperable. It’s pretty clear that we are in agreement on all the major concepts and directions of the two data networks. We are discussing ways to link the two projects across all the working levels. There is also a companion EU project for GIS data and capabilities, the European Spatial Data Infrastructure Network (EDSIN) run by Eurogeographics, that looks to be a great collaborator.

In a related note, we finished negotiating budget revisions and completing the standard paperwork on the NSF funding for GIN, so we got approval two days ago to launch our 3-year project. We are organizing a workshop on GIN for the GSA annual meeting in Houston, for Saturday, October 4 to expose GIN to the geoscience community and invite wider participation.

I hoped to be blogging from Italy but the pace was so busy that I could barely keep up with email let alone post about what was happening. But I did take two days after the meetings to visit the ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried by eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. When I catch up, I plan on sharing some observations and photos about this.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Phoenix Mars Lander mission to be extended, says CNN

CNN's SciTechBlog says the UA's Phoenix Mars Lander is sure to be further extended after the first extension runs out at the end of September.

The Lander is in the Martian arctic where the sun set for the first time in its mission on August 21, to rise again about half an hour later.

It's expected to continue operating until the Martian winter freezes it sometime in November.

[right, sunrise on Mars, August 25, 2008. Credit, NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University]

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Cairo landslide was expected

Dave's Landslide Blog site has a large number of photos and a description of the deadly landslide in Cairo in today: "The death toll in the rock slide at El Doweiqa in the Manshiet Nasser slum of east Cairo is slowly creeping upwards. At the time of writing it has exceeded 30 people, but unfortunately as the image [right] shows the likelihood is that it will be much higher once these huge blocks have been shifted (if ever)."

He also includes an article from the local newspaper in 2006 warning that the people who lived at the base of the slope feared they would die from a landslide that was expected. This is a powerful story about the threat of natural hazards anywhere.

I stumbled across this blog looking for news about the landslide and am amazed at the rest of the blog posts and photos Dave [Petley] has about landslides all over the world. I'm bookmarking the site.

[photo - EPA/MIKE NELSON im
age showing the displaced blocks at El Doweiqa]

USGS' Water Science for Schools one of 10 best government web sites

USGS' Water Science for Schools was selected as one of the 10 best government Web sites by Government Computer News, based on information and services delivered.

The citation said "USGS’ educational site on water, for instance, offers almost everything a student, or anyone else, would ever want to know about the wet stuff. And we mean everything.

Opinion surveys and quizzes can help visitors think further about water issues. This modest site has drawn as many as 1 million visitors a month. It’s also a communal project. Much of the material available on the site is presented in as many as 60 languages — Chinese was added recently. Volunteers did most of the translation work. With the growing scarcity of fresh water becoming a pressing issue not just for the United States, this site can be an invaluable resource not only for students but also for people worldwide."

Mining forces us to "pay attention to what our lifestyle does to the planet"

There is a thoughtful and provocative piece on mining and the Rosemont copper mine in particular at the Tucson Observer blog, entitled "Meteor Crater Caused by Humans." [thanks to Jack Caldwell at "I Think Mining" for spotting this one]

Author "Jimmy Petrol" offers three options:

Option one; follow the current American method and make the miners go dig in third-world countries, where the environmental restrictions are lesser. With this option, our backyard stays pristine(er), but the earth get dirtier overall.

Option two; dig the hole, get the copper for our new laptops and houses, pay attention to what our lifestyle does to the planet and think about it when we chose to consume. Have the effects in our face, and the mine right here where we can be sure it will be done cleanly.

Option three; mine the largest, purest copper deposit in the area; our houses. If you don't want to mine the earth for minerals, take your copper wires out of your walls, the ceiling fans and alternators and put them in a pile at the curb. If you don't want copper, you shouldn't be made to have any.

[right, land ownership map Santa Rita mountains, Augusta Resources]