Saturday, February 28, 2009

Coordinating geoscience in Arizona state government

Geologists from 7 Arizona state agencies gathered in Phoenix last week to talk about collaboration, cooperation, and sharing of information, on a long list of Earth science issues that are active in the state. About 20 geologists participated. Mimi Diaz, chief of the AZGS Phoenix branch organized the meeting which was hosted by the Dept. of Mines & Mineral Resources. Agencies included AZGS, ADMMR, ADEQ, Parks, ADOT, and ADWR.

Among the topics covered were:

* Carbon dioxide sequestration drilling project
* Solution mining for gas caverns (and subsequent reinjection of brine)
* Potash in Holbrook Basin
* Judging science fairs for K-12
* Earth fissures in general, and Picacho and Heaton in particular
* Expansion of the Morenci copper mine
* Rosemont issues
* Remote sensing research on mine tailings by university grad student
* Impoundments and groundwater quality
* Groundwater recharge for City of Maricopa
* Using GIS to look at subsurface hydro-geology at Kartchner Caverns
* Changes in water wells over time
* Building the Arizona Integrated Seismic Network
* Earth Fissure Education
* Geologic mapping and hazards of Havasu Canyon
* National Geologic and Geophysical Data Preservation Project
* Geoscience Information Network (GIN)

The group plans on meeting on a regular basis as a way to ensure we avoid duplication of effort and keep each other up to speed on developments and needs of each agency.

New world gravity map

A team at Technical University of Denmark (DTU) has released a new global gravity map that is highlighted as NewScientist's "picture of the day"

The map was produced by Ole Baltazar and colleagues, using satellite data.

Debate over science funding in Arizona continues

The Arizona Legislature's elimination of funding for Science Foundation Arizona "will do irreparable damage to the state's efforts to build a science-and-technology-driven economy, and amounts to blindly aborting thousands of potentially high-paying Arizona technology jobs," according to an op-ed in today's Arizona Republic by James Gentile, President and CEO of the Tucson-based Research Corp.

This follows on contradictory public statements by SFA Board Chairman Don Budinger and legislators. Budinger is quoted in multiple news stories as saying there are discussions underway to reverse the elimination of the SFA's entire state funding of $22.5 million. According to the Capitol Times, "The Legislature adopted an amendment to the budget adjustment that said the money should be swept into the general fund regardless of whether it was encumbered, though Senate President Bob Burns afterward said he would seek an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office on whether the Legislature was allowed to do so."

But Rep. Sam Crump, who has been outspoken about cutting the SFA budget to meet state shortfalls, says there are no discussions going on and the budget is a done deal.

Meanwhile, SFA released a sponsored study by Battelle Institute that found Arizona is falling behind peer states in science and technology, with employment in those areas dropping more than twice as fast in Arizona as it did nationwide as the recession began.

Potash miners in myriad merger, buyout talks

Potash miners are proposing to snap each other up in a maze of merger and buyouts that may signal the start of a major reshaping of one of the more esoteric branches of the global mining industry.

A report on notes that, "According to recent calculations by PotashCorp, it requires USD 2.8bn to finally commission a 2m tons a year potash mine from scratch, a process that takes seven years; the cost quoted excludes costs outside plant gates - rail, road networks, utility, port systems, and so on."

With the AZGS announcement last summer that Arizona holds as much as a quarter of the U.S. total potash resources, Arizona is ripe to become a serious factor in the global dynamics of what resources will be developed by what company. [right, cross section of Holbrook basin with potash layer in red. AZGS OFR 08-08-07]

Resolution Copper blog about proposed mine

Resolution Copper has launched their own blog as a forum about the proposed underground copper mine near the town of Superior. The first posts talk about the land exchange bill now before Congress, economic impact of the mine, and environmental issues.

Jobs vs environment is familiar cry at mining law hearing

The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy & Mining held a hearing in Reno on Thursday about the proposed revision of the 1872 mining law, and got an earful from both mining proponents and opponents.

In what sounds like a repeat of the debate that has echoed across the country and especially the West for the past few decades, opponents blast mining for environmental problems, past and potential. Proponents argue for the economic benefits and national security needs met by mining jobs. as usual, has a good synopsis of the hearing with pithy quotes from both sides.

[right, the stereotypical lone miner and burros, searching for gold and other minerals in the early West. Credit, Arizona Historical Foundation]

Friday, February 27, 2009

Tonto Natural Bridge state park closed due to budget

The Arizona State Parks department has closed two geology/mining related parks due to budget cuts.

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park [right, credit AZ State Parks] and Jerome Historic Park were closed last week.

Tonto Natural Bridge is 183 feet high and more than 400 feet long and reported to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. The regional chamber of commerce predicts the loss of 100,000 tourists to the area and $3.6 million in revenue.

The Jerome park preserves one of the most dynamic and colorful mining towns from Arizona's pioneer days.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Asteroid belt origin decoded by UA researchers

Two UA planetary scientists have worked out the dynamics of the early Solar System to demonstrate that the asteroid belt [right, white ring] is a result of the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn migrating, ejecting asteroids and creating a modern day asymmetry in their distribution.

David A. Minton & Renu Malhotra published a report in Nature yesterday that found "the particular pattern of missing asteroids is characteristic of the pattern of Jupiter's and Saturn's migration."

Minton said, "The patterns of depletion are like the footprints of wandering giant planets preserved in the asteroid belt."

This work confirms other studies that show the four giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) "formed in a more tightly compacted configuration, and then Jupiter moved slightly closer to the sun, while the other giant planets moved farther apart from each other and farther away from the sun."

Ref: A record of planet migration in the main asteroid belt, David A. Minton & Renu Malhotra, Nature 457, 1109-1111 (26 February 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature07778

Longtime UA Mineral Museum curator retires

Shirley Wetmore has retired from the University of Arizona Mineral Museum.

Shirley first became a volunteer at the University of Arizona Mineral Museum in 1975, and helped organize and catalog the Museum’s collection that dates back to 1891.

In 1979 she became the Curatorial Specialist, essentially assuming the duties of assistant curator, and since that time has digitized the museum records, created an Arizona mines file, expanded the education program and established loan and policy procedures. In addition she expanded the museum staff to include work study students, organized a special events program, implemented a mineral and meteorite identification service for the general public, and has designed and constructed exhibits in the Museum and at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.

[this is taken largely from a UA news release]

Why isn't USGS stimulus funding bigger?

The numbers are staggering - hundreds of millions to billions of dollars for individual programs and agencies in the federal stimulus package, yet when you look at them in comparison, it becomes evident that the USGS got small potatoes compared to others.

The USGS allocation of $140 million is to be used thusly: “The Survey should consider a wide variety of activities, including repair, construction and restoration of facilities; equipment replacement and upgrades including stream gages, seismic and volcano monitoring systems; national map activities; and other critical deferred-maintenance and improvement projects which can maximize jobs and provide lasting improvement to our Nation's science capacity.”

But when you think about the issues the USGS deals with - water, energy, natural resources, natural hazards, sustainability, climate change, and more, the question in my mind is why the agency isn't getting twice or even ten times the amount allocated.

The next director of the USGS has a challenge in enlisting the community and demonstrating to the President, the Congress, OMB, and the American public, why they should be investing more and more strategically in science for societal issues.

$100 billion in mining company debt

An analysis in finds that Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan is one of 8 mining companies that have a combined debt of $100 billion. Freeport, the world's biggest publicly-listed copper producer, has a debt-to-market-value (DMV) around 56%, which is large enough to push down the stock price substantially.

The parent companies of Arizona's Resolution Copper, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, are also among the eight.

6 million year old Grand Canyon celebrates 90 years in the park system

The Grand Canyon joined the National Park System 90 years ago today, February 26, 1919, with the signing of a bill by President Woodrow Wilson. There were a number of earlier preservation efforts. [right, credit NPS]

President Benjamin Harrison set aside the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve in 1893. President Theodore Roosevelt signed a bill that proclaimed the area the Grand Canyon Game Reserve in 1906. Then in 1908, through authority granted to him in the Antiquities Act, Roosevelt established Grand Canyon National Monument. National park status followed in 1919.

This past year, the scientific community has been hotly debating the age of the Canyon, with reports of 17 million years being hotly contested by other researchers.

And the past year has been a politically active one for the park, with Congressional and environmental concerns about uranium exploration on forest lands outside the park boundary.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Arizona digital map service

AZGS has posted a new Web mapping service that allows you to view our digital geologic maps in various browsers or software applications like Microsoft's Virtual Earth [right, 3D oblique view at the Grand Canyon], Google Earth, or ArcGIS Explorer.

Our geo-magician Ryan Clark described it on the Geologic Frothings blog this way:

At the Arizona Geological Survey, we’ve put together a map service for the geologic map of the State of Arizona. You can view it here:

AZGS Map Services: Geologic Map of Arizona

Quickly and easily view and query the map within ArcMap

Quickly and easily view and query the map within ArcMap

In the future we’ll be putting together more and more of these services, and including with them more information – photos, field notes, descriptions of important contacts and structures, etc. Perhaps the most intriguing part of all this though, is how easy it is to create these map services. If you have a functioning web server and have access to ArcGIS Server, then you have absolutely no excuse not to start figuring out how to use it. If you don’t have a web server or ArcGIS Server, well, stay tuned, because the AZGS is also working on putting together a software package, or “stack”, of entirely free, open-source applications that do very similar things to what ArcGIS Server can do. Our goal is to make it possible for everyone to begin exchanging maps and data using map services.

We ran a live demo using the free ArcGIS Explorer software this morning at the ESRI Petroleum User Group meeting in Houston, and got great response. As part of the Geoscience Information Network, we'll be working with other state geologic surveys over the next few months to get this capability installed and used widely.

Magnificent cave discovery on Arizona Strip

There are 100+ photos posted at the Jon Jasper's Adventure Page of the first exploration last summer of the Kypet cave at an unmarked location in the Arizona Strip. They tell a fantastic story of exploration and preservation.

Earth fissure maps released for Picacho, Heaton, Wintersburg

The AZGS and the Arizona Dept. of Real Estate issued new Earth fissure maps for the Picacho, Heaton and Wintersburg study areas today. We will also publish a revised map for the Luke area. ADRE hosts the Earth Fissure Viewer which offers interactive digital maps while AZGS will host pdfs and GIS shape files.

The Picacho area has by far the most fissures of any area in the state, but the extent of the fissuring is surprising. Project manager Todd Shipman says the area contains about 2/3 of all the fissures in the state. The map includes 44,712 meters of continuous fissures (approximately 28 miles); 23,958 meters of discontinuous fissures (15 miles) and 128,851 meters of reported, unconfirmed fissures (over 80 miles). [right, aerial photo of fissure that crosses I-10 in the Picacho basin]

Sunday, February 22, 2009

To flow or not to flow, the Grand Canyon is in the crosshairs

There is an extensive story in today’s Arizona Republic on the long simmering debate over using the Colorado River as a power source and letting the river flow free.

A new fight erupted in January when a memo from the superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park became public. He claimed that science was disregarded in last years flow release from Glen Canyon and the environmental analysis the worst he’s seen. Environmental groups claim interference by the power generators who use the water to make electricity. [right, jet tubes during high flow experiment. Credit USBR]

In the next weeks the power interests are expected to issue a report on the ecological footprint of Glen Canyon Dam that should show that hydroelectric power is more benign than other power sources.

The Grand Canyon Trust is reviewing a report that is reported to show consumers would pay only 5-15 cents a month more to manage the dam in a way to better protect the canyon.

National Climate Service

Climate and atmospheric scientists are pushing for creation of a National Climate Service that would bring together records, data, and forecasts from a variety of research groups and agencies to make climate change predictions for large areas over months and years, according to a report in Nature.

New NOAA director Jane Lubchenco support the concept during her Senate confirmation hearings and a report from a workshop last June recommends that NOAA tie weather and climate services together as part of an NCS. The report will be presented to NOAA's science advisory board at a meeting on 10 March where they are expected to decide whether to accept it.

Some of the programs or offices mentioned as being part of an NCS are NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, NOAA's Climate Program Office, USGS stream flow data program, and the US Department of Agriculture snowpack melt monitoring program.

The idea for a climate service goes back 30 years but a bill to implement died in the Senate last year. Estimates to run NCS are $500 million per year, twice what NOAA spends on climate activities now, and could match the National Weather Service costs of $800 million per year.

Group claims attacks on two Tucson women to halt mining and animal research

A group calling itself Tucson H.A.A.N.D! (Hooligans Attack At Night Duh!) posted an announcement online last night that they vandalized the home of a UA professor of medicine and the car of a manager of the Rosemont Copper mine.

They call the UA prof a 'vivisector' who performs research on rhesus monkeys and say they shut off the water to her home and filled the utility box with concrete. The group posted the profs work address, phone, and email but the sponsoring site removed her home address and phone number.

They also say they went after Rosemont Copper's Director of Environmental & Regulatory Affairs to oppose development of the proposed mine, by slashing a tire (presumably on her car at home).

Opposition to the copper mine is increasing in intensity. Last Tuesday, about 30 members of Earth First protested outside the Federal building in downtown Tucson against the mine and for a ban on new mining in national forests.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Evidence for hot springs from UA's HiRISE Mars camera

Images from the UA's HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are the basis of a new scientific report described in Science Daily that shows "structures in Vernal Crater that appear to have arisen as part of a major area of ancient spring activity. The data suggest that the southern part of Vernal Crater has experienced episodes of water flow from underground to the surface and may be a site where martian life could have developed."

Because hot springs on Earth are excellent locales for organisms, similar features on Mars may be prime areas to explore for traces of life that may have existed there. [right, possible hydrothermal features in Vernal Crater. Credit, NASA/JPL-CalTech]

Carlton C. Allen and Dorothy Z. Oehler, A Case for Ancient Springs in Arabia Terra, Mars, Astrobiology, 2008; 8 (6): 1093 DOI: 10.1089/ast.2008.0239

Jupiter, Saturn missions have strong Arizona links

NASA and the European Space Agency are going forward with both outer planet exploration missions that were presented at a competitive review at ASU last month. Arizona scientists (including Jonathan Lunine at UA and Ron Greely at ASU) are key players in each mission.

The Europa Jupiter System Mission was found to be more technically feasible to launch first and it will be followed by the Titan Saturn System Mission.

The Europa Jupiter System Mission would use two robotic orbiters to conduct detailed studies of the giant gaseous planet Jupiter and its moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. NASA would build one orbiter, initially named Jupiter Europa. ESA would build the other orbiter, initially named Jupiter Ganymede. The probes would launch in 2020 on two separate launch vehicles from different launch sites. The orbiters would reach the Jupiter system in 2026 and spend at least three years conducting research.

Europa has a surface of ice, and scientists theorize it has an ocean of water beneath that could provide a home for living things. Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, is the only moon known to have its own internally generated magnetic field and is suspected to have a deep undersurface water ocean.

The orbiters would spend nearly a year orbiting Europa and Ganymede. NASA's probe would investigate whether Europa might harbor life, and ESA's spacecraft would orbit Ganymede to conduct investigations of the surface and interior of this satellite, to better understand the formation and evolution of the Jovian system.

I worked on the Voyager project in 1979-80 and published some of the early interpretations of the tectonics of Ganymede, and it continues to fascinate me, so I'm personally excited about this decision.

The Titan Saturn System Mission would consist of a NASA orbiter and an ESA lander and research balloon.

[Parts of this post are taken from the NASA press release]

Arizona is fastest warming state

The Arizona Legislature is considering pulling the state out of a regional coalition of states to limit greenhouse gas emissions. At the hearing last week on House Bill 2467, Arizona's leading climate expert (and my old classmate) Jonathan Overpeck warned that Phoenix temperatures could routinely reach 130 F later this century, the Colorado River flows are likely to drop by 20% by 2050, and Arizona will warm and dry up faster than any other state. He spoke against the bill. [right, Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. Predictions are that there is 30% chance the lake could go dry by 2050]

Friday, February 20, 2009

Phoenix Mars Lander Team Wins Swigert Award for Space Exploration

The Space Foundation has awarded its 2009 John L. "Jack" Swigert, Jr., Award [below] for Space Exploration to NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander team "in recognition of the technical developments that led to one of the most startling and meaningful discoveries of the new millennium." The award will be presented at the foundation's 25th National Space Symposium to be held in Colorado Springs, Colo., on March 30.

The team that designed, developed, landed and operated the Phoenix Mars Lander was a collaboration of the UA; NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Lockheed Martin Space Systems; the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Germany's Max Planck Institute; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

The award also recognizes the management of the program. This is the first NASA mission to employ a management structure with a single lead scientist from an academic institution, the University of Arizona.

[Much of this post is taken from a press release by Lori Stiles at UA]

Phoenix Lander may have seen first liquid water on Mars

A presentation to be given at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston next month argues that mysterious blotches [right, credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute] that appeared on the Phoenix Mars Lander legs shortly after it landed, and grew in size over the ensuing weeks, may have been the first liquid water ever seen on Mars.

Thanks to NewScientist which has a good analysis of the report and comments from other planetary scientists.

Natural gas storage in Picacho basin salt deposits

Companies have been looking at the Picacho basin between Tucson and Phoenix for a number of years as an attractive place to develop giant caverns in underground salt deposits to storage natural gas for use in Arizona during peak demand periods. Today's Arizona Daily Star carried a front page headline describing a proposal by Houston-based Multifuels LP for $220 million project. [right, illustration of natural gas storage in salt caverns. Credit, DOE-EIA]

In 2005, Unocal and El Paso Natural Gas drilled three stratigraphic holes in the Picacho basin to investigate the feasibility of storing natural gas in deep subsurface salt. Unocal drilled the 1-27 Mesa in Sec 27-T7S-R8E to a total depth of 4,895 ft in February. El Paso drilled the 1-20 State in Sec 20-T7S-R8E to a total depth of 3,316 ft in August and the 1-11 State in Sec 11-T7S-R8E to a total depth of 3,170 ft in September. All three stratigraphic wells were plugged. The three wells indicated a sufficient volume of subsurface salt for storing natural gas.

In October 2006, El Paso drilled a third stratigraphic hole, the 1-21 AGS in Sec 21-T7S-R8E, to a total depth of 8,784 ft to collect information about subsurface units below the salt. The 1-21 AGS is temporarily abandoned pending additional analysis.

Three drill-stem tests in the Humble (now Exxon) hole in Sec 2-T8S-R8E indicated chlorides ranging in concentration from 89,000-113,000 ppm in conglomerates at depths of 8640-8840 ft. Humble reported evaporites, mostly anhydrite, at depths from 1700 to 8500 ft. This hole is about four miles east of Eloy. That concentration is 2-3 times the salinity of seawater.

There are bills in the Arizona Legislature this session that would exempt brine disposal wells for natural gas storage projects in salt from the ADEQ aquifer protection program. Current law requires all groundwater, regardless of quality or salinity, to be treated as drinking water sources. The brine wells would still have to meet EPA requirements and Clean Drinking Water standards.

[AZGS Oil & Gas Administrator Steve Rauzi contributed to this post.]

Continuous core of Colorado Plateau early Mesozoic planned

The Colorado Plateau Coring Project (
CPCP) plans on continuously core the early Mesozoic strata on and off the Colorado Plateau [right, Painted Desert, AZ. Credit CPCP] as part of the International Scientific Drilling Program. The goal is to address "major, outstanding issues of early Mesozoic chronology, paleogeography, paleoclimate, and biotic evolution, including mass extinctions, that are relevant to the themes of interactions between environmental change and major events in the history of life, as well as the context for understanding anthropogenic climate and biodiversity crises."

A workshop is being held in Albuquerque May 8-11 for researchers interested in planning the drilling program. Ron Blakey of Northern Arizona Univ. is one of the workshop convenors.

Historic preservation of Iron King mine & Humboldt smelter?

EPA officials working on the Superfund cleanup of the Iron King Mine and Humboldt smelter have urged the community of Humboldt to turn the facilities into historic landmarks, according to the Dewey Courier. The paper says "A recent EPA report says the mine has ruins of an historic homestead, a mix of modern and historic architecture, and remains of recently demolished historic buildings. It also has an historic gravesite. The smelter, which began operations in the early 1900s before shutting down in the mid-20th century, contains prehistoric artifacts as well as historic mining and railroad features."

EPA said they don't want to level the stack because of its historical significance. But they are running an ambient air sampling program to evaluate possible contaminants from the mine's tailings pile. [right, undated historical view of smelter. Credit, ADEQ]

Moab tailings to be moved from Colorado River

The 16 million tons of radioactive tailings sitting in the Colorado River floodplain at Moab Utah will be moved by rail to a permanent site 30 miles away beginning this spring. [right, view southwest over tailings and Colorado River. Credit, Moab UMTRA]

The tailings came from a nearby Cold War-era uranium mill that processed the ore from local deposits during the 1950s. Initially, plans were to cap the tailings in place because of the high costs of moving them away from the river. But when I was State Geologist of Utah in the 1990s we reviewed the studies and recognized that no one had noted that the tailings pile lay on the outside bend of the Colorado River where natural processes could eventually erode away not only the cap but the tailings themselves, possibly sending them into a water supply for much of the West. That and other concerns (such as liquefaction during an earthquake) forced the decision to relocate the tailings.

Abandoned mine cleanup funded in stimulus bill

Cleaning up abandoned mine lands is one of the targets of more than $1.5 billion of economic stimulus funds provided to BLM, US Forest Service, and National Park Service but there are no guarantees that any of the money will be spent to clean up mines. Other projects, such as maintenance, construction, and trail repairs are also eligible to use the funds.

One report says the 3 agencies spent a total of $25 million on abandoned mine cleanup in the last fiscal year. EPA estimates cleaning up all the abandoned hardrock mines would cost as much as $50 billion.

The stimulus bill says priority for funds go to projects that generate jobs. Our State Mine Inspector, Joe Hart, identified 23 mine sites with 81 openings on short notice in December that could be readily closed in the next 24 months for a cost of $810,000. Overall there are 80,000 abandoned openings in Arizona, second only to Nevada's 200,000. I bet there are many more that could be added to the short list pretty quickly. [right, Tyro Mill cleanup near Bullhead City. Credit, USFS]

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hydrothermal ore deposits from anomalous metals-rich fluids

A recent issue of Science includes an important study about hydrothermal ore deposits, that concludes "ore formation is linked to influx of anomalously metal-rich fluids into systems dominated by barren fluids for much of their life."

This contrasts with the interpretation that many standard crustal fluids can become viable ore fluids under "the right perturbations in physiochemical conditions" and produce ore deposits.

Reference: , Jamie J. Wilkinson, Barry Stoffell, Clara C. Wilkinson, Teresa E. Jeffries, and Martin S. Appold, Science 6 February 2009: Vol. 323. no. 5915, pp. 764 - 767, DOI: 10.1126/science.1164436

Southern Arizona science fair faces economic challenges

The SciEnTeK-12 Foundation, which runs the highly popular and internationally prominent Southern Arizona Regional Science & Engineering Fair (SARSEF) each year, is dealing with possible reductions in sponsorship that could threaten programs, especially the science fair for middle schools.

Typically, 1400 or so students enter into the SARSEF at the Tucson Convention Center each November. This region is one of the most competitive in the nation in sending finalists to national and international competitions.

I met with the SciEnTeK-12 Board of Directors tonight to talk about COPUS and the Year of Science 2009 and heard that financial contributributions are down at the local and national level due to the economic crisis. What a diverse and dynamic group of educators, scientists, students, community leaders, parents and ordinary citizens! These folks are dedicated, enthusiastic, and having fun. And are they proud of what Arizona students can do. Which is why they are so concerned that the funds may not be coming forth to fully continue a program they love so much and has such an impact on our students.

Intel is continuing sponsorship at the national high school level, as is the Discovery Channel for national elementary level, but there is no national sponsor for the middle school events.

In Tucson, the Foundation is still seeking as much as half their needed funding for the year. Dig deep, Arizona, and help out.

Staggering numbers on economic value of U.S. mineral production

The Mineral Commodities Summary 2009 released by the USGS, reveals some incredible numbers on the economic impacts of nonfuel mineral production in this country.

In 2008 the domestic mineral raw materials from mining were worth $71.2 billion. In addition we recycled $23 billion of metals and mineral products (aluminum, steel, glass, etc). We also had net exports of old scrap of $15.1 billion. Processing those mineral materials domestically produced $609 billion. Add to that $46 billion of net imports of processed mineral materials that then all went to create $2,278 billion worth of value-added gross domestic product by major industries that consume processed mineral materials, equal to about 16% of the nation's total GDP.

The total economic impact nationally reaches $14,300 billion. [photo credit, Asarco]

Restricted Congressional reports now online

Approximately 1,000 reports from the Congressional Research Service are now available online at

These reports are restricted from being made public unlike those from the Congressional Budget Office or General Accounting Office.

The CRS reports cover every issue that Congress may be dealing with so there are a number covering science issues. Here are a few I spotted among the most recent:
Thanks to AAAS Policy Alerts for noting this.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

UA suspends work on Science Center, State Museum

Citing uncertain economic conditions, the University of Arizona today suspended further work on the planned $130 million Science Center and State Museum as part of Tucson's Rio Nuevo project, according to the Tucson Citizen. The University expected $65 million from a bond issue this summer and another $60 million in reimbursements in 2014.

Arizona's share of stimulus funds

The first breakdown of stimulus funds for Arizona came across my screen this afternoon. The entire list is at the Democratic Policy Committee site.

Some of the funding items that are of most interest to the geoscience community include:

Infrastructure and science:
• $55.8 million through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to address the
backlog of drinking water infrastructure needs
• $26.9 million through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to address the
backlog of clean water infrastructure needs
• $522 million in Highway Funding to be used on activities eligible under the Federalaid
Highway Program’s Surface Transportation Program and could also include rail and
port infrastructure activities at the discretion of the states

Arizona’s Energy - investments in areas critical to the development of clean, efficient, American energy, including modernizing energy transmission, and research and development of renewable energy technologies.
• $54.7 million through the State Energy Program

The single largest item is "$803.5 million through the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund to local school districts and public colleges and universities in addition to incentive grants as a reward for
meeting key education performance measures and additional funding for other high priority
needs such as public safety and other critical services, which may include education."

It's not entirely clear what this means, but it seems like it could help cover much of the state budget shortfalls for education.

Additonal information is coming from all directions. Federal guidance and websites:

  • OMB releases first guidance on the Recovery Act:
  • The Department of Education has created a specific ARRA web page:

  • The web site ( is now live.
The National Governor’s Association (NGA) is working on an “implementation memo” to brief governors’ with this weekend at their winter meeting. In addition, the word is that within the next few days Federal OMB will be providing some guidance to the federal agencies and to states.

When will copper prices rebound? reprints an extensive analysis of the copper markets by Bloomsbury Minerals Economics that looks at major copper projects being put on hold or delayed worldwide to conclude that 2009 will be a year of significant stockpiles of copper. They calculate shortages developing in 2010 and getting larger in 2011, which will push prices higher.

However, read the comments section and see that others are pointing out errors or omissions in the report, meaning that more production is going forward than reported. So, don't hold your breath on a copper resurgence any time soon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Arizona #1 in nonfuel mineral production in 2008

For the 4th year in a row, Arizona was the number one producing state in the nation for non-fuel minerals, with a value of $7.84 billion, or 11.02% of the nation's total. Primary products were copper, molybdenum concentrates, sand and gravel (construction), cement (portland), and stone (crushed). Nevada was #2 with production of $6.48 billion.

Domestic mine production of copper in 2008 increased nationally by about 12% to 1.3 million tons and its value rose to about $9.4 billion. Arizona produces about 60% of the copper mined in the U.S.

I'm reading the report tonight and will post more on the overall results of the 2008 review and economic impact.

Phoenix Mars Lander post-mortem

The Phoenix Mars Lander “fell well short of [its] ambitious goals, largely because Mars failed to cooperate” but the planetary science community still believes the mission has been worthwhile. [right, credit NASA-JPL/UA]

In a mission review (“Phoenix Rose Again, But Not All Worked Out as Planned”), Richard Kerr of Science magazine, concludes that “harrowing accounts of balky equipment, frustratingly sticky soil samples, and terminal hypothermia, and it was hard to remember why NASA sent Phoenix to Mars in the first place: to try to decipher the history of water and to see whether, at some point in that history, liquid water could have let martian life bloom.”

The inlet doors of one of Phoenix’s principal instruments, the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA), wouldn't open fully. Although the TEGA team had found the problem early, they “missed several opportunities to ensure that it had been corrected.” As a result, “operators managed to fill only five of TEGA's eight single-use analysis chambers, none with the desired amount of ice.”

But planetary scientists say that Phoenix’s discovery of a diversity of chemical processes operating in a moderate pH and low saltiness environment provided great information about the habitability of the planet.

ASU grad student gets AGU award

ASU grad student David Haddad is a 2008 AGU Fall Meeting Outstanding Student Paper Award Recipient (Hydrology Section). David worked here at AZGS after graduation and before starting grad school.

Thanks to David's advisor, Ramon Arrowsmith, for blogging about this.

David E. Haddad, Arizona State University, Tempe, Investigation of the geologic setting and geomorphic processes that control the formation and preservation of precarious rock zones, Eos Trans. AGU, 89(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract H51D-0838.

Delay, questions plague UA science center

The University of Arizona is proposing to slow construction of the proposed science center, which is intended to be one of the show pieces of the Tucson Rio Nuevo development. The Arizona Republic reports today that UA officials told city officials that the university's budget cuts the state budget cuts are responsible.

This comes just a day after the Tucson Citizen ran a lengthy investigative report that the city will conduct an internal review of payments to UA for the science center. The audit is a result of pressure from the state legislature according to city manager Mike Hein. That body is considering cancelling the taxing district that funds the Rio Nuevo project.

On top of that the Citizen reports that "Tucson Finance Director Frank Abeyta had ordered an audit of city payments to UA and of the outstanding bills for the Science Center," which was cancelled by Hein the same day. The following day, Abeyta ordered a halt to payment of all bills to UA then quit, after being in the job only four months.

The debate appears to be over differences in what are allowable expenses under city rules and university rules.

Rep. Giffords' forum on stimulus for science & technology

More than 300 people, including cameras and reporters from every major news outlet in the region, packed into the UA Student Union yesterday to hear Rep. Gabrielle Giffords report on the newly passed stimulus bill's impacts on science, technology, and energy. This was the first of four such forums covering different aspects of the economic plan that will be held in coming days. Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup and Arizona Technology Council CEO Stephen Zylstra also spoke.

Giffords ran rapidly through a set of powerpoint slides that are now posted on her congressional website.

One of her slides described the distribution of S&T funds as through competitive grants, tax incentives for individuals and businesses, and federal agency operating and spending plans.

It appears there are opportunities here for the scientific community to work with the cognizant federal agencies here to help decide on how these funds will be programmed and spent.

Is nuclear energy renewable?

A bill in the Arizona House would redefine renewable energy to include nuclear power. HB2623, introduced by Rep. Lucy Mason, chair of the House Water and Energy Committee, would also give the Legislature exclusive power to establish statewide renewable energy policy, an authority of the Arizona Corporation Commission at present.

ACC commissioner Paul Newman published an op-ed in today's Arizona Daily Star in opposition to bill, arguing that Arizona should not be the first state in the nation to declare nuclear is renewable. [right, Palo Verder Nuclear Generating Station, west of Phoenix. Credit, Nuclear Regulatory Commission]

AGI lists geoscience-related investments in the stimulus package

The American Geological Institute, through its Government Affairs Program, distributed a summary of the geoscience-related appropriations in the economic stimulus bill. The basic list below gives the one-time amounts that in general should be available to the federal agencies until September 30, 2010 (end of that fiscal year) but you should read the AGI report for more details on each program. Even with that, the descriptions are surprisingly vague.

For example, the USGS language says, “The Survey should consider a wide variety of activities, including repair, construction and restoration of facilities; equipment replacement and upgrades including stream gages, seismic and volcano monitoring systems; national map activities; and other critical deferred-maintenance and improvement projects which can maximize jobs and provide lasting improvement to our Nation's science capacity.”

The flexibility given most agencies means that Earth science community should be weighing in with advice and recommendations on effectively implementing these short term investments to make the most of them.

National Science Foundation (NSF): $3 billion
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): $1 billion
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): $1 billion
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST): $580 million
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE): $4.6 billion
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): $7.22 billion
Smithsonian: $25 million

Department of the Interior
*U.S. Geological Survey (USGS): $140 million
*Bureau of Land Management (BLM): $320 million
*Bureau of Reclamation (BR): $1 billion

Department of Agriculture
*Agricultural Research Services: $176 million
*Natural Resources Conservation Service: $290 million
*Watershed Rehabilitation Program: $50 million

Department of Energy (DOE)
*Office of Science: $2 billion
*Office of Fossil Energy: $3.4 billion
*Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: $16.8 billion
*Non-defense Environmental Clean-up: $483 million
*Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning: $390 million

Department of Education
*Education for the Disadvantaged: $13 billion
*School Improvement Programs: $720 million
*Special Education: $12.2 billion
*Teacher Incentive Fund: $200 million
*Student Financial Assistance: $15.84 billion
*Higher Education: $100 million

Small miners decry mining law proposal

A major revision of the 1872 Mining Law will make mining so expensive that only the world’s largest companies will be able to continue, according to complaints coming from small and medium sized miners circulating online. But the large companies are also raising objections to the bill.

HR 699 makes three significant changes in the existing law. The provision to make new patented mining claims will be eliminated. A royalty of 8% will be imposed on all minerals extracted from any new mining claim and 4% on existing claims. And extensive application procedures will be added along with new environmental and reclamation procedures imposed.

Many in the mining industry have earlier expressed willingness to accept royalties on net proceeds, with revenues being used for abandoned mine reclamation, similar to the requirements on the coal industry.

[right, credit Asarco]

Monday, February 16, 2009

How deep is Montezuma Well?

Even the National Park Service's web site for Montezuma Well sinkhole [right, credit NPS] in the Montezuma Castle National Monument lists the depth of water as 55 feet. But an article in the Verde News last week pulls together a fascinating history of the Well's exploration, starting in 1873 and culminating with the 2006 NPS research project that found the real bottom and the source of the water that keeps the 368-foot diameter feature full. Most reports describe a roiling soft slimy silty 'bottom' of the sinkhole at 55 feet.

According to reporter Steve Ayers, the NPS expedition in 2006 found that the supposed bottom is really a layer of fluidized sand in suspension, held in place by the pressure of groundwater coming up from two vents (fractures) in the bedrock. The solid bottom of the Well is at 124 feet depth at the west vent while the east vent is only at 74 feet. The NPS dive team lowered a camera 40 feet into the west vent.

Opponents claim Big Chino water pumping will affect Verde River

Last week, experts for opponents to Prescott's plan to pump groundwater from the Big Chino Water Ranch, challenged the city's position and calculated that pumping would draw down the aquifer by 600-700 feet over the next 100 years, which they predicted would affect springs that feed the upper Verde River, according to the latest coverage by the Prescott Daily Courier.

The opponents groundwater model covers 720 square miles of the Big Chino sub-basin, a much larger area than the city of Prescott's model over 220 square miles.

The Daily Courier reports go into great detail, not only on the technical issues involved, but the legal wrangling over what information is allowed to be brought forward.

Some of the controversy surrounds opponents use of materials and experts apparently provided by the Salt River Project which is not a party to the hearing

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Kilo-post milestone

In the midst of blogging tonight, I crossed the 1,000th posting mark.

I started this blog on January 1, 2007 and completed that year with 101 posts. But in 2008, my blogging increased dramatically, with 774 posts for the year. I'm maintaining that level in 2009 so far.

It wasn't until March of 2008 that I signed up for the Blogspot analytics so the statistics are for only the past 11 months. It's interesting to see what the top ten posts were during this past year:

1. AAPG meeting: 6 figure starting salaries for geologists
2. Grand Canyon flood
3. Arizona Tellurium rush
4. Wall Arch collapses in Arches National Park
5. Identifying the mystery rock
6. Is it time to buy a gold mine in Arizona?
7. Grand Canyon not as old as recent reports claim
8. Grand Canyon web cam
9. Havasu Canyon restoration costs estimated
10. Geology salaries up 35% in 3 years

I'm obviously enjoying this and it's heartening to see the number of readers continuing to increase. And I'm surprised quite often by people who tell me they read this blog. It's not just other Arizona geologists as I initially expected, but folks who follow a wide range of natural history of the area, including some reporters who monitor this site looking for news stories.

It's been fun too, to meet other geobloggers and see this community grow and evolve. But enough ruminating. There are other posts I need to get working on.

Mineral oddities at TGMS

There truly were some bizarre mineral oddities on display at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show this year. At right is a shoe encrusted in gypsum from Australia. Scuttlebutt is that it was found in a mine.

One highly popular exhibit was a dining room table [below] seemingly filled with a major feast. However, all of the 'foods' were actually rocks collected since 1949 that look like a wide variety of foodstuffs: bread, potatoes, pie, beans, rolls, roast chicken, and even an ice cream bar.

Balloon weather in Tucson

It was brisk at sunrise this morning and as the first rays came over the Rincons, two hot air balloons rose smoothly over Tumamoc Hill on the west side of Tucson. I watched as they headed west over the Tucson Mountains where we live and they passed in tandem just along the ridge behind the house.