Sunday, May 31, 2009

Let's not blow it again with geothermal energy

We now have the first serious potential in a generation to make geothermal energy a reality. We cannot afford to let it slip by.

Solar and wind energy seem to get most of the attention as alternative energies, but last week, President Obama announced $350 million of federal stimulus funds for geothermal energy that could be the impetus to make it a much more widely used resource.

The U.S. Dept. of Energy will allocate the funds into four strategic areas: geothermal demonstration projects ($140M); Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) research and development ($80M); innovative exploration techniques ($100M); and a National Geothermal Data System, Resource Assessment and Classification System ($30M).

The last significant federal funding for geothermal research in Arizona ended in 1983, as the nation lost interest in the years after the oil crisis of the 1970s. [right, geothermal energy potential in Arizona. Note the San Francisco volcanic field is overlooked. Credit, INEEL]

Arizona should be a major exploration target - we have some 60 plus hot springs, historic volcanism, Basin and Range crustal extension, and are surrounded by known and developed geothermal resources. But our hot springs mostly don't have the heat flow to foster electricity generation, and even geothermal heat pumps have failed to gain a foothold here because of perceptions that the environment is not conducive.

In the next few weeks, the Arizona geothermal community has the chance to put together a vision and plan to pursue federal stimulus funds for this untapped resource. It's been over a quarter century since we did it last and during that time we learned a lot more about all facets of geothermal energy, and the world is a lot different than it was then.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

'Perfect storm' set of threats to Colorado River basin

UA professor Jonathan Overpeck ("Peck") told a Congressional panel that a "perfect storm" of population growth, drought and climate change threatens residents of the Colorado Basin [right, Colorado River basin. Credit, NOAA]

Peck told the House Subcommittee on Water and Power that two solutions are needed - one is mitigating climate change through reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the other is developing the capacity to adapt to climate variability and climate change in the future, especially drought in the Southwest.

[taken in part from the UA news release]

Time-lapse video of Lake Powell drying up

Wired Magazine has compiled a set of 10 time lapse videos of natural phenomena around the world, using NASA satellite images, including Lake Powell along the Colorado River. According to the caption, "from 2000 to 2005 its water level dropped from 20 million to 8 million acre-feet, due to severe drought. Water levels have rebounded a bit, but are expected to plummet to levels even lower than those of 2005 during the next serious drought."

Court rules Colorado River must mimic natural flow

The Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff) reports a federal judge has ordered the Interior Dept. that it must operate "Glen Canyon Dam [right, credit U.S. Bur. of Reclamation] so that the Colorado River mimics natural flows, even if less electric power is produced." Currently, flow from the dam is determined principally by demands for electricity generation from customers in the Southwest.

The Grand Canyon Trust and Earthjustice had sued saying the US Fish & Wildlife Service had changed their scientific findings under political pressure, that had shown the release rates were eroding beaches and harming fish habitat.

Choose what to explore on Mars

ASU has released two new applications using Google Earth. "The first of two new features lets anyone, anywhere, recommend places on Mars to photograph with ASU's THEMIS camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter. The second new feature shows the most recent infrared images of Mars sent back to Earth from the THEMIS camera."

To suggest a place for THEMIS to photograph, viewers need two things:
Google Earth 5.0 and a file that is updated each week giving the spacecraft's Mars orbital groundtrack. Google Earth 5.0 is available at
To get the orbital track, users should go to and follow the simple steps to register.

The second new feature developed is
a new Google Earth feature called Live From Mars. It shows the latest infrared images from THEMIS as soon as the mission team at ASU receives them; look for the new feature among the Mars Gallery layers in Google Earth 5.0.
When the layer is clicked on, viewers see the Martian globe with the most recent THEMIS infrared images displayed on the surface, each flagged with a square symbol. Viewers can zoom in on each image to see details more clearly.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

More AGU student paper awards

AGU announced the names of outstanding student papers from last December's Fall Meeting, and we have one from each of the 3 state universities:


Ryan C. Porter, University of Arizona, Tucson, Crustal anisotropy in southern California: Evidence for a fossilized detachment?


Alicia Cruz-Uribe, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Ages of Sevier thrusting from
dating of metamorphic garnet using the Lu-Hf method.

Study of the Earth's Deep Interior

Chunpeng Zhao, Arizona State University, Tempe, Investigating the edges of the large low
shear velocity province in the lowermost mantle beneath the Pacific Ocean.

Gold mining claims near Quartzsite to be auctioned

A bankruptcy court has ordered the auction of 24 placer and 55 lode unpatented mining claims, and equipment at the Golconda Mine in La Paz County, Arizona, [right, credit Sheldon Good & CO] to take place in Scottsdale on July 22. They cover about 1,000 acres.

Sheldon Good & Company Auctions
is handling the auction of the La Cholla, Oro Fino and Middle Camp Gold Placer deposits and Golconda Mine. There is a current bid of $625,000 which would have to be topped to get the claims.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Did Mars lander destroy evidence of life?

Did the Phoenix Mars Landers test for organics in Martian soil actually destroy any trace of them? That's a possibility raised by researchers from NASA's Johnson Space Center and recently presented at a planetary science conference.

A short article in New Scientist magazine reports that the Lander found perchlorates in the soil. "When heated to hundreds of degrees Celsius they release a lot of oxygen, which tends to cause any nearby combustible material to burn."

"The Phoenix and Viking landers looked for organic molecules by heating soil samples to similarly high temperatures to evaporate them and analyse them in gas form. When Douglas Ming of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and colleagues tried heating organics and perchlorates like this on Earth, the resulting combustion left no trace of organics behind."

Sounds like a redesign of test techniques on future probes is in order.

[right, the sample scoop on the Lander is poised over the partially open door of the oven. Credit, NASA /JPL-Caltech /University of Arizona /Texas A&M University]

ASU team finds Great Basin lithosphere 'dripping' into mantle

The crust and uppermost mantle of a area in the Great Basin has sunk into the more fluid upper mantle beneath the Great Basin [right, credit J.D. West, Silverheels Photography] and formed a 100 km wide, 500 km tall cylindrical blob of cold material far below the surface of central Nevada, according to an article published this week in Nature Geoscience by a team of geologists led by ASU student John West and professor Matt Fouch.

The title and news release about the paper offered an evocative description of the blob 'dripping' into the mantle. The story is zooming around the web, with all the science news reporting services featuring it and the geoblogosphere diving in.

Matt Fouch is quoted as saying "lithospheric drips—sinking plumes of cold and dense lithosphere—are relatively small and transient features." Cheryl Dybas, my favorite science writer at NSF, described it thusly, "A lithospheric drip can be envisioned as honey dripping off a spoon, where an initial lithospheric blob is followed by a long tail of material."

Apparently there's been some hot discussion in recent years about the whole concept with Matt expressing doubt (solidly "anti-drip") until this new evidence came via seismic tomography, using results from the USArray deployment of broadband seismometers across the West over the past few years.

Nature Geoscience
Published online: 24 May 2009 | doi:10.1038/ngeo526
Vertical mantle flow associated with a lithospheric drip beneath the Great Basin
John D. West, Matthew J. Fouch, Jeffrey B. Roth & Linda T. Elkins-Tanton

First uranium mine in 30 years permitted in southern Utah

Australian uranium junior White Canyon Uranium announced this morning that it has been granted final approvals to mine their uranium deposits at its 100% owned Daneros Mine in southeastern Utah. [top, location of Daneros and other uranium prospects in southeastern Utah. Credit, White Canyon Uranium.]

The company' s news release said, "Final mining approvals were granted by the Bureau of Land Management and the State of Utah today, 27 May 2009, just 15 months after the company’s IPO and its listing on the Australian Stock Exchange in March 2008."

Ore from the underground operation is expected to be processed at Denison’s White Mesa Uranium Mill at Blanding, 60 miles to the east. [bottom, drilling on the Daneros ore body. Credit, White Canyon Uranium]

It's expected to be one of only a few uranium mines in the world to go into production in 2009. First production is expected by September.

I expect that mining and environmental interests will be examining this closely, given the controversy over uranium exploration in the Arizona Strip, just south of the Utah border.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Another giant solar plant to serve Phoenix area

Arizona Public Service has committed to buying electricity from a second, giant solar energy plant. The Starwood Solar I will generate 290 megawatts in the Harquahala Valley, about 75 miles west of Phoenix, and south of I-10. It will cover 1,900 acres.

The plant will use 3,500 parabolic mirrors [right, credit APS] to heat up fluids that will turn water into steam to turn the turbines. Excess heat will go into molten salt to be used to generate electricity for up to 6 hours after sundown.

APS last year agreed to take power from the Solana Generating Station, a 280-megawatt concentrating solar power plant to be built 70 miles southwest of Phoenix, near Gila Bend.

4-part series on Big Chino basin water

The Verde News today launched the first of a 4-part series on the Big Chino basin aquifer, "to explain its geology, its history, its current status and provides insights into its future."

The first installment is pretty passionate, stating "In a land of little water and few restrictions on its exploitation, The Big Chino aquifer looks remarkably like an unguarded vault." [right, Big Chino Water Ranch. Credit, City of Prescott]

One-year anniversary of Phoenix Mars Lander touchdown

The first anniversary of the Phoenix Mars Lander touching down on Mars was Monday. Although it is not much in the news since the probe stopped communicating last November, the science team continues to analyze the data acquired during the extended mission.

They report that "four science papers are currently under review at Science, and 26 more papers are being readied for submittal to the Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets."

There is even some speculation that as spring comes on Mars, warming temperatures might allow the lander to power up again.

New player makes competing offer for Asarco

It's getting harder to keep track of the Asarco bankruptcy. A third company has now offered a plan to take over the company. Reuters reports that hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners, a major holder of Asarco bonds, offered $500 million to compete with Sterlite Industries and Grupo Mexico.

The bankruptcy court judge ruled yesterday that Harbinger can submit its plan but will have to provide assurances it is not a "bottom feeder."

Harbinger is reported saying its plan is better because it lets Asarco keep the $6.87 billion judgement against Grupo Mexico made earlier this year. Harbinger lists one of its four core investment categories as "investments in companies that are already in default, in bankruptcy, or in some other stage of financial failure or distress."

The next hearing is set for June 5.

The Grand Canyon State - almost

The Arizona House today approved the state nickname to be the "Grand Canyon State," something that everyone thought was already a done deal. But although it is on our license plates and elsewhere, it had not been formally adopted. Now, the legislation goes to the State Senate, where they are not hearing bills until the FY10 budget is resolved. So, there is the chance that Arizona will continue on without a legal nickname.

Arizona Revised Statutes Title 41, Chapter 4.1, Article 5 prescribes the following as official state emblems:
State fossil: Petrified wood, or araucarioxylon arizonicum

State bird: The cactus wren, otherwise known as Coues' cactus wren or heleodytes brunneicapillus couesi (Sharpe)

State flower: The pure white waxy flower of the cereus giganteus (giant cactus) or Saguaro

State tree: The Palo Verde (genera cercidium)

State neckwear: The Bola tie

State gemstone: Turquoise

State animals: The ringtail or bassariscus astutus, the Arizona ridgenose rattlesnake or crotalus willardi, the Arizona trout or salmon apache and the Arizona tree frog or hyla eximia shall be known respectively as the state mammal, reptile, fish and amphibian

State butterfly: The papilionidae papilio multicaudata, two-tailed swallowtail

Southwest dust speeding up Rockies snowmelt by a month

The LA Times ran a story over the weekend about the increased dust storms in the West dumping more dust on the Rockies, making them darker and speeding up the spring snowmelt by as much as 35 days. [right, satellite image of dust plume off the Willcox playa, April 2004. Credit, NOAA Photo Library]

The story reports that:
Twelve dust storms barreled into the southern Rockies from the deserts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico so far this year. In contrast, four storms hit the mountains all year long in 2003. Eight occurred in each of the last three years."

The amounts of wind-blown dust in the West peaked in the 1920s, reaching seven times the historic norm. Scientists think the level of dust dropped after Congress sharply limited cattle grazing in 1934, near the height of the Dust Bowl.

Today, levels are five times the historic norm.

Climb a volcano in Arizona

The USGS fact sheet listing volcanoes to climb and picnic on, lists Arizona's Sunset Crater at the top of its list, but then notes it's a national monument and you can't climb on it. [maybe that's why the link is broken?] But, they point out, there are lots of nearby cinder cones in the San Francisco volcanic field that you can climb. They list 20 volcanoes to climb in the western U.S.

[right, SP Crater, one of the other cinder cones in the San Francisco volcanic field. Credit, USGS]

[thanks to for spotting this]

Monday, May 25, 2009

S&P worries about Asarco bid

With a bankruptcy court hearing coming tomorrow on competing offers for Asarco, Standard & Poor's repeated its concerns about the impact of the offer by Grupo Mexico subsidiary Americas Mining Corp. (AMC) will have on the companies finances. There is a detailed and somewhat complex report by posted by today.

State land deals worth half a billion fall through

The Arizona State Land department "has issued notices of default or canceled the deals on properties that sold for a total of about $554 million, according to an analysis of agency records" done by the East Valley Tribune.

A total of almost $970 million of land sales since 2003 are in default or had an extension of their loans. That's out of a record $1.84 billion in sales during that period.

The good news for the State is that they keep the down payment and all payments made up to the time of the default and the land comes back to the Land dept. [right, State trust lands are in blue. Credit, AZ State Land Dept.]

Mineral Park Mine gets aquifer permit

The copper and moly Mineral Park Mine near Chloride got their aquifer protection permit from the AZ Dept. Environmental Quality. "The permit would allow the mine to expand its open pit mine, construct a froth floatation mill, change the height of the tailing piles (leftover rock from the mining process), expand its leach dumps and construct a new storm water impoundment basin," according to the Kingman Daily Miner. [right, Mineral Park Mine construction, Nov. 2008. Credit, Mercator Minerals]

The mine owner, Mercator Minerals, says,
Currently producing approximately 1 million pounds of copper a month by SX/EX leach extraction at Mineral Park, the Company is constructing a 50,000 ton per day copper and molybdenum milling operation mill facility in a two-stage expansion at Mineral Park. Average annual copper and molybdenum production over the first ten years of a 25-year mine life is expected to increase to 56.4 million pounds of copper, 10.3 million pounds of molybdenum and 600,000 ounces of silver per year.

ADEQ twitters

The Arizona Dept. of Environmental Quality twitters. I'm impressed.

Is Arizona sustainable?

Is Arizona sustainable? That question was raised by Andrew Revkin of the NY Times dotearth blog last week, in a side story to President Obama's commencement address at ASU. [right, Phoenix. Credit,]

Revkin interviewed Charles Redman, director of the ASU sustainability program. Revkin questioned whether Arizona is sustainable, given the record of megadroughts and the state's rapid growth. I was particularly taken with Redman's answer, part of which follows:

"Arizona, to many, seems eminently unsustainable, but that is an overly simplistic (linear) view… I am often asked how there can be a city in the desert, to which I reply that is exactly where virtually all of the original cities in the world were established! The interesting precedent is that Phoenix was home to what may have been the second largest “city” in prehistoric North America (the largest I think was near East St. Louis) and the largest irrigation system north of the Andes. The conditions were just as harsh then as now. The key ingredient is that people can only be successful in this type of environment if they aggregate into larger groups and organize themselves to reduce risk and maximize control and output. In a strange way Arizona has some of the most advanced and effective water management systems largely because it is obvious that if we didn’t this place would not work at all."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Charlie Bolden good choice for NASA

Charlie Bolden [right, credit NASA] is a good choice to head up NASA, an agency that needs to rethink where it's going and how it will get there.

I meet Charlie a few times when I lived in Houston and afterwards at shuttle launches. Impressive, gracious, and respected are the qualities that first come to mind about him.

Members of his shuttle crews greatly respected his leadership. Astronauts are a competitive lot, even without the traditional cockiness of some of the military jet fighter and test pilot group. Charlie had a reputation for melding a team and keeping a variety of strong personalities working together to carry out the mission.

Those skills are going to be sorely needed in tackling the challenges facing NASA.

Protecting the planet from Martian sample contamination

The National Research Council released a report addressing the potential for living entities to be included in samples returned from Mars and the potential for large-scale effects on Earth’s environment by any returned entity released to the environment. The panel that prepared the report was chaired by ASU geoscientist Jack Farmer.

NASA maintains a planetary protection policy to avoid the forward biological contamination of other worlds by terrestrial organisms, and back biological contamination of Earth from the return of extraterrestrial materials by spaceflight missions

The report describes the status of technological measures that could be taken on a mission to prevent the inadvertent release of a returned sample into Earth’s biosphere.

Ref: Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for Mars Sample Return Missions
Committee on the Review of Planetary Protection Requirements for Mars Sample Return Missions; National Research Council, ISBN: 978-0-309-13073-8, 90 pages, 8.5 x 11, paperback (2009)

Oldest irrigation canals in Southwest uncovered in Tucson

Archeologists have uncovered a sophisticated system of irrigation canals dating back to 1,200 BC in Tucson, according to a story in The (Marana) Explorer. There are photos at the newspaper's site and at Desert Archeology, Inc, one of the contractors working on the project.

The site is named Las Capas, or The Layers, at the confluence of the Canada del Oro, Rillito Creek and Santa Cruz River. It appears the area was buried in a flood around 800 BC and never fully restored. The site is on the grounds of Pima County's Ina Road waste water treatment facility. [right, Las Capas site with "the oldest known north of central Mexico. One canal runs diagonally through the middle of this excavation area." Photo copyright Adriel Heisey. Credit, Desert Archeology, Inc.]

The story says, "archaeologists have unearthed the remains of an ancient farming community that could potentially rewrite the history of human settlement in the Southwest."

[thanks to the local blog Southwest Archeology Today for spotting this]

Friday, May 22, 2009

Top 10 new species unveiled by ASU

ASU's International Institute for Species Exploration unveiled the 'top 10' new species out of 18,516 discovered in 2007, as part of the State of Observed Species report issued yesterday.

One is a Devonian fish fossil [right] which is the oldest known vertebrate found to give live birth. From the ASU SOS report site:

Name: Materpiscis attenboroughi

Common Name: Mother Fish

Family: Ptyctodontidae

How it made the Top 10: This new species is the oldest known vertebrate to be viviparous (live bearing). The fossilized specimen is an extremely rare find, showing a mother fish giving birth approximately 380 million years ago. The holotype specimen has been nicknamed "Josie" in honor of John Long's mother, who recently passed away.

Reference: Long, J.A., K. Trinajstic, G.C. Young & T. Senden. 2008. Live birth in the Devonian period. Nature 453(7195): 650–652.

Senate to hold hearings on Resolution Copper land swap

The New York Times reports that Arizona Senator Jon Kyle lifted his hold on 4 of President Obama's nominations to DOE and Interior, as part of a deal to hold hearings on S406, the land swap bill needed to develop the Resolution Copper mine near Superior. [right, drill rig at mine site. Credit, Resolution Copper]

Thursday, May 21, 2009

House bill filed for Resolution Copper land swap

Legislation for a federal-private land swap to allow the Resolution Copper mine to go forward was introduced in the US House today by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick and Rep. Jeff Flake which is significant because she is a Democrat and represents the mine area. Mr. Flake (R-AZ) brings a bipartisan commitment to the proposal.

A Senate bill was introduced earlier co-sponsored by Jon Kyl and John McCain.

Full-scale development is held up, pending resolution of the land issues. [right, headframe #10. Credit, Resolution Copper]

Geoscience dominates on new was launched today as a catalog of Federal government data, but critics are griping that only 47 data sets (and 'non-controversial' ones at that) are included so far. The USGS provided 22 of them with others from a couple dozen other agencies. is intended to act as a central repository for federal government data, including XML, CSV, and KML files. There are raw data files and a few software tools or widgets provided. The site invites users "to actively participate in shaping the future of by suggesting additional datasets and site enhancements to provide seamless access and use of your Federal data."

Earth science factors affect desert tortoise habitat

The USGS has released a report today using a predictive modeling tool that incorporates "extensive amount of field data for desert tortoises, as well as environmental data related to landscape attributes, soil properties, annual rainfall patterns, and the influences of perennial and annual plants" to determine potentially suitable habitat for desert tortoises, to use in land use planning efforts.

[right, predicted habitat potential index values for desert tortoise]

Ref: Nussear, K.E., Esque, T.C., Inman, R.D., Gass, Leila, Thomas, K.A., Wallace, C.S.A., Blainey, J.B., Miller, D.M., and Webb, R.H., 2009, Modeling habitat of the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) in the Mojave and parts of the Sonoran Deserts of California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2009-1102, 18 p.

Increased potash production needed to avert global food shortage

Potash production must increase because "Global fertilizer use must be ramped-up to avert a permanent food crisis and world instability," according to a scary story on this morning.

Author Marc Davis quotes Bill Doyle, CEO of world-leader Potash Corp. as warning that "It appears very likely that farmers will not be able to keep pace with grain demand in 2009."

"When mixed with phosphate and nitrogen, potash makes it possible for fertilizers to boost crop yields by as much as 60%." [right, potash minerals. Credit, USGS]

The story references a report prepared for the Group of Eight nations titled "The Global Challenge: to Reduce Food Emergency", that says "global food production needs to double by 2050 to feed an additional 79 million-plus mouths each year."

A technical study by AZGS last year found that potash resources in the Holbrook basin in Arizona range from 682 million metric tons to 2.27 billion metric tons and could account for as much as one-fourth of the entire U.S. resource base. A number of companies have acquired leases over the deposit and one has filed permits to start an exploration drilling program.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hollywood meets the scientists

A new blog launched yesterday, The X-Change Files, as part of "the Science & Entertainment Exchange—a program to foster collaboration between the entertainment industry and scientists and engineers."

Science Progress describes Jennifer Ouelette's initial post as a blog that will “offer a viable alternative to troublesome stereotypes and misconceptions about scientific ideas. The Exchange broadens possibilities for science communication while helping to satisfy popular culture’s appetite for shows with science plots." Other contributors to the blog are Lawrence Krauss from the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration, producers Janet & Jerry Zucker, CSI screenwriter Matt Partney, and physicist Sidney Perkowitz.

Now, if we could only get the folks filming "Piranha 3D" at Lake Havasu to talk to this group. The movie's plot has an earthquake opening the bottom of the lake, releasing hordes of prehistoric piranha who apparently survived for millions of years under the lake bottom somehow.

Replacing gasoline and diesel with fuels from biomass and coal

A new report from the National Academies concludes that "the nation can reduce its dependence on imported oil, increase its energy security, and potentially reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by producing alternative liquid transportation fuels from domestically available resources to replace gasoline and diesel. Two abundant domestic resources with potential for producing liquid fuels are biomass and coal." Coal resources are adequate to meet national needs for 100 years, while biomass is a continuing, renewable resource.

The study found that liquid fuels from coal don't offer benefits for greenhouse gases compared to gasoline, but would be cheaper than fuels from biomass, unless costs of emissions are factored.

The report calls for immediately developing a "robust set of conversion technologies" and bringing them to commercial status.

Ref: Liquid Transportation Fuels from Coal and Biomass Technological Status, Costs, and Environmental Impacts America's Energy Future Panel on Alternative Liquid Transportation Fuels; National Academy of Sciences; National Academy of Engineering; National Research Council, ISBN: 978-0-309-13712-6, 300 pages, 6 x 9, paperback (2009)

Aeolian sand-transport data for the Grand Canyon

USGS released a new report today on data collected from 9 stations along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon:
"Aeolian sand-transport data reported here, collected in the year before the March 2008 High-Flow Experiment (HFE) at Glen Canyon Dam, represent baseline data against which the effects of the 2008 HFE on windblown sand will be compared in future reports."

Ref: USGS Open-File Report 2009-1098, 2007 Weather and Aeolian Sand-Transport Data from the Colorado River Corridor, Grand Canyon, Arizona, 110p.

Mantle degassing and groundwater quality

A new study published online in advance of coming out in the July-August GSA Bulletin that examined the groundwater system in the southern Colorado Plateau-Arizona Transition Zone region found that "groundwaters are a complex mixture of 'upper world' waters derived from rain and snowmelt with a newly recognized 'lower world' component. Helium isotope measurements of gases dissolved in spring waters indicate that a significant component of the lower world fluid comes up more than 30 miles along faults from the Earth's mantle to the surface. Also, about one third of the CO2 emitted from the springs is from deep sources."

This is an astounding relation linking mantle degassing and neotectonics to the geochemistry of groundwaters.

Ref: Plateau region -- Neotectonic connections and implications for groundwater systems, Laura J. Crossey et al., Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131, USA. GSA Bulletin, Pages 1034-1053, doi: 10.1130/B26394.1

[parts of this post were taken from the GSA media highlights release]

Area 51 and Col. Sanders

It's not quite the face on Mars, but this is the bizarre picture of the day. Mark at Sedimentary Soliloquy spotted a bright object in Google Earth in Rachel, Nevada, which he says is the closest town to the infamous Area 51. The local watering hole is named The Ale Inn if that gives you a clue.

Mark suggests KFC wants to be the first to welcome the aliens when they arrive. [right, screen shot from Google Earth]

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

NSF Graduate Research Fellowships to UA students

Karl Flessa, chair of the UA Geosciences Dept., blasted out the news this afternoon that "Four (count 'em, four!)" new NSF Graduate Research Fellowships were awarded to UA Geosciences students:

Ana Collins
Sarah Ivory
Kendra Murray
Cody Routson

Do I detect just a little bit of pride there, Karl? Congrats to all!

Arizona's outstanding student papers at AGU meeting

The following Arizona students received Outstanding Student Paper Awards at the 2008 AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco. Additional awards will be announced in the next few weeks. Awardee David Haddad worked for us at AZGS before starting graduate school at ASU.


Ryan C. Porter, University of Arizona, Tucson, Crustal anisotropy in southern California: Evidence for a fossilized detachment?

Study of the Earth's Deep Interior

Chunpeng Zhao, Arizona State University, Tempe, Investigating the edges of the large low
shear velocity province in the lowermost mantle beneath the Pacific Ocean

Ocean Sciences

Alyson Cartwright, University of Arizona, Tucson, South American pluvial lakes: Implications
for quaternary climate change


Henry D. Adams, University of Arizona, Tucson, Global change enhances vegetation vulnerability to drought: Warmer drought kills pinyon pines faster

Kyle Brown, University of Arizona, Tucson, A multi-tracer approach to determine the impacts of
agricultural irrigation recharge on groundwater sustainability in the Columbia Plateau basalt aquifers, central Washington, USA

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

Amy L. McCoy, University of Arizona, Tucson, Riparian dendrochemistry: Detecting rare-earth
elements in trees along an effluent-dominated desert river

Prafulla Pokhrel, University of Arizona, Tucson, Multiple-criteria calibration of a distributed
model using prior information

Anne M. Stewart, University of Arizona, Tucson, Use of the continuous slope-area method to
estimate runoff through ephemeral stream channels in SE Arizona

Settlement reported on old mine clean-up in Arizona

Arizona Capitol Times is reporting that Asarco and the State of Arizona have reached agreement for a $20 million clean-up of the Sacaton open pit copper mine near Casa Grande, and for a $3 million clean up of the Salero and Trench mines near Patagonia. The deal is subject to approval of the judge handling the Asarco bankruptcy. They report that Asarco "will also provide about $4 million for the restoration and maintenance of three parcels of land located along a four-mile stretch of the Lower San Pedro River, in order to safeguard water resources and protect wildlife in the area." [right, Sacaton pit. Photo by Harvey Jong. Credit, AZ Mining and Mineral Foundation]

ACT says the settlements were part of an "agreement involving ASARCO, ADEQ, the State Land Department, the Game and Fish Department, state Attorney General's Office, and the U.S. Departments of Justice and the Interior."

Ye Olde UFO

The UFO spotted over the Phoenix area on Monday really was the eponymous "weather" balloon.

The Arizona Republic reports a 4,000 pound NASA research balloon launched Sunday morning from Fort Sumter, N.M., landed Monday night south of Kingman. The balloon measured gamma ray emissions at about 130,000 feet in altitude.

But as it went over Sedona it was spotted by staff in Ye Olde UFO Store, who captured the photo at right, which they describe as looking like the bubble carrying the good witch in Wizard of Oz.

I don't which is the more fascinating part of this story - that a giant balloon created such a visual spectacle, or that there is a "Ye Olde UFO Store" in Sedona.

Science Foundation sues over state budget sweep

Science Foundation Arizona is suing the State of Arizona for breach of contract over the sweep of funds the organization had already contractually spent. SFA wants $18.5 million returned. There are a number of convolutions to the legal issues here that are well described in the Arizona Capitol Times story yesterday.

The Legislature zeroed out the Foundation's entire state funding of $22.5 million midway through the fiscal year, after much of it had been obligated.

A lot of the funding was granted to researchers at the state's universities, so the cancellation of projects that professors thought were approved, has served as a double whammy to university budgets overall.

Navajo Canyon development would cover 50,000 acres

A giant land development proposal in the Navajo Nation by Texas billionaire Red McCombs and his partner has run into opposition from three of the Tribes chapters. The developers "proposed three hotels, multiple golf courses, three casinos, thousands of residential units and an airport with berths for private jets" in the Navajo Canyon area, adjacent to Antelope Canyon, according to a story in the Durango Telegraph. Antelope Canyon is one of the most scenic spots on the reservation [right,
Tse' bighanilini at upper Antelope Canyon. Credit, Navajo Parks & Recreation Dept.]

The newspaper indicated the opposition fears there is more to the plan than has been stated so far: "There has also been speculation that McCombs and Honts were planning for more than tee boxes, slot machines and trophy homes in Navajo Canyon. The land in question is rich with oil, gas and uranium deposits, and Gamble argued that the Navajo government and the developers were discussing vague terms for the 50,000 acres."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Robots exploring smugglers tunnels

Robots using a sophisticated software are now exploring smugglers tunnels under the Arizona - Mexico border.

Idaho National Lab's Robotic Intelligence Kernel (RIK) is driving a couple of different robots in this new use. A companion story in Wired magazine says 30 tunnels have been discovered in Arizona just since 2006.

Popular Mechanics did a story last year about the primary geophysical techniques being used to discover the tunnels.

Arizona's natural arches

Six of the world's top 10 natural arches are in Utah. My copy of the Utah Geological Survey's magazine Survey Notes came in the mail today with a feature story on new standards for measuring the size of arches. At 290 feet, Landscape Arch in Arches National Park, is #1.

None of Arizona's arches make the top list but the Natural Arch and Bridge Society has done a magnificent job in compiling the most comprehensive catalog of arches and bridges in the world, with photos, maps, and histories.

NABS lists 28 natural arches in Arizona, two of them unnamed.

[right, Tonto Natural Bridge. Credit Arizona State Parks]

Vandals damage seismic station

Vandals shot up the solar power panel and ripped out the wiring for the power and communications of one of the 8 earthquake monitors that form the newly created Arizona Integrated Seismic Network. Station 113A, off I-8, east of Yuma looks like it was hit by 12-gauge small bird cartridges [right].

AZGS and IRIS staff got the station back in operation last Friday after it was offline for about 10 days.

Police are treating the damage as a felony.

Geosciences do well in NSF budget proposal

The budget for Earth Sciences in NSF will increase by 9.3% to $197M in the NSF budget proposal unveiled this morning. The Atmospheric and Geospace division will get $269M, up 10%. Thanks to AGU for forwarding these details as part of their AGU Science Legislative Alerts (ASLA):

Total NSF budget: $7.045B, +$555M or 8.5%
Total R&D spending: $5.312B, +455M or 9.4%
Basic & applied research: $4.9B, +455M or 10.2%
Climate Change Science Program (CCSP): $300M, +$80M or 36.4%

* Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences: $269.16M, +$24.56M or ten
percent (Key investments include "$12M to support new Climate Research
activity, with emphasis on advanced computation and modeling".)
o Research & Education Grants: $259.36M, +$24.76M or 10.6%
o Instrumentation: $31M, +1.38M or 4.7%
o Science & Technology Centers: $6.8M, -$1.2M or -15%
o National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center: $3M, +$1M or 50%
o National Center for Atmospheric Research: $100M, -$6.92M or -6.5%

* Earth Sciences: $196.85M, +15.85M or 9.3 percent (key investments
include $7M to NSF's new Climate Research activity; $35K will be added
to CAREER awards bring the total to $4.3M)
o Research and Education Grants: $ 183.86M, +$19.12M or 11.6%
o Instrumentation: $25.84M, +$2.24M or 9.5%
o Science and Technology Centers: $2.99M, -3.27M or -52.2%
o IRIS: $12.36M, +0.36M or 3%
o EarthScope: $25.05M, +$0.74M or 3%

* Integrative and Collaborative Education and Research: $93.92M,
+32.75M or 53.5 percent (supports novel, complex, or partnership projects
in both research and education. The "principle goals are to develop
innovative means to initiate and support geoscience education [and] attract
underrepresented groups to careers in the geosciences.")
o Research and Education Grants: $91.92M, +$32.21M or 53.9%
o Facilities (Ship Operations): $2M (no change)

Accelerating carbon capture at Cholla power plant near Holbrook

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced at the National Coal Council that funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be used to expand and accelerate the commercial deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at the Cholla Power Plant in St. Joseph, Arizona, (near Holbrook) according to a story in the Charleston (WV) Gazette. [right, Cholla plant location. Credit, Westcarb]

Arizona Public Services Modification will get $70.6 million to "permit the existing algae-based carbon mitigation project to expand testing with a coal-based gasification system. The goal is to produce fuels from domestic resources while reducing atmospheric CO2 emissions. The overall process will minimize production of carbon dioxide in the gasification process to produce a substitute natural gas (SNG) from coal. The host facility for this project is the Cholla Power Plant."

The APS Cholla project is one of "two existing industrial and innovative reuse projects, previously selected via competitive solicitations, that will be expanded to accelerate scale-up and field testing."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

UA hydrology prof debuts original rock opera

We were out of town this weekend to attend a family wedding, so we missed the premier of UA hydrology professor Hoshin Gupta's [right; photo by Maria Sans-Fuentes, courtesy UA] rock opera, "Like a Lotus Resting in Fire: The Great Dance." It was performed by dancers from Tucson's Zuzi! Dance Company, Friday through Sunday.

The UA news office says the "rock opera tells the tale of a young prince who finds himself while searching for the secret to eternal life. The show is based on a CD of the same name, available on Gupta's Web site. Tracks can also be downloaded from iTunes or Amazon."

10 years of water level changes in Lake Powell

NASA has posted a set of registered satellite images of Lake Powell from 1999 to 2009, showing dramatic changes in water levels, as part of its Earth Observatory 10th Anniversary recognition. NASA commentary states that according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, "Lake Powell’s water level hovered around 20 million acre-feet in 2000. By 2005, it had dropped to roughly 8 million acre-feet."

[Left, 1999. Right, 2008. Credit NASA]

[thanks to Kevin at The GeoChristian for spotting this]