Friday, July 31, 2009

Zoellner uranium talk at AGS meeting

Author and Tucson native, Tom Zoellner, will give a lecture titled "Uranium Since the Middle Ages and the Atomic Legacy of the West" at 8:00 PM on Tuesday, September 1 at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel on the southeast corner of Campbell and Speedway. This lecture is based on his recent book Uranium, War, Energy and the Rock that Reshaped the World, published by Viking Penguin.

Antigone Books on 4th St. has arranged for a book signing before and after the lecture. He will also be signing copies of "The Heartless Stone: a Journey through the world of diamonds, deceit and desire."

Mr. Zoellner has discussed his books on numerous national TV shows, including The Daily Show.

The lecture will be part of a dinner meeting of the Arizona Geological Society. There is no cost to attend the talk, but if you wish to join the Society for dinner, reservations must be made at (520) 663-5295 before August 28. The cost for dinner for non-members is $27.

Mr. Zoellner will be signing books from 6 to 7 PM and after 9 PM.

A few reviews of Mr. Zoellner's recent books:

"Part history and part travel narrative, the book presents the atomic age not through its scientists or grand strategists, but through its raw material..." - New York Times

"Zoellner vividly conveys both the potential benefits and the harm that uranium holds for human civilization...Policymakers and citizens alike need to read Uranium." - The Washington Post

"In this fine piece of journalism, Zoellner does for uranium what he did for diamonds in The Heartless Stone­he delves into the complex science, politics and history of this radioactive mineral, which presents the best and worst of mankind." - ­Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Tom Zoellner has written a stunning book about he calls the "apocalyptic pull of uranium." His reportage reads like a detective story with a cast of characters ranging from H.G. Wells to Robert Oppenheimer to A. Q. Khan. His writing is at once lyrical, historically informative and deeply investigative. Zoellner's engrossing history of uranium is a formidable achievement."
­Kai Bird, co-author of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 2006

[this post is taken from the announcement by Bob Kamilli, Program Chair for AGS]

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Freeport's plans to restart Colorado Climax moly mine still on hold

Phoenix-based Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold's plans are still on hold for reopening their Climax molybdenum mine in Colorado [right. Credit Ken Lund, Creative Commons]. Fred Menzer, the company's VP for Colorado operations told a meeting of the Summit County Rotary Club that Freeport has spent $200 million since announcing plans two years ago to re-open the mine, but another $350 million is needed to bring that to fruitionm, as reported in the Summit Daily News.

The Climax Mine is regarded as one of the premier moly deposits in the world but the price drop of last year from $30 to $8 per pound brought progress to a halt, although moly prices are now in the $8 - 14 per pound range.

Digging in to Bisbee's mining heritage

The Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum's new permanent exhibit, “Digging In: Bisbee’s Mineral Heritage,” received the Governor’s Award for Arizona Preservation from the Arizona Office of Tourism and the Award of Merit for Leadership in History from the American Association of State & Local History, according to the Sierra Vista Herald. The new exhibit was created by the Smithsonian Institution.

Bisbee and Sierra Vista residents get free admission during August.

Psst, wanna buy Kartchner Caverns?

While the national news media is mostly talking about Arizona considering selling off its state buildings, including the Capitol, there is a report that Kartchner Caverns State Park is also on the list, with a reputed sale price of $10.5 million. The Arizona Republic says there are 32 properties on the list and identify 10 of them, including prisons, hospitals, and office buildings but they say nothing specifically about Kartchner Caverns. [right, credit Arizona State Parks]

Bob Casavant, a geologist and chief science advisor in State Parks, was in Texas last week, meeting with world cave experts. He reports that Kartchner is considered the world leader in management of a living cave system.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Where are all the economic geologists?

An important article in the new issue of GSA Today asks the critical question, "Could we be facing the collapse of the science that underpins the long-term supply and stewardship of the mineral resources on which our nation depends?"

The answer, from authors Murray Hitzman, John Dilles, Mark Barton (Univ. Arizona), and Maeve Boland, is a pretty compelling, 'yes' with concerns that we are facing an impending national crisis.

[right, raw material consumption has grown even as the number of economic geology as a percentage of geoscience faculty has declined. Credit, GSA Today]

They conclude that there "There is no consensus among federal and state agencies, the
mining industry, and the U.S. academic community regarding the importance of economic geology to future U.S. competitiveness," and call for a national dialogue among all the parties to develop a new strategy.

Sedona UFO traffic report

UFO reports from Sedona aren't as rare as you might expect. But this spinning object is certainly different than others I've seen photographed. It looks like some kind of computer icon that spins while you wait for something to download.

EIS to start on giant solar energy plant near Buckeye

The BLM is starting the EIS process for a solar power center near Buckeye, west of Phoenix. The 375-megawatt facility will cover 4,000 acres with collectors within a 14,000 acre block.

This is one of the first, if not the first full review of a major solar energy plant on public lands and I have to wonder how it will fare.

The block of land abuts the Sonoran Desert Monument to the south and other protected lands lie just west.

Will opposition surface to an industrial power plant covering 6 square miles? Will the promise of non-fossil fuel renewable energy quell any concerns about land and water use in the area?

The number of solar plant applications and amount of land proposed across Arizona and the West are impressive. BLM has recognized the potential for conflicts over millions of acres proposed for development.

This process deserves to be watched closely as a harbinger of how large-scale renewable energy projects will fare.

Augusta Resources to issue $25 million in stock to fund Rosemont mine

Augusta Resources announced that they entered into an underwriting agreement for the issuance of 12,380,000 common shares at a price of Cdn$2.02 per common share for gross proceeds of Cdn$25,007,600. The funds will be used in developing the Rosemont Copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains, south of Tucson.

The US Forest Service is conducting an EIS for use of federal lands adjacent to the mine.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Nano-diamonds support theory that comet killed the mammoths

Arizona geologist Allan West has been forwarding a theory for the past four years that a giant comet struck Canada 12,900 years ago, wiping out many Ice Age megafauna and ushering in a 1,000 year global cooling period. There are lots of skeptics.

However, a new study, co-authored by West, came out in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last week, with evidence of microscopic ("nano") diamonds on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of California, that the authors call a smoking gun proving the idea that a massive impact, possibly into the Hudson Bay region, covered the continent with a cloud of super-hot ejecta.

The authors state that this form of nanodiamond, lonsdaleite, "is known on Earth only in meteorites and impact craters, and its presence strongly supports a cosmic impact event."

They note that "These shock-synthesized diamonds are also associated with proxies indicating major biomass burning (charcoal, carbon spherules, and soot). The only previously known co-occurrence of nanodiamonds, soot, and extinction is the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) impact layer" which is blamed for the end of the dinosaurs.

Ref: Shock-synthesized hexagonal diamonds in Younger Dryas boundary sediments,

Grand Canyon is #1 natural tourist spot in Arizona

The Grand Canyon is once again the top natural attraction for tourists in Arizona according to statistics released today by the Arizona Office of Tourism for 2008. A number of other geological wonders show up in the list of the top 20 natural sites most visited. Attendance was almost 4.5 million last year.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Could CCS double costs of electricity?

A Harvard study estimates the cost of electricity could double or more in the short term because of the cost of carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS). With maturing of the technologies, those costs could drop to a 22-50% increase. The study, "Realistic Costs of Carbon Capture," estimates the cost of coal-generated electricity would go up an average of 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to a national average of 9 cents today. [right, APS' Cholla coal-fired power plant, where a CO2 sequestration test is about to begin]

A lot of folks have warned that the costs would be huge. One of my colleagues, from a big energy-producing state, half-jokingly urged Harvard to carry out more such studies, on the broader topic of “Realities of Energy, Water, Environmental Impact and Economics.“

He told me, "It just might sober a lot of folks up to the realities of the morning after."

Cochise coal ash pond hazards assessed

The seven coal ash ponds at the Willcox area's Apache Generating Station [right, Google Earth], operated by Arizona Electric Power Cooperative, are on the list of 44 "high hazard potential" waste sites from coal-fired power plants released by EPA earlier this month. But in an interview with the Benson News-Sun, company officials noted that EPA itself says "A high hazard potential rating is not related to the stability of those impoundments, but to the potential for harm should the impoundment fail." AEPCO said the facilities are inspected daily, weekly, and monthly, as well as annually by the ADWR Dam Safety & Flood Mitigation division.

EPA is carrying out safety reviews of all the ponds nationwide, with the results to be made public when completed, probably around the end of the year.

Arizona has a second coal ash pond facility at near Joseph City in the northeast part of the state.

Subflow on the San Pedro River

The Arizona Dept. of Water Resources has released a 1,300 page report on subflow zones along the San Pedro River as part of a legal adjudication of water rights. Subflow is that part of the river that flows in the subsurface. Delineation of the subflow will determine who has rights to groundwater. The court defined subflow as occurring in the Holocene floodplain alluvium.

The AZGS did the geologic mapping of Holocene-aged units along the river and tributary valleys for the ADWR study. Those 1:24,000-scale maps will probably be released publicly next week.

The Camp Verde Bugle did as nice review as I've read of the issues on the San Pedro as a possible prelude to simlar adjudication battles on the Verde River.

Rosemont Copper buys haul trucks for mine

Augusta Resources announced last week the signing of an agreement for the purchase of 23, 250-ton Caterpillar 793F haulage trucks [right, credit Caterpillar Corp] for the Rosemont Copper mine at a cost of $82.2 million from Empire Southwest, a Caterpillar dealership headquartered in Mesa, Arizona. The trucks are due to be delivered in late 2010 and early 2011. The Rosemont mine is undergoing an EIS by the US Forest Service, expected to be completed in 2010.

More potash exploration in Holbrook basin

American Potash LLC, a JV of Confederation Minerals and Magna Resources, announced that
they received from the Arizona State Land Department the approval of five mineral exploration permits totaling 3,200 acres and the request for plan of operations for eight additional mineral exploration permits totaling 3,222.93 acres. These, together with the pending Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") potassium prospecting permits total 9,690 acres of land available to American Potash for drill testing in Arizona. Relative to the BLM potassium prospecting permits, American Potash has received a letter of request from the BLM for exploration program proposals, the precursor to final permit approval.

[right, potash isopach map, AZGS 2008]

Freed geo student offers thanks to supporters

Mark Trees, one of the 3 students who returned from Brazil yesterday, shared this thank-you to everyone who spoke out and otherwise supported their efforts to leave the country after being arrested for sediment sampling without the required permits.

Hello Everyone,

As one of the aforementioned students, I would like to add my and my family's sincere gratitude to everyone who took part in the call to our defense and our safe return home. Knowing that we had so many folks following the progress of our case proved helpful at times when we still did not know what the future had in store for us while we were held in Brazil. Now that all of us are home safely, we can focus on reconnecting with family, friends and colleagues, and
look forward to a resolution in the Brazilian legal system. We can only hope
for a quick decision in our favor and to get this ordeal behind us for good.


Mark Trees

Saturday, July 25, 2009

National Geographic: Is Phoenix in danger of "Collapse"?

A National Geographic film crew is working in the Phoenix area on a documentary based on Jared Diamond's best-selling book, "Collapse." The book examines the factors that led to the collapse of cities and civilizations through history.

AZGS geologist Todd Shipman took the crew to film Earth fissures in the greater Phoenix basin last week as indicators of basin subsidence resulting from overpumping of groundwater.

Diamond lists water management as one of 8 factors that historically led to collapse of societies.

Geoscience students returning from Brazil; charges still pending

University of Arizona geoscience professor Andy Cohen sent out a note this afternoon, reporting that the UA geology graduate students arrested in Brazil while doing field work with Brazilian university researchers, were allowed to return to the U.S. last night, but may have to go back to resolve the criminal charges filed against them. They were arrested almost exactly one month ago [right, one of the freed UA grad students, Matthew McBGlue -right, with assistant - drilling in Argentina on similar research to that done in Brazil. Credit, Andy Cohen]. Andy's email in full is below:

Dear Colleagues,
I am writing to update you on the situation about the US and Brazilian students arrested while doing field work in the Pantanal region of Brazil. Early this past week a ruling was made in the Brazilian Federal court allowing the American students to get their passports back and last night they all left Brazil to return home. The issue is not completely resolved since by Brazilian law they may yet have to return to Brazil to answer questions, although a legal request was also made to the court to allow them to answer questions from their homes in the US. Formal charges have not yet been filed by the police to the court, and we remain hopeful that eventually the original charges will be dropped, but will have to wait for this for the time being.

In the meantime I am extremely grateful for the outpouring of support from all of you in your signing the petition for the students and your many letters of concern. The response to the petition was overwhelming-I had received over 400 signatures by the time I had to submit the petition to the court and the petition received attention in the largest circulation daily newspaper in Brazil. That document was attached to various other support letters and affidavits to the court and I am certain it will prove helpful in convincing the court of the nature of the student's activities and their acting in good faith regarding necessary permits and visas at the time of their arrest.

Andrew S. Cohen
Department of Geosciences
University of Arizona

Friday, July 24, 2009

Clashes at Grijalva's hearing on uranium mining

This week's Congressional hearing on uranium mining, called by committee chair Rep. Raul Grijalva of Tucson, may be indicative of the rising debate over uranium mining in northern Arizona. I get the sense that this is turning into one of the environmental flash points nationwide.

Utah Congressman Rob Bishop, the ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, started the hearing off by saying Monday's decision by Interior Secretary Salazar to put 1 million acres off-limits to new mining claims, is "tyranny" by the Obama administration. Salt Lake City's Deseret News further quotes him as saying, "The secretary of the Interior unilaterally and arbitrarily made a multiyear decision for a moratorium without input, without science and obviously without understanding." [right, uranium exploration drill rig from last year. Credit, Vane Minerals]

A Nevada university professor is quoted as saying that he found high levels of uranium in a canyon creek which he claimed were the result of mining more than a decade ago. AZ Dept. of Mining and Mineral Resources director Dr. Madan Singh challenged that, saying the concentrations are from erosion of the naturally-occurring uranium-bearing deposits in the region.

Tucson-based uranium geologist Dr. Karen Wenrich, argued that it's not appropriate to compare modern mining methods with out-of-date techniques used decades ago.

Copper prices hit 9-month high

It was a good day for copper yesterday. U.S. copper prices closed at $2.5255 for September contracts, a 9-month high, the first time they went over $2.5o since October, and double the price at the low back in December [right Bloomberg chart from].

What's driving this at least in part, according to an analyst at, are record imports by China for the fifth straight month.

BHP Billiton however, says China has about refilled its inventory and major economies in the rest of the world are starting to refill theirs.

Arizona produces about 60% of the U.S. demand for copper, so global production, demand, and prices are an important factor in the local economy and U.S. supply.

Odds of drying up Colorado River reservoirs

The University of Colorado says a study in press in AGU's Water Resources Research concludes that through 2026, "the risk of fully depleting reservoir storage in any given year remains below 10% under any scenario of climate fluctuation or management alternative. During this period, the reservoir storage could even recover from its current low level, according to the authors." [right, Lake Powell. Credit, Bureau of Reclamation]

"But if climate change results in a 10% reduction in the Colorado River's average stream flow as some recent studies predict, the chances of fully depleting reservoir storage will exceed 25% by 2057, according to the study. If climate change results in a 20% reduction, the chances of fully depleting reservoir storage will exceed 50% by 2057."

"Total storage capacity of reservoirs on the Colorado exceeds 60 million acre feet, almost 4 times the average annual flow on the river, and the two largest reservoirs -- Lake Mead and Lake Powell -- can store up to 50 million acre feet of water. As a result, the risk of full reservoir depletion will remain low through 2026, even with a 20 percent stream flow reduction induced by climate change."

Ref: "Water Supply Risk on the Colorado River: Can Management Mitigate?"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Forest lands added to uranium withdrawal

The Secretary of Agriculture is putting 360,000 acres of national forest lands near Grand Canyon National Park, off limits to new mining claims for the next two years, bringing the total amount of lands 'segregated' by federal agencies to 1 million acres according to news reports out this morning. Existing mine claims are not affected by the decision.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week segregated the BLM lands.

Chinleana's retrospective on John Muir in the Petrified Forest

Bill Parker at the Chinleana blog has posted a nice history of John Muir's early studies in what is now Petrified Forest National Park, along with wonderful photos [right, Muir examining a petrified log, circa 1905- or 1906]

I highly recommend his post.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sierra Club report card on legislators and bills

The Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club put out its annual Environmental Report Card on state legislators' votes on issues and also summarized the final action on a number of bills that dealt with natural resources. Not unexpectedly, most legislators got failing grades.

Whether you agree or disagree with the Sierra Club's stance on some of the bills, they explain their position and give a brief history of what happened to the bills. Topics include tires in abandoned mines, aquifer protection, water resources, aggregate mine reclamation, greenhouse gases, land conservation funds and others.

Hazardous faults in Arizona and the Intermountain West

A new report out from the USGS on hazardous faults in the Intermountain West region includes a section on Arizona by AZGS hazards chief, Phil Pearthree.

He summarizes:

The overall picture of hazardous faults in Arizona has not changed significantly since the first basic studies were conducted about 25 years ago. Most historical seismicity in Arizona is concentrated in the northern part of the state with a cluster of events in the Flagstaff area dating back to 1900. However, the 1887 earthquake, which occurred just across the southern border in northern Mexico, is the largest historical earthquake to affect Arizona and possibly the entire IMW.

Ref: Evaluation of Hazardous Faults in the Intermountain West Region— Summary and Recommendations of a Workshop,
By Anthony J. Crone, Kathleen M. Haller, and Joseph Z. Maharrey, Open-File Report 2009–1140, 75p.

Asarco marketing its $6 billion court award

Asarco is trying to sell its $6.4 billion court judgement from Southern Copper to more than 100 potential buyers according to a report on

The court award Asarco 260 million shares of Southern Copper and $1.4 billion in cash this past spring. It sounds like Asarco would sell the pending award at a discount to get cash now to help pull it out of bankruptcy. Bids are due in early August.

Monday, July 20, 2009

1 million acres in N. Arizona put off limits to mining claims

AP is reporting that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will announce the closure of 1 million acres of federal lands to mining claims in northern Arizona because of their proximity to the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park. The objective is to undertake a 2-year study on whether the areas should be permanently closed to mining. It does not affect existing claims.

I have to presume this refers only to BLM lands, since National Forests are managed by the Dept. of Agriculture. [right, all areas requested to be withdrawn by mining opponents]

Sunday, July 19, 2009

New comet impact on Jupiter?

The web site is carrying a report from astrophotographer Anthony Wesley saying
"Jupiter has been hit by something similar to the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts in 1994. There is a jet black circular impact mark near its south pole that I imaged tonight from my observatory in Murrumbateman, Australia.

I have imagery of that same location from 2 nights earlier without the impact mark so this is a very recent event. This image shows that the material has already begun to spread out in a fan shape on one side, and should be rapidly pulled apart by the fast jetstream winds. I'm sure this will generate some interest around the astronomy community, as impacts like this are rare. I recorded a lot of footage, and will be generating more images and a rotation animation."

SpaceWeather is calling on amateur astronomers around the world to monitor developments on Jupiter. What a nice way to celebrate the anniversary of the first moon landings.

Wry Heat - another Arizona geo-blog

The Tucson Citizen newspaper has morphed into an online new media format, including a long list of volunteer bloggers. One I just found is "Wry Heat," written by "Jonathan DuHamel - Economic Geologist."

He describes the content as,
This blog will deal with science, mainly geology and climate change; energy, the environment, natural history of the Sonoran Desert, property rights, and the politics and policies that effect these issues. There will occasionally be an off-subject story or two.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Training near Flagstaff for the first moon walk

With the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing underway this week, the Los Angeles Times does a nice retrospective on the astronaut field training program in the Cinder Hills (Lakes) near Flagstaff that began in the 1960s. Neil Armstrong and his crew traipsed across the 21-square mile crater field to familiarize themselves with the expected lunar terrain.

Copper mining headlines

A scan of news finds some items of importance to Arizona:

Sterlite Industries' bid for Asarco has been endorsed by a committee of unsecured creditors of that company. Sterlite raised $1.5 billion in a single day this week, selling additional shares.

Phoenix-based Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold ordered its Indonesian employees to stay home after 3 people were killed and 9 wounded on the road to its Grasberg mine in Papua.

China's demand for copper has changed global consumption patterns. Dundee Wealth Economics reports that China's share of global copper consumption rose from 13% in 2000 to 28.5% last year and 38% in the first quarter of 2009. [above, copper plates. Credit, Freeport McMoRan]

Pseudo-science tv show filming geology in Tombstone

A production crew for a tv new series that will air on the Discovery Channel starting in October is filming a show in Tombstone the next couple of days. One of the producers told us, "The show is about a group of paranormal investigators from San Antonio who use scientific methods in order to try and prove the existence of other dimensions."

The show has been looking for a geologist to talk about mineral deposits in the Tombstone area reportedly as a tie in to electrical currents in the ground and the ghost of Doc Holliday [right. credit] among other things.

While we are more than willing to answer any questions on geology in Arizona, we demur from being associated with the pseudo-science movement.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Flagstaff's therizinosaur dino getting national attention

If you've been to the Museum of Northern Arizona in the past year, you've seen the spectacular therizinosaur exhibit put together by paleontologist David Gillette. The rest of the world is now starting to see what the excitement's about.

The results of the discovery were published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and the news media, always on the alert for good dinosaur discoveries, are playing it up.

[right, the Nothronychus graffami stood 13 feet tall and had 9-inch long claws. Illustration byVictor Leshyk. Credit, Museum of Northern Arizona]

The exhibit Therizinosaur: Mystery of the Sickle-Claw Dinosaur, will run until this September then move to the Arizona Museum of Natural History in Mesa.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Green Valley's biggest water user opposes copper mine

The Green Valley News & Sun reports that the owners of the area's largest water consumer, Farmer's Investment Co, a large pecan grower, showed up at a Congressional hearing in DC to oppose the Rosemont Copper mine in the nearby Santa Rita Mountains, expressing concern over potential water usage at the proposed mine. The hearing was on revisions to the 1872 Hardrock Mining law. [right, native copper. Credit, Rosemont Copper]

Rosemont's web site however, says,
Rosemont has made a commitment to the local community to recharge 105% of the total mine water production within the Tucson AMA basin, as close to the water production site as is feasible. The total life-of-mine usage is currently estimated to be 100,000 acre feet, resulting in a recharge commitment of 105,000 acre-ft.
Meanwhile, the company announced today that they received written notification from the Arizona State Mine Inspector that the Rosemont Copper Project Mined Land Reclamation Plan has been approved.

How much damage would a prehistoric piranha do?

More photos from the "Piranha 3D" movie filming at Lake Havasu made it to the horror film blogosphere. The plot, as I've mentioned before, is about prehistoric piranha released from under the lake by an earthquake, on an unsuspecting spring break crowd. You can see just how hungry these guys are from the photo at right. Check out the site for even more gore.

The director has explained more about the plot line, revealing that the prehistoric fish survived in a cavern under the lake for millions of years, evolving into more ferocious forms, and feeding off their brethren and other fish trapped there. Sounds like they could have used a geological consultant on the film, but a little scientific reality is probably not what they are looking for here.

Digital Map - Beta version

The USGS released the Digital Map last week, so I tried out one of the sample digital topo maps overlying orthophotos, for the Tucson area.

The "Digital Map - Beta" is the first step toward a new generation of digital topographic maps delivered by the U.S. Geological Survey. These maps are built from The National Map data, which are integrated from local, State, Federal, and other sources. The initial version of the "Digital Map – Beta" includes orthoimagery plus roads and geographic names in the traditional 7.5 minute quadrangle format. "Digital Maps - Beta" are available free on the Web in the GeoPDF format. File size is about 15 to 20 Megabytes.

Tools are available free for download. Users can turn data layers on and off, zoom in and out, and print the maps. As the "Digital Map - Beta" evolves, the USGS will add historical versions of the topographic maps and will incorporate other data layers including hydrography and contours. Use of the term "Beta" signifies that these maps are initial versions that do not yet contain the full content of the traditional USGS topographic quadrangle maps.

The map/photo at right offers detail from the Cat Mountain, Arizona, Digital Map incorporating:

  • National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) orthoimagery (June 2007)
  • Roads from the National Transportation Dataset (2008)
  • Names from the Geographic Names Information System (2008)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Navajo Mountain earthquake

A magnitude 3.3 earthquake hit the Navajo Mountain area along the Arizona-Utah border on Sunday evening about 9:40 p.m. [right, location shown by star]

The area has not had many recorded earthquakes previously but you can see regionally there are more active areas nearby.

Lightning, fulgarites, and early life

There's an interesting new study published in Nature Geoscience by UA geoscientist Matthew Pasek. He found that fulgurites [right. Credit, Matthew Pasek] formed by the intense heat of lightning strikes, contain unusually large amounts of phosphite, a form of phosphorus that is low in oxygen and was once common on primordial Earth . Phosphite is not common in the natural cycle today, so there are questions as to where it came from in the past, when microbes widely depended on it. It's hard to account for global quantities just from lightning, but its an intriguing newly recognized source.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

McCain holds up Interior nominations over Resolution Copper land bill

News reports say Sen. John McCain is putting a hold on the nominations of Bob Abbey for director of the Bureau of Land Management, and Wilma Lewis for Interior assistant secretary for land and minerals management, in an effort to turn around the Obama administration's position on the proposed federal land exchange bill (S409) needed for the Resolution Copper project to move forward. [right, parcels involved in the proposed land exchange. Credit, Resolution Copper]

Sen. Jon Kyl previously held up an Energy Dept. nomination to get a Senate committee hearing on the bill.

Friday, July 10, 2009

10,000 rocks from around the world

In early 2004, ASU geoscience professor Phillip Christensen was in a NASA press conference on the recent Mars Rovers, when he casually commented how much easier collecting rock specimens would be in the locals would just pick them up and mail them to him. The rocks started arriving at ASU even before he got back to campus.

Well, five years later, the 10,000th rock arrived at ASU as part of the Rocks Around the World program [right, the 10,000th rock sent to the Rock Around the World program is a fist-size piece of weathered quartz from Nepal. Credit, ASU]

Rocks continue to arrive at the rate of 50-100 per month. Each rock is , numbered, cleaned and photographed, then cooked in an oven for 8 hours to drive off moisture before it is run through an infrared spectrometer. They are permanently archived in a special storage space.

[thanks to the folks at ASU for passing this on]

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Marcia McNutt nominated to head USGS

The White House today announced the President's intent to nominate Marcia McNutt to be Director of the USGS and to become the first geologist to serve as Science Advisor to the Secretary of the Interior. [photo credit, MBARI]

The White House posted this bio of Dr. McNutt:

Dr. Marcia McNutt studied geophysics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California and earned her PhD there in Earth Sciences in 1978. She spent 3 years with the USGS in California working on earthquake prediction. She joined the faculty at MIT in 1982 where she was appointed the Griswold Professor of Geophysics and served as Director of the Joint Program in Oceanography & Applied Ocean Science & Engineering, a joint program offered by both MIT & the Woods Hole Oceanography Institution. Marcia has participated in 15 major oceanographic expeditions and served as chief scientist on more than half of those voyages. She has published 90 peer-reviewed scientific articles and also chaired the President's Panel on Ocean Exploration convened by President Clinton to examine the possibility of initiating a major US program in exploring the oceans. She is a fellow for the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Association of Geodesy. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and serves on numerous evaluation and advisory boards for institutions such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Stanford University, Harvard University and Science Magazine.

Copper price up on economic predictions

The International Monetary Fund predicted economic contraction this year of 1.4% but raised its expectation of growth next year from 1.9% to 2.5%, resulting in a nice boost for copper prices, according to an analysis on

In addition, Chinese growth of 8% is predicted for the current year (even in a boom year, that's an impressive number!). And car sales in China are up almost 48% compared to a year ago. That's good news for copper producers. [right, credit, Freeport McMoRan]

Economic impact of Rosemont copper mine

An economic analysis of the Rosemont copper project by the L. William Seidman Research Institute in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University concludes that,

The Rosemont Copper Project would have lasting positive effects on the economy of the study area. Permanent changes to the regional economy would occur as a result of the increased levels of economic activity associated with the development and operation of the Rosemont mine. These changes would result in residual economic impacts in the Pima/Santa Cruz Counties area. Even five years after the end of production at the mine, economic activity would be $75 million per year higher and area residents’ income $37 million per year more than if the Rosemont Copper Project had never existed.
The study is included in a newly released report by the Arizona Dept. of Mines and Mineral Resources titled, "Study of Mineral Production with Reference to the Rosemont Copper Project."

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Cambrian explosion explained

An article in the online version of Nature by ASU geoscience prof Paul Knauth and a colleague offers a new explanation for the cause of the Cambrian explosion. In "The Precambrian greening of Earth," they conclude that,
a massive greening of the planet by non-vascular plants, or primitive ground huggers, as Knauth calls them, roughly 700 million years ago virtually set the table for the later explosion of life through the development of early soil that sequestered carbon, led to the build up of oxygen and allowed higher life forms to evolve. [right, carbonate layers hold carbon isotope evidence of the late Precambrian greening of the Earth. These are located in the Old Dad Mountains in California. Credit, Paul Knauth, ASU]
[taken in part from an ASU news release posted on Eurekalert]

Best science photo site includes gem show minerals

Photo Synthesis, "a rotating showcase of the best science photography on the web," includes Arizona photog B. Jefferson Bolender as one of the regular contributor and her latest post is set of spectacular shots of minerals [right, amethyst. Credit, Photo Synthesis] taken at the last Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. There are links to more photos and more mineral photos are promised.

[Thanks to Kim at "All of my faults are stress related" for spotting this]

BP Statistical Review of World Energy

The 58th annual BP Statistical Review of World Energy, released a few weeks ago, documents one of the wildest and most significant energy years on record. In addition to record rise and collapse in oil prices, I was surprised to read that annual oil prices rose for a 7th consecutive year, a first in the 150 year history of the oil industry.

A few other tidbits:

Development of unconventional gas drove the largest ever increase in US natural gas supply

All the net growth in energy consumption came from the rapidly industrializing non-OECD economies, with China alone accounting for nearly three-quarters of global growth

For a sixth consecutive year, coal was the fastest-growing fuel – with obvious implications for global CO2 emissions.

Reconstructing Arizona's porphyry copper deposits

Jon Spencer, Senior Geologist with AZGS, gave a tour de force presentation at the monthly meeting of the Arizona Geological Society here in Tucson last night, offering a tectonic reconstruction of Southern Arizona through the late Cenozoic, to propose a model for the origin of the regions huge porphyry copper deposits.

His talk, "Restoration of tectonic extension in the greater Tucson area and implications for original distribution of porphyry copper deposits," integrated results from decades of geologic mapping and subsurface geophysics to estimate amounts and direction of faulting, primarily extensional, during the Late Cenozoic.

Restoring porphyry copper deposits along the displacements resulted in bunching them into two long ovals [above, right], trending WSW-ENE, generally parallel to Proterozoic structural fabric. Jon suggested there may be a causal relationship.

Some of the questions addressed age dates and Eric Seedorf noted that deposits such as Safford and San Manuel, shown by Jon as possibly part of the same tectonic feature, are about 12 million years apart in age.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Praise for ASU planetary scientists

The Arizona Republic editorialized recently that ASU's work on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter "represents a valuable contribution to Arizona's standing in the world and enhances our state's ability to attract talent, investment and economic development in competitive high-tech fields."

The editorial went on to note achievement at all 3 state universities, concluding, "These sorts of far-reaching benefits from Arizona's quality research-based universities are so engrained in Arizona's identity that it is easy to take them for granted. But like flying to the moon, the accomplishments of the should inspire excitement that transcends temporary budget problems."