Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cropland data layers released for nation

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released "new satellite images depicting agricultural land cover across most of the nation for the 2009 crop year. The images, referred to as cropland data layers (CDL), are a useful tool for monitoring crop rotation patterns, land use changes, water resources and carbon emissions."

The Western US layer, covering Arizona and adjacent states, is a 47 Mb download.

NASS produced the CDLs using satellite images observed at 56-meter (0.775 acres per pixel) resolution and collected from the Resourcesat-1 Advanced Wide Field Sensor (AWiFS), Landsat Thematic Mapper and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS).

[taken in part from the NASS news release]

Feds support mineral withdrawal in Coronado National Forest

There is more info coming about the recent House hearing on HR2944, which would ban all new mineral entry in Coronado National Forest in Pima and Santa Cruz counties in Southern Arizona.   [right, land position at the Rosemont copper site]

According to the Willcox Range News, the US Dept of Agriculture (including the US Forest Service) and the US Dept. of Interior (including BLM), supported Rep. Grijalva's bill.    

The bill would also require BLM to validate the economic viability of any existing mining claims, including those for the Rosemont copper mine.

The bill would also ban geothermal energy exploration and development on federal lands in those counties.

Oil and Gas Commissioners appointed, reappointed

Governor Jan Brewer appointed Robert L. Wagner to the Arizona Oil & Gas Conservation Commission to replace outgoing Commissioner Robert L. Jones.  Mr. Wagner's appointment runs until January 2013. Governor Brewer reappointed Commissioner Michele P. Negley. Ms. Negley's reappointment runs until January 2014. Governor Brewer appointed Frank Thorwald to replace Commissioner Katosha Nakai.  Mr. Thorwald's appointment runs until January 2015.

Bob Wagner had previously served under an earlier appointment.  Katosha Nakai had accepted an appointment in the Governor's Office last year which required her to resign from the Commission.

The Commission is an independent body that regulates drilling and production for oil, gas, helium, carbon dioxide, and geothermal.   It does not have any staff of its own, so AZGS provides all the technical and administrative support for the Commission.   [right, geothermal drilling near Alpine, AZ, 1993]

Real-time stream flow monitoring

 'Dr. Jerque' (aka Kyle House at the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology) offers a nice intro to the USGS WaterWatch real-time stream flow monitoring services with some how-to advice on taking full advantage of the online capabilities.  [right, map of real-time streamflow conditions]

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Geoblogger get together at the Tucson gem, mineral, & fossil show

Fellow geo-bloggers - if you're in town for the Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Showcase, give me a yell.   We're going to try to pull together a dinner or  brewpub gathering (or two) during the next two weeks.   It looks like all the usual suspects are arriving along with some new faces.

The town has been packed with trucks unloading untold thousands of tons of specimens and most of the shows are now officially open.   The parking lot behind the AZGS building has been busy all day as we are central to a dozen shows both gigantic and boutique.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Year of Science 2009 - a recap

Our friends at COPUS have put together a wonderful revue of the events and successes of Year of Science 2009.

I played my small part in it but am overwhelmed with how many were involved, doing so much, in so many innovative and exciting events throughout the year.

And now the planning is underway for the USA Festival of Science to be held on the National Mall in the Capitol next October, with satellite events springing up all over the country.

I love it when a plan comes together!

Resolution would define nuclear power as clean energy in Arizona

House Concurrent Resolution 2019 in the Arizona Legislature would define nuclear power as clean energy in regards to carbon dioxide and other atmospheric emissions:



Proposing an amendment to the constitution of Arizona; amending article XXII, Constitution of Arizona, by adding section 23; relating to nuclear power.

Be it resolved by the House of Representatives of the State of Arizona, the Senate concurring:
1.  Article XXII, Constitution of Arizona, is proposed to be amended by adding section 23 as follows if approved by the voters and on proclamation of the Governor:
23.  Clean energy sources; nuclear power
Section 23.  The use of nuclear reactors in the production of electric energy is considered to be clean energy technology insofar as the generation process does not emit carbon dioxide or other atmospheric pollutants.
2.  The Secretary of State shall submit this proposition to the voters at the next general election as provided by article XXI, Constitution of Arizona.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ricardo Presnell

My friend Ricardo Presnell died yesterday in an avalanche while back-country skiing in the Wasatch.

The news is a kick to the gut. This can't be true. It's not right. This can't have happened to Ricardo.  He always went prepared - with his personal beacon, shovel, and a savy awareness of the risks. He felt the real dangers came from riding helicopters in remote areas of Alaska.   I want someone to tell me it's all a big mistake. 

Ricardo and I go back to working together in the oil business in the mid-'80s in Dallas.  When the industry tanked, he went for his PhD at the University of Utah.  A year later I ended up in Salt Lake City as well and we shared a house together.     [right, Ricardo and Caroline before they were married, at our house in Salt Lake]

Some of you in the Arizona geoscience community met Ricardo during the past decade as he was spending about a week per month in Tucson at Rio Tinto's office in between his globe trotting in search of new mineral deposits.     His current company put out a news release today with his professional bio.

Ricardo's friend Sarah Bennett Ally was with him when the avalanche hit.  She shared these thoughts this morning.  They captured so well the essence and spirit of our friend:
It is through a raging torrent of sorrow and tears that I write to you this morning. I wanted to, need to... reach out and celebrate the tower of power and amazing friend and human being that Ricardo was and always will be in our hearts. The thought of going onward through my days without the energizer bunny's blinding light of good vibe shining down on us is almost too much to bear. I know how much he cherished all of you. Ricardo loved us so generously and it was so easy to love him back. My gratitude for being part of that web is boundless.

I need you to know that yesterday was a spectacular day, the turns supreme, and Ricardo was gleaming to the power of 10. He noted the quality of the turns were some of the best he'd ever had, said that he loved the Wasatch and would always ski here no matter where work took him, and let on that he was thinking about buying a place in Moab. We giggled and laughed about all sorts of things and made several long forays down memory lane in the realm of live music and mountain bike rides, mostly for Joey's sake. We talked about some of you. I've kept tabs on many of you over the years through Ricardo who always loved to update me on your latest. He loved to share and I loved hearing the caring and devotion to you in his stories. He talked a lot about the test he was getting ready to take, the string of incredible job offers that have recently come his way, and some of the lucrative projects he was getting ready to apply himself to. One thing is for sure...professionally Ricardo was on top, and he knew it. It was fantastic to see him in that place, and ready to take on the next challenge. So phenomenal to have been so accomplished at both recreational AND professional pursuits.

Although there are many more details of yesterday to share there is only one thing I need you to know NOW...Ricardo did not suffer. He was as well, as happy, as wonderful as I have ever seen him and in a matter of seconds it was over. As he bounded away out of sight on our last run, making his classic big-stance turns, we marveled at the man, the humor, how much fun it was to be with him, and then he left in a thunderous roar. The sequence of events that followed were agonizing but Joey's ski and patroller background, the fact that I had a phone and we were so close to Solitude meant that the rescue went as quickly and efficiently as humanly possible. In the end, it wouldn't have mattered if we had gotten to him in two minutes, the trauma he sustained in the slide was catastrophic.

For more than 25 years I loved Ricardo with all my heart. He was one of the finest human beings I have ever had the honor to know and call a friend. Anyone who had the good fortune to rub up against Ricardo during his too-short time with us has learned to live better for it. I can't even begin to express the incredible gratitude and blessing I feel for getting to spend those last few hours with Ricardo yesterday.

They will forever be some of the finest of my life.  As we muddle forward over the next few days, weeks, months and years without our friend, trying to live with this unbelievable loss, we can honor him by living it up, getting down, making it funky, loving each other, and carrying on the positive every day. Love you, you so much.
Taken on our last skin...1/27/2010
I have so many stories to share as does everyone who knows him, but they will have to wait a while.

Update (1-29-10 10:30 am):  Full Metal Minerals and Underworld Resources, where Ricardo served as Chief Geologist, announced that they and Ricardo's wife Caroline Kroko, have establishing a scholarship fund in Ricardo's memory at the University of Utah,  for minorities who are studying sciences. In lieu of flowers to the family, friends of Ricardo can send donations to: 'The Dr. Ricardo Davis Presnell Memorial Scholarship Fund' at Suite 1500 - 409 Granville Street, Vancouver B.C. Canada, V6C 1T2.

Update (1-29-10 13:15): the Salt Lake Tribune published a nice article on Ricardo today - view it at

Update (2-1-10):   Ricardo's obituary was published yesterday in the Salt Lake Tribune. I am posting it here (with minor corrections to typos in the printed version) since it will only be available online there for this month.


Ricardo Presnell 1958 ~ 2010: Dr. Ricardo Presnell, 51, died in an avalanche on Wednesday Jan. 27, 2010. Ricardo's loving wife of 21 years, Caroline Kroko, brother Craig, and his family of friends from around the world know that he was living life big and doing what he loved. Ricardo was a man who brought people together: a man of great passion, compassion and boundless love. His passions were many. Firstly, people: his wife, his family and his innumerable friends. He was the catalyst and the glue for an ever-expanding 'family' of diverse individuals. He always referred to his friends as brothers and sisters. Being with Ricardo was always an adventure and a social occasion. At restaurants, concerts, bike rides, skiing, or just a walk around the neighborhood, it was certain that someone would call out "Hey Rico" and stop to chat. Having met him, no one forgot him - his brilliant smile, his wit and his endless energy. As his friends became friends to each other, the world became a warmer place. The lifetime collection of bicycles, skis, backpacking, climbing and hiking equipment testify to his love of the outdoors. Yes, there are old leather lace-up ski-boots there. His passion for music never stopped evolving; he was always interested in new and different styles of music. His deepest enduring love was Jazz, and his two dogs, Jaco (Pastorius) and Joni (Mitchell) are but the superficial expression of this. A visitor could always count on being introduced to a new artist, a new style of music, a brilliant old classic, or being coerced into dancing in the den. While he believed strongly in 'playing hard', Ricardo was passionate about Geology. Not one to go halfway, Ricardo earned BS, MS and Doctorate degrees in the field and worked more than 25 years as a professional geologist. Not everyone who considered Ricardo a friend knew of his professional standing. He traveled the world many times over, bringing his natural intelligence, extensive knowledge, broad experience, and his innate ability to connect and communicate with others. Language barriers in Turkey? Mongolia? Siberia? Not a problem! Ricardo spoke science in any language. He was a valued member and board member of many professional societies. Ricardo believed that his professional achievements were dependent on the guidance, mentorship and support of those in the field before him. In return, he was delighted to teach and mentor younger geologists, professionally, academically - and (characteristically) personally. After 22 years with Kennecott/Rio Tinto, Ricardo became a private consultant, working as Chief Geologist for Full Metal Minerals (Vancouver, BC), as Chief Geologist. His impact there is evidenced by the company's creation of "The Dr. Ricardo Davis Presnell Memorial Scholarship Fund" at the University of Utah for minority students studying science. Finally, it was Ricardo's lifelong passion (45 years) for skiing that brought him to Utah and the Wasatch Mountains. He skied the Canadian Rockies, the Alps, the Andes and numerous US locales, but the Wasatch was his home. No friends were surprised to pick up the phone at 6 am to hear: "It's a Powder Day- time to rally." Often meeting at the house for coffee and even a hot breakfast (eggs Mc-Ricky), Ricardo's enthusiasm could get the posse from slumber to snow in record time. Those hardy souls who joined in the backcountry forays were pushed to their physical limits. But no one was ever left behind. Any not up to the route were carefully shepherded and supervised. Ricardo always called home when he arrived back at the car saying 'we're out, I'll be home soon) and frequently called from mountaintops just to say 'Hi'. Jaco and Joni (the dogs) always watched out the window til Papa arrived, leaped around ecstatically, giving and getting love. Their turn to join the man who made everyone smile. I, Caroline, thank everyone who has held me together these last few days. I can not name you, there are so many. I don't know how I could be more fortunate. I also thank the Solitude Ski Patrol and everyone else involved in the rescue attempt. I can't put my gratitude into words anymore than words can do justice to the beautiful human being who was Ricardo. In lieu of gifts, we request that you donate to the scholarship fund (Dr Ricardo Davis Presnell Memorial Scholarship Fund, Suite 1500-409 Granville St, Vancouver, B.C. Canada, V6C1T2) or to the Utah Avalanche Center ( in Ricardo's name. The brilliant light of Ricardo's life shines on in the hearts of everyone who loves him - I am grateful for our 21 years.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Update on Halloween earthquake swarm near Sunset Crater

Some interesting follow-up yesterday on last Halloween's earthquake swarm near Sunset Crater.   We were meeting at ASU with Arizona's earthquake seismologists to discuss plans for maintaining the Arizona Integrated Seismic Network.

The NAU group had described the swarm thusly:
In the early morning hours of October 31, 2009 (UTC), a series of micro-earthquakes occurred in a region approximately 15 miles northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona near Sunset Crater National Monument.  The Arizona Earthquake Information Center has identified over 100 micro earthquakes and has satisfactorily located about two dozen events occurring over a time span of six hours.  The depths of the well located earthquakes are within the mid-crust and range from 17 km to 27 km.  The largest events where of duration magnitude (Md) 2.5 and would not have been felt by local residents.  The majority of the events had duration magnitudes less than 2.0, and the location of these events cannot be determined with the available data. However, these smaller earthquakes are thought to have occurred in the vicinity of the larger events.

According to Dave Brumbaugh, who manages the seismic network at NAU, the quake swarm outlined a northeast trending line, which contrasts with the northwest trending fractures associated with Sunset Crater.

Did the Halloween swarm represent deep magma movement or associated fracturing?   Hard to know, but even if it were, it's not time to worry about an eruption.   This is simply a fascinating geologic event.

Video fly-overs of Mars using UA HiRISE images

 Three video fly-overs of Mars using the UA's HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, were posted on YouTube this morning by Doug Ellison, founder of and featured on

This first one is Mojave Crater -

Next is Athabasca Valles -

 And last, Gale Crater is not set up to embed here but you can view it at YouTube.

Thanks to Terence Gannon at Intellog in Calgary for alerting me to this.

More mining related legislation in Arizona

Here are two more bills that may be of interest to the geosciences community:

SB 1240 revises county and municipal land use plans to include consideration of undeveloped construction mineral resources that are potentially suitable for extraction.

HB 2617 revises language for permits for mining, groundwater uses for mining and other limits on statutes that conflict with federal regulations.

USGS to fund 3 EDMAP projects in Arizona

The USGS will fund three geologic mapping projects in Arizona under the EDMAP component of the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program.  Program manager Randy Orndorff announced that "for fiscal year 2010 the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program received 57 EDMAP proposals, a large increase over the 41 that were received last year.  The number of proposals coupled with an increase in maximum award amounts made this year very competitive.  EDMAP will be funding 32 projects from 29 universities working in 20 states.  Fifty-nine students will be trained under EDMAP this year."

The 3 Arizona projects, with the faculty advisor listed, are:

University of Arizona, Vance Holliday, Distribution and stratigraphy of late Quaternary lacustrine deposits in the Wilcox Basin, southeastern Arizona, $16,005.00

University of Arizona, Mark Barton, Jurassic magmatism and iron-rich hydrothermal systems in the Palen Mountains and nearby areas, Mojave Desert, California, $15,065.00

University of Massachusetts, Christopher Condit, Geologic mapping in the Springerville volcanic field, Arizona, $25,015.00

Each one of the projects had been reviewed and endorsed by the AZGS. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Megabreccia in Toro Crater, Mars

This is a spectacular image taken by the UA HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter:

This false color image covers the western half of the central peak of Toro Crater, a 42 kilometer diameter crater in Syrtis Major.

The subimage shows a close-up of one of the features that make Toro Crater a great target for HiRISE images: colorful patches of megabreccia. Breccia is a mixture of chunks of rock (clasts) that have been broken by an energetic geologic event, such as a landslide or crater-forming impact, that are then cemented together in a finer grained material. Megabreccia features very large clasts that are big enough for HiRISE to see on the surface - some even larger than 30 feet across. In this 200 meter (about 1/8 of a mile) diameter exposure of megabreccia, clasts of various colors (indicating different kinds of rocks) and sizes have been exposed in the uplifted central peak of Toro Crater.

Scientists think that megabreccia may have formed early in Mars' history during a period of frequent impact crater formation. These early rocks were then covered by younger rock layers. HiRISE frequently targets the central peaks of craters, because these features tend to bring up rocks like these megabreccia that are usually buried under the surface.
[image PSP_007767_1970. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona]

Monday, January 25, 2010

SEG "Supergene Environments, Processes, and Products" published

SEG Special Publication #14, Supergene Environments, Processes, and Products, edited by UA professor emeritus Spencer Titley has just been published.    The Arizona Geological Society is a major sponsor of the volume in honor of Spence.
The sale price has not been announced but AGS hopes to have a copy to examine at the next dinner meeting on Feb. 2.

It will be sold online by SEG.

Kitt Peak finds comet-like debris from asteroid collision

UA astronomers at Kitt Peak National Observatory [right] have spotted a comet-like body, 130,000 to 190,000 miles long in the asteroid belt, that may be the result of a fresh asteroid collision, according to a story on National Geographic News.

Lunar geophysicists convene at ASU

Geophysicists gathered at ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration last week for a 2-day workshop to "highlight how the geophysical community can contribute to NASA’s long-term plans to install a series of autonomous geophysical stations on the Moon."

Co-convenor Matt Fouch said, “The goal of the scientific exchange is to provide NASA and the broader scientific community with ideas and recommendations about how to most efficiently and effectively collect new geophysical data from the lunar surface, using everything from landers to robots to astronauts, and over a range of local, regional, and global scales."

NRC: Reconsider selling federal helium reserves

A new report from the National Research Council finds that selling off the reserves has adversely affected critical users of helium and recommends that the federal government reconsider whether selling the reserves is still in the nation’s best interest.

For the past few years, Enhanced Oil Resources has been carrying out a large exploration program for helium and CO2 in the St. Johns area of eastern Arizona.    The NRC report projects reserves of 14 billion cubic feet (bcf) of helium in this play.  [right, helium resources in the western US.  Credit, NRC report]

Selling the Nation's Helium Reserve, National Academy Press, 2010, 128p.
ISBN-10: 0-309-14979-7

Steelworkers testimony on anti-mining/geothermal bill

 Over  the weekend I put up a blog post about HR2944, the Congressional bill that would ban mining and geothermal energy development on federal lands in Pima and Santa Cruz counties, with a link to testimony from the Save the Scenic Santa Ritas group.  Today, I got a copy of the testimony from the United Steelworkers at the same hearing and want to share that. [right, model of proposed development at the Rosemont copper site, target of HR2944.  Credit, Rosemont Copper]

House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands
January 21, 2010

Mr. Manny Armenta
United Steelworkers of America

I am here this morning representing the 850,000 members of the United Steelworkers in the United States and Canada.  Many are involved in America’s mining industry. 

Today, Arizona provides 65 percent of the country’s copper supply on one percent of state land and from about a dozen mines.  About 34 percent of the country’s copper comes from outside the United States.

I am testifying before you on HR 2944, which proposes the withdrawal of federal lands in Pima and Santa Cruz counties in southern Arizona from mining and mineral leasing.  The United Steelworkers strongly oppose adoption of HR 2944 and I appreciate the opportunity to provide you with the reasons we urge the committee to stop this bill in order to deliver job opportunities for generations of workers seeking good pay and quality benefits in Pima and Santa Cruz counties and the State of Arizona.

HR 2944 is bad public policy.  The bill would completely bypass the federal EIS process put in place under the National Environmental Policy Act for consideration of proposed mining and minerals operations that involve public lands.  The EIS process involves state and local agencies on a collaborating basis and works well to thoroughly examine proposed projects.  Congressional intervention to enact land use and resources development policy on a county-by-county basis is a bad idea. 

In addition, job creation would be sacrificed in this bill.  Mining plays a strong economic role and has done so for more than a century in Arizona.  The second largest private employer in Southern Arizona is Wal-Mart.  Contrast the pay for a typical retail store clerk with the living wage that copper industry workers are paid and you well understand why so many of my fellow mine workers seek copper industry jobs.  In Arizona, the average mining job pays $60,000, which is 44% higher than the average pay in the state.  Tourism and retail jobs on the other hand pay, on average, about half this amount or just over $29,000.

In addition, for every new mining job, another 4 indirect jobs are created. Arizona is home to 411 mining operations that provide direct employment to about 18,480 people and another 34,360 people indirectly from mining activity occurring both in and outside the state for a total of 52,840 jobs statewide.

Congressman Grijalva and Congresswoman Giffords have openly opposed and targeted Rosemont Copper and other mining operations in this bill.  Rosemont Copper is a 21st century copper project located about 30 miles southeast of Tucson, Arizona on a site comprised largely of patented mining claims.

The $897 million Rosemont Project is designed to include a solar power component and water conservation measures that result in less than half the water use of a traditional mine.  Reclamation and revegetation will begin the first year of operation and will include permanent land conservation for thousands of acres as ranch and wildlife open space.

Importantly, the Rosemont Copper Project is moving through the federal EIS process under the direction of the U.S. Forest Service.  A multitude of state and local cooperating agencies are involved in the Rosemont Copper EIS, which involves numerous public hearings. A draft EIS is due out this spring.

In this instance, timing is critical.  Rosemont Copper is on track to begin providing substantial jobs to Arizona in 2011 and Arizona is one of the hardest hit states in the country in terms of economic activity.  Unemployment is near 9% and the State of Arizona is working desperately to close one of the worst funding gaps in the country.  The current state budget shortfall is about $2 billion and is projected to grow to more than $3 billion next year.

Rosemont will create solid, living wage jobs and help to close the local and state government funding gaps in both the short and long term.  In an economic study conducted by Arizona State University for the Arizona Department of Mines and Minerals, the report states that Rosemont will create 3,600 full time equivalent jobs during the four-year construction phase starting in 2011.

Engineering and construction of Rosemont Copper will contribute $385 million to Pima, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties for suppliers of goods and services and contributing nearly $18 million to local governments.

When the project begins copper production, Rosemont will contribute $32 million per year to the State of Arizona or $681 million in government revenues to the State over 20 years.  It will generate $128 million in revenues for the Federal Government per year and $3 billion in revenues over 20 years.

Rosemont will generate an estimated 2,100 direct and indirect jobs (400+ direct and 1700 indirect) for local residents, providing an average of $140 million per year in additional income to area residents and another $19 million per year in revenues for Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise Counties.

An undeveloped, commercially viable mineral deposit is a rare occurrence. Fortunately for our workers and our economy, Rosemont can provide more than 10 percent of the country’s copper supply while requiring less than half the land area of other Southern Arizona mines.  At the same time, Rosemont will help lift the region out of the recession while working with federal and state agencies to set and meet new environmental standards for resource protection, water conservation and land reclamation. 

In December, approximately 2,000 people attended a rally at the Pima Air and Space Museum to show their support for the Rosemont Copper Project.  These people had a bottom line:  “We want the jobs for our community.” 

I urge you to oppose HR 2944 and preserve our ability to develop responsible, sound mining operations in Arizona and across the country that support our growing need for copper and provide jobs and economic stability for generations of workers.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Anti-mining bill gets hearing in Congress

The first hearing on HR2944 aimed at the Rosemont Copper mine, was held last Thursday by the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.  [right, site of the proposed Rosemont Copper mine.  Credit, Rosemont Copper]

The Green Valley News carried a summary of the testimony. summarizes the bill:
Southern Arizona Public Lands Protection Act of 2009 - Withdraws federal lands and interests located in Pima and Santa Cruz Counties, Arizona, as well as all federally owned subsurface interests under the administrative jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in lands in Pima County, from: (1) all forms of entry, appropriation, and disposal under the public land laws; (2) location, entry, and patent under the mining laws; and (3) operation of the mineral leasing and geothermal leasing laws, and the mineral materials laws.

Withdraws all federally owned interests in BLM lands in Pima County from entry, location, or patent under the general mining laws.

No amendments have been offered to address concerns that the bill would prevent anyone from using the national forests in the two counties for any reason, and the prohibition against renewable energy (ie geothermal).   The bill is sponsored by represenatatives Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords.

The testimonies are not posted by the Committee, but I did find the statement from Morris Farr, VP of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas posted elsewhere.

Arizona cave shows abrupt Pleistocene climate shifts

A paper by UA geosciences professor Julia Cole and colleagues to be published next month in Nature Geoscience provides the first documentation that "the abrupt changes in Ice Age climate known from Greenland also occurred in the southwestern U.S."
"It's a new picture of the climate in the Southwest during the last Ice Age," Julia said. "When it was cold in Greenland, it was wet here, and when it was warm in Greenland, it was dry here."  The team analyzed thousands of micro-slices of a stalagmite from an Arizona cave, to track evidence of climate from 55,000 to 11,000 years ago. [right, a slice of a stalagmite core before samples are taken from it. The creamy or yellow area upper half of the slice is the region that can be tested to reveal past climate. The reddish, pockmarked region on the bottom half of the slice is the cave-floor rubble the stalagmite started growing on. Description from UA. Credit: Mari N. Jensen, UA College of Science]

Ref:  "Moisture Variability in the Southwestern U.S. Linked to Abrupt Glacial Climate Change," Nature Geoscience [in press]

[this post is taken in part from the UA news release]

Recent geo-news

The Science behind Kartchner Caverns

2012 CAP water shortage likely

Amid state's push for solar power, water-supply worries arise

BLM Arizona official to head Colorado BLM office
Helen Hankins, the Associate State Director of the BLM's Arizona office, is becoming state director of the Colorado BLM office on Feb. 1.    She is a geologist.

Geologic Resource Inventory of National Parks

For more than a dozen years, the Geologic Resources Branch of the National Park Service has been carrying out an inventory of geologic resources in all the units in the system.    

NPS produces three publications as part of the Geologic Resources Inventory Program: Scoping Summaries, Geologic Reports, and Digital Geologic Maps.  A table with links to the completed reports is now online.

AZGS is currently mapping the surficial geology in parts of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument west of Tucson, in partnership with NPS.  There is a lot more work to do nationwide and in Arizona, but it's a fantastic program with valuable and important results.

Lots of action for Freeport in southern Arizona

There's been lots of local news from Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold recently.    An article in the business section of the Arizona Republic last week offers a nice recap, including:
  • plans to restart a concentrator at the Morenci mine, beginning in April, and rehire 100 workers 
  • ramp up the restart of the Miami mine and bring on up to another 200 workers in addition to the 30 already recalled
  • decide whether to resume mining at the closed Twin Buttes mine or use it to store waste rock from the nearby Sierrita mine.    Freeport bought the Twin Buttes mine in December for $200 million [right, Google Earth view of Twin Buttes in the center].

You can choose what to photograph on Mars

The HiRISE camera team at the University of Arizona is inviting the public to suggest what areas of Mars should be imaged from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.   An interactive Web site, HiWish, lets you identify a spot on Mars or roam around using their archived images and data sets.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rockfall hazard on SR89-A

 ADOT is cautioning motorists of a rockfall on State Route Alternate 89, along a 14 mile stretch between Sedona (about a mile north, at milepost 375) and Flagstaff (about 9 miles south, at milepost 389).

The event occurred Wednesday evening Jan 20, and is not expected to be cleared until the end of Tuesday, Jan. 26.

Update (1-25-10 3 pm):   I've learned that the warning was only a caution for the potential of rockfalls through tomorrow, not an actual rockfall. I apologize for the misunderstanding.

Candidate would eliminate AZGS, borrow on Rosemont copper revenues

Gubernatorial candidate John Munger released his budget plan for the state this past week which proposes elimination of the Arizona Geological Survey along with many other agencies as a cost savings measure.

He also proposed 'collaterizing' (i.e., borrowing against) future revenues from the Rosemont copper mine but said this does not mean he actually endorses the mine:
The Rosemont copper mine southeast of Tucson is projected to generate $15.7 billion in state and local tax revenues over its lifetime, if the mine comes into existence. I have not yet endorsed that project and am currently reviewing it carefully. In any case, the community, not the State, will decide if the project advances. Therefore, the inclusions of these revenues should not be construed as my endorsement of the project.
[right, economic impacts of Rosemont copper mine, from the company's website]

Storms and flooding across Arizona

The following summary and assessment of this week's storms was prepared by Dr. Phil Pearthree, Chief of the AZGS Environmental Section:

The combination of several days of some antecedent moisture and then prolonged, occasionally intense rainfall starting January 22 generated large floods on many of the gaged drainages in central Arizona. Generally, the areas that received abundant moisture stretched from the lower Colorado River Valley over to Maricopa County, but the largest amounts of precipitation occurred in the central mountains across the state. The higher country above the Mogollon Rim received lots of snow and there were concerns about the possibility of rain-on-snow flooding in the large Verde River tributaries like Oak Creek, but evidently it stayed sufficiently cold that this did not happen in any significant way.

AZGS compiled a summary table of peak discharges from Thursday (1-21-10)  and Friday morning using USGS preliminary gage data (with a little FCDMC data), and compared these peaks to the historical maximum peaks for each drainage. The streams or gage locations and more detailed information can be found at Kyle House has pointed out on his blog ( that you can also bring these stations into Google Earth.   No new records were established, although a couple of streams came very close to record discharges (i.e., upper Agua Fria, Big Sandy). In the Verde River system, the large (100k+ cfs) peak at Tangle Creek was almost entirely derived from the watershed below Verde Valley, demonstrated by the later and much smaller peak at the Verde River gage below Camp Verde (at Chasm Creek) and the paltry floods on Oak Creek and its "siblings". This phenomenon is unusual in the historical record, as most large Verde River floods have been produced primarily by the tributaries draining the Mogollon Rim in Verde Valley, but the largest peak discharge in January 1993 had a similar genesis as the flood this morning. Note that with floods this large, we expect USGS hydrologists will visit the gage sites and make slope-area-based indirect discharge estimates that may change the "real" peak discharge values.

Generally, because of storage capacity in dams on the major rivers and flood control work over the past few decades in Phoenix, flood damage along the major rivers in Phoenix will be limited or nonexistent. There may be problems along some of the more natural stream reaches (Wenden along Centennial Wash in west-central Arizona is an example), but generally flood damage should be limited. There are probably countless rockfalls or mud deposits along highways traversing the central mountains, such as I-17, SR 87, and US 60. Continued wet weather could result in landslide activation as well.

With the saturated conditions in central Arizona, more storms would obviously have the potential to generate floods. As of now the medium-term forecast is fairly benign, but we will be keeping an eye on that.

Mud closed SR87 at landslide site

The Payson Roundup reports that storm-generated mud closed State Route 87 at the site of the Easter weekend 2008 landslide between Phoenix and Payson.   ADOT is showing the road open this morning.   We'll try to get more details.

[right, Clints Well web cam, Milepost 291, SR87.  Credit, ADOT]

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mineral films at Tucson Gem & Mineral Show

BlueCap Productions announced that they will be showing their films of highlights of previous Tucson Gem & Mineral Show, along with interviews of prominent collectors, at the upcoming show as a "Mineral Film Festival."

The films will be projected on the west wall of the exhibit hall in the Tucson Convention Center from the company's booth.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Largest display of Arizona meteorites planned

The University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory has the goal of exhibiting at least one piece of every Arizona meteorite during its Arizona Meteorite Exhibition.  [right, map of all the meteorites locations in Arizona.  Credit, UA Lunar & Planetary Lab]

These collections will be shared with the general public, along with formal presentations, during the exhibition to be held in the Kuiper Space Sciences Building from 6 to 9 p.m. on Jan. 30.

There will be hundreds of samples of individual meteorites thanks to partners such as the Arizona Museum of Natural History in Phoenix, UA Mineral Museum, Arizona State University, the Cascadia Laboratory, the Field Museum, Flandrau Science Center, the Arizona State Museum and many individuals.

On display will be specimens from the two Arizona meteorite falls that were observed and recovered – the Holbrook fall in 1912 and the recent Whetstone Mountains fall on June 23, 2009. 

[excerpted from the UA press release]

Rosemont copper water studies

"Rosemont expected to become lake when done"

The Arizona Daily Star (Tucson) ran a long story on Sunday about a consultant's report on the Rosemont copper mine that expects an 800-foot deep lake to form within 100 years after mining ends.    The report doesn't show up on the Rosemont Copper website yet.      [right, Santa Rita ridgecrest. Credit, Rosemont Copper]

Studies vary on Rosemont's impacts

A second story examines a Pima County-sponsored study that claims to predict groundwater impacts from the mine for the next 8,000 years.     A trio of UA hydrology professors,  Tom Maddock, Peter Troch, and Thomas Meixner, were queried about the validity of the study.   The consensus seems to be that modeling for even 100 years is pushing the limits of current abilities.   Although the groundwater effects are expected to extend longer, an 8,000 year prediction sounds unbelievable.    Just think back to the climate and environmental changes we've seen in the last 8 millenia.    Of course, none of us will be around in the year 10,000 to see how accurate the report is.      

Saturday, January 16, 2010

ASU SESE newsletter highly recommended

The January issue of SESE Source, the monthly newsletter of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, is posted online now.

The lead article describes a study by grad student Greg Brennecka published in Science, that recalibrates radioactive dating and the age of the solar system.

The newsletter is a high quality publication and packed with fascinating stories and news. Check it out.

Recent news on Arizona mining

 Let's get facts straight on water and Rosemont Copper

McCain: Rosemont needed in this economy

Local uranium ore prospects should be studied again

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Frost-covered dunes on Mars

Frost-covered dunes in crater on Mars in an image released yesterday by the UA-run HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.   [image ESP_016087_2595.  Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona]

Copper-catalyst offers path to economic capture of CO2

Tomorrow's edition of the journal Science includes a study that found a copper-containing catalyst binds two CO2 molecules into an oxalate, and allows the catalyst to be more easily recovered.  So far, there has not been a cost-effective technique to remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere, but researchers suggest this new process may offer a solution.

If the process turns out to be effective and scalable on a global scale, how much copper would it require?    With Arizona supply 65% of the nations copper, could this make a significant demand for the metal?

[right, CO2 molecules, top, are converted to oxalates by a catalyst, middle, and later released, bottom.  Credit, adapted from E. Bouwman, University of Leiden]

Awards in the Arizona geo-community

Congrats to Wendy Barnett, at Sonoran Science Academy in Tucson for being selected as the Outstanding Earth Science Teacher in Arizona by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers.

Rick Bennett [top] and Mihai Ducea [bottom]at the University of Arizona were recognized by the Geological Society of America as "2009 Exceptional Reviewers" for their contributions to the journal Lithosphere.

Proposed Arizona legislation

Here are new bills filed in the Arizona legislature that are relevant to the geoscience community:

SB1126 - Declares that nuclear fuel produced entirely within the state boundaries are not subject to federal interstate commerce laws

HB2290 - Amendment to allow used tires as filler material for abandoned mines through 12/31/2015, with a cover of at least 10 ft of earthen materials.

HB2180 - Amendment to exempt Class II injection wells used in natural gas storage projects from aquifer protection permit requirement

Updated satellite images of Haiti earthquake damage

I just got an email from the folks at DigitalGlobe that they are offering free access and downloading of their satellite photos of Haiti both pre- and post-earthquake, for the next two weeks:
DigitalGlobe's Crisis Event Service is actively collecting imagery of Haiti in response to the recent earthquakes.  With the power of the DigitalGlobe satellite constellation, we will have 23 collection opportunities of the earthquake damage over the next two weeks.
In an effort to help the humanitarian efforts underway in Haiti, we are offering free access to both pre- and post-earthquake imagery until January 28, 2010 with our ImageConnect plug-in for GIS software.
We also have an earthquake image gallery and damage analysis available on our website. View our gallery.

[Above,  Port-au-Prince Cathedral in the center of the picture, on Jan. 13 following the quake.  DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-1 High Off-Nadir Image]

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Uranium mining resumes at Denison's Arizona #1 mine

The Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff) reports that mining resumed in December at Denison Mine's Arizona #1 mine [right, Arizona #1 headframe. Credit, Denison Mines] in northern Arizona after a 20 year hiatus.

The mine is about 10 miles from the northern boundary of Grand Canyon National Park and has been attacked by mining opponents. The Sun does a nice job of summarizing the recent history, nature of the ore deposit, mining and milling processes, and the controversy.

Haiti quake recorded in Arizona

Yesterday's magnitude 7.0 earthquake occurred at 21:53 UTC (Jan 13) and the event was well recorded in Arizona.   At right, the Snowflake seismic station (X18A) in the Arizona Broadband Seismic Network shows the main energy arriving here at roughly 20-30 minutes after the quake occurred.

All of the Arizona stations can be viewed at

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Geologist Hickenlooper running for governor of Colorado

As widely speculated, Denver mayor, brewpub founder, and former geologist John Hickenlooper announced today that he is running for governor of Colorado.   If he wins he will become America's second geologist-governor, along with Jim Gibbons of Nevada.  [right, credit Hickenlooper campaign]

Science Channel's 'Meteorite Man' is Tucson-based

"Meteorite Men" premieres on the Science Channel on January 20, featuring Tucson meteor hunter, science writer, and photographer Geof Notkin and partner Steve Arnold [right. Credit, MeteoriteMen], following the duo as they hunt for meteorites around the world.

Geoff also blogs at as "Logical Lizard."

Tonight, he led a UA Science Cafe at the Cushing Street Bar & Restaurant, to talk about the new show and his meteorite searches.

Arizona mining companies among biggest in world

The annual valuation of the 100 top mining companies put Phoenix-based Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold in 9th place with a value of $37.87 billion [right Freeport's Miami mine startup.  Credit, Freeport McMoRan C&G] and Southern Copper at 13th with a value of $30.86 billion.

London-based Rio Tinto, the lead partner at the Resolution Copper mine near Superior, Arizona, is the 3rd largest company at $135.45 billion.

Freeport is the world's largest publicly-traded copper company.

Tracking the Pleistocene jet stream and aquifer recharge on Black Mesa

 A new study in Geology found that ground water from the Navajo sandstone aquifer shows "significant changes in noble gas infusion rates and concentration (particularly neon)... about 25,000 to 40,000 years ago, coinciding with the last Pleistocene ice age, as well as an extraordinary peak of neon associated with a flood of groundwater 14,000 to 17,000 years ago, at which time the southern jet stream hovered above northern Arizona."  [right, age of groundwater in the Navajo sandstone underlying Black Mesa, Arizona. Image by Ruth Droppo. Courtesy of Indiana University]

Ref: Noble gas signatures of high recharge pulses and migrating jet stream in the late Pleistocene over Black Mesa, Arizona, United States, Chen Zhu and Rolf Kipfer, Dept. of Geological Sciences, Indiana Univ., Bloomington, Indiana 47405, USA, doi: 10.1130/G30369.1 v. 38 no. 1 p. 83-86

News video on Earth fissures

KPHO- CBS channel 5 in Phoenix ran a feature news story tonight [right] on Earth fissures, prompted by the release of the AZGS' new map of fissures in Maricopa County.  AZGS geologist and fissure mapping project manager Joe Cook is shown describing some of the more prominent fissures and some near homes.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Maricopa County earth fissure map released

Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS) geologists have completed mapping the known earth fissures of Maricopa County.   Our mapping team identified and mapped more than seven miles of fissures in 8 separate study areas that are compiled together on this new county-wide map.  The finished Maricopa County Earth Fissure Map (map scale 1:250,000) is available online as a PDF download at AZGS’s Earth Fissure Center.

AZGS has completed mapping in the known fissure areas ("study areas") of Maricopa County and is wrapping up initial mapping of the areas of Pinal County.  

Arizona bill proposes seismic monitoring for illegal activity

The Arizona State Legislature starts its annual session today and State Senator Russell Pearce pre-filed Senate Bill (SB) 1027, which calls for a pilot program to install seismic monitors at rural airports to identify possible illegal drug activity and illegal immigration.  I guess the idea is know when and where smugglers planes land.  [right, drug-smuggling Beechcraft crashes in tv series Lost. Credit ABC]

The full text of the bill follows:
Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Arizona:
Section 1.  Immigration; seismic sensors; grants; pilot program; report; delayed repeal
A.  The department of public safety shall seek grants to implement a one‑year pilot program that would use seismic sensors to monitor airport runways in the rural areas of this state where illegal drug traffic and illegal immigration are likely to occur.
B.  On or before July 1, 2012, the department of public safety shall submit a report regarding the effectiveness of the pilot program to the governor, the speaker of the house of representatives and the president of the senate and shall provide a copy of this report to the secretary of state.
C.  This section is repealed from and after December 31, 2012.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Twitter Earthquake Detection from the USGS

The USGS has a new program that tracks earthquake related words from tweets and combines them with its own quake analysis to provide a feed called the USGS Twitter Earthquake Detection program or USGS TED.

It's an experimental project to determine what kind of citizen info can be compiled and how to use it in disaster response.

Dust clouds on Mars

A new image from the UA HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows small dust clouds in a "vast region of sand dunes at high northern latitudes on Mars. In the winter, a layer of carbon dioxide ice covers the dunes, and in the spring as the sun warms the ice it evaporates. This is a very active process, and sand dislodged from the crests of the dunes cascades down, forming dark streaks.

In the subimage falling material has kicked up a small cloud of dust. The color of the ice surrounding adjacent streaks of material suggests that dust has settled on the ice at the bottom after similar events.

Also discernible in this subimage are polygonal cracks in the ice on the dunes (the cracks disappear when the ice is gone)."

Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau on display in Flagstaff museum

A new exhibit at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff will showcase the Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau based on the recent book of the same name by Ron Blakey and Wayne Ranney.

Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau is open Sunday, January 10 through Sunday, August 29, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Lining of All American Canal nearly completed

The Yuma Sun offers an update on the 20-year, $285 million project to 'reline' the All American Canal that runs west of that city.  In fact, as large part of the 23-mile long project is resulting in all new construction. The lining/rebuilding project will prevent more than 67,700 acre feet of water from leaking into the subsurface annually.

Tents are going up for the mineral show

It's the depth of winter here in Tucson (a not too-bone chilling 70 degrees today) and the tents are starting to up around town for the annual Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Showcase, the largest such event in the world, with 50,000+ sellers and buyers in town participating in 40-50 independent shows, starting at the end of the month and continuing up through the56th annual Tucson Gem & Mineral Show, Feb 11-14.

[right, tents under construction across the street from the AZGS offices.  My photo 1-9-10]

Friday, January 08, 2010

Peabody's plan to operate two mines under one permit rejected by judge

A number of news sources are reporting today that an Interior Department Administrative Law Judge ruled the Office of Surface Mining cannot allow Peabody Western Coal Co. to operate two coal mines near Kayenta under a single federal permit.   [below, index map of mines and plants. Credit, OSMRE EIS]

The Sierra Club and others had filed suit as part of efforts to halt coal mining and coal-fired power plants in the region.

The Arizona Daily Sun reports that the Kayenta and Black Mesa mines opened in the 1970s and the Kayenta provide 8.5 million tons of coal annually to the Navajo Generating Station in Page.

The Black Mesa mine supplied coal to a power plant in Henderson Nevada that shut down in 2005 over costs of implementing tighter emissions controls and concerns about continuity of fuel supply, and as a result is now shut down.