Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mudslide blocks state route 188 NE of Phoenix

Arizona State Route 188 north of Roosevelt Lake was shut down for most of Wednesday due to a mud and rock slide that covered the road up to 6 feet deep with mud and rock, hitting some cars but not injuring anyone, according to news reports, including the most extensive story in the Arizona Republic.

ADOT had the road cleared by late afternoon.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lidar data of El Mayor-Cucapah earthquake

ASU geoscience prof Ramon Arrowsmith was interviewed last week by local tv at the Southern Calif. Earthquake Center's annual meeting, where he talked about using lidar data to analyze the deformation resulting from the April 4 El Mayor - Cucapah earthquake. Ramon described the background on his blog.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Grand Canyon recovery project highlighted

Vice President Joe Biden today released a report on “100 Recovery Act Projects that are Changing America” including the Grand Canyon Park Upgrades project:
Grand Canyon National Park has received nearly $14 million in Recovery funds to make a myriad of repairs to their park facilities. This includes $550,000 to reconstruct the popular South Kaibab Trail. Reconstruction will include trail resurfacing; rebuilding steps; stabilizing and preventative maintenance treatments to retaining walls including replacing those that have been lost to floods, slides, or erosion; and repairing and a l i g n ing damaged w a t e r features. The reconstruction project will significantly improve conditions for the over 200,000 annual visitors that use the trail.

Also included in this funding are two other projects which is improving housing for the Havasupai tribe at Supai Camp, the tribe's ancestral home at the Grand Canyon. One project will improve housing and living conditions for tribal members by rehabilitating six communal buildings. This includes replacing roofing and windows, repainting, improving interior walls, and installing fire sprinkler systems. In addition, the National Park Service will build six new housing units for use by the tribe. The Park Service has a long‐standing legal agreement with the tribe for recognition and occupancy at Supai Camp, and upgrades to their housing were long overdue.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Funding approved to test low temperature carbon dioxide-based geothermal electric power generation plant near Springerville

The U.S. Dept. of Energy selected Utah-based Greenfire Energy for "field evaluations of a low temperature carbon dioxide-based geothermal electric power generation plant. In Phase I, it will set up and initiate seismic monitoring at an existing CO2 production field, and collect and evaluate existing data. In Phase II, it will test several energy recovery techniques in existing shallow wells and the performance of CO2 as a working fluid." The company will receive $2 million from DOE and use CO2 from the St. Johns-Springerville field, under development by Ridgeway Arizona Oil Corp [right].

The project is one of seven announced yesterday. DOE explained the basis of this round of funding:

Low temperature resources are widely available across the country and offer an opportunity to significantly expand the national geothermal portfolio. However, most low temperature geothermal resources are not hot enough to be harnessed through traditional geothermal processes, including dry steam or flash steam power plants, which typically use water at temperatures greater than 360°F (182°C). The projects announced today aim to take advantage of geothermal fluids that won't "flash" on their own for electricity generation, but could be used in binary-cycle power plants. In binary cycle technologies, the water from the geothermal reservoir is used to heat another "working fluid," which is vaporized and used to turn the turbine or generator units.

ASU's lunar camera press conference

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team (managed by ASU held a press conference yesterday to announce a couple of milestones. Another set of 68,000+ images were released, and the mission moved to the Science Mission Directorate for a 2-year science mission, after completing its work of identifying potential landing sites for humans to return to the moon. [right, view of Earth's western hemisphere from LROC. Credit, NASA/GFSC/ASU]

In addition, they discussed the publication of 3 articles today in Science. The reports on silicic volcanoes are generating some buzz in the community.

Thanks to the Planetary Society blog.

Arizona STEM Network launched

Arizona launched a statewide science education initiative on Thursday with widespread support from industry, government, and education communities. Science Foundation Arizona organized the kickoff in Phoenix with 30 of us originally invited but that quickly grew when 55 rsvp'd and 85+ showed up. [STEM = science, technology, engineering, math. Photo credit, SFA]

Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold is tossing in $500K to get the Arizona STEM Network rolling. Gov. Brewer announced $100K of federal stimulus funds will be allocated towards the project.

Simultaneously, President Obama announced a national science education effort called Change the Equation, headed by CEOs of major corporations.

Jay Labov from the National Academy of Sciences came out for the Phoenix meeting and laid out a vision of how science should be taught that fired up the educators in the audience.

Sand transport along Colorado River

New USGS report provides weather and aeolian sand transport data that "can be used to document the relation between physical processes, including weather and aeolian sand transport, and their effects on the physical integrity of archeological sites."

Ref: Draut, A.E., Sondossi, H.A., Dealy, T.P., Hazel, J.E. Jr., Fairley, H.C., and Brown, C.R., 2010, 2009 weather and aeolian sand-transport data from the Colorado River corridor, Grand Canyon, Arizona: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2010-1166, 98 p.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

San Andreas quake will shake Arizona as well

The Southern California Earthquake Center unveiled new simulations at their annual meeting, including a video showing that a rupture on the San Andreas fault, rolling south through southern California will shake that basin much more than previously thought. But when you watch the simulation, note that the ground shaking is heading into Arizona. I have to convince SCEC director Tom Jordan to run the simulation a bit longer and track the seismic waves across Arizona.

Glaciation controls on mountain building

A new study in Nature, co-authored by UA researchers Stuart Thomson and Pete Reiners is getting lots of attention in the tectonics community.

They found that "erosion patterns and climate data from the late Cenozoic in the glaciated Patagonian Andes suggests that glaciation can also make mountains higher. At polar latitudes, a glacial layer can protect uplifting mountains from erosion, allowing them to reach heights well above those predicted had a glacial buzzsaw [ie, highly efficient erosion] been active."

Ref: Stuart N. Thomson, Mark T. Brandon, Jonathan H. Tomkin, Peter W. Reiners, Cristián Vásquez & Nathaniel J. Wilson, Glaciation as a destructive and constructive control on mountain building, Nature 467: 313-317

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rosemont forum on mining reclamation

This announcement came across my desk this afternoon. Rosemont Copper is hosting a public forum on "Rehabilitating the Land: Advances in Technologies for Mining Reclamation" on Sept. 21 in Vail to review their efforts to "reclaim and revegetate the land during and after mining."

The release says topics will include:

· summary of the state’s regulatory role in reclamation by Joe Hart, Arizona State Mine Inspector

· use of cattle for reclamation from David Cook, owner of DC Cattle Co. LLC

· a look at ongoing research to identify optimum combinations of soil and native species to reclaim land and support local habitat by Jeffrey Fehmi, Ph.D., a professor with the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources.

The event will be held at Empire High School, 10701 East Mary Ann Cleveland Way, Vail from 6:30 to 8 p.m. There is no cost for attendance.

Tar sand development in Utah

A Canadian company has received state approval to begin mining oil sands in Utah's Uintah basin on a 62-acre parcel, according to news reports. Environmentalists are raising concerns about water use and carbon dioxide production.

The Utah Geological Survey reports that "Utah’s tar sand deposits contain 14 to 15 billion barrels of measured oil in place, with an additional estimated resource of 23 to 28 billion barrels." The Utah resource is probably the largest in the U.S.

Given the extent of oil production in Canada's Athabasca tar sands, it seems like it was only a matter of time before the huge deposits in Utah would be targeted.

M5.0 aftershock to Baja quake shakes Yuma

The largest number of reports of today's early morning (3:52 am local time) magnitude 5.0 earthquake in Baja California, are coming from San Diego and Yuma, Arizona. As of 1pm, Yuma had about 225 responses to the quake being felt.

The event looks like an aftershock to the April 4, magnitude 7.2 El Mayor - Cucapah quake. [right, location map from USGS]

Natural gas pipelines in Arizona

Where are the large diameter natural gas pipelines in Arizona?

That was a question we got last night from someone apparently concerned over the gas line rupture and explosion in California.

The map at right is Figure 3 in AZGS Circular #30, "Arizona Has Salt." Interstate pipelines, with diameters of 30-inches are shown by the heavy dark lines, include the two northern El Paso and Transwestern lines through Kingman and Flagstaff and the two southern El Paso lines . The thinner lines are intrastate pipelines. The two crossover lines may be 30 inch also.

The Arizona Corporation Commission Pipeline Safety Division regulates interstate pipelines in Arizona.

[updated 9-15-10, 9:29am with the pipeline ownership]

Paul Martin, emeritus UA professor

We just learned of the death of University of Arizona emeritus Professor Paul Martin on Monday, September 13, following some lengthy health issues.

UA Geosciences Dept. Chair Karl Flessa sent out this brief announcement:
Paul Martin joined the Geochronology Laboratory of the University of Arizona in 1957 and was Professor of Geosciences from 1968 until his formal retirement in 1989. Paul is best known worldwide for his studies of Pleistocene extinctions and for his and his students’ work on the ecological and climatic record of packrat middens. Paul’s long reign on Tumamoc Hill created a community of scholars, students and just plain folks who wanted to know about how humans interacted with the rest of nature in the past so that they could build a better future for both.

Paul Martin was a generous, brilliant and extraordinarily influential scientist, teacher and mentor. More than forty years ago, he framed a scientific question: What was the role of humans in Pleistocene extinctions? It’s the greatest "whodunit" in science. The data convinced Paul - and many others - that human activity played a major role. Others disagreed, and the issue has engaged generations of scientists, students and the general public ever since. Paul warmly welcomed both supporters and dissenters. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It wasn’t just a matter of disarming his opponents with kindness. Paul really wanted to see things the way they saw them, to understand even more about his “favorite topic” – Pleistocene extinctions.

Paul's work bridged ecology, anthropology and paleontology is a way that had never been done before. He added deep time to ecological thinking, put prehistoric humans alongside now-extinct animals, and gave paleontology an environmental relevance it hadn't previously had. Paul was always a good friend and will always be my favorite paleontologist.

The Department of Geosciences has established the Paul S. Martin Quaternary Studies Fund to support field work in Quaternary geology, anthropology and paleontology. Donations may be sent to Paul S. Martin Fund, Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721. Checks should be made payable to "Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona".

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hoover Dam - drought, water, electricity nexus

The headline said that Hoover Dam could stop generating electricity by 2013, if water levels in Lake Mead continue to drop 10 feet per year, and go below the level needed to supply the generators. But further into the article, officials lay out an array of options to keep that from occurring. Some of the options are severe however, including curtailing water deliveries, or letting more water out of Lake Powell.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Flagstaff flood damage $15M, not counting homes

The Arizona (Flagstaff) Daily Sun reports that "Flood costs to the county, state and city of Flagstaff for repairs to roads and waterlines as well as erosion control in the forest is $15.8 million and counting." That includes the part of the $3.7 million reported spent on dropping straw by helicopter on steep slopes where US Forest Service hydrologists said it would be ineffective and wash away. It was, it did, and then more was dropped, to assuage public pressures to do something.

The damage figure does not include damage to 38 homes there were flooded and hundreds of others that had damage to outbuildings, driveways, etc, in the Timberline and Doney Park areas. [right, Timberline area, my photo, August 25]

AZGS geologists will participate in meetings with hydrologists and other experts the week of Sept. 20 in making longer term plans to mitigate and prevent flooding in the next few years until the area burned out by this springs Schultz fire is revegetated and stabilized.

USGS report: Sunnyside porphyry copper system

The USGS has released the magnetotelluric data without interpretation of the Sunnyside porphyry copper system which is part of the concealed San Rafael Valley porphyry system located in the Patagonia Mountains of Arizona. [right, index map showing MT sounding line in black, across phyllite alteration area bounded in red. Credit, USGS]

Ref: Rodriguez, B.D., and Sampson, J.S., 2010, Magnetotelluric survey to characterize the Sunnyside porphyry copper system in the Patagonia Mountains, Arizona: US Geological Survey Open-File Report 2010-1171, 56 p.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

USGS Porphyry Copper Deposit Model

The USGS has published a report Porphyry Copper Deposit Model that is of particular import to Arizona which produces 2/3 of the copper used in the U.S.:

This report contains a revised descriptive model of porphyry copper deposits (PCDs), the world’s largest source (about 60 percent) and resource (about 65 percent) of copper and a major source of molybdenum, gold and silver. Despite relatively low grades (average 0.44 percent copper in 2008), PCDs have significant economic and societal impacts due to their large size (commonly hundreds of millions to billions of metric tons), long mine lives (decades), and high production rates (billions of kilograms of copper per year). The revised model describes the geotectonic setting of PCDs, and provides extensive regional- to deposit-scale descriptions and illustrations of geological, geochemical, geophysical, and geoenvironmental characteristics. Current genetic theories are reviewed and evaluated, knowledge gaps are identified, and a variety of exploration and assessment guides are presented. A summary is included for users seeking overviews of specific topics.

Ref: John, D.A., Ayuso, R.A., Barton, M.D., Blakely, R.J., Bodnar, R.J., Dilles, J.H., Gray, Floyd, Graybeal, F.T., Mars, J.C., McPhee, D.K., Seal, R.R., Taylor, R.D., and Vikre, P.G., 2010, Porphyry copper deposit model, chap. B of Mineral deposit models for resource assessment: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5070–B, 169 p.

Thanks to The Lost Geologist for spotting this.

Will heat pumps usher in the 'golden age' of geothermal?

The new issue of Time magazine reports on ground source (geothermal) heat pumps and concludes that "the golden age of geothermal may soon be upon us."

They point to a new 415,000 sq ft Ikea store that will open near Denver next year using geothermal heat pumps as providing the 'bump' to move the technology into the mainstream, in part because the company expects to make the system plans public. Ikea already uses geothermal heat pump systems in other countries. Ikea is partnering with the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). Time says Ikea will drill 130 holes to 500 ft depths. [right, closed-loop system. Credit, US DOE Geothermal Technologies Program]

Last week, Dr. Masami Nakagawa with NREL's Low Temperature Geothermal Program spent a day and a half here in Tucson talking with us at AZGS about our work in deploying the National Geothermal Data System. Masami is working closely with the ground source heat pump industry and developed a comprehensive list of the kinds of data industry wants and needs to evaluate heat pump installations. We are looking for just this kind of 'content model' for all types of geothermal data to share with the other state geological surveys to serve as templates for compiling the most relevant data for the NGDS. For perhaps half the states in the country, ground source heat pumps are the dominant geothermal energy application.

We are arranging a workshop at NREL next month to demonstrate our data integration framework using the Geoscience Information Network (GIN) and work out plans for our developing partnership.

Gold bugs

An Australian study in Geology of biofilms on gold finds that the bacteria-driven "dissolution, precipitation, and aggregation lead to the formation of bacterioform Au and contribute to the growth of Au grains under supergene conditions..." [right, credit USGS]

It sounds like the bacterial bio-films dissolve the gold into nanoparticles and redeposit them as grains that can be purer than the original source. News reports describe it as a way of growing nuggets.

Ref: Nanoparticle factories: Biofilms hold the key to gold dispersion and nugget formation, doi: 10.1130/G31052.1 v. 38 no. 9 p. 843-846

Late Pleistocene grasslands & forest in Sonora

The ancient Térapa fossil site in northcentral Sonora, Mexico, "was covered with forest and grassland habitats that extended northward into Mexico by about 350 km relative to their present-day northern limits during the Late Pleistocene." The in-press report in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology is co-authored by UA scientist Arturo Baez.

Ref: Ancient forests and grasslands in the desert: Diet and habitat of Late Pleistocene mammals from Northcentral Sonora, Mexico, Elvis E. Nuneza, Bruce J. Macfadden, Jim I. Mead and Arturo Baez, doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2010.08.021

Friday, September 10, 2010

UA, ASU ranked well in high impact university listing

A new university ranking service puts the University of Arizona [top] at 39th out of the world's 500 top schools, and Arizona State University [bottom] at 58.

High Impact Universities bases their rankings on a calculated research performance index or RPI.

In a companion ranking of the academic/research programs in Pure, Natural and Math Sciences faculty, UA is ranked 17th (their highest ranked set of programs) and ASU is 63rd.

Group supports uranium exploration, mining for nuclear power

The American Clean Energy Resources Trust (ACERT) is promoting the "multiple benefits of clean, affordable nuclear energy and the consequent need for continued domestic uranium exploration, mining and processing." [right, unnamed reclaimed uranium mine site from the ACERT site]

The groups web page is focused mostly on the uranium resources of Northern Arizona and added a new page encouraging support for:
  • Increased use of nuclear energy in the U.S.
  • Greater U.S. energy independence
  • Responsible uranium mining in northern Arizona
  • Keeping northern Arizona open to uranium mining
The group makes sharp criticism of fossil fuel power plants as the prime source of air pollution that they identify (using National Park Service materials) as the biggest threat to the Grand Canyon.

Thanks to Jim Vroman for the tip on this group.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Water commission addresses rural water needs

The AZ Dept. of Water Resources new Water Development Commission is intended to address the state's "abandonment of rural Arizona, when it comes to unmet water demand" says Verde Independent writer Steve Ayers in a story published today.

Steve writes that the newly formed commission "for the first time calls for investigating the condition of the rural water supplies, identifying what sources of water are available and attempting to put a plan together to move water to where it is needed." [right, Verde River. Credit, Bert Duet, USGS]

UA Phoenix Lander team - Mars recently active

The UA-run Phoenix Mars Lander found evidence that the isotopic composition of atmospheric carbon dioxide is "pointing to an atmosphere rejuvenated by volcanic outpourings, possibly up to the very recent geologic past..." and "the atmosphere may have been chemically interacting with liquid water recently. And where there's liquid water, of course, there could be life." [right, ice in Phoenix Lander trench. Credit, UA/NASA]

A paper published today in the journal Science, co-authored by William Boynton and Dave Hamara at UA's Dept. of Planetary Sciences suggests that "low-temperature water-rock interaction has been dominant throughout martian history, carbonate formation is active and ongoing, and recent volcanic degassing has played a substantial role in the composition of the modern atmosphere."

Lots of new faces at AZGS

AZGS staff gathered for a group photo after Tuesday's staff meeting. We've been adding folks in the DOE Geothermal Data project so there are a fair number of new faces. We will be filling 5 more positions (watch for announcements on the AZGS web page and state hiring site) in the next few months as well as one or two pat time student technician slots.

Welcome to new employees Diane Love, Dr. Averill Cates, Lund Wolfe, Amber Mott, and Leah Musil.

ASU discovers natural bridges on the moon

The ASU-run Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera has revealed two natural bridges (arches) on the moon, likely formed by impact-generated magma deflating below a hardening crust, according to a story in New Scientist.

The larger bridge is 20m x 7m and the smaller is half that size

Geothermal is Nevada's 4th largest mineral production

Geothermal energy production is the fourth largest mineral category in Nevada in 2009, according to the newly released Economic Overview of Nevada's Mineral Industry, published by the Nevada Mining Association. Gold, silver, and copper were the top valued minerals produced in the state. [right, Beowawe geothermal power plant. Credit, Terra-Gen and Geothermal Energy Association]

Nevada dropped from 5th to 6th in world production of gold, even though proven and probable gold reserves increased from 70 million ounces to 75 million ounces in 2009.

New Zealand quake photos

More spectacular photos from the Canterbury earthquake in New Zealand are flooding the intertubes. Many are reminiscent of strike slip faulting in California with right lateral shear and offsets. Note the sand boils from liquefaction.

Take a look at the more extensive photo set at where I found these .

Thanks to Steve Swanson for passing along the link.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Restoring the Gulf means restoring processes

The Gulf Coast restoration efforts should focus on restoring processes rather than some arbitrary point in a dynamic and constantly changing ecosystem.

During dinner last night at the Arizona Geological Society meeting, USGS Director Marcia McNutt prompted a short but insightful conversation with Vic Baker, UA geosciences professor (and former president of the Geological Society of America).

After three disasters - Katrina, the recession, and now the oil leak, the Gulf Coast needs resiliency. There is no "perfect" condition that we should aim to restoring. The region has undergone vast changes due to human intervention for decades. Who can define what the ideal point in time should be to recreate? And how long would it be static before all the forces of mother nature and man change it in ways that we may never anticipate?

[right, Kenneth Lee Ph.D., a research scientist and executive director of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, speaks to a crowd of observers about surf washing in Grand Isle State Park, Aug. 23, 2010. Surf washing is an oil spill cleanup technique being tested to confirm that natural surf and tides may offer an environmentally sound solution to restoring beaches affected by the Deepwater Horizon incident. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Erik Swanson, Credit,]

Tales from the Gulf oil leak

USGS Director Marcia McNutt gave her first public talk on the Deepwater Horizon - Gulf oil leak last night, and talked frankly about some some of the politics and controversial decisions. She may be the first senior official other than Adm. Thad Allen to speak publicly since the leak was halted.

She spoke at the monthly dinner meeting of the Arizona Geological Society last night in Tucson.

She described how local politicians were publicly berating federal officials for not immediately approving their demands for sand berms on barrier islands. The USGS had warned that the berms were too far from shore, and the sand source would create new problems, among other problems.

Objections were ignored, the predicted problems occurred, and now some of those same politicians are screaming that the feds are to blame. [update, 9-9-10, 11:45: author Michael Welland who blogs at "Through the Sandglass" offers a pretty stinging review of the sand berm controversy in Louisiana in a new post.]

A second story that caught my attention was when the final cap was placed over the well and the leak appeared to be stopped. But the pressure readings caused some to worry that oil was leaking below the sea bed with the potential to rupture through the surrounding sediments. One group wanted to remove the cap to prevent a possible catastrophic subsurface blowout to occur, but allowing the oil to resume leaking. Others argued the pressure gradients showed the system as stable.

The pressure charts were apparently confidential but USGS petrophysicist took a picture of one with his cell phone and emailed it to USGS geologist Paul Hseih in Menlo Park who worked through the night analyzing the data. By morning he concluded the well was intact. His interpretation carried the day and the cap was left in place.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Flyover of New Zealand fault rupture trace

No doubt this video will be popping up on geoblogs and websites around the world, but spectacular images of lateral shear on the fault that produced the Sept 4 Canterbury earthquake in New Zealand.

Havasu flooding before & after 2008 flood

Tyler d'Hulst was in Havaupai when the floods occurred in August, 2008. He recently hiked back into the canyon and is sharing photos and comments on the changes on his web site and blog. [right, my photo of the new falls created when the creek changed its course]

Monday, September 06, 2010

NASA Desert RATS complete first week

NASA's Desert RATS teams are wrapping up the first week of their two week deployment in Arizona, testing a variety of planetary rovers and other units including a Habitat Development Unit that houses the geosciences laboratory. The group is posting daily photos on Flickr. [right, two rovers head out on Saturday on separate tests. Credit, NASA]

Did lake overflow form the Salt River Valley?

A new article in the Journal of the Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science by a team of Arizona geologists including AZGS's Brian Gootee, has documented the existence of an "older, higher terrace" that supports the idea that "the lower Salt River originated by lake overflow from an ancestral Pliocene lake in the Tonto Basin."

They conclude that "The existence of this terrace and its distinct gravels are consistent with, but do not prove, a lake overflow mechanism for the initiation of through flowing drainage in the Salt River Valley." [right, Salt River Valley. Credit, Phoenix Valley Real Estate Blog]

Ref: Phillip H. Larson, Ronald I. Dorn, John Douglass, Brian F. Gootee and Ramon Arrowsmith, "Stewart Mountain Terrace: A New Salt River Terrace with Implications for Landscape Evolution of the Lower Salt River Valley," Arizona, Journal of the Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science 42(1):26-35. 2010, doi: 10.2181/036.042.0105

Sunday, September 05, 2010


Until Friday, I had not heard the term "hydrophilanthropy" but after just a few minutes of listening to Dave Kreamer describe student and other volunteer efforts around the world, I got it.

Dave is professor of hydrology at UN Las Vegas, and the one who coined the term hydrophilanthropy. He opened the session on "Adventures in Hydroanthropology" at the AHS Annual Symposium in Tucson on Friday. And he is the editor of an issue of the Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education (JCWRE) on the topic of Hydrophilanthropy and Education.

In his intro to the journal issue, he notes that the term describes "the altruistic efforts of colleagues to provide sustainable, clean water for people and ecosystems worldwide."

What I heard was that it's not just the equipment, training, technology - successful projects have to understand the local political and cultural situations.

Karst hydrology of Grand Canyon

Carol Hill and Victor Polyak passed along news that their paper on karst hydrology of the Grand Canyon has been published. They conclude that "The karst hydrology of Grand Canyon may be unique compared to other hypogene cave areas of the world." [right, Figure 13 from the paper: "Gypsum rind in an eastern Grand Canyon cave. This is not a speleothemic gypsum crust but a speleogenetic gypsum rind that formed just above the water table as a replacement of the limestone bedrock." Photo by Bob Buecher]
"Descent of the potentiometric surface (or water table) over time is recorded by one ore episode and six cave episodes: (1) emplacement of Cu–U ore, (2) precipitation of iron oxide in cavities, (3) dissolution of cave passages, (4) precipitation of calcite-spar linings over cave passage walls, (5) precipitation of cave mammillary coatings, (6) minor replacement of cave wall and ceiling limestone by gypsum, and (7) deposition of subaerial speleothems."

Ref: "Karst Hydrology of Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA," C.A. Hill, & V.J. Polyak, Sept. 2010, Journal of Hydrology, v. 390, p. 169-181.

Terraforming Ascension Island

In the nearly 175 years since Charles Darwin made the first geological reconnaissance of Ascension Island (on his way home from the HMS Beagle voyage to the Galapagos), its peaks have been transformed from barren piles of ash to lush tropical oases. In the twenty three years since my first trip to the island, I have seen the dramatic changes firsthand.

The BBC ran a fascinating story the other day, describing the bringing of a vast array of plants from London's Kew Gardens so that "in effect, what Darwin, Hooker and the Royal Navy achieved was the world's first experiment in "terra-forming". They created a self-sustaining and self-reproducing ecosystem in order to make Ascension Island more habitable."

My first trip to Ascension was made in 1987 in the cargo hold of a US Air Force C141 transport. After an all-night flight from Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, we arrived just after dawn on a rocky barren pile of cinders and ash. The only serious vegetation grew on the upper slopes of Green Mountain [right, taken from Green Mtn, view of cinder cones to the north. My photo, 2003] , the central peak of the 34 square mile volcanic hot spot in the center of the South Atlantic.

I was part of a team from the University of Utah that was drilling deep exploratory wells looking for geothermal energy. The first well found temperatures of 480F but not enough flow rate to run a power plant. I was there to help site the second well - looking for active faults or fracture zones that might provide high water flows. [typo correction 9-6-10, 14:53]

In 2003 I made my 4th (out of 5 trips ultimately) trip to Ascension with Mike Valentine from the University of Puget Sound, to collect samples for paleomagnetic analysis. During my first trips in the 1980s I collected a number of oriented surface samples that went to Mike's paleomagnetic lab. What Mike and his students found was enough for NSF to fund a return trip to collect hundreds of paleomag cores for more precise measurements.

The most striking difference between 1989 and 2003 was the spread of vegetation across many of the low volcanic plains and flanks of cinder cones. The geothermal well site that was stark in 1989 was now almost inaccessible due to thick growths of what was locally called monkeypod trees. The seed pods from the tree were providing abundant food for the feral donkey population which had exploded over the same period [middle, my photo, 2003].

Meanwhile, a team had been systematically rounding up or killing the large population of feral cats that had roamed the island for centuries, devastating the once huge migratory bird population. The cats were let loose initially to kill the rats that went ashore from the British ships that provisioned the uninhabited island. The rats ate birds eggs but the cats went after the birds as well as the rats.

As the BBC notes, the evolution of Ascension Island [bottom, credit NASA] is taking place over the course of scores of years rather than over geologic time scales, and could serve as a real life laboratory for environmental change or perhaps for how we might terraform Mars for eventual human settlement.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

UA's Phoenix Mars Lander found missing piece of puzzle to life on Mars

A new study published online in Journal of Geophysical Research - Planets, concludes that tests conducted by the University of Arizona's Phoenix Mars Lander, show that "soil examined by NASA's Viking Mars landers in 1976 may have contained carbon-based chemical building blocks of life."

A news release from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab says that "The only organic chemicals identified when the Viking landers heated samples of Martian soil were chloromethane and dichloromethane -- chlorine compounds interpreted at the time as likely contaminants from cleaning fluids. But those chemicals are exactly what the new study found when a little perchlorate -- the surprise finding from Phoenix -- was added to desert soil from Chile containing organics and analyzed in the manner of the Viking tests."

Breccia pipe uranium deposits in northern Arizona

Don Bills, with the USGS, summarized some of the results in the study they released back in February on the northern Arizona uranium province.

The study had been available online, but the hard copy has recently been printed and distributed. [right, breccia pipes, mines, and related features in northern Arizona. Plate 1, USGS Scientific Investigation Report 2010-5025]

Don listed the amounts of uranium in each of the three areas of federal lands temporarily withdrawn from exploration and mining by the Secretary of Interior:

Northern area = 92,000 tons
Eastern area = 22,000 tons
Southern area = 49,000 tons

For comparison, Don noted that 1 ton of uranium produces energy equal to 40 million kilowatt-hours, which would require 16,000 tons of coal or 80,000 barrels of oil.

Don pointed out that most water tables in the region are about 1,000 feet below the uranium-bearing zone in the breccia pipes, but there are perched water tables in some areas that have the potential to be impacted by mining.

Ref: Donald Bills, Geologic and hydrologic site characterization of breccia pipe uranium deposits in northern Arizona

Uranium in the Colorado River

Based on previous U.S. Geological Survey studies that measured 3 to 5 parts per billion dissolved uranium being carried by the Colorado River, AZGS senior geologist Jon Spencer and geological consultant Karen Wenrich calculated that with river discharge of about 3.6 cubic miles annually, this amounts to an average transport load of 40 - 80 tonnes (metric tons, or an average of 132,000 pounds -66 tons/60 tonnes - of uranium). Jon presented the results yesterday at the Arizona Hydrological Society Annual Symposium in Tucson. [right, breccia pipe exposed in canyon wall, northern Arizona]

To evaluate some of concerns about the environment impacts of mining of uranium from breccia pipes in northern Arizona, Jon and Karen constructed a hypothetical model involving a haul truck loaded with 10 metric tons of uranium ore -- with an ore grade of 1 percent, equivalent to the high-grade ore of breccia pipes -- swept into Kanab Creek during a flash flood.

In this scenario, the ore is pulverized by river action and added to the dissolved uranium content of the river. The result: a one-year increase of 220 pounds of dissolved uranium, which is the equivalent of less than one-fifth of one percent (0.17 percent) increase in the river’s uranium content. The authors conclude this added amount would be undetectable given the much higher natural concentrations of uranium, the natural variability of the concentrations, and the difficulty of determining such a small change in concentration with modern analytical techniques.

In this limited study, Jon and Karen did not attempt to model how the dissolved uranium would be deposited in river sediments, or examine potential impacts of mining on groundwater. Those issues require additional study.

Jon and Karen did offer a perspective on the origin of the uranium ores in breccia pipes are being tied to the development of Mississippi Valley-style ore deposits in other parts of the country. In response to an audience question, Jon speculated that the long distance migration of vast amounts of mobilizing (oxidizing) fluids over a long geologic period and large area could have concentrated normal background amounts of uranium into the rich deposits we see today.

Talk title: The Grand Canyon breccia‐pipe uranium province, northwestern Arizona

Friday, September 03, 2010

Re-opened Gold Road mine pours its first gold bar

The Gold Road mine poured its first bar of gold this past week since reopening in 2007, according to the Kingman Daily Miner.

Suzanne Adams story tells the century-long history of the mine that previously produced 700,000 ounces of gold. From 1998 to 2007, the mine was a tourist site.

[right, Gold Road mine, looking south, in 1906. Silicified lode croppings on both sides. Photo is Plate 11-A in U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 397, 1909]

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Flagstaff residents don't qualify for flood disaster assistance

Not enough Flagstaff homeowners were hurt by July and August floods to qualify for federal assistance from FEMA, according to a story in the Arizona [Flagstaff] Daily Sun. The threshold is said to be 100 residences or more and $6.6 million in damages.

Coconino County and the State may yet be eligible for federal assistance to pay for repairs and mitigation work on roads, channels, and culverts. ADEM and the County had spent about $5.4 million as of last week when we toured the area.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

NASA Desert RATS back in Arizona

NASA’s Desert RATS, or Research and Technology Studies, kicked off their 13th field season in Arizona with a live web cast aimed at students today.

NASA reports that the hardware being demonstrated includes:
  • Space Exploration Vehicles – a pair of rovers that astronauts will live in for 7 days at a time
  • Habitat Demonstration Unit/Pressurized Excursion Module – a simulated habitat where the rovers can dock to allow the crew room to perform experiments or deal with medical issues
  • Tri-ATHLETEs, or -Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer – two heavy-lift rover platforms that allow the habitat, or other large items, to go where the action is
  • portable communications terminals
  • Centaur 2 – a possible four-wheeled transportation method for NASA Robonaut 2
  • Portable Utility Pallets, or PUPs for short – mobile charging stations for equipment
  • And a suite of new geology sample collection tools, including a self-contained GeoLab glove box for conducting in-field analysis of various collected rock samples.
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