Saturday, December 31, 2011

Interim Arizona State Parks director

There doesn't seem to have been much attention in the news media about Renee Bahl leaving as Executive Director of Arizona State Parks for a position as Assistant County Executive in Santa Barbara, California.

The State Parks system has been struggling with budget cuts by closing some parks, seeking support from local communities, and attempting to find private sector operators for others. But some Legislators berated Renee for not privatizing all the parks, despite parks officials warning there is a near-zero likelihood of most of them becoming self supporting, let alone profitable, and thus not of interest to companies. Sitting in a Parks budget hearing last session, it seemed to me Renee was in a no-win situation.

The Prescott Daily Courier reports that the Arizona State Parks Board appointed Prescott resident Bill Feldmeier [right, credit ADOT] as the interim executive director while a national search for a permanent director is underway.

Feldmeier is a former Yavapai County Supervisor, and currently the chair of the Arizona Dept. of Transportation Board.

Baja quake felt in Yuma

A magnitude 4.3 earthquake in Baja California on Friday morning was felt across southern-most California with at least one report from Yuma. The event occurred at 7:34 AM local time about 37 miles south of Mexicali, Mexico.

[Right, shake map from USGS]

ASU researchers propose searching for alien artifacts on the moon

ASU professor Paul Davies and student Robert Wagner have a new paper in the journal Acta Astronautica, calling on volunteers to search high resolution photos of the Moon for evidence of alien visitation. [Right, the "Blair Cuspids" photographed by Lunar Orbiter 2 in 1966. Credit, NASA] The basic concepts are that:

Alien civilizations may have sent probes to our region of the galaxy. Any mission to the solar system would probably have occurred a very long time ago. The lunar environment could preserve artifacts for millions of years. Lunar Reconnaissance LinkOrbiter provides a photographic database to search for artifacts. Searching the LRO database would make an excellent educational project.

The authors conclude that "Although there is only a tiny probability that alien technology would have left traces on the moon in the form of an artifact or surface modification of lunar features, this location has the virtue of being close, and of preserving traces for an immense duration."

The article is generating buzz in the planetary science community

Link: Searching for alien artifacts on the moon, Acta Astronautica, In Press. doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2011.10.022

Earth science contributions to Tucson's "Science City" moniker

Catching up on events of recent weeks, I missed pointing out the 40-page insert in the Arizona (Tucson) Daily Star, showcasing science at the University of Arizona:
"World Class Research in Tucson: A Science City"

Geosciences are profiled in 5 reports:

Geotourism: Experience our amazing natural world

Listening to earthquakes as the Andes grow

Clues into how the Grand Canyon formed [right]

Drake leaves scientific legacy of greatness

Seeing water as it hides underground

Seismic-hazard maps for conterminous U.S.

The USGS just published the 2008 probabilistic seismic hazard maps for the conterminous U.S. "portraying peak horizontal acceleration and horizontal spectral response acceleration for 0.2- and 1.0-second Linkperiods with probabilities of exceedance of 10 percent in 50 years and 2 percent in 50 years. All of the maps were prepared by combining the hazard derived from spatially smoothed historic seismicity with the hazard from fault-specific sources."

Ref: Petersen, M.D., Frankel, A.D., Harmsen, S.C., Mueller, C.S., Haller, K.M., Wheeler, R.L., Wesson, R.L., Zeng, Yuehua, Boyd, O.S., Perkins, D.M., Luco, Nicolas, Field, E.H., Wills, C.J., and Rukstales, K.S., 2011, Seismic-Hazard Maps for the Conterminous United States, 2008: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 3195, 6 sheets, scale 1: 7,000,000.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rapid incision of Grand Canyon 4.8 Mya

AZGS Senior Geologist Jon Spencer's written a concise summary on the origin of the modern Colorado River and incision of the Grand Canyon starting about 4.8 million years ago (Mya), for our online Arizona Geology magazine.

Jon concludes that the integration of the Colorado River drainage basin with the Pacific Ocean occurred at 4.8 Mya. "This event resulted in a major eastward shift in the continental divide, which was perhaps the single largest transition in the Cenozoic hydrologic evolution of southwestern North America" He also cautions that "much remains to be learned about the cause of this transition."
[Right, maximum inferred extent of the Miocene-Pliocene Hualapai-Bouse lake system. Southward spillover of Lake Blythe marks the final event in integration of the Colorado River drainage basin with the Pacific Ocean]

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Small quake near Utah border

A magnitude 1.6 earthquake occurred at about 1:30 AM local time on Monday morning, 15 miles west of Colorado City, AZ.

The quake is at the southern end of the Intermountain Seismic Belt. [Right, star marks location amidst other 2011 seismic events. Credit, USGS]

Monday, December 26, 2011

ASU geo prof's Antarctic exploration book gets rave reviews

The new book by ASU geoscience professor Edmund Stump, "The Roof at the Bottom of the World: Discovering the Transantarctic Mountains" (Yale University, $29.95) is drawing lots of attention including a recent review by the New York Times:

Stump clearly and ably recounts the history of Antarctic exploration from James Clark Ross in the 1840s through the 1950s. (Fair warning, though: there’s lots of geologizing.) Best, he includes very fine topographic maps, color photographs (many his own) and satellite images. And most helpful for anyone ever confused about just where and how the explorers made their way, Stump has superimposed the actual routes they took on many of the ­images.

The review was published in tandem with one on "The Lost Photographs of Capt. Scott." NYT noted that a version of this review appeared in print on December 4, 2011, on page BR27 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: The Antarctic.

Friday, December 23, 2011

M=4.7 quake in Gulf shakes Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco)

A magnitude 4.7 earthquake in the Gulf of California shook the beach resort town of "Rocky Point" (Puerto Penasco, Sonora, Mexico) 40 miles to the north. The quake occurred at 5:32 AM local time.

The Gulf is tectonically active with spreading centers and transform faults, but the quake appears to be off the main fault lines. [Right, location map from USGS]

Preliminary economic assessment for Holbrook basin potash mine

Prospect Global Resources has released the Preliminary Economic Assessment for the American West Potash LLC potash resources in the Holbrook basin of eastern Arizona. The 79-page report expects 2 million tonnes per year of finished product, a mine cost of $1.334 billion dollars, a workforce of almost 390, with hourly wages of $25 and management/supervisory salaries of $80,000. At the projected production rate and value of potash, they calculate a 39.7% internal rate of return that would pay off their investment in 2.1 years. [Right, prelimary mine plan for AWP property. Credit, Prospect Global Resources]

We'll be reading the report in more detail over the coming days, which includes an analysis of world potash demands and production, mine operations, mineral processing, salt tailings storage, hydrogeology, and environmental and permitting issues.

From the report conclusions:

The resource will be mined by conventional underground mining methods accessed by shaft which will allow for the production of 2,000,000 tonnes per year of finished product. In order to achieve this production target it is estimated that 13.5 MMT of mineralized material (sylvinite) are required to be mined. The estimated life of the mine, considering both indicated and inferred, is approximately 40 years.
Tetra Tech prepared an economic analysis for the Holbrook Basin Project based on assumed design preparation and cost estimates. The analysis was prepared for a 13.5 Mtpy production scenario. The project operating costs are estimated at US$97/tonne. Total estimated initial capital cost for the Holbrook Basin Project, including indirect and contingency costs are estimated at US $1,334 million, over the initial 3 year pre-production period. Additional, incremental operating or sustaining capital will be required over the 40 year mine life and is estimated at a total cost of approximately US $643 million. Project economic analyses were performed on a before tax basis, with a base case assuming 85% mill recovery rate, an MOP
price of US$496/tonne ($450/ton) and a 10 percent discount rate. This base case resulted in a net present value (NPV) of US $3,818 million, an internal rate of return (IRR) of 39.7% and a payback period of approximately 2.1 years.

Project economics are most sensitive to variances in potash price. At a price of US$397/tonne ($360/ton) the project NPV declines to US$2,413 million compared to the base case NPV of US$3,818 million. On the other hand at a 20 percent higher price (US$595/tonne) the project NPV increases significantly to US$5,223 million.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gravity data from San Pedro River basin

The USGS has published a gravity data set for the San Pedro River basin in southeastern Arizona.

The report includes "relative and absolute gravity data at 321 stations in the San Pedro River Basin of southeastern Arizona since 2000. Data are of three types: observed gravity values and associated free-air, simple Bouguer, and complete Bouguer anomaly values, useful for subsurface-density modeling; high-precision relative-gravity surveys repeated over time, useful for aquifer-storage-change monitoring; and absolute-gravity values, useful as base stations for relative-gravity surveys and for monitoring gravity change over time. The data are compiled, without interpretation, in three spreadsheet files."

[Right, location of gravity stations in Upper San Pedro River Basin. From the USGS report]

Ref: Kennedy, J.R., Winester, D., 2011, Gravity data from the San Pedro River Basin, Cochise County, Arizona: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2011–1287, 11 p. and data files, available at

Congress agrees on USGS FY2012 appropriation

Here is the text of the Joint Statement of Managers from the House/Senate conference for the Interior Appropriations bill for the 2012 fiscal year:

Of particular importance to State Geological Surveys is the restoration of the proposed budget to the National Geological & Geophysical Data Preservation Program. AZGS is currently receiving matching funds under this program to digitize and archive the historic mining and mineral resource files we inherited with the merger of the AZ Dept. of Mines & Mineral Resources. Also, some of the proposed cuts to the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program were restored. AZGS puts up matching funds to this competitive program, which is the primary geologic mapping effort in the state.


The bill provides $1,069,744,000 for Surveys, Investigations, and Research of the U.S.
Geological Survey. The detailed allocation of funding by activity and sub-activity is included in the table at the end of this statement and comports with the requested budget structure realignment. Unless otherwise indicated below, the conferees have accepted the proposals for reductions resulting from Department-wide efficiencies, administrative savings, and Enterprise Publishing Network savings. A decrease of $2, 172,000 to the request has been assumed to reflect changes in the fmal fiscal year 20 II operating plan, which was not available at the time the request was submitted. Support for ecosystem restoration activities throughout the Survey's programs is maintained at the fiscal year 20 II enacted level. Additional changes to the request are specified below.

Ecosystems.-The bill provides $161,536,000 for Ecosystems activities. Increases above the
enacted level include $1,500,000 for The Chesapeake Bay Executive Order and $2,500,000 for the Great Lakes Asian Carp Control Framework. The conferees support the President's budget proposal to conduct an in-depth analysis of the extent and sources of endocrine disrupting chemicals impacting fish and wildlife in the Chesapeake basin.

Climate and Land Use Change.-The bill provides $144,320,000 for Climate and Land Use
Change programs. Within Climate Variability, changes to the request include decreases of$2,000,000 from Research and Development, and $6,460,000 from Science Support for DOl Bureaus. Carbon Sequestration is funded at $9,000,000.

Within Land Use Change, an increase of$11,500,000 is provided to complete funding for
Landsat 8 ground operations development. The conferees have not agreed with the proposal to create a separate "Land Imaging" account and have instead maintained funding for all satellite operations within this subactivity. Estimated administrative savings assumed in the proposed new account have been assumed within the Land Use Change account instead.

The conferees have not agreed to transfer budgetary authority for the launch of Landsat satellites 9 and 10 from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to the Survey. Of the requested $48,000,000 increase for its implementation, the conferees have provided $2,000,000 for program development only. The conferees note that future requests for the project are estimated by the Administration to escalate to over $400,000,000 by fiscal year 2014. There is little doubt that resources will not be available within the Interior Appropriations bill to support these very large increases without decimating all other Survey programs. The conferees note that the launch of Landsat 9 is not scheduled until 2018. This allows time in the year ahead for all interested parties to re-examine how to proceed with future Landsat missions. In the conferees' view this would be a prudent step, inasmuch as the current budget proposal is based on a report from the Office of Science and Technology Policy issued in 2008,
and both technological advances and a vastly different economic environment may point to other, less costly, options for obtaining Landsat data.

Energy, Minerals, and Environmental Health.-The bill provides $96,368,000 for Energy, Minerals, and Environmental Health. The following amounts have been restored to ongoing programs that were proposed to be reduced in the request: $250,000 for the Minerals External Research Program; $5,000,000 for Minerals Resources; $1,000,000 for Energy Resources; $500,000 for Contaminants; and $2,500,000 for Toxic Substances Hydrology. An increase of $1,000,000 is provided for the New Energy Frontier initiative.

Natural Hazards.-The bill provides $134,696,000 for Natural Hazards. The conferees have not
agreed to proposed reductions in the request and have restored funds to the following programs:
$2,000,000 for Earthquake Grants; $1,800,000 for the 2012 Multi-Hazards Initiative; and $1,500,000 for the National Volcano E~ly Warning System. Decreases from the request include $800,000 from the 2011 Multi-Hazards Initiative, and $3,000,000 from Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning.

Water Resources.-The bill provides $214,996,000 for Water Resources. Funding has been
restored for the following programs that were proposed to be reduced in the request: $2,000,000 for Groundwater Resources; $6,049,000 for the National Water Quality Assessment Program; $1,963,000 for the Cooperative Water Program; and $6,500,000 for the Water Resources Research Act Program. A program increase of$2,846,000 above the request is provided for the National Streamflow Information Program. Decreases from the request include $2,500,000 from the WaterSMART initiative within Hydrologic Networks and Analysis. The conferees encourage the Survey to include with its fiscal year 2013 budget request a proposal to establish a national groundwater monitoring network as authorized by the Secure Water Act.

Core Science Systems.-The bill provides $106,849,000 for Core Science Systems. Increases to
the request include $998,000 for the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program to continue funding at the current year enacted level, and $1,500,000 for National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Federal and State Partnerships to partially restore the proposed reduction to that program. Decreases from the request include $500,000 from WaterSMART.

Administration and Enterprise Information-The bill provides $110,397,000 for Administration
and Enterprise Information. There is a decrease from the request of $5,920,000 for separation costs. This amount is significantly below what the Survey would need to implement its proposed reduction in force. If a similar plan is put forward in future budget requests, the conferees expect that sufficient funds will be requested for its implementation.

Facilities.-The bill provides $100,582,000 for Facilities. The conferees do not agree with the
administration's proposal to create a separate "Construction" line item within the budget and
consequently have maintained those funds within the "Deferred Maintenance and Capital Improvement" subactivity. In the conferees' view, the Survey has the authorities it requires to manage its facilities and space requirements within the current structure.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Interpretative award to Grand Canyon Trail of Time

The Trail of Time at Grand Canyon National Park won the Wayside Media Award from the National Association for Interpretation, according to a story on KCSG tv in St. George, Utah.

From the National Park Service: "The Trail of Time is an interpretive walking timeline trail that focuses on Grand Canyon vistas and rocks to guide visitors to ponder, explore, and understand the magnitude of geologic time and the stories encoded by Grand Canyon rock layers and landscapes." [Right, view of Trail of Time segment. Credit, Mike Quinn, NPS]

"The concept of a scaled geologic walking trail, along the heavily-visited South Rim, was originally conceived in 1995 by Dr. Karl Karlstrom and Dr. Michael Williams as a way to improve geoscience interpretation at Grand Canyon and connect research advances to public geoscience education. In 2001 Dr. Karl Karlstrom and Dr. Laura Crossey began applying for funding from the National Science Foundation to implement the project. Major progress on the project started in 2006 when funding was obtained from the National Science Foundation Informal Science Education Program. Since then the Trail of Time has grown to include Dr. Steve Semken (at Arizona State University), Ryan Crow (at University of New Mexico), many partners at Grand Canyon National Park, professional exhibit designers at Jim Sell Designs, and professional evaluators at Selinda Research Associates, among others."

The National Association for Interpretation (NAI) is a not-for-profit professional association for those involved in the interpretation of natural and cultural heritage resources in settings such as parks, zoos, museums, nature centers, aquaria, botanical gardens, and historical sites.

Join an eclectic science outreach group for ideas, inspiration and networking

"The Public Understanding of Science" – It's a phrase bandied around often enough, but it can mean different things to different people. What does it mean to you? We want to learn from you, whether you are a science communicator, educator, researcher or just have a hand in helping folks understand and appreciate science.

To provide you the opportunity to share your knowledge, experience, challenges (and even pain), we're organizing the First Annual COPUS (Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science) Invitational at the Biosphere 2 facility from March 16 to 18, 2012. We're styling the Invitational as an "UnConference." It's a think tank, networking event, showcase, forum and a celebration – all rolled into one. You'll be joining an eclectic group of folks from across the country who are passionate about sharing science with the public.

Participation is primarily by invitation but a small number of spaces have been reserved for open applications. The deadline for applications is January 15, 2012. (

In the spirit of the UnConference we are inviting attendees to drive the agenda. When you register, you'll be asked for your thoughts and opinions on the topics that you think would be most relevant to your interests.

We've invited several dozen dedicated and accomplished writers, artists, editors, teachers, and yes, scientists, to participate in this unique event. Together, we'll brainstorm on the challenges of helping a broader audience to realize the value of scientific thinking as well as the benefits science brings to their daily lives.

We don't have a strict mandate for the UnConference. Our goal is to provide attendees with ideas, inspiration and networking opportunities that will help them in their day-to-day work, outreach and professional aspirations. The event will provide interaction across domains of science outreach that don't normally interact but that need to. Collectively we will learn from each other and develop some key concepts around which to drive future thinking to increase the public understanding of science.

[I am a co-founder of COPUS and continue to serve on the COPUS Core. We're delighted to help organize and host the first national conference in Arizona]

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Putting the Colorado City quakes in context

Last week's cluster of small earthquakes near Colorado City just south of the Utah border, generated interest in this remote area. Lisa Linville, who recently joined AZGS as an earthquake seismologist, based in Flagstaff, has written a nice overview on our Groundswell blog, which focuses on earthquake topics.

I'm reproducing Lisa's map here. The 4 earthquakes from Dec. 12-13, ranged in magnitude from 1.7 to 3.1 (shown in orange; other historical quakes in open circles). This cluster falls in between the Sevier-Toroweap and Hurricane fault systems, both of which are active.

We're not ready to link the quakes to a specific fault. Similar clusters of quakes are not uncommon throughout the region, many not associated with any known faults.

These earthquakes are a reminder that there is a significant seismic hazard potential in northwestern Arizona.

New Research Opportunities in the Earth Sciences

The National Research Council has released the preliminary copy of their report on New Research Opportunities in the Earth Sciences at the National Science Foundation, which can be read online.

NSF Earth Science Division Director Bob Detrich notes that this is the first “decadal” study of research opportunities across the earth sciences since the influential NRC Basic Research Opportunities in the Earth Sciences (BROES) report was published in 2001.

The new study noted that the BROES report "described how basic research in the Earth sciences serves five national imperatives: (1) discovery, use, and conservation of natural resources; (2) characterization and mitigation of natural hazards; (3) geotechnical support of
commercial and infrastructure development; (4) stewardship of the environment; and (5)
terrestrial surveillance for global security and national defense. This perspective is even
more pressing today, and will persist into the future, with ever-growing emphasis.
Today’s world—with headlines dominated by issues involving fossil fuel and water
resources, earthquake and tsunami disasters claiming hundreds of thousands of lives and
causing hundreds of billions of dollars in damages, profound environmental changes
associated with the evolving climate system, and nuclear weapons proliferation and
testing—has many urgent societal issues that need to be informed by sound
understanding of the Earth sciences."

The new NRO study covers these topics:

  • The Early Earth
  • Thermo-Chemical Internal Dynamics and Volatile Distribution
  • Faulting and Deformation Processes
  • Interactions among Climate, Surface Processes, Tectonics, and Deep Earth Processes
  • Co-evolution of Life, Environment, and Climate
  • Coupled Hydrogeomorphic-Ecosystem Response to Natural and Anthropogenic Change
  • Biogeochemical and Water Cycles in Terrestrial Environments and Impacts of Global Change
  • Facilities for Geochronology
  • Interagency and International Partnerships and Coordination
  • Training the Next Generation and Diversifying the Researcher Community

Friday, December 16, 2011

Potash companies active

There's a bit of news on the Holbrook basin potash deposit. [Right, potash salt. Credit, USGS]

Passport Potash today cancelled a deal to acquire the mineral rights of NZ Legacy Resources, which comprise 50% of the HNZ Legacy potash lands. HNZ is a joint venture between NZ and Hunt Oil.

And two days ago, officials of American West Potash met with the REAL AZ Corridor regional economic development organization to describe their plans to begin permitting an underground potash mine starting in March 2012 and seek support of the local community. The Arizona (Holbrook) Journal offers a detailed report on the meeting, which says the company expects some opposition because of the juxtaposition of the potash and Petrified Forest National Park.

Another issue is likely to be potential use of and impacts on ground water, including from salt byproducts stored on the surface. AWP said they will probably give away the salt to highway departments.

AWP made the point that the proposed underground operation does not have the "endangered species, rivers, and streams" issues that have generated concerns over some proposed open-pit mines.

If I haven't said it before, I'm impressed with the depth and quality of coverage by the Arizona Journal on the potash play.

Arizona's copper production since 1912

Arizona's eponymous 5 C's (copper, cattle, citrus, cotton, and climate) are not the same driving factors in the state's economy as they were a century ago when Arizona became a state. A set of feature stories by Cronkite News Service looks at each C over the past 100 years. The chart above right is greatly reduced from the story on copper. It tracks Arizona copper production since 1912 with corresponding values of annual production.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Dirty Jobs" digs Utah dinosaurs

Discovery Channel's Mike Rowe went to the field with Utah Geological Survey paleontologists to film an episode of "Dirty Jobs" for later broadcast. There are four 'sneak peek' video clips from the day digging for dinosaurs, posted online.

That's Utah's State Paleontologist Jim Kirkland in the blue jacket in the clip above.

[Cross-posted at State Geologists blog]

Aftershock to M3.1 quake

It looks like there was an aftershock to Tuesday's M=3.1 quake south of Colorado City in northern Arizona. At 5:42 PM local time there was a magnitude 2.8 quake at about the same location. Technically it qualifies as an aftershock to the larger, preceding event.

[Right, location of aftershock - star - and historical seismicity in the region. Credit, USGS]

Gold prices take pounding

The price of gold has dropped this week to below $1600 an ounce, down from $1800 in early November, amid predictions it could go lower in the short term.

The sell-off is attributed in part to year-end tax selling and profit-taking among other factors.

But some analysts are still predicting that long term, gold prices could set new records.

Silver also has taken a battering in recent weeks but industrial demands are causing some to predict a resurgence in prices.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My interview on GIS and the future of mining

I am one of the speakers in the "GIS in Mining and Exploration Online Summit" that will be webcast in 11 parts over 2 weeks in January-February next year (by subscription only). My presentation will cover "How GIS Works as a User App for Digital Data Networks" and is based on AZGS work on the US Geoscience Information Network and the National Geothermal Data System. In preparation for that, the summit organizers at interviewed me about GIS and mining. The interview is now online and covers more than just the summit topic. [Right, photo credit NASA/JPL]

Here's my response to the question, "What’s ahead for the mining industry and mining companies in 2012 from your perspective?"

Growing populations, rising standards of living, global competitiveness, and developing technologies are driving up demands for traditional and less traditional minerals. Challenges to meeting these demands are less technological and more social and political. Debates over ‘environmental imperialism’ and ‘resource nationalism’ are prevalent in the leading economic powers as well as Third World countries. Concerns voiced over environmental impacts from mining by foreign-owned companies are raised in Arizona just as in Indonesia or Peru. The value and importance of mineral exports in any state or nations economy seems to be overshadowed by opposition to foreign investment if the products leave the country to benefit others. Similar fears don’t materialize about other export commodities such as an agricultural product that may require lots of water, add pesticides to the environment, or need subsidies to survive. This trend is likely to continue despite the economic downturn.

Top mining blogs recently compiled a list of their top 11 mining blogs, which prompted a spate of suggestions from readers for additions to the list. I'm familiar with some of these but there are a lot of ones new to us that sound interesting.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

UA's HiView is like a "Google Mars"

The UA HiRISE Mars camera team has developed a new viewer that allows you to "download high-resolution images of the Martian landscape almost instantaneously and explore the surface of the Red Planet" from your own desktops. HiView is like a Mars version of Google Earth. HiRISE images are typically gigabytes in size, but with the new viewer "users can select a portion of the image and download only that portion of the image, so the user doesn't have to wait hours for the entire image file to download."

Quake upgraded to M3.1

This afternoon's earthquake that occurred 16 miles south of Colorado City is now being shown as magnitude of 3.1, versus the initial report of M=2.9. There is also one report of it being felt in Kanab, Utah. [Right, quake location from USGS]

Two small quakes )M=2.1, 1.7) occurred in the same area between 1 and 3 AM on Dec. 12.

Environmental Permitting Requirements for Potash Mining in the Holbrook Basin

The Arizona Dept. of Environmental Quality has released an information sheet on Environmental Permitting Requirements for Proposed Potash Mining in the Holbrook Basin. The list includes air and water quality and waste disposal permits but cautions that "There are a variety of other ADEQ permits, approval and registrations which may come into play, depending upon site-specific needs and plans." Because no potash mining applications have been submitted, ADEQ says they are not "able to predict the precise environmental permitting requirements which may apply to such facilities."

Each permit is described as typically taking 6 months to a year to obtain, once all materials are properly submitted.

American West Potash has publicly stated its goal of having a mine in operation by January 2014. [Right, AZGS interactive map of potash corehole locations]

[Thanks to Kathy Hemenway for passing along the link to the ADEQ info sheet.]

Freeport signs labor deal for giant Grasberg mine in Indonesia

There are reports that Phoenix-based Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold signed an agreement today to end a strike at the Grasberg mine in Indonesia, the second largest copper mine in the world. says the deal provides union workers about a 40% pay raise over 2 years. [Right, Grasberg mine. Credit, MetalNewsStream]

"Freeport had warned investors it may not achieve its fourth-quarter production and sales targets owing to the [3-month long] strike."

"The mine, in Indonesia's eastern Papua region, also has the world's biggest gold reserves and produces silver."

The news report looks at some of the economic and political factors in the strike and settlement.

Series of earthquakes south of Colorado City

There was a magnitude 2.9 earthquake a few minutes ago (4:36 PM local time), 16 miles south of Colorado City in northern Arizona. This follows two smaller quakes that occurred in the early morning yesterday. A magnitude 2.2 event was recorded in about the same location at 1:03 AM on Dec. 12, followed by a magnitude 1.7 quake at 2:44 AM.

There were two similarly small quakes a few miles to the northeast on Dec. 8.

[Right, M2.9 quake in red. Others in yellow. Credit, USGS]

Monday, December 12, 2011

Arizona mining news

Industry sentiment was generally upbeat at the annual SME Arizona conference which took place in Tucson last week. Among the tidbits (not all of which are new) are that at the planned Ray Mine expansion, Asarco is adding additional life to the Elder Gulch tailings, about 6-8 years worth depending on final elevation, by raising the dam height. At the same time, they are working on a 6-year project to permit and build a tailings facility about 4 miles southwest of the mine on 7,400 acres of land they plan to buy from Arizona State Lands on Ripsey Wash. The Ray Mine is currently assembling their 21st 400-ton Leibherr haul truck. Insiders know that mine manager Steve Holmes' legacy is the advancement of mine fleet data collection and use of the Ardvark drilling systems.

Moly Corp mentioned the recently acquired Santoku facility in Tollesin, Arizona is a key part of their rare earth vertical integration/magnet manufacturing strategy.

Additional drilling is increasing the size of the resource at Resolution Copper presently at 1.6 billion tons. Speculation is that the expanded area underlies the Oak Flat campground, which is part of the proposed land exchange recently approved by the U.S. House. A pre-feasibility study should be completed in 2012, and the feasibility study in 2014. First production is scheduled for 2021, with full production in 2026. The project is forecast to create 1400 direct and 2300 indirect jobs. The No. 10 shaft is now sunk 4860’ below the surface. Company officials describe the volume of the mineralized zone as about the size of nearby Picket Post Mountain. To mine the deposit will require that the equivalent of a typical 20-ton highway truck load be hoisted up the shaft every 15 seconds for 40 years.

And we hear that Asarco’s exploration chief Tom Simpson is leaving this week to go to work for Newmont in South America.

Meteor Crater LiDAR data available

A LiDAR data set for Meteor Crater, Arizona is publicly available via the OpenTopography facility at the San Diego Supercomputer Center. The data were collected in March 2010 by the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping (NCALM) with NSF funding.

The survey area is a rectangular polygon, roughly 5.44 km on a side, enclosing the Barringer Meteorite Crater and its ejecta blanket. The project area is located 60 km southeast of Flagstaff, AZ and 30 km west of Winslow, Az. The polygon has a surface area of 29.7 km2; the requirement indicates two point densities one for the crater walls and rim of 8 pts/ m2, and one for the surrounding area of 4 pts/m2.

Thanks to Chris Crosby at OpenTopography for passing along this info.

Editorial calls for restoring Water Resources budget

Catching up on the news while I was out of town, I just read the Dec. 3 editorial in the Arizona (Phoenix) Republic, calling for restoring the state budget for the Arizona Dept. of Water Resources.

ADWR, like the rest of state agencies, has taken drastic budget cuts over the past four years, closing branch offices and reducing staff by about 2/3.

The Republic argues for restoring ADWR's budget to 2009 levels.
They conclude that The agency's director represents Arizona in negotiations over the Colorado River, which supplies more than a third of Arizona's water. To defend our interests, we need a strong team with the ability to do in-depth research. Arizona is particularly vulnerable because we have "junior status," part of the deal to get the Central Arizona Project. If shortages are declared, we lose all our allocation before California gives up a drop. [Right, Colorado River watershed]
My conversations with Legislators and state budget officials indicate that most everyone expects the Fiscal Year 2013 budget, which begins in July 2012, will be flat, even if revenues improve somewhat. Even if that were not the case, competition for any potential increased funds will be more than stiff, given the demands for education and social services.

UA finds meteorites trigger Mars dust avalanches

Planetary scientists at University of Arizona report that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbit is revealing at least 20 new meteor craters, 1 to 50 meters wide, forming on the Red Planet every year. And the airborne shockwaves appear to be triggering thousands of dust avalanches in the areas surrounding the impact craters, according to Kaylan Burleigh at UA in a story in New Scientist describing results in a new journal article (Icarus, DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2011.10.026).

[Right, a "similar but more dramatic" dust avalanche on Mars. Credit, UA/JPL]

Small quake under Lake Mead

It's been a while since we last saw an earthquake at Lake Mead, but another magnitude 2 event took place at 10:11 AM Nevada time this morning, near Boulder City. This one was just over the state line in Nevada but the epicenters for small quakes like this are not that precisely located. [Right, quake epicenter in red. Credit, USGS]

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Polish company's bid for Quadra FNX includes Arizona's Carlota mine

The state-owned Polish mining company KGHM has a deal to buy out Canadian-based Quadra FNX, including the latter's Carlota copper mine in Arizona. Business Week reports the price of $2.84 billion is the "largest overseas acquisition by a Polish company."

It was only last month that Quadra FNX announced it would 'wind down' production at Carlota due to higher costs and lower ore grades than expected. [Right, Carlota mine in 2008. Credit, Robert Shantz] The mine is in the Globe-Miami mineral district, southeast of Phoenix.

Mining Foundation of the SW, 2011 Hall of Fame

The Mining Foundation of the Southwest's 2011 Hall of Fame was held in Tucson on Dec. 4, with guest of honor Laurence Golborne Riveros [right, credit MFSW], the current Minister of Public Works and former Bi-Minister of Mining and Energy for the Republic of Chile. He was honored for his leadership to develop new ways to encourage mining and mining policies in Chile and for his collaboration with industry, the mining support vendors, and local community during the dramatic rescue of 33 trapped miners at the San José Mine, in the Atacama Region in 2010, that captured the world's attention.

The 2011 Medal of Merit recipients were Ralph Sievwright and Marco T. Einaudi. Mr. Sievwright served as chief negotiator for Magma Copper in its labor negotiations for over 40 years and advised the company on mining law and compliance with complex environmental laws. "He is, and was, well-known as a leader in Arizona in these fields of law practice." Mr. Einaudi is "perhaps best known in Arizona for his synthesis of skarn deposits related to porphyry copper systems of southwestern North America."

A Special Citation was awarded to a group of companies that supported the Chilean mine rescue.

"For their impressive contributions, committed collaboration with each other and the Chilean government during the mine rescue, and for advancing underground mine rescue technology, the Mining Foundation of the Southwest acknowledges the companies listed below with a MFSW Special Citation."

Aries Central California Video
Atlas Copco
Center Rock Inc.
Drillers Supply International
Geotec Boyles Bros.,
Layne Christensen Company- Jeff Hart
Schramm Inc.
Zephyr Technologies

[excerpted from the MFSW announcement]

iPad tour of America's mountains by Arizona geologist

Flagstaff geologist/photographer/pilot Michael Collier published a new iPad app last week, "Wonders of Geology: An Aerial View of America's Mountains" which is currently featured as a "new and noteworthy" selection. Publisher Mikaya Digital calls it "one of the most beautiful, informative geology applications yet created." For a quick preview, you can check out the trailer via their new official site (just click on the mountain image at the top right of the page).

Michael is author of 17 books on geology and recipient of awards from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service and the National Science Teacher’s Association. In 2005, he was named winner of the American Geological Institute’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Public Understanding of the Geosciences for his decades of work.

I saw UMass geology prof and private pilot Chris Condit at AGU in San Francisco last week. Chris and Michael have flown together for decades. Chris talked about flying with Michael over parts of the Appalachians to photograph some of this iPad app and how spectacular the final results are.

Founding of International Geo Sample Number organization

The founding assembly of the International Geo Sample Number organization (IGSN) signed the non-profit incorporation papers in San Francisco on Wednesday during the AGU meeting. [Right, founding members and other attendees at the signing. IGSN President Kerstin Lehnert is right of me in the photo. Photo credit, Lamont-Doherty]

The IGSN is 9-digit alphanumeric code that uniquely identifies non-biological samples from our natural environment and related sampling features.

The following founding members signed the statutes of the organization and elected its Executive Board:
  • Arizona Geological Survey, USA
  • Boise State University, USA
  • City College of New York, USA
  • Leibniz Institute for Ocean Sciences GEOMAR, Germany
  • GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam, Germany
  • Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, USA
  • Oregon State University, USA
  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography / UC San Diego, USA
  • University of Minnesota, USA
Membership of the CSIRO-Australia, Geoscience Australia, and the US Geological Survey is pending and expected to be completed shortly.

AZGS, acting on behalf of the Association of American State Geologists (AASG) is working with the USGS to establish a US naming authority for IGSN under the auspices of the AASG-USGS US Geoscience Information Network (USGIN). This would provide the service to any earth science organizations that don't want to set up their own authority or have too few samples to justify the effort.

The USGS already has over 2 million items in their incipient ScienceBase catalog, 90% of which are from state geological surveys.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Four new positions in Geoinformatics at AZGS

We opened four new jobs in AZGS last week in time to announce them at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. With 21,000 attendees and likely the largest geoinformatics gathering in the world, it's an ideal location to recruit. All 4 positions are posted at the AZGS Employment page:

IT Systems Support Specialist

Geoinformatics Content Specialist

Technology Transfer Specialist

Geosciences & Geospatial Client Applications Developer

Friday, December 09, 2011

Two small quakes near Kaibab along Utah border

Two small quakes hit about 8 miles west of Kaibab, Arizona, just south of the Utah border, yesterday (Thursday). A magnitude 2.2 quake occurred just before noon, local time, followed a few hours later by a M=1.8 event. The area has historical seismic activity associated with the southern end of the Intermountain Seismic Belt. [right, quakes shown as small yellow boxes. Credit, USGS]

Monday, December 05, 2011

3,000 posts and more to come

Well, I made my 3,000th post on this blog over the weekend. My blogging regimen has been a lot more irregular the past 6 months especially due to travel. But it's still fun and rewarding, so I plan to keep on blathering away.

In fact, I'm writing from San Francisco, where I got in last night for the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. AZGS staff are giving or co-authoring 11 talks and posters here this week, covering Geothermal Data, GeoSci markup language, post-wildfire debris flows, Peach Springs Tuff, federated data networks.

They expect 22,000 attendees at the meeting. We're doing our first-ever exhibit booth at the meeting, showcasing the State Geothermal Data project and the National Geothermal Data System.

I hope to be blogging from the meeting but between 2 talks, 2 posters, running the booth, formal committee and business meetings, and a lot of one on one confabs, it's going to be a frantic week.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Growing interest in Ground Source Heat Pumps

There are about 700,000 Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP), also called Geothermal Heat Pumps, installed in the US, but the industry says the potential is for 100 million eventually. Every state in the country is suitable for GSHP, although the installations vary according to local soil moisture conditions and some other factors.

Yesterday, I co-led a workshop at the annual meeting and expo of the National Ground Water Association, in Las Vegas, that covered web-based information available from state geological surveys that are of particular value to water well drillers. A focus of our discussion was on data we are gathering nationwide on Ground Source Heat Pump factors for inclusion in the National Geothermal Data System. This includes installation reports, thermal conductivities, heat flow and gradients, soil moisture, among others.

Afterwards, I had some time to meet with geothermal experts in NGWA and the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA). Both have training and accreditation or certification programs for drillers and installers of geothermal heat pumps. You can find lists online of those professionals in Arizona who are IGSHPA certified installers.

Potash mine in operation by 2014?

The Holbrook Arizona Journal confirmed reports circulating that Denver-based American West Potash says it's possible they could have an underground potash mine in operation as soon as early 2014 in eastern Arizona. That's two years earlier than many expected any mine might be working. The newspaper cites Holbrook city officials as source of the news. [Right, location map with AWP and adjacent land holdings. Credit, AWP's NI-43-101 report]

The paper also states, "By March 2012, Avery plans to begin filing applications for permits with various regulatory and oversight agencies including the Arizona State Land Department, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, and Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources."

That latter reference is incorrect. The Dept. of Mines and Mineral Resources was merged into the AZGS in July but never had any regulatory or oversight duties. I suspect the reporter meant to refer to the State Mine Inspector.

In another story a few days ago, the paper published a nice summary of "What is Potash?" that also included a brief analysis of world developments.

And in related news, published a piece by market analyst Rick Mills entitled, "Why the world's biggest miners like potash," with the subtitle, "The world's three largest mining companies are all investing heavily in the potash sector which suggests this bulk commodity has plenty of growth ahead." He summarizes the many global factors that underlie the demand for potash.

One factor I have not heard before is that "Just when we need more soil to feed the 10 billion people of the future, we'll actually have less-only a quarter of an acre of cropland per person in 2050, versus the half-acre we use today on the most efficient farms," according to David Montgomery, author of the 2007 book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. That means more fertilizers may be needed to increase the productivity of remaining croplands.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Kinder Morgan to buy Arizona carbon dioxide - helium field

A subsidiary of Kinder Morgan is buying the St. Johns Dome carbon dioxide and helium field in eastern Arizona and other properties from Enhanced Oil Resources Inc. (EOR), for $30 million, according to recent news reports.

EOR subsidiary Ridgeway Arizona Oil Corp. has been developing the field for a number of years, intending to use the CO2 for enhanced oil recovery projects in New Mexico and Texas. However, a worldwide shortage of helium has pushed the price high enough that it's become a valuable commodity as well.

In addition, Utah-based GreenFire Energy has a partnership with EOR for development of a CO2-based demonstration geothermal power plant near St. Johns Dome, using the CO2 from the field instead of steam to generate electricity. There's no immediate word on how the Kinder Morgan deal may affect this project. US DOE granted GreenFire $2 million towards testing the technology.

EOR CEO Barry Lasker is quoted as saying the financing of the St. Johns Dome project was "too onerous on a company of our size" so the expectations are that Kinder Morgan can bring the resources to bear to complete it.

The purchase is scheduled to close on Dec. 1.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Return of the Dust Bowl to the American West

The cover story in the November issue of AGI's EARTH magazine offers a grim prediction of the "Return of the Dust Bowl in the American West" that includes Arizona.

The article says researchers from a variety of disciplines concur that "Over the next two or three decades, the American West...will transition to a climate that may make the 1930s Dust Bowl seem mild and brief."

This summers multiple haboobs in southern Arizona are given as examples of what the future may increasingly hold for us.

The cause is a combination of natural and human causes. "Persistent drought, increasingly violent and variable weather, urban and suburban development, off-road recreational vehicles, and even the installation of large-scale solar energy arrays threaten to shroud the West in dust."

One of the biggest factors, and biggest unknowns, is the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) that moves on a cycle of 20-50 years. A favorable PDO is described as the source of the anonymously wet 20th century, on which we based a lot of our water planning.

In addition to drought-related effects, longer dry seasons lead to more wildfires. And the increase in dust brings more respiratory ails such as carrying more Valley Fever spores.

It's possible there will be a change in trajectory of one or more of the causal factors, but the article cautions that none of that seems to be happening.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

End of Russian uranium exports impacts global supplies

If you want a better understanding of the forces at work that are helping drive the mining industry's interest in the rich uranium deposits of northern Arizona, read a recent investment analysis posted on [Right, uranium ore. Credit, USGS]

"...nuclear warheads that were once on Russian ICBMs aimed at American cities are now providing 50% of the electricity produced by America's nuclear power plants." And the supplies of this uranium are running out. Here are some excerpts:

When the USSR collapsed Russia inherited over a thousand tons of weapons-grade uranium and a massive nuclear refining and fabricating infrastructure - 40% of world total.

During the twenty year Megatons to Megawatts Program Russia will have converted 500 tonnes of highly enriched uranium (HEU - uranium 235 enriched to 90 percent) from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons into low enriched uranium (LEU - less than 5 percent uranium 235) for nuclear fuel and sell it to the US.

The Megatons to Megawatts Program, according to the US Enrichment Corp (USEC, the government created entity to buy and transport the uranium) was supplying roughly 50% of the US's LEU demand. Mining accounted for 8% with the rest coming from other sources (rapidly depleting utility and government stockpiles).

The world's uranium miners currently produce 40 million pounds less than the world's nuclear power plants need - this figure doesn't include the [42+] power plants under construction or the hundreds in planning stages.

RBC Capital Markets believes there is not enough uranium production from current or planned mines to; satisfy current reactor needs, meet new reactor start up initial core requirements (3x normal load for startup), and to build inventories for new reactors. RBC estimates there will be a global uranium shortfall of over 70 million pounds by 2020 and says that the uranium market will require substantial new sources of uranium to fuel the projected growth in the global nuclear reactor fleet.

Use of coal ash in construction

The ash left over from burning coal in power plants to generate electricity is used in the construction industry, especially in making concrete for transportation infrastructure.

A new study sponsored by the foundation of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, concludes that "infrastructure costs would rise by $5.2 billion annually if coal ash were unavailable for construction purposes," according to an item in the newsletter from the Interstate Mining Compact Commission. "More than 75% of concrete used to build and maintain U.S. transportation infrastructure relies on coal ash as a component in its cement blend, according to the foundation." Some ash is also used in roofing and wallboard, but a lot stays in ponds or dry landfills.

The study was prompted by anticipated EPA rules for regulating coal ash under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The study "claims road and bridge construction costs would soar if the EPA regulates coal ash as hazardous waste." The collapse of a coal ash pond in Tennessee in 2008, triggered a re-examination of similar ponds nationwide.

Two Arizona power plants, Cholla and Apache Station, have a total of nine coal ash ponds, that would be affected by the rules. [Right, Google Earth view of coal ash ponds at Cholla power plant]

Rappeling into "The Cracks" near Holbrook

There was a comment added today to one of my blog posts from 2010, about "The Cracks" near Holbrook in eastern Arizona. The cracks are extension fractures over the Holbrook anticline.

Well, alerted by the post, J. Barr recently rappelled into some of them, going as much as 140 feet deep. He posted photos at the website Team Crowbar. [Right, credit Team Crowbar]

These are the first photos I've seen from inside the cracks and they are fantastic.

Kids, don't try this yourself. Note that these guys are well prepared and trained for this. This is not a place where you want to get stuck.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Another reason to be thankful

On this Thanksgiving weekend, here is something else to be thankful for - life on Earth was not wiped out by a comet or asteroid impact, despite three close approaches in recent months.

On June 27, asteroid 2011 MD zoomed by at the "butt-clenchingly close distance of only 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles)" without incident.

A couple weeks ago, on November 8, a 400-meter wide asteroid named 2005 YU55, came within 201,000 miles of Earth. [Right, Asteroid 2005 YU55. Credit, Arecibo Observatory/Michael Nolan]

But the one that generated the most consternation in the blogosphere was Comet Elenin that broke up on Sept. 10, on its way towards its closest encounter with Earth expected on Oct. 16.

Various doomsayers claimed Elenin would trigger 'catastrophic earthquakes' or that it was actually the mysterious Planet X, or Planet Zeta, or Nibiru which would cause the magnetic poles to flip, triggering the crust to shift 90 degrees, and devastating life on Earth. Whew! Guess we dodged the bullet on that one.

The Nibiru predictors have been justifying their predictions in part on the development of ground cracks reported around the world, including reports of earth fissures in Arizona. Supposedly the gravitational pull of Elenin (aka Nibiru) was triggering the crustal stresses that produce the cracks. However, a NASA scientist calculated that his Toyota Prius produced greater stresses on our planet than did the remote comet.

Since we are apparently still here and alive, the predictions are that the real comet/asteroid/planet collision will occur sometime in 2012. So, we can all be thankful yet again that we can celebrate through New Years apparently without fear of the end of the world!