Stories tagged geology

Literally dig deeper into the earth surface and discover what is lying right under your feet.

UPDATE: Here's an updated video showing the terrifying force of the tsunami that swept across the Japanese city of Sendai. It's not just an unstoppable wave; it's a juggernaut of debris.

8.9 magnitude earthquake hits Japan
8.9 magnitude earthquake hits JapanCourtesy USGS
A monster earthquake hit northern Japan today at 2:46pm local time (11:46pm CST) causing tremendous damage including the triggering of a deadly and devastating tsunami. The images of destruction coming out of the country are both stunning and heartbreaking. Early reports say a 30-foot wave slammed into the city of Sendai washing away houses, cars and other debris – some of it in flames. The city is located about 80 miles from the quake’s epicenter and has a population of over 1 million people. According to the USGS Earthquake site the tremblor occurred at a depth of about 15 miles. The initial shaking is reported to have lasted two minutes, and has been followed by several strong aftershocks. It’s the most powerful quake to hit Japan in 140 years, and there are already reports of 200-300 deaths. But unfortunately that will more than likely rise as time goes on and reports are updated. Tsunami warnings have been issued across much of the Pacific Rim and also Russia. Seven foot waves have already hit Hawaii.

NOAA's Tsunami Warning Center
USGS Earthquake center

Although it’s been in a constant state of eruption for nearly three decades, Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii has upped the ante with the appearance of a new fissure that’s been tossing a spectacular spray of molten lava up to 80 feet into the air. Recent rockfalls from the widening vent have produced rumblings and popping sounds as blocks of rock as large as small cars have dropped into the rising lava lake. The US Geological Survey’s Hawaii Volcano Observatory has set up a web cam to monitor the volcano’s activity.

Eruption story
Collapsing vent story
Hawaii Volcano Observatory

New Zealand earthquake location
New Zealand earthquake locationCourtesy USGS
A strong earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand toppling several buildings and killing an undetermined number of people. According to the US Geological Survey the magnitude 6.3 earthquake occurred at a depth of 3.1 miles near Christchurch, which is New Zealand's second largest city. The quake struck on Tuesday at 12:51PM local time (6:51PM Monday EST), followed by several strong aftershocks. The city's population of 350,00 has been recovering from a similar quake that struck last September 4th.

CNN report


Mt. St. Helens erupts in 1980: Yellowstone's supervolcano has erupted with one thousand times the power of the blast pictured here.
Mt. St. Helens erupts in 1980: Yellowstone's supervolcano has erupted with one thousand times the power of the blast pictured here.Courtesy USGS/Cascades Volcano Observatory
The gigantic volcano seething under Yellowstone National Park could be ready to erupt with the force of a thousand Mt. St. Helenses! Large parts of the U.S. could be buried under ash and toxic gas!

Or, y'know, not.

This story has popped up in a couple of places recently, including National Geographic's website and, more sensationally, the UK's Daily Mail. Shifts in the floor of Yellowstone's caldera indicate that magma may be pooling below the surface, a phenomenon that might be the very earliest stages of an eruption. Then again, it's difficult to predict volcanic eruptions with much accuracy because there's no good way to take measurements of phenomena happening so far below the earth's surface.

Incidentally, the contrast in tone between the two stories makes them an interesting case study in science reporting: The Daily Mail plays up the possible risk and horrific consequences of an eruption, while National Geographic is much more matter-of-fact about the remoteness of that possibility. Which do you think makes better reading?

It was the most exciting play of the opening round of the NFL playoffs this week. Marshawn Lynch's game-clinching 67-yard TD run wasn't just a visual thrill, but the excited crowd in the stands reacting the play actually caused the ground to quake for about 30 seconds. A seismic monitoring station is located next to the stadium and researchers there found a significant change in readings in their monitoring equipment during and after the run. Lots of Saints defenders were feeling crushed after things settled down, too.

From the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology website:

"Dr. Alfred Sherwood Romer (1894 -1973) was the leading contributor to the discipline of vertebrate paleontology throughout the 20th century. He was founder and first president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. His text book “Vertebrate Paleontology,” published in three editions from 1933 to 1966, set the standards of excellence for anatomical investigation, systematic analysis and evolutionary understanding that continue to form the basis for our discipline.

He was a superb educator at all levels: public presentations, classroom lectures, and supervisor of more than 25 graduate students. These professional descendants, now extending into the 4th or 5th generation, are a living legacy of his contributions and aspirations. He integrated and promoted the study of vertebrate paleontology to a degree that may never be equaled, as well as being a model for professional colleagues and friends. His enthusiasm for the discipline and life in general was always evident and contagious, always with a human touch and a great sense of humor. "

I still have the copy of Romer's Vertebrate Paleontology my folks bought me for Christmas in 1966.


I was not even a thought in the 1970s, but I've heard it was a pretty good time to be a rock. People took you as their pets, and I'll bet Professor Lawrence Edwards had a couple Pet Rocks back in the day.

Family Portrait: From left to right: Momma Igneous, Baby Sedimentary, and Poppa Metamorphic.
Family Portrait: From left to right: Momma Igneous, Baby Sedimentary, and Poppa Metamorphic.Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

You see, Edwards is an isotope geochemist, which sounds just about as awesome as it is: he studies the teeny tiny radioactive elements in rocks. These elements help Edwards date rocks. No, that doesn't mean he wines and dines them. Quite the opposite! Edwards developed a sneaky way to figure out how old they are (and let me tell you, nobody wants to be reminded of their age when they're hundreds of thousands of years old).

Edwards' method is similar to carbon-14 dating, only way better. In certain kinds of rocks, Edwards can date rocks as old as 500,000 years compared to carbon-14's measly 50,000 years. That's a whole order of magnitude older! Here's how Edwards' method works: Scientists know that half of any quantity of uranium decays into thorium every 245,500 years. Edwards uses a mass spectrometer to measure the ratio of two radioactive elements -- uranium and thorium. Then, Edwards compares the present ratio of uranium to thorium to what scientists would expect from the half-life decay and bada-bing, bada-boom! Simply genius.

Why am I getting all hyped up over some old rocks? Because they're helping us learn more about ourselves and the tenuous place we hold in this world. For example, Edwards has used his super-special method to trace the strength of monsoon seasons in China. Turns out weak monsoon seasons correlate with the fall of several historical dynasties, and strong monsoons correlate with climatic warming in Europe. Edwards calls this work,

"the best-dated climate record covering this time period."

While browsing through some recent science stories, I came across this article about a gigantic boulder unleashed by the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull that erupted earlier this year. The rock stands over 50 feet tall and is estimated to weigh about 1000 tons! That is one big chunk of stone! There's a photo of it, with an explanation of how the impressive boulder came to rest where the photographer shot it.

Previous Buzz post about Eyjafjallajokull
And another previous Buzz post about Eyjafjallajokull

Martian landscape: Could fossils be found in areas like this?
Martian landscape: Could fossils be found in areas like this?Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
An National Geographic website article says the next rover mission to the planet Mars could conceivably find the fossilized remains of life that once lived there. Data from the Opportunity and Spirit rover missions found evidence of surface deposits and flowing water on the Red Planet, and sedimentary rock outcrops laid down by water in the past. Other indications suggest a vast ocean once covered the planet. Whether the planet's thin atmosphere or hostile surface environment could sustain life is unknown. But with all these signs of water, the possibility of finding signs of past life increases. A new study led by J. Alexis Palmero Rodriguez of the Planetary Science Institute theorizes that water on Mars may have been stable beneath the surface for billions of years - long enough for life to develop. And the subsurface may have seeped up through cracks in the crust and left behind deposits on the surface, and possibly fossil remains of life. Palmero and his colleagues hope a future rover mission will focus on the northern regions of the planet where fossils may be found.

The Associated Press reports that Mt. Merapi on the island of Java is pouring tons of hot ash, dust and smoke into the air in a massive eruption today. The volcano, one of world's most active, is located in the Ring of Fire, an area high in volcanic and seismic activity due to the extreme forces of plate tectonics that occur around the Pacific Ocean basin.

Merapi began erupting last week and has forced tens of thousands of villagers to evacuate the area. So far, the eruptions have killed nearly 40 people and burned several others, causing authorities to expand the danger zone from a 6-mile to 9-mile radius. Several flights in and out of local airports have been canceled due to the ash cloud. The recent eruption is the largest so far, and scientists think things could get worse.

To give you an idea of what's involved, here's a video showing a pyroclastic flow from an eruption last year on Mt. Merapi. From the looks of it, it's not something you want to try to outrun.