Stories tagged geology

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

For a long time, scientists have known a major volcano complex was under the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan. But upon further inspection, they've discovered it's one huge volcano, measuring 280 miles by 400 miles across. You can read more about this huge discovery right here.

How old does this look?: New research says parts of the Grand Canyon may be 65 million years, or so, older than originally thought.
How old does this look?: New research says parts of the Grand Canyon may be 65 million years, or so, older than originally thought.Courtesy chensiyuan
Grand Canyon, could you please show us your birth certificate? A new theory that parts of the Grand Canyon were carved as far back as dinosaur days has geologists picking sides on a controversy. New research contends that the western end of the canyon might be up to 70 million years old, carved by an ancient river that flowed in the opposite direction of today's Colorado River. Conventional theories about the canyon had its aged pegged at 5 to 6 million years old.

So what do you think?

Jan
04
2012

A lonely space-bot searches for its brother: We all know what that's like, don't we?
A lonely space-bot searches for its brother: We all know what that's like, don't we?Courtesy NASA
Man, I had this dream last night that my brother and I had each taken a long trip, and at the end of the trips we met up and floated around the sky while singing to each other about our feelings. What a strange dream. I think it means that I’m afraid of death. That’s what my dream analysis book says anyway, just like it says for every dream.

On an unrelated note, one of NASA’s latest experiments, the “GRAIL mission,” is ticking away smoothly.

If, like me, you assumed that the GRAIL mission was a lot like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I’m afraid you’re about to be sorely disappointed. “GRAIL,” in fact, stands for “Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory,” so you shouldn’t expect any bullwhips or crusty old knights. No, the GRAIL mission will be carried out by the two identical satellites that just reunited in orbit around the moon, after a slow trip from Earth (Apollo program vessels made it to the moon in just three days, but the GRAIL satellites sort of took a scenic route that required less energy to get to the moon, but a lot more time—between three and four months.)

The satellites arrived at the moon on different days (the 31st and the 1st), but now that they’re back in the same neighborhood they’re going to be traveling around the moon together at about 35 miles above the surface. As they move, they’ll be transmitting radio signals to each other, which will allow them to precisely calculate the distances between them. As one or the other of the satellites flies over an area of the moon with greater or lesser gravity, the distance between the satellites will change slightly.

Because tiny differences in gravity are determined by the interior composition of an object in space*, these satellites will tell us more about the inside of the moon, and how it formed. And because the moon originally came from Earth, we’ll learn more about the formation of our planet from this mission as well.

*More mass means more gravity, so the satellites will be able to detect not only visible features on the moon, like hills and craters, but underground structures as well. Moons and planets after all, aren’t totally uniform inside—they’re less like giant marshmallows than giant scoops of rocky road ice cream.

The things that happen in space … amiright? Crazy!

Folded Rock North of Loch Melfort in Scotland
Folded Rock North of Loch Melfort in ScotlandCourtesy Anne Burgess

A rock mass visible at the surface is named an "outcrop" by geologists. Most of these outcrops are made of a single, homogenous kind of rock (e.g. basalt) but in many cases rocks are layered, fractured, cleaved, or show more complicated patterns on their surface. At high temperatures and pressures inside the earth, rocks can move slowly, or can fracture creating fault planes. Outcropedia is a website meant to show a collection of such outcrops.

Outcropedia is the brainchild of three structural geologists : Cees Passchier, Mark Jessell, and Hermann Lebit. It uses a GoogleEarth template, and by clicking on a datapoint, you can see a photograph or drawing with explanatory text. Many of the outcrops included are in remote areas of planet Earth. Outcropedia welcomes new submissions, so if you have an image of an outcrop, submit it for addition!

This isn't today's Science Friday video, but it's a recent Science Friday video that I missed, OK? You'll like it, anyway. Science Friday
Science FridayCourtesy Science Friday
This time,
"In 1968, the New Jersey Senate decreed the town of Franklin a geological wonder: "The Fluorescent Mineral Capital of the World." Over 350 different minerals have been found in the area, ninety of which glow brilliantly under ultraviolet light. There are two mineral museums devoted to fluorescing rocks, the region's unusual geology and its zinc mining history."
Feb
07
2011

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.

Dec
16
2010

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."

Water in two states
Water in two statesCourtesy Mark Ryan
In keeping with both this week's celebration of Earth Science, and this year's Blog Action Day 2010 theme of all things watery, here's an educational web page titled Water Science for Schools created by the United States Geological Survey. The site covers topics like water basics, the water cycle, and water quality. It also has links to an ocean of water-related information.