Stories tagged Forces of Nature

Feb
17
2014

Kilauea at night: a massive magma chamber has been detected beneath the volcano's East Rift Zone.
Kilauea at night: a massive magma chamber has been detected beneath the volcano's East Rift Zone.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Researchers from the University of Miami Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science have detected a new, massive magma chamber beneath Kilauea, the most active volcano in the world.

By analyzing seismic waves that traveled through the volcano, scientists from the school's geology and geophysics departments have been able to piece together a 3-dimensional velocity model of what's taking place deep below the volcano's caldera.

"It was known before that Kilauea had small, shallow magma chambers," said Guoqing Lin, lead author of the study. "This study is the first geophysical observation that large magma chambers exist in the deep oceanic crust below."

Located in oceanic crust between 5 and 6.8 miles beneath the volcano's East Rift Zone, the new chamber has been determined to be several kilometers in diameter. The seismic data also revealed that it's lava is composed of a slushy mixture of about 10 percent magma and 90 percent crystal.

According to co-author and professor of geology and geophysics, Falk Amelung, the information is useful in understanding magma bodies and a high priority for the researchers because of the possible hazards created by the volcano.

"Kilauea volcano produces many small earthquakes and paying particular attention to new seismic activity near this body will help us to better understand where future lava eruptions will come from," he said.
Kilauea has been active for more than 30 years and is located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The paper appeared in a recent edition of the journal Geology.

SOURCES and LINKS
Science News story
LiveScience story
2007 video of Kilauea erupting
More about Kilauea

Aug
07
2013

A long-buried, underwater forest of Cypress trees was recently discovered in the Gulf of Mexico. The forest, estimated to be about 50,000 years old, was once buried under tons of sediment, heading toward possible fossilization, until the natural forces (most likely 2005's Hurricane Katrina) riled up the Gulf Coast waters and uncovered it again. Hundreds of stumps and fallen logs - some huge - covering 1.3 square kilometers can now be seen in 60 feet of water, 10 miles off the coast of Alabama. The Cypress forest once populated the area around the Mobile-Tensaw Delta when the Gulf's coastline was farther south, and the water level was 120 feet lower than it is today. As the climate began to warm, rising sea levels eventually drowned the forest. The trees all died but oxidation and decomposition were halted as a constant rain of delta silt covered the forest for thousands of years. When cut, the well-preserved wood still smells as fresh as living Cypress, but now that the forest has been uncovered again, wood-boring marine animals are back at work tearing it down.

Live Science story

Feb
21
2013

This amazing video from NASA (via EarthSky) shows an incredibly gigantic eruption on the Sun's surface that produced three different types of events: a solar flare, a coronal mass ejection (CME), and a really interesting and rare phenomenon known as coronal rain.

Coronal rain occurs when hot plasma in the eruption cools and condenses then follows the outline of the normally invisible magnetic fields as it rains back to the Sun's chromosphere. I found that particularly amazing to see.
The images were gathered on July 19, 2012 by the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s AIA instrument. One frame was shot every 12 seconds over a span of 21.5 hours from 12:30 a.m. EDT to 10:00 p.m. EDT. The video plays at a rate of 30 frames per second, so each second equals 6 minutes of real time.

What's extra cool is when the scale of this thing is compared to the size of Earth­. If you were feeling small earlier today, you should be feeling microscopic after watching this.

SOURCE
EarthSky website

Sep
28
2012

Darvaza: Darvaza
Darvaza: DarvazaCourtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/rapidtravelchai/6086936280/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Rituals come in all forms and are celebrated by humans the world over. Some rituals are considered more well known than others.

In fact some are even brought into the main stream whereby they are given universal acknowledgement. The rituals that involve fire are the most prominent. The first famous fire ritual would probably have to be that which surrounds the Olympic flame. This is a flame which has been ceremonially lit every four years for the last 2000 years. This is one of the reasons it is referred to as the “Eternal Flame”. This is not a ritual that is confined to a few, but rather the whole planet as we have just witnessed from the recent London 2012 games as well as the great games that have gone before.

The “Mrapen” eternal flame located in Indonesia, is a very famous naturally occurring flame which emerged from the earth. The flame is mystical in its nature and occurred as gas was ignited by the fire hundreds of years ago. There is historical evidence that the flame has been burning at least since the 15th century. It’s a flame that never goes out despite the ravages of wind and rain. Considered sacred, it is used as part of an annual Buddhist ceremony called “Waisak”. It has even been used as a torch relay flame for some Indonesian sports events.

Another flame we can point to is the one located in Turkmenistan which is aptly nicknamed “The Gates of Hell”. This flame is more of a fiery inferno than a flame since it is 38 feet wide and has been on fire for over 38 years. It is known as the Darvaza Gas Crater. This is no natural occurrence but rather a result of a 1971 Russian industrial accident. After a drilling rig dug a little too far, it culminated in the release of poisonous gases. It was set alight in order to prevent an environmental leak – with the belief being that it would burn off soon. This created a continuous fire.

Many eternal flames will be pivotal to rituals and religions across the world. The Jewish faith uses the flame as part of a ritual which occurred at the Tabernacle and now the Jerusalem Temple. It was part of a commandment that a fire should burn continously at the Outer Altar. In modern times we can see reference to the eternal flame in the form of “sanctuary lamps”which are kept in the synagogues across the world. Flames will continue to be used as a symbol of respect and sacredness as it is the only element that can convey such feelings with force and illumination.

Which phenomena make your jaw drop? Has any fire burned longer than the Mrapen?

Aug
22
2012

Mississippi River: Water levels in 2012 have dropped to record lows after a season of extreme flooding in 2011.
Mississippi River: Water levels in 2012 have dropped to record lows after a season of extreme flooding in 2011.Courtesy Mark Ryan
What a difference a year can make. The water levels of the Mississippi River this year are at their lowest on record, yet just last year, in the spring of 2011, extreme flooding of Ol’ Muddy was a source of deep concern for those living along its eroding banks.

NASA’s Earth Observatory page shows the striking difference in the river’s appearance near Memphis using two Landsat satellite images taken a year apart. One photograph shows the river in August of 2011 just after the river returned to its pre-flood levels. But if you compare it to a more recent image, its obvious that water levels have gone the opposite direction from flooding. The site conveniently allows you to combine the two views into a single image with a scroll bar you can manipulate back and forth over to see “then and now” differences (just click on the "View Image Comparison" button below the photos).

The lower levels of 2012 have allowed the US Army Corp of Engineers to patch and reinforce some of the levees built along the river to hold back flood waters, but tons of sediment from last year’s floods have reshaped river traffic corridors, reducing barge holding capacities and adding additional shipping costs.

SOURCE
NASA’s Earth Observatory site

May
12
2011

Mississippi River Levee in Baton Rouge, LA, taken May 11th 2011.: Panorama of the Mississippi River levee in Baton Rouge, LA near Louisiana State University, taken May 11th 2011.
Mississippi River Levee in Baton Rouge, LA, taken May 11th 2011.: Panorama of the Mississippi River levee in Baton Rouge, LA near Louisiana State University, taken May 11th 2011.Courtesy Azure Bevington
You might have heard about the terrible flooding that is occurring all along the Mighty Mississippi. As I write this I am sitting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana hoping the levees will hold. Normally the river in Baton Rouge is far below the tops of the levees. Flood stage, which is the water level at which the river would begin to flood surrounding areas without the levees acting as barriers, is 35 ft. Right now the water level is 42.8 ft and has risen 8 ft in just the last week. It is projected to crest at 47.5 ft and remain at that level for 8 to 10 days; this is higher than the previous record set in May 1927 of 47.28 ft. The tops of the levees that protect Baton Rouge are between 47 and 50 ft, they are currently sandbagging in areas less than 48 ft. Besides the possibility of overtopping there are also other problems that we need to look out for. When the river level remains high for an extended period of time the water can seep in and begin to saturate the soil, this can possibly weaken the levee structure. There is also the possibility of water going under the levee; this can result in sand boils, where the water bubbles up through the soil. It is very unlikely that this will happen, as the levees are strong and well constructed, but we need to be on the lookout for any problems.

Here in Baton Rouge we are much better off than many who live in communities within the Atchafalaya Basin, where the expected opening of the Morganza spillway could cause flooding of over 3 million acres (Click here to see a map of projected flooding in the basin) Many of these folks have already begun to sandbag their homes and to prepare to leave the area. The Morganza spillway is a large controlled gated structure that will divert water from the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya Basin. The Atchafalaya Basin is a low lying cypress swamp that normally receives 30% of the flow of the Mississippi River through the Old River Control structure through the Atchafalaya River that winds its way through the swamp. This flood is projected to be larger than the 1973 flood and possibly even larger than the 1927 flood that devastated communities along the river, and brought about the passage of Flood Control Act of 1928. The magnitude of this year’s flood has already resulted in the opening of the Bonnet Carré spillway which diverts water into Lake Pontchartrain, this reduces the water levels as the River flows past New Orleans.

Stay tuned for updates on the flooding in Louisiana.

Have any of you been affected by the flood waters?

Mar
24
2011

Behind the wall: The wall protecting the bottom floor of the museum is made of two rows of cement barriers with dirt packed between them. Next door at District Energy, they're using sand. I wonder which will work better?
Behind the wall: The wall protecting the bottom floor of the museum is made of two rows of cement barriers with dirt packed between them. Next door at District Energy, they're using sand. I wonder which will work better?Courtesy JGordon
If you've been following Science Buzz (of course you have!) you know that St. Paul is gearing up for a flood!

It's still unclear as to how high the water will rise, but given all the snow we got this winter, the Science Museum is preparing for the worst. The worst is unlikely, but even not-quite-the-worst would be pretty bad, so the museum is building some defenses against the water.
A red tailed hawk keeps an eye on the proceedings: Which, frankly, is ridiculous. What do hawks know about flood management?
A red tailed hawk keeps an eye on the proceedings: Which, frankly, is ridiculous. What do hawks know about flood management?Courtesy JGordon
The hawk takes flight!: Good riddance. What were we even paying him for?
The hawk takes flight!: Good riddance. What were we even paying him for?Courtesy JGordon

Our Science House is being surrounded by a wall of thick, solid concrete blocks, like a fort. And we're building a wall of Jersey barriers packed with dirt through the Big Back Yard to protect our first floor, should the water get that high. The museum's first floor, by the way, is not where you enter. The first floor is way below that, and it's where we build exhibits and keep all of the machinery that maintains the climate in the building, so it's important that it doesn't get too wet down there.

Here's a slide show of the pictures I took of the construction this afternoon. For descriptions of what's happening in each, click on the photo (or go right to the Flickr photoset).

Feb
14
2011

We've probably been debating the virtues of urban areas since humans gathered in the first cities thousands of years ago. But one question we probably haven't explored much is how we can prepare our cities for climate change.

Climate and sea level have changed slowly throughout humanity's history, and we've been able to adapt. Until quite recently, humans either didn't build settlements in risky areas, or the ones they built (say on floodplains or near a sea shore) were temporary and easily moved or abandoned.

Now that we face accelerating and more extreme changes in the next 100 years, we also have some very permanent structures (and infrastructures) in the riskiest of places. Over 100 million people live in areas likely to be underwater by 2100. And even landlubbers face the challenges of more frequent extreme weather events--heavier rainfalls, droughts, etc.

St. Paul, MN: I bet there are thousands of ideas brewing in these buildings every day (especially the one on the lower left side).
St. Paul, MN: I bet there are thousands of ideas brewing in these buildings every day (especially the one on the lower left side).Courtesy John Polo

Luckily, engineers are already beginning to plan for these changes as they retrofit and build new buildings and infrastructure. Often, these engineers are ahead of city building codes and have trouble persuading property owners to invest in addressing threats that lie in the future. But isn't it better safe than sorry? Maybe we could build cities so strong that climate change barely bothers us.

And even luckier perhaps is that cities are hotbeds of innovation and creativity. We could see the efforts of these engineers as just another example of urban virtues. More people mean more ideas and more resources devoted to the cause. And in our rapidly changing world, we need that teamwork more than ever.

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?

Jan
31
2011

Leigh and I have safely arrive in Christchurch, preparing for our second trip to Antarctica this field season. We flew down with several folks that will be wintering over on the ice. For some, this is their first trip to the ice ever, for others, this has just become a bit routine.

The weather here is a bit chilly and overcast this evening, with a very nice forecast for the next two days. The forecast for our friends and family back home in KS is not nearly as positive. I guess that all depends on how you look at it though.

It's already been a crazy winter, and now this! I'm not going to lie, there is a part of me that really wishes I was going to be there for this one. I'm obviously a person that doesn't mind the cold weather or snow. Safe travels to everyone back in the Midwest! Stay safe and warm! We'll try to do the same down south.

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