Category Archive 'Geology'
08 Nov 2012
A line of blue counties stretches across the usually red-voting South which parallels curiously enough an ancient sea coast from 100 million years ago. Why?
Dr. M. explains:
Hale County in west central Alabama and Bamberg County in southern South Carolina are 450 miles apart. Both counties have a population of 16,000 of which around 60% are African American. The median households and per capita incomes are well below their respective state’s median, in Hale nearly $10,000 less. Both were named after confederate officers–Stephen Fowler Hale and Francis Marion Bamberg. And although Hale’s county seat is the self-proclaimed Catfish Capitol, pulling catfish out of the Edisto River in Bamberg County is a favorite past time. These two counties share another unique feature. Amidst a blanket of Republican red both Hale and Bamberg voted primarily Democratic in the 2000, 2004, and again in the 2008 presidential elections. Indeed, Hale and Bamberg belong to a belt of counties cutting through the deep south–Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina–that have voted over 50% Democratic in recent presidential elections. Why? A 100 million year old coastline.
During the Cretaceous, 139-65 million years ago, shallow seas covered much of the southern United States. These tropical waters were productive–giving rise to tiny marine plankton with carbonate skeletons which overtime accumulated into massive chalk formations. The chalk, both alkaline and porous, lead to fertile and well-drained soils in a band, mirroring that ancient coastline and stretching across the now much drier South. This arc of rich and dark soils in Alabama has long been known as the Black Belt. But many, including Booker T. Washington, coopted the term to refer to the entire Southern band. Washington wrote in his 1901 autobiography, Up from Slavery, “The term was first used to designate a part of the country which was distinguished by the color of the soil. The part of the country possessing this thick, dark, and naturally rich soil…”
Cretaceous rock units (139-65 million years old) are shown in shades of green. Older rock units are in gray, younger ones in yellow. From Geology and Election 2000.
Over time this rich soil produced an amazingly productive agricultural region, especially for cotton. In 1859 alone a harvest of over 4,000 cotton bales was not uncommon within the belt. And yet, just tens of miles north or south this harvest was rare. Of course this level of cotton production required extensive labor.
As Washington notes further in his autobiography, “The part of the country possessing this thick, dark, and naturally rich soil was, of course, the part of the South where the slaves were most profitable, and consequently they were taken there in the largest numbers. Later and especially since the war, the term seems to be used wholly in a political sense—that is, to designate the counties where the black people outnumber the white.”
Readers can compare 2012 results using individual state maps at Politico.
25 Mar 2011
A scientific swindler preyed on American scientists working in Geology during a period extending from 1884 to 1891, obtaining books, specimens, and money from a number of American scholars. He had a good knowledge of Eastern European languages, was well acquainted with the field and frequently assumed the names of prominent authorities. By the time he vanished from history, he had also accurately identified large numbers of specimens in American museum collections.
14 Jul 2010
Newly arrived on the enemies list of the perennially concerned is California’s state rock, serpentine. A bill to oust serpentine is making its way through the California State Legislature, and geologists are flocking to the Magnesium Iron Silicate Hydroxide’s defense.
The bill to defrock the rock — which recently passed the full State Senate and is awaiting a vote in the Assembly — is sponsored by Senator Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat, with the strong support of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.
Declaring that serpentine “has known health effects,” the bill would leave California — one of roughly half the states in the nation with an official rock or mineral — without an official rock. (According to the bill, California was the first state, in 1965, to name an official rock.) Asbestos occurs naturally in many minerals, and indeed some serpentine rocks do serve as a host for chrysotile, a form of asbestos. But geologists say chrysotile is less harmful than some other forms of asbestos, and would be a danger — like scores of other rocks — only if a person were to breathe its dust repeatedly.
“There is no way anyone is going to get bothered by casual exposure to that kind of rock,” said Malcolm Ross, a geologist who retired from the United States Geological Survey in 1995. “Unless they were breaking it up with a sledgehammer year after year.”
Dr. Ross and other opponents of the bill are concerned that removing serpentine, which is occasionally used in jewelry, as the state’s rock would demonize it and thus inspire litigation against museums, property owners and other sites where the rocks sit; they cite the inclusion of a letter of support from the Consumer Attorneys of California with the bill as evidence.
“If they keep the asbestos issue bubbling,” Dr. Ross said, “it means money for politicians, more money for lawyers and money for scientists to investigate.”
J. D. Preston, a spokesman from the consumer lawyers group, said the group had nothing to do with drafting the legislation and was just responding to a request from the awareness organization for a support letter. “We just thought this was a good fit in our mission of consumer safety,” Mr. Preston said. “It is certainly not the intent, and we don’t even see where it opens the avenue for litigation.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has indicated no position.
We were unable to interview Virginia’s state rock, as none has ever been appointed. Virginia’s state fossil Chesapecten jeffersonius, being naturally conservative, expressed mild chagrin at California’s radical politics, but was happy that California is so far away.
16 Jul 2009
ScienceFair reads a new journal article in Nature Geoscience and begins to wonder.
Could the best climate models—the ones used to predict global warming—all be wrong?
Maybe so, says a new study published online today in the journal Nature Geoscience. The report found that only about half of the warming that occurred during a natural climate change 55 million years ago can be explained by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. What caused the remainder of the warming is a mystery.
“In a nutshell, theoretical models cannot explain what we observe in the geological record,” says oceanographer Gerald Dickens, study co-author and professor of Earth Science at Rice University in Houston. “There appears to be something fundamentally wrong with the way temperature and carbon are linked in climate models.”
During the warming period, known as the “Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum” (PETM), for unknown reasons, the amount of carbon in Earth’s atmosphere rose rapidly. This makes the PETM one of the best ancient climate analogues for present-day Earth.
As the levels of carbon increased, global surface temperatures also rose dramatically during the PETM. Average temperatures worldwide rose by around 13 degrees in the relatively short geological span of about 10,000 years.
The conclusion, Dickens said, is that something other than carbon dioxide caused much of this ancient warming. “Some feedback loop or other processes that aren’t accounted for in these models—the same ones used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for current best estimates of 21st century warming—caused a substantial portion of the warming that occurred during the PETM.”
The Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (about 55 Myr ago) represents a possible analogue for the future and thus may provide insight into climate system sensitivity and feedbacks. The key feature of this event is the release of a large mass of 13C-depleted carbon into the carbon reservoirs at the Earth’s surface, although the source remains an open issue. Concurrently, global surface temperatures rose by 5–9 °C within a few thousand years. Here we use published palaeorecords of deep-sea carbonate dissolution, and stable carbon isotope composition, along with a carbon cycle model to constrain the initial carbon pulse to a magnitude of 3,000 Pg C or less, with an isotopic composition lighter than minus50permil. As a result, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations increased during the main event by less than about 70% compared with pre-event levels. At accepted values for the climate sensitivity to a doubling of the atmospheric CO2 concentration1, this rise in CO2 can explain only between 1 and 3.5 °C of the warming inferred from proxy records. We conclude that in addition to direct CO2 forcing, other processes and/or feedbacks that are hitherto unknown must have caused a substantial portion of the warming during the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum. Once these processes have been identified, their potential effect on future climate change needs to be taken into account.
25 Jun 2009
Just by good luck, the International Space Station happened to be passing over Sarychev Peak on Matua Island in the Kuril Islands on June 12th at the perfect time to allow astronauts to photograph its volcanic eruption.
NASA Earth Observatory
Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.
05 Jan 2009
You won’t need to worry about Global Warming if the Yellowstone Caldera decides to erupt.
Hundreds of earthquakes have hit Yellowstone National Park, raising fears of a more powerful volcanic eruption.
The earthquake swarm, the biggest in more than 20 years, is being closely monitored by scientists and emergency authorities.
The series of small quakes included three last Friday which measured stronger than magnitude 3.0. The strongest since this latest swarm of quakes began on December 27 was 3.9.
No damage has yet been reported but scientists say this level of activity – there have been more than 500 tremors in the last week – is highly unusual.
“The earthquake sequence is the most intense in this area for some years,” said the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. Some of the larger earthquakes have been felt by park employees and guests, according to the observatory.
The swarm is occurring beneath the northern part of Yellowstone Lake in the park. Yellowstone sits on the caldera of an ancient supervolcano and continuing geothermal activity can be seen in the picturesque geysers and steam holes, such as Old Faithful.
About 1,000 to 2,000 tremors a year have been recorded since 2004. ...
Professor Robert B. Smith, a geophysicist at the University of Utah and one of the leading experts on earthquake and volcanic activity at Yellowstone, said that the swarm was significant.
“It’s not business as usual,” he said. “This is a large earthquake swarm, and we’ve recorded several hundred. We are paying careful attention. This is an important sequence.”
The last full-scale explosion of the Yellowstone Supervolcano, the Lava Creek eruption which happened approximately 640,000 years ago, ejected about 240 cubic miles of rock and dust into the sky.
Geologists have been closely monitoring the rise and fall of the Yellowstone Plateau as an indication of changes in magma chamber pressure.
The Yellowstone caldera floor has risen recently – almost 3in per year for the past three years – a rate more than three times greater than ever observed since such measurements began in 1923.
From mid-summer 2004 through to mid-summer 2008, the land surface within the caldera moved upwards as much as 8in at the White Lake GPS station. The last major earthquake swarm was in 1985 and lasted three months.
USGS Yellowstone Volcano Observatory site
Map of recent earthquakes
03 Dec 2008
Recent carbon dating tests of the Thera Eruption provides a date contradicting the established chronological sequence of Egyptian and Cypriot pottery found on the island.
Two olive branches buried by a Minoan-era eruption of the volcano on the island of Thera (modern-day Santorini) have enabled precise radiocarbon dating of the catastrophe to 1613 BC, with an error margin of plus or minus 10 years, according to two researchers who presented conclusions of their previously published research during an event on Tuesday at the Danish Archaeological Institute of Athens.
Speaking at an event entitled “The Enigma of Dating the Minoan Eruption – Data from Santorini and Egypt”, the study’s authors, Dr. Walter Friedrich of the Danish University of Aarhus and Dr. Walter Kutschera of the Austrian University of Vienna, said data left by the branch of an olive tree with 72 annular growth rings was used for dating via the radiocarbon method, while a second olive branch—found just nine metres away from the first—was unearthed in July 2007 and has not yet been analysed. ...
On the other hand, as the two researchers pointed out, archaeological evidence linked with the Historical Dating of Ancient Egypt indicate that the Thera eruption must have occurred after the start of the New Kingdom in Egypt in 1530 BC.
The two researchers said their find (olive tree) represents a serious contradiction between the results of the scientific method (radiocarbon dating) and scholarly work in the humanities (history-archaeology), with both sides holding strong arguments to support their conclusions.
The radiocarbon dating places the cataclysmic eruption, blamed for heralding the end to the Minoan civilisation, a century earlier than previous scientific finds.
The eruption and the subsequent devastation throughout the Aegean has long piqued researchers’ interest, with many scholars pointing to Plato’s reference of the “lost continent of Atlantis” on vague memories, passed down generation to generation in the ancient Greek world, of the catastrophe.
05 Aug 2008
The LA Times reports a curious local phenomenon.
A patch of land in Ventura County’s section of Los Padres National Forest where the ground recently heated up to 812 degrees continues to puzzle firefighters and geologists after weeks of monitoring.
“It’s a thermal anomaly,” said Ron Oatman, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department.
Firefighters responded to reports of a blaze there a month and a half ago, when observers noticed smoke rising from the parched scrub. But when they arrived, they found no flames.
Firefighters and geologists who have surveyed the area in the Sespe Oil Field are uncertain what’s causing the heat, but they do have a theory.
Allen King, a retired geologist with the U.S. Forest Service who went to the site Friday, said the smoking ground is “a normal occurrence” that does not appear to be the result of human activity.
The hot spot is in an area considered to be an active landslide that has shifted for more than 60 years. Several hundred feet below its cracked surface lie pockets of gas, tar and oil.
King said he suspects cracks along the landslide’s slope allow oxygen to enter into the earth and hydrocarbon material to “seep out” of the fine-grain shale. The combination can create underground combustion, he said.
King said the depth at which hydrocarbon material can be found “varies tremendously” and that he does not know at what depth the combustion in the oil field is occurring. The 812-degree temperature was measured Friday about a foot below the surface, he said. No other temperature checks have been made since, according to Oatman.
During Friday’s visit to the hot spot, smoke rose through five cracks in the ground. From a distance, it looked like “a small, smoldering camp fire,” Oatman said. The smoke comes and goes, he said, and fire officials expect it will last until the next heavy rainfall, when water and mud plug the fissures.
Mr. King says similar high temperatures have been recorded at that location five times since 1987.
24 Apr 2007
Kryptonite, which robbed Superman of his powers, is no longer the stuff of comic books and films.
A mineral found by geologists in Serbia shares virtually the same chemical composition as the fictional kryptonite from outer space, used by the superhero’s nemesis Lex Luther to weaken him in the film “Superman Returns”.
“We will have to be careful with it—we wouldn’t want to deprive Earth of its most famous superhero!,” said Dr Chris Stanley, a mineralogist at London’s Natural History Museum.
Stanley, who revealed the identity of the mysterious new mineral, discovered the match after searching the Internet for its chemical formula – sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide.
“I was amazed to discover that same scientific name written on a case of rock containing kryptonite stolen by Lex Luther from a museum in the film Superman Returns,” he said.
The substance has been confirmed as a new mineral after tests by scientists at the Natural History Museum in London and the National Research Council in Canada.
But instead of the large green crystals in Superman comics, the real thing is a white, powdery substance which contains no fluorine and is non-radioactive.
The mineral, to be named Jadarite, will go on show at the London’s Natural History Museum at certain times of the day on Wednesday, April 25, and Sunday, May 13.
Hat tip to Dr. Milton Ong.
23 Feb 2007
The liberal view of the universe
Liberals confuse a consensus of journalists, celebrities, and do-gooders, combined with activist science, with something meaningful. If they lived in the 1920s, they’d be championing eugenics. If they lived in the 1880s, they’d be worried about sex as a health threat and the rising tide of inferior races. These kinds of consensi are always wrong.
Sophisters, calculators, and economists have cooked up models and projections based on various kinds of data, but we really know perfectly well that mankind does not understand the typical duration and causes of climate cycles and periods of glaciation, and cannot accurately predict weather more than a week in advance.
The theory of Global Warming is ultimately based on nothing more than the unavailability, post-1980, of a continuing pattern of cooler weather. When it had been getting colder for a few years, the same kinds of authority were projecting a new Ice Age, brought about by mankind’s hubris in creating industrial civilization with attendant contamination of pristine Nature. The vital remedy was more taxes and greater regulatory restriction of American productivity and energy consumption. When temperature trends reversed, curiously enough, the causes and the cure remained exactly the same. The only change is that the media and the left went from agitating over Global Cooling to agitating over Global Warming without missing a beat, and essentially the same agitprop has simply increased in volume and alleged urgency for years.
What depresses me is the fact that Americans can emerge from 16+ years of education still capable of falling for this kind of ridiculous nonsense. To believe in Global Warming, I’d say, you have to be basically unconscious of the highly limited state of human knowledge of the earth’s past. We know that there were periods in which the planet’s climate was considerably cooler than at present, and we know that there were periods when it was considerably warmer. We do not have anything like exhaustive knowledge of the climate throughout earth’s geologic history. Nor do we now why periods of different climate occurred.
The rise of modern science of geology goes back roughly two lousy centuries. Continental drift, a fairly basic factor in geologic matters, was not even accepted before the 1960s, within many of our lifetimes. When that bozo on the evening news starts describing today’s temperature as an all-time record, what kind of records do you suppose he’s working with? Exactly how meaningful is anything of the sort? What can 20+ years of slightly warmer weather signify?
I attribute this lunacy to a combination of too much city living and Hollywood. There has been an endless stream of horror movies about Godzilla rising from Tokyo Bay, giant ants, mutated this, or catastrophic that, all attributable to the wickedness of mankind’s pursuit of material gratification. Today’s citified Americans all believe that they are the absolute center of the universe, and that the world and man’s position in it resembles the old New Yorker cartoon of the view from 9th Avenue. If I dropped all the liberals somewhere west of the Missouri and they had to walk out, their view of man’s centrality in the universe would be changed mightily.
13 May 2006
A new rock slab is growing at more than one meter a day on the Mt. St. Helens volcano in the state of Washington. You can actually see it grow in this very brief time-lapse photopgraphy video. Hit replay, and watch closely a few times.