Friday, August 20, 2010

Commence Educating . . .

I'm more or less fully moved in (a few bags, mostly clothing, are still in the trunk of the car) and while still unpacking and getting everything set up the way I want it, am pretty comfortable in the new place.

I'm slowly unpacking my stuff in the new office, but can't really do much till I get a set of bookshelves up from 3rd floor storage. Till then, no point in unpacking the textbooks or samples that I usually keep off my desk.

Got the paperwork started to audit a math class. This way, I can effectively refresh my math skills (or, arguably, my lack thereof) without having to worry about it affecting my grade. Given especially that my somewhat-abortive attempts at university math ended several years ago, it's necessary to get a fresh start, so beginning near the beginning with Calculus I. (Why not, anyway? It's on the University's bill and it'll make me a better scientist.)

Saw one of the doctors at the campus clinic yesterday morning; one I hadn't seen previously. She did a couple of *yet different* tests and found there's a decent chance I have a small tear in a ligament running through the distal side of my hand and wrist. Thankfully, I have full range of motion and keeping it wrapped up or braced when working should be adequate support to allow it to heal. Not sure how long it will take, but expecting several weeks minimum.

In other news, I'm totally not prepared for my audition on Monday. Somehow, I knew this would happen. I'll hit what I can tonight and throughout the weekend, but there's a good chance I'll simply end up pulling one of my old solos out of my pile o' music and hope fervently that I'll make it into one of the ensembles. Would love to make one of the middle-level groups, but after a year off, honestly anything would do.

With that, I've probably procrastinated enough. Time to go process some rocks so we can get them shipped out for powdering next week.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I'm Back . . . For Now.

Don't pay enough attention to this thing. Probably a chicken and egg problem in which I don't have many readers so I don't make a habit of updating, which means I don't have many readers, which leads to . . .

You get the point.

Been a busy summer. Bought a hybrid bike, went to Wisconsin, learned building was condemned, found I LOVE road biking, blasted up to the Cabin, moved my office 3 times (shouldn't have to move again), did field work in Colorado, started processing a substantial number of my samples, nearly re-fractured my hand as a result of biking, pulled at least one major social gaffe, actually went to the movie theatre SEVERAL times, was maid of honor at a close friend's wedding, registered and submitted an abstract to a national conference, spent too much money on upgrades to the bike (but will save plenty thanks to the find of Dad's old clipless pedals in the garage), upgraded, cleaned, and tuned the bike, and undoubtedly a few other random things. Heading up to the Cabin this Saturday as soon as I take care of a doctor's appointment in Detroit. After that, I get to move into my apartment (FINALLY!!) and attempt to get my trombonesmanship up to par enough to land a spot in one of the university bands.

Whew. School is going to be somewhat of a vacation from this summer.

Oh yes, and the class thing. That starts again, and am thoroughly looking forward to it. Taking a methods class and an isotopes class. Scientific writing is only made easy through lots of practice and good feedback (really, though, what isn't?), and I requested that we do a bit of that if possible in the methods class. I doubt I'd be the only one in that class who would benefit from said practice. There are certain advantages to having your advisor as a professor!

Past that, I could probably bore what people actually do stop by to read this thing occasionally with what I've learned about cycling this summer. The important part is that I've set a goal of doing a century ride (100 miles) next spring. Haven't picked out the event yet - that will probably happen early in 2011. Based on the light base training I've done so far, my knees should hold up okay, and with the new equipment I shouldn't have anywhere near as much trouble with my hands. I've already had one "expert" tell me that a century on a hybrid isn't possible, but everything I've read so far points to the fitness of the rider rather than the superiority of the equipment (but it does help to have a decent setup).

So that's my summer in a nutshell.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Magnitude 4.9 earthquake in Utah.

Northern Utah on the UT-WY border. Felt reports coming into the USGS are currently from as far south as American Fork, UT and as far west as the Great Salt Lake. This isn't a major one, and no idea of any damage yet. It's of interest because it's an intraplate earthquake, despite it being not-unexpected because of its location in the far-east end of the Basin and Range Province.

A group called Earthscope was hopefully able to pick up some good data from this quake. I mention them specifically because they held a small conference on campus earlier this week. Regrettably, I was only able to attend one session - it was absolutely fascinating! The discussions on seismology and tectonic work, as well as their goal of setting up a high-res seismic array in North America is a fascinating listen. I can't even imagine what such a network will do for tomography underneath the North American Plate.

In other news, was on a field trip last weekend and am leaving for another tomorrow at noon. St. Francois Mountains or bust!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

LHC Has Collided Protons at 7 TeV!!!

Read the posting here.

If you're wondering how colliders work, ArsTechnica put up a great article this week on how they work.

As a freshman at Michigan State University, my family and I had the pleasure of being able to take one of their periodic public tours of the Cyclotron facilities. One of my favorite parts was how they curved the acceleration path at one point to separate particles by mass, so they could then sort of collect particles in Faraday Cups at the end of the path. That a machine so complex and powerful replies on the fundamental principle of inertia to sort the subjects of its studies by mass is somehow poetic.

Turns out we use that exact principle for isotope detection, except that it's on a far smaller scale. My research group makes frequent use of a multicollector induced-coupled plasma mass spectrometer (MC-ICP-MS), which allows us to measure with a high degree of precision (when the machine's behaving; I swear it's sentient sometimes) isotopic ratios. In particular, I'm looking at stable (or non-radioactive) iron isotopes. In the future, I'll be looking at stable magnesium isotopes, (obviously unstable) uranium isotopes, and possibly stable silicon isotopes. Silicon's difficult because of its low solubility in most solutions and its tendency to fractionate.

Fractionation occurs when some mechanism allows the preferential movement of one isotope over another. I'm being vague on that definition for a reason; there are multiple ways in which this can happen. One example is heating the sample to a level where silicon melts and could possibly vaporize. Heavier isotopes require more energy to lift, just as lifting a car requires more energy than lifting a bicycle. If there is only enough energy in a system to vaporize a few silicon atoms at a time, it's much more probable that the lighter silicon atoms will vaporize.

It doesn't exclude the possibility of vaporizing the heavy silicon atoms at this time - it's just less probable. However, if more energy is introduced to the system, the probability of heavier silicon isotopes being vaporized increases greatly. Were I to analyze collected silicon vapor collected from each of the energy levels, I'd find that the lower energy vapor has a "lighter" signature, whereas the higher energy vapor has a "heavier" signature.

Recall, though, that this is only one way to fractionate stable isotopes. It's by far the most common process, but there is also chemical fractionation. I won't go into as much detail about this process as I'm less familiar with it, but it's definitely a fascinating study and I'm hoping we go into great detail about it in my isotopes class next fall.

Why silicon is being problematic isn't clear yet. Part of our chemical procedure to prepare samples for analysis hasn't been perfected yet, and we know that for sure. One particular chemical added in extremely small amounts is intended to "anchor" the silicon in solution so it doesn't form a colloid or precipitate out, trapped in telltale wispy flakes that settle at the bottom of the sample tube. Too much of this chemical and it will occupy all available site on the silicon atoms in solution and turn into a gas, which means it will fractionate out an eventually escape. Dilution of the sample beyond the theoretical minimum volume required to dissolve the amount of silicon present hasn't entirely helped, either.

But the best part by far is that mass spectrometry and photospectrometry of the samples have provided results exactly the opposite of each other (there should be at least a rough direct correlation between the two). Hard to say. We're still working on the method.

And on that note, I should head into work fairly soon. My first class of the day was delayed by half an hour, but I have an array of small tasks I should plow through in some capacity before then.

Monday, March 29, 2010

MSU in Final Four and Back To The Grind

Got back to the home base yesterday afternoon in time for the second half of the MSU-Tennesee game, which I'd been tuning into for the last hour or so of my drive.

If I can get tickets at a reasonable price, I'm hoping to be able to watch the games in person, seeing as I live a mere hour and a half from Indianapolis. Chances are that I will not be successful in my quest, but it NEVER hurts to try.

In the meantime, we're starting the second major unit of the class I help run, and the camping trip is next week. Need to get plans solidifed, since it's highly likely I'll ultimately have to plan all of the underlying infrastructural parts of the trip (things like food, propane, etc.). Working for this prof certainly has been interesting, and not really something I want to do again.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

On Thinking Like A Scientist (Well, Me)

Been thinking a lot about how we think and brain structures/types lately. Not going into details why, but the more simplistic of the reasons is that ADHD, something I've lived with my entire life, is a fascinating disorder. The spectrum it exists on is facsinating as well: Asperger's/ASD, manic-depressive, OCD. It's rare to sit at purely one of those endmembers.

I'm no medical doctor or psychologist, so I have no qualifications upon which to make a diagnosis, but I can certainly find the correlations between what I've found in literature and my brain. Better yet is that my observations are inherently contaminated because I'm making the fundamental mistake of observing myself. It's funny how that works.

In my case, though, whatever particular point of the spectrum I occupy has proven to be advantageous. I've had the luck of good, solid parenting in which I can root my morals, values, and behaviors. The first two are obvious; the third is not. I've never been able to entirely unconsciously assimilate acceptable social behaviors. There are an array that I've had to consciously learn, some by trial and error. Means that in some ways I've become a good actor. In other ways, it's gone from consciously responding in what's deemed an acceptable way (and avoiding other things like smiling at inappropriate times, which is something I've caught myself doing as an apparent standard emotional response where it's NOT recommended), to it becoming second nature because I've done it so much.

Anyway, I'm veering a bit. Back to the advantageous bit. I can argue that "disorder" is a misnomer for my brain's setup. It may have been at one time, but I've learned how to function in tandem with it in such a way that I can turn my tendencies into helpful behaviors. Some behaviors that I naturally want to engage in I know not to. One is busting into a room with voice at full volume, announcing what may or may not be a triviality. I save that for when it's really needed, sort of like the time we thought NHB was on fire (a bio student on the 3rd floor managed to mix ethanol, a Bunsen burner, and his lab manual), but other times, I consciously remind myself to suppress. That's one extreme.

The other extreme is the ability to hyperfocus. That comes naturally when I find myself doing something I find highly engaging. I don't take my luck for granted, especially when it's good, and I've certainly been lucky to find my subject of choice. Had no idea what I wanted to do, even coming into college, and thought I did shortly after. Found geology by chance partway through my junior year, and my mom was supporting enough to let me do an extra year in my undergrad to let me get my degree in geology instead of my previous major, which I'd been starting to flounder a bit in because I couldn't find research (no interested faculty), and as a result no real semblance of guidance. That alone caused me to start spacing out again. Getting into the Geology Department gave me a more engaging environment, a wide variety of subjects to sample, and a sense of community. I had the community with the band, but not so much in the academic side.

Fast fowarding to now, I'm in my niche area of study, which makes it easy for me to sit down and work 8 or more full hours a day. I don't always (not always 8 full hours of work to do), which means I can fill it by puttering around in the storage room of my teaching lab, reading papers, or engaging in the community in the department here. The key is that I enjoy what I do, so it's hard to consider it "work." If it's not so much work as fun or a game or a puzzle in my head, it's a relatively simple matter to sit down and expand my knowledge in the area or go work on my samples in the lab. Given the Scientific Method is essentially the thought structure I gravitated to at a young age, working the way I do is natural. Field work makes life even better.

However, try to get me to figure out something about insurance or business and it can take a few tries (sorry Mom!).

I'm loath to admit that there are a couple of downsides here and there to this "disorder." Though I'm one of the lucky ones who rarely has emotional downswings, they DO happen, and they can surprise me - sometimes just the right trigger, especially if I've been stressed about something. Thankfully, they never last more than a few hours, maybe a day or two at most. Stress is another issue in and of itself - can deal with it okay until it hits at the wrong angle and I break (insert shear stress/structure joke here). I'm sure that's true of almost everyone. Social stress is something I'm not used to, and there's been a fair amount this semester. Details as to why are irrelevant in this medium. All that matters is that I've once again demonstrated that I don't hide emotions well, which means it's probably very clear to the person with which I have a conflict that I have a conflict. Ironically, it's because this person and I are so much alike, but at different stages. This person is so close to the scientific rationale, except that it's clouded by a combination of upbringing and behavior that has obviously been advantageous in the past.

Once this person reaches a level proper for this academic environment, life will be better. The question remains as to whether or not the capability exists, because of some fundamental differences in this person's upbringing.

To bring this post full-circle, it's the above paragraph that has gotten me thinking about all of this again. We are very alike and very different, and I've been trying to reconcile the differences in our thinking. In doing so, I have turned inward to try to figure out again what my brain's up to in somewhat of an attempt to figure out what's going on in this person's brain. I don't know why I'm doing this. It fascinates me, but it won't be productive until the group faces this problem. We won't face it because no one wants to be the first to address this person. It's definitely not been ideal (never mind I have to suppress a laugh anytime we discuss "ideal" in class because it essentially doesn't exist) and I think that's what's been stressing me out the most.

Brains are weird, people are weird. Yes, I'm attaching labels, and only because it's the best way I can explain at the moment.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Snowball Earth Proven?

Snowball Earth is a popular, controversial idea in which Earth is thought to have been completely covered at least once in ice during the Sturtian glaciation of roughly 718-700 Ma. This glaciation episode, bookended by two others, the Kaigas (~785-728 Ma) and the Marinoan (~670-624 Ma), comprise the period of the Late Precambrian known as the Cryogenian Period and are a precursor to the Cambrian Explosion of roughly 530 Ma.

This is proposed as a hypothesis to explain some sediments seen worldwide that some geologists are having trouble characterizing any other way. Glacially-associated sediments are distinct from the more common wind- and water-driven deposits. Because of the viscosity of ice, it is capable of carrying sediments of varying grain size from dust to megaboulder. Some sediments are sorted out during melting into eskers or loess, but other sediments are dropped where they are when the glacier starts to melt. Advance/retreat periods during melting can push up ridges of unsorted sediments at the glacier head known as moraines.

Skeptics of the hypothesis argue that there are problems with the idea of worldwide glaciation, and their arguments are very well-founded. Those of us who see snow every year are aware of how bright the world can get when snow is on the ground and the sun is shining. This is because snow and ice have a high albedo, or ability to reflect light. If light is reflected rather than absorbed, not much energy is available at surface level to melt snow or ice. It's possible that runaway glaciation would be VERY hard to reverse once established simply because of the albedo argument. I believe some models back this up. Others don't. It's controversial, which is what makes it a compelling story of Earth's past.

There are other arguments, but I strongly suggest reading through the Wikipedia article linked at the top of this post. It's fascinating.

Sediments such as these have been observed in paleoequatorial regions. Using paleomagnetic data embedded in rocks (that hasn't been too far altered by subsequent metamorphic processes), it is possible to extrapolate a paleolatitude of a particular rock formation. This is done by isolating the remanent magnetic signature (thought of as a vector) in the native Fe2O3 (hematite), Fe3O4 (magnetite), and FeTiO4 (ilmenite) crystals present in a rock. Alignment may occur in the internal structure of a crystal during cooling and crystallization of an igneous rock (if it has enough time), or during deposition of iron-bearing sedimentary rocks (if the magnetic field has enough influence to align enough of the grains in situ). If it is possible to establish an age for these same rocks, we know when that piece of continent was at that particular latitude (but NOT the longitude, because assuming a perfect magnetic dipole, the magnetic vector is the same at all longitudes at that latitude).

Better yet if you find glacial sediments hanging out in close association with rock types typically found in tropical environments. Uniformitarianism for the win.

That's what scientists have managed to do with a suite of rocks in northwestern Canada. Tropical sediments and presumably paleomagnetic data (not directly mentioned in the article) were used to identify what could be a smoking gun for Snowball Earth.

As a corollary, some glacial sediments are now found at tropical latitudes, but that plus paleomag provides a smoking gun in favor of plate tectonics. Typical glaciations throughout Earth's history were not at the level of the Cryogenian glaciations.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Daylight Savings Time

. . . Somewhat guilt-inducing, because I wake up thinking I've slept in an hour later than usual. While I haven't in terms of absolute time, social time indicates that I absolutely have!

Well, at least it's Pi Day. I will not be eating pie, or any number approximately equal to 3.14 for that matter, but I will happily ruminate on the philosophical implications of the ratio of a circle's diameter to its radius.

Nevertheless, today requires some level of productivity - finishing my lecture for Monday, then heading into work so I can cap my samples and get the teaching samples ready for tomorrow's lab, as well as hang around in case any students who might be around have some questions.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Have there been more earthquakes lately? NO!

More Big Quakes in Chile

These are probably aftershocks, but I got these e-mails from the USGS about an hour ago:

Magnitude 7.2, Libertador O'Higgins, Chile 3/11/10 14:39:48 UTC
[This has since been revised down to magnitude 6.9.]

Magnitude 6.9, Libertador O'Higgins, Chile 3/11/10 14:55:30 UTC
[This has since been revised down to magnitude 6.7.]

Magnitude 6.0, Libertador O'Higgins, Chile 3/11/10 15:06:03 UTC

Aftershocks may continue for years after a quake in some cases, but these are strong. I couldn't say for sure whether these are indeed aftershocks or this is a new section of the fault breaking. Not my area of expertise, but I'll post a link if I can find anything on that after my class this morning.

What I'm finding strange about these earthquakes (aside from the third, which doesn't have first motion data and hence no focal mechanisms/moment tensors yet) is that they are not compressional, as you'd expect from the proximity to the subduction zone off of the Andes mountains. They are extensional. I'll have to look into this more after class as well.

As a note, revisions to magnitude are common as more seismograph stations worldwide pick up tremors from an event. The more data we have, the better we can characterize the motions and strength of the event.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Smoke Rings!!

More Chilean Earthquake Stuff and Mars

In other news, Concepcion, Chile is now sitting ten feet further west than it did previous to the magnitude 8.8 earthquake.

Only about 3.1 meters displacement, you say? For one event, that is pretty damn significant. That and in the grand scheme of things, there's only a smidgen of crustal shortening and subduction going on there. Amazing to think about how much ocean crust once did exist there before the subduction zone developed. But alas, as the ridge is still actively spreading, the crust must go somewhere!

Something about that whole conservation of mass thing . . .

Then there's this article about Mars. Cool. One of the great questions about Mars is centered around what controlled the erosional and sedimentary features on the planet's surface and what happened to it.

Mars' surface yields some spotty paleomagnetic evidence of possible early plate tectonics (I like to think so, at least. However, it's not universally accepted and other models exist), but it's plainly evident that whatever the tectonic style of the planet, it shut down while Earth was still in the Precambrian Eon (I guess it's considered a "Supereon"?). Mars is just too small to maintain plate tectonics/convection cycles like those of Earth - the heat gradient from core to surface is too steep. I could talk all day about what I think about the formation of the giant shield volcanoes and Tharsis, but that's not what the article's about. Well, it could tie into Tharsis. But it's not directly about it.

Later on, sedimentary features developed - most strikingly, the canyons larger than any found on Earth. Whatever fluids and erosional processes that once controlled this are mostly gone now. It's now being postulated in this article that some of the channel features were carved out by lava.

I can buy this - camped in Snow Canyon State Park in Utah a couple of years ago. It admittedly started as a canyon carved by fluvial (waterflow-driven) processes, but was located proximal to a basaltic magma source as young as 20,000 years old. Eruptions there changed the course of the river - partly by building up topography in some places and carving it out in others. Redirection of waterways carved new, deeper canyons and remnants of older lava flows can be seen near the top of the present day canyon. This is a phenomenon called "inverted topography," where younger rock sits lower than older rock. This is only one way to form inverted topography, but that could be a blog post in and of itself, so maybe I'll save that for another post.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Good Morning!

This was one of the forms of entertainment of choice at field camp - the dreaded Flash Bang. During periods of downtime and carbo-loading, it was discovered fairly early on that the sighting mirrors of our compasses, particularly those of the Brunton brand, reflected sunlight REALLY well across large distances. (This is also very handy to know for potential field emergencies in which signaling across large distances would be required. Let's hope my buddies and I never have this problem in future excursions.)

This turned into a game and it ultimately became hard for large groups to eat lunch together as we'd all end up flashbanging each other. My favorites were when we could get someone when they were about 1000 ft. away, usually on the other side of a basin or canyon that we were mapping.

The other dominant form of entertainment was the fabled "Suck Bomb," in which someone called out the target victim's name to grab his or her attention. The victim's typical answer is, "What?" The reply would then be, "SUCKS!"

Not really sure which is the more mature of the two, but both are funny. With the latter, people figured out pretty quickly when they were about to receive a suck bomb. If they heard their name called, some would figure it out and instead of "What?" we'd get a "F**k you!" with a giant grin on their face.

A short-lived practice was something some of the boys invented, called "Pass the Rock." Pretty self-explanatory. The trick was that the rock generally had absolutely nothing to do with the lecture going on at the time, but they wanted to see how long it'd get passed around and inspected. People figured that one out within a couple of weeks, I think, after it became frequent and rather obvious.

Back into the present and we find no soy milk in my fridge, so no pancakes this morning. Bummer. I'll probably do eggs again today. Thunderstorms are expected, my running buddy's bike is in need of maintenance (tire blew, so my inefficiently-running arse can't join her today on her 7-miler), and I have grading to blast through. Should be a quiet day, which I'm totally in favor of, and anything could be more productive than yesterday. About the only things I managed to do yesterday were to make/eat breakfast while it was still early, get out for an hourlong walk in the residental section of Urbana (GORGEOUS - saw some crocuses!), wash the pile of dishes I've let build up for a while after 11 pm, then attempted to stay up to watch a movie and fell asleep less than halfway through.

And I'm off to be along with it. Peace out.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

I Love Geology, Yes I Do!

It's a monocline that looks like a SHIP! I hope everyone else sees that too!

This is a picture from the start of the San Rafael Swell in Utah. A monocline is sort of like an anticline (convex fold), except it only has one leg. It tells us that the area was undergoing some sort of uneven compression that caused one side to kink up and form a leg, while the other side slooooowly tapers downward to gradually merge with the rest of the Colorado Plateau. Note that this area is only a tiny part of the Swell itself. When we camped on the monocline in 2008, we were only still part of civilization in that we were staying in a campground. No facilities or water, though - we had to bring everything in and pack it all out.

One of the cool things we discussed at field camp while we were camping up on the Swell is that evidence of hydrocarbons exists in the sandstone beds of the monocline. Before erosive forces carved out the Little Grand Canyon and other features, this has been interpreted to be one of the largest hydrocarbon reservoirs ever to have existed. If I remember correctly, it was thought to contain more barrels of oil than sources in Saudi Arabia. Once the entrapping rocks were cut through during erosion, though, the hydrocarbons drained away to who-knows-where. They're long gone and broken down.

I'll dig out a few more photos with time. I've taken a TON of pictures on my field excursions in the past couple of years, downloaded them, looked at a few, and forgotten about more than I've looked at. Perhaps a massive reorganization/cataloguing project is in order.

Or, knowing me, maybe not! Regardless, I've been coming across some fun shots with stories behind them and it would be only best if I were to share them.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I'd like to point out that reading my class' text, which is the same one I used when I took the class as an undergrad at MSU, is MUCH easier now that I've been out of the class for a while and actually use this stuff every day.

Now off to the world of granite typing.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Excitement and Arm-Waving

Had possibly one of the most exciting meetings ever this afternoon!

There's not much in terms of detail since things are only in the barest of planning stages, but what I can say is that it's a collaborative effort with one of the other research groups in the department and if things end up as interesting as we suspect, and better yet if we can develop some new models, this could be VERY important research.

In other news, I'm writing another lecture to have ready for Monday's lab. Some of the information the prof conveyed in lecture this morning was anything but correct, and unfortunately the students won't realize that. I nearly broke the Rules of Conduct (my own personal rules, sort of coupled with some of the admittedly strange rules I have to stay aware of in the academic world. They certainly have their logic, but they can sometimes be counterproductive) during lecture when she said what she did. Took every ounce of willpower to not say anything, and I'm glad I didn't.

[I'm not mentioning any specifics about class, etc. so as to preserve identities.]

I'll let her know, but it wouldn't have been proper to call that error out during lecture. However, at the same time I'm concerned that the level of education my students are receiving from this class isn't satisfactory. This means I'm taking into my hands a large portion of their education. It's more work than I should have as a TA (never mind I'm the ONLY TA in the department who has only one lab to teach. Yes, my subject is that hard to teach), and I shouldn't be responsible for teaching fundamentals.

However, it appears that it usually comes to that for those who TA this class. When a glaring error (omitted chapter that was rather essential to the lab I ran Monday) cropped up last week, I was fuming mad about it. I wrote a lecture and even managed to pull it off and have some of the info stick in my students' heads, even. That's a huge accomplishment, given the rough time I had last semester when I was trying to teach intro geology lab to non-geology majors.

In addition to that, I graded the first lab quiz of the semester and it taught me a lot. I know where their deficiencies are and that helps me tailor what I need to cover in lab to help them learn. You can't learn this subject without solid fundamentals, and regrettably those are not always properly covered in lecture. I even managed to show them how to solve ternary phase diagrams. *smug grin*

This is going to be a tough semester, but in a manner different from last semester. It will be a challenge to stay on top of the material covered in class. It will be a challenge to keep encouraging my students to read the book (been there, was terrible about reading too). It will be a challenge to master the fundamentals behind the methods, and convey the concepts in a manner that my students can understand. This subject is tough enough when taught well, and I can't imagine how my students feel right now, because they KNOW the prof is lacking somewhat.

That is my challenge. My confidence in my ability to teach has soared somewhat since Monday's personal triumph, and I'm hoping I can carry that energy over into the coming lab.

. . . I need a shower. Did my first spin class with a friend tonight, and it was loads of fun. Recommend it - feel great now, wondering how well I'll be moving tomorrow!

Monday, March 1, 2010

More Cool Earthquake Stuff

From BoingBoing: Chile quake changed Earth's figure axis (based on center of mass, not north-south axis) and shortened Earth's days.

Forgive me for saying this, but this is what makes earthquake science COOL. And yes, I'm definitely keeping Chile in my thoughts; a friend of mine has plans to live there for a short while after she finishes her master's degree next year so my degree of separation from the country will soon close significantly.

At the same time as I'm amazed at the pictures of quake damage and that the death toll is as small as it is, I have to mention that the somewhat unsympathetic side of me keeps clamoring about Man choosing to build cities, civilizations in these unstable areas. Chile is a smart country - they acknowledge their risks and build accordingly.

I have considerably less sympathy for folks who build homes on major fault lines and have zero idea what they're living on (yes, I'm talking about YOU, people who built mansions on the Wasatch Fault!!). Sure, it's a great view. Sure, I'd LOVE to have a mountain range as my backyard. Do I want to live on a major fault line, even if it only ruptures every several hundred years? Nope! The less frequently a fault ruptures, the less data we can gather on it and the less we know about that fault or fault system.

Earthquake Frequency Stats

Here's a really good article on earthquake frequency in light of the recent quakes in Japan and Chile.

I'm not going to copy/paste anything directly into this post from that article, but I recommend reading through it. It is a strong testimony to the extremely short memory of us as a society, not to mention how uninformed the public are on earthquakes.

Many of the earthquakes studied in this statistics exercise (M 6.0-6.9) don't even make news because they occur in remote/low population areas, little damage occurs, or quakes of that magnitude occur with enough frequency that it's not unusual to the residents of the area. It's the quakes that size that hit less frequently in populated areas or cause lots of damage/kill lots of people that make the news. It's all about the social impact.

There's the matter of correlation vs. causation and the breakdown of Occam's Razor to some extent going on. Short public memory combined with 3 significant earthquakes since January causes a stir. Sure, there's a correlation. Three large quakes occurred in a short period of time. People died; it was a huge social impact.

Correlation here does not imply causation, however. It's easy to apply Occam's Razor and say, "well, they happened quickly, they must be related to each other."

Not necessarily. In this case, the better application of Occam is to say, "They correlate. They may or may not be related thanks to the large releases of energy from each quake and the resultant redistribution of stresses on portions of tectonic plate boundaries worldwide. But we cannot say causation - not enough information."

Add in the sensationalistic 2012 bullcrap, and it's easy to get swept up in the hype.

In a nutshell, sit down and think about it. Bad things and good things tend to cluster like this, but we're more prone to remember the bad things.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

100 Things Meme Stolen From

The ones I've done/seen are in bold. Comments are in italic.

1. See an erupting volcano
2. See a glacier - Seen some cirqes and glacial valleys
3. See an active geyser such as those in Yellowstone, New Zealand or the type locality of Iceland - Old Faithful and Steamboat, plus a few other unnamed ones near Yellowstone Lake.
4. Visit the Cretaceous/Tertiary (KT) Boundary. Possible locations include Gubbio, Italy, Stevns Klint, Denmark, the Red Deer River Valley near Drumheller, Alberta. - Driven over it a few times, but have never stopped and looked for iridium-red layers.
5. Observe (from a safe distance) a river whose discharge is above bankful stage
6. Explore a limestone cave. Try Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Lehman Caves in Great Basin National Park, or the caves of Kentucky or TAG (Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia) Been to Carlsbad, NM and Cueva del Hato, Curaçao
7. Tour an open pit mine, such as those in Butte, Montana, Bingham Canyon, Utah, Summitville, Colorado, Globe or Morenci, Arizona, or Chuquicamata, Chile. Visited a rehabilitating open pit mine in Elko, NV
8. Explore a subsurface mine.
9. See an ophiolite, such as the ophiolite complex in Oman or the Troodos complex on the Island Cyprus (if on a budget, try the Coast Ranges or Klamath Mountains of California).
10. An anorthosite complex, such as those in Labrador, the Adirondacks, and Niger (there's some anorthosite in southern California too).
11. A slot canyon. Many of these amazing canyons are less than 3 feet wide and over 100 feet deep. They reside on the Colorado Plateau. Among the best are Antelope Canyon, Brimstone Canyon, Spooky Gulch and the Round Valley Draw. Hiked several in Death Valley
12. Varves, whether you see the type section in Sweden or examples elsewhere.
13. An exfoliation dome, such as those in the Sierra Nevada. - Maybe. I've definitely seen a lot of Sierra Nevada laccoliths.
14. A layered igneous intrusion, such as the Stillwater complex in Montana or the Skaergaard Complex in Eastern Greenland. - Does writing an emergency LMI lecture count?
15. Coastlines along the leading and trailing edge of a tectonic plate.
16. A gingko tree, which is the lone survivor of an ancient group of softwoods that covered much of the Northern Hemisphere in the Mesozoic. There are several on the street where my mom lives
17. Living and fossilized stromatolites (Glacier National Park is a great place to see fossil stromatolites, while Shark Bay in Australia is the place to see living ones) Marquette, MI
18. A field of glacial erratics
19. A caldera - Yellowstone plus just about all of the San Juan calderas, also known as my master's project field area.
20. A sand dune more than 200 feet high - I think the big one in Death Valley's about that large. If not, it's close.
21. A fjord
22. A recently formed fault scarp Outside of SLC, UT, if within the past 200ish years counts
23. A megabreccia
24. An actively accreting river delta
25. A natural bridge Natural Bridge, IN and the Natural Bridge in Death Valley (want to say it's related to Golden Canyon??)
26. A large sinkhole
27. A glacial outwash plain
28. A sea stack
29. A house-sized glacial erratic
30. An underground lake or river
31. The continental divide - Hiked up above the treeline in June 2009 and saw Uncompahgre Peak about ten miles off. There are some incredible views in the Divide region of the San Juans and Colorado. Also drove across it numerous times on the way to and from field camp.
32. Fluorescent and phosphorescent minerals We have more than a few in my building, given IL's state mineral is fluorite!
33. Petrified trees Not in-situ - pulled some out of some rock layers out West and we have part of a tree trunk in NHB
34. Lava tubes Snow Canyon, UT and a small one preserved in the Precambrian(!) basalts of Mamainse Point
35. The Grand Canyon. All the way down. And back. Little Grand Canyon of the San Rafael Swell doesn't count, does it?
36. Meteor Crater, Arizona, also known as the Barringer Crater, to see an impact crater on a scale that is comprehensible - Been to Upheaval Dome, which I think was recently discovered to harbor shocked quartz . . .
37. The Great Barrier Reef, northeastern Australia, to see the largest coral reef in the world.
38. The Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada, to see the highest tides in the world (up to 16m)
39. The Waterpocket Fold, Utah, to see well exposed folds on a massive scale.
40. The Banded Iron Formation, Michigan, to better appreciate the air you breathe. Been once, going back in May and VERY excited for it!
41. The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.
42. Lake Baikal, Siberia, to see the deepest lake in the world (1,620 m) with 20 percent of the Earth's fresh water.
43. Ayers Rock (known now by the Aboriginal name of Uluru), Australia. This inselberg of nearly vertical Precambrian strata is about 2.5 kilometers long and more than 350 meters high
44. Devil's Tower, northeastern Wyoming, to see a classic example of columnar jointing - WANT TO!!!
45. The Alps.
46. Telescope Peak, in Death Valley National Park. From this spectacular summit you can look down onto the floor of Death Valley - 11,330 feet below. - Close(ish) - been to "Dante's View" at about 5600 feet. Gorgeous.
47. The Li River, China, to see the fantastic tower karst that appears in much Chinese art
48. The Dalmation Coast of Croatia, to see the original Karst.
49. The Gorge of Bhagirathi, one of the sacred headwaters of the Ganges, in the Indian Himalayas, where the river flows from an ice tunnel beneath the Gangatori Glacier into a deep gorge.
50. The Goosenecks of the San Juan River, Utah, an impressive series of entrenched meanders.
51. Shiprock, New Mexico, to see a large volcanic neck
52. Land's End, Cornwall, Great Britain, for fractured granites that have feldspar crystals bigger than your fist.
53. Tierra del Fuego, Chile and Argentina, to see the Straights of Magellan and the southernmost tip of South America.
54. Mount St. Helens, Washington, to see the results of recent explosive volcanism.
55. The Giant's Causeway and the Antrim Plateau, Northern Ireland, to see polygonally fractured basaltic flows.
56. The Great Rift Valley in Africa.
57. The Matterhorn, along the Swiss/Italian border, to see the classic "horn". Have seen the "Matterhorn" in the San Juans!
58. The Carolina Bays, along the Carolinian and Georgian coastal plain
59. The Mima Mounds near Olympia, Washington
60. Siccar Point, Berwickshire, Scotland, where James Hutton (the "father" of modern geology) observed the classic unconformity
61. The moving rocks of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley - Still sad we couldn't talk our petrologist emeritus extraordinaire to let us go!
62. Yosemite Valley
63. Landscape Arch (or Delicate Arch) in Utah - Better yet in early March, when it was cold, windy, a bit snowy, and outright miserable, which meant we got the most INCREDIBLE shots because no one else was crazy enough to be there when we were!
64. The Burgess Shale in British Columbia
65. The Channeled Scablands of central Washington
66. Bryce Canyon - Seen it from afar. It was still too cold/snowy at its elevation to make a visit there worthwhile.
67. Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone - While a storm was moving into Yellowstone. Pulled off some gorgeous shots that afternoon as well as a nearly flawless pan of the Spring!
68. Monument Valley
69. The San Andreas fault
70. The dinosaur footprints in La Rioja, Spain
71. The volcanic landscapes of the Canary Islands
72. The Pyrennees Mountains
73. The Lime Caves at Karamea on the West Coast of New Zealand
74. Denali (an orogeny in progress)
75. A catastrophic mass wasting event - Mapped a crapton of landslides in the Wasatch-Uintas during field camp!
76. The giant crossbeds visible at Zion National Park - Aeolian deposits and they are STUNNING!
77. The black sand beaches in Hawaii (or the green sand-olivine beaches)
78. Barton Springs in Texas
79. Hells Canyon in Idaho
80. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado
81. The Tunguska Impact site in Siberia
82. Feel an earthquake with a magnitude greater than 5.0. - Technically yes; woke up the morning of the Illinois earthquake in 2008, but don't remember which time I woke up specifically to some strange stimulus. I was in East Lansing, MI at the time.
83. Find dinosaur footprints in situ - Nope, just the teaching sample from GEOL 107
84. Find a trilobite (or a dinosaur bone or any other fossil) - Got a bitty-bite on a field trip I drove for last semester, but left it in the university SUV. : ( Good thing I still have a map to that locale!
85. Find gold, however small the flake - I don't think the gold-, silver-, and pyrite-bearing vein material we were allowed to poke around in during a field camp project counts . . .
86. Find a meteorite fragment
87. Experience a volcanic ashfall - If I were to experience this, it's probably mean I was too close to the eruption!
88. Experience a sandstorm - Seen a few dust devils outside of Vegas. : D
89. See a tsunami - Totally counting watching the tsunami-cams from CBS Hilo yesterday!
90. Witness a total solar eclipse - Almost. We had a near-total eclipse during school when I was in second grade. I got to watch the whole thing because my mom is awesome and brought in material to allow my class to watch it safely.
91. Witness a tornado firsthand. Unfortunately no, but it's one of my life's goals. I've seen a couple of funnel/wall clouds and an actual DOUBLE ANVIL cloud east of the Front Range in Colorado.
92. Witness a meteor storm, a term used to describe a particularly intense (1000+ per minute) meteor shower - This sounds awesome!
93. View Saturn and its moons through a respectable telescope. Have seen Saturn, plus Jupiter and the four Galilean moons. Awesomeness.
94. See the Aurora borealis, otherwise known as the northern lights. Thought it was a cloud refracting a remnant of sunlight till my dad recognized it for what it was.
95. View a great naked-eye comet, an opportunity which occurs only a few times per century Hyakutake in 1996 and Hale-Bopp in 1997.
96. See a lunar eclipse - Seen several; one during Sparty Watch
97. View a distant galaxy through a large telescope - Finally saw Andromeda with naked eye in Big Bend National Park almost exactly a year ago!!
98. Experience a hurricane
99. See noctilucent clouds - Think I have a couple of times; once during a night drive to the U.P. which couldn't be explained by anything else.
100. See the green flash - Been watching Lake Superior sunsets most of my life, watching for the Green Flash. Finally saw one in Curaçao and had a massive geekgasm in front of EVERYONE. If I remember correctly, the trip videographer caught the entire sunset on camera and hopefully didn't have the microphone on!

Thoughts on Yesterday

Watched the online CBS stream coming out of the local station in Hilo yesterday afternoon, where the station's traffic cameras had been pointed seaward, attempting to capture live video of incoming tsunami waves.

Needless to say, it was a success! The camera looking across Hilo Bay had some of the best views - it was somewhat incredible to watch water quickly drain out of the bay, then back in 3-4 times. Thankfully it wasn't enough to cause much damage (pretty sure some was reported here and there, but minimal - things like docks here and there), but enough that it was easily observable.

The 2004 Sumatra earthquake was unique in that the resulting tsunami was captured in satellite images before it hit the islands. This one managed to supplant that first as we had the time to prepare, get everyone near coastal areas of the island chain calmly evacuated, and someone like me could sit on my couch in Illinois and watch the waves come in at the same time as folks in Hawaii. Scientists also proved that their models, technology, and warning system WORK. Sure, the scientists who developed the tsunami propagation models are itching to refine their programs and datasets, but we know that their model so far is fairly accurate. I believe arrival of the first tsunami was within a half an hour or so of the predicted arrival, and even before then, many people familiar with the prevailing ocean patterns around the islands could tell that there were some funky things happening prior to actual surge arrivals.

The coverage on tape is simply unprecedented. I like to think that earthquake and tsunami science took a huge step forward yesterday.

Also, here's some decent data on all of the major earthquakes since 1900. The deadliest earthquakes list is interesting and strange if not that it's more of a function of building style and location of population centers than earthquake strength. (And, at risk of making a controversial statement, humanity's intelligence with regard to building what we do where we do.)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Okay . . . I'm Back

I was thinking about doing pancakes for breakfast last night, but because I'm still finding info online, 1. no pancakes, I'm eating cereal instead; and 2. I'm not going to get that much work done today. I'll get some done, but probably not till after we get some initial tsunami reports from Hawaii.

List of places under tsunami warning from NOAA. (text only)

One of my favorite people to follow on Twitter, @BadAstronomer, just RTed a very cool picture predicting the spread of the earthquake's energy worldwide (credit NOAA):

Megathrust Earthquake Offshore Maule, Chile, Magnitude 8.8

Wow. This is what happens when I decide to sleep in!

The map says 8.6 because that was the original calculated magnitude; it was revised up to 8.8 a short time after. Revisions are possible because as more time passes, more seismic stations worldwide pick up readings from the earthquake. The more seismic readings, the better scientists can analyze the nature of the earthquake and how it travels through the earth.

The beach ball today is oriented differently than the one from Japan that I described yesterday. You see a colored segment surrounded by white segments. Colored quarters of these spheres represent compression, and white quarters represent extension tension.

With a compression segment centered like this between two white segments, it's indicative of compression along the fault, or a thrust fault.

Sounds like there was a 9 foot tsunami and less than 100 confirmed dead so far. Expect these numbers to rise. My e-mail inbox is flooded with notifications of the aftershocks coming in above magnitude 5.0. The largest one so far was 6.9, and apparently as of now the tsunami warning worldwide has expanded. I expect the tsunami elsewhere could well be bigger.

As screwy as it might be, geologists get REALLY geeked out when this happens. While we hate to see death tolls, especially like what we saw with the Port-Au-Prince earthquake in January (I was in Curaçao when that happened - we didn't feel it then because we were on a dive when it would've shaken the island), the geology FASCINATES us. Earthquake prediction and mitigation is an inexact science at best. Typically, quake-prone places we know the most about have frequent, small earthquakes, like some parts of California. Those aren't places we're as worried about. The places we DO worry about are the ones where faults are quiet for a very long time, building up massive amounts of stress, then release it all at once. Since there are fewer, less frequent quakes there, we can't know as much about them.

The difference in quake frequency from place to place, even along the San Andreas Fault in California, is based in many things: structure and strength of the country rocks, their tendency toward ductile or brittle deformation under high pressure, hardness of constituent minerals (e.g. feldspar (H=6) vs. serpentine (H<2.5)), and nature/rate of movement along the fault running through the rocks.

I'm not even going to get started about some of the comments I saw on CNN's article about the Japan quake yesterday, nor the ones I'll undoubtedly be reading today. The level to which this country's lack of education about natural risks is astounding. Maybe I'll post a few gems later.

Since it's 10 am and I've been fielding earthquake data back and forth with some of my fellow scientists and I haven't yet had breakfast, I'm out.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Ryukyu Island Earthquake Magnitude 7.0

Struck at 20:31 UTC. The map below shows that it was a strike-slip quake, or two tectonic plates sliding past each other. Two other types of earthquake typically involve a vertical component; either two plates running into each other or apart from each other.

USGS quake information here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Since I'm At It . . .

. . . Here are a few pictures from Curaçao!

Kamchatcka Aerial

From National Geographic:

In a satellite image released today by NASA, two neighboring Russian volcanoes are seen erupting at the same time.

Article here.

Since My Last Post Was In August . . .

I eventually wandered back this way to clean up my last entry of spam comments and realized I last posted in August right before school started. I don't know if anyone even comes by here anymore, but that's okay.

Since my last post:
-Discovered I don't connect with many civil engineers well.
-Got the worst sinus infection of my life, and it knocked me flat for 3 solid weeks. Teaching through that was rough.
-Started getting over said sinus infection and promptly broke the 5th metacarpal of my right hand and tore some tissue. No doctor believes the torn tissue part, but given I still can't do a few things with my right hand, I most definitely do. I miss the rock wall like crazy, but I won't even risk that right now.
-Somehow pulled a straight-A semester. 3.5 cumulative. VERY happy about this!
-Went to Curaçao and dove on the reefs there no less than 7 times. Total blast.
-Got TA evaluation forms back from my students. My first lab of the week hated me. I'm not surprised, but it was still hard not to let that get to me at first.
-Started teaching Petrology, my specialty subject. It's tough, but I love it. Knew all of the students already, so that made things easy. What's tough is making sure they understand WHY things are done certain ways. I'm still learning how to explain that on a fundamental level and the prof (same one I worked for last semester) is borderline incompetent in the classroom. I'm trying my best to counter that.
-Have a full set of detailed SEM maps and low-res reference maps of all of my samples. Still have to standardize them this week so I can get bulk compositions, from which we can better estimate levels of iron, magnesium, and some other potentially important stable isotope-bearing elements.
-Gearing up for a mass spec run, where I get to measure stable iron isotopes. The work is still new to me and I LOVE what I do here. Consider myself very lucky because not everyone is as happy in grad school as I've been. My unhappiest was when I was essentially sidelined from my sample processing last semester because, well, you sort of need two functional hands to run a rock saw.

Yesterday there was a substantial amount of smoke in the hallway outside of my office. Smelled like house fire with an edge of butane. I had been smelling something vaguely like candle smoke on that side of the building earlier in the day, so I was more than a bit concerned. We couldn't find the source and were starting to wonder if there was a fire in the walls somewhere. Ran down to the basement (1st floor). No smoke whatsoever. Ran back to second floor, made sure again we couldn't see smoke coming from somewhere, then ran over to the secretary's office to let her know. She went into emergency mode, called the fire department, and made sure they knew what was up. While I was thinking of where else we could check, as none of us had been up on the 3rd and 4th floors yet, the secretary passed along to us the recommendations from the dispatcher: evacuate and pull the fire alarm.

Surprised that the building fire alarm hadn't been automatically triggered by the sheer amount of smoke, I suddenly had a hunch we needed to check the third floor. I jogged for the nearest staircase with one of the other geochemists. We head up the stairs in the southeast corner of the building and were definitely seeing large amounts of smoke up there. The butane smell was much stronger up there than downstairs. Turns out a biology lab literally ten feet from the stairway landing using Bunsen burners, so I talked to the TAs there.

Turns out someone managed to set both some ethanol AND their lab book on fire. They managed to safely extinguish it and that was that, but it produced a large amount of smoke that vented to the floor directly beneath them, which was where my office was located. We ran back downstairs and were promptly greeted by the secretary, who was seconds away from pulling the fire alarm and calling for an evacuation. We did a quick evaluation of the situation and I ultimately decided to recommend NOT pulling the alarm. One might argue that evacuation was the ONLY safe thing to do, but we'd discovered the likeliest source of smoke and application of Occam's Razor stated it was highly unlikely that another lab was burning something that smelled like burning house plus ethanol at the same time.

(I was also trusting the word of the TAs in the bio lab.)

After we assessed and decided not to evacuate, we heard radios from the other side of the building, then looked over and saw two firefighters checking out an empty lab on the other side of the hallway. We ran over and let them know we found out where the fire was, so they went up with us to check things out for their report. The looks on the bio lab students' faces were utterly priceless. Some shock, a lot of surprise, and major WTF. One of my officemates and another extended groupmate were with me, and we all crowded into the door of the lab like little kids so we could watch. At that point, the danger was gone and we were just letting curiosity take over.

One of my other officemates returned a while later after having been out of the building. The hallway still smelled of burning, and the three of us who'd followed the firefighters up were still standing in the doorway of my office, talking about random things. My extended groupmate spotted my other officemate walking down the hall and called her confusion perfectly, as she walked up to us and promptly asked, "What happened?"

So that was yesterday's fire scare.

Let's see if I can update this thing more often. Trends say no.