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Geographers create “easy button” to calculate river flows from space

March 18, 2014 11:19 am | by Meg Sullivan, UCLA | News | Comments

The frustrated attempts of a Univ. of California, Los Angeles graduate student to quantify the amount of water draining from Greenland's melting ice sheet led him to devise a new way to measure river flows from outer space, he and his professor report in a new study. The new approach relies exclusively on the measurements of a river's width over time, which can be obtained from freely available satellite imagery.

Material rivaling graphene may one day be mined from rocks

March 12, 2014 1:52 pm | News | Comments

Will one-atom-thick layers of molybdenum disulfide, a compound that occurs naturally in rocks, prove to be better than graphene for electronic applications? Recent research into phenomena occurring in the crystal network of this material show signs that might prove to be the case. But physicists in Poland have shown that the nature of the phenomena occurring in layered materials are still ill-understood.

A river of plasma, guarding against the sun

March 7, 2014 7:39 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The Earth’s magnetic field, or magnetosphere, stretches from the planet’s core out into space, where it meets the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emitted by the sun. For the most part, the magnetosphere acts as a shield to protect the Earth from this high-energy solar activity. But when this field comes into contact with the sun’s magnetic field, powerful electrical currents from the sun can stream into Earth’s atmosphere.

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Peat soils as gigantic batteries

February 28, 2014 4:02 pm | by Peter Rüegg, ETH Zurch | News | Comments

Researchers from ETH Zurich and the Univ. of Tubingen in Europehave recently described a process that suppresses the formation of methane in soils that are rich in humic substances. The soils act as a battery, releasing to and accepting electrons from soil bacteria depending on the presence of oxygen. The study shows that electron transfer to and from humic substances is an important process with global implications for methane release.

Volcanoes contribute to recent warming “hiatus”

February 24, 2014 8:19 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboraotry | News | Comments

Volcanic eruptions in the early part of the 21st century have cooled the planet, according to a study led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. This cooling partly offset the warming produced by greenhouse gases. Despite continuing increases in atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases, and in the total heat content of the ocean, global-mean temperatures at the surface of the planet have shown relatively little warming since 1998.

Geophysicist teams with mathematicians to describe how river rocks round

February 13, 2014 10:27 am | News | Comments

For centuries, geologists have recognized that the rocks that line riverbeds tend to be smaller and rounder further downstream. But these experts have not agreed on the reason these patterns exist. Does abrasion reduce the size of rocks significantly, or is it that smaller rocks are simply more easily transported downstream? A new study has arrived at a resolution to this puzzle.

A global map of Jupiter’s biggest moon

February 12, 2014 4:55 pm | News | Comments

Using images from NASA’s Voyager Mission in the 1970s and the orbital Galileo Mission of 1995, researchers have created the first global geological map of Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede. With its varied terrain and possible underground ocean, Ganymede is considered a prime target in the search for habitable environments in the solar system.

An extinction in the blink of an eye

February 11, 2014 9:53 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The largest mass extinction in the history of animal life occurred some 252 million years ago, wiping out more than 96% of marine species and 70% of life on land. Multiple theories have aimed to explain the cause of what’s now known as the end-Permian extinction. But pinpointing the cause of the extinction requires better measurements of how long the extinction period lasted.

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Flowing water on Mars appears likely, but hard to prove

February 11, 2014 8:07 am | News | Comments

Martian experts have known since 2011 that mysterious, possibly water-related streaks appear and disappear on the planet’s surface. These features were given the descriptive name of recurring slope lineae (RSL) because of their shape, annual reappearance and occurrence generally on steep slopes such as crater walls. A team has been looking closer at this phenomenon to try to understand the nature of these features: water-related or not?

FEI acquires oil and gas imaging specialist Lithicon

February 7, 2014 8:34 am | News | Comments

Instrumentation company FEI has acquired Lithicon AS of Trondheim, Norway, and Canberra, Australia. Lithicon provides digital rock technology services and pore-scale micro computed tomography (µCT, or microCT) equipment to oil and gas companies worldwide. In conjunction with the acquisition, FEI has obtained the helical scan microCT product and associated software from the Australia National Univ.

Forest emissions, wildfires explain why ancient Earth was so hot

February 6, 2014 8:53 am | by Kevin Dennehy , Yale Univ. | News | Comments

The release of volatile organic compounds from Earth’s forests and smoke from wildfires 3 million years ago had a far greater impact on global warming than ancient atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, a new Yale Univ. study finds. The research provides evidence that dynamic atmospheric chemistry played an important role in past warm climates, underscoring the complexity of climate change and the relevance of natural components.

Greenland’s fastest glacier sets new speed record

February 5, 2014 8:27 am | by Hannah Hickey and Bárbara Ferreira News and Information | European Geosciences Union | News | Comments

The latest observations of Jakobshavn Glacier show that Greenland’s largest glacier is moving ice from land into the ocean at a speed that appears to be the fastest ever recorded. Researchers from the Univ. of Washington and the German Space Agency measured the speed of the glacier in 2012 and 2013.

Charting the slopes of sediment transport

January 29, 2014 7:48 am | by Cynthia Eller, California Institute of Technology | News | Comments

In the Earth Surface Dynamics Lab at the California Institute of Technology the behavior of rivers is modeled through the use of artificial rivers—flumes—through which water can be pumped at varying rates over a variety of carefully graded sediments while drag force and acceleration are measured. The largest flume is a 12-m tilting version that can model many river conditions.

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Computer power clicks with geochemistry

January 28, 2014 8:10 am | News | Comments

Sandia National Laboratories is developing computer models that show how radioactive waste interacts with soil and sediments, shedding light on waste disposal and how to keep contamination away from drinking water. Researchers have studied the geochemistry of contaminants such as radioactive materials and toxic heavy metals, including lead, arsenic and cadmium. But laboratory testing of soils is difficult.

Is there an ocean beneath our feet?

January 27, 2014 9:42 am | News | Comments

Scientists at the Univ. of Liverpool have shown that deep sea fault zones could transport much larger amounts of water from the Earth’s oceans to the upper mantle than previously thought. They have estimated that over the age of the Earth, the Japan subduction zone alone could transport the equivalent of up to three and a half times the water of all the Earth’s oceans to its mantle.

World’s first magma-enhanced geothermal system created in Iceland

January 23, 2014 1:54 pm | by Iqbal Pittalwala, Univ. of California, Riverside | News | Comments

In 2009, a borehole drilled at Krafla, northeast Iceland, as part of the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), unexpectedly penetrated into magma at only 2100 m depth, with a temperature of 900-1000 C. The borehole, called IDDP-1, essentially created the world’s first magma-enhanced geothermal system, and is now blowing superheated 450 C steam directly from a molten magma.

Seashells inspire new way to preserve bones for archeologists, paleontologists

January 22, 2014 9:04 am | News | Comments

Recreating the story of humanity’s past by studying ancient bones can hit a snag when they deteriorate, but scientists are now reporting an advance inspired by seashells that can better preserve valuable remains. Their findings, which appear in Langmuir, could have wide-ranging implications for both archeology and paleontology.

Rosetta’s final sprint to the comet

January 17, 2014 12:23 pm | by Birgit Krummheuer, Max Planck Institute | News | Comments

After a 10-year journey and a long, deep sleep the Rosetta space probe will be awoken on Jan. 20, 2014. The vehicle then starts the last leg of its journey which will lead it to the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet. Then, mission leaders will attempt a space exploration first: setting the Philae lander down on the comet’s surface in November.

High levels of molecular chlorine found in Arctic atmosphere

January 13, 2014 4:09 pm | News | Comments

Scientists studying the atmosphere above Barrow, Alaska, have discovered unprecedented levels of molecular chlorine in the air, a new study reports. Molecular chlorine, from sea salt released by melting sea ice, reacts with sunlight to produce chlorine atoms. These chlorine atoms are highly reactive and can oxidize many constituents of the atmosphere including methane and elemental mercury.

Beast quake: Seahawks fans rock stadium again

January 13, 2014 11:27 am | News | Comments

Seismologists say Seahawks fans shook the ground under Seattle's CenturyLink Field during Saturday's defeat of the New Orleans Saints, causing another fan-generated earthquake even stronger than Marshawn Lynch's famous "beast quake" touchdown run three years ago. That quake registered a magnitude 1 or 2.

Supereruptions triggered by melt buoyancy

January 6, 2014 9:02 am | by Simone Ulmer, ETH Zurich | News | Comments

By effectively “exploding” instead of erupting, supervolcanos release tremendous energy. Because none are currently “live”, how supervolcanos become active has remained a mystery. Geologists have now demonstrated that the pressure generated through the difference in density between magma and the surrounding rock alone can be sufficient to cause one of these geological giants to erupt.

Moroccan mountains float on molten rock, study finds

January 3, 2014 10:46 am | by Robert Perkins, USC | News | Comments

According to a new study, the Atlas Mountains in Morocco defy the standard model for mountain structure in which high topography must have deep roots for support. In a new model, researchers show that the mountains are floating on a layer of hot molten rock that flows beneath the region’s lithosphere, perhaps all the way from the volcanic Canary Islands.

Earth's crust was unstable in the Archean eon and dripped down into the mantle

December 30, 2013 10:09 am | News | Comments

New model calculations indicate that the extreme density of the base of the thickened primary crust caused it to subside vertically, or “drip”, into Earth's mantle during the Archean eon, which began about 4 billion years ago. In contrast, the movements of today's tectonic plates involve largely lateral movements with oceanic lithosphere recycled in subduction zones.

Indonesia cave reveals history of ancient tsunamis

December 27, 2013 10:19 am | by Margie Mason, Associated Press | News | Comments

A cave discovered near the source of Indonesia's massive earthquake-spawned tsunami contains the footprints of past gigantic waves dating up to 7,500 years ago, a rare natural record that suggests the next disaster could be centuries away, or perhaps only decades. The findings provide the longest and most detailed timeline for tsunamis that have occurred off the far western tip of Sumatra island, where deadly 100-ft waves struck in 2004.

Study faults a “runaway” mechanism in intermediate-depth earthquakes

December 26, 2013 11:10 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Nearly 25% of earthquakes occur more than 50 km below the Earth’s surface in a region called the lithosphere. But limited data and knowledge have prevented researchers from finding the cause of these intermediate and deep earthquakes. A team has recently found immense heating at high pressures at these depths, helping explain the “runaway” process propagates an earthquake in the lithosphere.

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