The last place you expect to meet a creationist is at the annual American Geophysical Union conference. I don't know how I got so lucky.
Yesterday morning, I wandered through the posters presented at the event, with a thought to translating their scientific jargon into something interesting to read. Since my background is biological, I thought that discipline would be the obvious place to start—in particular, something about microbes doing interesting things under the surface of the Earth.
A title caught my eye. It was one of the first posters in the aisle, so prominent to the casual passerby:
A COMPARISON OF δ13C & pMC VALUES for TEN CRETACEOUS-JURASSIC DINOSAUR BONES from TEXAS to ALASKA USA, CHINA AND EUROPE WITH THAT OF COAL AND DIAMONDS PRESENTED IN THE 2003 AGU MEETING
Dinosaur bones and diamonds! My brain, attracted to both old and shiny objects, sent me in closer to investigate. As I was trying to interpret the densely-packed board of letters, numbers, and figures printed in incredibly tiny print, I was approached by a slight, elderly man in glasses. A name badge declaring him to be Hugh Miller, the first author on the poster.
He asked if I had any questions. I asked if he could just give me a quick summary of the work. He talked about performing mass spectrometry on samples of various dinosaur bones that produced age estimates ranging from 15,000 to 50,000 years. My spidey-sense tingled. I peered over his shoulder, searching for bullet points to figure out what was going on here. Read the rest
By adding a little sampling to their adventures out in the wild, explorers in hard-to-reach locations could lend a big hand to scientific research.
An organization called Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation hopes to bring the two professions together in the name of science.
This week, I sat in on a session at the American Geophysical Union meeting in which the speakers discussed the merits of citizen science and the potential impact that explorers could make on scientific data collection.
Many scientists are explorer and trek across the globe, but often they have responsibilities that keep them tied to the institutions where they work with limited opportunities to get into the field for data collection. If sampling techniques can be simplified and standardized so that anyone can learn how collect the necessary bits of rock, water, flora, etc. at particular sites, why not ask the people who are already out there to help out?
Additionally, those out exploring are often on the front lines of witnessing changes to our planet, and are passionate about wanting to help in some way.
Not all science can utilize the citizenry, but for those projects that can, this seems like an amazing resource on both sides of the equation.
The Earth is full of water. Not just lakes, river, streams, and oceans on the crustal surface, or even aquifers close to the surface—the planet literally holds water inside itself.
Deep inside the mantle, where the temperature and pressure are so high you would think it impossible, viscous crystalline rocks potentially trap the equivalent of the Pacific Ocean.
Last year, scientists found a diamond with the tiniest speck of an olivine mineral called ringwoodite in it that was 1.5 percent water by weight. Ringwoodite only exists at great depths, some 550-660 km beneath the surface of the Earth, where phase transitions alter the structure of olivine into something that is more capable of holding water.
Convection within the mantle could conceivably bring water held in olivine back to the surface. In the case of the ringwoodite-containing diamond, the process was rapid and explosive, but it is more likely to be slow and gradual. The inner-Earth's water cycle is thought to take on the order of 250-500 million years.
There are chemical processes at work around undersea vents and volcanoes by which water gets incorporated into rock in the Earth's crust. The crust is constantly moving, with separate plates jockeying for position, rubbing up against one another, and sometimes getting subsumed underneath each other.
When one crustal plate dives beneath another, that's called subduction. This process is thought to take rocks, and the water held in them, down into the mantle.
At about 100-150 km down, the rocks start to break down under the pressure and increasing temperature. Read the rest
NASA scientists reported results from the Mars Curiosity roving science lab at the American Geophysical Union to a packed room of press chomping at the bit for a big story. It turns out Mars has gas. It burps methane "sporadically, and episodically," according to Curiosity co-investigator, Sushil Atreya. Read the rest
Right now, it's cold in the Arctic. Days are dark, and ice grows to cover the dark sea. Come summer, lengthening days and warming temperatures will reverse that process. This is the ebb and flow of the Arctic, a natural cycle.
However, over the past several decades we have seen summers melt more and more of the ice that forms during the cold winter months. As a result, more and more dark seawater is exposed to the light of day.
NASA researchers, using several instruments on three separate satellites, has been collecting data for 15 years to find out why the ice is melting, and to be able to predict trends in future ice formation and melting. They reported on this data at the 2014 American Geophysical Union annual meeting, saying that 15 years worth is the absolute minimum amount of information needed for them to begin making long-term predictions. Climate trends, as opposed to weather trends, are averaged over 30 years, so they are about halfway there at this point in time.
The project to observe the Arctic is part of NASA's Clouds and the Earths Radiant Energy Systems (CERES) mission. They measure the Earth's reflected solar radiation, emitted thermal infrared radiation, and all emitted and reflected radiation.
The results so far indicate that the Arctic is absorbing energy from the sun five percent faster now during the summer months than it was when they first began monitoring in 2000. This is important because the rest of the Earth is still absorbing energy at pretty much the same rate. Read the rest
Arsenic. Hearing the word in America usually brings up black and white mental images of the film "Arsenic and Old Lace." Yet, it is not an old issue. People around the world are exposed to dangerous levels of arsenic in their water.
Speaking today at the American Geophysical Union, Lex van Green discussed the issue of arsenic in well water in the Asian sub-continent, primarily in Bangladesh and Bihar, India. His concern is that even though people are aware of the problem, very little is being done to address it.
People continue to drill new wells without determining their safety (safe levels are set at less than 10 micrograms per liter of water). Van Green's data, collected from 2012-13, show that 50% of people in the area assessed drink water containing arsenic at unsafe levels. However, 100% of people live near safe wells. Additionally, only about a third of people who become aware that their wells are contaminated switch to new wells by either drilling new wells or using their neighbor's wells.
The difference between a safe well and an arsenic contaminated well is depth. Sedimentation by ancient arsenic rich waters along river deltas left layers of arsenic containing soil near the surface of the Earth. To get past the arsenic to clean aquifers, one has only to drill deeper than 100 meters down. However, wells are expensive to drill, and the deeper the well, the more expensive it will be.
So, the problem in these areas where there is no infrastructure to deliver treated water to people boils down one of inequality. Read the rest
Reporting this week at the annual American Geophysical Union, scientists from UC Irvine discussed air quality results from samples taken during the 2012 and 2013 Hajj.
The annual pilgrimage brings between 3-4 million people to the holy city of Mecca. Isobel Simpson, the lead researcher on this project, stated that, "The problem is that this intensifies the pollution that already exists. We measured among the highest concentrations [of smog-forming pollutants] our group has ever measured in urban areas – and we’ve studied 75 cities around the world in the past two decades.”
The worst locations were tunnels leading into the Grande Mosque where carbon monoxide levels were up to 300 times higher than baseline measurements, and pedestrians were often walking in large numbers alongside idling motor vehicles. Increases in carbon monoxide are linked to increased numbers of hospitalizations and deaths from heart failure. In addition to carbon monoxide, the team found elevated levels of benzene, black carbon, and other fine particulates that can affect lung function.
The main culprit here that can be addressed by the Saudi government is a lack of regulation over automobiles, gasolines, and exhausts. Currently, there is a significant lack of public transportation in the area, and nearly everyone owns a car. Those cars don't have the devices that are currently required and built into vehicles in the Unites States to limit pollution.
The easiest thing to fix would be separating pedestrians from cars in the tunnels, or at least spreading vehicles out more evenly among the tunnels leading to the Mosque, so that pollutants don't build up as much and negatively affect those walking in. Read the rest
Have you ever been on a plane during a thunderstorm that experienced a direct lightning strike? While most commercial airliner will do their best to avoid thunderclouds delivering the wrath of the atmosphere, it's estimated that every plane in the U.S. is struck more than once per year.
Large commercial planes are equipped to route the electrical current from a lightning strike so that it avoids sensitive electronics, and most passengers may not even realize that a plane has been struck when it does occur. However, the electrical current and loud clap of thunder are not all that is produced by a bolt of lightning. It's only within the past 20 years that research has confirmed that lightning also emits x-rays and gamma-rays.
One source of x-rays is normal lightning, under normal atmospheric pressure that occurs near the ground. These x-rays are measured at strengths analogous to the energy range commonly emitted by CT scanning devices used in the health care industry. Then there are gamma-rays, high energy x-rays usually seen emitted by particle accelerators, exploding stars, and black holes, that have been detected as a continuous kind of glow within clouds. Additionally, a separate class of gamma-rays, called terrestrial gamma-ray flashes or TGFs, are even more powerful, brief bursts that can be seen by spacecraft and satellites in low earth orbit. TGFs are the most energetic phenomena on the planet, and are thought to be caused by intracloud lightning (lightning that occurs between clouds). TGFs appear all over the world where there are thunderstorms, but nobody understands exactly why or how. Read the rest
This week we started the This Week in Science podcast on a low note talking about the climate, or as we like to call it on TWIS, 'Climytia.' Read the rest
If you’ve ever watched this video, you might wonder whether an astronaut’s suit is too ungainly to be graceful, or alternatively, if astronauts might just lack coordination. Read the rest