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The Dawn of Plate Tectonics

Geopoetry - Fri, 03/14/2014 - 12:30
 Dr. Mark Reagan, Science Now

Image: Dr. Mark Reagan, Science Now

An ancient grain of zircon found

In Jack Hill sandstone north of Perth,

Inside its crystal lattice bound:

Secrets of our planet’s birth.

 

The oldest grain (we rock hounds swoon),

Tells of magma oceans past,

An early impact yields the moon;

And all of this occurred so fast!

 

The zircon’s old, which then implies

That solid rocks must be still older.

In Canada, a sequence lies,

With implications even bolder!

 

A pattern locked within old lava

Echoes patterns from the deep;

Mariana-like subduction …

To plate tectonics, take the leap!

 

Hadean times are cloaked in intrigue,

Eons distant, full of strife,

Yet it seems these rocks held promise,

Full of boron, primed for life!

 

_______________________________________________

In the news:

New Record for Oldest Earth Rock, Sky and Telescope

Hadean age for a post-magma-ocean zircon confirmed by atom-probe tomography, Nature Geoscience

The Dawn of Plate Tectonics, Science Now

Heading down early on? Start of subduction on Earth, Geology

Arrival of the seismic equipment!

Sugar - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 19:57
Boxes with seismographs and other equipment
During this project, we will deploy 1200 small seismographs along a 200-mile-long (300-km-long) profile across Georgia.  All of these seismographs were shipped to Georgia from Socorro, New Mexico. This is the headquarters of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) Program for Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere (PASSCAL), a facility that provides seismic instrumentation to US researchers.  It takes a lot of boxes to hold all 1200 seismographs and the associated equipment and tools.  There are 15 seismographs per box, so that's 80 boxes alone without counting boxes for geophones, etc. 

Fortunately, we have a lot of space! Our field headquarters is located in a historic gym on the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, GA.  Faculty and staff at GSW have been extraordinarily generous with their time and expertise. They are allowing us to use the Florrie Chappel gym as our base of operations, and they have helped us enormously with Georgia geology and logistics coordination, handling our huge shipment of equipment and supplies, housing on the campus (many of us are staying in one of the dorms!), setting up the gym with internet access, power, and tables, and much, much more. Today, they moved all of the boxes with our seismic equipment from the shipping warehouse to our field headquarters in the gym. I can sense that all of our seismic instruments are itching to be deployed....
Pallets waiting outside the Florrie Chappell gym
Donna Shillington
11 March 2014

More preparations: mini seismic experiments

Sugar - Mon, 03/10/2014 - 11:31
A geophone in grass, awaiting sound waves.

To prepare for our big seismic experiment, we have collected a couple of miniature seismic datasets.  The shallow geology varies substantially along our profile and is very important for planning the depth of drilling and size of our seismic sources. In particular, we need to determine the depth to a limestone layer in a few places.   The same seismic method that we will use to understand the deep geological structures beneath Georgia can also be used at a smaller scale to examine layering in the upper ~100 ft (~30 m) beneath the surface. We recorded the data on 24 geophones attached to a 230-ft-long (70-m-long) cable.  The source was a modified shot gun that looks like a pogo stick.  We drilled small holes in the ground, loaded the gun and stuck it in the hole. To limit the kickback, we weighted the gun down with a metal plate topped by two heavy jugs filled with sand. Hit the plate with a mallet and – BANG – a seismic source! Not a bad way to spend a sunny Sunday!

Check out Dan firing the seismic source...
http://youtu.be/OGhM4dS2vZM

Donna Shillington
9 March 14

Cold Facts

Geopoetry - Fri, 03/07/2014 - 08:00
oil fields, North Dakota

Satellite view of oil fields at night in North Dakota. Photo: NASA/NPR

Satellites cast their wide gaze

At night, on the bright Bakken blaze;

Bright as a large, sparkly city,

Up close, it’s not quite as pretty.

What fate might this appetite bring?

In government halls, squabbles ring.

Key to the carbon debate

Is the last Termination’s change rate.

What’s our scenario worst?

Was warming or CO2 first?

New ice core studies profess

A 200-year lag — or less.

A puzzle to solve ere we burn:

The process of compacting firn.

___________________________________________________________

Further reading:

Synchronous Change of Atmospheric CO2 and Antarctic Temperature During the Last Deglacial Warming, Parrenin et al., Science 2013

Leads and Lags at the End of the Last Ice Age, Brooks, Science 2013

Study of Ice Age Bolsters Carbon and Warming Link, Gillis/NYT 2013

A Mysterious Patch Of Light Shows Up In The North Dakota Dark, Krulwich/NPR 2013

The New Oil Landscape, Dobb/National Geographic 2013

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. First posted 3/1/13 on Allen’s website.

Bricks, an Archeological Site and Home

Geohazards in Bangladesh - Fri, 03/07/2014 - 07:33
One of the myriad brick factories in Bangladesh.  The lack of rocks means bricks are widely used for construction.

One of the myriad brick factories in Bangladesh. The lack of rocks means bricks are widely used for construction.

It was time to pack up and leave. Shofiq, who is from Sylhet, was dropped off near his home and the fellowship of the rocks was broken. We settled in for another long drive. We made an impromptu stop at one of the numerous brick factories scattered across Bangladesh. Here, the workers immediately started snapping pictures of us with their phones. We walked past the rows of drying unfired bricks to the massive kiln built from the bricks themselves. We saw them feeding coal into the hot, actively firing part and unloading bricks from the completed quadrant. This would be followed by loading of raw bricks for the 12-hour firing. This factory makes around 9,000,000 bricks in the six-month season. Although it was their lunch break, they demonstrated the mixing of the mud with a little sand and let me carry a half-full wheelbarrow load to where the bricks were

Tw of the workman shape the bricks using a mold.

Two of the workman shape the bricks using a mold.

shaped. I spilled a full load when I tried to move it. The experienced brickmakers took about 30-seconds per brick.

We stopped for lunch at the same roadside restaurant, then went to find Wari-Betashwar. Getting to the archeological site was not easy, but a mixture of my hand-held GPS with a Landsat image and a Bangladeshi phone with completely inaccurate Google maps eventually got us there a little after 4 p.m. We toured the site with the chief archeologist, but all the excavations had been filled in to protect them during the off-season. As we walked around the 600m by 600m protective wall, Prof. Rahman explained the history of the site. This urban

Jim standing by the remains of the 600x600m rampart wall that protected the town.

Jim standing by the remains of the 600x600m rampart wall that protected the town.

center was founded around 500 BC on land slightly uplifted by one of the anticlines. The slight extra elevation protected the land from flooding. The site was by the side of an old path of the Brahmaputra River and was thus a major trading center. Artifacts from as far as Greece and Rome were found here. After a gap in the record, the city flourished again in the 7th century AD, before being abandoned. The rise and fall of the center may be tied to avulsions, or switches in position of the Brahmaputra, making the site an interesting confluence of tectonics, rivers and people.

Continuing on, the students got a taste of Dhaka traffic as we approached our hotel near the airport. Now came the real

I very tired group of travelers waiting a Dhaka airport early in the morning.

A very tired group of travelers waiting at Dhaka airport early in the morning.

splitting up of the group. The foreigners would stay overnight to begin our return home, while the Bangladeshis would fight the traffic to return to Dhaka University and their homes. Many of us spent most of the time until our 2:30 a.m. departure talking. Twenty-three of us and our luggage and equipment managed to squeeze into a 21-seat bus and made it to the airport. Now, once again problems with our tickets arose. While most of us were fine, almost half only got boarding passes as far as Abu Dhabi, or none at all. Eventually they fixed the problem for most of them, and all of us were able to board the delayed aircraft. The delays here and in the flight to New York and Chicago will mean that the vast majority will miss connections. At least my nightmare scenario of missed flights and connections was happening on the way back. Not the smoothest ending, but it has been a great trip and a very successful field school. Several of the students are trying to figure out how to get back to Bangladesh, and a lot of lasting friendships and connections have been made.

Field School: Sylhet Tectonics

Geohazards in Bangladesh - Fri, 03/07/2014 - 06:46
Eating breakfast at the Nazimgarh Resort.

Eating breakfast at the Nazimgarh Resort.

The drive from Tangail to Sylhet turned out to be grueling. We took a longer route that skirted Dhaka to avoid the traffic jams that people hit earlier in the week. Unfortunately, with the slower buses that route took 13 hours. We didn’t hit our lunch stop until 4:30 p.m., where Badrul and Ashraf had been waiting to join us for five hours. It was dark by the time we drove past the first anticlines, and we didn’t get to the resort until 11 p.m. We picked our roommates, got our rooms and had a very late dinner. Most field trips have a “death march” hiking a long way through forest, swamps, hills or deserts to get to a remote outcrop. We have a “death bus ride” instead.

View of the Shari River.

View of the Shari River.

The new resort where we were staying was tucked away in a corner of Bangladesh along the Shari River about a kilometer from the Indian border. With a cold pool and only slightly warmer not-hot tub, views of the woods and hills, this is by far the nicest place I’ve stayed in Bangladesh. Given the late arrival, we delayed the start of the classroom day by an hour. The classroom was in a separate building closer to the river The first classroom day covered the stratigraphy and structure of the sediments and rocks we would see the next day. With lots of questions, the day ran late.

We started early and argued over an outcrop on the driveway of the resort. We continued down to the Shari River, where I had previously visited the geology by boat. Numerous

Riding Johnny the elephant.

Riding Johnny the elephant.

country boats were mining and transporting sand from the river. We worked along the shore, climbing over and visiting outcrops. The beds dipped steeply into the ground, folded by the tectonics, but also provided evidence that a large braided river used to flow here. One possibility is that it was the Brahmaputra from a time before the uplift of the 2 km-high Shillong block pushed it 200 miles to the west. Eventually, we could not go farther along the river. We took an inland path farther north, but when we rejoined the shore, we were blocked again. A short time later, after a conversation with the Bangladeshi border guards stationed here, they flagged us a passing boat. It ferried us across the river, but not before

Badrul explaining the significance of the rock outcrop.

Badrul explaining the significance of the rock outcrop.

several on our party practiced their cliff jumping technique.

After spending some time on an outcrop where we were filmed last year, we took an inland path. Along the way we met Johnny the elephant, and a few groups of students got elephant rides. We continued past tea gardens and rice paddies and finally emerged to a large outcrop of shallow marine sediments along the river. At this earlier time, the coastline was north of us, and the delta was prograding to the south as a result of all the sediments eroding from the Himalayas. The younger river sediments we had seen earlier had been deposited after the coast had pushed past here. We stopped for lunch, looking across the river at the India-Bangladesh border and a pile of watermelons waiting for a

Overview of where the Dauki River exits the Shillong Plateau and enters Banglaedsh.

Overview of where the Dauki River exits the Shillong Plateau and enters Bangladesh.

boat to take them downstream. Two students swam across and purchased two for dessert. Then Badrul flagged down a large boat to taxi us downstream back to where we started.

After a few geology stops along the way, we reached Jaflong. At this site, there is a mixture of mining of sands and gravels from the river, and tourists looking to view the massive Shillong uplift in India. We stopped at an overlook near our GPS and seismology stations. Then a group of us descended to some outcrops and the chance to join the tourists at the international border. The river had shifted a little since I last was here, and now the best viewing site was officially in India. The Indian and Bangladeshi border guard let us and everyone else cross the

Standing in India by the Dauki River and Shillong Plateau at Jaflong..

Standing in India by the Dauki River and Shillong Plateau at Jaflong.

border to the little spit of land for a better view. Many photos later, we walked back to the buses and returned to the resort. Dinner was delayed and about half of us took the opportunity for a dip in the freezing pool to rinse off the sweat and grime.

Our final classroom day conversation included multiple aspects of the interaction of the rivers and the tectonics that our project focuses on. We ended with several students presenting their research from places across the globe. The last item was a group photo close to the Shari River. The last field day took us farther southwest to Sylhet City itself. The Cricket Stadium is surrounded by outcrops that we walked around, passing a pet monkey as well. After lunch at the stadium and a peek inside, we had to make a decision. There was not enough time for

Celine wading through a river to get to better outcrop.

Celine wading through a river to get to better outcrop.

both the outcrops at the airport and shopping in Sylhet. The group split, and each bus went to one of the sites. I chose the outcrop. The river sediments at the airport were clearly different from the stadium and showed that the sediments were deposited while the 80m-high Sylhet anticline was growing. They were muddier where the anticline was tilting the land northwards, and sandier with gravels on the other side of the anticline where the southward tilting had steepened the river. We headed back, stopping to at least buy some tea from the region. However, we got back too late to hold the bus vs. bus cricket match. Just some practice would have to do, until the BBQ that evening.

Jim Best examining the outcrop near the airport.

Jim Best examining the outcrop near the airport.

The pet monkey we saw near the cricket stadium.

The pet monkey we saw near the cricket stadium.

Rebecca and Nichole in the saris they purchased.

Rebecca and Nichole in the saris they purchased.

Laying the groundwork

Sugar - Wed, 03/05/2014 - 22:56

We have just arrived in sunny Americus, GA from the cold north to ramp up for the SUGAR project. The peaceful, pastoral landscapes of southern Georgia mask geological structures created by a series of dramatic events that were central to the formation of the North American continent.  During SUGAR, we will use sound waves to image these geological structures.   Less than 2 weeks from now, we’ll deploy 1200 small seismographs along a 200-mile-long line that extends from north of Columbus to south of Valdosta with the help of a cadre of students from across Georgia and beyond. These instruments will record sound waves generated by a series of controlled blasts in deep drill holes.

Spanish moss lined trees along our transect south of Valdosta
Collecting these data will involve a week of intense work by >30 people. However, just laying the groundwork for this effort has already required a long list of (sometimes novel) tasks.  When we conceived of this project, we drew a couple of straight lines on a map that would enable us to capture the geological features that we wish to study: the South Georgia Basin, the Suwanne Suture, and frozen magmas from the huge Central Atlantic Magmatic Province.  In reality, we must create this line by knitting together a patchwork of roads.  During a couple of planning trips, we bumped along on dirt roads, cruised county lanes, and zoomed down state highways mapping out the best route. 

Dan and Steve scouting our route. Our seismometers will line county and state roads across southwestern Georgia, and both seismometers and seismic sources will cross private properties. Identifying private landowners to request permission has transformed us into detectives. In most cases, the name and address of the owner are easily found on the tax assessor's website for each county.  But actually getting in touch with people is not so easy! We mailed letters. We put flyers directly into people’s mailboxes. We searched for phone numbers online and left messages (sometimes multiple messages…). We found websites and email addresses for companies, and sometimes wrote to people about our project through website forms (including those for a bank, a dentist's office and a website selling organic beef!).  Happily, once we made contact, individuals and companies have been very welcoming and graciously granted us permission – southern hospitality in action!  A litany of other preparations have already been completed or are currently underway. Drilling of the holes for seismic sources has just begun, and the seismometers will arrive very soon. We are definitely ready for the transition from preparing to doing....
  
Donna Shillington
5 March 2014

Field School: The Brahmaputra River

Geohazards in Bangladesh - Mon, 03/03/2014 - 23:29
With our students all finally arrived, we started the classroom component to provide the background on the geology of Bangladesh.

With our students all finally arrived, we started the classroom component to provide the background on the geology of Bangladesh.

It has been an incredibly busy week. We have had between 42 and 48 people here for the field school, including 35 students and 12 instructors (seven to 10 at a time). The first day was very light for the jet-lagged students, just a short introduction to the field school and some background, and then introductions all around as we started to get to know each other. The final group of nine students finally arrived around 9 p.m. They were the most worn-out, bedraggled bunch of travelers I have ever seen.

After a good night’s sleep we started on the first classroom day. Our full five days near the Brahmaputra River would focus on the river processes and the stratigraphy they produce. We stopped the lectures at 4 and all piled into the bus

We rented country boats to get a view of the embankment at Sirajganj from the Brahmaputra River

We rented country boats to get a view of the embankment at Sirajganj from the Brahmaputra River

to see the embankment built to protect the city of Sirajganj from the westward migrating river. As is often the case in the dry season, they were repairing the embankments from last summer’s collapses. We rented two country boats and sailed along the embankment and walked back to the buses on the top of it. It is an impressive structure, but in need of continual repair to keep up with the river.

The next two days were spent on the river and its mobile islands, called chars. Setting up the equipment for the river surveying was hampered by a lack of power for drilling holes. A Bangladeshi drill and bow solved the problem, but not before rearranging the schedule. On the first day we all visited the char near the 5 km

One of the students collecting a sample for OSL dating for her research while we visited  the char on the Brahmaputra River.

One of the students collecting a sample for OSL dating for her research while we visited the char on the Brahmaputra River.

Bangabandu Bridge over the river. We spent the day viewing sedimentary structures and seeing the villages on this island that is almost entirely underwater during the monsoon. For the second day, we had to split the group. One contingent joined Jim Best as we surveyed the river with an ADCP, which measures water velocities from the top to the bottom of the river, and a sidescan that provides images of the bottom on either side of the boat using sound. The other, yielding to student requests, went to Tangail, the nearest city, for shopping. When everyone returned, we held a cricket match, with most Americans learning the rules on the fly. We finished the five overs per side as darkness fell.

We went back to the classroom the next day for more lectures on remote sensing of changes on the delta, stratigraphy,

A group of students measure magnetic susceptibility of well samples that were collected the day before. The measurements help distinguish whether the sediments were deposited by the Brahmaputra or other rivers.

A group of students measure magnetic susceptibility of well samples that were collected the day before. The measurements help distinguish whether the sediments were deposited by the Brahmaputra or other rivers.

subsidence and arsenic contamination. The hands-on experience was analysis of two sets of well samples that had been drilled the days before. Everyone had a chance to describe the samples, measure magnetic susceptibility and use a portable XRF machine to measure chemistry. We have found that magnetic susceptibility and strontium content are a good way to characterize whether sediments have come from the Brahmaputra River or not.

Finally, our last field day here was doing a resistivity imaging survey over the two bore holes and across the boundary between the Brahmaputra floodplain and the upland strata of the Madhupur tract. Generations have debated whether the transition is a fault contact or not. We would collect some data to try to answer the question. The students also got

One of the Bangladeshi students checks the resistivity meter during the experiment while a local resident looks on.

One of the Bangladeshi students checks the resistivity meter during the experiment while a local resident looks on.

to visit another tube well being drilled. Tube wells, drilled primarily for drinking water, is a local drilling method whereby a team of a handful of people can drill a 100m well in a day by hand. After everyone helped set up the 750m long resistivity line, most of the American students went to see the tube well drilling. The Bangladeshis, who have all seen tube well drilling, stayed with me to help run the resistivity line. As it turns out, Liz Chamberlain was pulled into a local villager’s home to have her hands tattooed with henna by a woman and her daughters. She missed the tube well drilling, but gained an exciting personal experience. It was also the first time the students were in a Bangladeshi village. We were the center of attention and many photos were snapped by both sides. We gathered up the resistivity equipment and then had informal student

Sunset over the  Brahmaputra River as we prepare to depart the region for NE Bangladesh.

Sunset over the Brahmaputra River as we prepare to depart the region for NE Bangladesh.

presentations before the final night barbeque. We had successfully completed the first half of the course, and all the students (and instructors) were bonding.

Solar Heartbeat

Geopoetry - Fri, 02/28/2014 - 08:00
 from Charboneau and Smolarkiewicz, Science 2013

Image: from Charboneau and Smolarkiewicz, Science 2013

 

Upon our little spinning rock,
Cosmic rays and debris knock.
Through great fields and waves we race,
Not empty, our broad path through space!
We’re touched, long fingers from afar:
Energy from our bright star.
A fusing, roiling dynamo,
Magnetic fields induced by flow.
Eleven circuits round our wheel,
Her heartbeat’s pulses we can feel.
In search of answers, models run,
Probing rhythms of the sun.

________________________________________________

Further reading: Modeling the Solar Dynamo, Science 2013

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. First posted 4/5/13 on Allen’s website.

Tangail and the Start of the Field School

Geohazards in Bangladesh - Wed, 02/26/2014 - 11:21
The Shahid Minar in Dhaka, the monument to language day on the site of the killings.  There are many smaller copies around Bangladesh.  On Language Day, they are covered by wreaths of flowers placed by everyone from politicians to school children.

The Shahid Minar in Dhaka, the monument to Language Day on the site of the killings. There are many smaller copies around Bangladesh. On Language Day, they are covered by wreaths of flowers placed by everyone from politicians to school children.

Feb. 21 is Language Day in Bangladesh. It is a holiday, now adopted by the UN as International Mother Language Day. It commemorates a day in 1952 when a crowd of Bengali students protesting Pakistan’s adoption of “Urdu and only Urdu as the official language of Pakistan” were fired upon by the police. It marks the beginning of the move towards the independence of East Pakistan, the future Bangladesh, from Pakistan. It is a time of plays, book fairs and poetry reading celebrating the Bengali/Bangla language. There are also laying of flower wreaths at the Shahid Minar, the monument where the killings occurred near Dhaka University, and many smaller copies throughout the country.

For us, it was a travel day. A long eight-hour drive from Khulna in SW Bangladesh across the Ganges River and the Jamuna River, as this section of the Brahmaputra is known, to our home for the next week. The eight of us in our

We examined the roof for the GPS.  It would be a good site, but the columns were unfinished rebar rods.  We would have to wait until they were finished.

We examined the roof for the GPS. It would be a good site, but the columns were unfinished rebar rods. We would have to wait until they were finished.

party left the Bawali in two vans, stopped to pickup equipment, and settled in for a long uneventful drive, or as uneventful as driving in Bangladesh can be.

The next day my group went to Mawlana Bhashani Science and Technology University to try to install a new GPS. After various meetings and cups of tea, we explored the rooftops looking for the perfect site for the antenna. Unfortunately, the building we were in was not quite finished. It was a good site, except the columns on the roof were still a mass of rebar and the concrete was yet to be poured. More meetings, coffee, sweet desserts, and we checked out other roofs. Many buildings at the relatively new university are unfinished. The older finished ones are lower and the clear view of the sky we need is blocked by trees. The

Meeting the the Vice Chancellor of the University (left) and the Dean who helped us with arrangements

Meeting the the Vice Chancellor of the University (left) and the Dean who helped us with arrangements.

first roof was the best choice, but would not be ready for three months. The best we could do was to set up the GPS box and leave all the equipment there. Humayun will come and finish the job in May. Without the installation work, we continued to meet people and have tea, lunch and more tea. We finally left around 4. Time to go back to the Elenga Resort, where we were staying, and prepare for the arrival of students for the Field School.

Our NSF grant from the PIRE (Partnerships for International Research and Education) has a large emphasis on providing American students with international research experience. One of the things we proposed was a two-week Field School in Bangladesh. We have 15 U.S. students, 15

Our first set of American students pose in front of the Martyr's Memorial from the 1971 War of Independence.

Our first set of American students pose in front of the Martyr’s Memorial from the 1971 War of Independence.

Bangladeshi, a few other invitees (France, Singapore, India) plus the scientists and students from our project and our advisory board. Most were scheduled to arrive on Sunday. During the day, I started receiving messages about delayed and cancelled flights. My nightmare scenario was arrivals scattered over several days with no way to know where or when. Most of the delays were absorbed by the long layovers at JFK and O’Hare, where experienced Bangladesh hands would lead them to the promised Field School. Our travel agent shifted one of the cancellations to another flight.Then I learned that Steve Goodbred, leader of the JFK troop, had his flight cancelled and would fly a day later. Mike Howe, a grad student with one trip to Bangladesh, was in charge. Worse, the flight was delayed and could miss its connection in

The American and Bangladeshi students, along with our instructors get to know each other on the bus as we transition from metropolitan traffic to driving by green rice fields.

The American and Bangladeshi students, along with our instructors, get to know each other on the bus as we transition from metropolitan traffic to driving by green rice fields.

Abu Dhabi. One student was MIA. I stayed up late to follow the flight and, yes, it missed the connection. I went to bed thinking that most of the U.S. students would be a day late.

I awoke early to find that they had been rebooked through Delhi and would arrive late afternoon. Better still, I learned that the missing student had been rebooked to the Chicago route. Then Humayun called and asked if I was meeting the on-time group for breakfast. I rushed out and Babu drove Chris and myself to the Parjatan restaurant across from the Martyr’s memorial. We got there just after they did. We had breakfast and then dodged traffic to cross the street to the memorial. While there, the Dhaka University contingent arrived for breakfast and we joined them. The Field School was on. Three-quarters of the people had arrived; most of the rest would be here by dinner. Only Steve and Ryan would be a day late.

Shag, Before It Was Cool

Geopoetry - Fri, 02/21/2014 - 14:20
woolly rhino

Science, 2011

More cuddly than a dino,
The Zanda woolly rhino!
This pioneer of old
Grew shag before the cold.
The high Tibet plateau
Was higher then, you know!
And when the ice expanded,
(with you I will be candid):
They did some procreation
And made a woolly nation!
We still have some Tibetan yak …
But I want that rhino back!

________________________________________________

Further reading: Out of Tibet: Pliocene Woolly Rhino Suggests High-Plateau Origin of Ice Age Megaherbivores, Tao Deng et al., Science 2011

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. First posted 9/2/11 on Allen’s website.

GPS in Khulna and the Hidden Temple

Geohazards in Bangladesh - Fri, 02/21/2014 - 04:27
Allan walking on the embankment, or polder.  The land on the river side (left) is about a meter higher than on the inside of the polder.

Allan walking on the embankment, or polder. The land on the river side (left) is about a meter higher than on the inside of the polder (right).

When we got cell phone signal back, we found things did not go according to plan. Scott’s flight had a medical emergency that required a stop in London, so he missed his connection. So did the GPS box, so they both arrived the morning of the 18th. He was not in Khulna already working. He wasn’t working on the compaction site. Between the flight delays and the ship delays, we had lost a day.

Since I couldn’t meet Scott, it was best for me to go to Polder 32 to check on the GPS there. However, not knowing the situation, we had sailed up the wrong channel. We wouldn’t get to the Polder 32 site until the afternoon. Polder is a Dutch term for an embankment. They have been built around much of the land in coastal Bangladesh to protect it from flooding from the brackish water and

Soyee with some of the local women and their water jugs on Polder 32.

Soyee with some of the local women and their water jugs on Polder 32.

improve farming. An unexpected side effect is that the protected land inside the polder, with no flooding or sediments, has sunk by over a meter. It is lower than the land outside the wall and lower than high tide. When Cyclone Aila hit the area in 2009, it breached the polder and the island was flooded for almost two years. We are studying both the physical environment and the human impact. My part is measuring the subsidence with GPS. The receiver here has a modem so the data can be collected by phone, but it hasn’t worked since Jan. 1. We went to the school that houses it, and I managed to correct the problem.

Mr Islam serves Scott and myself more of the delicious lunch they had prepared.  Eaten with our hands, of course.

Mr Islam serves Scott and myself more of the delicious lunch they had prepared. Eaten with our hands, of course.

Now it was time to join Scott. I left the boat for a bumpy 2.5-hour drive to Khulna and the hotel. We had allotted two days for servicing and installing GPS in Khulna, but we also wanted to visit a 400-year-old temple in the Sundarbans. It is being looked at to measure subsidence since it was built. We could only visit the temple if we could do the GPS work in one day. We started a 7 a.m., picking up Hafizur and heading to his family’s house, where the compaction meter is. We hoped to finish it quickly, but there were problems with the GPS. The solar panel controller was bad and had to be replaced. Then I found the settings of the GPS were bad; I couldn’t communicate with it. After a struggle, I managed. The system went bad last June and had recorded no data since then. Scott collected data from the compaction meter and surveyed the monuments, while

Scott adjusting the GPS antenna at the new Khulna site, working into the night.

Scott adjusting the GPS antenna at the new Khulna site, working into the night.

I got the GPS going again. When it was time to leave, we found that the Islamic family had prepared a huge lunch for us, and we had to stay and eat: sweet rice appetizer, two kinds of fish, chicken, vegetable, rice and a rice pastry in palm juice for dessert.

When we left to go to Khulna University (KU), our chance for the temple looked bleak. We met Professor Rakib Uddin, who did not get our sense of urgency. The GPS at KU hadn’t been working for years. Set up in the Urban Planning Department, the 20-year-old receiver needed constant care to keep going. We had installed these obsolete instruments when we first started working in Bangladesh and had almost no funding. We would be reestablishing the site, replacing everything.

Scott falls asleep on the M/V Mowali sailing to join everyone on the larger ship after a very long and successful day.

Scott falls asleep on the M/V Mowali sailing to join everyone on the larger ship after a very long and successful day.

Then we would install a new receiver in Rakib’s office in Environmental Sciences. As long as we had some overlap of the two receivers, we could combine the measurements for a longer record. After various formalities, we went to the office. We would need to buy some extra equipment, but the professor had to leave. We called everyone to say we could not do the temple. Then Rakib got the professor to leave the key so we could keep working. It was now a maybe. We arranged for the forest permits not knowing if we could use them. Allan and Towfique went shopping while Scott and I did what we could. By the time they got back and we finished, with multiple time-stealing problems along the way, it was dark. Rakib stayed late and Scott and I rushed to install the new GPS. The new ones are easier to work with, but

Sailing up a small channel to the Shakher Temple with our armed guards and a local fisherman guide (at prow).

Sailing up a small channel to the Shakher Temple with our armed guards and a local fisherman guide (at prow).

everything takes time. By the time we finished it was almost 9 p.m.

We rushed to the hotel and packed overnight bags. Bachchu’s other boat, the Mowali, would take us to the Bawali. We left at 10 p.m. after less than 24 hours in Khulna. It took 4 hours to reach the Bawali west of Polder 32. It was 2 a.m., but we made it. No dinner, but a chance to see the only Hindu Temple in the Sundarban. With two armed guards for tigers and a local guide, we sailed to a small channel south of the temple and took the launch to go into the forest. The channel got smaller, with branches occasionally sweeping across the boat. We got stuck, but the tide was rising. Then we had a long hike through the muddy forest, across a log bridge and more mud.

Dan crossing the log bridge on the way to the temple with helpers holding up a railing.

Dan crossing the log bridge on the way to the temple with helpers holding up a railing.

Finally we got there. After examining the temple, we decided more work was needed before we accepted the low subsidence rate estimated for the site. We also visited the rubble of the home for the local community and their protective wall. They were sent here to protect the region from Arakan and Portuguese pirates. They were the ones who built the Shakher temple. We could head back down the channel and return to Khulna on the Bawali. Despite all the problems, we had accomplished all of our goals for this part of the trip.

The group that made the trek to the temple pose in front of the ruins of the house (bari) that the people lived in.

The group that made the trek to the temple pose in front of the ruins of the house (bari) that the people lived in.

The ruins of the ~400 year old Shakher Temple to the Hindu goddess Kali.

The ruins of the ~400 year old Shakher Temple to the Hindu goddess Kali.

Back to Bangladesh, changing plans as we go

Geohazards in Bangladesh - Wed, 02/19/2014 - 11:48
Bawali

The M/V Bawali, the boat we are using to go to Hiron Point in the Sundarbans mangrove forest

In Bangladesh we find that nothing ever goes according to plan, but we have always been able to accomplish our goals. So far on this trip, we have had to adjust from before we even got on the plane. The snowstorm on Feb. 13 cancelled Scott and his student Allan’s flights to New York from Wilmington, N.C. It looked like they would be delayed by a day, but then it worked out for them to drive to South Carolina to catch a flight. I was then able to pick them up on my way to take them to the airport for our flights to Bangladesh. There were seven of us going there together, but only six made it onto the plane. There were problems with his ticket, probably from the attempts to get to New York, and he couldn’t get it fixed in time to make the flight. Allan’s ticket was OK, though.

Chris Small and Kushal Roy of Khulna University making plans for fieldwork on the Bawali

Chris Small and Kushal Roy of Khulna University making plans for fieldwork on the Bawali

Not having Scott meant rearranging our plans. Plan B. We switched the order of things. Allan and I would go to Hiron Point in the Sundarbans mangrove forest first, since I could service the GPS there alone, but needed him for most of the other work. The silver lining was one of my equipment boxes didn’t arrive. It would not arrive until the next day when Scott could pick it up. I didn’t have to delay leaving Dhaka. After stopping by Dhaka University, I headed to Khulna to join Chris Small and others on the M/V Bawali. Chris was able to rearrange his work so we could sail to Hiron Point first. We got to the ship around 4 p.m. after a day of driving and a two-hour ferry ride across the Padma River, as the combined Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers is known. We waited for Kushal and his students from Khulna University to arrive, then started the trip to Hiron Point near the coast.

A deer stands among the salt-filtering aerial roots of the mangrove trees in the Sundarban

A deer stands among the salt-filtering aerial roots of the mangrove trees in the Sundarban

The trim line of the leaves on the trees marks the height to which the deer can reach. Mud flats are exposed at low tide.

The trim line of the leaves on the trees marks the height to which the deer can reach. Mud flats are exposed at low tide.

We made good time and got to Hiron Point in the morning. We installed a GPS at the forest ranger station near a tide gauge. The tide gauge measures the water level relative to land, a mixture of sea level rise and subsiding of the land. Our GPS measures just the subsidence of the land, accurate to 8 mm each day. The combination of rising sea level and sinking land puts Bangladesh at greater risk of inundation. Thus the sediment deposited by the rivers is critical for maintaining the land and the mangrove forest. So far, it looks like sediment is keeping pace in the natural environment, but there are problems where man has made changes. We installed the GPS in October 2012. While we put in communication equipment, the site is so remote that there was no cell phone signal to download the data. Hence, our visit to collect it manually.

Everything looked fine, but when I tried to connect to the GPS, I couldn’t. The set-up for the communication equipment meant the settings were different and locked. After a frustrating hour of attempts, including a hard boot to reset the system, I finally found the right settings to talk to the device. The trip wasn’t in vain. Downloading the data, I found something had gone wrong last July. We had good data until July 19, then one giant file with a date in 2025. I hope that it actually contains good data, but I won’t know until I get back and can get it to someone to look at it. Even better, my hard reboot cleared out the problem, and the GPS started recording data properly again. Even if we have a data gap, we will still be able to see the data trend for the subsidence rate. Taking two days to come down here was worthwhile.

We spotted an eagles nest as we sailed down the channel to Hiron Point.

We spotted an eagle’s nest as we sailed down the channel to Hiron Point.

The next problem was that the Bawali couldn’t get out of the small channel by the ranger station until the next high tide. We were stuck for eight hours. We used the time to explore the channels, but we would not be able to get to our next stop on schedule. Time for another change in plans. We are up to Plan C. We decided to go back so I could get off the boat and join Scott, who has hopefully arrived. We will do our on-land work and then rejoin the Bawali in a day and a half, if all goes according to plan. Not a sure bet on this trip.

Fishermen setting nets in a tidal channel near Hiron Point.

Fishermen setting nets in a tidal channel near Hiron Point.

Global weirding?

Geopoetry - Fri, 02/14/2014 - 15:12

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Mountains of snow line the street,

And some days I envy a beard.

Ask any shoveler you meet –

The weather this winter is weird!

 

How strange is it, really? Some wonder,

If sea-ice melt unleashed the Vortex.

Has warming torn systems asunder;

Should we invest big in Gore-Tex?

 

We’ve been gripped by deep-freeze before;

Sometimes it’s just wicked cold.

The overall trends worry more:

How will it be when we’re old?

 

Thermostat’s tending to heat;

We wait as the sea gently rises.

Our future we surely will meet,

And always, we’ll get some surprises.

________________________________________________

Photo Credit: Figure generated by Cameron Beccario (EARTH.NULLSCHOOL.NET); Results sourced from the NCEP/NOAA Global Forecast System

Further reading:

A letter in Science Magazine: “Global Warming and Winter Weather”

Maps of recent temperature anomalies: Climate Reanalyzer, University of Maine

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Visit Allen’s website for more.

 

The Story at the Bottom of the South China Sea

Opening the South China Sea - Mon, 02/10/2014 - 10:17

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Sediments drilled from beneath the South China Sea are a window into the region’s past geology and climate. (Bill Crawford/IODP)







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We have drilled 2,600 feet below the sea floor and in another 500 feet, will reach the crystalline igneous basalt of the ocean crust. Though finding the age of the basalt is our main aim, the thick sediments that overly the crust also have a story to tell. As the sediments build up over time, they record the geological and climate history of the region.

There are the muds, silts, and sands, shaken loose from shallower depths and transported by gravity down-slope to the deep basin, where our first drill site is located. Ultimately, these sediments come from erosion of the surrounding land, and in this tectonically active part of the world, there is a lot of erosion going on. The island of Taiwan, for example, is being tectonically uplifted at a rate of about 0.2 inches per year, and is being eroded at about the same rate. This may not sound like much uplift, but imagine a world without erosion, Taiwan would stand 12 miles high after 4 million years. All that eroded rock ends up on the seabed, and some of it may find its way to our site.

There are the tiny shells of foraminifera and coccolithophores (familiar to us as chalk, in their pure rock form). They form a continual rain from the sea surface, and build up slowly but steadily on the seabed. The overturn of marker species shows us the age of the sediments, and their chemistry carries a record of ocean temperatures in the past.

Finally, there are volcanic sediments – from thin ash layers from distant volcanoes, to thick beds containing coarse chunks of rock exploded from nearby volcanoes. The close volcanoes are no longer active, and some have sunk beneath the sea to become seamounts. We will know from the depth of these beds in the sediment succession when the volcanoes erupted and for how long they were active.

This diversity means there is always something new and interesting to see in each 33-foot-long core that comes up from the sea bed, each another chapter in the geological history of the South China Sea. Among the 32 scientists on board, we have specialists in sedimentology, micropaleontology, volcanology and other fields. We are an international group; about half of us hail from China, a quarter from the U.S, and the rest from Australia, Brazil, France, Switzerland, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines (so there’s a good mix of music in the core laboratory – very nice). And that’s just the science party – the ship’s crew is almost as diverse.

 

Bioluminescence

Geopoetry - Fri, 02/07/2014 - 10:51
 J. Cohen for the photograph of S. crassicornus; P. Herring, P. bifrons; and P. Batson (DeepSeaPhotography.com), C. faurei, from Science 2010

Photos: J. Cohen for the photograph of S. crassicornus; P. Herring, P. bifrons; and P. Batson (DeepSeaPhotography.com), C. faurei; from Science 2010

Out in the ocean, where strange things are growing
(Jellies and fishes and creepies unknown)
You might be surprised how many are GLOWING,
With Halloween faces that chill to the bone.
At twilight depths, where darkness meets light
Life’s a grim game of hide-and-go-seek,
A massive migration when day turns to night,
All eyes are peeled for a peek.
If you’ve got the right stuff (or bacterial friends):
Some luciferin and luciferase,
You can flash, you can glow from your eyes to your ends –
And put on a show to amaze!
“I’m not good to eat,” “I’d like to have sex,”
“You’re blind, now I’ll run away,”
“My belly’s the sky,” and subjects complex,
Such wonderful things you can say!

_________________________________________

Further reading: Bioluminescence in the Ocean: Origins of Biological, Chemical, and Ecological Diversity, E.A. Widder, Science 2010

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. First posted 5/14/10 at Allen’s website.

Drilling Deep into the South China Sea’s Past

Opening the South China Sea - Tue, 02/04/2014 - 10:56

SCS mapFive days after leaving Hong Kong, the JOIDES Resolution is on site and drilling into the muds and silts of the South China Sea. The expedition’s main objectives are tectonic in nature, and I’m not really a tectonicist (I’m on board for the borehole logging), so for me this cruise is a crash course in the geological history of this area.

The origin of the ocean crust under the South China Sea is enigmatic, and there is ongoing scientific debate about which tectonic forces pulled apart the crust here to form the basin. In one hypothesis, the collision of India into Asia that built the Himalayas and pushed out Indochina to the southeast had the collateral effect of causing extension to form the South China Sea. The leading rival hypothesis says that the extension resulted from slab-pull from subduction at the southern edge of the basin (Borneo and Padawan). Of course, there are theories that mix the two, as well as minor-party candidates (plumes!).

The expedition aims to test the competing hypotheses by dating the earliest ocean crust (at the northern edge of the basin) and the youngest ocean crust (close to the now-inactive spreading center). If the age interval of sea floor spreading matches the age of the extrusion of Indochina (lets say 35 to 16 million years ago), then the Indochina extrusion hypothesis gains support; but if we find different ages, other hypotheses will move up the leader board. The debate and this expedition add to our understanding of the basic forces that shape the Earth’s surface.

Until now, the dating and interpretations rely on magnetic sea floor anomalies and other geophysical surveys. We will date the rocks directly for the first time, by argon-argon dating of the basalt that forms the ocean crust, and by the age of the sediments sitting on the basalt. The tricky part is that the basalt lies under 950 meters of sediments at the first site, and under 1850 meters at the second. To drill to this depth and bring back 100 meters of basalt is challenging to say the least, but there is a highly experienced drilling crew on board, so we are in with a shot. I’ll let you know how we get on!

Latimeria Chalumnae

Geopoetry - Thu, 01/30/2014 - 11:52
 Laurent Ballesta/andromede Oceanologie (Science)

The African coelacanth. Photo: Laurent Ballesta/andromede Oceanologie (Science)

Just imagine: one fine day, a fish revealed to you …
With proto-limbs, a monstrous face, all tinged with silver-blue!
Huge and strange and other-worldly, long thought to be lost,
In the flesh (starting to smell!) so many epochs crossed.
The coelacanth! Good Old Four Legs, to some, the “Living Fossil,”
The animal itself is big, its history colossal!
Ms. Latimer, she recognized its weirdness and allure;
Decades later, of its story some things were not sure.
But now we have its genome clear and plain for all to see,
Shedding light on autopods, immune systems, and pee!
More closely tied to humans than to tuna or to trout,
Holding secrets of the beasts who from the sea, climbed out.

_____________________________________________

Further reading:

Living fossil genome unlocked, Nature News

African coelacanth genome provides insights into tetrapod evolution, Amemiya et al., Nature 2013

First posted 4/19/13 at Katherine Allen’s website.

The Noble Worm

Geopoetry - Thu, 01/23/2014 - 14:50
  Caron et al., Nature 2013

Image: Caron et al., Nature 2013

Behold! New treasures from the Burgess Shale,

In black and silent strata long held firm.
From features soft, a bold ancestral tale …
Be proud, descendants of the noble worm!

Oh, glorious the hemichordate line,
Spartobranchus tenuis among them,
On slime and mud they heartily do dine;
History has surely under-sung them.

From which deep root, vertebral creatures grew?
A scarcity of fossils long obscured;
Into this question we can dive anew,
With gorgeous, detailed imprints that endured.

A wondrous time, the Cambrian Explosion …
Move over, Eve; my roots are in the ocean!

______________________________________________

Further reading:

First posted on 3/29/13 at Katherine Allen’s website.

Explore the Arctic Ocean With ‘IceTracker’

pfirman icetrackerThis week, we are launching a test of “IceTracker”—a tool that allows users to see the trajectories of Arctic sea ice forward or backward from any day between 1981 and 2012, as well as sea-ice speed, air temperature, water depth and the age of the sea ice.

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