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mary caperton morton

Link between volcanoes and drought cools geoengineering prospects

The realization that large volcanic eruptions can trigger climatic cooling has inspired some to call for stratospheric geoengineering projects, which mimic volcanic eruptions, to combat the effects of global warming. But the approach is not without risks. And a new study looking at the effects of volcanic eruptions on monsoon cycles in China over the past 700 years elucidates one: Eruptions can also cause profound drought in some regions. The finding suggests that although artificially induced cooling may have benefits in some places, it could backfire in others.

14 Dec 2014

Gravity builds stone sculptures

Every visitor to Arches National Park in Utah wonders how the spectacular, seemingly improbable sandstone arches form, but although there are many hypotheses, testing different ideas in the field has proved all but impossible. Now a new modeling study suggests that while arches may seem to defy gravity, their formation actually depends on it.

11 Dec 2014

Hundreds of methane seeps discovered along the U.S. East Coast

The release of methane from seafloor sediments may have a significant influence on global climate, but the ubiquity and stability of such pockets is not well understood. Now the discovery of hundreds of methane seeps on the seafloor along the U.S. East Coast suggests that such reservoirs may be more common along passive margins than previously thought. The easily accessible region may prove to be an ideal natural laboratory for studying how such seafloor methane may influence water temperatures and ultimately climate.

07 Dec 2014

Mountains beyond mountains

The best perk of being a freelance writer, for me at least, is the flexibility to work from anywhere. Instead of paying rent, I house-sit in the winter and spend spring, summer and fall on the road. Winters are for exploring deserts; summers are for climbing mountains. Two summers ago, I drove all the way to Alaska, my 50th state, and in 2013, I spent the whole summer tagging peaks in southern Colorado.

02 Dec 2014

Inland earthquake triggers distant tsunami

On Sept. 24, 2013, a magnitude-7.7 earthquake struck southern Pakistan, killing more than 800 people. The quake made global headlines in part due to the birth of a small island it triggered just off the coast — a mound of mud dubbed Quake Island that has since washed away. A new study has found evidence of another curious event linked to the quake: a small tsunami that appears to have been remotely triggered by a submarine landslide far from the earthquake’s inland epicenter.

26 Nov 2014

Travels in Geology: The inspiring, globe-trotting rocks of Scotland

As the birthplace of both modern geology and the sport of mountaineering, Scotland is home to some incredible, inspiring, diverse rocks. Whether climbing in the Highlands, wandering through the Lowlands or hiking the Southern Uplands, Scotland is a geo-traveler’s paradise.

16 Nov 2014

Bag your first Munro

One of the founding members of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, Hugh Munro, compiled a list of all the mountains in Scotland taller than 3,000 feet (914.4 meters), which are now called Munros. At present, there are 283, although this number has changed over time due to improvements in surveying and mapping. Munro-bagging is a national pastime in Scotland; for some dedicated Scots, summiting all the Munros is a lifelong project.

16 Nov 2014

Living mountains and wild places

Mountains often boast a strong literary tradition, and the legendary Cairngorms are no exception. Two of the Highlands’ most geo-minded authors are Nan Shepherd and Robert Macfarlane. Shepherd was born in 1893 and spent her whole life in Aberdeen, exploring the Cairngorm Mountains. Among the first female mountaineers, Shepherd also wrote novels, poetry and one nonfiction ode to the Cairngorms called “The Living Mountain.”

16 Nov 2014

Getting there and getting around Scotland

To visit Scotland, fly into Edinburgh or take a train from London. Arthur’s Seat is within walking distance of the Royal Mile and downtown Edinburgh. Scotland has a good train and bus system with routes to the Highlands, but traveling between the smaller villages is easier by private car, if you can handle driving on the left-hand side of the road. The Cairngorm Mountains are best approached from Braemar, Tomintoul, Aviemore or Kingusse, all small towns with hotels and restaurants that cater to tourists visiting the park.

16 Nov 2014

Solar storms cause spike in electrical insurance claims

On March 13, 1989, a geomagnetic storm spawned by a solar outburst struck Earth, triggering instabilities in the electric power grid that serves much of eastern Canada and the U.S. The storm led to blackouts for more than 6 million customers and caused tens of millions of dollars in damages and economic losses. More than 25 years later, the possibility of such a catastrophe still looms, and the day-to-day effects of space weather on electrical systems remain difficult to quantify. Now, a new study correlating electrical insurance claims with geomagnetic data suggests that even moderate space weather may play a significant role in destabilizing the power grid.

09 Nov 2014