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Benchmarks: July 26, 1905: The rising Salton Sea swamps the Southern Pacific Railroad

On a scorching summer day in 1905, in the middle of a desert, the Colorado River, which had broken free from an irrigation canal and found its way to the lowest point around — the Salton Sink — swamped the Southern Pacific Railroad. Bounded by the Mojave Desert to the north and the Sonoran Desert to the south, the sink lies 70 meters below sea level at the bottom of the Salton Trough. By the time the railroad sealed the breach 18 months later, the Salton Sea stretched 58 kilometers long and 42 kilometers wide, making it California’s largest lake.

26 Jul 2016

Down to Earth With: Planetary scientist Steven Squyres

By age 6, Steven Squyres already considered himself a scientist, and, with his father’s help, would conduct rudimentary experiments with a chemistry kit. By the time he was 10, he had become fascinated by meteorology and erected a weather station in his backyard. He vividly remembers building an anemometer out of funnels, and realizing that his device would need to be calibrated in order to accurately measure wind speed. So, he asked his father to drive the family car up and down their street. While perplexed neighbors looked on, Squyres excitedly hung the instrument out the window, shouting to his dad to drive 5 miles per hour as he counted how many times the kitchen funnels spun around. Next, Squyres asked his dad to drive 10 miles per hour, and then even faster, repeating his counts at each speed until the calibration was complete.

28 Jun 2016

Geomedia: Television: 'NOVA' for the earth science enthusiast

“NOVA,” the weekly prime-time science series that airs on PBS, is known for producing high-quality TV documentaries on subjects ranging from espionage and the military to ancient civilizations and nature. Naturally, much “NOVA” programming touches on topics in geoscience, so we decided to review several recent hour-long episodes that might be of particular interest to our readers.

15 Jun 2016

Geomedia: Books: 'Floodpath' recounts the deadly collapse of California's St. Francis Dam

The catastrophic collapse of the St. Francis Dam, located 80 kilometers north of downtown Los Angeles and east of the town of Santa Clarita, just before midnight on March 12, 1928, claimed more than 400 lives when towering floodwaters destroyed homes, bridges and farmland, as they swept through downstream communities. The disaster was initially blamed on the failure of the west abutment, anchored in soft conglomerate rock. Additional studies have revised this explanation, with recent research citing other geologic and design factors that likely contributed. Regardless, the collapse effectively ended the career of William Mulholland, the self-taught engineer whose 1913 Owens Valley Aqueduct made the explosive growth of Los Angeles possible. Yet, despite the magnitude of the disaster and its impact on local and national policy, it has been almost entirely forgotten, except by a few historians.

08 Jun 2016

Benchmarks: June 4, 1783: The era of aviation launches with the first balloon flight

In the small French town of Gonesse in August 1783, a large, spherical and nebulous object painted with red and yellow stripes fell from the sky and began fluttering about on the ground. The town’s peasants, fearful, attacked the object with pitchforks, and then tied it to a horse’s tail to be dragged through the streets.

04 Jun 2016

Geomedia: Performance: Bella Gaia is a show in orbit and Earth is the star

On the screen, images of the far reaches of the cosmos — galaxies, stellar nebulae and supernovae — loom high over a stage. The words, “The Living Universe,” appear and the view zooms in: first on our galaxy, then on our solar system and, finally, on Earth. Bella Gaia, a live performance piece featuring dance and music set in front of a large projection-screen displaying images of Earth from space, begins.

13 May 2016

Benchmarks: May 12, 1905: Andrew Carnegie donates 'Dippy the Dino'

As one of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists, Andrew Carnegie had come to expect that people would praise and honor him, but May 12, 1905, would be an unusual day for the Pittsburgh steel magnate. Never before had he been honored for donating a dinosaur. Carnegie’s contribution of a massive plaster model of a Diplodocus — at the time the largest-known animal to have ever trod the planet — to London’s Natural History Museum was part of the Scotsman’s dream to rid the world of war, which he called “the foulest blot upon our civilization.”

12 May 2016

Down to Earth With: Solar physicist Thomas Berger

Growing up in California during the Space Race, Thomas Berger was fascinated with aeronautics and aviation, so when he arrived at the University of California at Berkeley, physics seemed like the natural choice. After graduating with a degree in engineering physics, Berger took a job with Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank. But he soon decided it was not for him and returned to graduate school at Stanford, where he discovered a new passion: solar physics.

09 May 2016

Down to Earth With: Ethnogeologist Steven Semken

As a boy growing up in New Jersey, Steven Semken was fascinated by rocks and minerals. His father, a banker, and his mother, a municipal tax collector, loved to travel and frequently indulged their son’s yen for sparkling specimens. They also bought Semken numerous books about geography and geology, including “The Big Golden Book of Geology,” which made such an impression that his childhood copy still sits on his office shelf. Semken vividly remembers staring at the book’s picture of Ship Rock, a towering volcanic neck on the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico. Little did he know that he would later spend 15 years living and teaching geology with that Ship Rock as a backdrop.

06 May 2016

Geomedia: Film: 'A Beautiful Planet' inspires with vivid views of life on and off Earth

An endless sea of bright dots surrounds you amid the otherwise darkened expanse as you slowly approach a swirling, recognizable cloud of glowing light — the Milky Way. As the galaxy grows to fill the screen, you feel as if you are heading home toward Earth. This sensation of being a crewmember on a spaceship stays with you throughout the new documentary film, “A Beautiful Planet,” as well as after it’s over — which is just what the filmmakers intended.

29 Apr 2016

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