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Features

The Bakken boom and the new wild west: A young geologist's perspective

Like many of my colleagues, I have found myself in awe of the drastically changing energy landscape around me. Both technologically and economically, the world of energy is not what it used to be. Precious resources that allow the modern world to exist are becoming harder to find and much more difficult to extract, but advances in drilling technology, such as directional drilling, are a tribute to humanity’s ability to innovate when needed.

24 Sep 2012

Seismic citizens: Volunteers host home-based seismometers to help assess earthquake threat

A network of volunteer hosts and home-based seismometers around Washington’s Puget Sound region report earthquake data to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN) through the volunteer-powered NetQuakes program. Driven by a desire to to help the area better prepare for future large earthquakes, to be part of a group effort, and by an abiding (though not necessarily professional) interest in science and technology, the members of this unusual family are part of a growing movement in earthquake research and monitoring that is making use of the explicit support of citizen scientists.

27 Aug 2012

Behind the scenes with NetQuakes' Doug Gibbons

Doug Gibbons, a research assistant in the University of Washington’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences and a NetQuakes technician, is one of several people involved in managing and maintaining the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network’s (PNSN) portion of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) NetQuakes program. Having installed many of PNSN’s NetQuakes seismometers, he is a point man for outreach and interaction with current and prospective volunteers.

27 Aug 2012

Do–it–yourself lava flows: Science, art and education in the Syracuse University Lava Project

Picture this: You’re walking across the tree-lined quad of Syracuse University, amid brick and stone buildings, when you happen upon a crowd of people. Crowds on the quad aren’t unusual, but this crowd is unusually diverse — students, professors and even parents with kids. You move a little closer and smell something odd: a blend of sulfur and marshmallows. Then you see it — molten lava pouring down the slope of a parking lot.

20 Aug 2012

The Syracuse University lava experiments

Pouring Lava

Melting a batch of the ancient basalt takes about four hours, but we hold the lava above its melting point for much longer to ensure that it is completely melted and to remove unwanted volatiles such as water. The lava is then poured at temperatures of 1,100 to 1,350 degrees Celsius, comparable to eruption temperatures of natural lava. We monitor it with a spot calorimeter and a Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) camera, the same instrument conventionally used at lava flows in the field.

20 Aug 2012

Trash-to-treasure: Turning nonrecycled waste into low-carbon fuel

Americans produce more than four pounds of trash per person per day, amounting to 20 percent of the world’s waste. Although recycling rates have increased over the past few decades — out of the 4.4 pounds of trash (per capita) that we produce in the U.S. each day, we compost or recycle about 1.5 pounds and incinerate another 0.5 pounds — more than 50 percent of our waste still ends up buried in landfills.

31 Jul 2012

2012: The end of the world or just another year of living in harm's way?

We live on a knife-edge, separated from an ocean of super-heated rock by a wafer-thin and perpetually rupturing crust, swinging our way through a cosmic minefield of lethal debris around a nuclear furnace prone to tantrums. For doomsayers, the end of the Mayan long-count calendar, set against such a backdrop, is a gift. Though Mayan culture never spoke of a cataclysm, Dec. 21, 2012 — the purported last day of a 5,125-year cycle in the Mesoamerican calendar — has been added to an endless list of days when the world has been predicted to end.

24 Jul 2012

Five outstanding questions in earth science

Even 15 years after the release of “Good Will Hunting,” there remains something appealing about watching the title character, a mathematically inclined janitor at MIT, scribble the solution to an unsolved mathematics problem on a hallway blackboard. In reality, there are a number of unsolved problems in mathematics, seven of which were designated in 2000 by the Clay Mathematics Institute as “Millennium Prize Problems,” each with a purse of $1,000,000. To date, only one has been solved.

27 Jun 2012

Neutralizing the rain: After much success in the battle against acid rain, challenges remain

Every Tuesday at 9 a.m., Dave Warner collects water from a white plastic 3.5-gallon tub that sits on a strip of tall grass between two cornfields at the University of Nebraska Agricultural Research and Development Center near Mead, Neb. For more than 30 years, the bucket has collected all forms of precipitation — from hail to rain to snow — to be analyzed for nitric and sulfur oxides, the main components of acid rain.

21 Jun 2012

Better warnings for the consequences of earthquakes: Bringing seismic hazard and risk assessments to policy

Although seismologists and engineers have generated a world map of seismic hazard, which shows the level of ground shaking not likely to be exceeded, the ground motions and death tolls of several recent large quakes have far exceeded expectations. It’s time to change the way we measure seismic hazard and seismic risk.

29 May 2012

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