Taxonomy term

benchmarks

Benchmarks: October 9, 1963: The Vajont Landslide kills 2,500 in Italy

In 45 seconds, everything changed. What had been a towering mountainside collapsed into a pile of rubble; what had been a deep reservoir of placid water became a lethal flood; what had been a valley of small Italian villages was leveled to a barren outwash plain.

09 Oct 2014

Benchmarks: September 1, 1957: Fossil Cycad National Monument is dissolved

On Sept. 1, 1957, with the stroke of a pen, the U.S. Congress declared Fossil Cycad National Monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota to be no more. At one time, the site held the world’s largest collection of rare fossil cycad-like plants that thrived during the Cretaceous. Over the years, mismanagement, vandalism and theft left the site barren of fossils — the site never had a staff or visitor center, and was never opened to the public. The site’s initial designation as a national monument, in October 1922, had been brought about by the crusading of one man, Yale University paleobotanist George R. Wieland; in the end, he was also responsible for its demise.

01 Sep 2014

Benchmarks: June 16, 1963 & June 18, 1983: Valentina Tereshkova and Sally Ride become first and third women in space

On June 16, 1963, during the height of the Cold War, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly in space. It would be 19 years before another woman would fly in space — Soviet Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982 — and 20 years before the first American woman, Sally Ride, made it into space on June 18, 1983. These pioneers inspired the generations of women astronauts who followed. In the three decades since Ride’s foray into outer space, 57 other women have also taken flight (see sidebar) and, last year, half of NASA’s new class of astronauts were women.

16 Jun 2014

Benchmarks: May 6, 1852: Edward Sabine links the geomagnetic and sunspot cycles

At the beginning of the 19th century, little was understood about Earth’s magnetic field, but interest in its workings had begun to grow, especially in Europe. That the magnetic field exists had long been recognized, and magnetic compasses had aided in navigation for centuries, particularly at sea where fixed landmarks are hard to come by. Not surprisingly, the increased attention emerging around the turn of the century came from naval and shipping interests, which recognized that an accurate understanding of the field’s behavior would be a boon to their fleets.

By this time, the underlying physical explanation for the magnetic field had also become a major source of scientific curiosity. In the preceding two centuries, observers had measured differences in the field’s intensity, inclination and declination — the angle between magnetic and true north — between locations, as well as changes in those properties at the same location, both over varying lengths of time. Others had noted the synchronized occurrence of colorful atmospheric auroras with widespread disturbances in the magnetic field, termed magnetic storms.

It was clear the planet’s magnetic field was an inconstant and complex phenomenon, and many eminent scientists saw it as the next great natural mystery to unravel.

13 May 2014

April 20, 1832: Arkansas' hot springs named the First National "Park"

In March 1872, not long after William Henry Jackson’s photographs from the famed Hayden Geological Survey first introduced the U.S. populace to the rugged majesty of northwestern Wyoming, President Ulysses S. Grant designated Yellowstone as the country’s first official national park. Some 40 years earlier, however, a comparatively small plot of land in Arkansas had garnered a similar designation, albeit in different terminology, from then-President Andrew Jackson.

20 Apr 2014

Benchmarks: March 27, 1964: The Good Friday Alaska Earthquake and Tsunamis

During the Cold War, many Americans lived in fear of the day their town would be shaken by an atomic bomb blast. On Good Friday 1964, some Alaskans thought that day had come. Beginning at 5:36 p.m., intense ground shaking continued for almost five minutes as the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in North America struck 22.5 kilometers beneath Prince William Sound, where the Pacific Plate is subducting beneath the North American Plate. The shaking — felt over an area of more than 1.3 million square kilometers — was so severe and long-lived that some survivors later said they first thought the Soviet Union had dropped a nuclear bomb on Anchorage, 120 kilometers northwest of the epicenter.

27 Feb 2014

Benchmarks: February 23 – 24, 1999: Alpine Avalanches sweep through Austrian towns, killing dozens

For skiers, snowboarders and other high-elevation winter adventurers, avalanches pose an ever-present, if difficult-to-anticipate, risk. But tourists and townspeople at the lower elevations and on the flatter terrain of mountain valleys are usually far from such threats. For the tiny Austrian towns of Galtür and Valzur — popular winter destinations for their ski trails and chalets — that was not the case in late February 1999.
 
03 Feb 2014

January 26, 1905: The world's largest gem-quality diamond is unearthed

Each day, thousands of visitors to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History view the rare and spectacular Hope Diamond, a 45-carat blue diamond. And dozens of diamonds bigger than the Hope — with names like Excelsior, Incomparable and Jubilee — have also been retrieved, cut and polished to perfection.

26 Jan 2014

December 27, 1888: The Geological Society of America is founded

When the Geological Society of America (GSA) held its first organizational meeting in December 1888, there were only about 200 geologists in North America. Today, as GSA celebrates its 125th anniversary, the organization has evolved into one of the world’s largest societies devoted exclusively to geology, representing more than 25,000 members — researchers, students, teachers and industry professionals with interests spanning the geosciences — in 107 countries.

27 Dec 2013

November 10, 1934: Arizona declares war against California at Parker Dam

From above, tiny green irrigation circles draw a narrow buffer along the 2,300-kilometer course of the Colorado River like the brush strokes of a zoomed-in pointillist painting. These vibrant green dots stand out against the buff and ochre hues of the desert palette, a testament to the river’s life-giving waters. Less obvious are the 6.4 billion cubic meters of water that flow, or are pumped, more than 390 kilometers from the Colorado’s gorge through tunnels and canals, up and down hills, to the agricultural and population centers of Southern California each year, and the additional 3.4 billion cubic meters that gurgle toward Phoenix and central Arizona annually.

10 Nov 2013

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