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Benchmarks: August 24, 1873: The Mount of the Holy Cross is found, photographed and mapped

The rumors had persisted for decades, some said for centuries. Deep in the Colorado Rockies was a mystical mountain. Upon the face of a towering peak rose a massive cross, formed by snow accumulating in two huge cracks. In his 1868 book, “The Parks and Mountains of Colorado: A Summer Vacation in the Switzerland of America,” journalist Samuel Bowles wrote, “It is as if God has set His sign, His seal, His promise there — a beacon upon the very center and hight [sic] of the continent to all its people and all its generations.”
 
03 Aug 2012

Down to Earth With: Geomorphologist Gregory Tucker

As an undergraduate anthropology student, Gregory Tucker thought math was a boring subject with abstract rules that didn’t relate to his life. Today, that “boring” subject provides the foundation for Tucker’s innovative research involving numerical modeling and unique field studies that recently earned him the European Geosciences Union’s 2012 Ralph Alger Bagnold Medal, one of the highest prizes in geomorphology.

13 Jul 2012

Benchmarks: July 1, 1912: Hawaiian Volcano Observatory officially becomes the first of its kind in U.S.

Living on the fringe of an active volcano in Hawaii is a precarious venture. Because Hawaii’s shield volcanoes aren’t prone to explosive activity, you’re typically not threatened by violent eruptions such as would occur at Mount St. Helens, for example. On the other hand, the slow-moving, unpredictable lava flows can still overtake your home, even if it has avoided years of previous eruptions. 
 
02 Jul 2012

Down to Earth With: Snow Hydrologist Jeff Dozier

It’s mid-January. Snow hydrologist Jeff Dozier relaxes at his sister’s cabin near Lake Tahoe, his bare feet resting on a coffee table. His teenage son, who spent the day competing in a ski race, lounges on the couch beside his father, listening to music. Snacking on cheese and crackers, the two look utterly content.

13 Jun 2012

Benchmarks: June 10, 1886: New Zealand’s Mount Tarawera erupts

On June 10, 1886, Mount Tarawera on New Zealand’s North Island erupted catastrophically, killing more than 100 people. With few warning signals, the explosive basaltic eruption caught many people by surprise as it rocked the mountain, forming fissures that extended for 17 kilometers into the adjacent Lake Rotomahana and Waimangu Valley. 
 
04 Jun 2012

Down to Earth With: The Geographers of the Solar System

Certain government officials have super cool titles: for example, Planetary Protection Officer (NASA's Catharine Conley) and Oceanographer of the Navy (David Titley). I think Geographer of the Solar System would be right up there. Alas, no one actually has that title, but in a little-known office of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) nestled in the hills above Flagstaff, Ariz., I met a dozen or so people who could reasonably qualify for it.

13 May 2012

Benchmarks: May 15, 1909: The Northern Great Plains earthquake

In Culbertson, Mont., at a quarter past nine on a Saturday evening, Ralph Bush and H.G. Walsh were resting in the third-floor apartment of the Reed Cash Grocery when the floor began to rock, vibrating a small penknife right off their table, and sending a candle lamp clattering to the floor. At the nearby Evans Hotel, confusion reigned as the quake shook the two-story brick building, causing frightened guests to flee into the streets. On the second story of the Farmers & Merchants bank, a piano player was entertaining a social gathering at the home of Professor Dale when the shaking sent a vase crashing to the floor. The 15 seconds of quivering was so pronounced at Skelley’s barbershop that, “It rang up a 50-cent cash sale on the cash register, and it has been keeping me guessing how I can balance the darned thing,” Skelley told a reporter from the Culbertson Republican.
 
02 May 2012

Down to Earth With: Volcanologist Stephen Sparks

From the Caribbean to Iceland to the Andes, volcanologist Stephen Sparks has spent a lifetime studying volcanoes. As a professor of geology at the University of Bristol in England for more than 20 years, Sparks has devoted much of his time to figuring out where the next eruption will occur and how to respond to it. His latest effort is a project that will connect experts and technology in a global network to improve volcanic risk assessment.

13 Apr 2012

Benchmarks: April 1, 1946: Hawaii tsunami ushers in a Pacific-wide warning system

On the morning of April 1, 1946, children were on their way to school in the small peninsula community of Laupahoehoe on the island of Hawaii (the Big Island). Curious about the fish that were flopping around in the sand on the beach, the students were too busy to notice the ocean sucking all the water out of the bay. Minutes later, a large wave — about 15 meters high — struck the peninsula and swept 16 children and five teachers out to sea.
 
01 Apr 2012

Down to Earth With: Glaciologist Richard Alley

If you don’t know who Richard Alley is, stop reading for a minute and search for him on YouTube. Go on, this can wait. Back? What you likely saw was Alley singing his rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” in which he explains subduction zones, or another similar song. In addition to being something of an Internet sensation for his energetic lectures and songs about geologic processes, Alley is a glaciologist who studies the effects of climate change.

13 Mar 2012

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