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geology

Benchmarks: May 18, 1952: Stonehenge's age solved with Carbon-14

Like sentinels standing guard over a millennia-old secret, the 8-meter-tall stones of Stonehenge rise above the rolling green hills of England’s Salisbury Plain. The origin, date and purpose of the arrangement of the giant standing stones, located about 145 kilometers west of London, have puzzled people for thousands of years. But in 1952, physical chemist Willard Libby, a professor at the University of Chicago in Illinois, finally provided a concrete answer to one of the site’s most enduring questions: when it was built. To do this, Libby used a brand-new geochemical technique that he had been developing based on the radioactive isotope carbon-14. Only a few years later, his work on this groundbreaking technique earned him a Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

18 May 2010

Travels in Geology: Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro: From parasitic cones to equatorial glaciers

Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro is the world’s tallest mountain that climbers can reach without technical means. The author decided to try it for herself, and brought back a lifetime of memories and dozens of photos of parasitic cones, equatorial glaciers, lava outcrops, volcanic vents and scenery to die for.

02 Apr 2010

Celebrity climb

One billion people are without access to clean water today. When glacial deposits like the one atop Kilimanjaro melt away, that number will increase, some researchers say. To raise awareness about what some people are calling the global clean water crisis, a team of celebrities climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in January in the “Summit On The Summit.” 
 
02 Apr 2010

Travel specs

Booking a climb up Kilimanjaro can be a little daunting. I recommend first figuring out your climbing details and then figuring out how you will get to the mountain. Climbs are offered year round, but weather-wise, it is best to go in January and February or September and October. There are six main climbing routes up the mountain, and they all offer unique sites and spectacular views. Besides differing in scenery, these routes vary in physical difficulty, length (between five and 10 days), accommodations and prices. Prices range from $1,200 to $5,000 per person, with costs covering food, accommodations, park fees, transportation and rescue service, should it be necessary. Moreover, all of the agencies have their own supply of gear in case you are missing anything. For a list of respected, well-known tour operators, check out the “Climb with a Partner Company” page on the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project Web site (www.kiliporters.org/index.php). 
 
02 Apr 2010

March 23, 1821: Bauxite Discovered

Compared to gold, silver, lead and copper — metals that people have extracted, refined and used for millennia — aluminum is a relative newcomer. Pure aluminum was more valuable than gold when it was first discovered in the early 19th century. It graced the fine china of Napoleon III and was displayed next to the French Crown Jewels at the 1855 Paris Exhibition. Today, aluminum is cheap and plentiful, used in everyday products ranging from soda cans to jets. The transformation of the metal from unknown material to rare metal to ubiquity in fewer than two centuries is due to two pivotal discoveries: an abundant aluminum ore — bauxite — and a process of refining this ore using electricity.
 
23 Mar 2010

The Washington Monument's Apex

An aluminum pinnacle has graced the Washington Monument since 1884, but subsequent modifications have changed the look of the point. 

23 Mar 2010

Extinction-era coal linked to Chinese cancer epidemic

At the close of the Permian, 252 million years ago, conditions on Earth took a turn for the worse, nearly wiping out life on land and at sea in the planet’s most severe extinction event. Now, eons later, geologists are implicating a coal seam that dates to the “Great Dying” at the Permian-Triassic boundary in one of the modern world’s worst cancer epidemics.

14 Jan 2010

Benchmarks: January 13, 1404: England prohibits Alchemy

Alchemy, in both ancient and medieval times, wasn’t just about turning lead into gold, although such “transmutation” was certainly one desirable goal. In a broader sense, alchemists were both philosophers and the precursors to modern chemists, in that they sought to understand thedifferent states of matter, the interactions of metals, and the way in which elements were created from the original chaos. There were thought to be four elements — earth, air, fire and water — and combining them properly could produce any substance on Earth, from medicines to gold. Among the more lofty ambitions of alchemists was the search for the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, a substance that was supposed to enable the transmutation of one substance into another (and perhaps act as an elixir of life).
 
13 Jan 2010

Benchmarks: December 1, 1959: Antarctic Treaty Signed

Science trumps all in Antarctica. For the past 50 years, Antarctica has remained a military-free, globally shared continent, dedicated to peace and scientific advancement, thanks to the Antarctica Treaty.
 
01 Dec 2009

Storing CO2 in fizzy water underground

Burying carbon dioxide in underground geologic formations is an attractive option for dealing with increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But before employing such schemes, researchers need to be sure that the greenhouse gas will actually stay put. Scientists have done everything from computer modeling to pumping vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the subsurface to find out if — and how — the gas might be trapped, but gauging how sealed the formations are over geologic time scales is difficult.

10 Nov 2009

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