Lay of the Land: Terrain's Toll on the U.S. Civil War

In the waning days of summer 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee lined his Confederate troops along a grassy ridge on the western side of Antietam Creek in the outskirts of Sharpsburg, Md.

Across the stream, Union troops prepared for an attack.

Then, on Sept. 17, in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Battle of Antietam began. The armies blasted each other with gunfire from dawn until nearly dusk. That day proved to be the single bloodiest day of the American Civil War, with more than 23,000 men lying dead or wounded in the valley’s fields by nightfall.

02 Oct 2008

Granite countertops: NOT silent killers

Nothing says class like a thick slab of polished granite. The stone is so durable. So chic. So modern. So...radioactive?

On Sept. 2, NBC's Today Show cautioned homeowners - especially pregnant women or families with small children - to think twice before installing granite countertops. Granite emits not only radiation, but also radioactive radon gas, explained Today Show correspondent Natalie Morales.

02 Oct 2008

Travels in Geology: Taking in Hawaii's Big Island

For a bit of money, visitors to Hawaii can indulge their touristy impulses with a single night of mai tais and luaus. But take on Hawaii’s geologic hallmarks, and you’ll embark on a low-cost safari that will last you all week.

26 Sep 2008

Large earthquake rocks Iran oil port

Wednesday, Sept. 10, 12:30 p.m. EDT — At 3:30 p.m. local time, a magnitude-6.0 earthquake struck Iran near the southern port city of Bandar Abbas. Tremors from the quake were felt as far away as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

USGS detected a magnitude-4.8 aftershock about 30 minutes after the quake, although John Bellini, a geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., says that many other aftershocks have and will bypass U.S. detection.

10 Sep 2008

Creeping faults warn of impending earthquakes?

Earthquakes strike out of nowhere — one minute everything is perfectly calm, and the next minute, the ground shakes violently and buildings crumple. However, many seemingly sudden seismic events are actually preceded by a multitude of creeping changes underground. Detecting and interpreting these changes would help forecast earthquakes, but that detection has proven difficult, partly because scientists don’t yet fully understand the complex chain of events that precipitates a quake.

29 Aug 2008

Mapping safer drinking water

Beginning in the 1970s, international aid agencies dug hundreds of thousands of wells in Bangladesh to help people access clean drinking water. The effort curbed diarrheal diseases, but it led to a new problem: arsenic poisoning.

Arsenic occurs naturally in some rocks, including formations throughout the Himalayas. When these rocks weather, the groundwater can become contaminated with arsenic. At high doses, arsenic is lethal. But even small doses can cause cancer and other health problems over time.

28 Aug 2008