Taxonomy term


Beryllium: the rain bringeth and the rain taketh away

High in Earth’s atmosphere, cosmic rays collide with oxygen atoms, shattering the oxygen into smaller atoms, including radioactive beryllium-10. Atmospheric beryllium-10 that falls to Earth’s surface — in precipitation or aboard dust particles — is known as meteoric beryllium-10. Researchers often use the ratio of meteoric beryllium-10 to nonradioactive beryllium-9 in soil as a tracer of soil age and processes. As beryllium-10 has a long half-life — about 1.4 million years — scientists have used it for studies of both short- or long-term soil dynamics.

25 Feb 2019

Geologic Column: A cautionary tale about "sleeping" natural hazards

The author ruminates on the sometimes underappreciated risks of natural hazards and recalls a trip to a remote Hawaiian campsite where a 1975 magnitude-7.7 quake later proved fatal.
12 Nov 2018

Down to Earth With: Volcanologist Thorvaldur Thordarson

Despite growing up in Iceland, with Earth’s most volcanically active landscape as his playground, Thorvaldur Thordarson had no idea he would grow up to be a volcanologist. Nor did he suspect that his career path would take him all over the world to witness eruptions and aftermaths on six continents.

19 Oct 2018

Down to Earth With: Volcanologist Scott Rowland

When Scott Rowland returned to his home on Oahu after earning a bachelor’s degree in geology at Oregon State University, intent on heading to graduate school, he was torn between studying volcanoes or groundwater. Ultimately, he chose to study Hawaii’s basalt lavas as a graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

14 Aug 2018

Maui reef degradation linked to contamination in coastal groundwater

Submarine groundwater discharge — the flow of fresh and brackish groundwater from land to sea — can transport contaminants to coastal ecosystems. But little is known about the direct impacts of this process on marine communities. In a new study published in PLOS ONE, researchers examined links between land use, water quality and coral reef health at coastal sites around Maui, finding that anthropogenic contaminants delivered via submarine groundwater are a source of chronic stress to nearshore marine ecosystems.

31 Mar 2017

Kilauea increases asthma risk

Kilauea may be best known for its picturesque red lava flowing into the ocean, but new research presented this week at the Geological Society of America annual meeting in Denver, Colo., suggests that locally, the volcano may be known for something more dangerous: asthma. The new study links gaseous eruptions from the Hawaiian volcano to increased asthma risk for those living downwind, especially children.

28 Sep 2016

Geologic Column: The notion of mantle plumes

EARTH’s feature on mantle plumes in the January/February issue reminded the author of his own evolving trip along the plate tectonic road.

01 Sep 2016

Mauna Loa's mysterious Ninole Hills were once a rift

Hawaii’s Nīnole Hills, jutting out from Mauna Loa’s southeast flank, are one of the most striking features on the Big Island, though their geologic origins have long been a mystery. A new study looking at gravity anomalies under the hills is revealing that the hills are part of an older rift system that predates the currently active Southwest Rift Zone. The seemingly sudden switch from one rift system to another may provide some clues as to how Mauna Loa grew to be the largest volcano on Earth. “A lot of different ideas have been proposed to explain how the Nīnole Hills were created,” says Jeff Zurek, a geophysicist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, and lead author of the new study published in Geophysical Research Letters. It’s been suggested that the hills could be the remnants of an older summit of Mauna Loa, or its predecessor, Mohokea, or that faulting and landslides could have created the unusual topography of the hills, or that they could be from an older, inactive rift system.

11 Aug 2016

Kilauea eruptions could shift from mild to wild

Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano is famously effusive: Low-viscosity lava oozes out of the main caldera and two active rift zones along the southern shore of the Big Island. But scientists suspect that Kilauea’s eruptions haven’t always been so mild, and a new study is providing further evidence supporting that notion. In the past 2,500 years, at least two cycles of explosive eruptions lasting several centuries each have rocked the island. The switch from effusive back to explosive is likely to occur again, scientists say, but probably not anytime soon.

14 Oct 2014

Living in the shadow of Mauna Loa: A silent summit belies a volcano's forgotten fury

After 30 years, no one is quite sure when Hawaii’s Mauna Loa will erupt again. History warns us that the volcano’s current silence is anomalous, and the odds are good that it will reawaken within the next couple of decades. So geologists are already taking steps — upgrading their monitoring tools and talking with the public — to prepare for another eruption.

01 Sep 2014