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timothy oleson

Bare Earth Elements: The field camp experience in photos

For the August issue of EARTH, I wrote about some of the ways in which geology's longstanding rite of passage — field camp — has changed over the years, as well as how it has remained the same.

22 Jul 2013

Droning on for science

Unmanned aerial vehicles take off in geosciences research

Despite some controversy, scientists whose work involves imaging, monitoring or otherwise investigating the outdoor world have gradually been turning to unmanned aircraft in recent years, touting drones’ versatility, affordability and safety compared to manned flights. The possibilities for drones in the natural sciences are almost boundless.

13 Jun 2013

Bechmarks: June 1, 1873: The Modoc-Lava Beds War Ends

Under the banner of manifest destiny and with the enticements of natural resources and vast unsettled lands, the western United States saw explosive population growth in the latter half of the 19th century. People flocked to California, especially, following the mid-century dawn of the gold rush. Between 1850 and 1870, the state’s population ballooned six-fold to roughly 560,000, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. And with the increasing number of non-native settlers came increasing contact and, often, conflict with Native Americans.
03 Jun 2013

The past is key to the future: Historical observations strengthen modern science

 

Written records of natural phenomena come from personal journals and diaries, newspaper accounts, ship logs and government documents, among other sources. Such accounts often offer descriptive details and context that cannot be matched by other methods, and they can prove extremely useful in broadening records both temporally and geographically. Given that they predate the sort of widespread instrumental readings that scientists have come to depend on, sometimes there is simply — and literally — no substitute for historical data. Despite their advantages, historical records are used infrequently in modern physical sciences. That may be changing, however.

29 May 2013

Bare Earth Elements: Cool time-lapse shows movement of ice and animals in Antarctica's Ross Sea

Has anyone else been obsessed with Antarctica lately? As an erstwhile scientist with a lasting interest in the life that inhabits what we think of as extreme environments (not to mention the physical environments themselves), I’ve been gleefully soaking up details from the myriad news reports, blog entries and scientific studies coming out of the icy continent of late. The latest bit of fodder for my Antarctophilia is a 5-minute time-lapse video (below) taken from the icebreaker Nathaniel B. Palmer during a recent two-month stint in the Ross Sea.

14 May 2013

Lofted by hurricanes, bacteria live the high life

With cold temperatures, low humidity and high levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, conditions 10 kilometers above Earth’s surface may seem inhospitable. But next time you’re flying, consider this: The air outside your airplane window might be filled with an array of microscopic life that affects everything from weather and climate to the distribution of pathogens around the planet.

05 May 2013

Big quakes topple traditional views of fault behavior

If rules are made to be broken, then perhaps conventional wisdom is made to be overturned. The spate of large earthquakes in recent years — the magnitude and location of which have defied scientific expectations in several cases — has provided ample support for these maxims, at least within earth science. For all the confusion, though, data emerging from these events are reshaping and improving our understanding of how faults operate.

14 Apr 2013

Bare Earth Elements: Mars-Observing Fleet Set to Face Silent Treatment

Outbound communications from NASA to its group of Mars-observing orbiters and rovers will be curtailed starting April 4. And as of April 9, no commands will be sent in the Red Planet’s direction. Lest anyone worry that this radio silence has to do with sequester-related budgetary constraints affecting the space agency, don’t fret, it’s only temporary and it has more to do with orbital, rather than fiscal, dynamics. The planned break in communication is a result of an impending planetary configuration, known as a solar conjunction, that will put the sun directly between Earth and Mars.

03 Apr 2013

Well-healed faults produce high-frequency earthquake waves

Much like our voices create sound waves with a variety of low and high pitches, or frequencies, earthquakes also produce seismic waves over a spectrum of frequencies. The seismic waves’ frequencies determine, in part, how far they travel and how damaging they are to human-made structures. But teasing out the details of how quake-generating faults influence seismic frequencies is no easy task, mainly because faults tend to be buried deep underground.

10 Mar 2013

Benchmarks: March 1913: The first complete geologic timescale is published

Ask a geologist when the Paleogene period started and odds are very good the answer will be about 65.5 million years ago. Ask about the Carboniferous and you’ll likely hear 359 million years ago. Ask how old Earth is and the answer will almost invariably be 4.55 billion years, give or take a few tens of millions of years. Today, most geologic ages are well established and widely agreed upon. But the geologic timescale wasn’t always so settled.
 
08 Mar 2013

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