Resolving a misplaced source of volcanism in the Galapagos

Geological models have long suggested the mantle plume that built the Galápagos islands lies below Fernandina Island. Using a novel combination of seismic techniques, however, scientists have found a mantle anomaly that appears to be the Galápagos plume located 150 kilometers southeast of Fernandina Island. The new findings better explain the ongoing volcanic activity and also shed light on interactions between the mantle and crust, researchers say.

07 Apr 2014

Volcanic lightning generated in a bottle

Scientists know very little about how lightning is generated by volcanic eruptions, in large part because of the danger and difficulty in monitoring the phenomenon in the field. But a new apparatus for generating volcanic lightning in the lab may shed light on the subject.

06 Apr 2014

GPS measurements of ground inflation help forecast ash plumes

When Grimsvötn Volcano in Iceland erupted in May 2011, northern European airspace was closed for seven days and about 900 passenger flights were canceled. Scientists were charged with trying to read the volcano — to tell how high the ash plume would go and to figure out how long the violent eruption would last. Such features are hard to predict, but in a novel study, one research team has found a correlation between the height and composition of the Grimsvötn ash plume and ground deformation before and during the eruption. The findings, the team says, could improve volcanic plume dispersion models, which in turn could help air traffic managers determine when and where it’s safe to fly when volcanoes like Grimsvötn and Eyjafjallajökull suddenly erupt.

20 Feb 2014

Alaskan volcano doesn't just huff and puff, it screams

In March 2009, Alaska’s Mount Redoubt awoke from two decades of silence with something to say: A series of small earthquakes leading up to the eruption produced a seismic sound that staff at the U.S. Geological Survey's Alaska Volcano Observatory nicknamed “the screams.” Now, two new studies are eavesdropping on Redoubt’s inner workings and quantifying the forces needed to produce the unusual harmonic tremors.

16 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

Down to Earth With: James Balog

Photographer James Balog is known for his groundbreaking environmental photography that examines intersections of humans and nature. His work has appeared in publications ranging from National Geographic and Smithsonian to Audubon and The New Yorker. He has also authored eight books, including the recently released “Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers,” and he has been honored with dozens of awards, including the Heinz Award and PhotoMedia’s Person of the Year.

17 May 2013

Down to Earth With: The Lava Cap Winery

During a long career at the U.S. Geological Survey  (USGS) and the University of California at Berkeley, paleontologist David Jones, who died in 2007, made fundamental contributions to understanding the geologic history of western North America, particularly the evolution of California’s puzzling Coast Ranges.

14 Apr 2013

Down to Earth With: Terry Plank

“You’re a genius! Now here’s half a million dollars to use however you please.”

That, in essence, was what geochemist and volcanologist Terry Plank was told when she received a surprising phone call early last October. The voice on the other end of the line was that of Robert Gallucci, president of the MacArthur Foundation, who was calling to inform her that she’d been selected to receive one of the foundation’s 23 fellowships — the so-called “genius grants” — for 2012. The prestigious, “no strings attached” grants award $500,000 over five years to innovative individuals to allow them the flexibility to pursue creative, often otherwise out-of-reach interests.

18 Feb 2013

Do–it–yourself lava flows: Science, art and education in the Syracuse University Lava Project

Picture this: You’re walking across the tree-lined quad of Syracuse University, amid brick and stone buildings, when you happen upon a crowd of people. Crowds on the quad aren’t unusual, but this crowd is unusually diverse — students, professors and even parents with kids. You move a little closer and smell something odd: a blend of sulfur and marshmallows. Then you see it — molten lava pouring down the slope of a parking lot.

20 Aug 2012

The Syracuse University lava experiments

Pouring Lava

Melting a batch of the ancient basalt takes about four hours, but we hold the lava above its melting point for much longer to ensure that it is completely melted and to remove unwanted volatiles such as water. The lava is then poured at temperatures of 1,100 to 1,350 degrees Celsius, comparable to eruption temperatures of natural lava. We monitor it with a spot calorimeter and a Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) camera, the same instrument conventionally used at lava flows in the field.

20 Aug 2012