Monday, December 3, 2012

Meanwhile, on Mars...

These days, more and more extreme environments are becoming accessible to sampling. Here are some results from a mission to Mars.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Wish List: A Practical and Accurate Way to Predict Earthquakes

Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012 Geoelectric changes may help 'predict' quakes: researchers Kyodo Researchers claim to have found a correlation between the occurrence of earthquakes in the Izu Island chain and subtle changes in subterranean geoelectricity, a finding that one day might help develop techniques for predicting temblors. The team, consisting of researchers from institutions including Tokai University and Tokyo Gakugei University, analyzed the relation between small changes in geoelectricity around Kozu Island, located 170 km southwest of Tokyo, and quakes in the vicinity with a magnitude of at least 3.0, based on data gathered between May 1997 and June 2000. The geoelectric data were collected during this period through about 20 electrodes buried at intervals of between 100 and as much as 3,000 meters around Kozu. The team studied temblors that struck within 20 km of the island, according to a study published online by a prestigious U.S. science journal. The researchers observed 19 anomalous changes in the strength and movement of geoelectric currents, 11 of which were proceeded by 3.0-magnitude or stronger quakes within 30 days — a 58 percent rate of occurrence, they reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. "This rate of probability is statistically significant," said Toshiyasu Nagao, a Tokai University professor who coauthored the study. "There is debate over the existence of precursors to earthquakes, but (this study) indicates that some may exist." The researchers said they excluded geoelectric anomalies caused by factors such as lightning strikes and the sun when determining this rate of occurrence, and reported that a total of 23 temblors with a minimum magnitude of 3.0 struck during the period they examined. They selected Kozu because of its remoteness and distance from any urban environments, which generate a variety of noises that can effect geoelectricity levels. Their technique is similar to the so-called VAN method, which was developed in Greece to predict earthquakes based on seismic electric signals. However, scientists have mixed views on the VAN method's effectiveness and purported 60 percent success rate for forecasting temblors.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Now THIS is Scary

The science isn't in place yet for accurate predictions. It's like suing the weatherman if a tornado touches down. Italy Orders Jail Terms For 7 Who Didn’t Warn Of Deadly Earthquake By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO Published: October 22, 2012 ROME — Seven prominent Italian earthquake experts were convicted of manslaughter on Monday and sentenced to six years in prison for failing to give adequate warning to the residents of a seismically active area in the months preceding an earthquake that killed more than 300 people. Speaking in a hushed courtroom in L’Aquila, the city whose historic center was gutted by the April 2009 earthquake, the judge, Marco Billi, read a long list of names of those who had died or been injured in the disaster before he handed down the sentences to six scientists and a former government official. The defendants, who said they would appeal the decision, will also have to pay court costs and damages of $10.2 million. The seven, most of them seismologists and geologists, were members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, which met shortly before the quake struck — after weeks of frequent small tremors — but did not issue a safety warning. The verdicts jolted the international scientific community, which feared they might open the way to an onslaught of legal actions against scientists who evaluate the risks of natural hazards. “This is the death of public service on the part of professors and professionals,” said Luciano Maiani, the current president of the risk commission, according to the news agency ANSA. The legal and media pressure prompted by the trial have made it impossible to carry out professional consultancies for the state, he said, adding, “This doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world.” Thomas H. Jordan, a professor at the University of Southern California, led a commission that after the disaster advised the Italian government about better ways to communicate earthquake risks to the public. He described the verdicts as incredible, “given that they have just convicted scientists for basically doing their job during a time of crisis.” “I’m afraid it’s going to teach scientists to keep their mouths shut,” he added.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Self-Induced Earthquake in Dallas?

The process called "fracking" is controversial. Here's a good reason to stop doing it: Unusual Dallas Earthquakes Linked to Fracking, Expert Says By Eli MacKinnon, Life's Little Mysteries Staff Writer | – 3 hrs ago Three unusual earthquakes that shook a suburb west of Dallas over the weekend appear to be connected to the past disposal of wastewater from local hydraulic fracturing operations, a geophysicist who has studied earthquakes in the region says. Preliminary data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) show the first quake, a magnitude 3.4, hit at 11:05 p.m. CDT on Saturday a few miles southeast of the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport. It was followed 4 minutes later by a 3.1-magnitude aftershock that originated nearby. A third, magnitude-2.1 quake trailed Saturday's rumbles by just under 24 hours, touching off at 10:41 p.m. CDT on Sunday from an epicenter a couple miles east of the first, according to the USGS. The tremors set off a volley of 911 calls, according to Reuters, but no injuries have been reported. Not a coincidence Before a series of small quakes on Halloween 2008, the Dallas area had never recorded a magnitude-3 earthquake, said Cliff Frohlich, associate director and senior research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics. USGS data show that, since then, it has felt at least one quake at or above a magnitude 3 every year except 2010. Frohlich said he doesn't think it's a coincidence that an intensification in seismic activity in the Dallas area came the year after a pocket of ground just south of (and thousands of feet below) the DFW airport began to be inundated with wastewater from hydraulic fracturing. During hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," millions of gallons of high-pressure, chemical-laden water are pumped into an underground geologic formation (the Barnett Shale, in the case of northern Texas) to free up oil. But once fractures have been opened up in the rock and the water pressure is allowed to abate, internal pressure from the rock causes fracking fluids to rise back to the surface, becoming what the natural gas industry calls "flowback," according to the Environmental Protection Agency. "That's dirty water you have to get rid of," said Frohlich. "One way people do that is to pump it back into the ground." In a study he recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Frohlich analyzed 67 earthquakes recorded between November 2009 and September 2011 in a 43.5-mile (70 kilometers) grid covering northern Texas' Barnett Shale formation. He found that all 24 of the earthquakes with the most reliably located epicenters originated within 2 miles (3.2 km) of one or more injection wells for wastewater disposal. The injection well just south of DFW airport has been out of use since September 2011, according to Frohlich, but he says that doesn't rule it out as a cause of the weekend's quakes. He explained that, though water is no longer being added, lingering pressure differences from wastewater injection could still be contributing to the lubrication of long-stuck faults. "Faults are everywhere. A lot of them are stuck, but if you pump water in there, it reduces friction and the fault slips a little," Frohlich told Life's Little Mysteries. "I can't prove that that's what happened, but it's a plausible explanation."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Geology of Mt. Fuji--an eruption on the way?

Friday, Sep. 7, 2012 Quakes added to eruption risk on Mount Fuji Kyodo Mount Fuji's magma chamber came under so much pressure from the Great East Japan Earthquake and one of its aftershocks last year that it could very well erupt, researchers said Thursday. However, the jump in pressure is not the only factor that could cause the volcano to blow, and no signs of a pending eruption have been detected, the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention said. Mount Fuji most recently erupted in 1707 but under the same circumstances. At the time, the rise in pressure caused by the preceding quake, which hit right before the eruption, was weaker than that caused by last year's quakes, the group said. Based on the tectonic movements caused by the magnitude 9.0 quake that struck off the coast of the Tohoku region in March 2011 and the magnitude 6.4 quake that followed four days later, the researchers estimate that about 1.6 megapascals of pressure were placed on the magma chamber, which is thought to be some 15 km underground. That's equivalent to an atmospheric pressure of some 15.8 kg per sq. cm. In the past, 0.1 to several megapascals of pressure have been enough to trigger volcanic eruptions, including at Mount Fuji, it said. Although conditions in the magma chamber vary, 1.6 megapascals is "not a small figure," said Eisuke Fujita, a senior researcher at the institute.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Digging Deep at Plate Boundary

Sunday, May 27, 2012 Vessel drills deep in 3/11 quake area Kyodo SENDAI — A deep-sea drilling vessel has collected rock samples from 820 meters below the seabed near the epicenter of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology said. The maritime research agency said Friday the samples could be from an area forming part of the fault that triggered the magnitude 9.0 earthquake, and that analyzing them could help predict future major quakes off the Pacific coast. An international research team led by Kyoto University conducted the drilling aboard the Chikyu deep-sea exploration vessel in an area 200 km from the Oshika Peninsula in Miyagi Prefecture, the agency said. The samples are the first taken from below the seabed at the boundary of two plates in the Japan Trench, which lies off the Tohoku region, it said.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Viva the Northwest Passage

How many centuries have explorers waited for this to become possible? Thursday, May 24, 2012 Ministry panel to study new Arctic Ocean trade route Jiji The transport ministry plans to set up a panel of experts to study the potential new trade route to Europe via the Arctic Ocean, sources said Wednesday. The envisioned northern sea route would be around 40 percent shorter than traditional routes to Europe via the Strait of Malacca, the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal, and would thus also help to cut fuel costs and carbon dioxide emissions. The route has attracted mounting global attention in recent years, as the decreasing volume of Arctic sea ice due to global warming has increased its viability.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What about rising sea levels?

One of the questions concerning the submerged ruins off Yonaguni island is this: did they submerge slowly or suddenly? No one knows for sure, but the question matters to today's coastal dwellers. As for today's rising sea levels, global warming accounts for part of it. Water expands as it warms, and the volume of the sea increases as glaciers melt. A new report says there is more to it than those two factors. Tuesday, May 22, 2012 Riddle of rising sea levels said solved AFP-Jiji PARIS — Massive extraction of groundwater can resolve the puzzle over rising sea levels seen in past decades, Japanese scientists said Sunday. Global sea levels rose an average of 1.8 mm per year from 1961 to 2003, according to data from tide gauges. But the big question is how much of this can be pinned on global warming? In its landmark 2007 report, the U.N.'s Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ascribed 1.1 mm per year to thermal expansion of the oceans — water expands when it is heated — and to meltwater from glaciers, icecaps and the Greenland and Antarctica icecaps. That left 0.7 mm per year unaccounted for, a mystery that left many scientists wondering if the data were correct or if there were sources that eluded them. In a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, a team led by Yadu Pokhrel of the University of Tokyo says the answer lies in water that is extracted from underground aquifers, rivers and lakes for human development but is never replenished. The water eventually makes its way to the sea via rivers and evaporation in the soil, they noted. Groundwater extraction is the main component of additions that account for the mystery gap, according to their paper, which was based on computer modeling. "Together, unsustainable groundwater use, artificial reservoir water impoundment, climate-driven change in terrestrial water storage and the loss of water from closed basins have contributed a sea-level rise of 0.77 mm per year between 1961 and 2003, about 42 percent of the observed sea-level rise," the paper said. The probe sought to fill one of the knowledge gaps in the complex science of climate change.

Friday, May 11, 2012

What's Happening Underneath Mout Fuji (2)

Here is more from The Japan Times online about the fault line running directly under Mt. Fuji: Saturday, May 12, 2012 New Mount Fuji fault seen as threat to Gotemba AFP-Jiji Parts of Mount Fuji could collapse if a newly discovered fault line underneath it shifts, a government-commissioned report warns. The three-year seismological study turned up an active fault underneath the volcano 100 km west of Tokyo that poses a theoretical threat to a city nearby. "It's possible that (parts of) the mountain could collapse, sending mudslides flowing into Gotemba," which is situated between the mountain and the Pacific, said Yasuhiro Yoshida, director for earthquake investigation at the science ministry. Researchers led by academics from the University of Tokyo fired simulated seismic waves at the mountain that revealed a fault theoretically capable of generating a magnitude 7 quake. The team believes the fault has shifted some time within the past million years, although it is not certain exactly when. Yoshida said the local geography shows that Mount Fuji experienced major mudslides nearly 3,000 years ago, but more studies are required to determine how the fault could affect potential volcanic activity, and vice versa.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What's Happening Underneath Mt. Fuji?

The results of a geological survey were reported in The Japan Times online. Friday, May 11, 2012 Active fault may lie directly beneath Mount Fuji: researchers Kyodo An active fault as long as 30 km may lie directly beneath Mount Fuji, a team of researchers has said in a recent survey report. The possible fault was detected through a simulated earthquake conducted during a crustal survey over a distance of around 34 km from Fujiyoshida in Yamanashi Prefecture to Susono in Shizuoka Prefecture, said Hiroshi Sato, professor at the Earthquake Research Institute at the University of Tokyo. "More studies are needed to determine the depth and other details of the fault," Sato added. While faults have been confirmed around Mount Fuji, little is known about the seismic structure beneath Japan's highest mountain due to mudflows caused by a huge landslide that occurred around 2,600 to 2,900 years ago, as well as thick layers of volcanic ash.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What's Happening Under the Sea?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 Extremely slow quakes confirmed Jiji Extremely slow earthquakes occurred at the Nankai Trough, south of Japan, in March 2009, Japanese researchers have reported. Crustal ruptures in the earthquakes took 30 to 100 seconds, compared with some 1 to 2 seconds in ordinary quakes with magnitude of around 4, said the researchers, including members of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, or JAMSTEC. The findings were published in the latest online edition of the British journal Nature Geoscience. The low-frequency earthquakes took place in unexpectedly shallow areas of the plate boundary, suggesting such areas may be a source of so-called tsunami earthquakes that cause disproportionately large tsunami for their seismic energy, the researchers said. By setting up broadband seismometers off the coast of Tanabe, in Wakayama Prefecture, they observed the earthquakes for 10 days from March 22, 2009. "Our research could lead to understanding the mechanism of tsunami quakes, which could cause severe damage, and it is necessary to continue the research for the long run," said Hiroko Sugioka, a JAMSTEC researcher. (from The Japan Times online, May 8, 2012)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Great Time to be in Science

Remember: All the discoveries have not been made yet. Here's a comment about the feathered dinosaur remains uncovered in China:

“This is a great time to be a dinosaur paleontologist,” said Dr. Norell, whose research concentrates on fossils from China and the Gobi Desert of Mongolia. “The feathered dinosaurs show how the whole conception of dinosaurs has really changed in the last 15 years.”

Chill! Here Comes a New Discovery

One of the reasons researchers like Dr. Masaaki Kimura, professor emeritus of The University of the Ryukyus, encourages young people to join his team is this: all the world's discoveries have not yet been made.

This new one is not from Yonaguni, but from the mainland of Japan, where something important has been hidden in plain sight since forever.

Here is the story of the "discovery" of Japan's first glaciers:

Friday, April 6, 2012

First glaciers in Japan recognized

Staff writer

Scientists have found three glaciers in Toyama Prefecture, the first recognized in Japan and the southernmost in East Asia.

Researchers from the Tateyama Caldera Sabo Museum discovered the three slow-moving chunks of ice in the Hida Mountain Range, otherwise known as the Northern Alps.

Their research paper submitted to the Japanese Society of Snow and Ice was accepted Tuesday, the museum said.

A glacier is defined as a large mass of ice that over many years "flows" owing to its great weight, according to the Japanese Society of Snow and Ice. They are often found on high mountains, such as the Himalayas, and have even been found on Mount Kilimanjaro, which is almost on the equator. Until now, the southernmost glaciers in East Asia were on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula.

"We have known something similar to glaciers existed, so we checked to see if the masses of ice are moving," said Hajime Iida, a researcher for the museum.

Between 2009 and 2011, Iida's team used "ice radar" to find two glaciers on Mount Tsurugi and one on Mount Tateyama. Ice radar sends electronic waves into the ice to measure how thick it is.

Using GPS, the team confirmed that the masses of ice are moving between 10 and 30 cm a month.

The masses are 27 to 30 meters deep and 400 to 1,200 meters long. The Japanese Society of Snow and Ice will publish the research paper in its journal Seppyou (Snow and Ice) in May, the museum said in a news release.

"The group used the latest equipment to research the movement of ice chunks very concretely. The value of this research is high," said Keishi Ishimoto, the journal's chief editor.

There is no international organization that officially recognizes glaciers. Therefore, unless researchers abroad express opposition to the group's paper, it would be fair to say that the three masses of ice are indeed glaciers, Iida said.

Information from Kyodo added

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Tale of Two Ancient Cities

Imagine this scenario. It is almost two millennia ago. You live in a beautiful, seaside city. The surrounding land is flat and fertile. Water is abundant. As a bonus, your city sits beside a deep water harbor and enjoys the benefits of foreign trade. Your lovely city is called Bathonia.

Farther along the coast, there is another location. Water is scarce. There are steep hills overlooking another deep water harbor. Trade is possible, but the lack of water is a serious handicap. Food has to be grown elsewhere. This location came to be called Constantinople.

For some reason not fully understood, about two millennia ago, the population abandoned Bathonia and built up Constantinople. Why?

One scenario posits that Constantinople was easy to defend from the Roman legions and other attackers. This makes perfect sense. The history of the Crusades proves the defensibility of Constantinople.

But what if something else were true? Some of the ruins of Bathonia are now submerged in a lake, cut off from the Sea of Marmara. What if a devastating earthquake suddenly closed the entrance to Bathonia’s deep-sea harbor? This, too, would make perfect sense. A natural disaster devastating a hometown is a good reason to pull up stakes and rebuild elsewhere.

Studies of Bathonian ruins made accessible by a drought that lowered the water level may shed light on why Bathonia was abandoned in favor of Constantinople, now called Istanbul.

But what about Yonaguni? Where did everyone go? Why did they leave? It is so much harder to find answers when your study target is at the bottom of the sea, scoured by fast moving ocean currents.