Monday, 6 January 2014

Review Blog

So today will be my last official entry for the assessment that this blog was created for, but I have to say that I have enjoyed every second of writing this and I would like to continue it or start a new one with a similar theme as I have learnt more about geology and communicating geoscience through doing this than any other way. I would like to hope that you have enjoyed reading it too and it might have triggered something inside you to follow one of the links I attached or find out more about geology for yourself somehow. You might even want to go to university now and study it for yourself? Either way as long as you found it interesting and fun that's all that matters.

Blogging is also a great way to learn about the latest ideas and news around geology and share the information with others too, so if I've enjoyed writing it, and you've enjoyed reading it, why should it end?

In the beginning I said that I aim "to provide regular commentary on academic articles, media reports and  internet posts to communicate geoscience issues to the general public", and I think that this blog has certainly achieved this and even moreso by making it fun too.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Concept of Time

It goes without saying that the age that a rock can be is potentially a lot older than the average human life span. But just how old is the oldest rock?

The oldest rock found on Earth is a tiny zircon only micrometers in size and is 4.4 billion years old! The Earth is thought to have formed between 4.5 - 4.6 billion years ago so this rock has been around almost since the beginning of our planet.

The early Earth is thought to be a very chaotic landscape, something like this illustration by Steve Munsinger.

Through time there have been mass extinctions and the evolution of life building to the planet we live on today. So here is the geological timescale which all geologists go by when referring to a time period (Click on it to make it bigger).

The exact dates, names and eras of different times are constantly subject to change and can be updated should enough people agree on it.

But I bet you're wondering when life started, what were the big events and what do all of these bits represent? Well instead of writing a long list of when the most important bits of Earth's history was I have found a great youtube song which briefly covers the geological evolution of the Earth, so click the link below to find out more!

Happy reading!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Early Warning System for Earthquakes!

Great news!

In the U.S. an early warning system for earthquakes, tsunamis and floods is being trialled and it has already been effective!

Yes, the system has been used successfully to alert emergency services of flash floods in Southern California.

Much time and effort has been put into (and is still being put into) developing a way that people can get a warning of a natural disaster before it occurs. This as you can imagine is incredibly difficult as predicting events such as earthquakes requires knowledge on a case by case basis.

This system uses GPS technology as well as other sensors which can detect ground movements on a very precise and accurate scale, such as this station photographed below:

Even though the system can only detet tremors moments before the actual quake, the technology can accurately assess the likelihood that the earthquake has of creating a tsunami.

In the case of flash floods, sensors can track in real time the amount of moisture in the air and whether heavy rain is likely or unlikely to occur. From this, the amount of precipitation and water course information, the size and location of flash flooding can be pinpointed.

The warnings and information from this  technology can be distributed using an effective communications method such as smart phones, making the system inexpensive and easily marketed around the world.

So there is hope yet! Technologies are developing and its great to believe that one day, devastating natural disasters will be able to occur with minimal loss of life in the future.

For more information heres the original news article:

Happy reading!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The Chaparrastique volcano erupts!

First things first...Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

So what geological happenings have occurred over the festive season? Well this story caught my eye…

  • The Chaparrastique volcano in eastern El Salvador has erupted!

Volcanoes can go off as and when they choose and this one has been looking quite restless for a while now. The volcano began spewing hot ash and smoke into the air but no-one has been hurt and anyone living within a 3km radius (shown below) of the volcano has been evacuated and moved to temporary shelters to minimise the risk. In this part of the world though there are more than 20 volcanoes in close proximity, so an impending volcano eruption is truely old news.

This volcano is a stratovolcano built up by many layers of lava, tephra, pumice, and volcanic ash. This volcano and the many others lie on the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’ which is a very large area of subducting tectonic plate. The region contains the most active volcanoes on Earth which are capable of great explosive eruptions. 

You can read more on this story here:

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Bremen Core Repository!

Just before Christmas some fellow students, several lecturers and myself travelled to Bremen Core Repository in Germany to experience what it would be like to log igneous rock cores which were drilled from the ocean floor.

The picture above shows some of the cores which we looked at. These are all igneous rocks which were drilled from the ocean floor by research ships such as the JOIDES Resolution shown below.

But perhaps one of the most interesting cores is the one shown below which captures a slice of time right through the period where dinosaurs went extinct, which is known as the KT boundary.

This core has an iridium rich layer at the top of the green band which scientists believe formed from the asteroid impact which killed off the dinosaurs. Iridium is a rare element on Earth but it is plentiful in asteroids which is strong evidence for a meteorite impact being responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs.

All of the cores at the repository were divided length ways into two giving a working half and an archive half. The working half could be sampled for scientists to study for research into all sorts of areas (such as palaeomagnetic analysis or microbiology). The archive half is also accessible for study but no samples or altering of this half can be done so that there is always a record kept of the cores in case other people want to study them in the future.

All of the cores were kept in a large room (shown below) which was kept at 4°C, but luckily we didn't spend that long in there and spent most of the days working in a much warmer lab next door!

On our visit we logged the mineralogy and textures, geological structures (such as faults) and metamorphic alteration to the minerals which we could see in the cores. I found this exercise very interesting and it was an exciting thought that once these rocks would have been buried deep beneath the ocean, and modern technologies now mean that we can extract rocks from the Earths interior and from beneath km's of ocean!

Reports for many drilling expeditions can be found on the International Ocean Drilling Programme (IODP) website if you use the search bar at the top. There is also more information about the core repository, events happening there and an interactive map showing where cores have been extracted from:

I strongly encourage you to follow the link above and take a look for yourself!

Happy reading!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Diamonds in Antarctica!

Catching up on geology in the news this afternoon and an article called 'New findings hint at diamond deposits in Antarctica' caught me eye.

Research soon to be published in Nature details how diamond bearing rocks called kimberlites have been found in small amounts at Mount Meredith in the northern Prince Charles Mountains, shown on the map below.

Kimberlite rocks are igneous rocks which form at depths of 150 km to 450km depth. They are erupted very rapidly and violently often with the release of carbon dioxide and other volatile gases. The rocks are the source of not just diamonds but also other precious stones such as garnet and spinel.

Although the potential for mining diamonds in Antarctica might exist, there are international laws which currently prevent any exploitation of mineral resources in Antarctica except for scientific purposes. One such act is the 'Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty'. So for now we will just have to wait and see, I guess we won't truely know what lies beneath the vast ice sheets of Antarctica until the majority of the ice has melted, and that will be a while...

For further reading try these links below:

Happy Reading!

Friday, 13 December 2013 Films!

For those of you that don’t know it, today was the release date for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug which may not be everybody’s cup of tea (it certainly is mine), but no matter what your kind of movie is, I bet that somewhere in it there is geology.

This isn’t the first time this has crossed my mind but I thought seeing as I am doing a blog, now would be a good time to mention it.

Geology is in films. And I don’t meant films about geology like Iain Stewart on TV, I mean films about the hero that goes on a journey and ends up saving the day, or a film where a serial killer is on the loose trying to kill the main character because “he knows too much”.

I couldn’t help but notice the scene in Due Date which is set in the spectacular Grand Canyon in America and you can see the horizontal bedding which has been exposed because of the river cutting a valley don through the geology.

A lot of epic films like Lord of the Rings have scenes which zoom out and show epic scenes of natural beauty. Sometimes people even sort this out when picking a film to watch, which is why review website IMDb has a section specifically for ‘Films Featuring Natural Scenic Beauty’. Looking through the list the first few I recognise are Lord of the Rings, The Sound of Music and Stardust but there are many more which contain scenes of geology. To be honest, most films which have an element of the outdoors or nature in probably have geology in there somewhere.

Sometimes rocks are even important objects in films, for instance Harry Potter and the Philosphers Stone. Granted it’s not quite the same as that rock was created by people not nature but the principle is there.

Or for anyone that watches or has read A Game of Thrones, the blade made out of dragon glass used for killing White Walkers is actually obsidian! Which is basically glass which cools very quickly when erupted from a volcano!

So I implore you to take a look next time you are watching a film, and see if there are any cool looking rock outcrops or props that link to geology.

Happy reading!