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27 December 2010

Extreme natural hazards span the globe

I lived in Houston, but our town was dusted by a fine layer of Washington state, 3000 kilometers away after Mount St. Helens blew its top in 1980. But that was really not that remarkable, according to a global database of explosive eruptions presented in FM10’s session on U13B. Similar studies reported throughout the conference–on volcanoes, landslides and tsunami–also assembled global databases of extreme geological hazards to better know when and where such threats might loom.

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23 December 2010

Volcanic eruptions, like popping the cork on a magnum of champagne

The holiday dinner of the Northern California Science Writers Association may explain why I have wine on my mind, but the image obsesses AGU volcanologists too, as I learned in two sessions (V33D & V44C) at last week’s AGU Fall Meeting.

Geophysicist Oleg Melnik of Moscow State University and the University of Bristol ended his discussion of explosive volcano chemistry and physics with a comic illustration of him pulling a cork from an exploding volcano. But don’t volcanoes uncork themselves? I thought champagne provided a more apt metaphor, and I don’t think I’m distorting the science much to say explosive volcanoes pop like this favorite sparkling adult beverage.

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FM 2010: A real marathon…and then some

The 2010 AGU Fall Meeting is done, and now I know what a marathon it really is.  Actually, it’s more like a marathon and a half. The grand total?  A whopping 43.52 miles!!  Those are miles logged in the hallways of Moscone West and South as well as trips to the Marriott Marquis, a few (very few) dinners away from the Union Square area, and walking to and from my …

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21 December 2010

Good Scientific Papers 101

We planned for 25 attendees. Then raised it to 35. Then 50. Last week’s luncheon talk on writing a good scientific paper, given at AGU Fall Meeting by Renyi Zhang (an editor of JGR-Atmospheres), was overflowing with attendees!

Dr. Zhang covered everything from what makes a good abstract to how to prepare figures to how to respond to reviewers’ comments. The audience of mostly graduate students and postgrads took lots of notes, asked detailed questions, and enjoyed a good lunch. Their response to the session was so positive that we hope to expand this event next year so there is room for even more people to take the first step toward publication.

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Earthquake monitoring with smartphones and websites

Want to contribute to earthquake science? Your smartphone can be an earthquake measuring device. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have been developing a smartphone application that uses the phone to measure acceleration during an earthquake and report that data to researchers for processing. Shideh Dashti of the University of California Berkeley reported on initial tests of the system in Fall Meeting’s session S51E: Engaging Citizens In the Collection …

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New York state’s hidden secret: A subterranean impact crater

I’ve heard of stealth bombers and stealthy ninjas and even a super-sneaky magnitude 8 earthquake, but until today I hadn’t heard about stealth craters: large features, more than three kilometers across and more than 300 meters deep– definitely big enough to be obvious, one would think.

But not if it’s buried. One such crater lurks 1.2 kilometers underground in New York’s Finger Lakes Region. Located near Syracuse and close to the Bear Swamp National Forest, the crater is completely invisible from the surface.

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A (really really) Old Farmer’s Almanac: A record of specific weather patterns 55 million years ago

San Francisco will be rainy through this week, but I am learning about weather 55 million years ago, as recorded in the rings of ancient trees found in a coal seam on Ellesmere Island, above the Arctic Circle.

The trees caught the interest of University of Hawaii geologists Hope Jahren and Brian Schubert and their collaborators. “The wood is of spectacular preservation,“ Jahren said during her Thursday afternoon talk given in session B44B. “This is mummified wood”–wood that somehow avoided petrification.

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20 December 2010

A constant drumbeat to effectively communicate science to the public

The message came from multiple sources: the AGU Council meeting on Sunday, Monday’s Union lecture presented by Obama’s science advisor John Holdren, Michael Oppenheimer’s Stephen Schneider lecture, the many of the natural hazards presentations including Julia Slingo’s Union lecture, book authors, public speakers, senate staffers. The advice was near-universal: Scientists have an obligation to communicate science clearly and effectively to the public.

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New cockpit for Alvin, the famous deep sea diver!

Between sessions last Friday, I hope you visited the exhibition hall one last time. Past the jewelery stands selling fossils and geodes and booths selling maps and drilling equipment, you may have spotted a minor celebrity–a little machine famous for great science.

At their booth, members of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) proudly displayed a mock up of the new crew cabin for the Alvin–a little submarine of large reputation.

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Spurred by climate change, plant die-offs could wreak havoc on Tibetian lifestyle

For thousands of years the traditional herders of Tibet have lived among mountains, lakes and grasslands. Their livelihood– raising yak, sheep, and goats on the largest and highest plateau on the planet–is a precarious one.

As the planet warms, seasons that are normally dry on the Tibetan Plateau–winter and spring–are forecast to turn wet. At this elevation, the precipitation would fall as snow. Kelly Hopping, a graduate student in Ecology at Colorado State University, is worried this snow may disrupt the traditional life of these Tibetans.

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