Ramblings about what I encounter within the realm of the geosciences, as well as the occasional rant about nonsense.

09 June 2009

Summer Reading List Meme

Still getting back in the swing of things. Fortunately, there exists a summer reading list meme to help out. Suvrat started it, passed it to BrianR, who was joined by Eric, and the party then gained Silver Fox, and now me. Rules are straightforward. What are you reading/planning to read this summer?

And Go:

Well, the ole pile of books by the bed (on the bedstand and on the floor) suggest I am currently plowing my way through:

-The Roman Hat Mystery by Ellery Queen: I am a big fan of mysteries, and this is Ellery Queen's first adventure. All of them are, apparently, fair play whodunnits which happen to be my favorite subgenre of mysterys.

-The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen: I finally found this in a local bookstore (they keep selling out, I assume). So now I get to finally read about island biogeography.

-A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin: I borrowed this from my sister about a year and a half ago. I should probably get around to reading it.

-The Canon by Natalie Angier: I try to avoid science books with too broad of a theme (think 'how to fossilize your hamster'), but this one is enjoyable thus far.

-Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku: I have a friend who constantly makes my head implode by explaining physics at the bar, so I've set out to try and get a better understanding of the stuff. This book deals mostly with cosmology, but an entertaining read nonetheless.

-The Planets by Dava Sobel: I've enjoyed her previous books, so I figured why not read about the planets.

-His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman: Jeannette (from 10 Ma of Solitude) suggested I read this series, so I think I will.

-Sand by Michael Welland: Yep, joining in with most other people on this one

-Beyond the 100th Meridian by Wallace Stegner: And joining Eric on this one.

And, like a Vogon making a request to save his mother from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, these books will be lost, found, lost again, subjected to public inquiry, and most likely buried in soft peat for several months before I actually get around to finishing them.

08 June 2009

Save the Museum!!!

The University of Wyoming is planning on cutting their budget. On the chop is the Geological Museum located on its campus [For more, ReBecca has been covering this here and here]. There is a petition that is being put together to save this institution. The text reads:
Due to budget cuts at the University of Wyoming, the president and provost have decided to close the Geological Museum and let the two staff positions there be terminated (museum director Brent Breithaupt and a part-time secretary). The University of Wyoming Geological Museum in Laramie functions to support both public education and scientific research.

The University of Wyoming Geological Museum in Laramie functions to support both public education and scientific research. Wyoming is rich in geologic treasures and the Museum presents to the visitor some glimpse of this geologic diversity. Housing more than 50,000 cataloged fossil, rock, and mineral specimens, it is an important source of information for researchers throughout the world.

Please feel free to write the following people regarding these job cuts and the potential loss of the museum:

Tom Buchanan
Office of the President
Dept. 3434
1000 E. University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071
tombuch@uwyo.edu

Myron Allen
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Dept. 3302
1000 E. University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071
allen@uwyo.edu
This act of anti-intellectualism is astonishing to me. The University of Wyoming's Geological Museum is one of the few places where you can see an actual Apatosaur skeleton on display. If I recall, it is also the largest near complete example (A. ajax if memory serves me). They also were involved with 'Big Al' which was made into a 'Walking with Dinosaurs' special. Plus it is a superb public outreach program offered by the University of Wyoming. Smaller museums, like the University of Wyoming Geological Museum, are far superior at interacting with the public than giant institutions like the AMNH. It won't look good for the University of Wyoming to destroy such a positive public face.
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Disclaimer: Brent Breithaupt is a friend of mine. However, I imagine he is a friend of the ENTIRE paleo-community as well, so one lone seds guy shouldn't disrupt the balance too much. I still think closing museums, like the UWGM, will damage the local community, and the University's reputation, in ways that aren't being considered.

Accretionary Wedge: Time Warp

Lockwood at Outside the Interzone is hosting the June Accretionary Wedge. The rules are simple:
“Where and when would you most like to visit to witness and analyze an event in Earth’s history?” Suppose you have a space-time machine to (safely and comfortably) watch an event unfold; which event would you most like to see? Why? What do we already know or hypothesize about that event that appeals to you, or that you would like to test? What would be the result, the upshot, of knowing more about this event? You do not necessarily need to limit yourself to Earth, nor to the past. You do not need to limit yourself to a particular instant if peeking several times over a period of minutes or ages helps you envision the evolution of something. You do not need to limit yourself to environments that could support life as we know it... imagine being able to take a time-sampling of magmatic composition from 10 miles below the surface as a nascent mid-ocean ridge opens up, or examining the circumference of the vent during one of Yellowstone's mega-eruptions! I'll tell you, this technology is basically magic. (See the third law here.) Feel free to toss in a few "also-rans" of your favorite day-dreams, but please develop one.
So, just like the mainstay of the best Star Trek movies (excluding Wrath of Kahn of course), we will be time traveling. My first impulse is to say "I want to see the KPg extinction, because nobody really understands anything about it". There are lots of correlations, but there is no evidence, beyond circumstantial, for a causative agent. I could broaden this out to mass extinctions in general for the same reason. There are a good many geomyths propagating in the field of extinction studies, and it might be nice to get some answers to move the conversation forward. I would expand on this further, but volcanista beat me to the punch. Also, since this is tangential to what I am working on, I would like to expand my horizons.
I think I will take advantage of the non-limitation to Earth clause and couple that with the time-lapse clause. It might be fun to observe how Martian tectonism quieted down over time, and collecting data from that event would advance our current understanding of tectonics and planetary geology. We know that Mars has been, for all intents and purposes, tectonically quiet for quite a while. One line of evidence comes from the largest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons. This volcano is thought to have formed as the result of a hot spot. However, since there is no hot spot trackway, like we see in the Hawaiian islands, it is unlikely that the 'plate' that contains Olympus Mons has undergone any motion. Events of Olympus Mons have been dated at ~115 Maa, so Mars has been tectonically quiet for at least that long.

One idea as to why Mars is tectonically quiet is it no longer has a sufficient heat engine to drive tectonism. Tectonics happening on Earth is a side effect of several mechanisms, one of which is the Earth is cooling down (there are multiple inputs into the system, so it is not a simple linear heat decay as has been proposed in the past). However, if you were to fast forward the Earth cooling down, hypothetically the lithosphere will thicken. If this rigid zone becomes too thick, the plates will lock up and the Earth will become a tectonically quite body.

Similarly, it would be fun to observe Venus' runaway green-house effect from the beginning. Would Venus have initially experienced tectonism similar to the Earth, or did it always have a 'funky' form of tectonism? Venus is very similar to Earth in mass and, to my understanding, composition. However, it is a green house with no liquid water remaining. And with the surface temperatures capable of melting lead, we are currently restricted to observing Venus from orbit. Venus also experiences Global Resurfacing Events (The last one ended ~300 Maa). The Earth cools primarily via convection which manifests itself as Plate Tectonics. Venus, on the other hand, does not seem to have an analogous mechanism. So it is hypothesized that heat builds up in Venus' interior until it is sufficient to initiate global volcanism, which resurfaces the whole planet and the process of heat building up starts over.

These two transitions would be quite helpful in figuring out the dynamics behind tectonics and the evolution of terrestrial planetary bodies.

Disclaimer

All the Latin on this page is from my vague recollections from High School. There are mistakes in the text. I just was trying to get the point across

Between Los Alamos,NM and White Rock, NM

Between Los Alamos,NM and White Rock, NM
The photo of the travertine spring was taken in the small opening in the center of the image.

Lectio Liber