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

20 December 2008

Anchor's Away! Geology in action in the Mediterranean

Just saw this on Reuters. A couple other news sites (358 at the time of this post) have picked it up as well. The USA Today story even has a map (above), as well as giving us a general location (between Italy and Tunisia). For the geographically challenged (such as myself) here is a map with Tunisia in orange.

Once again internet cables have been cut. Sounds like the work of that arch fiend "Submarine Slides". Doubly so since the USGS recorded a 5.9 earthquake near the location of the three breaks. However, the cable companies and news agencies aren't putting it together that way. They are much more eager to blame that anchor again (really, somebody should keep tabs on that rogue anchor and its cable cutting agenda).
It's not yet know[n] what cut the cables between Italy and Tunisia. A similar outage in January was blamed on a ship's anchor off Egypt, and that may be the case again, according to Interoute, a European Internet Service Provider.
The thing that always bugged me about that anchor story was that several lines were cut not just the one (remember the claims that it was a nefarious plot against... someone). But they only found one anchor. Not to get all JFK conspiracy on people, but I think the anchor was framed. A submarine mass wasting event seems the more reasonable culprit. Especially since rough weather was reported prior to and during the breaks. Correct me if I'm wrong, but rough weather is a potential cause of submarine flows. I'm willing to concede the possibility that maybe ONE cable got cut by the anchor, but several in one event is ludicrous.

Here is an article from AJS on the topic of submarine slumps and their penchant for cable cutting (sorry, subscription required).

Alternatively, you could check out Wikipedia's free entry on the topic.

And here are some free videos of turbidity currents (well models of them).

On the bright side, if the media puts it together properly this time it might even lead to another geological disaster flick. It just needs a catchy name like "Dante's Peak" or "The Core" or "10.5". How about "The Bouma Sequence". It's moody, and tantalizingly mysterious.

Heezen, B.C., and Ewing, W.M., Turbidity currents and submarine slumps, and the 1929 Grand Banks [Newfoundland] Earthquake Am J Sci.1952; 250: 849-873

15 December 2008

So true it hurts

I saw this on PhD, it reminds me of all the labs I've run (I know, "nobody cares"). Most of the students today don't want to be in the class or even understand why they should have to learn the subject.
And this one was up a while ago, but all the TA's still get a good chuckle out of it.
For the record, my soul got crushed when I had a couple of construction engineers start arguing with me that it isn't important for them to learn about geologic hazards (such as landslides). In their lab, they decided rather than not build on, or mitigate, areas that are prone to slope failure, they would just make all the connections to the houses utilities "stretchy". They also came to the conclusion that it was better to sell a house quickly, and put in the contract terms that would absolve them of any liability, rather than build a house/structure properly... They didn't do well in that class.

14 December 2008

100 things geo-meme

ReBecca put me on to this one, and I agree that this one is far more interesting than the non-geo 100 things (the fixation on Paris, as Callan noted, is weird). Others in on the fun are: Geotripper (the originator), Callan, and Hypocentre (among others).

I didn't limit myself to this year though (basically, I have seen my laptop this year and that is pretty much it, also I don't know if some of these happened in the past year see #95). The ones that happened in the past year are marked with an *, my comments are in (parenthesis) and italicized.

1. See an erupting volcano
2. See a glacier * (yep, see my Glacier National Park Photos series)
3. See an active geyser such as those in Yellowstone, New Zealand or the type locality of Iceland (years ago, which is sad because I am so close to Yellowstone right now)
4. Visit the Cretaceous/Tertiary (KT) Boundary. Possible locations include Gubbio, Italy, Stevns Klint, Denmark, the Red Deer River Valley near Drumheller, Alberta.* (I have lived with the KT for several years now. so I have visited it with every fiber of my being. Or you could just look at my profile picture)
5. Observe (from a safe distance) a river whose discharge is above bankful stage* (Poor York, it got Ouse-d. Sorry had to use the pun again. Here is the post)
6. Explore a limestone cave. Try Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Lehman Caves in Great Basin National Park, or the caves of Kentucky or TAG (Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia) (Lewis and Clark Caverns)
7. Tour an open pit mine, such as those in Butte, Montana, Bingham Canyon, Utah, Summitville, Colorado, Globe or Morenci, Arizona, or Chuquicamata, Chile.* (I wouldn't say a "tour" so much as visiting a platform above the Berkeley Pit, I might put the photos up at some point)
8. Explore a subsurface mine.* (Those Welsh were (are?) crazy. see my post on the mine, it is really impressive what people can do with hand tools, time, and a desire to not starve)
9. See an ophiolite, such as the ophiolite complex in Oman or the Troodos complex on the Island Cyprus (if on a budget, try the Coast Ranges or Klamath Mountains of California).
10. An anorthosite complex, such as those in Labrador, the Adirondacks, and Niger (there's some anorthosite in southern California too).
11. A slot canyon. Many of these amazing canyons are less than 3 feet wide and over 100 feet deep. They reside on the Colorado Plateau. Among the best are Antelope Canyon, Brimstone Canyon, Spooky Gulch and the Round Valley Draw.
12. Varves, whether you see the type section in Sweden or examples elsewhere.
13. An exfoliation dome, such as those in the Sierra Nevada.
14. A layered igneous intrusion, such as the Stillwater complex in Montana or the Skaergaard Complex in Eastern Greenland.
15. Coastlines along the leading and trailing edge of a tectonic plate (check out The Dynamic Earth - The Story of Plate Tectonics - an excellent website).
16. A ginkgo tree, which is the lone survivor of an ancient group of softwoods that covered much of the Northern Hemisphere in the Mesozoic.
17. Living and fossilized stromatolites* (Glacier National Park is a great place to see fossil stromatolites, while Shark Bay in Australia is the place to see living ones)
18. A field of glacial erratics
19. A caldera* (didn't see the geysers, but still visited Yellowstone)
20. A sand dune more than 200 feet high (Sand Dunes National Monument in CO, we swung by on a day-off during field camp, I don't know the official height, but they were plenty big).
21. A fjord
22. A recently formed fault scarp
23. A megabreccia
24. An actively accreting river delta
25. A natural bridge
26. A large sinkhole (one sunk the neighborhood burger joint where I was growing up, but that was years ago)
27. A glacial outwash plain
28. A sea stack
29. A house-sized glacial erratic
30. An underground lake or river
31. The continental divide * (I drove over it, it wasn't the purpose of the trip though)
32. Fluorescent and phosphorescent minerals * (common enough display at most museums, except Houston's museum has a computer simulation of it rather than the real thing. I was most confused by that)
33. Petrified trees* (had to find one for the science olympiad, so it wasn't found "in the wild")
34. Lava tubes
35. The Grand Canyon. All the way down. And back.
36. Meteor Crater, Arizona, also known as the Barringer Crater, to see an impact crater on a scale that is comprehensible (and it is quite BIG)
37. The Great Barrier Reef, northeastern Australia, to see the largest coral reef in the world.
38. The Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada, to see the highest tides in the world (up to 16m)
39. The Waterpocket Fold, Utah, to see well exposed folds on a massive scale.
40. The Banded Iron Formation, Michigan, to better appreciate the air you breathe.
41. The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania,
42. Lake Baikal, Siberia, to see the deepest lake in the world (1,620 m) with 20 percent of the Earth's fresh water.
43. Ayers Rock (known now by the Aboriginal name of Uluru), Australia. This inselberg of nearly vertical Precambrian strata is about 2.5 kilometers long and more than 350 meters high
44. Devil's Tower, northeastern Wyoming, to see a classic example of columnar jointing
45. The Alps.
46. Telescope Peak, in Death Valley National Park. From this spectacular summit you can look down onto the floor of Death Valley - 11,330 feet below.
47. The Li River, China, to see the fantastic tower karst that appears in much Chinese art
48. The Dalmation Coast of Croatia, to see the original Karst.
49. The Gorge of Bhagirathi, one of the sacred headwaters of the Ganges, in the Indian Himalayas, where the river flows from an ice tunnel beneath the Gangatori Glacier into a deep gorge.
50. The Goosenecks of the San Juan River, Utah, an impressive series of entrenched meanders.
51. (battle)shiprock, New Mexico, to see a large volcanic neck (sorry, had to modify this one, it isn't volcanic, but it was my favorite field area during field camp. I saw Red Dawn for the first time the other day, I was pleasantly surprised to see Battleship used as the backdrop for the scene against the three gunships)
52. Land's End, Cornwall, Great Britain, for fractured granites that have feldspar crystals bigger than your fist.
53. Tierra del Fuego, Chile and Argentina, to see the Straights of Magellan and the southernmost tip of South America.
54. Mount St. Helens, Washington, to see the results of recent explosive volcanism.
55. The Giant's Causeway and the Antrim Plateau, Northern Ireland, to see polygonally fractured basaltic flows.
56. The Great Rift Valley in Africa.
57. The Matterhorn, along the Swiss/Italian border, to see the classic "horn".
58. The Carolina Bays, along the Carolinian and Georgian coastal plain
59. The Mima Mounds near Olympia, Washington
60. Siccar Point, Berwickshire, Scotland, where James Hutton (the "father" of modern geology) observed the classic unconformity* (Indeed, but I want to go back when the landscape isn't as treacherously slippery. Read about it here.)
61. The moving rocks of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley
62. Yosemite Valley
63. Landscape Arch (or Delicate Arch) in Utah
64. The Burgess Shale in British Columbia - (only in hand sample and I guess that doesn't count)
65. The Channeled Scablands of central Washington
66. Bryce Canyon
67. Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone
68. Monument Valley
69. The San Andreas fault
70. The dinosaur footprints in La Rioja, Spain
71. The volcanic landscapes of the Canary Islands
72. The Pyrennees Mountains
73. The Lime Caves at Karamea on the West Coast of New Zealand
74. Denali (an orogeny in progress)
75. A catastrophic mass wasting event* (does Quake Lake count, I didn't see it happen, but I see the results, There was also a mass wasting event up in a canyon not far from here that I got some video of, but that will wait until I figure out how to upload video).
76. The giant crossbeds visible at Zion National Park
77. The black sand beaches in Hawaii (or the green sand-olivine beaches)
78. Barton Springs in Texas
79. Hells Canyon in Idaho
80. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado
81. The Tunguska Impact site in Siberia
82. Feel an earthquake with a magnitude greater than 5.0.
83. Find dinosaur footprints in situ*(shout out to MNHM)
84. Find a trilobite (or a dinosaur bone or any other fossil)
85. Find gold, however small the flake
86. Find a meteorite fragment
87. Experience a volcanic ashfall
88. Experience a sandstorm
89. See a tsunami
90. Witness a total solar eclipse ( I have in the past, I think it was 4th grade, but I wasn't near Nunnavat this year).
91. Witness a tornado firsthand.
92. Witness a meteor storm, a term used to describe a particularly intense (1000+ per minute) meteor shower *
93. View Saturn and its moons through a respectable telescope.* (I don't know about it being a respectable telescope, but I like it)
94. See the Aurora borealis, otherwise known as the northern lights.
95. View a great naked-eye comet, an opportunity which occurs only a few times per century
96. See a lunar eclipse* (And it was damn cold that night too, maybe I should post on that)
97. View a distant galaxy through a large telescope (back in my astronomy class we had access to the largest telescope in the state, Mars was also at its closest approach to Earth in quite a few years)
98. Experience a hurricane (we were passing through S. Carolina during one (except we stayed as far away as we could) it was like driving a submarine)
99. See noctilucent clouds
100. See the green flash

So this year I am a lowly 15/100 (maybe this is why thesis progress is seemingly slow). Overall I am 39.5/100 (boo...)

09 December 2008

December Meme ... sorry

So there is another meme running around the internets. I picked it up from Laelaps. But there seems to be others doing this as well like Silver Fox, and Drug Monkey. The rules are simple:

Take the first sentence from the first post you made each month and string them together. It starts off well enough, but I notice a trend towards the end of the paragraph where I am constantly apologizing (so much so it has become a generic start to a post) ... sorry ;-)

Well, here I am.Well, I couldn't find the article online.The Planet debate seems to be ongoing. I wandered onto this website.NASA is planning on visiting the sun! At least as far as those pesky edu-macated types are concerned. While people hopefully enjoyed a trip up to Nunavut, I figured I'd get back to talking about something tangential to my thesis. Sorry about being away from the internets (it isn't for a lack of trying). Sorry that I have been away for a bit (the real world ganged up on me). Hey! Sorry for the hiatus.

Das Rad

I found this while perusing the inter-tubes of You-webs. I think I may have seen this somewhere before, but I don't remember where. So if this is a double-post, I apologize.

08 December 2008

Nationalizing Science Standards

I stumbled upon this little movement while perusing the internet. I also included a link in the sidebar somewhere (above "Index" and below "Qui Teneo Scaccarium"). Add your voice to the throng if you want, but I think I will sit this one out.

I'm not entirely sold on the idea that this is a good thing. I think the people behind it have good intentions, but I can easily see something like this being abused. It would also have the effect of further muddying the waters of public opinion on science. Additionally, this could be viewed as a potential violation to Amendment 10 (depending on how literal you want to read the Constitution). But constitutionality aside, I don't think we should advocate politicizing science on a national level.

I recognize that politicizing science will inevitably happen, but I don't think we should advocate it. I agree with the assertion that scientists should set the standards, but who decides on which scientists get to set the standards? I can think of few things more destructive to science education than another Shrub, or worse a Palin-esque figure, getting to appoint "scientists" to dictate scientific standards.

As it stands, it is an uphill struggle for YECs (and other pseudoscientists) to peddle their nonsense. Right now they face a state by state, county by county battle. I recognize it would be a good time saver if scientists only had to fight the stupidity on the national level, rather than constantly repeating the same battle on smaller local scales, but this would also make it easier for the ignorant horde to sneak their garbage into the classroom. Especially under the nightmarish hypothetical situation from above. Seriously, think about the damage a science-hating fundie in office could do with this legislation.

I also think implementing this legislation will have the adverse affect of confusing the public as to what science is. Intermingling politics and science will only further complicate the problem already faced by scientists arguing against lunacy. That is to say, it will give people the false impression that which scientific theories you ascribe to are a personal choice (just like your opinion on tax code, political persuasion, and civil rights). This is what the "equal-time" advocates want. However, science and reality don't take your personal opinion into consideration. No matter how much I choose to believe I will fly when I jump off a cliff, gravity will, again, prove to be a fatal law. And no matter how much individuals claim that the Earth is 6000 years old, all the evidence still says ~4.6 Ga.

In the end, I view this as needless legislation. I would rather politicians spend time on problems that desperately need to be solved (like national health care and social security). I don't want to listen to politicians arguing about something that they are woefully uninformed about every four years. Politicians already are very good, too good really, at not getting anything meaningful done. Let's not give them any further opportunities for distraction.

05 December 2008

The fatal law of Gravity

I just got out of a marathon meeting with my advisor, and I am still a bit out of it (seems like some of the work I spent a couple of months on is now no longer required). On the one hand I can see this making my Thesis clearer and more concise. On the other, I just wasted a bunch of time I could have better spent graduating. So, I am in the mood to "dump" on those lovable wackaloons who have been giving Eric and Brian grief. I don't think I will re-cover the same grounds they have. Especially since they have done a far better job than I think I would be capable of.

Instead I am going to cover the problems that expanding earth has with GRAVITY. I have seen two sides that expanding earthers like to use to argue about gravity. One camp argues that the mass of the earth is constant, and the earth is just getting less dense. Another camp argues that the mass of the earth is growing, and holds the earth's density constant. Surely, we can resolve such a fundamental difference by just saying "Hey, the Earth is not expanding, look at all the data". But that would defeat the purpose of this post and my childish poking fun at the stupid.First we have the Constant Mass Advocates (CMA). They argue, wrongly, that the earth can grow and those of us living on its surface will feel a constant pull of gravity IF the earth weren't gaining mass. On the surface of it that seems a reasonable assertion (if you ignore the whole "earth is growing" thing, and the violation of conservation of energy, etc.). After all we learned in our High School Physics class that:

Where F = force
m = mass of an object
a = acceleration (in this case gravity: 9.8 m/s2)

This, however, is just a shorthand version of calculating the force on an object due to gravity. You see, this equation needs some tinkering if we are going to calculate the force due to gravity on Mars, or the Moon, or anywhere other than Earth (note: not all places on Earth have the same gravity either, it can vary due to elevation, local rock densities, etc.). This leads us to the Universal Gravity Equation:

F = GMm/D²
Where F = force
G = the Gravitational Constant (6.67300 × 10-11 m3 kg-1 s-2)
M = Mass of object 1 (usually the larger object, in this case the Earth: 5.9742 × 1024 kg)
m = mass of object 2 (usually the smaller object, in this case it is us)
D = Distance between the centers of mass (in this case it can be approximated as the radius of the Earth (note: this is why elevation has an effect on gravitational pull) Earth's radius: 6378.1 km).

By setting Eq.1 equal to Eq.2, you can see how scientists can calculate what "a" is equal to:

a = GM/D2
Since we don't really care about how much force I am exerting on the planet (and it on me) we can just focus on Eq.3 for this discussion. First let's prove to ourselves that the "a" we learned in High School jives with the Universal Gravity Equation.

a = (6.67300 × 10-11 m3 kg-1 s-2 × 5.9742 × 1024 kg)/(6378.1 km)2

or when I plug it into my calculator and cancel out the appropriate units (remember to convert km to meters in the denominator)

a = 9.7998.... m/s2
which can be approximated to 9.8 m/s2

Thanks Mr. Schalhammer! See Physics can work (and prove useful). Now, you may be sitting there asking yourself "Why the hell does this matter to expanding earth? You just showed that the Earth's gravity is affected by its mass, which is the point of the CMA". Why yes I did anonymous questioning voice. However, I also showed that the RADIUS of the Earth is far more significant to the gravity we feel on the planet. The Distance to the center of the Earth will affect the gravity we feel on the surface far more rapidly than just keeping mass a constant. The radius of the Earth affects gravity exponentially (mathematically speaking the square) while the mass of the Earth only affects gravity linearly.

So take home message to the CMA's, keeping the earth's mass constant and increasing the radius will actually DECREASE the gravity we feel on the planet. This is completely antithetical to what we actually observe (you know by practicing science). And furthermore, it defies claims made by other expanding earthers that gravity was less in the past allowing for giant bugs and what not (interestingly enough, an insects size seems to be limited by how efficiently oxygen can cross certain membranes, higher oxygen concentrations mean "bugs" can get bigger. Here is something on that) Through this calculation, we see that the gravity at the surface of the earth would have been GREATER if the earth was smaller.

Let's go to the graph:This is a nice visual way of saying IF the Earth was smaller (assuming constant mass), we would experience a greater pull of gravity. Once again, explaining this away isn't a problem for Plate Tectonics, because with our firm grip on reality, we don't expect the Earth to be changing size.

Now let's move on to the more confounding stupid I dub the Gaining Mass Advocates (GMA). They argue that the earth is growing AND it is becoming more and more massive. They use claims like "Gravity was less when the dinosaurs were around, how else did they get so big". The GMA also argue that the earth is actually gaining mass and therefore gravity is increasing as we move forward in time. But let's see how that works out with the math. We have already seen that holding the earth's mass constant doesn't jive with reality, maybe the trick is to increase the mass of the earth (keep in mind this is still invoking many things that plate tectonics has no need for, meaning this violates parsimony as well).

First some disclaimers. This VIOLATES the conservation of matter. We are venturing into a realm of Newtonian Physics that was never meant to be (like the Octoparrot). Second, they stubbornly refuse to mention how much mass is being added, so I am assuming it to be a given volume of mantle (density of mantle: 3.4-5.6 g/cm3, so let's just call it 4.5 g/cm3). Thirdly, I can't find where they say HOW MUCH the earth has grown (because, in point of fact, it hasn't). So I will assume that they only want the earth to increase enough to compensate for the oceans, which comprise ~75% of the Earth surface (361 km2).

So back to some equations (ugh.... math). The surface area of a sphere can be expressed as:

A = 4 \pi r^2 \,
A is surface area
r is the radius

The volume of a sphere can be expressed as:
V = \frac{4}{3}\pi r^3.
V is volume
r is the radius
and a neat little relationship about Surface Area, Volume, and Diameter emerges. Essentially, when you shrink a sphere to 1/2 it's original diameter, the new smaller sphere has 1/4 the original surface area and 1/8 the volume of the original sphere. To put this another way. By "shrinking" the earth to the point where it has no oceans (to 1/4 of its surface area), you have reduced its diameter by 1/2 and reduced it's volume by 7/8.

This would mean the GMA would see a earth with a radius of 3189.05 km.
The GMA volume would be 1.35 x 1014 km3.
Earth's GMA mass would be: 1.6948 x 1024 kg.

So now let's plug this in to Eq.3 and see what we get for the gravity (ag) of a GMA earth.

ag = 11.12029 m/s2

Which is still an increase in gravity from what we see today. Meaning even if you add mass to the planet to counteract the effect of moving away from the center of mass, gravity still is far more sensitive to changes in proximity to the center of mass than it is to total mass. The up-shot is that the "dinosaurs were big because there was less gravity" crowd are wrong.

For curiosity's sake the gravity (ac) of a CMA earth of the same size would be

ac =39.19929 m/s2

And just not to let those of us who like reality off the hook, I wonder what those crazy plate tectonic advocates (Scientists) think gravity was like during the Permian (which was when the oceanic crust we have today started to be generated):

a = 9.8 m/s2

As this clearly demonstrates, the RADIUS of the earth is far more important that the MASS of the earth in terms of what things living on the surface of the planet would feel in terms of gravity. As I have said many times throughout this post, this isn't a problem for the reality based community. Because plate tectonics does NOT invoke the earth changes its size (or ways of adding mass out of nothing, or where the energy is coming from to move particles further away from the pull of gravity, or other magics that expanding earthers like). All the arguments based upon gravity being "lesser" in the past because the "earth was smaller" show not only a misunderstanding of geology, but a FAR greater misunderstanding of gravity. Curse you rational uniformitarianism, you win this round! But they'll be back, and in greater numbers...

Glacier Photos IV: The Blossom Menace

So I figured I would do something a bit different with part IV of my Glacier National Park series. Instead of showing the geology (well, there is still some geology) I figured I would show some of the pictures of the plants and trees that I saw in GNP. Parts I, II, and III are here.

Up first are several pictures of a flower that seemed to be everywhere in the park. I thought that it looked neat, and my parents wanted a decent shot of one, so I took a couple of photos. I have no idea what the flower is actually called [edit: According to Callan, it is Beargrass. Thanks]. One of these days I hope to actually learn some botany so I can point out flowers and such while hiking, but I have different priorities currently.
Next are some pictures of trees in the park. The first one is one I used previously during the tree meme. As I mentioned in the tree post, I think this is the mountain pine beetle's work. It is really unfortunate how widespread this problem is becoming.There is also this shot of a drunken forest. I hadn't seen one in real life before, so this was kinda neat to see (though I've seen drunker forests in photos). Essentially, a drunken forest is the product of mass movement. As the soil slides down slope, the vegetation moves with it. Sometimes this loosens up the soil enough that the trees each take on their own tilt (thus providing the "drunken" appearance). Here is another example of trees helping to identify mass movements. This particular tree got partially knocked over (either from a rock running into it, or part of its slope giving way, I can't say which). However, it survived the ordeal and the new growth at the top is continuing its relentless climb to Mr. Sun.
There aren't only pine trees though. Below are some Aspen that got in the way of my shot. We were driving through an area where they were doing road maintenance, so we couldn't stop. I just wanted a picture looking down the valley, but the Aspen came out remarkably in focus considering we were moving.Finally, some tool marks that were caused by a passing glacier (see, some geology). The reason I threw it in with the plant post is the grasses that are growing in the scours. It shows the resiliency of plants in the escalating rock and vegetation conflict (don't underestimate our chlorophyllic opponents). Thanks for reading. I think I might have enough for one more post in this series (Part V: Ride the Magic Bus), but it might have to wait until the semester is done (or until I get writer's block on the damnable tome).

04 December 2008

Glacier Photos III: The Search for Rock

Sorry for the hiatus. It is getting to the end of the semester here. As a result of this, I find myself crunched for time to actually complete things that I theoretically should prioritize, like attempting to graduate. This has also resulted in me not realizing I should go to sleep until I see the sun rising over the, now snow-covered, Bridger and Gallatin Ranges. So here it is, Part III in my Glacier Photo Series. Parts I and II are here (respectively) and part IV should be up before too long.Above is a shot of Glacier National Park's namesake, a.... glacier.... Well there had to be at least one in this set. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of this particular glacier. [Edit: I have been reminded it was Jackson Glacier. Thank you ReBecca!]Nothing much to the above and below photos. I just thought that they were nice and scenic. I liked the strata on the above cliff. As for the shot below, I just hiked a little off the beaten trail in order to get this shot.The next shot was taken at one of the most scenic places in the park, at least that is what the sign told us. I took several shots, but for some reason this is the only one that looks really good. Unfortunately, it is the only one where a kid wandered into my shot [shake fist at kid] [/shake fist at kid]

And finally (for this set at least) what would a trip to a national park be without an encounter with a bear?
Did you see the bear? Neither did I. While I was taking this photo, several other groups of visitors pulled over on the side of the road. I thought, "how odd, I haven't seen another geologist all day, but the more the merrier". After I finished with my photo, one of the newcomers asked if they could see the photo I got of the bear. I was very confused, and I had to explain that I was actually taking pictures of the rocks, and I didn't realize a bear was anywhere near my shot.

That is all for this set, stay tuned for Glacier Photos IV: The Blossom Menace

27 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Every time we get round to this time of year, I usually am reminded about Ben Franklin wishing the turkey was the national bird rather than the eagle. I rummaged around the internet and found a source of this story. You can read the whole thing here, but I clipped all of the excerpt from the letter they were citing.
"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

"With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country . . .

"I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."
Frankly, I agree with him. I think the eagle is overused and unoriginal as a national bird. Plus, I like the symbolism of eating the icon of our country on a national holiday. Also, after meeting both wild turkeys and bald eagles in the field, I think turkeys are WAY more entertaining.

23 November 2008

Unskilled and Unaware

Yet another blog post that is only tangentially pertinent to geology. My advisor recently assigned this article [subscription to Journal of personality and social psychology required] to the new crop of grad students (it subsequently made the rounds to the rest of us, the title itself is enough to evoke interest).

"Unskilled and Unaware of it: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments. "

I bring this up because appropriate examples have been cropping up around the internets recently. P. Z. Myers and Eric have both brought up the same iconography of "debating" these individuals. Both of them have come to the same conclusion that these individuals play an "intellectual" version of Whack-A-Mole. (Personally, I prefer to compare it to Playing Chess with Pigeons, but that is just me). Essentially, someone says something so off-kilter that we can't resist responding to them and correcting their world-view. This leads the original nut to think that they touched on an actual weak point in some theory (why else would a scientist get so angry). They then continue to reiterate the same point over and over, drawing more scientists into the growing vortex. Each time a scientist beats a point down into drivel, the nut reiterates the point from the beginning claiming that the scientist "dodged" the issue rather than addressing it. Eventually, the scientists involved get fed up with the ignorant horde and depart the conversation. The original idiot then claims victory. [note: the instigator is not NECESSARILY an idiot, they may have garnered marginal success in some unrelated field (thus they have a false sense of confidence). Just look at celebrities opposition to vaccinations].

Though, in light of this article, the individual only claims victory as a product of their own incompetence. The article makes the point that it is an individual's inability to understand a topic (their ignorance) that impedes their ability to recognize their own ignorance. Unfortunately, the only way to cure these individuals of their inability to recognize their ignorance, is to teach them about the topic (which they won't submit to, because they can't recognize their own ignorance).

In other words, it is a Catch-22. You can't teach them, because they think they know more than they do (and are unwilling to hear out a scientist, who is part of the "conspiracy"). And you can't get them to realize they are ignorant, because they ARE ignorant (so they don't realize they are ignorant). Kinda gets the head all spinning just thinking about how to break this infernal web of ignorance. Before they can be cured of "the stupid", they need to be made aware that they are ignorant, which requires that they aren't full of "the stupid" to begin with....It ends on an optimistic note though (kinda), this study did successfully educate several individuals about their incompetence. In subsequent runs, they demonstrated that they were no longer incompetent, and they could realistically evaluate their performance. Unfortunately, the problem still remains, the incompetent don't realize they are incompetent (and continue to crap all over the chess board).

Kruger, J. and Dunning, D, 1999, Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 77, no. 6, p. 1121-1134.

21 November 2008

Glacier Photos II: The Snowfield Strikes Back

I realize a disproportionate amount of my posts recently have been a part of memes. So I am going to continue uploading some of my Glacier National Park Photos. Here is Part I, Part III, and Part IV.

This evening, when I needed a break from thesis-ing, I took a gander out the window in the grad office. It had started to snow. This looks like it might be the first snowfall that will stick around more than a couple of minutes in Bozeman this year (I kid you not, it was 72 F just 2 days ago). So this comes as somewhat good news. Good if you like winter activities, and don't like summer droughts/fires. Bad if you don't like driving on the roads where they usually "forget" to put down gravel. Hell, walking around campus can be a tricky affair as they tend to zamboni the walkways when they should be plowing them.

Why this brief aside from Glacier? Because last winter looked like it would lead to a dry summer as well. What ended up happening, as I mentioned in my last post, is Montana got a lot of late spring snow. This resulted in Going to the Sun Highway to remain closed until the day we got there. Here is a shot of us driving on the just-opened road up to Logan Pass (uh... car side mirror for scale). Keep in mind this was July 3rd.
The rest area at the top of Logan pass provided some spectacular views as well.
This is an arete that dominated the view from the rest stop. Well, most people were absorbed by how high the snow was. But I was suitably impressed by the rocks.
This little guy was running around and making quite the fuss at all the big dumb people wandering around what had been (until a few hours prior) his family's home. I dubbed him Rodney.This is a nice shot of a small snowfield just below the parking area. It overlooks a beautiful U-shaped valley which looks a little something like this:
I particularly like the misfit stream running down the center of the valley. I think that will be all for this set of photos. Knowing my somewhat sporadic posting habits, it shouldn't be too long until I realize I have nothing to post except for Glacier Photos III the Search for Rock.

I'm a Mechanic?

Also saw this one floating around the blogosphere. Over at Adventures in Ethics and Science and over on Silver Fox's Looking For Detachment. The site is here.

The gist is the same as astrology. Arbitrary data input being interpreted as meaningful information. And like astrology, it doesn't work (except in the quick "I'm bored, hey wonder what this site does" sort of way).

According to this site address, I am a mechanic (the description doesn't really describe me at all, I think):
The Mechanic

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.
I do work well on my own, but that is because I tend to be easily distracted. And anyone who actually has met me knows me in a highspeed pursuit is not likely.

Further evidence as to the whole fullishness (keep in mind I still found it good fun). I have another blog (sorry my eyes only) that I use when I want to play around with html coding (make sure everything looks right). And when I put in that address, I get....the duty fullfillers. I find this hilarious as the content is mostly identical, so I figure it must take the url and throw that in a generator. Anyway, this doesn't describe me either, but it is a tad closer to the mark:
The Duty Fulfillers

The responsible and hardworking type. They are especially attuned to the details of life and are careful about getting the facts right. Conservative by nature they are often reluctant to take any risks whatsoever.

The Duty Fulfillers are happy to be let alone and to be able to work int heir [sic] own pace. They know what they have to do and how to do it.
Though this is fairly antithetical to what I got previously. I am a risk-taker who doesn't like to take risks.

In summary, good fun for when you are bored. But, like I have to tell anyone actually reading this blog, don't expect life-changing revalations... Unless you try and typealyze the typealyzer site. I can apparently read Thai fluently, and that changed my life.

Addendum: When I put in my profile webpage I also get a completely different result.
The Guardians
The organizing and efficient type. They are especially attuned to setting goals and managing available resources to get the job done. Once they´ve made up their mind on something, it can be quite difficult to convince otherwise. They listen to hard facts and can have a hard time accepting new or innovative ways of doing things.

The Guardians are often happy working in highly structured work environments where everyone knows the rules of the job. They respect authority and are loyal team players.
So, three personality types. One person. I am totally tri-polar. Unless you start analyzing individual posts you put up, then I run the entire gamut of personality types (which I think is far more representative of reality).

20 November 2008

I think I could survive longer than that

Mainly because I don't think being chained to a bunk bed with a pile of Cretaceous bones is much of a threat. Saw this over on Dinochick's Blog. And since I am a sucker for stupid online quizzes, I figured I'd give it a go.

I could survive for 1 minute, 28 seconds chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor

Created by Bunk Beds.net

14 November 2008

Orbs and rods...pseudoscience meme

Eric has raised the issue of perhaps a pseudoscience meme. And I agree, there is very little that is more fun than poking fun at modern mythology represented under the guise of science. One of the less well known "branches" of "pseudology" is the "study" of "orbs" and "rods" (wow, that is a lot of "air-quotes", and they shall pervade this post). "Orbs" and "rods" are supposedly ethereal beings who live their entire lives in mid-air (though some argue they are ghosts, aliens, or undiscovered animals whose body's decompose instantaneously after they die, or live in a dimension that partially intersects our own).

On a side note:It is always fun to note how readily "cryptozoologists", or as they are nowadays called "fortean zoologists", invoke the existence of the giant squid as a success for their "science". Of course they ignore the fact that we came across dead remains of giant squids from time to time (that is how we knew they existed, we had actual evidence).

Here's what "Rods" and "Orbs" are, and here is where any wackaloon reading this should get out a piece of paper and take note, they are a trick of poor photography (optics messing up, or something slightly out of focus, or something passing through the frame too fast for the camera to pick it up, or something moving through the frame out of focus... etc.). There are numerous ways to make a "rod" or an "orb", and none of them involve a papa rod or a mama orb (unless you work for the center of fortean zoology... please don't click on the link unless you have properly braced yourself for the burning stupid).

Some examples:
At first glance this is just a really crappy picture of a doorway. I mean it is dark, not much going on. Compositionally it is even poorly balanced. Truly an example of epic fail. Upon closer inspection....

you will notice TWO (count em, two) balls of dust or drops of moisture on the lens. This is what people with little imagination (who want to be experts in photographic fakery) call "orbs". The third circle (which looks like a reflection of light, or something moving across the frame [since it is dark the exposure time was probably quite long, so an insect catching the light as it flew past is quite withing the realm of possibility]). But this is what is "interpreted" to be a "rod".

Here is a GIANT PIZZA (seriously it was ~30 in). But if you notice, behind the surprised looking fellow known as "Chad" (who truly deserves his own branch of pseudoscience, except he actually exists).....
it's another "ORB"! Now, I took this photo, and there was no "orb" on the curtain when I took it. However, I failed to clean my lens before the photo was taken (oops on my part). But there it is, an "orb").

What's more, this "rods" nonsense (seriously bad nonsense, at least Nessie is an entertaining product of the imagination) has made it onto news broadcasts. It is even complete with the full-on nonsensical cut-aways (Unit 13? really?).

And here is someone who rather sensibly showed how this phenomenon is easily reproducible without invoking imaginary flying "jelly-worms".

12 November 2008

Haikus and the Permian Extinction

Greatest test of life
the Permian extinction
a river preserves

This is in reference to the R.M.H. Smith article that came out a few years ago (available here via LANL). Essentially, he looked at the fluvial deposits in the Karoo foreland basin that span the Permo-Triassic boundary. He noted that the fluvial architecture changes at approximately the same location as the boundary. He goes into some potential causes for the changing styles across the boundary, including both climatic and tectonic controls. However, he stops short (thankfully) of claiming that rivers changing caused the extinction. Instead, he takes a more agnostic position on the cause of the extinction, but points out that changing fluvial styles can contribute to an extinction/extirpation event. (note: I think extirpation is the right word, animals are just forced to leave a habitat because they aren't suited to it, but I could be wrong on this).

So the dicynodonts leaving the Karoo basin may have been prompted by the changing fluvial styles , but they may not have become extinct at that point (which allowed the invasion of the Lystrosaurs into the area). Or they may have gone extinct in the Karoo basin, but we don't have sufficient stratigraphic resolution to confirm this. Either way, I thought it was a very good article.

Others involved in the meme: Suvrat (the instigator), MJC rocks, Lockwood, and Kim.

Picture from: http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~rcb7/globehighres.html, retrieved on 11-12-2008

Smith, R. M. H., 1995 Changing Fluvial Environments across the Permian-Triassic boundary in the Karoo Basin, South Africa and possible causes of tetrapod extinctions. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, and Palaeoecology. v. 117 no 1-2 p. 81-104.

10 November 2008

Journal Citations and Flux Capacitor

While perusing the literature (Okay, checking out my vast, and growing, backlog of google reader...) I stumbled upon this study (sorry, subscription required).

First off, this isn't strictly speaking (or loosely speaking...really) a geology paper. It does have some interesting implications for people publishing research though.

The main thrust of this article is: As researchers increasingly use electronic search engines (like georef or geoscienceworld) the body of cited literature becomes far more condensed. Essentially, people aren't citing papers published pre ~ 1990 (or when the earliest journal is available online). Apparently, we are too entranced by Christopher Lloyd driving a flying, time-traveling train to look further back than that.
The author views this as neither a good thing or a bad thing. It is just a thing. Though, he seems to advocate that researchers should stay cautious. Mainly, because this gives the scientific community appearance of reaching consensus much quicker than it used to (whether it has or not). This can, potentially, stifle new research into competing hypotheses.
By enabling scientists to quickly reach and converge with prevailing opinion, electronic journals hasten scientific consensus. But haste may cost more than the subscription to an online archive: Findings and ideas that do not become consensus quickly will be forgotten quickly.
He also states that it is removing our respective links to the past. Our research is becoming much more obsessed with what is going on now, and we are tending to (unintentionally) ignore the old mainstays of our respective literature.
As deeper backfiles became available, more recent articles were referenced; as more articles became available, fewer were cited and citations became more concentrated within fewer articles. These changes likely mean that the shift from browsing in print to searching online facilitates avoidance of older and less relevant literature.
There is also a bit of musing about if this might have any link to the style of research being done (especially by grad students).
Modern graduate education parallels this shift in publication - shorter in years [I contest this point:ITV] more specialized in scope, culminating less frequently in a true dissertation than an album of articles.
He comments on old monographs (notably Origin of Species and the Principia) being the way research used to be published. Now (as I am sure people have stumbled upon) some of the most tantalizing titles in a search result are only abstracts from conferences. To me, this seems to make a tentative connection that the technological ADD that seems to persist in our culture today is infecting science to some extent.

He doesn't discredit the good these online search engines provide (most notably, the open access to the literature for the general public, regardless of location or time of day). Though he does have an interesting tid-bit about online article availability
Provision of one additional year of issues online for free associates with 14% fewer distinct articles cited.
It is one thing to find a paper quickly online, it is another thing to look through the stacks (in search of your elusive quarry) and happily stumble upon something completely unexpected. This can lead researchers to further focus upon their (evertightening) area of expertise, and inadvertently ignore potentially complementary research, thus narrowing the scope of individual scientific endeavors.

Evans, James A., Electronic Publication and the Narrowing of Science and Scholarship. 18 July 2008 Science v. 321 no. 5887 p. 395-399

09 November 2008

Eppur si muove!

I watched a documentary on Galileo the other night (The Nova one which is also based partially on Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel). And they were talking about Galileo's book "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems".

This got me to thinking... "I wonder if I can find a copy of that". It seems like it was written to be the first book we would now consider to be "popular science". It was written in the vernacular, instead of latin. It was written as a conversation being held between two people (the more famous seems to be Simplicius, who advocated the church's view). And it was quickly banned, like books worth reading tend to be.

So I set to my task, thinking it would probably have been published on its own as a part of a classics collection or something like that (it is one of the five books in "On the Shoulders of Giants", but I don't like cumbersome books like that). So I did a quick Google search (and I mean quick). The first hit was the full text online!!! Now all I have to do is print it out (I don't like to read from a computer screen). And the best part is it is all FREE. Go ahead, read about how Salviati intellectually mops the floor with Simplicius.
On a side note: Eric is valiantly playing the part of Salviati in his Expanding Earth post comments section. He posted this in Feb. and the ignorant horde have been assaulting him ever since (most recent was a few weeks ago).

08 November 2008

Brian Switek Meme

I have heard that Laelaps' own Brian Switek is up for a $10,000 scholarship. I found a letter over at The Dispersal of Darwin, and on Dinochick Blogs. Here is a reprint of it.
From Brian:

I'm as surprised as you are. For my work on Laelaps (http://scienceblogs.com/laelaps/) I have made it as one of 20 finalists in the 2008 Blogging Scholarship. That means I have a shot at winning $10,000 to help finish my undergrad degree and pay off my student loans! The next part of the contest is based on votes rather than content, however, and I need your help.The first favor I ask is that you head on over to the voting page and cast your vote for me;


The second, if you would be so kind, would be to tell your friends or post a link on your blog (if you have one) asking others to do the same! There's no way I can win if I don't get enough votes, and I'm going to need a lot of help to beat the political and sports blogs that are already pulling ahead. I need all the help I can get, and anything you can do to help spread the word would get me a little bit closer to winning.

Let's get that man some money.

Glacier Photos

While rummaging through my hard-drive, I came across a folder of photos from my trip to Glacier National Park from over the summer. I had meant to upload them to Facebook, but I kept receiving errors when I would try and upload them. I decided I would try it later and promptly forgot about it. So here are some of the more scenic views I captured while driving on Going to the Sun Highway. Parts II, III, and IV are now up.

When we arrived, it was the first day that Going to the Sun was open (July 3rd on this particular year. We had plenty of late snow. Bozeman was getting snow in June). So some of the distance shots will appear hazy, the cloud cover did break later in the day though. Above is a picture of a cirque, which is a result of the parks namesake. I took several pictures of them as we went along. What else would you expect from a geology student in GNP? Pictures of their "loved ones"? I think we all know the answer to that. In fact, I took this picture of my parents in front of the same cirque, my parents are out of focus (but the cirque is crystal clear). In my defense, I couldn't tell on the little display screen that they were out of focus. I remedied it later by taking pictures of them in focus.
My dad likes the engineering aspect of geology. So this is a picture for him. It is impressive how we have tunneled through a rock face while clinging to its narrow precipice (which we also carved out for ourselves).
Here is the Weeping Wall. Nothing much for me to comment on. I thought it was pretty.
This is a cirque I took a shot of while we were nearing Logan Pass. Below is the same cirque, but now we are looking down it instead of up at it. I figured this would be something interesting to show students at some point. Mainly because every time a cirque is diagrammed in a book, it is from (more or less) the same perspective. When, in lab, we asked students to identify a cirque from a different perspective, everyone seemed to have a hard time with it. So here is an example that can hopefully get students to start thinking about geology as three dimensional (well four dimensional when you throw stratigraphy at them)

That is it for this batch. More will probably pop up later, when I am trying to think of something to write about. Continued in Part II

07 November 2008

Animal meme

Most of my field animals are cattle. I come across the occasional snake, but after the quick startle, I usually forget to snap a photo. I try every once in a while to take a picture of a passing hawk, but they don't turn out so nice. Anyway without further ado, are several of my laughably poor attempts to take photos of the wildlife I encounter.
I named this fellow "Dwight" (no particular reason). I was hiking across a field, and noticed several burrows. At the end of the day I got a shot of this prarie dog. The noble prarie dog, how you amused me...briefly.

I also came across some of these happy-go-lucky individuals (though this particular one was on my porch). Orb spiders are fairly common, and about as poisonous as a bee. Though, the first one I saw I couldn't readily identify it as anything other than a spider the size of a quarter. Orbie (as I called this one) kept on collecting moths and what-not until the first snow came. Then, come spring, a good wind carried the next generation away from my patio (good thing too, I don't know if I had enough space for multiple Orb spiders to live happily).

And finally, the most dread animal ever to come across in the wild.... my sister's West Highland White (that's right, WHITE) Terror... I mean Terrier.
She was astoundingly cooperative in this photo. Usually she blinks when the photo is taken (I kid you not, I have one of her squinting) or she turns around and refuses to be photographed.

04 November 2008

As promised

Obama's speech basically summed it all up. Tonight was a great victory, but it wasn't the end goal. There are still all the problems he mentioned in his speech that need to be overcome. Honestly, he is probably the guy to do it to. I found a hypothetical survey from SurveyUSA back in Nov. 2006, imediately after the democrats swept in and took the legislature. As chance would have it, they asked how people would vote if the next presidential election came down to Obama and McCain (not so much chance as they were hitting all potential combinations they could think of). Here is what the electoral map would have looked like according to that poll:

(I'll put up this election map as soon as several states are declared... C'mon MT go blue...)
(MT went pink... dammit....)
The only things Obama wins (in the hypothetical 2006 race) are Illinois, Hawaii, and DC. Everything else, squarely in McCain's pocket. Even though there were extenuating circumstances (you know, trifling problems with the economy and what not). Obama managed to change the opinion of a majority of the country. He even won the election BEFORE the temptress of Florida was declared for either side. Hopefully, Obama will make good on his promises and start to turn this country around.

I was also impressed with McCain's concession speech. It was perhaps the most relaxed I have seen him give a speech this entire campaign. He also didn't have the look of manic desperation in his eyes (which added a quality to him). Maybe now that he doesn't have to pander the fundigelicals, or the neo-cons, he can rediscover his own principles.

On a side note, one other good thing to come from this election. Apparently Alaska lost its village idiot. Well we finally cornered her (after chasing her all across the country, with some narrow misses where Gibson and Couric let her slip away while they were stunned at her answers). She wound up in Arizona. Don't worry Alaska, she is safely on her way back to govern your state... Good Luck with that.


That is all I have to say
CA OR WA all closed and went for Obama!!! Meaning he broke 270 and is the next president of the USA (44th or 43rd depending on how you count Grover Cleveland)

Hot Damn!!! insulting posts (at the Reps expense) to pop up later.


Just got back from the polls. There was quite the decent line. Lots of people were showing up, but the polling staff was handling it like pros. Even though I couldn't find a place to park on the same block as the elementary school I was still in only in line for about 35-40 mins. Of course, there were ample voting cubes and pencils and paper ballots. It is situations like this where I wonder: Why on earth do we need electronic voting machines? I just fed my paper ballot through a scan-tron like apparatus and it counted just as fast, and I have a paper trail should I say "Hang-on. How did my county go for Nader?".

Go Vote...now... Even if you think your ballot will be canceled out by your spouse/room-mate/significant other (seriously, while volunteering, this was one couples excuse why they weren't voting)... honestly if you are reading this, you should already have voted and be wearing a sticker (unless you voted early/absentee. If you did that, you should dip your finger in blue ink as a sign of democracy spreading to the USA).

And if you needed more inspiration...Voting makes Karl Rove cry... make him weep.


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