Jack Bruner Honors Geology Scrapbook

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Article 10 Response (Ecuador Volcano)

In Ecuador the volcano Tungurahua has began erupting more violently than it has been for the past 13 years. 84 miles southeast of the Ecuador capital of Quito has forced hundreds of families to evacuate the area in case of possible eruption. The volcano’s rating has been changed from “moderate” to “high” risk. I hope that it remains to erupt at a consistent pace and just fizzle itself out. As well, people should listen to authorities and evacuate when told to.


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Article 10 (Ecuador Volcano)

Link: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/08/pictures/120823-ecuador-tungurahua-volcano-science-environment/

Throat of Fire

Photograph by Carlos Campana, Reuters

Fire and large clouds of gas and ash spew from the mouth of Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano, 84 miles (135 kilometers) southeast of the capital city of Quito.

The 16,475-foot (5,023-meter) volcano has been erupting intermittently since October 1999, but more aggressive activity prompted the authorities to raise the security alert from “moderate” to “high” this week.

Ecuadorean authorities told the Associated Press that more than a hundred families have been evacuated from the vicinity of Tungurahua—which means “throat of fire” in the region’s indigenous Quechua language.

(Related volcano pictures: “‘Throat of Fire’ Erupts.”)

–Ker Than

Published August 23, 2012

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Article 9 Response (Rising Sea Levels)

On the East coast of the United States of America, rising sea levels have beset problems of seashore residents. Due to the melting of polar ice caps waters have been on the rise. “Analyzing tide-level data from much of North America, U.S. Geological Surveyscientists unexpectedly found that sea levels in the 600-mile (1,000-kilometer) stretch of coast from Cape Hatteras (map), North Carolina, to the Boston area climbed by about 2 to 3.8 millimeters a year, on average, between 1950 and 2009.” while the East coast is rising faster and faster, global water has been growing at the average place. In order to stop the rise in water, people must begin taking into notice what they send out into the environment (i.e. Carbon Dioxide). It is sad that our world is beginning to react to what we have done to it, but it is important that we use this as a wake up call and start changing how we live now. 

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Article 9 (Rising Sea Levels)

Link: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/06/120625-sea-level-rise-east-coast-us-science-nature-climate-change/

Sea Levels Rising Fast on U.S. East Coast

Charles Q. Choi

for National Geographic News

Published June 25, 2012

Sea level rise on the U.S. East Coast has accelerated much faster than in other parts of the worldroughly three to four times the global average, a new study says.


Calling the heavily populated region a sea level rise hot spot, researchers warn that cities such as BostonNew YorkPhiladelphia, and Baltimore could face a more flood-prone future.


(Also see “New York, Boston ‘Directly in Path’ of Sea Level Rise.”)

Sea levels worldwide are expected to rise as global warming melts ice and causes water to expand. Those levels, though, are expected to vary from place to place, due to factors such as ocean currents, differences in seawater temperature and saltiness, and the Earth‘s shape.

Now it seems scientists have pinpointed just such a variance.

Analyzing tide-level data from much of North America, U.S. Geological Surveyscientists unexpectedly found that sea levels in the 600-mile (1,000-kilometer) stretch of coast from Cape Hatteras (map), North Carolina, to the Boston area climbed by about 2 to 3.8 millimeters a year, on average, between 1950 and 2009.

Global sea level rise averaged about 0.6 to 1 millimeter annually over the same period.

“If you talk with residents of this hot spot area in their 70s or 80s who’ve lived there all their lives, they’ll tell you water is coming higher now in winter storms than it ever did before,” said study co-author Peter Howd, an oceanographer contracted with the USGS.

“We’re now finally getting to the point where we can measure their observations with our highfalutin scientific instruments.”

(Sea sea level rise pictures.)

Flood of Data

At New York City, the team extrapolated, sea levels could rise by 7.8 to 11.4 inches (20 to 29 centimeters) by 2100—in addition to the roughly 3 feet (1 meter) of average sea level rise expected worldwide by then. (Related: “New York Seas to Rise Twice as Much as Rest of U.S.”)

For residents of New York and cities up and down the eastern seaboard, those numbers should become a lot more than ink on paper.

“The first thing people will see from this is an increase over the next few decades in the low-level coastal flooding that occurs now with wintertime storms,” Howd said.

“Eventually you’ll see coastal flooding events three to four times a year instead of once every three to four years.”

But it’s not just cities that are expected to suffer.

“The northeast coast of the U.S. is flat,” said climate modeler Jianjun Yin at the University of Arizona, who did not participate in this research. “Even gradual sea level rise could cause rapid retreat of shoreline and significant loss of wetland habitats.”

(Related: “Groundwater Depletion Accelerates Sea-Level Rise.”)

Mysteries of East Coast Sea Level Rise

It’s still something of a mystery why the U.S. East Coast is bearing the brunt of sea level rise. Maybe, the researchers say, fresh water from Greenland’s melting ice is disrupting North Atlantic currents, slowing the Gulf Stream and causing East Coast sea levels to rise.

It’s also unclear to what extent humans may be to blame.

“This could be part of a natural cycle maybe 100 to 200 years long. Or not,” study ao-author Howd said. “We need more data over years to help build climate models and greater understanding.”

The team cautions too that the East Coast may not be alone.

“We’re now looking into extending our analysis to see if hot spots in sea level rise show up in other places around the globe,” said USGS oceanographer Kara Doran, who co-authored the study, published June 24 by the journal Nature Climate Change.

Nothing to See Here?

The new findings come at a particularly interesting political moment in one of the states in the sea level hot zone.

Concerned over regulations that could result from recent sea level rise forecasts, some North Carolina legislators have drafted a bill requiring that future state sea level forecasts be based on only past patterns.

“Trying to ban the use of the best science for sea level predictions is absurd,” said University of Pennsylvania coastal geologist Ben Horton, who wasn’t part of the new study.

NASA climate scientist Josh Willis agreed, adding that such efforts “are sort of a case of human nature trying to outwit Mother Nature, and Mother Nature usually wins that battle of wits.

“It’s really shortsighted to assume that the next hundred years of sea level rise are going to be like the last hundred years,” Willis added. “We’re already seeing glaciers and ice sheets melt more quickly, and the ocean absorbing more heat and expanding—things that drive sea level rise.”

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Article 8 Response (Antarctic Methane)

For millions of years methane had been produced in the ice caps on the north and south poles of Earth from isolated microbes triggered by greenhouse gases. As the ice caps begin to melt this methane as well as other toxins are being released into the air and water. The rise is methane levels around the world coincides with the melting of the ice caps. The ice caps are melting, and their is little we can do to stop them, but we need to be aware of the world changing around us and prepare for the worst. As well, we must prepare our world for future generations by cutting down on carbon emmisions and pollution. 

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Article 8 (Antarctic Methane)

Link: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/08/120831-antarctica-methane-global-warming-science-environment/

Antarctic Methane Could Escape, Worsen Warming

Rob Kunzig

National Geographic News

Published August 31, 2012

Swamp gas trapped under miles of Antarctic ice, a chemical souvenir of that continent’s warmer days, may someday escape to warm the planet again, an international team of researchers report in Nature this week.

The researchers suggest that microbes isolated from the rest of the world since the ice closed over them, some 35 million years ago, have kept busy digesting organic matter and making methane—a much more effective greenhouse gasthan carbon dioxide.

If global warming causes the ice sheets to retreat in the coming decades or centuries, the researchers warn, some of the methane could belch into the atmosphere, amplifying the warming.

Jemma Wadham of the University of Bristol, England, and her colleagues have not actually detected methane-producing microbes under the Antarctic ice sheet. They haven’t detected methane either—though they are participating in drilling projects that could do so later this year. Yet a top journal has now published their analysis of the potential climate impact of those undiscovered microbes. That says a lot about the paradigm shift in microbiology in recent decades.

The presumption now is: Microbes are everywhere. In the seething water of an undersea volcano? Obviously. In the crushing pressure half a mile (0.8 kilometer) under the pitch-dark seafloor? Demonstrably. Under a mile or two of Antarctic ice? Why not?—there’ve been a few unconfirmed reports already—and why wouldn’t some of those bugs be producing methane?

“You’ve got bugs, you’ve got organic carbon in sediments, and there’s no oxygen because it’s so far from the atmosphere,” Wadham said. “When you put all those things together, it’s perfect for the production of methane. It’s like a huge wetland.”

(Read “The Big Thaw” in National Geographic magazine.)

Antarctic Microbes Busy Under Ice

While waiting for a drill that could take her there, Wadham has done her best with a chain saw. For years she has marched up to the leading edge of glaciers in Antarctica, Greenland, and Canada and sawed off cubic-foot (0.03 cubic-meter) blocks from the base of the ice—blocks that include sediments picked up by the glaciers as they advanced. Wadham shoves the blocks into sterile bags, stows them in trunks full of Styrofoam, cheerfully pays extreme excess baggage fees, and prays she and her cargo can make it to her sub-zero freezer in Bristol in 24 hours.

In the lab she incubates small vials of melted ice and sediment for as long as two years, scrupulously avoiding contamination. The result: “Every glacier where we look,” she said, “we find microbes in the sediments beneath the ice”—including microbes that are producing methane, albeit at slow rates.

Those measured rates are what Wadham and her colleagues used to estimate how much methane might have been produced on the scale of the Antarctic continent. (See Antarctica pictures.)

Antarctica has been at or near the South Pole for more than a hundred million years, but for most of that time the planet was much warmer than today—because the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was much greater. Plant and pollen fossils confirm that the continent was covered by forests andtundra rather than ice—around 52 million years ago there were even palm trees. Fjords and large bays cut deep into its interior.

(Related: “Warm Snap Turned Antarctica Green Around the Edges.”)


Deep stacks of sediment would have accumulated in those marine basins, as they do in coastal water today. Inevitably, methane-producing microbes would have been hard at work in that mud, digesting the organic matter—around 21 trillion tons of it, the researchers estimate. The microbes are still at it.

“Imagine being a microbe living in a sediment basin 35 million years ago,” said Slawek Tulaczyk, a glaciologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who worked with Wadham. “Do you care if you get covered by a mile of ice? Nothing really changes for you.”

“Really Rapid Change” Coming to Antarctica?

Except that the methane you’re making can no longer escape. Thousands of feet down in the sediment, geothermal heat keeps things warm enough for the microbes to keep producing methane. As the gas diffuses upward, however, it enters a zone where it feels not only the pressure but also the cold of the overlying ice sheet. The combination transforms it into methane hydrate: a solid, ice-like substance in which each methane molecule is trapped in a cage of water.

Hydrate is strange, fragile stuff. If the pressure drops or the temperature rises enough to take it out of its comfort zone—for instance, because the ice above it melts—it falls apart. The methane escapes to the atmosphere.

That’s the worry for the future. Climate scientists have long been concerned about the positive feedback that would result if global warming were to destabilize huge reservoirs of methane hydrate in the Arctic.

(Read about National Geographic Explorer Katey Walter Anthony’s work on methane in the Arctic.)

Now they have the Antarctic to think about too. Wadham and her colleagues calculate there could be anywhere from 70 to 390 billion tons of carbon in hydrates under the East Antarctic ice sheet, and a few tens of billions of tons under West Antarctica. (The methane there may have been made by geothermal heating of sediments rather than microbes.) That’s less than estimates for the Arctic but in the same ballpark.

You might think the Antarctic methane would be secure under such a thick ice cap. But the Antarctic has been losing a lot of ice lately. (Related: pictures of modern Antarctic warming.)

And it’s precisely the glaciers covering former marine basins that are receding the fastest because their leading edges are being eaten away by a warming sea. It’s conceivable that before the century is out those glaciers could recede enough to release whatever hydrates they’ve been covering.

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Article 7 Response (U.S. Corn)

In previous years corn production in the United States has been at an all time high. People began to agree to terms for using parts of their produce for the production of ethanol fuels. This year drought has withered the crops of the Midwest driving corn prices to an all time high. Still, farmers must use that certain amount (corresponding with their contract) for the production of ethanol. With so little to begin with, corn has become even more expensive. Being the biggest exporter of corn in the world this hurts the world’s economy as well. I think that the ethanol companies should  have taken corn, but less than the contract had assigned for this year only. I feel bad for all the farmers struggling to get by or that have lost their crop in the terrible drought.