Sunday, December 17, 2006

Angel Island

A couple weeks ago we went to Angel Island, which is the biggest island in the San Francisco Bay. It's a great day take a ferry over from Fisherman's Wharf in the morning, hike around for a few hours, and then take a ferry back in the late afternoon.

The photo above is from the southern flank of the island with downtown San Francisco in the background and Alcatraz in the middle ground.

Check out Angel Island State Park website for more info.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Friday Field Foto #7: Stack of deep-water deposits

(a day late)

Here's another shot of my field area in southern Chile. The more resistant cliff-forming rocks are mostly sandstone and the gray-brown slopes are shale. These sedimentary rocks were deposited on the sea floor about 65-70 million years ago (kind of around the time the dinosaurs became extinct). Good stuff.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Under the sea

I've spent the better part of the last 6 years studying deep-marine sedimentation (how dirt from the land gets to the bottom of the ocean). One of the coolest things about this are images like the above. It is a perspective view looking north of onshore and offshore southern California. I'm constantly fascinated by the landscape on the sea floor....mountains, valleys, canyons, channels, plains. Some of those mountains are sticking up out of the water as islands. We have the surface of Mars mapped better than our own ocean floor. It's like looking at another planet...I love it! Currently I'm studying Santa Monica Basin, which is towards the top of the image...the yellowish-greenish patch to the left of Los Angeles.

If you want to explore the world's sea-floor topography, you can download this Java program that accesses online databases (kind of like GoogleEarth but for underwater). It's called GeoMapApp, it's a little clumsy and sluggish sometimes, but still pretty fun.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Augusto Pinochet and the other 9/11

Because I've been traveling to Chile for research for the last few years, I've naturally taken an interest in their history, culture, and politics.

Yesterday Augusto Pinochet, 91, died. Pinochet led a military coup that ousted democratically-elected president Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. The U.S. secretly backed this coup as part of their 'anti-communism' program of that era.

Pinochet ruled Chile as a right-wing military dictator until 1990. Thousands of people (there's debate about how many) were rounded up, tortured, and killed for their known or inferred dissent of his politics (if you weren't with him, you were against him). There were detention and torture centers, concentration camps essentially...all that good stuff military dictatorships are made of.

He has a long list of human rights violations against him and has evaded justice over the last decade with the excuse of failing health.

Many Chileans view him as a brutal fascist dictator that ended democracy, while others view him as someone who brought economic growth to Chile with fierce free market policies (which is why the U.S. gov't backed him).

You can learn more about this subject here, here, or here.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Friday Field Foto #6: Sand-rich turbidite deposits

This is in the desert of west the Delaware Mountains. I spent many weeks here when I was working on my master's (2000-2003). Because of the school calendar, we had to go in the summer mostly. It was frickin' hot! But a beautiful place, a lot of rock. The cool thing about this place is that each of those cliff-faces has the same layers of, we were able to map out how they changed in some detail.

Check out more photos of the Delawares here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Why does it have to be water?

Okay, I know...another Mars post.
But, earlier today the news agencies picked up on a story about features seen on Mars that may have been formed by liquid water. The image at right is zoomed in on one of these deposits. The lighter-colored material is being interpreted as possibly the result of flowing water.

Why does water need to be involved at all? In fact, why does liquid need to be involved? Depending on the material that makes up this steep slope, it could simply be a gravity failure of loose, granular material that flowed and created this deposit. Sand dunes do this all the time. What is the gravity like on Mars compared to Earth might loose, granular material behave?

My point is that water is not necessarily required to produce this feature.

What's worse is that once the words 'water' and 'Mars' are spoken in the same sentence, reporters and newspapers make giant leaps of inference and start talking about 'life on Mars'.

Granted, I haven't actually read the scientific report that is coming guess is that the news is overstating what the authors may be implying in their work.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Friday Field Foto #5: Pygmy owl

Although we are usually looking at rocks, it's impossible to not have encounters with wildlife while in the field. One morning while we were having breakfast at our campsite in southern Chile, this pygmy owl hung out on a tree branch near us for about 20 minutes. This little guy is about the size of your fist.

See more photos of mine from Patagonia here.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mars Global Surveyor...R.I.P. (1996-2006)

© 2006 by Malin Space Science Systems, Inc.

NASA lost contact with the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) nearly a month ago. It appears it is now lost. MGS had a good run...orbiting the red planet taking high-res photos of the surface. It contributed to the success of the Rover mission by helping find landing spots.

The above photo shows flat-lying sedimentary rocks eroding into an oval-shaped hill that has linear sand dunes around it.

Check out the online database of MGS images.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The view from Berkeley

I snapped these on Thanksgiving evening. They are taken from the Berkeley hills looking west across the bay toward San Francisco. In the picture above San Francisco is a little right of can bareley see the silhouettes of the buildings. The Golden Gate bridge is against the far right of the photo. Note crescent moon.
The picture below is zoomed in on the Golden Gate bridge. Alcatraz is in the foreground and you can see the Farallon Islands way in the background.
Click on images to see a high-res version.

Yes, it's expensive to live here...but, sometimes you get what you pay for.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

RealClimate is a blog-style website put together by several scientists who are actively study the Earth's climate system. If you're already a science geek then you can keep up with the latest misleading or just plain wrong information spewed out by editorialists. These guys are good at untangling the sometimes confusing or seemingly contradictory information that is given to the general public. Because it is a blog, there is a chance to reply to the topic and get a discussion going. A lot of the people that participate in this are also climate you get a chance to "listen" in on the discussions they are having.

If you are new to the types of data thrown around and how the climate system works, in general, then check out the index page first. There's a lot of good info in there.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Friday Field Foto #4: Patterns in the beach

A day late ...
Here's a photo I took this October while walking on a beach up near Eureka, CA. These little erosional rills formed in this one area of the beach. You can see how the sand was re-sedimented into some neat patterns just a few feet downhill (towards the top). The width of the frame is about 3 or 4 feet across.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Giant storm on Saturn

This hurricane-like storm is 5,000 miles across (about 2/3 the size of Earth) with estimated winds of 350 mph. Click here to read more about it. Also note in the blue and red images above...all those spots are smaller storms within the big one!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Those Founding Fathers ... dang, they were smart

Alright, the elections are over. The Democrats will have control over Congress. Will everything now be all peachy and wonderful? Of course not. There is still a lot of important things to take care of.

What is important is that now unchecked power will be checked. Checks and balances. Whether it be Republicans or Democrats...neither should control all branches of government for any lengthy period of time. Corruption will always result. This is the system our founding fathers envisioned. This is why we have mid-term elections in the first place.

The Republicans are gonna call the Dems "obstructionist" ... damn straight. If there is failed policy and plans to make more, then it should be obstructed. Hopefully both sides will practice what they are preaching this week and work together.

Monday, November 06, 2006

I agree with conservatives (at least this one)

This editorial from the magazine The American Conservative, called "The GOP Must Go", is one of the more succinct arguments against keeping one-party rule in the 109th Congress and how this election tomorrow really is a referendum on the executive branch.

Prominent conservative thinkers (with an emphasis on thinking ... not the Limbaugh, O'Reilly morons screaming nonsense to the masses) have important and relevatn things to say. This article is an example of that.

"On Nov. 7, the world will be watching as we go to the polls, seeking to ascertain whether the American people have the wisdom to try to correct a disastrous course. Posterity will note too if their collective decision is one that captured the attention of historians—that of a people voting, again and again, to endorse a leader taking a country in a catastrophic direction. The choice is in our hands."

Conservative, liberal, progressive, independent ... y'all should read it.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Tsunami in ancient Lake Tahoe

This recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle discusses some geologic research that indicates there was a massive underwater landslide in the ancestral Lake Tahoe sometime between 8,000 and 15,000 years ago. This slide, possibly triggered by an earthquake, created a tsunami that, if it happened today, would flood the low-lying populated areas.

Keep this in mind if you're planning a ski vacation to Tahoe!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Friday Field Foto #3: Big Sur coring cruise

This week I had an opportunity to go out on a research cruise with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) to do some deep-sea exploration of submarine canyons offshore of the Big Sur coast south of Monterey.

This is different field work than I'm used to. I've mostly been studying ancient deep-sea sediments (now exposed in mountains) whereas this trip was looking at modern deep-sea sediments.

They drop an ROV attached to a cable from a ship. This ROV can fly around just above the sea floor, has a robotic arm to grab stuff, and a bunch of cameras for observation. The analogy one of the guys on the boat made was -- imagine exploring the Grand Canyon by dropping a video camera in a Volkswagen beetle from a helicopter on a cable over a kilometer in length, during a moonless foggy night.

The image above was our view of the Big Sur coastline (you can even see Highway 1 if you look hard enough) while we were sampling one of the submarine canyons below.

The image below is an image of the sea-floor topography showing the canyons and channels cutting through the continental margin. The shelf edge is to the right in the orange color and the darker blue colors are getting to deeper depths (image courtesey of MBARI).

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Rubber band in super slow-motion

Some physicists studying elasticity filmed rubber bands at super high speed capturing the process of "dynamic buckling instability".

Check out the article and the links to the movies here.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Guaranteed to make you laugh

Ahh...The Onion always makes me chuckle, but this recent article made me literally slap my knee. Click on image above to go to article.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Friday Field Foto #2: Shallow-marine strata

This week, another photo from southern Chile. This is a ridge called Sierra Dorotea very close to the town of Puerto Natales. We climbed up this on the very last day of our field season last March. These rocks are shallow marine and deltaic deposits of the Dorotea Formation (~60-65 million years old). More photos of Chile are here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The ancient Amazon River

I love this stuff!

Check out this article summarizing some research about the changing course of the Amazon River over geologic time. I did not go to this conference, but the main thing I wonder is what was happening between the end of the Cretaceous (65 million years ago) and the beginning of the Miocene (~20 million years ago)??

Monday, October 23, 2006


Even though the new logo and uniform stinks (that looks like UC Santa Cruz...or something)...the Sabres are 8-0, tying their franchise record for best start to a season. Let's see if I jinx them, they play Montreal tonight.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Friday Field Foto #1: Snow-covered outcrop

Here's a picture of my main field area in southern Chile, called Cerro Divisadero. This photo was shot about an hour after a snow storm came out of nowhere and chased us back to camp. If you want to see more photos from this area...check here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Looking for new music?

If you like to listen to music on your computer but don't feel like being bothered by making playlists and are unimpressed by internet radio stations, you should check out Pandora. It is an internet radio station that integrates your likes and dislikes. You create different stations based on an artist or song and it searches the Music Genome Project database for similar-sounding music. Then you can give it a thumbs up or thumbs down. The more you do this, the more it refines that particular station. I've had it going for a few months, have about 10 different stations, and it does a decent job of picking music for that station.

The best part is that it will choose a lot of unknown artists. It searches for similar music based solely on the music...not the number of records sold, popularity, appearances on TV, corporate sponsorship, etc. I've found some bands i've never heard of but really like now. If a song/artist comes up that you really like you can simply click 'save to favorites' and then later on, when you have time, find out more.

Check it out.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Honestly...I don't miss this

I grew up in Buffalo and this kind of nonsense. It seems kind of ridiculous now. It's 65 degrees and blue sky here (although I could be crushed by an earthquake at any moment, I suppose).


The Exploratorium is a science museum in San Francisco that aims to mix science with culture and art. One of their sponsored projects, shown in the image above and called Cabspotting, tracks the movements of taxi cabs around the city. It creates an ever-changing map revealing some interesting cultural and social trends. Plus, I think it just looks cool.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Opportunity at Victoria Crater

These crazy robots are still alive and kickin' on the surface of Mars...they were only supposed to survive a few months but have been there exploring and collecting data since early 2004 . One of the two rovers, Opportunity, just reached the edge of a crater that has some rocks exposed along the crater walls (picture above).

Check here for more.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hockey is back!

Yes! Sabres beat the Stanley Cup champs on opening night.
Hockey is back.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Bay Area natural and historical landmarks

I was informed about a good cause (thanks Amy) for those of you reading this blog that live in the Bay Area (if anybody is reading this).

Go the this website, for the Partners in Preservation, San Francisco Bay Initiative. There you can view all the sites (like Pigeon Point, shown above) in the area and vote for action to be taken to preserve them. For those not from Bay Area, check out the site anyway.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

They work for us!

Imagine a company. The boss scolds her employee for doing a poor job. Pretty standard stuff...happens all the time. The employee performs poorly, they get told about it and, hopefully, they do a better job. I think everyone can agree that, in general, this is an effective way of communicating.

Now, what if the employee (the one who got scolded) turned around and had his boss arrested simply for telling him that he was doing a poor job. Hey man...just do your job, don't flip out.

You might have guessed where i'm going with this. The situation described above actually happened.

They work for us. They are our employees. If they are doing a crappy job, they should hear about it from us. They should hear about it from us now (before a law gets passed precluding us from doing what is our right). Find your employee here and tell them how they are doing.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Click on the image above to get a bigger version. It's a screenshot from a NYT article back in August showing a neuron cells and their connections in the brain on the left and simulation of the universe on the right.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Unfortunately, the story that should be discussed by everyone is getting buried by a waste-of-time, sordid, e-pedophile scandal.

Meanwhile, this last week we saw yet another small step toward the type of unitary executive power sought by those currently in power. As usual the bill that passed, the Detainee Bill is a misnomer, as it addresses issues far beyond detainees.

"In effect [the Detainee Bill] allows the president to identify enemies, imprison them indefinitely and interrogate them...beyond the reach of the full court reviews traditionally afforded criminal defendants and ordinary prisoners."

Yes, that includes American citizens that they deem as an 'unlawful combatant'. It doesn't matter how we define that, because it is up to the executive branch to decide who is and who is not an unlawful combatant. Awesome.

"Over all, the legislation reallocates power among the three branches of government, taking authority away from the judiciary and handing it to the president."

Some are calling this the death of habeas corpus, commonly attributed to the Magna Carta of 1215 (pictured above). Other constitutional law experts think this will be struck down by the Supreme Court in due time.

Here's the link for the quotes above.

"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty."
- John Adams, 1772

Friday, September 29, 2006

Amazing Image

This is a photo of the space shuttle Atlantis and International Space Station silhouetted against the sun. That is damn cool! Here's the link from Astonomy Picture of the Day.

Breaking News!

I'm glad CNN is on this. Not a minute goes by that i'm not worried about a fringe celebrity and their matrimonial activities. Maybe this is why 40% of Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein orchestrated 9/11? Good job, media...keep it up!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Turtles as Big as Cars

Boaters are spotting the very large (and rare) Leatherback turtles offshore near San Francisco.
Read the whole article from the San Francisco Chronicle here.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Oh Screech...say it ain't so!

Perhaps, a new career direction for Dustin Diamond?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Face on Mars

Modern mapping and imaging of the surface of Mars reveals "the face".
Read the article here.