Sunday, April 29, 2007

Science podcasts

I take a commuter train nearly every day from home to my office at school. I find this time perfect for catching up on the latest science news via podcasts. Below are science-related podcasts that I subscribe to. If you know of any others, please let me know...i'm always looking for something new.

I'm including the link to the website for these podcasts but, if you use an iPod, you can also easily find them through the iTunes directory. These are all free.


Nature Podcast: This is one of the longer ones at about 25-30 minutes and is published once a week. This podcast sums up 3 or 4 of the prominent articles that are reported in the weekly journal Nature. The format is typically a phone interview with one or more of the authors of a study in that week's issue. This is the most technical of all the podcasts listed here.

Science Friday: This is one of my personal favorites. Science Friday is part of NPR's Talk of the Nation programming and hosted by Ira Flatow. If you listen to this on the radio is an hour long and typically broken into 2-4 segment covering different topics. The podcast edition is delivered so that each segment is a separate episode, which is nice so you don't have to listen to the entire hour to hear the topic you are really interested in. Sometimes a segment can be over 30 minutes and others will be only 10 minutes. It is very non-technical and Flatow does a great job of keeping the guests from using too much jargon. Lately, they've had a lot of climate science and/or policy topics that are pretty good.

Science Times is hosted by David Corcoran of the New York Times. It is published once a week and summarizes the main articles that were highlighted in the newspaper that week. This is a nice one to add to the mix because they tend to not focus on the same story that all the other media outlets picked up (usually from Nature or Science). It is typically 15-20 minutes in length.

Science Talk is the podcast associated with the magazine Scientific American. I've only started listening to this one recently, but so far so good. There is a little overlap with the others but sometimes that is nice because you get a slightly different perspective or style of reporting. It is similar in length to the others (20-25 minutes) and published about once a week.

PopSci Podcast is hosted by Jonathan Coulton and is the less serious one thrown on this list. It is associated with Popular Science magazine, which I don't read, and is essentially a nerdy comedy podcast sprinkled with some information. It is short (<10 minutes) and consists of an intro and summary by Coulton (who is stationed on the moon) and a phone interview with a researcher usually on something offbeat. For example, they once had a guy who studied how fruit flies fight and another story about how San Francisco wants to try and collect dog poo and turn it into energy. The problem is there hasn't been a new episode in a couple months, so i'm not sure what's up with it.

If you know of other podcasts that are similar to these, please leave a comment and link.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Wilco on Letterman

Here's a video from 2004 of Wilco playing one of my favorites, 'Hummingbird', on David Letterman. Enjoy.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Field Foto #14: Landslide deposit

In the spring of 2006 I was lucky enough to attend a geology conference in Mendoza, Argentina, which is in the foreland of the central Andes east of, and just over the continental divide from Santiago, Chile. Part of the program was a day trip up to the Andes to look at the fold-thrust belt structure. This is very close to Aconcagua, which is the highest peak in the western hemisphere (almost 7,000 meters).

I snapped this photo on the last stop of the day (near the divide/border) of a landslide that occured about 100 years ago. Apparently, the timing of this is known from notes and observations from European explorers/settlers. Note the building in the lower right foreground for scale.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Structural deformation revealed on sea-floor image

As you've seen from previous posts on this blog (e.g., here, here, and here) I have a penchant for images of sea-floor bathymetry. Not only are they fascinating (and aesthetically pleasing) but they constantly remind of us of how much we don't know about our own planet surface (remember, 2/3 of the Earth's surface is under water). We have mapped the surface of Mars better than Earth!

A recent Deep Sea News post reminded me of a great web resource if you are interested in marine science. It is called SIMoN, which stands for Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network, is a portal for all things related to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Much of the site involves the biological and habitat aspects (it is a sanctuary after all) but there is also great stuff regarding the geology and geomorphology of the area.

The image below (see page on SIMoN here for all the details) is from an area offshore of the central California near Half Moon Bay (just south of San Francisco and north of Santa Cruz). This area is called Mavericks and is a popular surfing spot.

What is most striking is how nicely the structural deformation of Pliocene sedimentary rocks is shown with this image. Movement on the San Gregorio fault (a wholly owned subsidiary of the San Andreas) has produced this folding and the layered nature of the strata has resulted in the differential erosion and alternating ridges and 'valleys' seen on the bathymetry.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Where on (Google)Earth #9?


Good luck.

Fossil forest

Check out this article from about some spectacularly preserved plant fossils discovered in an underground coal mine in Illinois.

"The fossil forest was rooted on top of the coal seam, so where the coal had been mined away the fossilized forest was visible in the ceiling of the mine. We walked for miles and miles along pitch-black passages with the fossil forest just above our heads. We were able to make a map of the forest by the light of our miners' lamps.", said Dr. Falcon-Lang from the University of Bristol.

Look for the paper in the journal Geology.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Review of 'Thin Ice' by Mark Bowen

PLEASE NOTE: As of August 2007 his blog has can find this same post at the new blog here. Thanks.

A couple months ago, Thermochronic over at Apparent Dip started a list of popular science books and will be reviewing them as he reads/re-reads them (here's the first).

He asked fellow geobloggers to suggest books for this effort.
I recently finished Thin Ice by Mark Bowen...i'm going to provide a short review here (hopefully not stealing Thermochronic's thunder!).

The subtitle of this book, Unlocking the secrets of climate in the world's highest mountains, succinctly sums up what this book is about. Bowen successfully weaves together adventure and science. For any of you out there who have done a lot of field work, you will like it. There are many anecdotes about working and surviving in the field, ranging from humorous to tragic. I tend to like stories about adventurers who are also scientists (rather than people going through hardships just to do it).

Lonnie Thompson, a climate scientist at Ohio State University, and an assortment of others from his research team are the main 'characters' in this story. For decades, Lonnie and his team have been drilling and studying cores from high alpine ice sheets, including Peru (Quelccaya), Bolivia (Sajama), Tanzania (Kiliminjaro), and Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (Dunde). An interesting aspect of this story is how in the 1970s and 80s the paleoclimate community more-or-less regarded alpine cores, especially from low latitudes, as useless to climate reconstruction. Everyone believed all the answers were in the big continental ice caps near the poles (Greenland and Antarctica). The results from Thompson's work showed that these ice caps have records going back maybe not has far as the continental ice sheets but much farther than had been postulated (100,000 years). Furthermore, the climatic fluctuations that are recorded in these lower-latitude archives have important implications for weather patterns that the polar records just cannot address. Bowen also includes great sections on the history of climate and paleoclimate science interspersed with the narrative of the ice coring work of Thompson's team.

I found this book to be at a great level for a scientist (who's not a paleoclimate expert) or a layperson who is motivated. That is, you need some background to stay engaged but you don't need to be an expert in atmospheric dynamics.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Underground musicians this case.

This is a video of flute player Greg Pattillo and cello player Eric Stephenson at Union Square subway in NYC (via Hidden Track and on YouTube, where you can find other videos of Pattillo).

It's a couple minutes long....give it a listen.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday Field Foto #13: Permian rocks of the Delaware Mts

This is from west Texas (my old master's degree stompin' grounds). The Permian Brushy Canyon Formation is the sandstone and siltstone making up the foreground cliffs. In the background, along the skyline, is the Guadalupe Mountains, which is the highest point in Texas.

The geology of this area is very unique in that these mountains expose a shelf, shelf-margin, and basin transition across ~100 km nearly continuously. One of these days, I'll post some more info about that.

This photo taken by and courtesy of my friend Marieke

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Balloons in an office

The randomness tag couldn't be more appropriate for this post.

Our research group is wondering how to celebrate our advisor's birthday this year....which usually ends up being a tribute and/or roast. In the past, students have also done things to his office so there's a surprise waiting for him in the morning.

Anyways...while "researching" this, I came across this video on YouTube that absolutely made my day!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sea-floor laboratory offshore British Columbia, Washintgton, and Oregon

Yes! More sea-floor laboratories! I posted just last week about a somewhat similar plan for Monterey submarine canyon. This one is in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, offshore of BC, Washington, and Oregon.

Here are the highlights from this article in ScienceDaily:

  • NEPTUNE (North-East Pacific Time-Series Undersea Networked Experiments) is a joint U.S.-Canada venture led by the University of Victoria in Canada and the University of Washington in the United States.
  • Located in the northeast Pacific on the active Juan de Fuca tectonic plate.
  • NEPTUNE will allow scientists to monitor biological, oceanographic and geological processes over a period that could stretch to more than two decades.
  • Six unmanned sea floor nodes, each roughly the size of a sport utility vehicle and each hosting an array of instruments, equipment and video cameras will be installed on the ocean floor in Canadian waters.
  • The first stage of NEPTUNE is scheduled to start in summer 2008.

Let's hope their equipment doesn't get destroyed by a turbidity current.....on the other hand....we could use the data :)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Where on (Google)Earth? #8

I'm not gonna give any clues....not until there's at least a few guesses.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Video of landslide in Japan

UPDATE: As of Aug '07, this video was removed from YouTube...sorry

I finally took 5 minutes and figured out how to embed YouTube videos on this blog. From time to time, I'm gonna post geo-related footage. This one is of a landslide that occurred in Japan.

Back to regular life...

I'm nearly done with this latest stint on the SHRIMP...I need to blast about 5 more zircons. What a way to spend a Friday night.

I was gonna work on finishing up a paper that needs to get off my desk, my upcoming spring review progress report, reading a bunch of papers that i've been meaning to get to, and various other research-related activities while running this machine the last 3 days.

Instead, I played around on the internet.

Surfing the web is such a spasmodic and nonlinear activity -- it actually goes perfect with running this machine, which has a sequence of mindless tasks every 7 minutes.

I've been checking out some music-related sites/blogs...I started a list on the sidebar. I haven't posted too much about live music on this blog, because I just haven't seen much lately. The whole finishing-up-the-dang-PhD thing has gotten in the way. I'm hoping to change that this summer.

...okay, 4 zircons to go...

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday Field Foto #12: Combined-flow ripples

I realized today that I haven't done a Friday Field Foto since early February...go here to see all the previous FFF posts.

Today, I decided to show a close-up instead of the usual landscape-scale views that I usually post. This is from the Cretaceous of central Utah (associated w/ these rocks) and shows some very nice ripple cross-laminated sandstone. In this case you can very nicely see some slightly climbing ripple-laminated sandstone toward the bottom overlain by some ripples heading the other way (apparently), and then some wavy laminae and smaller-scale ripples on top. Above and below this bed are abundant hummocky cross-stratified sandstones indicating that these ripple-laminated deposits are likely the product of combined flow (oscillatory + unidirectional) associated with storm waves (i.e., between storm- and fair weather-wave base).

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Inverted depositional features on Mars

FYI - this post is not about brand new discoveries -- you can find information about these features on Mars Global Surveyor website and also check out a Science paper from 2003 by Malin et al. that goes over this stuff in more detail...I just felt like posting about it.

I was living in Colorado some years back when I went on a trip to look at the local geology of the Front Range and had one of those great field moments when the trip leader pointed out some inverted topography. In this case, a relatively small volcanic eruption produced lava flows that were isolated in a mountain valley. Since that time, the surrounding much softer sediments and sedimentary rocks have eroded away leaving lava-capped mesas that are now segmented by the modern river. The image below is of Golden showing the modern Clear Creek cutting the lava-capped mesa in two (yes, that complex of structures right in the valley is Coors brewery). Image courtesey of

These modern positive topographic features are representing an ancient valley! Very cool.

So, while wasting time on the internet - in 7-minute increments - I came across some old bookmarks about some inverted topographic features on Mars. The group of features, discovered in November 2003 by Mars Global Surveyor (MGS), have been dubbed the Eberswalde Delta.

The image above is Fig. 2 straight from Malin et al. (2003) showing the exhumed fluvial distributary fan (click on all images for larger view). The conspicuous curvilinear features at closer examination are actually positive topography. Inset of box A below clearly shows the deposits of a migrating meandering stream standing as a plateau above the surrounding area.

This is a striking example of inverted topography. In this case, the channel deposits contain coarser material (likely sand/gravel) and therefore are more resistant than the out-of-channel material (likely mud/silt). No data from the planet surface exists for this location but these are reasonable guesses. The cross-cutting relationships of this feature also nicely reveal that the wide meander swing was abandonded for a shorter, more direct route at some point.

The image below (inset box B) shows more cross-cutting ridges representing channel-fill deposits. I would sure like to walk up the edges of those ridges and plateaus to check out the cross-section of that fill. Another thing to notice is the apparent spreading out of coarser-grained material from left to right. Malin et al. interpret this as the lobe deposits at the end of these channel features....which seems pretty reasonable to me.

The implications of all this, of course, are further evidence of flowing water on Mars. The big problem we are faced with at this point is not so much if water flowed on Mars, but when. The next generation of rovers are gonna half to brush up on their geochronology.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Data Sonification

Although it would likely be a waste of time, I have always been tempted to somehow turn geologic data I have collected into sound. It is commonplace to convert data into visual representations by which qualitative patterns are evaluated by simply looking at it (e.g., maps). Less common is converting data into sound and listening for patterns. The idea of turning data into sound for analysis is certainly not new (e.g., the Geiger counter was invented in the first decade of the 20th century), but the application of sonification to varied data types across scientific disciplines has seen more activity in the last couple of decades.

It is important to make the distinction between music and sound. A separate, but related, discussion would deal with the potential for creating new kinds of avant-garde music within this realm (check out here [1] and here [2]), but that's not what I'm talking about. Data sonification is simply the auditory equivalent of data visualization. Yes, some visual data is certainly striking in its beauty, but aesthetic value and scientific value are mutually exclusive. In recent years, data sonification has been applied especially in biomedical disciplines (e.g., here and here), but what about the geosciences?

What data types in geoscience would be amenable to being listened to? One answer to why we haven't seen the value of data sonification demonstrated in this regard is because it has none. This approach can most easily be applied with time series data (and potentially 'thickness series' data as I discuss below) but what about spatial information? My intuition is that turning spatial data into something that one can listen to would create something extremely difficult to interpret.

The two figures below show a waveform (top) and associated sonogram (bottom) for an eruption event at Mt. Etna (click on the image to go to the webpage for those figures, here for the home page [3], or here for a BBC report about the project in general [4]).

I listened to some of the data from the above project and I have to say I was underwhelmed. It should be noted, however, that I am currently sitting in a room where clicking, whooshing, and otherwise white-noiseing of a magical machine that knows when a zircon was born is overpowering all other sound. Additionally, this particular dataset is a gradual and subtle crecsendo...all-in-all, not a very exciting pattern. That being said, one of the objectives of what they are doing is to figure out a workflow.

Being a sedimentary geologist, I measure and describe a lot of vertical sections of stratigraphic successions that are exposed in outcrop or part of wellbore data (e.g., core, logs) for the subsurface. At right is an example of a measured section from outcrop. How might we go about sonifying this? From my perspective, I would want attributes such as lithology, grain size, bed thickness, prominent sedimentary structures, presence/absence of trace fossils, and so on captured in the data. The question is: would doing this add any value to the process of recognizing and then interpreting observed (heard) patterns?

Perhaps the value might be when multiple sections are combined? I don't know. This is one of those topics that is perfect for a blog because I'd like to hear what people think. Do you think your particular type of data could be converted to sound and be of any use?

Further reading (and some listening) on the web:
(1) Article from Feb 2007 SF Chronicle about Stanford music professor turning data into sound
(2) Heart Chamber Orchestra
(3) Mt. Etna Volcano Sonification: Listening to Seismograms
(4) BBC News report about Mt. Etna project
(5) A Spatialized Meterological Data Sonification Project (PDF)

Blogging in 7 minute increments

I haven't blogged in a while -- it's been really hectic around here. But, I finally have some free time...the only catch is that in comes in increments of approximately 7 minutes in duration. I am spending the next few nights dating some detrital zircons on the SHRIMP. A couple of months ago, I posted about this avenue of research here. Each grain takes about that long to cycle through...there's a few numbers to be checked and recorded, and then you move the beam on to the next grain.

The good news is that colleagues in my research group are willing to help me out with this analysis. The bad news is that since the machine runs 24/7 and they are my samples, i'm the one who gets to sit here from 7pm until 7am....good times. I don't mind working the graveyard shift, but I really have a hard time the first night...once ya get into the groove it's not so bad. There is something a little strange being opposite from the rest of society though. One of the several random jobs I worked during college was as a night watchman -- it is definitely a lonely existence. Some people work these hours for years and years...I don't know how they do it.

Anyway....hopefully, I'll have a chance to catch up on the latest in the 7-minute increments.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Where on (Google)Earth? #7

Good luck.

Deep sea observatory in Monterey Bay

This is really cool -- check out the article on ScienceDaily.

In a multi-institution effort managed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and funded by the National Science Foundation, 52 kilometers (32 miles) of cable were laid along the seafloor of Monterey Bay. This undersea cable will provide electrical power to scientific instruments, video cameras, and robots 900 meters (3,000 feet) below the ocean surface. It will also carry data from these instruments back to shore, for use by scientists and engineers around the world.
MBARI is a very cool organization, I was able to go out on a short research cruise last fall, which was a great experience. Very high tech...exploring the deep sea floor is like exploring another planet. It will be exciting to see how well this new system works out.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Old and eccentric scientist entertainment

I just returned from the 2007 American Assoc of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) annual conference in Long Beach, CA. All in all, a decent meeting this year.

Although I would argue that publications coming out of AAPG have declined in quality in recent years (too many case studies about oil fields...yawn), the meeting still attracts many great researchers from the broader sedimentary geology community.

If you've never been....the AAPG meeting is a single meeting for two general types; those who use geology to find oil and those who use the oil industry to do geology. If you can't tell by this blog, I fall into the latter. The amount of data and information about sedimentary geology that this industry produces is phenomenal. If you're an Earth data junkie like me, this is a good meeting. The topics are typically split nicely for both the nerdy and business types.

A highlight for me was seeing Emiliano Mutti speak. This guy is a legend in the sedimentary geology (particularly turbidite researchers) community. He is a short, old, Italian professor and extremely fiesty....quite entertaning. Like many scientific communities, there are always some eccentric characters that stand out. This guy is one of those characters. One of my favorite moments was watching one of my colleauges who was chairing a session decide when to cut Mutti off when he went off on a ranting tangent after asking a speaker a question.