Geology in the News 2003
This is a selection of stories, subject to the following rules. First, I don't guarantee close daily coverage of everything that happens (because I have things to do apart from maintaining this Web page). Second, the site has to be generally accessible. (Many journals make their pages accessible only to people who have paid a subscription to the written version.) Third, I choose newspapers and news sites that tend to keep their pages accessible for more than two weeks over those that do not. Fourth, to minimize loading time, I take stories off and archive them after a couple of months (see bottom of page for links to archived stories). Fifth, I keep older articles archived for varying lengths of time, depending how important I think they are (or interesting, at least); whether they have been updated or made redundant; and whether the site has dropped them.
Similar pages on the UC Davis Geology Department web site are
Geology in the News
December 31, 2003. Huge death toll in Iran earthquake. In chronological order:
Story removed by New York Times. As usual, the horrendous number of deaths was due to two things. First, the quake occurred when people were asleep, but second and more important, because of poor construction techniques and materials. This is high desert country, and older mud-brick construction even extended to the famous medieval fortress. Today, they use concrete blocks, which are just as deadly in an earthquake. Note also that we are very unlikely to get an accurate count of the number of deaths. When the death rate is this high, wiping out whole families, the survivors are not going to be able to reconstruct the death toll. Remember also the gross uncertainty, even today, about the number of people killed in New York on 9-11. We should regard any numbers quoted for deaths in a major catastrophe with caution, especially when they are centuries old.
What Bam was like before the earthquake. National Geographic News, December 31, 2003.
December 24, 2003. The complexity of trying to understand faults in the L.A. basin. Press release. For animations of some of the interactions between faults, click here
December 19, 2003. The concept of "Snowball Earth" takes another hit. Press release from NSF. The paper was in Nature.
December 18, 2003. Recent "ice age" on Mars. Press release from NASA. Very nice piece of science. But don't get too excited, because "ice ages" on Mars are very different from those on Earth. Water goes directly from ice to vapor, then re-freezes again. And globally, there is VERY LITTLE ice available at the Martian surface. Guesses are about 1 meter of water equivalent, that's all.
December 15, 2003. Potassium in the Earth's core? a little makes a great big difference. UC Berkeley press release
December 11, 2003. Is Kilauea going to slide into the ocean? Press release, Rice University. Here's the problem: a distinct strip of coast along the south edge of Hawaii IS slipping toward the sea. Is it going to fail catastrophically and generate the largest tsunami in recorded history? It's safer than we thought, says this new study. (Of course, that doesn't answer the question. The answer is YES: the real question is when.)
December 8, 2003. Better understanding of California's earthquake hazards. National Geographic News. See this BBC News OnLine story for more about SAFOD.
December 8, 2003. The great Cascadia earthquake of 1700 and the tsunami that followed.
December 1, 2003. "Ultra-slow" spreading ridges. Press release. The paper was in Nature, so it won't be generally available on the Web. Extends our concept of plate tectonics, so it will be featured in the next edition of your Geology 1 textbook.
November 25, 2003. A metal frost on the highlands of Venus. BBC News OnLine. This is a great one! On Earth, frost is ice. On Venus, it's the easily vaporized metals lead and bismuth.
November 21, 2003. Strong evidence for meteorite impact at the PT boundary. This is a report in Science by Asish Basu and colleagues. There's the usual carping, sometimes by people who don't know anything about impacts. But you can't brush this evidence aside lightly.
November 19, 2003. Injecting carbon dioxide deep under the seafloor: Statoil's pioneering efforts. CNN story. Previous stories:
November 17, 2003. A big ice ball found in the outer Solar System. BBC News OnLine. In this case, "big" is over 500 km across.
November 14, 2003. Delta of Mars? Deltas on Earth form when sediment-laden flowing water is stopped dead as it enters a sea or lake, thus dropping its sediment load. A delta on Mars would indicate the presence of an ancient lake or sea, therefore. If true, the question arises: how long does it take? How temporary a lake would be needed? Fortunately, we have evidence about that. Deltas form quickly in new reservoirs (within a few years), and in one classic example on the Texas coast, a river that changed its course in a flood to enter a lagoon built a big delta in days. So the delta doesn't have to mean long-term lakes or seas on Mars, but it does indicate they were there, AND that there was significant water flow over the surface. So it depends now on your personal take: does it affect the picture of a dry cold sterile Mars? Not yet, for me, but thousands would disagree.
November 10, 2003. Hurricane Isabel, the Outer Banks, and taxpayers' money. National Geographic News. More futility...
November 10, 2003. How does lava flow so far in the deep sea? USGS press release. The paper is in Nature, so it's not universally available on the Web.
November 6, 2003. A bizarre story about earthquake prediction in Tajikistan. BBC News OnLine. I have to say that I wouldn't give him any money either.
November 5, 2003. Hydrogen sulfide may have been the killer at the Permo-Triassic boundary. Press release from Penn State. Well, yes, but you will search in vain for any EVIDENCE. In fact, the authors say that they are starting to think about maybe looking for some. Do I need to say anything more?
November 5, 2003. The critical state of the water supply of the Gaza Strip. Press release. The real problem is too many people living in a place where they shouldn't be. That's not a political statement, but a geological one.
October 24, 2003. More evidence that Mars is cold and dry, and has been for 3 billion years. (Did you ever doubt it?) USGS Press release. There are very large outcrops of olivine on the Martian surface. On Earth, olivine doesn't last long, because it breaks down easily by weathering, with water playing the major role in that process.
October 22, 2003. Why don't we worry more about geological catastrophes? The Guardian
October 20, 2003. Mercury-mining hazards in Northern California.
October 20, 2003. King Kamehameha V to the rescue after the Hawaiian earthquakes, tsunami and eruption of 1868. USGS Hawaii site.
October 17, 2003. The asteroid Hermes has returned: and it will be close and visible. BBC News OnLine
October 17, 2003. Dramatic melting of glaciers in South America. BBC News OnLine. Here is a news release. If it disappears, here's another copy
October 6, 2003. A meteorite hits a house in New Orleans. BBC News OnLine
October 3, 2003. Saturn's moon Titan may have hydrocarbon "oceans". BBC News OnLine. This is not a new idea by any means: this is a report of new data that make the idea more likely to be true.
October 3, 2003. Louisiana is losing land, and oranges, to salt-water intrusion. Story removed by ENN news. Previous story: Christian Science Monitor, April 24, 2003.
October 2, 2003. A close miss by a small asteroid. BBC News OnLine. This is the closest miss yet seen, and is not the same as the one reported on September 24 (see below), which is now demoted to # 5 on the all-time list..
September 29, 2003. Meteorite shower hits India. BBC News OnLine. Previous story: BBC News OnLine, September 28, 2003.
September 26, 2003. Strong earthquake in Hokkaido, northern Japan.
September 25, 2003. Update on the lahar hazard from Mount Rainier. National Geographic site. The probability of a lahar is small; but if it does happen, the downside is pretty scary. That makes this a difficult problem for policy planners.
September 24, 2003. Close miss from a 16-foot meteorite: # 4 on the close-miss list.
BBC News OnLine
September 23, 2003. The glaciers of Kilimanjaro are disappearing fast. National Geographic News
September 13, 2003. Volcanic ash and aircraft. Feature article in Science News
September 5, 2003, So the newest asteroid won't hit us after all. What do we do about these asteroid scares?? BBC News OnLine. The stories last week:
September 1, 2003. Global warming is real, and it's rapid. BBC News OnLine.
August 28, 2003. Large earthquake in southern New Zealand. The Guardian. This is in one of the areas where Lord of the Rings was filmed. Doubtful Sound is a place where you stand still and you hear: NOTHING. It's also a place where they have that very unusual geological phenomenon, tree avalanches (referred to in this story).
August 28, 2003. A methane belch at the Permo-Triassic boundary. This may be the bad paper of the decade. First, this is not a new idea: my Davis colleagues Dan Dorritie and Gary Vermeij published it in Science several years ago. Second, whoever wrote the thought that a single mammal swimming in the ocean could set off a methane disaster may well be unaware that there were NO mammals (count them) in the Permian, and is likely influenced by the science FICTION idea that a butterfly flapping its wings can set off a hurricane. Press release from Northwestern University
August 27, 2003. Better method for predicting (some) eruptions. BBC News OnLine. If you've read the pop books about the eruption of Galeras, you have read about these arguments.
August 25, 2003. More evidence that Mars is (and has been) cold and DRY. Press release from ASU (The paper is in Science, v. 301: 1084-1087.)
August 16, 2003. Hot spots are NOT fixed with relation to the Earth. This is a BIG DEAL, and this is the best popular account available at this time. It's now clear that the Hawaiian hot spot MOVED, with all sorts of implications requiring that we abandon the 30-year-old idea that hot spots are fixed, while plates move.
August 16, 2003. Ice towers on Mount Erebus, Antarctica: analogs for Mars?
August 11, 2003. New data on the origin of the Moon. National Geographic News. More precision: no revolutionary ideas.
July 28, 2003. New maps of Mars "water". Press release from Los Alamos National Laboratory. New maps showing the distribution of hydrogen in Martian soil. The hydrogen may represent atoms bound up in the water molecule. It's not "water", however, as the title of this press release says, it's ICE. The maps are here
June 23, 2003. More bad news about arsenic in Bangladesh well water. National Geographic News
June 17, 2003. Here's a shocker: asteroid impacts are LESS to be feared that we had thought. Story removed by Nature news service. Previous stories:
May 24, 2003. Water on Mars, episode 3,556. BBC News OnLine. This one is far-fetched, but marginally possible. It seems vanishingly unlikely (to me) that water could exist in liquid form in any one place for long enough to have any significant chemistry happen.
May 23, 2003. The eruption of Anahatan. Picture from space.
May 17, 2003. Patterned ground: in glacial and periglacial regions. Science News. Earlier story: BBC News OnLine, January 2003.
May 16, 2003. Analysis of last year's huge Denali earthquake. San Francisco Chronicle. For California, the major item is that the M7.9 quake was triggered by a smaller shock on a nearby blind thrust. Since the Bay Area and the LA Basin are overflowing with blind thrusts near large strike-slip faults, this should come as a sobering reality check.
May 14, 2003. A probe to the Earth's core: a wonderfully nutty idea.
May 13, 2003. The meteorite that splattered Chicago on March 26th. Quick review in National Geographic News
May 12, 2003. A 2-million-year meteorite shower, 480 million years ago. The evidence comes from tiny meteorites preserved in limestone beds in Sweden. Don't go thinking "extinction": this size of fragment wouldn't do anything. A really elegant paper in Science. Press release
May 4, 2003. Earthquake kills over 160 people in eastern Turkey: shoddy construction and corruption is mostly to blame. The Guardian, May 3, 2003.
May 3, 2003. An earthquake warning system for Los Angeles (or anywhere else that builds the instrumentation). Science News
May 2, 2003. Supercities make great targets for earthquakes. National Geographic News. Rather like trailer parks and tornadoes.
May 1, 2003. Trying to predict Etna's eruptions from seismic data. BBC News OnLine, about a paper in Geology.
April 25, 2003. Hints of an icy surface on Saturn's moon Titan. BBC News OnLine
April 22, 2003. New estimates of earthquake danger for the San Francisco Bay Area. USGS page with many links
April 21, 2003. Meteorite hits the small African nation of Lesotho. BBC News OnLine
April 11, 2003. Methane hydrate and the Ice Ages. BBC News OnLine. Jim Kennett of UC Santa Barbara suspects that methane hydrate release was a major player in boosting the climate swings of the Ice Age. That theory came under attack at a conference in France. My money's on Jim Kennett.
April 4, 2003. Perceived problems at a huge gold mine in the African nation of Mali. BBC News OnLine.
April 3, 2003. Bad news about a "blind thrust" fault under downtown Los Angeles. National Geographic News
March 31, 2003. Is there lots of natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico? Presss release saying yes
March 27, 2003. Is the Earth's magnetic field going to flip? BBC News OnLine. Not in our lifetimes.
February 26, 2003. Deadly earthquake in far west China. CNN
February 20, 2003. New ideas about forming gullies on Mars. This story looks really good. Don't be fooled, though: the quantities of water involved are TINY!
February 19, 2003. Big bang formation of the Moon. BBC News OnLine. This is not new, but it is a quick snappy summary.
February 16, 2003. Estimates of more water on Mars. BBC News OnLine. Come on, folks, let's be real: the equivalent number on Earth is not ankle-deep but 3 kilometers deep! And Earth's water isn't lost to space the way Mars water would be if we let it loose.
February 14, 2003. "Singing volcanoes": their infrasound signatures. BBC News OnLine
February 14, 2003. The menace of underground coal fires. BBC News OnLine
February 13, 2003. Channels on Mars. NASA press release. Images at NASA Ames site
February 12, 2003. "Blood diamonds" National Geographic News
February 7, 2003. The geology of the ancient city of Troy. BBC News OnLine
February 6, 2003. Is Mount Etna becoming more dangerous? National Geographic News
February 6, 2003. Water flow and heat flow through the ocean crust. Press release about a new paper
February 3, 2003. Swarm of earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay area. San Francisco Chronicle. In the East Bay; no particular reason to worry.
February 1, 2003. "Dormant" volcanoes show signs of life. BBC News OnLine. The evidence comes from a technique that can detect tiny amounts of ground movement from satellite surveys. It's not new, but it is gradually being applied over more of the Earth's surface. It detected the swelling of the Earth over the Sisters area of Oregon a couple of years ago, for example.
January 27, 2003. Short pop review of opal. American Chemical Society news site
January 23, 2003. The hydrothermal vents on the Gakkel Ridge in the Arctic Ocean.
National Geographic News Previous stories from November 1991, when the vents were discovered:
January 21, 2003. Danger of glacial lake outbursts in the Himalayas. BBC News OnLine
January 10, 2003. Update on the eruption and collapse at Stromboli. Stromboli usually has frequent small eruptions, with small explosions. The current eruption is larger than usual, though not large by the standards of other volcanoes around the world. It did cause a collapse of about 2 million tons of rock, probably simply by overloading of a slope that was already unstable. That collapse into the sea caused a small tsunami. The eruption is still going on, and everyone has been evacuated from the small island. The Italians are installing a warning system (there may be another collapse). The first collapse was entirely predictable (just not the date): Peter Schiffman of this Department told his colleagues about the danger several years ago, so it must have been obvious to the local geologists as well.
January 10, 2003. The Moon's magnetic field and an early internal upheaval. UC Berkeley press release on the Spaceflight site. The explanation is unlikely, but it just hangs together; and let's face it, the FACT of the Moon's magnetic field is unlikely too.
January 8, 2003. An asteroid that will get close but will not hit the Earth. BBC News OnLine
January 7, 2003. "White Mars" again. Press release. This is the idea that the fluid flow that produced gullies on Mars was not water, but liquid carbon dioxide. A re-statement by its
January 3, 2003. The eruption of Kilauea: twenty years old today. National Geographic News
January 1, 2003. The volcanoes of Io erupt salt vapor (as well as basalt and maybe sulfur). Press release, on the Spaceflight site
All links checked, June 2007.
For current geology news, see Geology News
[For news items archived from 2002, see Geology News from 2002.
[For news items archived from 2001, see Geology News from 2001.
[For news items archived from 2000, see Geology News from 2000.
[For news items archived from 1999, see Geology News from 1999.
[Return to Geology Department at UC Davis