USGS News

Media Advisory: Remobilized 100-Year-Old Volcanic Ash: Is It a Health Hazard?

Summary: Two community events about monitoring old volcanic ash resuspended by high winds are scheduled next week in the City of Kodiak and in Larsen Bay, Alaska

Contact Information:

Kristi Wallace ( Phone: 907-632-7691 ); Yvette Gilles ( Phone: 907-786-7039 );



ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Two community events about monitoring old volcanic ash resuspended by high winds are scheduled next week in the City of Kodiak and in Larsen Bay, Alaska.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists with the Alaska Volcano Observatory are deploying instruments in two locations on Kodiak Island to monitor air quality during strong northwesterly winds, when old loose volcanic ash erupted over 100 years ago can be picked up and reworked into dust clouds from the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and carried over Shelikof Strait, Kodiak Island and the Gulf of Alaska. These clouds contain volcanic ash shards that are a known hazard to aviation. Scientists are studying other effects of the remobilized ash fallout on the ground and whether there is a public health hazard.

This phenomenon is not the result of volcanic activity and occurs seasonally in the spring and fall during times of high winds and dry snow-free conditions in the Katmai area and other young volcanic areas of Alaska. USGS works closely with the National Weather Service who has the responsibility to issue forecasts and statements of resuspended volcanic ash.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory is a cooperative program of the USGS, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute and the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys.

 

What:
(Event #1) Public presentation: "Resuspended Volcanic Dust from the Katmai Region to Kodiak Island"

When: Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, 7:00 p.m. AKDT

Who: Kristi Wallace, USGS/AVO geologist

Where: USFWS Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center, 402 Center Ave, Kodiak, Alaska



What:
(Event #2)

Scientific equipment viewing and Q & A session: Photo opportunity and discussion about instruments to monitor air quality during wind-blown resuspension events in Larsen Bay and Kodiak.

When: Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015, 1:00 p.m. AKDT

Who: Kristi Wallace, USGS/AVO geologist
David Harmes, Mayor of Larsen Bay

Where: Larsen Bay Mayor David Harmes' home (please call for address)
Larsen Bay, Alaska



Background Information: View southeast from Overlook Cabin looking over the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. The pyroclastic and ash deposits that fill the valley remain nearly vegetation-free more than 100 years after the 1912 Novarupta-Katmai eruption. (Larger image) This MODIS Aqua 1-km-resolution, true-color satellite image shows a resuspended ash cloud generated from high winds scouring the dry, unvegetated deposits in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. The cloud stretches across Shelikof Strait to western Kodiak Island. (Larger image) Annotated photo of air-quality particulate monitoring instruments, showing temperature and humidity sensors, air-sample inlet tube, wind sensor, power supply, and communication connections. (Larger image)

USGS Civil Engineer Robert R. Holmes Wins 2015 ASCE Award

Summary: Dr. Robert R. Holmes, a U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist, will receive the 2015 Government Civil Engineer of the Year Award on October 13 in New York, NY for his outstanding accomplishments

Contact Information:

Anabella  Tourkaman ( Phone: 703-648-4460 );



Dr. Robert R. Holmes, a U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist, will receive the 2015 Government Civil Engineer of the Year Award on October 13 in New York, NY for his outstanding accomplishments.

The award was established by the Government Engineers Division at the American Society of Civil Engineers to recognize distinguished civil engineers employed in public service for significant engineering contributions as a practitioner in public service.

Currently, Holmes is the National Flood Hazard Specialist and Coordinator at the USGS Headquarters, serving as the senior advisor on flood science and response. He has been with the USGS for nearly 28 years, having served in various positions including director of the USGS Illinois Water Science Center.

“Dr. Holmes is an established expert in the fields of sediment transport, river mechanics, hydraulics and modeling, and provides expertise in complex streamflow ratings,” said Shawnna Erter, President at the American Society of Civil Engineers in St. Louis. “He works across the nation both as an expert and as an instructor.”

In addition to his work with the USGS, Holmes has been active in academic education. He has served as an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign since 2006 and as an adjunct professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology since 2008. The courses he has taught include environmental field methods, fluid mechanics and water resources engineering.

Holmes is a committed figure in his community, serving on numerous advisory committees including the American Society of Civil Engineers, Environmental and Water Resources Institute, American Geophysical Union, International Hydrological Science Association, and the American Water Resources Association.

He holds a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla, and a PhD in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“It was always clear to me that we were dealing with a special human being,” said Marcelo García, director at Ven Te Chow Hydrosystems Laboratory and Holmes’ former professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Looking back, I am very happy that I took him on as one of my graduate students.”

Holmes has contributed greatly to water resources engineering and flood hazards management at the USGS through his civic and humanitarian efforts in public service.

“Bob’s colleagues throughout the USGS and at several other agencies and organizations can attest to his dedication, leadership, and energy,” said William Werkheiser, Associate Director for Water at the USGS. “He continues to be a vital part of our team at the USGS and an important leader in the water science and engineering community.”

What Happened to Early Mars' Atmosphere? New Study Eliminates One Theory

Summary: A new analysis of the largest known deposit of carbonate minerals on Mars helps limit the range of possible answers about how and why Mars changed from a world with watery environments billions of years ago to the arid Red Planet of today

Contact Information:

Jennifer LaVista, USGS ( Phone: 303-202-4764 ); Guy Webster, JPL ( Phone: 818-354-6278 ); Dwayne Brown, NASA ( Phone: 202-358-1726 );



A new analysis of the largest known deposit of carbonate minerals on Mars helps limit the range of possible answers about how and why Mars changed from a world with watery environments billions of years ago to the arid Red Planet of today.

The modern Martian atmosphere is too thin for liquid water to persist on the surface. A denser atmosphere on ancient Mars could have kept water from immediately evaporating. It could also have allowed parts of the planet to be warm enough to keep liquid water from freezing. But if the atmosphere was once thicker, what happened to it? The new detective work makes one suspected route for atmospheric loss look less likely.

Christopher Edwards, a former Caltech researcher now with the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Bethany Ehlmann of the California Institute of Technology and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported the findings and analysis in a paper posted online this month by the journal Geology.

Carbon dioxide makes up most of the Martian atmosphere. That gas can be pulled out of the air and sequestered in the ground by chemical reactions with rocks to form carbonate minerals. Years before the series of successful Mars missions in the past two decades, many scientists expected to find large Martian deposits of carbonates holding much of the carbon from the planet's original atmosphere. Instead, these missions have found low concentrations of carbonate distributed widely, but only a few concentrated deposits. By far the largest known carbonate-rich deposit on Mars covers an area at least the size of Delaware, in an area called Nili Fossae. 

"The biggest carbonate deposit on Mars has, at most, twice as much carbon in it as the current Mars atmosphere," said Pasadena-based Ehlmann. "Even if you combined all known carbon reservoirs together, it is still nowhere near enough to sequester the thick atmosphere that has been proposed for the time when there were rivers flowing on the Martian surface."

Their estimate of how much carbon is locked into the Nili Fossae carbonate deposit uses observations from numerous Mars missions, including the Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter, the mineral-mapping Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) and two telescopic cameras on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter.

Edwards and Ehlmann compare their tally of sequestered carbon at Nili Fossae to what would be needed to account for an early Mars atmosphere dense enough to sustain surface waters during the period when flowing rivers left their mark by cutting extensive river-valley networks. By their estimate, it would require more than 35 carbonate deposits the size of the one examined at Nili Fossae. They deem it unlikely that so many large deposits have been overlooked in numerous detailed orbiter surveys of the planet. While deposits from an even earlier time in Mars history could be deeper and better hidden, they don't help solve the thin-atmosphere conundrum at the time of valley network formation.

One possible explanation is that Mars did have a much denser atmosphere during its flowing-rivers period, and then lost most of it to outer space from the top of the atmosphere, rather than by sequestration in minerals. NASA's Curiosity Mars rover mission has found evidence for ancient top-of-atmosphere loss, based on the modern Mars atmosphere's ratio of heavier carbon to lighter carbon. Uncertainty remains about how much of that loss occurred before the period of valley formation; much may have happened earlier. NASA's MAVEN orbiter, examining the outer atmosphere of Mars since late 2014, may help reduce that uncertainty.

An alternative explanation, favored by Edwards and Ehlmann, is that the original Martian atmosphere had already lost most of its carbon dioxide by the era of valley formation.

"Maybe the atmosphere wasn't so thick by the time of valley network formation," Edwards said. "Instead of a Mars that was wet and warm, maybe it was cold and wet with an atmosphere that had already thinned. How warm would it need to have been for the valleys to form? Not very. In most locations, you could have had snow and ice instead of rain. You just have to nudge above the freezing point to get water to thaw and flow occasionally, and that doesn't require very much atmosphere." 

Arizona State University, Tempe, provided the TES and THEMIS instruments. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, provided CRISM. JPL, a division of Caltech, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, and managed the Mars Global Surveyor project through its nine years of orbiter operations at Mars. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the three orbiters.

For more information about USGS work with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, visit the Astrogeology Science Center website

For more information about USGS work, visit the Mars Odyssey mission website.

Rocks Here Sequester Some of Mars' Early Atmosphere.

This image combines data from two instruments (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment and Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars) onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to map color-coded composition over the shape of the ground within the Nili Fossae plains region of Mars. Carbonate-rich deposits in this area (green hues) hold some carbon formerly in the atmosphere's carbon dioxide, while sand dunes (brown hues) are composed of olivine-bearing basalt and purple hues are basaltic in composition. (Larger image) Multiple Instruments Used for Mars Carbon Estimate.

The left image of this pair presents data from the Thermal Emission imaging system onboard NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter. The color-coding indicates thermal inertia -- the physical property of how quickly a surface material heats up or cools off. Sand, for example (blue hues), cools off quicker after sundown than bedrock (red hues) does.

The right images of this pair presents the regional composition from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars onboard the NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Green hues are consistent with carbonate-rich materials, while brown/yellow hues are olivine-bearing sands, and locations with purple hues are basaltic in composition. The gray-scale base map is a mosaic of daytime THEMIS infrared images. (Larger image)

New Elevation for Nation's Highest Peak

Summary: A new, official height for Denali has been measured at 20,310 feet, just 10 feet less than the previous elevation of 20,320 feet which was established using 1950’s era technology

Contact Information:

Mark Newell, APR ( Phone: 573-308-3850 );



A new, official height for Denali has been measured at 20,310 feet, just 10 feet less than the previous elevation of 20,320 feet which was established using 1950’s era technology.

With this slightly lower elevation, has the tallest mountain in North America shrunk? No, but advances in technology to better measure the elevation at the surface of the Earth have resulted in a more accurate summit height of Alaska’s natural treasure.

“No place draws more public attention to its exact elevation than the highest peak of a continent. Knowing the height of Denali is precisely 20,310 feet has important value to earth scientists, geographers, airplane pilots, mountaineers and the general public. It is inspiring to think we can measure this magnificent peak with such accuracy," said Suzette Kimball, USGS acting director. "This is a feeling everyone can share, whether you happen to be an armchair explorer or an experienced mountain climber.”

Denali National Park where the mountain is located, was established in 1917 and annually sees more than 500,000 visitors to the six million acres that now make up the park and preserve. About 1,200 mountaineers attempt to summit the mountain each year; typically about half are successful.

"Park rangers have been excited to work with and learn from their USGS colleagues using the latest technology to determine Denali's height,” said Denali NP Superintendent Don Striker. “Climbers and other visitors will be fascinated by this process, and I hope our future park rangers see from this firsthand example how a background in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and staying physically active in the outdoors can enable them to do some of America's coolest jobs.”

To establish a more accurate summit height, the USGS partnered with NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey (NGS), Dewberry,  CompassData, (a subcontractor to Dewberry) and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, to conduct a precise Global Positioning System (GPS) measurement of a specific point at the mountain’s peak.

A previous 2013 Denali survey was called into question with an elevation measurement of 20,237 feet. That survey was done by an airborne radar measurement collected using an Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (ifsar) sensor. Ifsar is an extremely effective tool for collecting map data in challenging areas such as Alaska, but it does not provide precise spot or point elevations, especially in very steep terrain.

The climbing team of GPS experts and mountaineers reached the Denali summit in mid-June. Since then, they have been processing, analyzing, and evaluating the raw data to arrive at the final number of 20, 310 feet. Unique circumstances and variables such as the depth of the snowpack and establishing the appropriate surface that coincides with mean sea level had to be taken into account before the new apex elevation could be determined.

A USGS feature story has more details about the trek, data collection and calculation methods.

A view of Denali from the airplane as the Survey team approached the Kahiltna Glacier to begin their ascent to the mountain’s summit. Photo : Blaine Horner, CompassData) (Larger image) Two of the Survey climbers continue their trek up towards the next base camp, with gear in tow. Much of the climbing was done at night or early morning to take advantage of the frozen ground. (Photo: Blaine Horner, CompassData) (Larger image) Blaine Horner of CompassData probing the snow pack at the highest point in North America along with setting up Global Position System equipment for precise summit elevation data. (Photo: Blaine Horner, CompassData) (Larger image)

USGS Engravings: Update on Public Sales

Summary: From the 1880s to the 1950s, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) engraved information from its surveys on metal plates (usually copper) as part of a lithographic printing process to reproduce topographic and geologic maps, geologic cross sections, and other illustrations

Contact Information:

Michael  Domaratz ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Mark Newell ( Phone: 573-308-3850 );



From the 1880s to the 1950s, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) engraved information from its surveys on metal plates (usually copper) as part of a lithographic printing process to reproduce topographic and geologic maps, geologic cross sections, and other illustrations. The engraved plates show point and line symbols and text for topography, hydrography, geology, and cultural features.

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is selling by auction to the public 1,795 sets of excess USGS engravings.  (A set includes the engravings that USGS used to reproduce an illustration.)  The available sets portray mapped areas in most States and Puerto Rico. This effort follows the successful auction of sets that GSA conducted last spring.

Because of the large number of sets, GSA will auction the sets in four sales.  Each sale will auction about 450 sets. The auctions will occur online through the GSA Auctions web site. 

The first sale, for sets that map areas in the western United States, started on August 28 and will end on September 11, 2015.  A new sale will start about every 30 days.

After the reserve price is met, the price for each set will be decided by the highest bid. In addition to the amount bid, successful bidders will incur the cost of receiving and shipping their sets from Herndon, Virginia, where the sets are located.

To support the auctions, USGS posted the inventory of sets, notes about the sets, map files that show the areas mapped by most sets, and other information.  USGS also posts status updates and a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) weekly.  All this information is publicly available in files that can be downloaded from the Engravings FTP site.

"Mutant" Fossils Reveal Toxic Metals May Have Contributed to World's Largest Extinctions

Summary: A malformed (’teratological’) chitinozoan specimen of the genus Ancyrochitina (a) and a morphologically normal specimen (b) of the same genus. Both of these Silurian microfossils are from the A1-61 well in Libya and are about 415 Ma old. Scale bars are 0.1 mm. (High resolution image) Toxic metals such as iron, lead and arsenic may have helped cause mass extinctions in the world’s oceans millions of years ago, according to recent research from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Center for Scientific Research, France; and Ghent University, Belgium. These findings largely came from studying “teratological” or malformed fossil plankton assemblages corresponding to the initial stages of extinction events approximately 420 million years ago that killed off most marine species

Contact Information:

Aleeza  Wilkins ( Phone: 703-648-6106 ); Poul Emsbo ( Phone: 907-786-7442 );



A malformed (’teratological’) chitinozoan specimen of the genus Ancyrochitina (a) and a morphologically normal specimen (b) of the same genus. Both of these Silurian microfossils are from the A1-61 well in Libya and are about 415 Ma old. Scale bars are 0.1 mm. (High resolution image)

Toxic metals such as iron, lead and arsenic may have helped cause mass extinctions in the world’s oceans millions of years ago, according to recent research from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Center for Scientific Research, France; and Ghent University, Belgium. These findings largely came from studying “teratological” or malformed fossil plankton assemblages corresponding to the initial stages of extinction events approximately 420 million years ago that killed off most marine species

At that time, several mass extinction events shaped the evolution of life on our planet. Some of these short-lived events were responsible for eradication of up to 85 percent of marine species, however the exact kill-mechanism responsible for these crises remains poorly understood.

In a paper just published in Nature Communications, the scientists present evidence that malformed fossil remains of 415 million- year-old marine plankton contain highly elevated concentrations of heavy metals of the kind that can cause morphological abnormalities in today’s marine life. This led the authors to conclude that metal poisoning caused the observed malformation and may have contributed to the extinction of these and many other species.

“This paper is a testament to the power of multi-disciplinary research,” said USGS scientist Poul Emsbo, a lead author of the report. “Here, collaboration between a paleontologist and an ore-deposit geochemist has led to new data that unveils new processes that may ultimately explain the cause of catastrophic extinctions in earth history.”

The documented chemical behavior of the toxic metals correlates with previously observed disturbances in oceanic carbon, oxygen and sulfur signatures. Such behavior strongly suggests that these metal increases were a result of decreased oxygen in the ocean.

Thus, metal toxicity, and its expressions in fossilized malformations, could provide the missing link that relates organism extinctions to a widespread absence of ocean oxygen. As part of a series of complex systemic interactions accompanying oceanic geochemical variation, the mobilizations of metals in spreading low-oxygen waters may identify the early phase of the kill-mechanism that led to these catastrophic extinction events.

The recurring correlation between fossil malformations and Ordovician-Silurian extinction events raises the provocative prospect that toxic metal contamination may be a previously unrecognized contributing agent to many, if not all, extinction events in the ancient oceans.

The paper can be accessed here. For information about USGS mineral resources information, visit the USGS Mineral Resources Program Web site or follow us on Twitter.