Thursday, January 20, 2011

Florida State Geology Program Reinstated

Some time back I wrote a couple of depressing posts describing the ongoing budget cuts at Florida State University and the likelihood of the geology department - along with some other majors -  losing its bachelors degree program and some of its faculty.

The bachelors program was eventually suspended but some of the let off faculty fought back and went to arbitration. The judge ruled in their favor. Here is the 83 page opinion of the judge. The bachelor's program is back and a major shake up of the geosciences at Florida State is in motion.

One of the faculty,  Dr. Leroy Odom emailed me this morning with an update which I am posting below with his permission:

Greetings Suvrat,

Stephen Kish put me on to your blog, and I find it interesting.  Good job.  I see that there was announcement of how the provost tried to cut the department and suspend the B.S. degree in Geology (graduate degrees were never suspended).  In the last few months a few important things have happened.  In order they are:

FSU has a new president (ironically a former graduate of our department - BS in Geology FSU, 1973 and PhD Oceanography , U Miami) - Eric Barron former Dean , College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Pennsylvania State University; Dean, Jackson School of Geoscience, U. Texas; Director, National Center for Atmospheric Research.

We were placed at the top of the building list  for a large new Geoscience building to house geology Oceanography, meteorology,  an office of the National Weather Center, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Institute, and possibly the Florida Geologic Survey.  An architect will be selected in the coming months with construction scheduled during 2012.

Those faculty members in Geology and Oceanography who the Provost tried to get rid of will remain. Some went to arbitration where a judge ruled that the firings were arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable. Barron saw to it that all laid-off faculty were rehired.

The Provost  "resigned".

The suspension of the BS degree in Geology was  lifted and we are now accepting majors.

In many ways we came out of this much better off than before. The new department of Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences retains all of its programs in the original  three geosciences, each having considerable autonomy.  We are now the size of the largest departments in the college and are the best funded.  We think the future for geosciences at FSU looks bright.



Feeling mighty good about all this!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Articles On The State Of Indian Science

From Current Science (all open access)

1) Sushanta Pahari - World university rankings and Indian universities

2) E. Arunan - Indian science: catch up with India then worry about China

3) P.J. Lavakare - Can our national laboratories become research universities?

Political interference and lack of autonomy, inadequate funding, ego clashes, inadequate support for younger faculty and scientists, missing meritocracy, lack of vision and purpose in selection of research programs.. all the usual suspects are laid out.

That insiders have recognized these problems and are speaking openly about them gives us some hope of change.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Remotely India # 4 : Piggyback Basins Within The Siwaliks

Growing mountains involve a thickening of the crust and this thickened crustal mass weighs down the lithosphere causing a moat like depression in front of the mountain range.

These depressions are called foreland basins and they get filled up by sediments derived by the erosion of the growing mountain belt. Foreland basins are regions of compressional stresses and this causes the crust to deform through folding and breakage along thrust faults. During foreland basin evolution as compression squeezes the sediment pile and the basement, folds and thrust systems propagate further and further onto the foreland deforming earlier deposited sediment into folds and cannabilizing that newly uplifted sediment to fill the active depocentre forming ahead of this deformation front.

Structurally these depressions are categorized as two types. A foredeep or a foreland basin that develops in front of the active thrust system. And a piggy back basin that develops on top of the active thrust sheet.

Since early Cenozoic the Indian plate has been pushing into the Asian continental crust. The result has been the rising Himalayan mountains and a foreland basin south of the ranges. From Miocene onwards to recent, parts of the Himalayan foreland basin has undergone a transition from being a foredeep fill developed in front of the Main Boundary Thrust to a piggy back basin developed on top of the active Himalayan Frontal Thrust. See figure to left which shows the progressive deformation of the foredeep sediment wedge. Source:Thakur V C and Pandey A K 2004.

The Siwalk Group is the sediment pile which filled up the basin that developed in front of the Main Boundary Thrust beginning around the Miocene. This foredeep basin sedimentation continued until around 0.5 mya. Then another pulse of compression caused the Siwalik sediment wedge to be uplifted and deformed into two large wrinkles or folds. One just southwards of  the Main Boundary Thrust along the Santaurgarh thrust and another much further southwards along the Himalayan Frontal Thrust,  a new thrust that splayed or peeled off from the Main Boundary Thrust.

The Himalayan Frontal Range is the youngest new wrinkle to be added to the Cenozoic foreland basin sediments.

There is a depression.. an intermontane valley between the two large wrinkles or anticlines that form the Siwalik ranges, a piggy back basin developed on top of the Himalayan Frontal Thrust sheet. This basin has been receiving sediment during the late Quaternary, for about the last few hundred thousand years from the deformed Siwaliks and the lesser Himalayas.

The Main Boundary and Himalayan Frontal Thrust sheet systems are seismically active and pose a serious threat to society. Evidence of several large earthquakes over the last thousand years have been recognized using structural features like fault traces, sag ponds, pressure ridges and offset alluvial terraces. As recent as 1905 the Kangra earthquake (~ 7.8 magnitude) occurred in the region between the Main Boundary Thrust and the Frontal Thrust.  The deformation of the Himalayas continues southwards and will keep incorporating new sediment into a growing mountain chain.


View Larger Map

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Funding Panel Deliberations

At RealClimate Gavin Schmidt gives an insiders look at what goes on during the science proposal review process.

He wrote this post partly to counter the commonly heard accusation that "climate scientists are just in it for the money".

His view on that accusation is that:

....There could always be improvements (shorter proposals might be easier to get reviewed by outside specialists, calls can be clearer about what they want etc.) but none of the problems are anything like the contrarian imaginings of hysterical climatologists trying to outbid each other in who can come up with the worst case scenario.

This is a very informative article for those not familiar with the process of  science funding through grants.

The Perils Of Science Reporting

Reporter doing a phone interview: “Please slow down, professor. You’ve been researching this topic for a decade. I’ve been researching it since lunchtime.”

Source via RealClimate

Monday, January 10, 2011

Zircon Zapping And Antarctica Fieldwork

New York Times Scientist At Work Blog features a geologist this time.

John Goodge, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Minnesota-Duluth writes about his research and field work in Antarctica along with a good explanation of the various zircon dating methods and the instruments involved in this sophisticated geochemical analysis.

..the A.N.U. has been building a special class of ion probes since the 1980s called Shrimp, which stands for sensitive high-resolution ion microprobe. The name Shrimp belies their actual size. These instruments cover a floor space of about 13 feet by 20 feet. It is by virtue of their size, the so-called turning radius of the mass spectrometer’s magnet, that they are so powerful in dating zircons of only a few tens of microns in size by the U-Pb method. In other words, analyzing something very small sometimes takes something very big.

Not quite the Large Hadron Collider... but impressive nonetheless.

The aim is to reconstruct the evolution of Antarctica crust and for that, dating the rocks accurately is essential. Not all rock samples are exposed as outcrop.. the scientists are relying on rock fragments eroded by glaciers and dumped in moraine deposits to sample pieces of crust hidden under ice.

Good stuff.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Review Article On The Origin Of Mountains

Simon Lamb and Anthony Watts have published a review article on the Origin of Mountains in a recent issue of Current Science. This volume has a special section: Perspectives on Earth Sciences 2010.

The article discusses at length the basic principles of mountain building.. isostacy, crust mantle density and thickness contrasts, horizontal forces,  lithosphere and asthenosphere strength and flow characteristics along with examples from the Andes and Himalayas and plenty of neatly annotated figures.

There is a nice symmetry to the way it ends, suggesting that the nuclei of stable continental crust are forged in the weak interior of great mountains:

An intriguing final insight of all this is that the central highly deformed parts of mountain belts, by being such weak and mobile parts of the Earth, may be the places where the strong cratonic cores of the continents were first formed, comprising what are today the most stable parts of the dry land we live on. This is because the process of mountain building, by squeezing both the crust and mantle parts of the lithosphere, creates a thick lithosphere.

Over time, as geotherms relax and the crust heats up as a result of the increased radiogenic heat generation in the thickened crust, granulite grade metamorphism will occur, eventually dehydrating and further strengthening the crust. If, at some later stage, the crust in this thick lithosphere is eroded back down to its original thickness of around 30–40 km, as isostasy would predict, the land surface will return to around sea level, but with the deep crustal levels of granulite grade metamorphic basement now exposed at the surface. So, as has been long suspected by geologists, mountain building, although occurring in only a small fraction of the surface area of the continents at any one time, might have shaped most of the Earth’s continental crust.

Graduate students and educators should find this a very good resource to brush up on the fundamentals.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Geologists Entering New Legal Territory?

Stephen Testa writes in Earth Magazine of some recent legal problems for geologists.

We live in a litigious society. Engineering and environmental geologists are no strangers to the legal system. They frequently deal with issues relating to geologic hazards such as active faults and unstable ground, the release of contaminants into the environment and numerous other circumstances. But for the most part, geoscientists tend to avoid legal battles. Is that changing?

In the last couple of years, several events have brought geologists into new legal territory. Geologists have recently been accused of potentially inducing earthquakes, of not predicting natural hazards, of potentially adversely impacting water quality, of spying and of engaging in indelicate e-mail discussions and alleged misdealings with climate change data.

Getting into trouble over "risk management" was something one would associate with dodgy Wall Street high fliers. Now the term seems to be encompassing the grinding of tectonic plates and the health of ecosystems as well with accountability spilling over towards the custodians of scientific data.. geologists are among those on the frontlines of this emerging engagement with society as responsible analyzers of risk.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Geology Word Usage Using Google Ngram Viewer

I don't have the answers but I've been having fun with Google Ngram Viewer, a tool that can track the change in frequency of word usage through time.

Google has relied on about 5 million books containing a total of 500 billion words digitized from library collections to come up with a graphical view of word usage changes. The algorithm compares the frequency with which a particular word occurs in these five million books compared to all other words. You can go as far back as 1500 but the more reliable results are from about the 1800's. You can also view the list of books that the word occurs in.

You can find out when a word first came into use, how its popularity waxed and waned through time, and by pairing words with similar meaning or contexts try to figure out why the frequency of that word usage may have changed. That may reflect cultural trends, fashion or maybe new developments in a scientific field, technology or something else.

The tool doesn't offer any explanation why a word has become less or more common.

I plugged in a few geology terms.

Aqueous rock - all the way from 1800.

The word aqueous for describing rock or sediment formed in water was popular in the 1800's, but as science advanced, slowly has given way to more specific terms that describe the conditions in which sediment was deposited.

Peneplain, which describes a low relief surface caused by prolonged weathering. - 1900's onwards

I've added the words landform and geomorphology to see if the decline since the 1940's  could be due to less interest over time in studying landforms. You can see though that both landform and geomorphology show a marked increase in usage. Likewise, the terms erosional surface and planation surface do show small but significant increases in use. I think the use of the word surface in isolation and as a suffix to a word that described the process of feature formation, both terrestrial and marine, became somewhat the norm. With a more process oriented approach to describing features, Peneplain may have just become a less fashionable way of describing low relief weathered landforms.

How about the way geology departments are named? 1900 onwards..

You can see that the term Department of Geology is the most common way of naming a geology department. It term show a steady increase through the 1900's with a surge around the mid 1960's, peaking in the 1980's and then declining. That may reflect a smaller number of newer geology departments...?

Accompanying this pattern though are a number of other ways of naming geology departments.. the terms Geology and .. Earth Sciences.. Earth Sciences and... become more common beginning the 1960's. The increase in Geology and... may reflect the hardening of geology specializations like geophysics and geochemistry. Departments acquired multiple specializations with important faculty presiding over their respective domains and hence were named accordingly.

Regarding the term Earth Sciences.. check out the usage of these two terms - interdisciplinary and holistic.

Both show a marked increase beginning the 1960's and point to more collaboration between different fields, an increased awareness of the importance of understanding the interaction of the geosphere with the biosphere and atmosphere, a generally increased tendency to study the bigger picture.. hence more department names reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of their endeavors.

Finally the influence of technological developments - the words maps and mapping - 1900 onwards.

Both show a steady increase through the last century and that does reflect the increased exploration and scrutiny of various aspects of the earth. The term mapping though shows a marked increase in usage through the 1970's.

Two technological developments may have helped. In 1972, the Landsat remote sensing satellite program became operational and began releasing earth images for public consumption, thereby making it easier to map the earth's surface. Satellite imagery is now commonly used for mapping.

And in the mid -late 1980's computer assisted mapping tools like Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software started becoming available resulting in increased access to geographic data and new ways of compiling maps.

So.. plug in your favorite geology term, analyze its rise and demise.. have fun!

...OnPoint Radio has an interesting talk on Google Ngram.