Thursday, October 25, 2012

Trekking Amongst The Stratigraphy And Structure Of Lesser Himalayas In Kumaon And Gharwal

(Update November 29 2012: See my new post on the geology I saw on this trek!).

Yes.. I know Geology Map Day was last week, but although late, I have put up this map and a schematic cross section... I'm leaving on a hiking trip to the Kumaon Himalayas and have been reading up on the geology of the area. After many years of being confused about the stratigraphy and structure, I finally got some clarity on Lesser Himalayan geology reading some recent work. The paper that helped me most was:

The Kumaun and Garwhal Lesser Himalaya, India: Part 1. Structure and stratigraphy- Julian Celerier et. al. 2009 GSA Bulletin

and its companion paper

 The Kumaun and Garwhal Lesser Himalaya, India. Part 2: Thermal and deformation histories

Two other papers also were quite useful:

1) Patel, R.C. and Carter, Andrew (2009) Exhumation history of the Higher Himalayan Crystalline along Dhauliganga-Goriganga river valleys, NW India: new constraints from fission track analysis. Tectonics 28

2) Revisiting Central crystallines in Pindar and Ramganga valleys, Kumaon Hills,Uttarakhand – an expedition based case study - Geological Survey of India Mapping Report. The report describes the lithologies very near my trek route along the Ramganga river sourced from the Namik glacier, near the village of Namik.

Base camp for the trek is going to be a campsite on a ridge across the small village of Tejam. Looking at geological maps I found out that I am going to be in the Lesser Himalayas, but very just south of the Main Central Thrust which structurally juxtaposes the Greater or High Himalayas over the Lesser Himalayas. The first paper I mentioned by Celerier explains quite well the stratigraphic and structural evolution of the Lesser Himalayas.

A quick recap:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Before Darwin: Dante Alighieri On Language Change

My Book Shelf  #21

I came across this passage in Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler. The topic is the change of Latin in to various Romance languages post demise of the Roman Empire in Europe:

The first theorist of these new linguistic developments is none other than the leading Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, who lived from 1265 to 1321. In his De vulgari eloquentia he recognized that Latin, grammatica, was in essence the preserved older form of the Romance languages. He seems to have had as much difficulty in convincing his audience that these ancestral differences were the predictable result of gradual change as Darwin was to find with a different subject matter and timescale, five centuries later.

Nor should what we say appear any more strange than to see a young person grown up, whom we do not see grow up: for what moves gradually is not at all recognized by us, and the longer something needs for its change to be recognized the more stable we think it is.  So we are not surprised if the opinion of men, who are little distant from brutes, is that a given city has existed always with the same language, since the change in language in a city happens gradually only over a very long succession of time, and the life of men is also, by its very nature, very short....

The italicized portion is Dante Alighieri's analysis.

So then how do we know that a particular language has descended from an older language or that two languages are sister languages, both having evolved from an older language? And the same could be asked of species. How do we know that two species are related and evolved from a common ancestor? 

Great Conversations: Edward Larson On History Of Evolution

I was going through my podcast collection over the weekend in preparation for a hiking trip to the Himalayas ( more on that later this week!) and found one of the great talks I have heard on evolution. This is Edward J Larson's superb exposition on the history of creationism in the United States and its transformation (or should I say evolution) into the intelligent design movement of recent  years.

Edward J Larson is Professor of History and Law at University of Georgia. His book Evolution: The Remarkable History Of A Scientific Idea is also an excellent summary of the history of the theory of evolution.

But his talk is really worth listening too. Goes straight into my Great Conversations collection.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Geophysicst Mark Zoback On Fracking

Another terrific geology related talk on Generation Anthropocene. Geophysicist and shale gas expert Mark Zoback attempts to clear up the many misconceptions about fracking. He doesn't minimize or take lightly the negative impact of shale gas drilling, but rather puts it in a broader context. The greater risk of contaminating overlying aquifers is not from the act of hydraulic fracturing itself but from improper well construction and from leaky ponds which are constructed to store waste water that flows back out of the formation. This water may contain metals like iron or arsenic flushed by reaction with the shale. So actually according to him, there is nothing in the fracking fluid that is dangerous. But that fluid after reacting with the rock may become toxic.

Shale gas drilling companies don't have to disclose the exact composition of the fracking fluid as they have an exemption under the Clean Water Act. But perception does matter. As Mark Zobeck points out, there was growing support for nuclear power in the U.S. until the accident at Fukushima occurred. Public perception about risk can reverse major energy policy decisions regardless of the actual risk. If that is so, then why slow down or kill the shale gas goose? Perhaps it will be wiser to change policy and to come clean about fracking fluids.

Meanwhile, on the topic of shale gas in India,  a reader wrote in a comment on an earlier post I had written about Indian shale gas prospects:

US geological survey says the total shale gas reserves to be 6.1 Tcf, contrary to 63 Tcf by EIA. What are your views on this?

That is a major downgrade for Indian shale gas prospects. I could only suggest this possibility:

thanks Dakshina.. yeah.. i saw those figures.. hard to say but downward revisions are going on in many other basins around the world.. perhaps the actual recovery rates observed from shale gas wells i.e. their performance over a longer term have not been as good as initially projected..leading to downward revision of technically recoverable resources in other areas as well.. or maybe it has to do with the reassessment of the basic geological data.. can't say for sure without reading more details.. ///

Also worth reading is another article by Mark Zoback on the seismic risk posed by shale gas drilling and waste water disposal.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

An Indian Academic Heads Back Home

On Sunday I drove past the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune. This new institute is part of the Government's initiative to expand and improve the state of science and technical higher education and research in the country. Apart from 5 new IISER's, over the past few years 8 new IIT's (Indian Institute of Technology), 7 new IIM's (Indian Institute of Management) and 12 new central Universities have been seeded.  It is hoped that a sizable number of Indian academics currently working abroad will be convinced to come and teach and work at these institutes.

Coincidentally Inside Higher Ed carried a story of Somak Raychaudhury an astrophysicist working in the U.K. who has been recruited by Presidency University Kolkata as part of their effort to upgrade their science infrastructure.

Presidency plans to hire about 180 new faculty members, many of them from abroad, to boost the quality of its teachers. Raychaudhury is among the first group of faculty members to be hired. (Existing faculty members have the option of applying for the openings or seeking a transfer to other state-run universities.)

Raychaudhury’s brief is to modernize the physics curriculum and introduce new branches of physics to students. "Presidency needs to ensure that students are taught by those who are at the cutting edge of research, and that students are involved in and inspired to do research,” he said in an e-mail. “The teaching material has to be constantly updated. Teaching has to be hands-on.”

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Most Divisive Maps In America

More on the art and science of map making. This time it is Robert Draper in The Atlantic writing about the history and politics of gerrymandering: works of art, redistricting maps continue to evoke a crazed but symbolically rich dreamscape of yearnings, sentimentality, vendettas, and hyper-realism in American political life. Districts weave this way and that to include a Congress member’s childhood school, a mother-in-law’s residence, a wealthy donor’s office, or, out of spite, an adversary’s pet project. When touring Republican strongholds, Tom Hofeller enjoys showing audiences the contours of Georgia’s 13th District, as proposed after the 2010 census, which he likens to “flat-cat roadkill.” (The map that was ultimately approved is shaped more like a squirrel that hasn’t yet been hit by a car.) This redistricting cycle’s focus of wonderment, in Hofeller’s view, is Maryland’s splatter-art 3rd District, which reminds him of an “amoeba convention.” He tends not to mention the gimpy-legged facsimile that is his own rendition of North Carolina’s 4th District.

 My speciality, Geographic Information Systems plays a role too:

“There’s an old saying: Give a child a hammer, and the world becomes a nail. Give the chairman of a state redistricting committee a powerful enough computer and block-level census data, so that he suddenly discovers he can draw really weird and aggressive districts—and he will.”

Fascinating article..

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Building Google Deep Maps

After Apple's epic fail, its worth reading about how much effort Google has put into the making of accurate digital maps available for navigation and other location based services.

Alexis Madrigal writes in The Atlantic:

The sheer amount of human effort that goes into Google's maps is just mind-boggling. Every road that you see slightly askew in the top image has been hand-massaged by a human. The most telling moment for me came when we looked at couple of the several thousand user reports of problems with Google Maps that come in every day. The Geo team tries to address the majority of fixable problems within minutes. One complaint reported that Google did not show a new roundabout that had been built in a rural part of the country. The satellite imagery did not show the change, but a Street View car had recently driven down the street and its tracks showed the new road perfectly.

..and on Google's extended vision of capturing geographic information:

It's common when we discuss the future of maps to reference the Borgesian dream of a 1:1 map of the entire world. It seems like a ridiculous notion that we would need a complete representation of the world when we already have the world itself. But to take scholar Nathan Jurgenson's conception of augmented reality seriously, we would have to believe that every physical space is, in his words, "interpenetrated" with information. All physical spaces already are also informational spaces. We humans all hold a Borgesian map in our heads of the places we know and we use it to navigate and compute physical space. Google's strategy is to bring all our mental maps together and process them into accessible, useful forms.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Field Photo: Adaptation

Location: Slope of Panchgani Tableland- Western Ghats

Do let me know if you can identify this plant.