How Can We Fix the Lack of Diversity in Geosciences?

By Erik Klemetti | April 25, 2018 9:25 am
Denison Geoscience students on Ironbound Island in Maine. Erik Klemetti

Denison Geoscience students on Ironbound Island in Maine. Erik Klemetti

I love geology. It’s what I do. It asks questions fundamental to our understanding of the planet (and beyond), questions that I feel should resonate with everyone on the planet because we live on Earth! Every day, each of us interacts with geologic processes whether we realize it or not – maybe it is the topography we travel across to get to work, maybe it is the materials we use in our daily lives, maybe it is soil we plant our food in – they are all rooted in the geosciences. I’ve said it before: everyone in college should take a geoscience course, but it shouldn’t end there.

So, why does the field in the United States have such a diversity problem? Take a look at this graph showing the distribution of students getting a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in Geosciences in 2017 from the American Geosciences Institute Workforce Report:

Distribution of racial and cultural background in the geosciences, 2017. AGI.

Distribution of racial and cultural background in the geosciences, 2017. AGI.

Graduating BA/BS students are 75% white.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Rocky Planet, Science, Science Blogs

What are Some of the Truths in Geosciences?

By Erik Klemetti | April 24, 2018 9:47 am
A view into Death Valley in California. Erik Klemetti.

A view into Death Valley in California. Erik Klemetti.

I get a lot of questions about how the world works being a geoscientist and all. I teach students about what we know about our planet on a daily basis and although we don’t know anywhere close to everything, we have come a long way. That is what makes geoscience such a fascinating and dynamic discipline: we have a strong foundation with a multitude of outstanding questions and problems to solve. These questions vary from the very broad (how exactly did the Moon form?) to the very specific (how exactly does barium partition into sanidine crystals?) Yet, we have that foundation that we can all build upon (and even work to refine).

So, I thought I’d briefly list some of what I consider to be the “fundamental truths” of geoscience. This does not mean they will never change — but based on the knowledge we have today, I would be very surprised if we find out something dramatically different. That is really how science works: collect data to support or refute a hypothesis > build a theory from those results > test that theory over and over in different ways > reinforce the theory or build a new one > start testing again.

Let’s take a look!

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Look Out! New Eruption Might be Starting in Hawai’i

By Erik Klemetti | April 20, 2018 1:30 pm
USGS geoscientist looks out over the Pu'u O'o lava lake on April 18, 2018. USGS/HVO.

USGS geoscientist looks out over the Pu’u O’o lava lake on April 18, 2018. USGS/HVO.

Kilauea! What’s not to love? The Hawaiian volcano has been constantly erupting over over 37 years and has not one but two active lava lakes. Lava flows are regular features on the volcano’s broad slopes and every once in a while, the summit lava lake has a small explosion when pieces of the walls fall into the fiery pit.

Not only that, but you can watch it all happening! The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has webcams watching many points of interest on Kilauea — both regular webcams and thermal webcams that can see through any steam or gas emissions that might come from the lava lakes.

My favorites are pointed towards the surface of the summit Halema’uma’u lava lake along with a thermal camera pointed down onto the lava lakes surface. However, if the other lava lake at Pu’u O’o, on the east rift, are more your thing, you can watch that as well (albeit from further away).

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Rocky Planet, Science, Science Blogs

Indonesian Police Questioning Scientist About His Recent Tsunami Study

By Erik Klemetti | April 10, 2018 9:58 am
Trash and debris line the streets in downtown Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, following the massive Tsunami that struck the area on December 26, 2004. Wikipedia.

Trash and debris line the streets in downtown Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, following the massive Tsunami that struck the area on December 26, 2004. Wikipedia.

The internet is clearly still a wild frontier. We are bombarded by sensationalist or fake news all the time, sometimes by sources who merely want to increase traffic and sometimes by people who intentionally want to deceive. It is a challenge even for the seasoned professional to figure out what is trustworthy information and what is merely conjecture, rumors and downright lies. So when news about geologic events moves from the realm of the researcher to the media, what happens when the science gets distorted in such a way to instill fear and panic in the general public?

In Indonesia, it appears that the police get involved. The Jakarta Post is reporting that Indonesian police are questioning Widjo Kongko, a scientist for the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), for a presentation he gave on the tsunami potential for Indonesia’s southwest coast. In Widjo’s study, he said there is the potential for a 50+ meter tsunami depending on the size and location of an earthquake off Indonesia’s coast. However, internet news sources turned that report into a prediction that a 50 meter tsunami was going to hit Indonesia soon. The “news” spread across Indonesia rapidly via social media and even required a statement from the vice-president of the country. It appears that Indonesia authorities may be questioning all scientists who attended the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) conference on April 3.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Rocky Planet, Science, Science Blogs

Ambae in Vanuatu Releases Biggest Sulfur Pulse on Earth in 3 Years

By Erik Klemetti | April 9, 2018 1:05 pm
April 9 Aura/OMI map showing the sulfur dioxide plume from Ambae (Aoba) in Vanuatu stretching across the South Pacific. NASA (via Simon Carn).

April 9 Aura/OMI map showing the sulfur dioxide plume from Ambae (Aoba) in Vanuatu stretching across the South Pacific. NASA (via Simon Carn).

Last fall, Ambae (aka Aoba) made headlines after almost 13,000 people had to be evacuated due to the increasingly violent eruptions from the volcano in Vanuatu. The activity subsided after a few weeks and people were able to return to their homes. Since November of last year, the volcano settled down, producing minor steam-and-ash plumes from the summit caldera lake, Lake Voui.

However, starting in mid-March, the volcano has become more restless again. Ash from eruptions (see below) have fallen on residential and agricultural regions of the small island, contaminating water and potentially becoming a real hazard for the people living on the island again. The Vanuatu Meteorology & Geo-Hazards Department (VMGD) notes that these new eruptions mark a change in character for the volcano to more ash-rich, explosive eruptions versus the types that occurred in the fall of 2017. This makes ash a larger hazard for air travel or water supplies, but also opens the possibilities of volcanic mudflows (lahars) related to ash deposits and heavy rains. There have calls for renewed evacuations of the island’s residents due to this new bout of activity (along with some major flooding from a recent cyclone).

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Rocky Planet, Science, Science Blogs

How to Collect Rocks in the High Andes or (Almost) Die Trying

By Erik Klemetti | March 20, 2018 9:00 am
Our first approach to Aucanquilcha, my thesis volcano in Chile. Erik Klemetti

Our first approach to Aucanquilcha, my thesis volcano in Chile. Erik Klemetti

So, a few weeks back I got to tell a story about my experience as a geologist as part of a Story Collider show here at Denison. Let me tell you, it was an awesome experience, to share about what I’ve done as a scientist. At some point, I’ll be able to link to video and/or audio of my storytelling, but for now, I thought I’d share the story I wrote. Hope you enjoy it.

—-

It was a snowy day in Philadelphia when it all started. I had graduated from college 8 months prior and was writing about Thomas Paine for a living because somehow my history rather than my geology degree got me my first job. That day, I was working at home when the phone rang. When I answered, on the other end was Dr. Anita Grunder from Oregon State University. I had applied for graduate school in geology hoping to work with her because she studied volcanoes and in South America, exactly what I hoped to do. See, I grew up in the shadow of volcanoes at my grandmother’s house in Colombia. Anita asked “So, you want to work on a project in Chile?” … and that was it, I was hooked and that was my future, ready or not. Six months later, I was waiting to board a plane to explore Aucanquilcha, a monstrous volcano taller than Denali in the middle of the high Andean desert.

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MORE ABOUT: Andes, Chile, volcanology

Is Earth’s Magnetic Field Heading for a ‘Big Flip’? Probably Not (Right Now)

By Erik Klemetti | March 13, 2018 7:56 am
Aurora over the Earth. JPL.

Aurora over the Earth. JPL.

Before we get started, let’s have a cheer for Earth’s magnetic field! I would guess most of you never give it a second thought, unless you’re watching the Northern Lights or maybe using a compass. However, things would be very different on Earth if we didn’t have a magnetic field. But some people fear that the Earth’s magnetic field might be headed for a big change that could bring chaos to modern society, but are their fears well-founded?

To tackle that question we need to start with a different one: What generates Earth’s magnetic field anyway?

It is a dynamo!

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Check Out Drone Footage of Kirishima’s Largest Eruption Since 2011

By Erik Klemetti | March 7, 2018 9:02 am
The eruption plume from Kirishima's Shinmoedake crater during a March 7, 2018 eruption. Image by James Reynolds, used by permission.

The eruption plume from Kirishima’s Shinmoedake crater during a March 7, 2018 eruption. Image by James Reynolds, used by permission.

Yesterday, Shinmoedake in Japan produced its largest eruption in almost 7 years. The volcano, which is part of the large Kirishima complex of volcanoes, sent ash and volcanic debris to over 3.5 kilometers (12,000 feet) over the volcano. The volcano was last restless in October 2017, when it produced some smaller ash plumes that reached up to a couple kilometers over the volcano, but this blast was much more akin to the 2011 eruption. Recent reports from Japan say that the volcano “has been erupting since March 1”, so my guess is smaller plumes, possibly steam-and-ash, may have preceded this larger blast. James Reynolds (Earth Uncut TV) happened to be able to film some of this new eruptive activity at Kirishima with a drone an it is impressive!

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Rocky Planet, Science, Science Blogs

Sinabung’s Massive Explosion Seen from Space

By Erik Klemetti | February 19, 2018 12:48 pm
The massive ash column from the eruption of Sinabung on February 19, 2018.

The massive ash column from the eruption of Sinabung on February 19, 2018. BNPB.

Today, Indonesia’s Sinabung had its biggest blast in its nearly 5 years of eruptions. I reported on the initial reports of the blast and now we have some pretty stunning images from space on the eruption. It really captures the power of the blast and how the ash spread mainly to the north over Sumatra (rather than the west as predicted). Sinabung appears to have settled down since the explosion, but with this change of character, volcanologists will be looking for signs if this change will be permanent.

The Terra MODIS image (below) taken not long after the eruption shows the ash column towering over the local cloud deck. The oval lake with the island in the middle to the bottom right of the image is the Toba caldera. Even in this picture, the ash plume has spread to cover over 100 kilometers of Sumatra.

Terra/MODIS image of the Sinabung eruption on February 19, 2018. NASA.

Terra/MODIS image of the Sinabung eruption on February 19, 2018. NASA.

The Aqua MODIS image (below) taken about 3 hours after the Terra image shows the ash dispersing to the north. Here, the ash has spread for hundreds of kilometers across the island.

Aqua MODIS image of the Sinabung ash plume, taken on February 19, 2018. NASA.

Aqua MODIS image of the Sinabung ash plume, taken on February 19, 2018. NASA.

This weather satellite loop shows how the plume rising straight up until it begins to spread laterally, especially to the north.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Rocky Planet, Science, Science Blogs

Sinabung in Indonesia Produces Largest Explosion Yet

By Erik Klemetti | February 18, 2018 9:42 pm
The towering ash plume from the February 19, 2018 eruption of Sinabung in Indonesia. BNPB.

The towering ash plume from the February 19, 2018 eruption of Sinabung in Indonesia. BNPB.

Sinabung has been erupting for almost 5 years now, mostly producing moderate explosions that generate pyroclastic flows. These flows roar down the slopes of the volcano — sometimes catching people in their paths. On February 19, 2018, the volcano decided to change its tune and unleashed a massive explosion that potentially reached at least 23,000 and possibly to up 55,000 feet (~16.5 kilometers), making it the largest eruption since the volcano became active again in 2013.

Video of the eruption (above and below) show the towering subplinian ash plume in the clear blue skies. The Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Center report predicts the ash will drift to the west, which luckily means the ash will fall over the Indian Ocean rather than on more of the people on Sumatra, although there has been significant ash fall on towns near the volcano.

This great animation of Himawari-8 images shows the blast as seen from space:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Rocky Planet, Science, Science Blogs
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Rocky Planet

Rocky Planet covers all the geologic events that made and will continue to shape our planet. From volcanoes to earthquakes to gold to oceans to other solar systems, I discuss what is intriguing and illuminating about the rocks beneath our feet and above our heads. Ever wonder what volcanoes are erupting? How tsunamis form and where? What rocks can tell us about ancient environments? How the Earth might change in the future? You'll find these answers and more on Rocky Planet.
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