Category Archives: In the news

US Government Shutdown Claims Antarctica Field Season

By Evan

By the time this is posted, I hope that the US government shutdown is old news. Though I vowed to not read the news, something this big is hard to not hear about. Plus there is the fact that pretty much every government website, include those with geophysical and geological data, are completely shut down. Recently, I have been studying the tilting of large lakes due to post-glacial rebound, and a bunch of the data are on the NOAA website. Of course, when you go to website now, you get this:


Unfortunately, most geophysical data are not considered to be necessary to protect lives, so they are down. I am very lucky that I downloaded the data that I needed before October 1st, otherwise I would be out of luck! Continue reading

IPCC Fifth Assessment Report – same message, more certainty

wg1coverBy Claire

Hopefully you’re aware by now, that Working Group 1 of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has just released its fifth assessment report. This report pulls together and synthesises the current knowledge on the cause, attribution, effects and projections for climate change. The IPCC does not conduct research itself, but rather, simply pulls together the thousands of published, peer reviewed papers that add to our collective knowledge of climate change.

Unfortunately, the report itself is over 2000 pages, making it largely unreadable for all but the most dedicated. The report, however, is well indexed, meaning you can jump straight to content that interests you the most.

If, like me, you find 2000 pages too daunting, but you still want to find out the conclusions of the latest report, you can check out the Summary for Policymakers – which breaks down the report into a much more digestible 36 pages (note that the report is still unformatted, so all the figures are at the end and it’s not pretty yet).  Continue reading

LADEE and the Lunar Atmosphere


Fig. 1: Launch of the the Minotaur V rocket carrying LADEE.

By Thomas (guest blogger)

On the 6th of September NASA launched their LADEE mission (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) into space (Fig. 1). You might have heard of the launch as a frog photo-bombed a picture of the start (Fig. 2). So far the mission is fully on track. The mission will take about 30 days to travel to the Moon, 30 days for checkout and then around 100 days for science operations (Fig. 3).

So what`s hidden in that featureless term “science operations”?

The LADEE spacecraft contains three science instruments: The Ultraviolet and Visible Light Spectrometer (UVS), the Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) and the Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX). The instruments will analyse the light signatures of atmospheric materials, the variations in the composition of the lunar atmosphere in different heights over the Moon and dust particles in the atmosphere.

Fig. 2: Photo bombed LADEE launch.

Fig. 2: Photo bombed LADEE launch.

Furthermore LADEE carries the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) which will not be used to investigate the lunar atmosphere. The purpose of the LLCD is to demonstrate the possibility to use lasers for communication with satellites and spacecrafts instead of the conventionally used radio transmitters. This will allow broadband speed in the communications between future satellites/spacecrafts and Earth. LADEE therefore does not only have research goals but also aims to make a major improvement in space flights from the engineering point of view. Continue reading

The Great Barrier Reef faces destruction

reefBy Bianca (guest blogger)

Australia’s new prime minister has given the green light for mining companies to destroy Australia’s natural wonder and UNESCO World Heritage site, the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef stretches over 2300 km along the coast of Queensland and is home to around a quarter of all species that can be found in the world’s oceans. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981 the reef recently faces one of its hardest battles: a changing climate.

Sediment and algal overgrowth have overtaken this once-healthy reef. (Courtesy Emre Turak/Australian Institute of Marine Science)

Sediment and algal overgrowth have overtaken this once-healthy reef. (Courtesy Emre Turak/Australian Institute of Marine Science)

Rising ocean acidity due to high atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and increasing water temperatures damages the corals; floods and storms flush mud, pesticides and fertilizers from farmland into the ocean and mining companies pollute the reef by dumping silt into the ocean and letting their freighters pass through. Continue reading

Terror Birds

The terror bird, Gastornis (from Wikipedia)

The terror bird, Gastornis (from Wikipedia)

By Evan

I actually wanted to start making a post about terror birds last week, but I am glad I didn’t. According to ABC Science, one of the presentations at last week’s Goldschmidt conference (tea time in our department has been somewhat depleted by the amount of people who have gone to it), the mighty terror bird Gastornis was probably a vegetarian. Gastornis lived in the early Paleogene  (about 55-40 million years ago), and is thought to have been a plant eater based on its lack of claws, its large size, and calcium isotopes – which matched closer to herbivores than carnivores. Continue reading

Volcanic vent pops up at Rome’s airport

By Chops

Thanks to the wonders of social media, I just noticed a small volcanic vent (a fumarole) has popped up right near Rome’s airport. Footage of the little vent in action is shown here:

In terms of discussion about this, there hasn’t been a heap getting out there since the fumarole was noticed on Saturday. The most detailed news report so far is by the Telegraph in the UK ( and a tiny  bit more technical info is given by but there’s not too much more information out there (and I’m also far from a vulcanologist, so I won’t add any more of my own commentary).

In any case, it’s a cool little display of our active planet. We often forget that it is actively forming and deforming, and these geological phenomena popping up are a great reminder. Even if it does turn out to be from rotting organic matter underneath the ground (which is the other postulated source for it), it’s a good chance to at least reflect on our active planet, anyway :).

Why look at the monsoon?

monsoon-bike_1449924cBy Claire

My PhD topic involves recreating the Indo-Australian monsoon rainfall over the last 40,000 years using stalagmites from caves. Now, I know that’s a bit of a mouthful and when I tell people that’s what i’m doing I often get met with blank stares and the inevitable question, “what does that mean?”

At the moment I’m putting together a draft paper and yesterday I needed to write my, “conclusions and implications” paragraph. This meant that I actually had to think about what the implications of looking at the past monsoon actually has.

In my musings, I thought that I might try and connect the dots between my paleo-monsoon (i.e. “past” monsoon) record, and the present day monsoon system. In order to do that, I needed to better acquaint myself with the modern monsoon system, and I actually realised that what I’m studying could (if you squint) have real world implications.  Continue reading

This week in climate science…

By Claire

Today, I wanted to share a series of snippets of new research that have emerged recently in the field of climate science. These stories have been all neatly compiled by DISCCRS in a weekly mail-out, which I recommend you go and subscribe to!

East Antarctic Ice Sheet Vulnerable to melt

Ancient sediments recovered off the coast of East Antarctica suggest that the ice sheet repeatedly melted back 3 to 5 million years ago, contributing to sea level rise

Ancient sediments recovered off the coast of East Antarctica suggest that the ice sheet repeatedly melted back 3 to 5 million years ago, contributing to sea level rise.

A new study published in Nature Geoscience has shown that in the past, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet has melted in response to warmer temperatures.

During the Pliocene, when global temperatures were 2 – 3 ºC warmer than present, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet retreated by as much as several hundred km inland. This new research is important, since it reveals that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which has been thought of as largely stable, does respond to changes in global temperature.

The Pliocene, 5.33–2.58 million years ago, represents a warm period in Earth’s climate history, where CO2 concentrations were around 400ppm. This period is often used as an analogue for future climate change, due to the similar CO2 concentrations between then and now. During the Pliocene, global temperatures were 2 – 3 ºC warmer, and sea level was around 25m higher than present.

Scientists drilled a sediment core off the coast of Adélie Land in East Antarctica, and analysed mud found within the core that was sourced from rocks currently found under the ice sheet. They concluded that  the only way so much mud could have been carried off to sea is if the ice sheet had retreated inland, eroding those rocks. Continue reading

Europe’s extreme weather chaos

skyBy Bianca

Coming from Germany I try to keep myself informed about European news and it’s becoming more and more obvious that there is especially one type of news: the weather.

This year Europe has been experienced a fair bit of freak weather, and it looks likely to be continued.

The year started with one of the longest winters experienced so far. With an average of only 100 sun-hours it was simply dark and miserable. It wasn’t necessarily freezing cold the entire winter (Christmas was unusually warm in some parts) but it wasn’t warm either and by Easter, normally a time with comfortable spring temperatures and sun, Germans had to hide their Easter eggs in the snow (easy to hide, difficult to find). All together it was the darkest winter since records began, with snow until the beginning of April (in the previous years April was the month of record breaking heat waves). Continue reading

Sledding down sand dunes on surfboards made of dry ice, on Mars

By Nick,

Its been a busy week for Martian discoveries. And all of the stories here are from the Martian geologists that aren’t Curiosity. Remember Opportunity, a rover that landed on the red planet, over nine years ago. Well, despite its initial 90 martian day working lifespan, after 3300 martian days it’s still running, and still producing some great new science.

With all of Curiosity’s success in finding clues as to past water on Mars, Opportunity has discovered this rock, called Esperance. It has lower calcium and iron than any other rock so far analysed by the rover, and far higher quantities of aluminium and silica. Chemically, this means its highly likely to be a clay rich rock. And clay rich rocks can only form where there is high pH (ie. not acid) water.

Opportunity meanwhile, is off on a 2.2km trek for some winter sun, moving 25m on its first day as it trundles off in search of more science!

The pale rock in the middle of the image is believed to contain clays. Image: Nasa/JPL/Caltech/Cornell/ArizonaState

The pale rock in the middle of the image is believed to contain clays.
Image: Nasa/JPL/Caltech/Cornell/ArizonaState

But its not just the old rover’s that continue to function, the satellites are producing some stunning results and images of their own.

Continue reading