Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fossil hunting on the Peace River...

near Brownville Park, Florida was the objective of the day. The stream is incised into the Oligocene to Pliocene age sedimentary rocks of the Hawthorne Group, and various fossils are transported with the bed load gravels in the warm and shallow channel (click to enlarge):
Both marine and terrestrial fossil faunas are found by digging and sieving large volumes of sediment.  That's the Bu bro on the right with my niece and nephew working the sieves:
We were richly rewarded for the day's efforts.  In the image below, clockwise from top, is a dugong rib bone, a horse tooth, a juvenile megalodon tooth, a vertebrae, a skull fragment, and in the center, an alligator osteoderm:
My niece was particularly talented at finding dozens of tiny shark's teeth by hand-sifting the sandier sediment (but the larger megalodon tooth was found in a sieve):
If you engage in this activity I highly recommend Florida's Fossils by Robin C. Brown.   Indispensable.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Knuckleheads scolded but not scalded...

Webcam Catches Tourists Walking on Old Faithful

Launch scrubbed today...

due to a technical glitch in the auxiliary power unit.  We're waiting for the NASA news conference to see when the launch may be rescheduled.  Regardless, we're heading out on a fossil hunting expedition tomorrow.

UPDATED:  Sure, we're a bit disappointed, but it was still a terrific day at Kennedy Space Center.  First, we enjoyed a brunch with former astronaut Fred Gregory, whose philosophy of life is to "make a contribution but have fun."  Here he's describing some of his experiences flying three missions on the space shuttle (click to enlarge):
Then around noon we entered the space shuttle simulator that tilted to near vertical, shook vigorously and roared loudly,  giving us an experience from ignition to entering orbit.  Extremely well done physical sensations and very exciting!

Today is launch day...

of STS-134, and tanking operations have begun early this morning, loading the external fuel tank with liquid hydrogen and oxygen.  We're up early and heading out the the center  for brunch with an astronaut and to watch the liftoff this afternoon.  Follow the mission status here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Artifacts from the Apollo era...

on display at Kennedy Space Center include the actual command module for Apollo 17, scarred by the tremendous heat of re-entry into Earth's atmosphere at the end of the mission (click to enlarge):
Also on display is astronaut Alan Shepard's extravehicular activity suit he wore on the Moon's surface, clearly showing lunar dust on the lower legs and boots:
And most interesting to me is one of several Moon rocks:

The tour of Kennedy Space Center...

includes a stop at the Vehicle Assembly Building, one of the largest structures in the world, where spacefaring craft from Saturn/Apollo to the space shuttles have been stacked for launch (click images to enlarge):
Nearby is a display of an actual Saturn V launch vehicle, and the business end of the booster is gigantic.  That's my niece and nephew standing below the enormous engine bells:
The scale of the first stage is impressive, and these images do not begin to do it justice:
At the top of the 363 foot high three-stage stack is the command and service module:
While at the center I suited up, but NASA security didn't let me near the shuttle:

The most complex flying machine...

built by humans sits ready to go on launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, and we were able to get within 0.8 miles this afternoon for one last glimpse before it roars skyward on Friday (click images to enlarge):
Here's a closeup telephoto shot from the north, with space shuttle Endeavour hidden behind the twin solid rocket boosters and external liquid fuel tank:
The countdown is proceeding smoothly despite some hail and lightening near the pad early this evening.  Liftoff is still scheduled for 3:47 pm EDT tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dreary weather...

in Spokane is breaking records, and has everybody down:
Glad I'm heading to Florida for a few days.

Enter the Matrix...

Ultrasharp 3-D Maps

Much like a performance of a ballet...

the mechanical and electrical sequencing required to launch a space shuttle is a closely choreographed series of critical events. For example, check out the countdown timeline for STS-134 which commences at the time of this post, at 2:00 pm EDT today.  Spoiler:  This dance climaxes Friday at 3:47:52 pm EDT. And I'm gonna be there to see it! 

Fingers crossed it all goes according to schedule, but if it doesn't, we've got several days built into our schedule in case of short-term weather delays and/or technical glitches.  Fortunately the weather forecast looks very good on launch day and "there are no hardware worries being worked."

RELATED:  Follow continuously updated STS-134 mission status.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ambitious goal...

SpaceX: Mars Mission Within 20 Years.  Here's the interview with the Wall Street Journal on which the article was based.

Faster, please.

Big Brother...

Apple: We 'must have' comprehensive user location data on you.

Ironic, especially coming from the multinational corporation that brought us the famous "1984" commercial.  I wrote my dissertation on an Apple II+ with 64k RAM.  That was the last Apple product I ever owned, for a variety of reasons.  But the problem doesn't stop with Apple: Google Defends Way It Gets Phone Data.

There's an obvious and very simple solution - just give users the option of turning off location-based services.  Those who want it can have it;  those who don't can opt out.

RELATED: The Really Smart Phone.

Historic launch pad 39A...

that will be used by Endeavour this coming Friday was previously used to launch Apollo 11, the mission where man first landed on the Moon (click to enlarge).  Read more here.

This Thursday I will take a tour of Kennedy Space Center and will get as close as 1.2 miles from the pad, where the two roads diverge at the bottom center of the aerial image.  It will be awesome to see Endeavour sitting on the historic pad, ready for its final blastoff the following day.

Image credit: NASA image by Robert Simmon/NASA Earth Observatory.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Time is fleeting...

at the Lucky Friday Mine: Rescue efforts continue, still no sign of trapped miner.

24 April UPDATE: Hecla: Trapped miner died in ground collapse.

GPS satellites...

get a serious upgrade.  This will result in a significant increase in accuracy, down to two feet, even with civilian grade receivers.

And it will help Apple and Google track you more closely.

Six days and counting...

until the lift off of space shuttle Endeavour.  I'm packing today, getting ready for departure on Wednesday, meeting the Bu bro and two of his kids at the Denver airport.  Here's our tentative itinerary during our trip to Florida's "Space Coast":
  • Wednesday:  Fly into Orlando, arriving late afternoon.
  • Thursday: Visit Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and take bus tour of the facility that includes NASA headquarters and the closest possible view of Endeavour on pad 39A. We’ll also visit the Shuttle Landing Facility and runway, see the massive Vehicle Assembly Building, and catch a glimpse of the gigantic Crawler Transporters.
  • Friday: Back to KSC for lunch with an astronaut and afternoon blast off if all goes according to schedule!
  • Saturday: Visit Cocoa Beach and hopefully see the solid rocket boosters being towed back to KSC.
  • Sunday: Fossil hunting in the Peace River.
  • Monday: Return home.
I'm very, very excited.  I feel like a kid again.

RELATED:  Florida Braces for Huge Crowds for Next Week's Space Shuttle Launch.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Beautiful world...

The Mountain from Terje Sorgjerd.

These dramatic time-lapse scenes were recorded on Pico del Teide, a volcanic summit in the Canary Islands.  I'll have the good fortune of visiting this magical place in spring 2012 with Zegrahm Expeditions.

Spring lecture and field trip...

to examine the "Cheney-Palouse Scabland Tract - Top to Bottom" will be held this coming Thursday and Saturday, hosted by the Ice Age Floods Institute (IAFI):
The free lecture on Thursday, 28 April, will be presented at 7 pm, Science Building, Room 135, Eastern Washington University, Cheney.  Dr. Gene Kiver, Professor Emeritus, EWU Geology, will provide an overview of the Cheney-Palouse Scabland channel system from its beginning south of the West Plains of Spokane to its terminus south of Palouse Falls at the confluence of the Palouse and Snake Rivers. Important geologic concepts that help understand the evolution of the Channeled Scabland include generation of nickpoints (cataracts, now dry falls), development of canyons or coulees produced by cataract retreat, and long-term deepening and stripping of the rock layers producing different landforms as erosion continues will be discussed. 

The associated field trip on Saturday, 30 April, is led by Gene Kiver, Bruce Bjornstad, and Lloyd Stoess. The field excursion will start in Cheney at 8 am near the upper end of the Cheney-Palouse Scabland Tract and progress southward to Rock Lake and to the Palouse River valley. From there we will travel west across the Rock Creek and Cow Creek Coulees to Benge and south to Hooper, Washtucna, and Palouse Falls where the Cheney-Palouse Scabland Tract ends at the Snake River. We’ll see examples of cataract canyons, dry falls, basalt buttes and mesas, streamlined- and scarped- loess islands, and divide crossings caused by the monstrous Missoula Floods. The return trip will follow the west edge of the Cheney Palouse Scabland Tract, concluding at 6 pm. Registration is required and you can find details in the registration and liability forms. More information: Melanie Bell; (509) 954-4242.
For other related activities, consult the IAFI events calendar.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Happy birthday to...

the Hubble Space Telescope, 21 years old today.  Astronomers used the orbiting observatory to snap the image shown above, two interacting spiral galaxies (Arp 273) that resemble a rose, in order to celebrate the anniversary (click to enlarge).

Miner still missing...

at the Lucky Friday Mine: Camera reveals no sign of trapped miner.  Here are additional links to a statement from Hecla Mining Company and a diagram of the accident site.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Today's 'Flight Readiness Review'...

has concluded with NASA mission managers giving a unanimous "go" for launch of Endeavour next Friday, 29 April, at 3:47 pm EDT.

Looks like I'll be heading to the Cape next week!

Wise words...

If you ever drop your keys into a river of molten lava, let 'em go, because man, they're gone.

-- Jack Handy

Kinetic lego art...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Guest geology lecture...

on the paleontology and stratigraphy of the Chuckanut Formation in northwestern Washington, by Renee Breedlovestrout, is scheduled for Monday, 25 April, at noon in SCI 118.  Renee will also linger a bit afterward to discuss how to apply to graduate school with interested students.

A very good reason...

to study geology, rather than biology: Scientists Study Belly Button Bacteria.  Eww.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rescue crews dig...

for a trapped miner at the Lucky Friday Mine.  All mines are dangerous, deep ones particularly so.

RELATED:  Here's a previous post about the same mine.

19 April UPDATE:  Rescue efforts continue.

Be prepared for serious emergencies...

with The Ship's Captain Medical Guide, an on-line reference from first aid to child birth and much more.  It may be worthwhile to download some of the files so they are locally accessible in case the Interweb crashes.

Less seriously, this may also come in handy in late 2012, or during the inevitable Zombie apocalypse.

Coffee vs. tea...

in an infographic.

Much to my students' chagrin, I'm a java man. Try to keep up.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Words of wisdom...

from the world's oldest man.  Seems like good advice to me.

I can't wait for the 134th...

The Bu bro and I are anxiously counting down to our impending trip to the Kennedy Space Center to be on site when Endeavour (STS-134) lifts off on April 29th. Enthusiasm is high!

RELATED:  Current STS-134 mission status at  And launch viewing tickets at KSC are still available, but at inflated prices, on eBay.  (I thought ticket scalping was illegal?)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Retired space shuttles go to...

the Smithsonian and museums in California, Florida and New York City.  New York City?!  Seems like Houston would have been a more appropriate choice.

And all EWU got is a single measly tile.

Yellowstone magma plume...

bigger than thought.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I am saddened to report...

the passing of my mentor and graduate adviser, Stanley A. Schumm.  I have just learned through e-mail that he died yesterday afternoon, and although he had not been well the last few years, "his mind was sharp to the end."

I studied with Stan at Colorado State University from 1979 to 1983, earning both a MS and Ph.D. under his guidance and support.  His publication record on fluvial geomorphology is unmatched, and here is a brief bio.  My sincerest condolences go to his wife, Ethel, and his family during these difficult times.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The trip to a closed landfill...

today with my environmental science seminar class was instructive, where we viewed the successful implementation of a pump-and-treat groundwater remediation program at the Colbert Landfill about 15 miles north of Spokane.  The tour was guided by KB, a former EWU geology grad who oversees the functions at several closed solid waste sites in the county, seen here making introductory comments (click to enlarge):
Students peer into a vault that contains a groundwater interception well and associated electronic controls and sampling port at the periphery of the contaminated site:
Since the landfill originated as a sand and gravel pit in 1968 it doesn't have a bottom liner, but a cap installed during closure in the mid-1990s includes a thin HDPE geomembrane that prohibits water from infiltrating into the buried wastes and generating additional leachate:
The interior of the plant is a maze of pipes and valves where contaminated groundwater from a number of interceptor wells is collected and routed to the top of the air-striping tower outside of the plant:
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) rapidly disperse from the descending column of water in the four story air-striping tower while a blower forces air up through the base and out the top, venting the evaporated VOCs into the atmosphere:
The treated water is collected and discharged to the Little Spokane River, about a half-mile to the west.  In sum, this represents a local environmental success story.

The man who predicted...

the tsunami.

Paleo-hors d'oeuvre...

Shark Teeth Found Stuck in Ancient Ammonite Shell.

Crunchy on the outside, but chewy on the inside.

Friday, April 8, 2011

It's field work Friday...

on the Rathdrum Prairie, and I anticipate finding rising groundwater levels in my monitoring wells due to the above average precipitation we've received this late winter and spring.  Here's the latest summary for the area from the National Weather Service:  March 2011 Weather Watcher (.pdf file).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sartorial advice for the professoriate...

Professors Should Dress Like Professionals.

Um, OK, but I tend to dress casually but neatly, or at least I try.  But perhaps I should break out the tweed jacket, bow-tie and pipe?

Happy birthday...

to teflon, invented on this day in 1938.  In addition to making life easier in the kitchen, teflon sliders are utilized in engineering earthquake resistant structures from horizontal motions through base isolation.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What I'm reading...

right now:  The Map That Changed the World by Simon Winchester.  Admittedly I'm late to pick up this popular title, but since I'll be in Edinburgh in June it seems appropriate to brush up on the history of geology, especially in Great Britain.

Pool time for pachyderms...

The Spokane gem and mineral show...

sponsored by the Rock Rollers is this weekend, April 8-10, at the Spokane County Fairgrounds.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Space shuttle launch delayed...

ten days, now targeted for April 29th.  Oh well. Gotta get busy and reschedule a number of things.  (Unfortunately that task falls on the Bu bro.)  Here's the latest from Spaceflight Now.

Related previous post.

Live eagle cam...

spying on a nest in Iowa, with chicks about to hatch in the next several days, provided by the Raptor Resource Project.  Very cool.

UPDATE and BUMPED:  Eaglets are hatching!  Two of the three eggs have hatched.  Have a look.

Two influential books...

that shaped my interests in high school:

Buzz off...

if you're a well qualified in-state student wanting admission to the University of Washington:  Why straight-A's may not get you into UW this year.  Key bit:
"In the face of continuing state budget cuts, academic leaders at the University of Washington in February made a painful decision to cut the number of Washington students the school will admit this fall and increase the number of out-of-state and international students, who pay nearly three times as much in tuition and fees."
Hey, UW has to support the nearly $700k salary of its president somehow.

As I've written before, I believe higher education is the next bubble to pop.  Accelerating inflation of tuition, increasing debt burdens on students, coupled with little prospect of well-paying jobs at graduation.  It's not sustainable.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Dexterity redefined...

Bat deaths...

could cost US billions each year. They are, after all, nature's pesticide. Also, note that so-called "green" wind turbines "will have killed 33,000 to 111,000 annually in the Mid-Atlantic Highlands alone."

Remember, bats need friends.

UPDATE:  More here with an interesting map.

RELATED: I am pleased to find that there is a big brown bat occupying one of my many bat houses late this afternoon.  I was surprised to see a few guano droppings, and sure enough, there's an early arrival in the box overhead.
Also, do your part: DIY - Build Your Own Bat House.