Carleton Geology Alums In The News

  • I must have been five in the first storm I remember, walking home in Manhattan. I’d never seen rain like that, rain that soaked in an instant and made my favorite blue velvet slippers slide over the slick asphalt. Walk on the painted white line, my mother shouted above the roar of drops, it’s raised a little. And indeed it was enough of a difference to let me cross, one sodden slipper at a time.

    A few things stick with me, attached to the image of blue slippers on a white line. A few inches of rain were enough to make it seem the sky was falling; a few millimeters enough to make a painted line into a bridge. Small differences, I learned, matter.

    Once that thought was enough. It took root as I studied lakes in Tanzania, the summer after my sophomore year of college. I could always do this work, I imagined—research that sought to understand the environmental problems of the world. I thought eagerly of incremental change when a professor told me that science could profoundly alter the world, pull the rug out from under everyone’s feet. The idea guided me from a degree in geology to an application to do environmental work with the Peace Corps. My goals were modest: not saving the world, just doing a little good. Finding a little purpose. [..]

    The reality was that paleoclimatology is a topic that makes eyes glaze over after the second syllable, one that people, sometimes including myself, consider academic in the dullest sense of the word. Worse yet could be using the phrase “climate scientist,” which risked derailing conversations and silencing formerly friendly checkout ladies. I found myself envying my doctor friends: how much more unassailable of a purpose can you have than healing others?

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  • Salem Hills Elementary School in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota had an all-school Water Fair a couple weeks ago that Sarah Alexander and I got the chance to attend.

    Salem Hills has been partnering with H2O for Life for many years, providing schools all over the world access to clean water. The Water Fair helped raise money for this year’s project: San Pablo School in Guatemala. Two gyms were filled with activities and excited (and well-behaved) students! In one of the gyms there were students presenting on water-related diseases with poster boards, educating others about Guatemala with trivia games, and demonstrating with dioramas how much water it takes to produce some of the foods we eat. Some of the other activities were penny tinfoil boat races, making worry dolls, Guatemalan dancing, a water droplet wall, water-themed tattoos, and a water taste test.

    In the other gym, students showed off their engineering skills by displaying a huge selection of games made out of cardboard that included water and Guatemalan facts. These games were all so engaging and impressive – and challenging! All the time and effort that went into making these games really paid off. The kids loved describing how their games worked and watching us play and take pictures. These kids are brilliant!

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  • One night about three years ago, the lush-voiced maverick k.d. lang decided to fire off a pair of emails to fellow singer-songwriters Neko Case and Laura Veirs, asking if they'd like to record with her.

    Veirs, an indie-folk/pop favorite, had met lang at a benefit concert while pregnant with her second son. "I believe I had just had him" when lang's message arrived, she says, but admits, "I can't remember the exact chronology."

    Alt-rock veteran Case proposes that "k.d.'s email is what put her into labor."

    Anyhow, Veirs "kind of pretended I had nothing going on," and sessions were arranged. The resulting album, case/lang/veirs, out Friday, features 14 new songs crafted and performed by the three women; lyrical and reflective, with frugal but richly atmospheric arrangements, they were produced with the trio by veteran boardsman Tucker Martine, Veirs' husband.

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  • Deep in the solidified lava beneath Iceland, scientists have managed an unprecedented feat: They’ve taken carbon dioxide released by a power plant and turned it into rock at a rate much faster than laboratory tests predicted.

    The findings, described in the journal Science, demonstrate a powerful method of carbon storage that could reduce some of the human-caused greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change.

    “These are really exciting results,” said Roger Aines, a geochemist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who was not involved in the study. “Nobody had ever actually done a large-scale experiment like they’ve done, under the conditions that they did it.”

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  • Operated by the UW and the University of Oregon, the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN) monitors volcanic and seismic activity across the United States.

    The PNSN also keeps a detailed history of Mount St. Helens’ activity. Mount St. Helens had a major eruption in 1980 that famously blew its top off, giving the volcano its distinct appearance. In addition, Mount St. Helens had a series of smaller eruptions between 2004 and 2008. [..]

    Mount St. Helens also won’t erupt without warning. 

    “We would see a number of things happening over days to weeks before a large eruption, such as increased gas emissions, steam eruptions, increased ground inflation, and much shallower seismicity,” said Carl Ulberg, a graduate student in the earth and space sciences department.

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  • The discovery of stone tools alongside mastodon bones in a Florida river shows that humans settled the southeastern United States as much as 1,500 years earlier than scientists previously believed, according to a new research. This site on the Aucilla River -- about 45 minutes from Tallahassee -- is now the oldest known site of human life in the southeastern United States. It dates back 14,550 years. [..]

    Other researchers on the study are Angelina Perrotti and David Carlson from Texas A&M, Ivy Owens from the University of Cambridge, Joshua Feinberg and Mark Bourne from the University of Minnesota.

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  • The McMurdo Dry Valleys are a polar desert in coastal Antarctica, where glaciers, permafrost, ice-covered lakes, and ephemeral summer streams coexist. Liquid water is found at the surface only in lakes and in the temporary streams that feed them.

    Past geophysical exploration has yielded ambiguous results regarding the presence of subsurface water. In 2011, we used a helicopter borne, time-domain electromagnetic (TDEM) sensor to map resistivity in the subsurface across the Dry Valleys.

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  • Dr. Lloyd Pray '41 a widely respected sedimentologist and Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, passed away on April 5, 2016 at the age of 96. 

    His obituary (full text here) said, in part:

    After attending public high school in Ashland, Lloyd's geological education began at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota under famed scientist and explorer Larry Gould. He graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1941. He earned a Masters degree at Cal Tech in Pasadena, California, in 1943. Near the end of WWII, Lloyd enlisted as an officer in the Navy to help survey Japanese harbors to determine if they were navigable. After a year with the USGS, where he completed a now-classic dissertation on the stratigraphy of New Mexico's Sacramento Mountains, he returned to Cal Tech, was awarded his Ph.D. in 1951, and became an associate professor. Lloyd moved his family to Littleton, Colorado, in 1956, where he initiated carbonate research at Marathon Oil Company's Denver Research Center. In 1968, he made Madison his permanent home as a tenured geology professor at the University of Wisconsin for 35 years.

    During his professional career, Lloyd earned an international reputation as a leader in the earth sciences. He had a profound and lasting effect on the study of sedimentary geology and the origin and characteristics of carbonate rocks. An outspoken proponent of getting away from desks and computers and out into the field, he made critical discoveries along the cliffs of the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas, where he led field trips for graduate students and geologists for years. Although his fieldwork took him around the world, from the deserts of Libya to the coral reefs of Australia, he never lost his love and appreciation for the geology of his home state of Wisconsin.

    As a geologist, Lloyd will be remembered for his maverick approach, which required the scientific community to step outside of its normal boundaries and conventions. As an educator, he had a unique ability to communicate complex scientific concepts and discoveries with logic, wit, and unbounded enthusiasm. Year after year, he mesmerized the students in his popular Geology 101 class, and inspired many graduate students who went on to make groundbreaking contributions to industry and academia. Lloyd received numerous awards during his career, including one for Distinguished Achievement at his 50th reunion for Carleton College; a prestigious University of Wisconsin teaching award in 1988, and the award he was most proud of, the Wallace Pratt Stewardship Award, for his work at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. He also won the Society for Sedimentary Geology's highest honor, the Twenhofel Medal, in 1999.

    A video tribute to Dr. Pray has been posted by his son Doug, who wrote, "In 1988 I joined my father on one of his last UW geology field trips to the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas. I was a young UCLA film student at the time, and made this 20-minute documentary as a tribute to his love of field geology, teaching, and the Guadalupes. Lloyd passed away on April 5, 2016 at the age of 96. He will be missed by the many that he inspired."  Watch The Video

  • Moose recovering in the Arctic may be benefiting from higher shrubs than were present in the past 150 years, according to a new study.

    “If you’re a moose you’ve got to be near those shrubs both for forage and for cover from predators,” said Ken Tape, an assistant professor and ecologist at University of Alaska Fairbanks and lead author of a study published yesterday in PLOS ONE.

    But the warming climate seems to be affording shrubbery north of the tree line in Alaska to grow higher, which may be ushering in a growing moose population in the state.

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  • London's first timber skyscraper could be a step closer to reality this week after researchers presented Mayor of London Boris Johnson with conceptual plans for an 80-storey, 300m high wooden building integrated within the Barbican.

    Researchers from Cambridge University's Department of Architecture are working with PLP Architecture and engineers Smith and Wallwork on the future development of tall timber buildings in central London[...]

    Dr Michael Ramage, Director of Cambridge's Centre for Natural Material Innovation, said: "The Barbican was designed in the middle of the last century to bring residential living into the city of London -- and it was successful. We've put our proposals on the Barbican as a way to imagine what the future of construction could look like in the 21st century.

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    A Douglas fir tree is a marvel of natural engineering. The trunk, made mostly of slender dead cells each a few millimeters long, can reach heights of 100 meters. It's supple enough to sway in windstorms without snapping, yet strong enough to support its weight—up to 160 metric tons. Kilogram for kilogram, a wooden beam made from this fir is 3.5 times stronger than steel. A single tree can store half its weight in carbon and can replace itself, given enough time. Its luminous, patterned wood can be sculpted into virtually any shape[...]

    In April, Michael Ramage, an architect and structural engineer at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, unveiled a plan for a needle-thin, 80-story skyscraper in London, one of four designs he's creating with architects in three different cities. There's no imminent plan to build any of them. But Ramage predicts that wooden towers this tall could go up within a decade, and he and his colleagues are now testing the kinds of beams and steel connectors that could support a supertall wooden structure.

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