Wednesday, October 31, 2012

700 Months

How big is the number 700? Not very big in today's world (and certainly not for a geologist). But 700 months. How long do you think 700 months is?

Well I can tell you because on Nov. 1, I will turn 700 months old! It sounds like such a short time doesn't it? "Really? Only 700 months?" Yep, it's true.

So the first day of November I will turn 58.25 years old or

700 months;
3,045 weeks;
21,308 days;
511,400 hours;
About 30,683,500 minutes;
or 1,840,997,000 seconds.

If you'd like to know how old you are, check out this web site: It's fun and a happy place to be.

Disclaimer! This photograph of me was taken in my 682nd month at one of my favorite places - the inner gorge of the Grand Canyon!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

10,000th Copy of "Ancient Landscapes" Sold At GCNP

Late on the afternoon of September 22 (or thereabouts), someone at Grand Canyon National Park bought the 10,000 copy of the book, "Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau". I don't know who that lucky person was, or where they live. But if there was any way that i could know, I would inscribe a most appropriate notation on the inside title page.

"ALCP" made its debut on bookshelves in October, 2008 to robust reviews. The book's "back story" however, is quite interesting. For years prior to its publication, I had been admiring Ron Blakey's paleogeographic maps and using them in the geology classes I taught at Yavapai and Coconino Community Colleges. Being a former student of Ron's at Northern Arizona University, I became filled with his infectious enthusiasm for rock strata and the ancient landscapes they reveal. I occasionally heard from Ron (and others) that he was about to publish a book containing the maps and always made it a point to ask him about it when I saw him at a professional meeting. All too often, he would relate his most recent publishing "detour". (He had three prior publishers lined up at different times and on one occasion was close to a deal with Oxford University Press). The only person more disappointed than Ron in hearing the news was myself, as I knew that his maps provided an excellent avenue for people to learn about geology and earth history.

Then in 2005, while attending the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in Salt Lake City, I saw Ron in the exhibit area of the convention floor. I had not seen him for a few years but once again asked him how the book project was coming along. He gave what was becoming an all too familiar look of disappointment and shuffled his feet and shook his head with disgust. Obviously, there had been another setback. I was disappointed once again to get the news. But then an idea came to mind! I was at the meeting to attend the professional talks and to promote and sign my new book, "Carving Grand Canyon". The book had been recently published by the Grand Canyon Association (the non-profit partner for Grand Canyon National Park) and I was aware that they were willing to consider other geology titles for future books. Within about 15 minutes of talking to Ron about a possible collaboration, the idea for "ALCP" came to light that moment in Salt Lake City.

It took three years to write new text and to design the book (beautifully executed by Ron Short). But by the time GSA held its Annual Meeting in October, 2008 in Houston, Texas, Ron Blakey and I were doing our own book signing on the convention floor.

Book signing at the GSA Annual Meeting in Houston, Texas in October, 2008

"Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau" is selling as well or even better now as it was on the day it was published. Both Ron and I are appreciative of the support that the Grand Canyon Association gives us and remain gratified that so many professionals and lay persons alike are benefiting from the story it tells. It is an amazing work and I receive correspondence from readers all the time telling me how it has helped them "get over the hump" in learning geologic concepts. ALCP rocks!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Yellowstone Article Posted On US Route 89 Web Site

One of the joys of being a geologic interpreter is that you often get a chance to explain some earthly phenomena for a general audience. It may be a public lecture, a chance to ride along on a river trip, or to write an article. I welcome these opportunities to enlighten the general public about the magic and joys of geologic thinking.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River is carved in volcanic rocks erupted about 640,000 years ago
I was recently contacted by Jim and Barbara Cowlin, who have a passion for US Highway 89, also known as the Park to Park Highway since it connects seven different National Parks (as well as many more National Monuments) between the Mexican and Canadian borders. Jim is a professional photographer and this site is one you should bookmark if you love this art form or Western scenery. They both have traveled the highway from one end to the other and know it well. They offer tips on things to see, side excursions, and places to visit.

They asked me to write a short post on volcanism near Yellowstone. I was fortunate to spend much time there about ten years ago, becoming familiar with many of the geologic features there. You can read my posting on Yellowstone volcanism here.  The introductory article for the US Highway 89 web site can be read here. I have also written geologic summaries of the three geographic provinces that US Highway 89 traverses. The Basin and Range article can be read here. The Colorado Plateau article is found at this link. And the article describing the geology of the Rocky Mountain Province is here. The Cowlin's are to be commended for celebrating the beauty and heritage of this incredible western highway.

Happy traveling!

Friday, October 12, 2012

"Game Changing" Images From The Mars Rover Curiosity

I thought for sure that the national airwaves would be buzzing endlessly about the discovery of river-worn pebbles by the Mars rover Curiosity on September 27. The announcement was made to the usual temporary fanfare and faded away predictably in unceremonious fashion. I guess that is the price we pay to live in this info-charged, "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" world. If our attention spans get any shorter there will be nothing in the solar system that amazes us.

Well not for this old rock-hound, who remains duly impressed a full two weeks after the announcement was publicized. This truly is the smoking gun for the former presence of running water on Mars. Previous studies have shown that minute amounts of water still reside near the Martian poles and perhaps beneath the Martian surface elsewhere. But this is verifiable and visible evidence that rivers once ran on Mars! (A River Ran On It).

In this posting, I include images released by NASA with their own captions beautifully describing each one (I modified the captions slightly to reduce redundancy). The full story as posted on the NASA web site can be read and accessed here. Wow! This is really impressive. Stay tuned to NASA and this blog for more fantastic discoveries from Mars.

Where Water Flowed Downslope

This image shows the topography, with shading added, around the area where the rover Curiosity landed on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). Higher elevations are colored in red, with cooler colors indicating transitions downslope to lower elevations. The black oval indicates the targeted landing area for the rover known as the "landing ellipse," and the cross shows where the rover actually landed.

An alluvial fan, or fan-shaped deposit where debris spreads out downslope, has been highlighted in lighter colors for better viewing. On Earth, alluvial fans often are formed by water flowing downslope. New observations from Curiosity of rounded pebbles embedded with rocky outcrops provide concrete evidence that water did flow in this region on Mars, creating the alluvial fan. Water carrying the pebbly material is thought to have streamed downslope extending the alluvial fan, at least occasionally, to where the rover now sits studying its ancient history.

Remnants of Ancient Streambed on Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover found evidence for an ancient, flowing stream on Mars at a few sites, including the rock outcrop pictured here, which the science team has named "Hottah" after Hottah Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories. It may look like a broken sidewalk, but this geological feature on Mars is actually exposed bedrock made up of smaller fragments cemented together, or what geologists call a sedimentary conglomerate. Scientists theorize that the bedrock was disrupted in the past, giving it the titled angle, most likely via impacts from meteorites.

The key evidence for the ancient stream comes from the size and rounded shape of the gravel in and around the bedrock. Hottah has pieces of gravel embedded in it, called clasts, up to a couple inches (few centimeters) in size and located within a matrix of sand-sized material. Some of the clasts are round in shape, leading the science team to conclude they were transported by a vigorous flow of water. The grains are too large to have been moved by wind. This image mosaic was taken by Curiosity's 100-millimeter Mastcam telephoto lens on its 39th Martian day, or sol, of the mission (Sept. 14, 2012 PDT/Sept. 15 GMT).

Close-up view of Hottah

A close-up view of Hottah reveals more details in the outcrop. Broken surfaces of the outcrop have rounded, gravel clasts, such as the one circled in white, which is about 1.2 inches (3 centimeters) across. Erosion of the outcrop results in gravel clasts that protrude from the outcrop and ultimately fall onto the ground, creating the gravel pile at left.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Flash Flood Videos from the 2012 Grand Canyon Monsoon

The monsoon season of 2012 will go down as one of the most active in recent memory. It seems that here in Flagstaff we were constantly under rain showers from July 4th to September 12th. There were many fantastic floods that also occurred in the Grand Canyon and I include some phenomenal links to videos of these events in this posting. Before that however, you may want to refer back to some pictures I posted of two debris piles that were deposited catastrophically at the mouths of Red Canyon and National Canyon. These were taken on my 10-Day Geology Rafting trip from September 12 to 21. You can refer to that posting and view the pictures here.

Some video was captured of the big National Canyon flood, which occurred on July 14, 2012. It is courtesy of Joe Clark, a boatman for Western River Expeditions. That video can be viewed here. And there is a second video here that shows how the floodwater entered the Colorado as a foamy mess. These are amazing images. I have heard estimates that National Canyon had a peak flow of about 15,000 cubic feet per second, making it almost as large as the Colorado River on that day.

 Another flood occurred very close to National Canyon but on the other side of the river at Fern Glen Canyon on August 20th, 2012. A river trip apparently had stopped to hike at Fern Glen but on the way up into the canyon, the extreme runoff filled the canyon bottom. That video can be watched here. I have heard no estimates of the discharge on this flood but it is quite a bit smaller that what came down National. Anyone who would have been caught in the narrows in Fern Glen Canyon however, would not have cared one bit if this flood was somewhat smaller - the amount of runoff is impressive and deadly.

 Finally, there is this footage from some monsoon waterfalls that developed quite rapidly in a downpour that occurred in Marble Canyon in July, specifically at Redwall Cavern. A party of rafters had stopped in the large cavern when the skies let loose and they watched the rain fall in sheets which produced significant waterfalls of brown water into the river. Watch the footage here. Be sure to watch it through to the end - the rain gets stronger and the amount of water pouring into the river gets extreme. (You can also look at waterfall footage from Redwall Cavern from 2008 here).

Flash floods are common in landscapes that contain widespread bare rock exposures with few soils. They are the mechanism by which the canyons are created and facilitate the deep dissection that makes the Colorado Plateau and Grand Canyon so wonderful. With the advent of cheap but high quality electronics, more of these events are now visible to us. Watching the majesty and power of these events stirs the soul.

Addendum - 12/12/12: I became aware of this footage of the Red Canyon flood at Hance Rapid today! Here it is.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

How The Earth Was Made

See a clip of my part in the History Channel's production, "How The Earth Was Made" here at this link.

Arizona Daily Sun Article on the New Edition of Carving Grand Canyon

To read an article on the new edition of my book "Carving Grand Canyon" in the local Flagstaff newspaper, see the link here.