This blog provides commentary on interesting geological events occurring around the world in the context of my own work. This work is, broadly, geological fluid dynamics. The events that I highlight here are those that resonate with my professional life and ideas, and my goal is to interpret them in the context of ideas I've developed in my research. The blog does not represent any particular research agenda. It is written on a personal basis and does not seek to represent the University of Illinois, where I am a professor of geology and physics. Enjoy Geology in Motion! I would be glad to be alerted to geologic events of interest to post here! I hope that this blog can provide current event materials that will make geology come alive.

Banner image is by Ludie Cochrane..

Susan Kieffer can be contacted at s1kieffer at gmail.com

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Happy Holidays!

As 2014 winds down and the holidays approach, here again is the Bill and Boyd reminder that Nature doesn't always know about and respect holidays! Have a safe and enjoyable holiday and best wishes for 2015!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pancake ice on the River Dee in Scotland

Pancake ice on the River Dee
Photo by Jamie Urquhart, biologist from here
If the Queen of England were in residence at the moment at Balmoral Castle, Scotland, her summer residence, and if she walked downstream a few miles, she'd see the stunning cluster of pancake ice on the River Dee!

How does such ice form? To start with, we probably need to review a phenomenon known as "frazil ice."  Water normally freezes at 273.15 K (32 F), but can be supercooled down to almost 231 K if there are no nuclei for the ice crystals (that is, the water needs to be very pure). Frazil ice forms in turbulent, slightly supercooled water. It consists of small discs of ice 1-4 millimeters in diameter and 1-100 microns in thickness.  It is estimated that sometimes there can be one million ice crystals in a cubic meter of water. As the crystals grow, they will stick to objects in the water and tend to accumulate on the upstream side of objects.  This can cause ice dams and serious flooding.  

Frazil ice in rivers can be a serious problem if there are hydroelectric facilities because it can block turbine intakes, or can freeze open gates. It's also hard on the fish! In the ocean, frazil ice forms around the edges and within open water within ice packs.  Here it has become of concern because of oil and gas development in the Arctic. A review article on this by Sellye Martin can be found in Annual Reviews of Fluid Mechanics, v. 13, pp. 379-397, 1981.)

According to the CNN article referenced in the figure caption, there have been some cold nights in Scotland. They speculate that the disks form at night (and are round because they form in swirling eddies), soften in the daytime so that the rims get pushed up by collisions, and then grow further the next night, etc. Pancake ice is a well understood phenomenon on the oceans.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Atmospheric Rivers and the storms of December

Wind gusts forecast for 1:00 p.m. (tomorrow afternoon)
As I logged into Cliff Mass's blog to do my homework for this post, I saw that he had updated his latest post as follows:

"BIG NEWS UPDATE at 10:15 AM Wednesday:  At 10 AM, Seattle-Tacoma Airport reported 65F, the WARMEST TEMPERATURE EVER OBSERVED AT SEA-TAC FOR THE MONTH OF DECEMBER.  I repeat this is the warmest temperature every reported for any day in December in the entire climatological record.  Amazing.  Undoubtedly true of other Northwest sites as well.

"I ([Cliff] had to laugh today when I saw the front page of  the National Weather Service's Seattle forecast office web site. 
They had FOURTEEN watches, warnings, and advisories. 

"I have never seen so many.   Something out of a disaster movie or reminiscent of the plagues that hit Egypt before the Exodus.   High Winds!  Floods! Small Craft Advisory!  High Surf!  Gales! Storms! Rough Bars!  All that was missing were tornadoes, hurricanes, lice, and darkness.  Oh, I forgot, we have darkness living in Seattle during the winter.

"But it is getting very clear that the Oregon coast is going to be ground zero for a major onslaught of wind.  Hurricane-force gusts. "

All of this is being treated by the popular press as the result of an "atmospheric river," (AR) as if that was a new concept, but it's not! Two MIT researchers, Zhu and Newell, 1998*) first described the phenomenon. They found that most of the water vapor in the global conveyor belt is carried in 4-5 long narrow  water-vapor-rich sections that are only about 400 km wide. A much older term describing California storms is the "Pineapple Express" applies to a subset of atmospheric rivers that have a connection into the tropics near Hawaii. When the AR''s draw in moisture from the tropics, they can be extreme. Here's a link to a previous post that I did on atmospheric rivers. It relates to Japanese fire bombs during WWII.
A plot of the amount of moisture in a vertical
atmospheric column for an AR in 2010
(from Cliff Mass, here)

The AR's are rich in water vapor, and because of the pressure gradients that develop in cyclones/hurricanes, they are associated with strong winds. The winds will force the water vapor up and over topography, leading to condensation of the vapor and precipitation in the form of rain or snow. According to the NOAA site referenced below, 42 AR's impacted California during the winters of 1997-2006, resulting in seven floods along the Russian River watershed northwest of San Francisco, a major "New Year's Day Flood" in 1997 that caused over $1 billion in damages, and contributions to other California storms in the Merced and American Rivers. An AR hit the Pacific Northwest in 2006, producing heavy rainfall, flooding, and debris flows with damage excepting $50 million. You can find a list of NOAA's "notable AR's" here.

Here's a quote from an article by Dettinger and Ingram that illustrates what one of these rivers can do:

"The intense rainstorms sweeping in from the Pacific Ocean began to pound central California on Christmas Eve in 1861 and continued virtually unabated for 43 days. The deluges quickly transformed rivers running down from the Sierra Nevada mountains along the state’s eastern border into raging torrents that swept away entire communities and mining settlements. The rivers and rains poured into the state’s vast Central Valley, turning it into an inland sea 300 miles long and 20 miles wide. Thousands of people died, and one quarter of the state’s estimated 800,000 cattle drowned. Downtown Sacramento was submerged under 10 feet of brown water filled with debris from countless mudslides on the region’s steep slopes. California’s legislature, unable to function, moved to San Francisco until Sacramento dried out—six months later. By then, the state was bankrupt.
A comparable episode today would be incredibly more devastating. The Central Valley is home to more than six million people, 1.4 million of them in Sacramento. The land produces about $20 billion in crops annually, including 70 percent of the world’s almonds—and portions of it have dropped 30 feet in elevation because of extensive groundwater pumping, making those areas even more prone to flooding. Scientists who recently modeled a similarly relentless storm that lasted only 23 days concluded that this smaller visitation would cause $400 billion in property damage and agricultural losses. Thousands of people could die unless preparations and evacuations worked very well indeed."
Finally, on another note that picks up on a few previous posts (http://www.geologyinmotion.com/2014/10/update-on-this-years-el-nino.html;  wondering if we are in an El Nino year, Japan's weather bureau just announced that they find that an El Nino has emerged for the first time in five years, and is likely to continue into the winter. This is the first declaration by a major meteorological bureau of the "much-feared El Nino phenomenon." The pattern emerged between June and August and they signs of it in November as well. An El Nino year leads to drought in some parts of the world, flooding in others. 
It should be an interesting few months!

*Zhu, Y, and R. E. Newell, 1998: A proposed algorithm for moisture fluxes from atmospheric rivers. Mon. Wea. Rev.126, 725-735, doi:10.1175/1520-0493(1998)126<0725:apafmf>2.0.CO;2.

http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/atmrivers/questions/ for a summary of into

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A little known, potentially dangerous, volcanic system at Laguna del Maule, Chile

Maule Lake image
from http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=76827
Note the grey lava flow at the bottom center edge of the Lake
Where in the world is the earth moving up at about 1' per year? Not Yellowstone, but at a relatively little known volcanic field that straddles the crest of the Andes at 36 S latitude.  A recent article by Brad Singer et al. entitled "Dynamics of a large, restless, rhyolitic magma system at Laguna del Maule, Southern Andes, Chile" in GSA Today, v. 24(12) pp. 4-10, 2014 describes this field and it's potential danger. The Lake lies within a 15x25 km caldera. The volcanic complex covers about 300 square kilometers, and contains a cluster of stratovolcanoes, lava domes and cinder cones. The volcanoes sit about 90 km over the subducting slab of the Nazca plate.

The field has 13 cubic kilometers of rhyolite erupted during the past 20,000 years. There have been a dozen crystal-poor, glassy rhyolitic lavas during the Holocene (the past 11,700 years).

In March 2013, the Observatorio Volcanologico de los Andes del Sur (OVDAS) issued a yellow alert, indicating a potential eruption within months to years based on an alarming surface uplift over the last 7 years and swarms of shallow earthquakes.  (In 2010 there was a M8.8 earthquake 230 km to the east.) Early activity in the Pleistocene culminated in "a spectacular concentric ring of 36 separate post-glacial silicic eruptions" between about 25,000-2,000 years ago. The most recent eruptions "were from 24 vents and produced 15 rhyodacite and 21 rhyolite coulees and lava domes." The vents encircle the lake basin. Pumice and ash fall deposits in Argentina may equal these flows in volume.  The only comparable Holocene rhyolite flareup, the authors point out, is along the Mono Craters chain in California.

According to Fournier et al. (2010)*, the rate of surface deformation was negligible from January 2003 to February 2004, but then accelerated between 2004-2007. Feigel et al. (2014)^ have found uplift rates exceeding 280 mm/year (28 cm/year; 11 inches per year). In comparison, this is 2-5 times the greatest rates measured for Yellowstone or Santorini.

Electrical resistivity data suggest a magma body with a hydrothermal system at about 5 km depth, at a location that agrees well with the source of inflation inferred from the geodetic data. 69% of recorded earthquakes between 2011 and 2014 are shallower than 5 km, and most occur under rhyolite vents along the periphery of the uplifting region.

Figure 5 in the referenced paper. Hypothesized
cross section of the Laguana del Maule complex.
The current observations are interpreted in terms of the magmatic mush model of Hildreth (2004) and Hildreth and Wilson (2007), a model that was originally developed to explain the integrated observations of the Long Valley system that erupted 650 cubic kilometers of the Bishop Tuff 767,000 years ago. The magma system is inferred to contain a thin boundary layer of granitoid that is solidified against country rocks.  "Inboard" of this is a rigid "sponge" consisting of crystals with some minor interstitial melt, and inside of this is a crystal rich mush. The mush is maintained in its partial molten state by fluxing of heat and magic magma through the deeper parts of the crustal reservoir. Melt-rch lenses develop near the roof, creating a low-density barrier through which the denser mafic magma cannot rise to the surface. This mush near the top can be tapped to provide the recent/future rhyolitic eruptions.

The proposed setting under the volcanic complex is shown in the figure to the right/above. It includes inferences consistent with the rapid uplift, shallow earthquakes, active intrusion of magic magma at 5 km depth, and normal faulting and geodetic data that record radial extension to form the circumference of vents.

*Fournier, T.J., et al., Duration, magnitude and frequency of subaerial volcano deformation events: Nw results from Latin America using InSAR and global synthesis, Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 11, doi: 10.1029/2009GC002558

^Feigl, K.I., et al., Geophysical Journal International, v. 196, 885-901, doi:10.1093/gji/ggt438