Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Astronomy Interactives/Animations from U. of Nebraska

Here is an incredible collection of astronomy resources for you to examine (play with) in your spare time this summer. This motherlode of animations and interactives is provided by the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. One of my favorites is their Planetary Orbit Simulator, which demonstrates Keppler's first and second laws of planetary motion. Be sure to play with the settings!

Also, here's another fun site that shows the current location of the planets. CLICK HERE to take a look. You can change the settings in the windows beneath the image. The site is developed and maintained by Chris Peat of Heavens-Above.

NOTE: This will be the last post for awhile. School is winding down and my days will soon be spent hiking, kayaking, etc. Have a great summer!

To view a convenient list of all the resources that have been posted on this "Earth Science Guy" blog site, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Watch the New Meteor Shower Friday Night (May 23)

This might be worth staying up for. This NASA ScienceCast video provides all the details. Hopefully the skies will be clear where you are. The shower will happen as Earth passes through debris from Comet 209P/LINEAR. Experts aren't sure whether it will be a dud or a magnificent event.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Go "Retro" - Retrograde Animation

Diagram courtesy of San Jose Astronomical Association

Retrograde motion is a tough one to explain to students without some sort of visual aid. This animation by the University of Nebraska is a very helpful tool. CLICK HERE to watch it.

To learn more about retrograde motion, including the Ptolemaic model and the Copernican model, CLICK HERE (courtesy of LaSalle University).

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Glaciers of the American West

Glaciers of the American West is a great resource for anything related to glaciers in the "Lower 48". The project was created by students and staff from the Geology and Geography departments at Portland State University with funding from the National Science Foundation, NASA, the US Geological Survey, and the National Park Service. CLICK HERE to see what's on the menu. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Timeline of recent Ice Ages (use the green arrows at the top and bottom to interact).

2. Virtual Glacier (select green links to interact)

3. Glacier Re-photography of the American West (select one of the red boxes and then red dots to view the collection)

Photo: Grinnell Glacier from Mt. Gould in Glacier National Park - Courtesy of the USGS

Speaking of glaciers . . .
Contrary to popular belief, the glaciers in Glacier National Park are NOT remnants of the last ice age that ended roughly 10,000 years ago. There is little doubt that ice age glaciers WERE responsible for carving the majestic peaks and valleys of the park (horns, cirques, aretes, hanging valleys, etc.), but experts believe those glaciers completely melted away during an especially warm period 9,000 to 5,000 years ago (Holocene Climate Maximum). On the other hand, glaciers present in the park today formed during a more recent cold period called "The Little Ice Age" (not a true "ice age") - a cold period that lasted from 1550 to 1850. According to evidence from moraines, tree rings, layers of volcanic ash (Mazama, etc.), and radiometric dating, these "Little Ice Age glaciers" formed in cirques that had been carved by glaciers during the last REAL ice age(s). To learn more about this AND to find out about the glacier that has formed in the crater of Mt. St. Helens, CLICK HERE.

Interested in a summer workshop in Glacier Park? Check out these offerings from the Glacier Institute I plan to take the course titled "Geology of Glacier: A Walk Through Earth's History".

Friday, April 25, 2014

U.S. Daily Temperature Anomalies 1964-2013 by Enigma

Anomalies (in this context) are defined as days on which either the maximum or minimum temperature recorded on that day fall outside of their expected ranges. Enigma used historical daily measurements of temperature from NOAA to construct several interesting graphics that provide a new way of looking at our changing climate. CLICK HERE to view the page. The map is impressive, but be sure to scroll down and play with the one titled, "Yearly proportion of warm anomalies to cold".

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Glacier Movement Animations and Interactives

Here is an animation that shows the movement of a glacier in three different scenarios - stable climate, cooling climate, and warming climate. CLICK HERE to see it. It helps students understand the formation of an end moraine and helps them see how the front of a glacier can be receding as the glacier is flowing downhill. The animation was created by W. W. Norton and Company.

Here's another resource related to valley (alpine) glaciers created by the PhET (?) project. The PhET™ project at the University of Colorado provides interactive, research-based simulations of physical phenomena for free. Check out this Glacier Simulation (select "run now") and then browse through their other Earth Science-related simulations

To view a convenient list of all the resources that have been posted on this "Earth Science Guy" blog site, CLICK HERE.

Below: Speaking of glacial movement, this 48-second segment from NOVA shows 5 months of ice-flow from BENEATH Mt. Blanc in the Alps.

Friday, April 11, 2014

60 Minutes Segment: Volcanoes (12 minutes)

Can you say "Eyjafjallajökull"? (CLICK HERE to listen.
This week's resource is a segment from a recent episode of 60 Minutes. The segment features Eyjafjallajökull, Vesuvius, and Yellowstone.

To view a convenient list of all the resources that have been posted on this "Earth Science Guy" blog site, CLICK HERE.

Friday, April 4, 2014

SNOTEL Sites Monitor Snowpack in Mountains

It's important to keep track of how much snow is present in the mountains because spring and summer runoff has an impact on irrigation, fishing/guiding, wildfire tendencies, hydropower, flooding, and other aspects of life in western states. SNOTEL (SNOwpack TELemetry) sites are automated stations that measure how much snow has fallen in remote mountainous areas. The system is operated by the Natural Resource and Conservation Service.

SNOTEL data are used to make management decisions regarding reservoirs (flood control, etc.) - Click on the map to make it bigger, and you will see that there is A LOT of snow in the mountains of western Montana right now (April 4, 2014). CLICK HERE to learn more about the SNOTEL System, and then check out the Interactive Montana SNOTEL Map to find out how much snow exists at each site.

To view a convenient list of all the resources that have been posted on this "Earth Science Guy" blog site, CLICK HERE.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Mudslide Interative Shows Scope of Disaster in Oso, WA

When there is a natural disaster, The New York Times website often features great interactive graphics to help viewers understand what happened. These resources have proven very helpful as I explain recent disasters to my students. Their graphic to illustrate the scope of the recent mudslide in Washington is another great one, allowing viewers to compare the Oso area before and after the recent tragedy.

CLICK HERE to see the resource - Once the page opens up, select "before" or "after" in the upper right to compare.

To see an image comparison from a satellite view (courtesy of NASA), CLICK HERE. To see one more from the Washington Post CLICK HERE.

To view a convenient list of all the resources that have been posted on this "Earth Science Guy" blog site, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

50 Years Since Great Alaska Earthquake

March 27 marks the 50th anniversery of the second strongest earthquake ever recorded. Here are a couple really good YouTube videos about the Alaska Earthquake. The first one was contributed by IRIS Education and Outreach and the bottom one by the USGS.

To view a convenient list of all the resources that have been posted on this "Earth Science Guy" blog site, CLICK HERE.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Craters of the Moon Animation

From Regents University of California - This week's resource is an animation that shows the timing and extent of lava flows that created the Craters of the Moon volcanic area in south-central Idaho.

CLICK HERE to view the animation.

This recent volcanic activity at the Craters of the Moon is thought to be caused by "leftovers" from the hot spot that currently sits beneath Yellowstone Park. In fact the Snake River Plain IS the path of the hot spot* over the past 15 million years. To learn more about the geologic past of this area CLICK HERE.

Another interesting aspect of the hot spot is the impact it had on ancient rhinos in Nebraska - CLICK HERE to learn more about that chapter in the geologic story of the area.

*Actually, it is the North American Plate that has been moving over the stationary hot spot.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Blog Site to Cover Earth History in 2014

Richard Gibson is an author, geologist, historian and tour guide in Butte, Montana. On January 1st Gibson started a blog that aims to explain (in one year) important happenings in Earth's history in chronological order: History of the Earth Calendar

For what I'm interested in, this is one of the best resources I've come across in awhile. The very impressive site includes photos, diagrams, text as well as short PodCasts. Each day Gibson helps the reader/listener understand one aspect of Earth's history. You can go back to January 1st and get caught up, or you can pick and chose based on your interests. I have always been fascinated with the "Belt Supergroup", so I wanted to see what Gibson had to say about it - I found that it had been the focus of his January 24th post, and I was not disappointed! Belt Basin

About Richard Gibson

Map courtesy of Idaho State University

Friday, February 28, 2014

Transgression Animation

This photo was taken on the Missouri River in central Montana. It shows the Eagle Sandstone beneath the Claggett Shale. Both were formed during the late Cretaceous Period when the Western Interior Seaway covered much of eastern Montana. As the sea fluctuated, the type of sediment deposited in this place changed. Sand was deposited when this location was near the shore and silt (shale) was deposited when this location was deeper (farther from the shore). To understand how the depth at this location changed, watch this ANIMATION. Be sure to watch both parts.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

1964 Alaska Earthquake Lecture (webcast)

This March 27th marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Alaska Earthquake. To listen to a lecture about the 1964 quake and or other geology-related lectures (Yellowstone volcano, etc.), CLICK HERE. NOTE: The Earthquake lecture was webcast live on February 26 - If the lecture is not on the website yet, it should be posted soon (check back later).

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Density Lab: Gabbro, Basalt, Granite

Here is my version of an activity that many Earth Science teachers do. Students use a water displacement technique to determine the density of three different igneous rocks. CLICK HERE to print a handout, read a detailed description, and view photos of the lab. If you don't have aluminum overflow containers, make your own (photo).

Students results will vary because they are kids! - AND not all granites, basalts, and gabbros contain exactly the same minerals. According to About.com the density of granite ranges from 2.6-2.7 g/cm3 and basalt is 2.8-3.0 g/cm3. Since gabbro and basalt are made of the same minerals, their densities are similar. Gabbro's density ranges from 2.7-3.3 g/cm3.

The day after the lab is a good time to question the students about the significance of rock densities. Here are some questions for discussion:

1. What do you think causes some rock types to have higher densities than others? (Assuming there are no air pockets in the rock, the types of minerals will determine the density. Granite contains lots of quartz and feldspar - both fairly light minerals, whereas basalt and gabbro are made of heavier minerals.)

2. Consider a zone of subduction. Why is it that when ocean crust and continental crust collide, the ocean crust always goes under the continental crust, and not vice versa? (Ocean crust is made of basalt and continental crust is mostly granite.)

3. Which would be less dense - granite, or magma that contains the same minerals as granite? (The molten minerals would less dense for the same reason hot water is less dense than cold water, and hot air is less dense than cold air. Molecules that are moving faster tend to be farther apart. This is why molten material tends to melt its way to the surface. It's a density thing!)

4. I have a large scrap of gabbro counter-top, and I ask students, "How would you determine the density of this piece of gabbro ?" (They would need to find the mass, and then measure the length, width, and height to determine the volume in cm3 -> photo.) The slab weighs 17.8 lbs. (8,073.9 g.) so the density is 3.0 g/cm3 (photo.)

5. I have a large irregular sample of porphyry that fits in the aluminum overflow container, but has a volume that exceeds 100 mL. I ask, "How would you determine the density of this, using the equipment used in your lab?" (They would need to pour 100 mL of the overflow into the graduated cylinder, empty the cylinder, and repeat, keeping track of the total amount poured into the cylinder.)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Pyroclastic Flow Causes "Tornadoes"

Although they are not really tornadoes - actually more like dust devils, the video (2:41) of this recent pyroclastic flow in Indonesia is very interesting. It looks like there is some serious convection going on as the material flows down the slope. Here is the video and article from the Huffington Post. Thanks to Rick Dees for sharing!

For more about this eruption, which happened on February 1 and killed 14 people, CLICK HERE.

Here is a NASA satellite image of one of the pyroclasitc flows after it settled on the slope of the volcano: photo

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Amazing Real-Time Interactive Wind, Temperature, Currents Animation

www.earth.nullschool.net is my new favorite website. Once the site opens up, click on the word "earth" in the lower left - and try the different options. Change the height to "250" (250 hectopascals is equivalent to an altitude of about 6 miles) to see the jet streams, or change the overlay to "temp" to see where the warm and cold air are. Once you've made your selection, click on "earth" again to close the menu. There are many more features (ocean currents, etc.), and you can use your mouse to change your view of the Earth.

If you liked that, check this site out: http://hint.fm.wind.

To view a convenient list of all the resources that have been posted on this "Earth Science Guy" blog site, CLICK HERE.

Friday, January 31, 2014

What's so gneiss about this?

This photo was taken in the Spanish Peaks south of Bozeman, MT. To learn more about the processes that form gneiss, CLICK HERE.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Pacific Decadal Oscillation - Another Player in the Climate Game

An anchorman on one of the major networks recently mentioned the "Pacific Decadal Ocsillation" during a story about weather. I'd heard about the PDO during my involvement in a research program at the Montana State University Paleoclimatology Lab a couple years ago, but never really understood it - and certainly didn't expect to be hearing about it on the 5 o'clock news!

In my quest to learn more, I found a few websites that provided explanations posted by various organizations. The State Climate Office of N. Carolina provides a general explanation that was very helpful, considering my limited expertise in this area. According to the climate office, The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is a pattern of Pacific climate variability similar to ENSO (El Niño - Southern Oscillation) in character, but which varies over a much longer time scale. The PDO can remain in the same phase for 20 to 30 years, while ENSO cycles typically only last 6 to 18 months. The PDO, like ENSO, consists of a warm and cool phase which alters upper level atmospheric winds (compare PDO and ENSO). Shifts in the PDO phase can have significant implications for global climate, affecting Pacific and Atlantic hurricane activity, droughts and flooding around the Pacific basin, the productivity of marine ecosystems, and global land temperature patterns. Experts also believe the PDO can intensify or diminish the impacts of ENSO according to its phase. If both ENSO and the PDO are in the same phase, it is believed that El Niño/La Nina impacts may be magnified. Conversely, if ENSO and the PDO are out of phase, it has been proposed that they may offset one another, preventing "true" ENSO impacts from occurring.

According to the University of Washington's Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO), during the warm phase (aka positive phase), higher than normal sea-surface heights caused by warm water form a horseshoe pattern that connects the north, west and southern Pacific, with cool water in the middle (map). During most of the 1980s and 1990s, the Pacific was locked in the PDO's warm phase (see graph below), during which these warm and cool regions are reversed. The JISAO site also notes that "Pacific Decadal Oscillation" was coined by fisheries scientist Steven Hare in the mid-1990's while researching connections between Alaska salmon production cycles and Pacific climate.

Like the ENSO, the cause of the PDO is not understood - and like the ENSO, we may be hearing (and learning) more about the PDO in the years to come. Finally, here is a 6-minute YouTube explanation of the POD.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Polar Vortex Grabs Media Attention!

Several years ago, in attempt to understand ozone depletion, I learned of the role that the (southern) polar vortex plays in the forming the "hole in the ozone" over Antarctica every September-November (spring in the southern hemisphere). The southern vortex contributes to the formation of the hole by isolating the air over Antarctica every winter-spring, and then breaks up every December (summer in the southern hemisphere), so the hole goes away. Although the vortex forms during the winter, the hole doesn't form until the spring because sunlight is needed separate Cl atoms from the CFC molecules - and there is no sunlight over the South Pole during the winter. To learn more about the role the southern vortex plays in ozone depletion, CLICK HERE (NASA site).

The NASA graphic above shows the correlation between ozone depletion, the location of the vortex, and temperature over the Arctic. The globe on the left shows that there is ozone depletion over the Arctic (every spring), but it is not bad enough to be called a "hole". To learn more about why ozone loss is worse over the South Pole, why the hole only forms in the spring (Sept-Oct), and the conditions that team up to cause the hole, CLICK HERE.

Although, the southern vortex is bigger, stronger, and lasts longer than its northern counterpart, it was the northern polar vortex grabbing all the headlines last week. There's NEVER been as much news coverage about the vortex as there was during the recent cold spell - In fact, very few Americans had ever heard of the polar vortex until this outbreak of cold weather. Here are some sources that may be helpful:

1. The Washington Post has a informative page about how the (northern) polar vortex caused those bitter cold temperatures. The page includes links and graphics.

2. Take a look at this NOAA site.

3. Here is a site that has great graphics from Climate Central.

To view a convenient list of all the resources that have been posted on this "Earth Science Guy" blog site, CLICK HERE.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Mr. Bouchard's Site for Earth Science Teachers

This week's resource is a site created by Mr. Bouchard, a teacher at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in New York. The site includes dozens of PowerPoints 31 labs, and other resources. CLICK HERE to access the many resources Bouchard has to share.

If you know of any other sites designed specifically for Earth Science teachers, please let me know. Here is my "Rodney's Homepage for Earth Science Teachers": www.formontana.net/home.html. You will find my email address there.