BREAKING NEWS: West Antarctica Mantle Plume Piercing Through Lithosphere Rising at Surprisingly Rapid Rate

The Earth is rising in one part of Antarctica at one of the fastest rates ever recorded, as ice rapidly disappears and weight is lifted off the surface, a new international study has found.

The findings, reported in the scientific journal Science, have surprising and positive implications for the survival of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), which scientists had previously thought could be doomed because of the effects of climate change.

The unexpectedly fast rate of the rising Earth may markedly increase the stability of the ice sheet against catastrophic collapse due to ice loss, scientists say. In other words, due to the natural cyclical events of geophysics correction, the West Antarctic mantle plume has increased its activity bringing viscous rocks closer to the surface.

Moreover, the rapid rise of the Earth in this area also affects gravity measurements, which implies that up to 10 percent more ice has disappeared in this part of Antarctica than previously assumed.

Researchers led by scientists at The Ohio State University used a series of six GPS stations (part of the POLENET-ANET array) attached to bedrock around the Amundsen Sea Embayment to measure its rise in response to thinning ice.

The “uplift rate” was measured at up to 41 millimeters (1.6 inches) a year, said Terry Wilson, one of the leaders of the study and a professor emeritus of Earth sciences at Ohio State.

In contrast, places like Iceland and Alaska, which have what are considered rapid uplift rates, generally are measured rising 20 to 30 millimeters a year. “The rate of uplift we found is unusual and very surprising. It’s a game changer,” Wilson said.

I would suggest events such as this is a continued sign of a geomagnetic shift. In these ‘late/early’ stage, magnetic north will bounce around for a few decades – perhaps dropping close to the equator – then in the laten years, perhaps 50 years from now, a full flip could occur.

And it is only going to get faster. The researchers estimate that in 100 years, uplift rates at the GPS sites will be 2.5 to 3.5 times more rapid than currently observed.

“These results provide an important contribution to our understanding of the dynamics of the Earth’s bedrock, along with the thinning of ice in Antarctica. The large amount of water stored in Antarctica has implications for the whole planet,” said lead study author Valentina R. Barletta, who started this work at Ohio State and now is a postdoctoral researcher at the National Space Institute (DTU Space) at the Technical University of Denmark.

While modeling studies have shown that bedrock uplift could theoretically protect WAIS from collapse, it was believed that the process would take too long to have practical effects.

“We previously thought uplift would occur over thousands of years at a very slow rate, not enough to have a stabilizing effect on the ice sheet. Our results suggest the stabilizing effect may only take decades,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the rapid rise of the bedrock in this part of Antarctica suggests the geology underneath Antarctica is different from what scientists had previously believed.

Underneath the solid upper layer of Earth is a hotter and more fluid layer of rock called the mantle. Exactly how hot and fluid the mantle is varies across the planet.

The rapid uplift around the Amundsen Sea Embayment suggests the mantle in this area is hotter and more fluid (or, as scientists say, it has lower viscosity) than expected, according to Barletta.

Barletta ran a variety of computer models using scenarios of ice loss through time in the area to explain how such rapid uplift could be occurring today.

The results of Barletta’s models showed that the GPS findings today could best be explained by having a low-viscosity mantle, Wilson said.

These new measurements of Glacial Isostatic Adjustment (GIA), the scientific term for uplift due to ice sheet unloading, are an important part of a wider story about the fate of the Antarctic ice sheets, said Doug Kowalewski, the Antarctic Earth Sciences program director in the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs (OPP).

The problem is that much of this area of Antarctica is below sea level. Relatively warm ocean water has flowed in underneath the bottom of the ice sheet, causing thinning and moving the grounding line – where the water, ice and solid Earth meet – further inland.

Another feedback is lowering sea levels. Massive ice sheets along the ocean have their own gravitational pull and raise the sea level near them. But as the ice thins and retreats, the gravitational pull lessens and the sea level near the coast goes down.

“The lowering of the sea level, the rising of pinning points and the decrease of the inland slope due to the uplift of the bedrock are all feedbacks that can stabilize the ice sheet,” Wilson said.


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Last Of Universe’s Missing Ordinary Matter

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have helped to find the last reservoir of ordinary matter hiding in the universe.

Ordinary matter, or “baryons,” make up all physical objects in existence, from stars to the cores of black holes. But until now, astrophysicists had only been able to locate about two-thirds of the matter that theorists predict was created by the Big Bang.

In the new research, an international team pinned down the missing third, finding it in the space between galaxies. That lost matter exists as filaments of oxygen gas at temperatures of around 1 million degrees Celsius, said CU Boulder’s Michael Shull, a co-author of the study.

The finding is a major step for astrophysics. “This is one of the key pillars of testing the Big Bang theory: figuring out the baryon census of hydrogen and helium and everything else in the periodic table,” said Shull of the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences (APS).

The new study, which will appear June 20 in Nature, was led by Fabrizio Nicastro of the Italian Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF) — Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Researchers have a good idea of where to find most of the ordinary matter in the universe — not to be confused with dark matter, which scientists have yet to locate: About 10 percent sits in galaxies, and close to 60 percent is in the diffuse clouds of gas that lie between galaxies.

In 2012, Shull and his colleagues predicted that the missing 30 percent of baryons were likely in a web-like pattern in space called the warm-hot intergalactic medium (WHIM). Charles Danforth, a research associate in APS, contributed to those findings and is a co-author of the new study.

To search for missing atoms in that region between galaxies, the international team pointed a series of satellites at a quasar called 1ES 1553 — a black hole at the center of a galaxy that is consuming and spitting out huge quantities of gas. “It’s basically a really bright lighthouse out in space,” Shull said.

Scientists can glean a lot of information by recording how the radiation from a quasar passes through space, a bit like a sailor seeing a lighthouse through fog. First, the researchers used the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph on the Hubble Space Telescope to get an idea of where they might find the missing baryons. Next, they homed in on those baryons using the European Space Agency’s X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission (XMM-Newton) satellite.

The team found the signatures of a type of highly-ionized oxygen gas lying between the quasar and our solar system — and at a high enough density to, when extrapolated to the entire universe, account for the last 30 percent of ordinary matter.

“We found the missing baryons,” Shull said.

He suspects that galaxies and quasars blew that gas out into deep space over billions of years. Shull added that the researchers will need to confirm their findings by pointing satellites at more bright quasars.

Epic Dust Storm on Mars Now Completely Covers the Red Planet

A massive dust storm on Mars that covered one-fourth of the planet just a week ago has grown into a global weather event, NASA officials said Wednesday (June 20).

The dust storm has knocked NASA’s Opportunity rover offline for want of sunlight. The agency’s nuclear-powered Curiosity, meanwhile, is snapping photos of the ever-darkening Martian sky. The two rovers are on opposite sides of Mars.

“The Martian dust storm has grown in size and is now officially a ‘planet-encircling’ (or ‘global’) dust event,” NASA officials said in a statement. [The Mars Dust Storm of 2018 Explained]

The last dust storm on Mars to go global occurred in 2007, five years before the Curiosity rover landed at its Gale Crater site, according to officials with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. The Opportunity rover has been exploring the plains of Meridiani Planum on the opposite side of Mars since 2004. During that 2007 Martian dust storm, NASA also lost contact with Opportunity for days due to low power levels from the lack of sunlight.

NASA lost contact with Opportunity last week when it missed a check-in call on June 12. NASA engineers think the rover is in a low-power mode, waking up only periodically to check if its batteries have recharged enough to phone home. All science operations by the rover are suspended while it waits out the storm.

“A recent analysis of the rover’s long-term survivability in Mars’ extreme cold suggests Opportunity’s electronics and batteries can stay warm enough to function,” NASA officials wrote in a separate update Wednesday. “Regardless, the project doesn’s expect to hear back from Opportunity until the skies begin to clear over the rover. That doesn’s stop them from listening for the rover every day.”

The Martian dust storm was first detected on May 30 by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Once it was clear that the storm would impact Opportunity, the rover was ordered into a sort of survival mode. A series of photos by Opportunity before it went silent show the Martian sky darkening until the sun itself disappears from view.

Scientists measure the amount of sunlight-blocking haze in the Martian atmosphere as “tau,” with the current tau at Curiosity’s Gale Crater site reaching above 8.0, JPL officials said in the NASA statement. The last tau for Opportunity’s site was over 11. The atmosphere is so thick with dust, “accurate measurements are no longer possible for Mars’ oldest active rover.”

According to NASA, the 2018 dust storm is not as big as the 2007 dust storm that Opportunity survived 11 years ago. It’s more similar to a dust storm seen by the Viking 1 lander in 1977. Past dust storms seen by NASA’s Mariner 9 spacecraft from 1971 to 1972, as well as by the Mars Global Surveyor in 2001, were also much larger. During those storms, only the tallest volcanoes on Mars were visible poking above the dust.

“The current dust storm is more diffuse and patchy; it’s anyone’s guess how it will further develop, but it shows no sign of clearing,” NASA officials wrote in the second update.

NASA scientists are maintaining a full-court press on the Martian dust storm. In addition to Curiosity’s weather observations on the surface, NASA has several other spacecraft tracking the storm from orbit: the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey and MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission) studying the Martian atmosphere. The European Space Agency also has two spacecraft in orbit (Mars Express and the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter). India’s Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft is also in orbit.

A key question for scientists is why some dust storms on Mars become planet-enshrouding events and last months while others fade away in a week.

“We don’t have any good idea,” Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in the statement. Guzewich is leading the Curiosity rover’s dust storm work.

New photos from Curiosity show a wall of haze over Gale Crater that is up to eight times thicker than normal for this time on Mars, NASA officials said. One photo also shows a curious lack of shadows. That’s because the entire sky on Mars is red and illuminating the rocks from all sides, NASA officials explained.

While the dust storm won’t affect Curiosity’s power levels, the low-light conditions are forcing the rover to take longer exposures when it snaps photographs, NASA officials said. When Curiosity is not taking pictures, the rover rotates its mast-mounted Mastcam camera to face the ground, to protect it from blowing dust, they added.

New Zealand’s Mount Taranaki ‘Almost Certain’ To Erupt

Taranaki civil defense authorities have begun training an army of 500 volunteers for when, not if, Mt Taranaki erupts, and for major weather events.

Whether it erupted was a matter of when, not if, according to the Taranaki Civil Defense Emergency Management (CDEM). Scientists are seeing an increase in the likelihood of an eruption over the next 50 years, Civil Defense group manager Craig Campbell-Smart said.

“Technically it’s termed a quiescent stage – it’s not dormant but not actively erupting.” In its new five year plan, it singles out preparing for an eruption as a priority. One hundred people have already been trained; most of them people from the region’s councils, and more were being recruited from the public.

“There’s a very broad selection of skills we require,” he said. Roles included leadership, planning and intelligence, operations, field staff, logistics, public information management and welfare. The system was based on those used by the military.

“It’s very disciplined, about building our capability so we can stand up at very short notice.” CDEM was also decentralizing and setting up operations centers to deal with emergencies on a district council level. Campbell-Smart said it was difficult to predict exactly what would happen in an eruption as it depended on the size and type of the event.

“Worst case scenario we’re looking at very strong gas eruption that would produce a super heated gas cloud with debris in it – that’s the stuff that’s an immediate threat to life, that’s about 800 degrees Celsius and that would roll down the mountainside. That’s the  least likely scenario but it’s a potential.”

An eruption of gas and ash was the most likely event, and there would be advance warning through increased localized seismic activity in the area. “It could go quite high and fall on other areas, which is why it’s a national hazard,” he said.

In Taranaki, ash would fall into rivers and over towns, depending on the wind. It was very abrasive and would accumulate on roads and paddocks, and contaminate stock feed and water supplies. It would also affect air conditioning systems, municipal water supplies and cause telecommunications equipment to overheat and fail.

Rain would make it worse.

“If ash gets wet it doubles in weight. It could collapse roofs, and accumulate on the flanks of mountain in river systems, resulting in lahars.” The next eruption could take one of three possible general forms, Taranaki CDEM said.

– Small explosive pumice eruption.

– Lava dome eruption.

– Large explosive pumice eruption. The last one occurred in AD1655 – although this would not be likely.

A small explosive pumice eruption could signal a period of more frequent eruptions, while a lava-dome eruption could continue for many years or decades, the CDEM website said.

The last major eruption occurred about 1854. Despite the risk of an eruption, the current alert level set by GeoNet – which monitors the volcano – is at zero, with no volcanic activity. However, it notes: “An eruption may occur at any [alert] level, and levels may not move in sequence as activity can change rapidly.”

A volcanic event on Mt Taranaki is “almost certain” and the consequences would be “catastrophic”, experts say. An eruption of the volcano could have serious physical effects on the landscape, affect the region’s economy and threaten ecosystems. A Taranaki CDEM map showing evacuation zones revealed the areas in the region most at risk.

The red zone held the most risk – and those who remained there were “unlikely to survive”. At the other end of the spectrum, the green zone was considered sheltered from volcanic activity except for ash fall. You can keep an eye on Taranaki via a webcam here.

Kilauea Volcano Eruption Is One Of The Biggest In Recent Hawaii History, Enough To Fill 100,000 Pools

Since the eruption of the Kilauea volcano May 3 on the Big Island, it’s belched out about 250 million cubic meters of lava, making it one of the largest eruptions in decades in Hawaii.

“It’s nothing like what we’ve witnessed in recent history,” said Wendy Stovall, a volcanologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. It’s topped big Kilauea eruptions in 1955 and 1960 and is bigger than the Mauna Loa eruption of 1984.

The amount of lava would fill about 100,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Kilauea has erupted continuously since May 3, flinging out lava and ash, destroying 577 homes and forcing over 2,000 people to evacuate.

Some good news came out Wednesday: A larger explosion doesn’t appear likely anymore. “Right now, we don’t anticipate that occurring,” Stovall said.

A few weeks ago, scientists were concerned the volcano could really blow its top. A major blast could have sent boulders as big as refrigerators flying through the air and ash plumes soaring as high as 20,000 feet over a 12-mile area, according to the Hawaii Civil Defense.

“We don’t see a mechanism for that to happen,” Stovall said.

However, the eruption is far from over.

“We are uncertain how much longer the activity will continue,” Stovall said. “We’re seeing more of the same types of things we’ve seen for the past several weeks,” such as lava oozing through residential neighborhoods into the ocean.

Another volcanologist, Tracy Gregg of the University at Buffalo, said, “There’s no way to know how much longer the eruption will last.”

At the Kilauea summit, the Halemaumau crater has doubled in size since May, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The edges have slumped down almost 300 feet, dropping with each earthquake and explosive event.

“It’s quite dramatic,” Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientist Steve Brantley told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “We’re all astounded by the changes.”

Site of Next Major Earthquake on San Andreas Fault

Many researchers hypothesize that the southern tip of the 1300-km-long San Andreas fault zone (SAFZ) could be the nucleation site of the next major earthquake on the fault, yet geoscientists cannot evaluate this hazard until the location and geometry of the fault zone is documented.

In their new paper published in the scientific journal GSA Lithosphere, Susanne Jänecke and colleagues use detailed geologic and structural mapping of the southern 30 km of the San Andreas fault zone in southern California to show that it is a highly faulted volume of rock that is 1-4 km wide and organized as a sheared ladder-like structure in the upper 3-5 kilometers of the earth.

This newly identified Durmid ladder structure is at least 25 km long, has tens of master right-lateral and right-reverse faults along its edges and hundreds of left- and right-lateral cross faults in between. The Durmid ladder structure trends northwest, extends from the well-known main trace of the San Andreas fault (mSAF) on the northeast side to a newly identified East Shoreline fault zone (ESF) on the opposite edge.

Many years of detailed field study validated the team’s 2011 hypothesis about the existence of the East Shoreline strand of the SAFZ northeast of the margin of the Salton Sea, and this paper documents this previously unknown active fault using geophysical and geologic datasets along the entire northeast margin of Coachella Valley, California. The East Shoreline fault, say the authors, probably becomes the Garnet Hills fault, north of Palm Springs, and together they parallel the mSAF for >100 km.

Uplifted, highly folded and faulted Pliocene to Holocene sedimentary rocks, evidence for pervasive shortening, map-scale damage zones, and extremely rapid block rotation indicate that convergence across the Durmid ladder structure of the SAFZ is the smaller, secondary component that accompanies more rapid right-lateral motions. Small amounts of shallow creep and triggered slip regularly produce hairline fractures along the mSAF and Jänecke and colleagues recognize identical features within the ESF and along some cross faults of the Durmid ladder structure.

It is not clear how past earthquakes interacted with this well-organized multi-fault structure, and, notes Jänecke, this makes future behavior difficult to predict. The mSAF was the only active fault considered by the geoscience community in this crucial area prior to our detailed study.

New and published geophysical data sets and drill hole data in Coachella Valley show that the East Shoreline fault is a voluminous fault zone that extends in all three dimensions. It is well-imaged southwest of the mSAF and appears to persist into the subsurface at the southwest edge of a flower structure that may converge and simplify at depth.

In such an interpretation, the ESF is steep, dips northeast, and is a key structure at the basinward edge of an asymmetric flower-like structure identified by Fuis et al. (2017) directly northwest of this study area. Southward, the Durmid ladder structure widens gradually as it bends and interacts with the even wider Brawley Seismic zone. The component of shortening across the southernmost San Andreas fault zone gives way along strike to components of extension in the Brawley Seismic Zone within a defined transition zone. This geometry makes it likely that both fault zones could fail during a single earthquake, as suggested by prior research.


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Explosive Volcanoes Spawned Mysterious Martian Rock Formation

Explosive volcanic eruptions that shot jets of hot ash, rock and gas skyward are the likely source of a mysterious Martian rock formation, a new study finds. The new finding could add to scientists’ understanding of Mars’s interior and its past potential for habitability, according to the study’s authors.

The Medusae Fossae Formation is a massive, unusual deposit of soft rock near Mars’s equator, with undulating hills and abrupt mesas. Scientists first observed the Medusae Fossae with NASA’s Mariner spacecraft in the 1960s but were perplexed as to how it formed.

Now, new research suggests the formation was deposited during explosive volcanic eruptions on the Red Planet more than 3 billion years ago. The formation is about one-fifth as large as the continental United States and 100 times more massive than the largest explosive volcanic deposit on Earth, making it the largest known explosive volcanic deposit in the solar system, according to the study’s authors.

“This is a massive deposit, not only on a Martian scale, but also in terms of the solar system, because we do not know of any other deposit that is like this,” said Lujendra Ojha, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and lead author of the new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Formation of the Medusae Fossae would have marked a pivotal point in Mars’s history, according to the study’s authors. The eruptions that created the deposit could have spewed massive amounts of climate-altering gases into Mars’s atmosphere and ejected enough water to cover Mars in a global ocean more than 9 centimeters (4 inches) thick, Ojha said.

Greenhouse gases exhaled during the eruptions that spawned the Medusae Fossae could have warmed Mars’s surface enough for water to remain liquid at its surface, but toxic volcanic gases like hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide would have altered the chemistry of Mars’s surface and atmosphere. Both processes would have affected Mars’s potential for habitability, Ojha said.

Determining the source of the rock

The Medusae Fossae Formation consists of hills and mounds of sedimentary rock straddling Mars’s equator. Sedimentary rock forms when rock dust and debris accumulate on a planet’s surface and cement over time.

Scientists have known about the Medusae Fossae for decades, but were unsure whether wind, water, ice or volcanic eruptions deposited rock debris in that location.

Previous radar measurements of Mars’s surface suggested the Medusae Fossae had an unusual composition, but scientists were unable to determine whether it was made of highly porous rock or a mixture of rock and ice. In the new study, Ojha and a colleague used gravity data from various Mars orbiter spacecraft to measure the Medusae Fossae’s density for the first time. They found the rock is unusually porous: it’s about two-thirds as dense as the rest of the Martian crust. They also used radar and gravity data in combination to show the Medusae Fossae’s density cannot be explained by the presence of ice, which is much less dense than rock.

Because the rock is so porous, it had to have been deposited by explosive volcanic eruptions, according to the researchers. Volcanoes erupt in part because gases like carbon dioxide and water vapor dissolved in magma force the molten rock to rise to the surface. Magma containing lots of gas explodes skyward, shooting jets of ash and rock into the atmosphere.

Ash from these explosions plummets to the ground and streams downhill. After enough time has passed, the ash cements into rock, and Ojha suspects this is what formed the Medusae Fossae. As much as half of the soft rock originally deposited during the eruptions has eroded away, leaving behind the hills and valleys seen in the Medusae Fossae today.

Understanding Mars’s interior

The new findings suggest the Martian interior is more complex than scientists originally thought, according to Ojha. Scientists know Mars has some water and carbon dioxide in its crust that allow explosive volcanic eruptions to happen on its surface, but the planet’s interior would have needed massive amounts of volatile gases — substances that become gas at low temperatures — to create a deposit of this size, he said.

“If you were to distribute the Medusae Fossae globally, it would make a 9.7-meter (32-foot) thick layer.” Ojha said. “Given the sheer magnitude of this deposit, it really is incredible because it implies that the magma was not only rich in volatiles and also that it had to be volatile-rich for long periods of time.”

The new study shows the promise of gravity surveys in interpreting Mars’s rock record, according to Kevin Lewis, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University and co-author of the new study. “Future gravity surveys could help distinguish between ice, sediments and igneous rocks in the upper crust of the planet,” Lewis said.