The ground under a West Texas oil patch is moving ‘at alarming rates’

March 23, 2018 by  
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Local residents, infrastructure, and oil and gas pipelines could be at risk from the ground heaving and sinking in West Texas after years of fossil fuel production, according to a new study from Southern Methodist University (SMU) scientists. In an SMU statement , research scientist Jin-Woo Kim said, “This region of Texas has been punctured like a pin cushion with oil wells and injection wells since the 1940s and our findings associate that activity with ground movement.” Two large sinkholes around Wink, Texas, may just be the start, according to Kim and SMU professor and geophysicist Zhong Lu. Scientific Reports published their research online earlier this month: Kim and Lu drew on radar satellite images revealing significant ground movement in an area of 4,000 square miles. One spot saw movement of up to 40 inches in two and a half years. Lu said the ground movement isn’t normal. Related: Massive sinkhole opens up in the middle of a Brazilian farming town Imagery and oil well production data from the Railroad Commission of Texas helped the researchers connect the ground movement to oil activity. Pressurized fluid injection into what SMU described as “geologically unstable rock formations” in the area is one of those activities; the scientists discovered ground movement corresponded with “nearby sequences of wastewater injection rates and volume and CO2 injection in nearby wells.” And, outside the 4,000 square mile area, more dangers may lurk. Kim said, “We’re fairly certain that when we look further, and we are, that we’ll find there’s ground movement even beyond that.” SMU said the region is vulnerable to human endeavors because of its geology , including shale formations and water-soluble salt and limestone formations. Lu said, “These hazards represent a danger to residents, roads, railroads, levees, dams, and oil and gas pipelines, as well as potential pollution of ground water . Proactive, continuous detailed monitoring from space is critical to secure the safety of people and property.” + Southern Methodist University + Science Reports Images via Nicolas Henderson on Flickr and Zhong Lu, Jin-Woo Kim, SMU

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The ground under a West Texas oil patch is moving ‘at alarming rates’

Atacama ‘alien’ skeleton’s identity revealed by genetic testing

March 23, 2018 by  
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Genetic testing has revealed the true identity of an exceptional mummy found in Chile’s Atacama Desert , a skeleton so strange that some have claimed it as evidence of alien life . In truth, the remains are that of a human individual known as Ata, a girl with unique mutations, who is believed to have been stillborn or died shortly after birth. Despite skeletal features similar to those of a child between six and eight years old, Ata was only six inches tall. She also had two fewer ribs than an average human while her skull is long and conical, evoking pop culture images of a grey alien . In 2013, Stanford University professor of microbiology and immunology Garry Nolan conducted a genetic test that confirmed Ata’s humanity. However, the reasons behind Ata’s appearance remained a mystery. In a study published in  Genome Research , Nolan and researchers at the University of California in San Francisco have presented their full genetic analysis of Ata, which offers more information on who she was and how she came to possess such extraordinary features. While the exact time of Ata’s life and death is unclear, her mixed indigenous and European ancestry indicates that she must have been born sometime after the Spanish colonization of Chile in the 1500s. Related: Scientists build an alien ocean to test NASA submarine Ata’s DNA test indicates that she had mutations on at least seven different genes known for affecting skeletal development. Ata may also have suffered from congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a potentially life-threatening disorder defined by an undeveloped diaphragm. Despite Ata’s unique physiology, research done on her remains may prove applicable in modern medicine . “Understanding the process might allow us to develop therapies or drugs that drive bone development for people in, say, catastrophic car crashes,” Nolan told the Guardian . As for the alien angle, Nolan strongly rejects it. “While this started as a story about aliens, and went international, it’s really a story of a human tragedy,” said Nolan. “A woman had a malformed baby, it was preserved in a manner and then ‘hocked’ or sold as a strange artifact. It turns out to be human, with a fascinating genetic story from which we might learn something important to help others. May she rest in peace.” Via The Guardian Images via Dr. Emery Smith

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Vast Ice Age cave system discovered underneath Montreal

December 7, 2017 by  
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Walking the streets of Montreal , Canada, you’d probably never guess a cave system lurked 10 meters below. But that’s exactly what two speleologists, or cave experts, recently discovered. Daniel Caron and Luc Le Blanc found a 15,000-year-old network of caverns that might have formed as glaciers receded during Earth’s last Ice Age . They think it’s possible that no person had ever set foot inside these caves until now. Back in 1812, the Saint Léonard cave beneath Pie-XII Park was discovered. But cave experts wondered if there was more. Caron and Le Blanc, both amateur explorers, found a vast network in October after drilling through the limestone walls of the existing cave to expose a spacious chamber which branches off into several passages winding beneath the Saint-Leonard borough. Related: Magical New Zealand cave is illuminated by luminescent glowworms The cave system could have formed as pressure from colossal glaciers split the rock . The explorers uncovered between 250 and 500 meters (820 to 1,640 feet) of caves, according to The Canadian Press , although they think the actual dimensions are even longer. The furthest reaches extend to the Montreal water table, Caron said. Rock climbing equipment is necessary to explore some passages, and some may need more rock-breaking for a team to go inside. The team was stopped by water and could only partially explore one of the passages via an inflatable raft, but they aim to explore more in the dry season when the water level hopefully lowers. As the explorers only reached the system by drilling, they think it’s likely no other human beings have ever walked inside these caves. Caron said every caver’s dream is to find a place no one’s been before. He told The Canadian Press, “Normally you have to go to the moon to find that kind of thing.” Via National Geographic and The Canadian Press

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Vast Ice Age cave system discovered underneath Montreal

Striking green-roofed house cantilevers over a cliff in Japan

November 30, 2017 by  
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This striking concrete house extends from a cliff above a river in Japan , providing spectacular views of the surrounding landscape. The two-floor green-roofed structure, designed by architecture firm Planet Creations , establishes a delicate balance between rugged and warm materials, with raw wood contrasting against stark concrete walls. The villa is located in Tenkawa village, and it cantilevers over the Tenokawa River, 56 feet below. It’s built into flat bedrock, and the layout is split along the length of the structure. A bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom occupy one side, while the master bedroom, living room and deck area occupy the other. Related: Organic Japanese Shell Residence Wraps Around a Centenarian Fir Tree The steep slope dictated the design of the house and constrained the flatland space to only 64 square feet – enough to accommodate two cars and not much else. In order to ensure structural stability, the architect decided to “submerge the building near the rock so as to melt into this surrounding environment.” + Planet Creations Via Ignant Photos by Masato Sekiya

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UK tests cheaper, longer-lasting roads made with recycled plastic

April 25, 2017 by  
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Around 24.8 million miles of roads crisscross the surface of Earth. And hundreds of millions of barrels of oil have been used for that development. Engineer Toby McCartney came up with a solution to that waste of natural resources and the growing plastic pollution problem. His company, Scotland-based MacRebur , lays roads that are as much as 60 percent stronger than regular asphalt roads and last around 10 times longer – and they’re made with recycled plastic. Our city roads require a lot of maintenance over time as weather deteriorates them and potholes open up. Meanwhile there are around five trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean. McCartney came up with an answer to both issues. He turns 100 percent recycled plastic into what he calls MR6 pellets, or small pellets of waste plastic, which replace bitumen , the material used to bind roads together (extracted from crude oil) and sold by oil companies like Shell. Related: Vancouver Becomes First City to Pave Its Streets With Recycled Plastic Normal roads are comprised of around 90 percent rock, sand, and limestone, with 10 percent bitumen. MacRebur’s process replaces most of the bitumen, using household waste plastic, farm waste, and commercial waste. Much of the trash would have otherwise ended up in a landfill . At asphalt plants the MR6 pellets are mixed with quarried rock and a bit of bitumen, and a plant worker told the BBC the process is actually the same “as mixing the conventional way with additions into a bitumen product.” McCartney was inspired to design plastic roads after his daughter’s teacher asked the class what lives in the ocean, and his daughter said, “Plastics.” He didn’t want her to grow up in a world where that was true. He’d also spent time in India, where he saw locals would fix holes in the road by putting waste plastic into the holes and then burning it. He started MacRebur with friends Nick Burnett and Gordon Reid. MacRebur’s first road was McCartney’s own driveway, and now the company’s roads have been laid in the county of Cumbria in the United Kingdom . + MacRebur Via the BBC Images via MacRebur Facebook

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Research reveals the Earth may have once had a solid egg-like crust

March 2, 2017 by  
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Extending the symbolism of eggs as a metaphor for life and reproduction, recent research reveals the Earth itself may have once had an egg-like structure. According to a report from the University of Maryland , the plate tectonics that now define the Earth’s geology may have begun later in the planet’s history. Before the plates began moving and colliding to define the surface we know and love today, the Earth’s crust likely consisted of a solid but deformable shell encasing a molten liquid interior. The research, a joint effort between the UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, Curtin University and the Geological Survey of Western Australia , was recently published in the journal Nature, and represents the latest in a longstanding debate over the Earth’s geological history. One side of the debate says plate tectonics began right after the Earth started to cool (known as uniformitarianism), while the other proposes the planet went through a long phase with a solid shell enveloping it. This latest study clearly favors the latter view. Models for how the first continental crust formed generally fall into two groups: those that invoke modern-style plate tectonics and those that do not, says Michael Brown, a professor of geology at the University of Maryland and a co-author of the study. “Our research supports the latter ‘stagnant lid’ forming the planet’s outer shell early in Earth’?s history. Related: Geologists find seventh continent hiding in plain sight Coming to this conclusion was no easy task. Brown and his team studied rocks collected from the East Pilabara Terrane – a large area of ancient crust located in Western Australia . As old as 3.5 billion years, these rocks are some of the oldest on the planet. The researchers looked at the granite and basalt rocks for signs of plate tectonic activity, such as subduction of one plate beneath the other. As UMD explains it: “Plate tectonics substantially affects the temperature and pressure of rocks within Earth’?s interior. When a slab of rock subducts under the Earth’s surface, the rock starts off relatively cool and takes time to gain heat. By the time it reaches a higher temperature, the rock has also reached a significant depth, which corresponds to high pressure – in the same way a diver experiences higher pressure at greater water depth.” In contrast, a stagnant lid regime would be very hot at relatively shallow depths and low pressures. Geologists refer to this as a “high thermal gradient.” According to Brown, the results showed the Pilabara granites were produced by melting rocks in a high thermal gradient environment and the composition of local basalts shows they came from an earlier generation of source rocks supporting the ‘stagnant lid’ theory of the Earth’s early formation. Images via Robert Whitehead , domdomegg

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Scientists find evidence of lost continent beneath Mauritius

February 2, 2017 by  
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A group of geoscientists have uncovered an ancient secret. The scientists from German and South African research institutions found evidence of a formerly undiscovered continent beneath the small Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. This lost continent likely vanished into the ocean around 84 million years ago, undiscovered by humans until just recently. Three geoscientists realized zircon they found on Mauritius was much too old for the relatively new island which formed in the wake of underwater volcanic eruptions eight to nine million years ago. Volcanic eruptions on the island spewed out the zircon crystals that researchers now think may derive from an ancient continent linking India and Madagascar as part of the Gondwana supercontinent. Lewis Ashwal of University of the Witwatersrand , who is the lead author on a paper published online January 31 by Nature , said, “Mauritius is an island, and there is no rock older than nine million years old on the island. However, by studying the rocks on the island, we have found zircons that are as old as three billion years.” Related: Ancient ocean crust in the Mediterranean Sea may predate supercontinent Pangea Back in 2013, scientists found ancient zircons billions of years old in Mauritius beach sand, but that find was controversial as other scientists said the materials could have arrived at the beach from somewhere else. The new discovery lends credence to the idea that there once was a continent under Mauritius billions of years ago, as these zircons could not have been transported to the island via wind or waves, according to Ashwal. He said, “The fact that we have found zircons of this age proves that there are much older crustal materials under Mauritius that could only have originated from a continent.” Now some people think other pieces of the Gondwana supercontinent may be found in the future, as we explore deeper in the oceans . Via ScienceAlert and Phys.org Images via Ludovic Lubeigt on Flickr and Susan Webb/Wits University

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Scientists find evidence of lost continent beneath Mauritius

Japanese fix massive city sinkhole within 48 hours

November 15, 2016 by  
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Within two days of swallowing a five-lane city street, a sinkhole in Fukuoka, Japan has been repaired – though, as the Guardian reports , the street’s re-opening was delayed several days for safety reasons. The sinkhole opened up on 8 November, and one week later, the street officially reopened to pedestrian and vehicular traffic with an apology from the city’s mayor. The 98-foot-long sinkhole in Fukoaka affected a sewage pipe, traffic lights, as well as utility pipes, all of which have been restored with fresh gas and power lines, the Guardian reports. Local press claim Fukuoka workers filled the urban cavity with 6,200 cubic meters of sand and cement, working around the clock to restore the busy thoroughfare. Related: Terrifying sinkhole swallows five-lane street in Japan Mayor Soichiro Takashima said the street is now 30 times stronger than it was before, adding that the city has assembled a panel of experts to determine what caused the sinkhole. Earlier reports placed blame on construction of new subway lines. “We’re very sorry for causing great trouble,” the mayor said, according to the Telegraph . “Sinkholes are common where the rock below the land surface is limestone, carbonate rock, salt beds, or rocks that can naturally be dissolved by groundwater circulating through them,” according to the USGS. Evaporite rocks, where sinkholes are commonly found, underlie up to 40 percent of US territory. Via The Guardian Images via Hideyuki Hongo, USGS

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Video captures vandals toppling 18-million-year-old sandstone formation in Oregon

September 7, 2016 by  
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An iconic sandstone formation on the Oregon coast known as “the duckbill” is no more, after a group of vandals forced the rocks to topple, leaving behind a devastated pile of rubble . The giant rock, known as “The Duckbill” measured up to 10 feet across, and was a sought-after destination just beyond the safety fence in Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area in Oregon’s Tillamook County. At first, park officials thought that the formation had fallen on its own, but video captured by a witness later revealed the extent of this terrible loss. After discovering the formation had toppled, Oregon State Parks posted on Facebook on Sept. 1 warning visitors to the area that “the rubble serves as a sobering reminder of the ever present dangers of our fragile coastal rocks and cliffs.” They did not know, at that time, that it was intentionally knocked over by a group of ne’er-do-wells. That detail wasn’t known until authorities discovered that David Kalas posted a video of the vandalism act on Twitter. Kalas, who was not directly involved in the destruction, shot video of the group on Aug. 29 and then approached them with questions. Related: Actress Vanessa Hudgens is under investigation for defacing natural landmarks on Valentine’s Day Kalas told the local Fox News affiliate about his confrontation with the vandals immediately after the destructive act. They told him, reportedly, that they decided to topple the giant sandstone because one of their friends had broken his leg after falling off the rock, in a misguided effort to protect other park-goers from harm. Understandably, Kalas didn’t really buy that story, saying it “frustrated [him] because nobody forced them to climb on top of the rock.” The naturally formed sandstone tower was an iconic part of the Oregon coastline, and had become a significant location for many people over the years. Despite its location behind a safety fence, many people climbed atop the rock to take pictures of important life events. “People got married on top of the rock, got their engagement photos on top of the rock,” Kalas told Fox News. “They can’t share that moment any more with their future children or their grandchildren or anyone like that, it will always just now be a memory,” he added. Oregon State Parks posted an update  on Sept. 6, explaining that the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is working closely with the Oregon State Police to determine the best course of action. The vandals, who have not yet been identified publicly, face a maximum penalty in the form of a $435 fine. Via Treehugger Images via David Kalas , Oregon State Parks and Thomas Shahan/Flickr

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Video captures vandals toppling 18-million-year-old sandstone formation in Oregon

Cost-effective modern home sports an outdoor climbing wall that reaches the roof

September 7, 2016 by  
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To comply with the site’s limited buildable area and the client’s programmatic demands, the architects designed the Cache Creek Residence with an “upside-down version of a traditional house diagram.” While most homes place the living areas on the ground floor and the private rooms above, the two-story Cache Creek Residence places the open kitchen, living, and dining area, as well as the master bedroom on the second floor. The two guest bedrooms, gear storage, and utility areas are located on the lower level. Large glazed openings frame views of the Snow King Ski Area and bring in natural light to illuminate the high-ceilinged interior. Related: The SkyHouse Features a 50-Foot Climbing Wall and 80-Foot Spiraling Slide in This NYC Penthouse The Cache Creek Residence’s boxy form is clad in black corrugated metal , a material chosen for its durability, texture, and low cost. Galvanized steel-clad projections and large protruding decks on the south and east sides add interest and depth to the building. A climbing wall on the north elevation with multicolored holds spans the full height of the home and provides access to the roof. “The interior is characterized by high ceilings and generous glazing, which allows for constant daylight,” write the architects. “Economical finish selections let materials speak for themselves: concrete floors, quartz stone countertops and IKEA cabinetry, complete the interior expression.” + Carney Logan Burke Via Dezeen Images via Carney Logan Burke

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