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Welcome to Earth Science Week!

October 14, 2013
Subducting crust in the northwestern Pacific. Image made using IRIS 3D as described in the blog.

Earthquake epicenters showing subducting crust in the northwestern Pacific. Image made using IRIS 3D as described in the blog.

Welcome to national and international Earth Science week . “Since October 1998, the American Geosciences Institute has organized this national and international event to help the public gain a better understanding and appreciation for the Earth Sciences and to encourage stewardship of the Earth.”  The theme this year is geological maps, but I’m going to take the liberty of sharing other neat stuff with you as well.

The purpose to this blog today is to connect you to some of the fun stuff available out there on the internet.

One of my favorite toys is CrystalMaker. It’s a program that allows the viewer to load crystallographic information about minerals and display it, and rotate it, flip it, spin it, etc. you can download a free demo version  here. The Mineralogical Society of America maintains the Crystal Structure Database.    I download structures in cif format and import them into CrystalMaker.  You can see from these why muscovite peels off in sheets, and how graphite and diamond are very different, even though both are made of carbon.  But, get this: it has a button you can select to view it in 3D, using a pair of old-fashioned 3D glasses.  Just don’t give the crystal structure a spin in 3D mode, because it’s a quick way to get motion sick.

Curious about the geology in your neighborhood? The Carolina Geological Society offers ALL of its guidebooks for free. Once a year the Society meets to go on a field trip in North or South Carolina. The guidebook shows all the stops, gives information about each, and usually has articles on up-to-data scientific work going on in that area.  In many cases, the road log gives starting and stopping points, and distances in tenths of miles, so that you can set the odometer on your car (or bicycle) and follow along. CGS membership is open to anyone with a serious interest in geology,  There are guidebooks for the mountains (many different years), the Raleigh area (1994), the beach (1996), and a lot of places in between.

My grandfather was a farmer in the Great Depression, and he considered weather forecasting to be one of the most wonderful inventions of the 20th Century. He prized his NOAA weather radio. I’m a geologist who grew up in a pre-GIS world, so Google Earth is one of my wonders of the modern world, a source of endless fascination. You can download generalized geological maps for the entire United States, state by state.  Want to see what’s underfoot? You can do it with Google Earth.

My current favorite earthquake page is from IRIS, the Incorporated Research Insitutes for Seismology. We used to have their real-time seismic quake center on the second floor, but the computer died, and the software was written for a UNIX-based system. RIP- it was very popular with visitors and staff. You can still visit their website, which now has a fantastic 3D viewer option.  For instance, select the area including the Sea of Okhastk in the northwestern Pacific and northern Japan. It has some red dots indicating deep earthquakes.  Set the number of quakes as high as you can, say, about 4000. Then hit the 3D button. If you turn this on its side, you can see the Wadati-Benioff zone of earthquakes that indicates the subducting slab of oceanic crust, headed down into the mantle.  I also like IRIS’ Recent Earthquake Teachable Moments, which has materials helping to understand recent quakes.

Professor Chris Scotese has been running the PaleoMap Project for quite some time. He produces scientific research in tectonic reconstruction, for which the PaleoMap Project is the most visible result. This is the place you get the animations and charts that show where the continents were at various points in geologic time.

There are many free sources of information on the United States Geological Survey web pages, including the volcano cams, volcano observatories, and the recent earthquakes listings. I will try to post those after the federal shutdown has lifted.

Happy Earth Science Week!


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