Back from the Field ... and into a busy week

I am back from our trip into the Mountain West - and it was great (see some of the pictures below). We hit Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, the Tobacco Root Mountains, Glacier and Craters of the Moon - and the weather held out on us just fine.

This week is the last week before classes start here at Denison, so post might be a little sparse this week ... and next week will bring something big to Eruptions, so stay tuned. I'll try to post some news soon as I get caught back up with what has been happening (including all the Katla talk). Special thanks again to Boris Behncke for the great Etna series. Be sure to check it out if you missed it.

In the meantime, here are some highlights from our vacation. Enjoy!
Click on the images to see a larger version.

Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park

The Berkeley Pit, Butte, Montana.

Upper Two Medicine Lake, Glacier National Park.

Ropey pahoehoe lava near North Crater, Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Wave-cut terraces of former Lake Bonneville in northern Utah.

More like this

Kind of a busman's holiday isn't it?

By Benton Jackson (not verified) on 22 Aug 2010 #permalink

Welcome back, Erik.
Beautiful pictures, beautiful places. You were surely lucky with the weather.

By Renato Rio (not verified) on 22 Aug 2010 #permalink

@ Benton - I actually had to look up what a "busman's holiday" is ... true enough (I'm just not a city boy).

Boris sure pulled out the stops and gave us The Works on Etna. Beautifully organized and presented. He even stopped by periodically to answer questions.

An educator stopped by asking to use the Boris' blog entries for teaching material to be distributed among colleagues. May want to find his comment and reply by email.

Maybe Boris can cajole one of learned peers at INGV to put together a blog post on the geologic setting underlying Vulcano and Stromboli, to round out the Sicilian volcanic group. That would be splendid!

I am green with envy, Erik. LOL I have been to most of those places you mention and I want to go again. Maybe next year I can make the rounds. The one thing I don't think I have seen (or if I did, I didn't know what I was looking at) is the wave-cut terraces from former Lake Bonneville. I have been across the salt flats many times, but I never saw what your picture shows. What part of Utah is that in? In otherwords, where is the nearest town from where your picture was taken?

Thanks for posting them. You had great weather and sounds like a great trip.

By Diane N CA (not verified) on 22 Aug 2010 #permalink

Welcome back to Eruptions and academia, Erik. Thanks for sharing the photos, will have to look up the pit, not familiar with that at all. We enjoyed Boris in the interim, and the open thread has been continuing along also - maybe we need to keep an open thread for miscellany that doesn't fit the current post topic?? Looking forward to the Eruptions news... (We've become a reality TV show?) ; )

By birdseyeUSA (not verified) on 22 Aug 2010 #permalink

Welcome back! As with Dr Kohut (EKoh), Dr Behncke proved to be an "adequate" replacement. Do you a) have a friend at KVERT, and b) plan to go off into the field/on a vaction anytime soon again by any chance? I'll get me coat...

Seriously, good to have you back!

By Henrik, Swe (not verified) on 22 Aug 2010 #permalink

@ Diane
I'll bet a dollar that picture of the Lake Bonneville shoreline was taken while driving on I-15 north, probably just north of Tremonton looking east. It's a drive I'm well familair with.
Erik, glad you had a good time in my neck of the woods. I live in Pocatello, which you almost certainly at least drove through.

@Greg [10]

Excellent snag.

So, if the rate of radioactive decay goes up in Winter (Perihelion - closer to Sun, higher concentration of exposure to neutrinos (or whatever the cause is)), will this cause a seasonal spike/trend in seismic activity?

In my graph (from a while back) of Worldwide quakes vs Solar Right Ascension, there is a slight peaking in Spring.

Again... things that make you go "hmmm..."

The large spikes are groups that accumulate around large events that have happened during the 5 years of data. The smoothed line is the one to pay attention to.

@11, Lurking. Seasonality in volcanic and earthquake events has been attributed to changes in the hydrologic cycle.

While not direct causes, changes in ocean mass with the hydrologic cycle have been correlated to seismicity and annual eruptions (frequency by month) along coast, while rainfall has been correlated to pore pressure changes at depth that *may* enhance triggering on pre-loaded faults and in the glacial flood plains immediately adjacent to snow- and ice-capped volcanoes.

@10. The paper doesn't make this leap of logic. They don't know how neutrinos might affect the decay field of radioisotopes. However, we can make a wild guess.

Neutrinos can interact with gravitons. The graviton is a hypothetical elementary particle that mediates the force of gravitation in the framework of quantum field theory.

Decay is a time-of-light measurement, and it's relative to mass of the radioactive element being measured. If the mass or the flow field are altered, the decay rate changes.

Since we're not dealing with gravitational waves, it might be a permutation in the massless particles that define earths's gravitational field. We know the gravity field varies over the earths surface (the geoid) and is highest over convergent areas, where crust is being formed.

One of the wikipages on gravity theory discusses gravity waves and shows a great graphic, the effect of a polarized gravitational wave on a ring of particles.

So, if you imagine the radial gamma emissions from a radioactive source being flexed into unusual shapes as gravity field is temporarily permuted either by energy changes to the particle through collision (rapidly given off again) or by gravity shaping the emission field to trigger a concentrated peak, a jump in apparent decay rate.

This is assuming that the gamma ray emission that occur during sun spots are accounted for in background blanks (a given here).

It's entertaining to think about - that minute fluctuations in neutrino energy could be detected by this method, but this is not my area of expertise.

I'm not trying to shoe horn that odd decay note into the seasonal fluctuations... other than to observe that (based on my limited data set) the worldwide spike occurs in spring. The only logical way I can connect the two is if the slight increase in decay imparts a slight bump in heat output, and then that has to be absorbed by the surrounding material and contribute to whatever stress/stress relief that is going on.

Thanks for pointing out the hydrologic cycle connection. I have been looking at that curve for a few months and can only come up with a delayed gravitational influence to cause it... perihelion being in January and such.

BTW, it may be called pahoehoe, but it still looks like something you don't want to step in in a feed lot.

@Passerby #13
Just getting back from work and a great amount of novelties to be assimilated by an overwhelmed brain in a quick reading.
You guys are stunning.
Am I wrong or you meant "divergent" when you wrote:
"We know the gravity field varies over the earths surface (the geoid) and is highest over convergent areas, where crust is being formed."?
How come then the theory of passive crust formation in oceanic ridges being caused by heavier subducting edges? Maybe I haven't done my homework properly...

By Renato Rio (not verified) on 23 Aug 2010 #permalink

@16, Yep, meant divergent. I get dyslexic when I'm late for dinner.

@14, Nope, knew what you were getting at, with the comment on Right Ascension. Couple years ago, this was a hot topic and several papers were published on event seismic and volcanic event frequencies in Spring and Fall, with plausible explanations.

Ain't nothing passive about MARs adding crust to the ocean floor. We need a heat-flow basis to explain isotactic topography. Your eye is immediately drawn to that arc north of Australia, in the vicinity of Papua New Guinea and New Britain. It's one of the reasons we lavished some attention on it a while back, when Chris Rowan discussed the string of earthquake activity in the region, and that got us chatting about deep focus earthquakes, too.

And a map of the geology of Papua New Guinea to understand the geoid high located there.

Note the comment on the islands being gathered and herded through accretion ('accreted' not being a real word, heh) as Australia moved northwards and the Pacific basin moved westward. Crunch! The light islands are being pushed upwards, forwards and sideways as the Big Boy plates collide.

This online paper has a nice description of the very complex and active tectonic setting:


The bathymetry/isotactic topog link got left out. and Tectonics_ 1.htm

*been a long day*

@Lurking #14. How far back does your data go and is there variation in the timing of this "spike"? The nature of such a variation (or a lack thereof) should tell you wheteher the phenomenon is of Earthly or Solar origin.

PS. Lurking, please remember to drop the c! ;)

By Henrik, Swe (not verified) on 23 Aug 2010 #permalink

#Henrik, Swe

I only have 5 years of data in the set for that chart, it's very limited. At 5 years I realized just how much info there was to juggle and I just haven't gotten around to feeding it into a MySQL server rather than fighting multiple open spreadsheets.

The last time I did something like that I had all of the 6h readings on Atlantic Hurricanes fed in and working and lost interest after I ran across after I found out that I could get the worldwide ACE data without having to make it myself. (ACE was the goal) The idea was to compare it to the SSN and look for odd correlations. I did find that the energy for Atlantic tropical systems peak at the top of the Solar Cycle, and have an odd peak in or near the minimum of the Solar cycle cycle... generally. The last two years don't fit that at all. It's probably related to various oceanic events (ENSO, PDO, NAO etc...) That database is still sitting on the server.

What I did with regards to quakes, was to pull the data from the USGS server for all quakes in an individual year, convert the data/time into something I could pipe into Alcyone Ephemeris, export the Planetary data back to the quake spreadsheet, then bin the data for fractional changes in the parameter of interest. Lunar Phase and Solar R/A were the ones I concentrated on, though I did do Lunar distance also. (less interesting). Until this article about radioactive decay I didn't see any significance in it. The amount of gravitational pull from the Sun changes by such a slight amount that I attributed the quake variation to noise. The Lunar phase however, seemed to me to have a much more noticeable effect since the angles of the gravitational forces are constantly changing, and of course, the Earth is spinning inside those changing fields. There is a measurable effect, but I can't give you a mechanism. Just the observation. Gradually, the number of quakes increase towards full moon, and spike at new and full. This is evident after you pull out the dwell time that the moon spends at each orientation.

Predictable use? Not much. I never could come up with a match in the angle dimensions for the various plates and the small bumps in the average quake rates.

The data set is way too small to really draw any conclusions as to why those small bumps in the rate are there. Most likely they are artifacts of large scale events that happen to have occurred at that time in the lunar cycle. Aftershocks do add up ya know.

Long winded.. yeah, sorry.

Short form -> Only five years of data. But the USGS set I was pulling from goes back to around 1973 with decreasing reliability the further back you go. (technology creep)

@20 Lurking, Just read this on,

""Aug 24, 2010: Last night saw the expected arrival of a co-rotating interaction region (abbreviated CIR) and the subsequent high speed solar wind. The wind speeds have exceeded 700 km/s (or 1.5 million miles/hour), which is approaching the fastest speeds seen for these types of events."

The past few days have been relatively quiet earthquake wise when compared to last week (there were many sunspot eruptions then). I'm just wondering if this may result in a rise in earthquake activity during the next few days.

In a way it would not come as a complete surprise to learn that the Solar wind, which has the power to affect Earth's magnetosphere quite substantially, also affects Earth's nickel-iron core, a fast-rotating magnet.

Since the core also must contain what in effect is a huge, natural nuclear reactor (proof: the observed He isotpes that only result from the radioactive decay of U and Th, the high core temperature sustained over 4½ billion years and the mantle plumes - please, do challenge me! ;) ), something that has the power to affects Earth's core will also by neccessity affect the output of this reactor even if it cannot be more than an extremely marginal, possibly unmeasurably small effect.

Lurking, any positive correlation with the strength of the Solar wind and Solar flares in particular (Aurora), in your data?

PS. Sometimes brevity results in the need of further explanation. I much prefer the full version of your post #20 to be frank.

By Henrik on thin ice (not verified) on 24 Aug 2010 #permalink

Dunno.. I haven't looked. I'm not really inclined to think there is a connection, though in some circles the idea is kicked around quite a bit. One group actually believes that matter is being "made" in the Earth as all the solar wind streams in and accumulates (or whatever).

While not a scientist, I do have a firm grounding in basic physics (and electronics). To put it bluntly, it don't work like that. That's why I found that Sun-Decay link fascinating.

These guys probably differ in their thoughts on the matter.

"Evidence against correlations between nuclear decay rates and EarthâSun distance"
Eric B. Norman a,b,c,*, Edgardo Browne c, Howard A. Shugart d, Tenzing H. Joshi a, Richard B. Firestone

Back on the Solar Wind idea, I would like to say I'm up to doing the comparison, but that's a lot of quakes. Just the set that I did has upwards of 130,000 individual quakes... and that was 5 years of data. I'm gonna have to pass for now.

Yup, the Berkeley paper appears to blow the annual solar variation theory out of the water. Nice find. The effect mentioned in the 2010 paper was reported in 2008, which explains the timing of this Oct 2009 article.

There could be a connection between high-speed solar wind (fast travel events) and seismic activity, but I don't think it's related to net heat flux change from neutrino-driven increase in core heat flow. None of the technical papers' authors draw this conclusion from the strange jump in *observed* decay during high-speed solar wind events/CMEs

EQ and volcanic activity is not coming from core processes, but from lithosphere-asethenosphere interactions.

@23&24 Lurking and Passerby, Nice job finding that paper, I agree with what it says fully, it's just like Lurking said about there being more than 130,000 earthquakes to analyze, it just cannot be done. What really is peaking my interest is what the pattern is, or if there is even one?

I've been slowly accumulating data regarding the ability of a seismograph halfway around the world picking up a quake while the recorder just down the road from it didn't, that is what has me totally awestruck. I'll keep you up to date about what I find out.

Not one to shy away from weirdness just because it's weird, and haveing my curiosity peaked.... I dug up 2009's quake data, added what I could get from 2010, and poked around the Internet until I could find a reasonable archive of Flux and Speed data for the Solar Wind. Did a little bit of binning and got this:

It's all on a log scale just to get it all to fit on the same graph. 2009 to present (almost) Daily quake count vs Flux and Solar Wind Speed. There is a gap in the Flux and Wind speed for April 2010, that file gave a 404 error.

@26 Lurking, I must say that you are amazing at getting tons of data onto a graph that is easy to understand. The earthquakes seem to slightly follow the flux line on the graph but not enough to say that there is a definite connection between the two.

Solar Cycle 24 has only just begun, so now getting us out of the solar minimum that we have been in for the past few years, I'm going to keep a record of sunspot and solar flare activity and Mag6+ earthquakes and see if there is a pattern, I'm curious to see if there is one.

{snicker} okay. SSN is currently zero and we are in a 4 day run of no spots... even with the enhanced SDO capability. (more specks get spot status)

That link listed on the graphic has a TON (TONNE even) of other data that may be of use to you. From the monthly tabular data:

Solar flux
Sunspot number
Planetary A index
K indices (3-hour intervals)
Min-max solar wind speed (km/sec)
Number of flares (events)

The link, in clickable format, is:

On the USGS site, if you digging for Mag 6+, it will only spit ouy about 5071 events going back to 1973 using the USGS/NEIC (PDE) catalog... so it should be easily digestible.

The most cantankerous part of that sites out put is wrangling the date into something that Excel won't mangle. Even at that, I have to go through and fiddle with the time stamp when Excel chokes at the data conversion... usually having to put the "0's" back in and checking to make sure the resulting time stamp is sane with respect to the preceding and following events. That's the tedious part... actually having to look at it rather than blast through the area with a macro.

Thank you for helping me out, I've got a few slow days of work for the rest of the week, the whole place is on vacation but me, I'll see what I can do but having your tips about Excel and getting the data to work will be a great help, Thanks again.

Well, if you're gonna do the deed... this will help.

Once you get your data out of the USGS, save that as a text file.

In Excel, import that file as "fixed width", placing your column cuts on each of these feilds: CAT YEAR MO DA ORIG TIME LAT LONG DEP MAGNITUDE IEM DTSVNWG DIST.

Take the following and drop it in the field for CAT, adjusting the line for whatever line you get.


It should parse the YEAR MO DA ORIG fields and give you an Excel timestamp in whatever format you have that cell set for. I use YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS for compatibility with Alcyone Ephemeris, but whatever you choose will work.

After you get that adjusted and working, copy-paste it to the rest of the CAT values. Go back through and look for #VALUE!
errors and fix the ORIG value to make sure the final timestamp logically fits between the ones above and below it. Usually Excel drops the trailing zeros, but sometimes it's the leading zero. You won't need to change the non zero data, that stay put when Excel does the nasty.

After that, you can sort by whatever you like and always go back to the original timestamped sequence.

Well... the data was just sitting there. And I had already done a year and a half of it. Eh, whatever.

Daily Quake Count vs 10.7 cm Solar Flux

It doesn't track as well as it first seemed.

And, a caveat. 2009 seems to have an issue, based on the graph. Not enough quakes. There is either a problem with my data, or a problem with the data set. Either are possible. It's 1 AM and the coffee is wearing off.


I'm still learning from you, but I'm trying to reach my goals. I definitely love reading everything that is posted on your site.Keep the stories coming. I liked it