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Melting Glaciers to Methane Gasses
Released: 12/13/2001

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Pat Jorgenson 1-click interview
Phone: 650-329-4011

AGU News Room
Phone: 415-905-1007

Editors: Interviews with any of the USGS scientists presenting papers at the AGU meeting may be arranged by contacting Pat Jorgenson in the AGU newsroom, Dec. 10-14.


Nearly 300 scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey will present papers and posters describing their earth-science research, during the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, December 10 – 14. The USGS scientists who are presenting research findings will join more than 8,000 of their colleagues at the annual meeting. Among the presentations in the Moscone Center meeting rooms are:

Vanishing Glaciers – Of the nearly 700 named Alaskan glaciers, fewer than a dozen are advancing, according to a study headed by USGS glaciologist, Dr. Bruce Molnia. During more than a decade of study, Molnia has found that all 11 mountain ranges and three island areas in Alaska are characterized by significant glacier retreat, thinning or stagnation, and that some glaciers have completely disappeared. The study, which was launched to assess the response of Alaska’s glaciers to climate change in the post-Little Ice Age, does not suggest whether or not any of the glacier changes are human induced. Molnia will present his findings at 9:05 a.m., December 13, in Room 124.

But Then, There’s the Hubbard -- The persistent advance of Hubbard Glacier since at least 1895 will eventually close the entrance to Russell Fiord for hundreds of years, according to Dennis Trabant, a USGS glaciologist in Fairbanks. Comparing approximately 50-year periods, Trabant found the average rate of advance of the Hubbard has accelerated from about 16 meters per year between 1895 and 1948, to about 26 meters per year between 1948 and 1998. During shorter periods, the advance is spatially and temporally erratic. Trabant says that because the Hubbard Glacier must advance about 300 meters across a narrow channel of the Situk River that is swept by severe tidal currents before it can block the entrance to Russell Fiord, normal glacier flow is not likely to cause a closure before 2020. Trabant will present his findings in the poster session that begins at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, December 11, in Hall D.

Arsenic on Mars? – The same arsenate concentrations that help California’s Mono Lake support some forms of life could also be of importance in sustaining microbial ecosystems in volcanically influenced brines that may be present below the ice crust of Europa or beneath the loose surface sediments on Mars. Dr. Ron Oremland will explain all at 8:45 a.m., Tuesday, December 11, in Room 308.

Portland Has Its Faults – The Canby­Molalla fault extends for 60 kilometers (37 miles) beneath the Willamette Valley immediately south of Portland, Ore., and is capable of producing a magnitude-6.5 or larger earthquake, according to Dr. Richard Blakely. The fault is completely concealed beneath young sediments but geophysical measurements of various kinds indicate a vertical offset of at least 150 meters (500 feet). Deformation of flood deposits above the fault hint that the fault slipped within the last 10,000 years, making it a player in earthquake hazards of the greater Portland area. Those conclusions from recent measurements conducted by Blakely and his coauthors, will be presented at 1:30, December 11 in Room 307.

Recent Rainier Eruptions Are Small Potatoes – The eruptions of Mount Rainer in 1830, 1850 and 1892 were small events, compared to others during the past 3,000 years. Dr. James Vallance, a USGS hydrologist in Vancouver, Wash., will describe his research which shows that eruptions of Mount Rainer are clustered in three major periods, 2,700 years ago, 2,200 years ago and 1,600 years ago, and how these eruptions varied in magnitude and materials erupted. He also will describe the "Deadman Flats" eruptions of about 1,000 years ago that produced large debris flows that extended to Puget Sound and buried mudflats in what are now the South Seattle suburbs near Boeing Aircraft. Vallance will present his data at a poster session that begins at 1:30 p.m., December 13, in Hall D.

Three Sisters Stir to Life -- There has been a slight swelling, or uplift, of the ground surface over a broad area of central Oregon, centered five kilometers, or three miles, west of the South Sister, the youngest stratovolcano in the Three Sisters region of the Oregon Cascade Range. Dr. Chuck Wicks, who discovered the uplift while analyzing Satellite Radar Interferometry (InSAR) images of the area located 60 miles east of Eugene, Ore., says the maximum amount of uplift at its center is about 10 centimeters (4 inches), and is the result of an apparently ongoing episode of magma intrusion at a depth of 6.5 kilometers, or nearly four and one-half miles. Wicks will present his findings at 8:30 a.m., December 12, in Hall D.

Talking Earthquakes – "Seismicity as the Conversation Among Faults, or Earthquake Interaction Viewed Through the Prism of Stress Transfer" is the title of Dr. Ross Stein’s "Frontiers of Geophysics" lecture at 5:30 p.m., December 10, in the large auditorium on the lower floor of the Moscone Center.

The Next Big Earthquake In the Bay Area – As scientists learn more about the magnitude and timing of ancient and historical earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay area, they can be more precise in forcasting probabilities for future large earthquakes in the area. Dr. David Schwartz will the latest data gathered as part of the Bay Area Paleoearthquake Experiment (BAPEX), a project to learn as much as possible about Bay Area earthquake faults. Schwartz will present the group’s latest findings at 3:20 p.m., December 10, in Room 306.

USGS Publications Help to Teach Evolution – Although the USGS is not a curriculum developer the agency is in an ideal position to provide scientific information and resources to educators from its wealth of scientific information on subjects such as fossils, geologic time, biological resources and plate tectonics that naturally come in to play in the teaching of evolution. USGS education specialist, Leslie Gordon, will describe many of the agency’s general interest pamphlets and theme maps that describe the evolution of living organisms, of geological materials and landforms, and provide relevant scientific information for teachers in today’s classrooms. Gordon will present the materials at 2:05 p.m., December 11, in Room 308.

Who Stole the Sink? – The size, location and nature of the "missing carbon dioxide sink" in the northern hemisphere will be discussed at an AGU tutorial, led by Dr.Eric Sundquist, a USGS researcher at Woods Hole, Mass. Sundquist says that although scientists are confident that global atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing, the source and "sink estimates" of the gas do not balance with the known atmospheric concentrations. During the session, which begins at 9:30 a.m., December 10, in Room 131, Sundquist will clarify the concepts of sources and sinks and provide background information regarding the observations and models that are used to address these issues.

Mercury Sinks Not So Elusive -- During forest fires, biomass burning and soil heating can release mercury by vaporization and combustion, according to Dr. Laurel Woodruff, a USGS research geologist in St. Paul, Minn. She will describe USGS research to quantify mercury sources and sinks in forested ecosystems including mercury emissions during and after wildland fires in Minnesota and Alaska. In both studies, according to Woodruff, the calculated mercury emissions are highly dependent on the original nature of the forest floor and fire severity, but in any case, the two studies indicate a significant global source of mercury emissions during wildfires. Woodruff will present her findings at a poster session B32B on Wednesday afternoon, December 12, in Hall D.

It Worked at Pinatubo – In 1991 USGS scientists and their colleagues from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology were able to accurately predict the timing and approximate magnitude of the Pinatubo eruption, enabling orderly evacuations of nearby towns and U.S. military bases, thus saving thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of movable property. Recently, USGS scientists played an important role in the decision to artificially breach the growing lake in the crater of Mt. Pinatubo, possibly preventing rapid erosion and a huge flash flood that would have happened if more water would have accumulated and spilled over the rim. The review of the Pinatubo success and how lessons learned there can be applied to other volcanoes throughout the world will be presented at a news conference at 3 p.m., Monday, December 10, in Room 112.

Garnets Are A Researcher’s Best Friend -- The mineral garnet records information about the geologic processes involved during it’s growth that can aid scientists in obtaining detailed information about the formation of the stones and the behavior of trace elements during certain geologic events. Dr. Alan Koenig will describe how he and colleagues at the USGS laboratories in Denver use a Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometer to blast the garnet samples into pieces one-tenth of a millimeter in diameter, so they can be analyzed for their chemistry. Koenig will present his findings at a poster session that begins at 8:30 a.m., Friday, December 14, in Hall D.

Dust Gets In Your Eyes – Dust emissions today from the world’s arid regions harm human health, damage equipment and infrastructure, disrupt transportation, diminish air quality, and play important roles in ecosystem dynamics according to Dr. Richard Reynolds, of the USGS in Denver. While most of the major high-altitude dust clouds originate in North Africa and east-central Asia, dust emissions from our southwestern deserts produce many of the same effects regionally and locally as do larger dust storms elsewhere. Reynolds will describe new methods to detect southwestern dust emissions, track transport paths, and identify windblown dust in soils are leading to a detailed picture of dust flux over time and its critical role in the evolution of the Colorado Plateau. At 1:30 p.m., Monday, December 10, in Hall D.

Bio-geologic Control of Methane; Implications for Global Climate Change -- Sources of methane at the earth’s surface are both biologic and geologic, with the activities of humans adding to the mix. Dr. Keith Kvenvolden will discuss the more than 10 million metric tons of geological methane stored in the form of methane hydrates and how methane oxidation in ocean waters and sediment work in concert to limit the amount of methane that escapes from the lithosphere and hydrosphere into the atmosphere. Kvenvolden will present his findings at a poster session that begins at 1:30 p.m., Monday, December 10, in Hall D.

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