• Plumbing and mapping

    It’s been a while since I dipped into the geology file and I discovered a number of intriguing things. When I was a kid, my moms and dads and I checked out Yellowstone National Park. I was amazed by the bears and the buffalo; I was equally interested by the regularly emerging geysers. A few of them, like Old Faithful, appear so regularly you can nearly set your watch by them. I wondered at the time why they did that.

    Now, scientists at UC Berkeley have finally discovered the response. Geysers apparently emerge periodically because they have loops or side-chambers in their underground plumbing. These loops trap steam which bubbles out gradually to warm the water column above it up until it’s simply except boiling. Eventually, the steam bubbles trigger unexpected boiling from the top of the column. This launches pressure on the water below allowing it to boil as well. The column boils from the leading downward, gushing water and steam hundreds of feet into the air.

    The new understanding of geyser mechanics originates from studies performed in Chile and Yellowstone, as well as from an experimental geyser the scientists built in their laboratory. It’s made from glass with a loop and it emerges occasionally, however, surprisingly, not as regularly as a real geyser they studied in the Atacama Desert of Chile, which is called El Jefe (The Boss). Over six days of observation, El Jefe emerged every 2 minutes and 12 seconds, plus or minus 2 seconds.

    There are fewer than 1,000 geysers (half of them remain in Yellowstone) and all lie in active or formerly active volcanic areas. Water from the surface area flows downward and is heated up by hot lava. Eventually, perhaps decades later, it increases back to the surface area and kinds warm springs, mud pots and geysers.

    The scientists put temperature level and pressure sensors as deep as 30 feet into geysers and associated the data with above-ground measurements from seismic sensing units and tilt meters to deduce the sequence of underground events resulting in an eruption. They’ve been able to immerse camera as deep as six feet into geysers to see the submerged avenues and chambers below.

    Obviously the boiling starts at the top of the superheated water column and takes a trip down but it's the escaped bubbles from caught steam in the rock channels below the geyser that warm the water column to the boiling point. The above ground plume is primarily steam condensing into water beads in the air.

    And now for something with a bit more importance to home since home is surrounded by ocean. Researchers from the University of Sydney's School of Geosciences have produced the world's very first digital map of the seafloor's geology. It’s the first time seafloor structure has been mapped in 40 years. The most recent map was hand drawn in the 1970’s. The map will assist researchers much better comprehend how our oceans have actually responded, and will respond, to ecological change. It also reveals the deep ocean basins are much more complex than formerly thought.

    The researchers state the deep ocean floor is a graveyard covered with the remains of tiny sea creatures called phytoplankton, which thrive in sunlit surface waters. The structure of these remains can assist decipher how oceans have reacted to climate change in the past.

    A kind of phytoplankton called diatoms produces about a quarter of the oxygen we breathe and make a larger contribution to eliminating worldwide warming than the majority of plants on land. Their dead remains sink to the bottom of the ocean, locking away their carbon. Remarkably enough, the new seafloor geology map shows that diatom build-ups on the seafloor are practically independent of diatom flowers in surface area waters in the Southern Ocean.

    A few of the most considerable changes to the seafloor map remain in the oceans surrounding Australia. The old map recommended that much of the Southern Ocean around Australia is mainly covered by clay blown off the continent however the new map reveals the location is really an intricate patchwork of microfossil continues to be.

    Here’s hoping that new maps will also show where those troublesome seamounts are located so submarines put on to encounter them anymore!