Tag Archive for Earth and Environmental Sciences

Wesleyan Celebrates Earth Day with Film, Panel Discussion

Feet to the Fire: Exploring Global Climate Change from Science to Art was an 18-month project which included research opportunities for a team of students and faculty to explore first-hand the effects of global warming. Feet to the Fire included an eco-arts festival in a neglected city park.

“Keeping Our Feet to the Fire: Joining Art and Science to Engage Environmental Issues” is the topic of Wesleyan’s 2010 Earth Day celebration on April 22.

The event will feature a world premier screening of Paul Horton’s film Connections within a Fragile World.

A  panel of environmental experts will discuss the question “are art and science as natural allies in communicating environmental issues to the public?” It will be moderated by Jeremy Isard ’11, with panelists: Godfrey Bourne, University Missouri St. Louis; Marda Kirn, EcoArts Connections, Colorado; Cassie Meador, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Washington, D.C.; and Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology and director of the Environmental Studies Certificate Program at Wesleyan.

The Schumann Prize for Distinguished Environmental Stewardship will be awarded to a member of the class of 2010 and a reception will follow the event.

O’Connell Lectures on Sea Sediment at Syracuse University

Suzanne O’Connell, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, director of the Service Learning Center, will be the K. Douglas Nelson Lecture Series keynote speaker at Syracuse University April 22. Her title is “Weddell Sea Sediment, ODP Site 694: One Clue to Antarctica’s Past.”

The event is sponsored by Syracuse’s Department of Earth Sciences.

Faculty Examine Issues Surrounding “Climategate” Report

A presentation titled, “After Climategate: Rethinking Climate Science and Climate Policy” was held March 25 in the Public Affairs Center. Faculty panelists examined a variety of issues surrounding the recent news media accounts known as “Climategate” which impugned some of the findings of the IPPC’s 4th Assessment Report.

A presentation titled, “After Climategate: Rethinking Climate Science and Climate Policy” was held March 25 in the Public Affairs Center. Faculty panelists examined a variety of issues surrounding the recent news media accounts known as “Climategate” which impugned some of the findings of the IPPC’s 4th Assessment Report.

Greenwood Finds Water in Moon Rocks

Jim Greenwood, research assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, holds a slide with a moon rock sample that contains water. The water was found in the mineral apatite, which he and his team were able to identify in the sample. (Photo by Olivia Bartlett Drake)
Jim Greenwood, research assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, holds a slide with a moon rock sample that contains water. The water was found in the mineral apatite, which he and his team were able to identify in the sample. (Photo by Olivia Bartlett Drake)

Soon after the Apollo spaceflights to the moon, experts examined the rocks brought back by the astronauts and declared with certainty that the moon was a dry, waterless place.

Forty years later, James Greenwood begs to differ. Not only does he have proof, his findings strongly suggest that some of the lunar water he found is not indigenous to the moon or earth but appears to have originated from somewhere else in space.

Greenwood, research associate professor, visiting assistant professor, Earth and Environmental Sciences, pioneered a new method of analyzing the rocks using a combination of light, electron and ion-beam microscopes. He and his international team of planetary geologists and geochemists, announced their findings at the 41st Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas, in March.

It was a discovery almost didn’t happen, however. In fact, the only reason Greenwood found proof of water on the moon was because he was looking at a rock from Mars.

“I was in a lab at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, using an ion microscope to measure water in Martian meteorites,” Greenwood, who is a planetary geochemist, says. “We had pioneered this new technique to use two-dimensional ion imaging and were looking at this mineral in the meteorites called ‘apatite,’ which is a common phosphate mineral and holds water. Our analyses had been very good, probably better than ever before. So I thought, ‘What if we used this technique on moon rocks?’”

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Greenwood thought of moon rocks because a 2008 study from Brown University had found possible evidence of water in volcanic moon rocks. However, the study had been problematic and its results disputed. Still, Greenwood was intrigued that the possibility of water in the lunar rock samples had not been thoroughly vetted.

“The rocks were all declared devoid of water when they were first analyzed 40 years ago,” he said. “But I thought our new technique held some promise.”

Greenwood’s technique and the advanced instruments he gained access to, made it possible for him and the other scientists on his team to analyze the sample’s chemical composition over areas as small as 5 x 5 microns.

“In the past, they had actually ground up the analyzed samples. This created conditions that put the chemical analysis out of context,” he says. “Our method let us look at the samples as they are, in situ.”

The hardest part was getting permission to examine a sample. Less than 900 rocks were brought back from all the Apollo missions combined. Access is strictly limited.

It took several months, but Greenwood was able to get a few samples to analyze. The first were from the lunar highlands, which he thought might hold promise. But no water-holding apatite was found. Then he gained access to a sliver of rock brought back from the southwestern edge of the Mare Tranquillitatis – the “Sea of Tranquility” – where Apollo 11 had set down in 1969.

“So there we were in the lab at about 3 a.m. and the first sample we looked at, boom, there it was. Water. At first we couldn’t believe it. But we double-checked and we were just blown away. It was clearly there.”

The apatite, which is the same mineral that teeth are made of, was rife with water molecules. However, as Greenwood and his colleagues continued to analyze the samples they found that the water contained in the rocks was not from the earth or the moon.

“It was consistent in the water that comes from comets,” Greenwood says.

How could he tell? Water molecules found on earth – and those indigenous to the moon, since it was once part of the earth – contain a specific ratio of hydrogen to deuterium, which scientists use as a standard. The water Greenwood has found in some of the lunar samples has nearly twice the deuterium.

“The only things that falls into this range with any consistency are comets,” Greenwood says.

He adds that comets have long been known to hold frozen water and that perhaps as much as 10% of the earth’s water had come from comets, as well.

Microscopic water in minerals inside moon rocks is a tremendous find, but in a practical sense it does not open the door to, say, astronauts extracting this water to use on a lunar base or colony. Greenwood says that process would be too expensive and energy-exclusive with current methods. However, his discovery does open up another possibility.

“The level of water we found in the samples are consistent with the amount of water one would find from the mantle in the earth,” he says. “So there may be a reservoir of water within the mantle of the moon. Somewhat like groundwater here on earth.”

How far within the mantle, how deep below the surface is another challenge for another completely different type of study.

But Greenwood and his team have confirmed what many people have wondered for centuries, perhaps millennia. There is water on the moon.

Wesleyan Faculty Host “After Climategate” Presentation March 25

Faculty panelists will examine a variety of issues surrounding the recent reporting known as "Climategate," which impugned some of the findings of the IPPC's 4th Assessment Report.

Faculty panelists will examine a variety of issues surrounding the recent reporting known as "Climategate," which impugned some of the findings of the IPPC's 4th Assessment Report.

A presentation titled, “After Climategate: Rethinking Climate Science and Climate Policy” will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 25 in PAC 001. Admission is free and open to the public.

The panel discussion will feature Gary Yohe, Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics and senior member of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Joe Rouse, chair of the Science in Society Program, Hedding Professor of Moral Science, professor of philosophy; Suzanne O’Connell, associate professor of earth and environmental science, director of the Service Learning Center; and Paul Erickson, assistant professor of history, member of the Science in Society Program.

With Rouse moderating, the faculty panelists will examine a variety of issues surrounding the recent news media accounts known as “Climategate” which impugned some of the findings of the IPPC’s 4th Assessment Report.

Yohe’s presentation will include his first-hand experience with the Climategate story, from the initial leaking of private emails of key IPCC members on the Web a month before the U.N.’s Copenhagen conference, to the present. He will also offer quick glimpses

Wesleyan Participates in Earth Day Commuter Challenge

Between now and Earth Day in April, Wesleyan employees who seek greener ways to commute to campus will have the opportunity to earn rewards through the Earth Day Commuter Challenge 2010: “Race to the Finish.” The event encourages all forms of green commuting including carpooling, vanpooling, telecommuting, biking, walking and taking the bus, and is projected to eliminating more than 140,000 vehicle trips state-wide. This level of participation would result in 5,000,000 fewer miles of driving and the elimination of 2,000 tons of emissions.

“Our hope is that the Earth Day Commuter Challenge will encourage employees to get out of their single occupancy cars and use alternate green modes of transportation,” explains Cliff Ashton, director of Physical Plant. “It’s the right thing to do for the environment and hopefully it will save employees money at the same time.”

The event is endorsed by Governor M. Jodi Rell and culminates with a reception at the State Capitol for the employers who have successfully encouraged their employees to participate.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Americans take 1.1 billion trips a day. Of these trips, 78 percent are single-occupant trips, which clog roadways and account for about 50 percent of urban air pollution.

Several Wesleyan faculty and staff already make green choices in their to-and-from-work

Royer Speaks on Palaeo-CO2 Patterns

Dana Royer

Dana Royer

Dana Royer, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, was quoted in a Dec. 30, 2009 issue of Nature News in an article titled “Soils give clean look at past carbon dioxide.”

According to the article, scientists believe atmospheric carbon dioxide levels may have been lower in warm eras of the Earth’s distant past than once believed. The finding raises concern that carbon dioxide levels from fossil fuel burning may, in the near future, be closer to those associated with ancient hothouse climates.

More immediately, the work brings one line of palaeoclimate evidence — that deduced from ancient soils — into agreement with other techniques for studying past climate.

“It makes a major revision to one of the most popular methods for reconstructing palaeo-CO2,” Royer says in the article. “This increases our confidence that we have a decent understanding of palaeo-CO2 patterns.”

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are rising today, and the new finding suggests that climate might be considerably more sensitive to changes in carbon dioxide than previously thought.

“This may have implications for near-future climate change,” Royer says.

Hingorani, Royer Published in National Academy of Sciences

Manju Hingorani, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, is the author of “S. cerevisiae Msh2-Msh6 DNA binding kinetics reveal a mechanism of targeting sites for DNA mismatch repair,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ” Early Edition,” December 2009.

Dana Royer, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, is the author of “Fossil soils constrain ancient climate sensitivity,” published in the same journal.

Zeilinga de Boer Explains How Geology Influenced Connecticut Culture

Jelle Zeilinga de Boer, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, Emeritus, presented "Stories in Stone: How Geology Influenced Connecticut History and Culture" Nov. 19 in the Exley Science Center.

Jelle Zeilinga de Boer, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, Emeritus, presented “Stories in Stone: How Geology Influenced Connecticut History and Culture” Nov. 19 in the Exley Science Center. Fertile soil in the Central Valley fueled the state’s development into an agricultural power house, and iron ores discovered in the western highlands helped trigger its manufacturing eminence.

More than 100 students and faculty attended Zeilinga de Boer's talk.

More than 100 students and faculty attended Zeilinga de Boer’s talk. He explained that geology not only shaped the state’s physical landscape, but also provided an economic base and played a cultural role by inspiring folklore, paintings and poems.

The talk was sponsored by the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department.

The talk was sponsored by the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department.

Zeilinga de Boer is the author of Stories in Stone: How Geology Influenced Connecticut History and Culture published by Wesleyan University Press in July 2009. The book is available online from The University Press of New England.

Varekamp, Thomas Present Papers at Estuarine Research Conference

Johan Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor in Earth Science, and Ellen Thomas, research professor of earth and environmental sciences, presented papers at the Estuaries and Coasts in a Changing World conference of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation in Portland, Ore. Nov. 1-5.

Their talks were titled “Proxies for Eutrophication in Long Island Sound” and ” Hypoxia in Long Island Sound – Since When and Why.”

Farm Tours, Fun, Food at 2009 Pumpkin Fest

Wesleyan’s Long Lane Farm Club hosted the sixth annual Pumpkin Festival Oct. 31 at the farm on Long Lane. The event was open to the Wesleyan and local community. Activities included food, baked goods, live music, Farmer’s Market vendors, pumpkin sales and painting, face painting, t-shirt designing and tours of the organic farm.

Music was provided by the student band, 350 degrees, and faculty band, the Mattabessett Pickers. (Photos by Valerie Marinelli)

Article by Resor, Meer ’06 Accepted in Earth and Planetary Science Letters

Phillip Resor, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Vanessa Meer '06, are co-authors on a paper titled “Slip heterogeneity on a corrugated fault," to be published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters in December. In 2005, Royer, Marie Brophy '07, pictured in foreground, and Meer (pictured in background) scanned a fault in Greece using a reflectorless total station in the field. Meer and Dana Royer returned in 2006 to rescan with a newer instrument. The paper builds on Meer's honor thesis work in Greece.

Phillip Resor, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Vanessa Meer ’06, are co-authors on a paper titled “Slip heterogeneity on a corrugated fault,” to be published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters in December. In 2005, Resor, Marie Brophy ’07, pictured in foreground, and Meer (pictured in background) scanned a fault in Greece using a reflectorless total station in the field. Meer and Resor returned in 2006 to rescan with a newer instrument. The paper builds on Meer’s honor thesis work in Greece.