Archive for the ‘Geology’ Category

World expert in tsunamis to speak in Dublin


Lisbon Earthquake

The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 devastated the city and the resulting tsunami hit southwest Ireland

A world expert on earthquakes and tsunamis will be in Dublin in February to discuss the latest research into how these events can be more reliably anticipated and planned for.

Dr Yoshiyuki Kaneda, of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) will give a talk at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies on Monday, 3rd February.

The mega-quake of 11th March 2011 that hit Japan, killed 16,000 people and resulted in €24 billion of damage.

In response, Japanese scientists have just installed a network of some 30 high-tech observatories on the deep ocean floor. Packed with sensors, these stations send real-time information back to shore, monitoring the Earth’s plates as they slip, shift and buckle.

Ireland tsunami threat 

It would be wrong for Irish people to assume that mega-quakes and tsunamis are things that happen in far-flung lands, and have no direct impact on us. The historical and geological record demonstrates that Ireland has been hit by two tsunamis in 1755 and 1761, when buildings were damaged along the south coast.

The tsunami in 1755 was caused by the Great Lisbon Earthquake. A similar quake today could trigger another tsunami endangering the Irish south coast in particular. Ireland is also at the risk of a tsunami from submarine landslides, as happened off Canada in 1929, or a volcanic eruption on the Canary Islands or Caribbean.

Dr Kaneda leads Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami Research Project for Disaster Prevention at JAMSTEC.

His talk is a joint initiative of the Embassy of Japan in Ireland and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS), a centre for seismic research which runs the Irish National Seismic Network (INSN), and is open to the public and all interested parties.

As seating capacity is limited, registration is essential at the Embassy of Japan on 01-202 8305 or cultural@ir.mofa.go.jp between 20 and 30 January.

Dr Kaneda is also giving an expert workshop for young researchers on the morning of 3 February.

VIDEOS:

The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 resulted in a tsunami that hit the Irish southwest coast:

JAMSTEC video of the remotely operated vehicle “Hyper dolphin” burying and installing the DONET (Dense Ocean floor Network system for Earthquakes and Tsunamis) observation devices deep under the ocean:

http://www.jamstec.go.jp/donet/e/about/news/20110

Oil & Gas in the offshore: Has Ireland’s ship finally come in?


The prospects for further major finds of oil and gas in the Irish offshore are good [Credit: Providence Resources]

News that a commercially viable oil field has been found off the southwest coast of Ireland made headlines at home and abroad at the end of July and begged the question; how much oil and gas can be exploited in the large Irish offshore?

The potential of the Ballyroe field ( see image on the right) licensed to Providence Resources had been known about for years, but what was significant about the recent news was that the company said the find was far larger than had been previously thought.

The difficult, deep waters off the Irish coast are not the easiest places to search for oil, but with oil prices surging, and a lack of major new finds worldwide, it seems that Ireland’s oil and gas ‘ship’ might finally have come in.

Unlike in times past, exploration companies have the technology and the motivation to exploit Irish hydrocarbon reserves. So, what might they find? We asked Dr Andrew Wheeler, Head of Geology at University College Cork.

LISTEN: Interview with Dr Andrew Wheeler

Broadcast on 09.08.2012 on Science Spinning on 103.2 Dublin City FM

When rocks start ‘talking': The science of geo-chemical fingerprinting


Geochemistry can get rocks to ‘talk’ about how they were formed, and when (credit: http://www.crsbooks.net)

We have all heard of DNA fingerprinting, where the DNA in a person’s blood is identified, for example, at the scene of a crime, or on a victim, leading to a criminal prosecution.

But, what exactly is a geochemical fingerprint? Well, the same principle applies, but this time it concerns rocks. The geochemistry of a rock can provide information about how it formed, when, and what has happened to it since.

It can also be used for a variety of non-geological purposes, such as, for example, determining where a neo-lithic person lived from the examination of the carbon and oxygen isotopes in their teeth enamel.

This provides clues as to what they ate, and what water they drank.

LISTEN: Interview with Professor Balz Kamber

Broadcast on Science Spinning on 103.2 Dublin City FM on 12-04-2012

‘Fracking’ can end Ireland’s dangerous reliance on imported natural gas


Ireland is dangerously dependent on imports of natural gas. Bringing home-grown gas ashore and retrieving onshore reserves under western and northwestern counties can end this reliance and transform Ireland into a natural gas exporter.

For more, read ‘Think Tank’ article published in The Sunday Times, below, on 11.03.2012

The Earthquake Detective: Robert Mallett


The first photographs ever taken of the aftermath of an earthquake were taken of the Great Neopolitan Quake of 1857, which destroyed the village of Pertosa, pictured here, and many other towns and villages in southern Italy. The pictures were taken by a Frenchman called Grellier, and commissioned by Irish scientist and Dubliner Robert Mallett who was the first to determine what caused earthquakes such as this one [Credit: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies].

Listen: Interview on Robert Mallett with Irish geophysicist, Tom Blake

First broadcast on 103.2 Dublin City FM 10/12/2009

——————————————————————————-

The science of seismology, which studies the power and energy unleashed by earthquakes, began life on a south Dublin beach in 1849 with an ingenious experiment carried out by one of Ireland’s greatest scientists. That scientist was Robert Mallett – a Dubliner widely recognized as the ‘father of seismology’. Widely recognized that is, outside Ireland, where he remains largely an unknown figure outside the scientific community.

A true blue Dub you might say, Robert Mallett was born on Capel Street, on the banks of the Liffey, on the 3rd June 1810. His father owned a successful iron foundry business. The legacy of this foundry’s success can still be seen today, on the iron railings around Trinity College, which are inscribed with the name R&J Mallett.

From an incredibly early age, Robert was interested in science, and in particular chemistry. From the age of perhaps two, or three, he had his own small laboratory set up in the family house, where he played with chemicals. Such was Robert’s enthusiasm for spending time in the lab, the story goes, that his parents used to lock him out of the lab in order to punish him for some misdeed.

Later, in his teenage years, he went down the road to TCD to study science. The science course at TCD at that time – the early part of the 19th century – was more like what we would recognise as engineering today – very technical. After his studies were complete he went back to work in the family business. He continued to have a fascination with all things science, and began to conduct experiments on how sound or energy moved through sand and rock.

KILLINEY

In October 1849, aged 39, Robert, and his son John, who was a chemistry student at TCD, decided to carry out a remarkable experiment on Killiney Beach. They wanted to prove that energy moved through sand and rock in waves that could be measured, and they designed a ‘controlled’ experiment to prove this was so.

The two Malletts buried a keg of gunpowder in the ground, and detonated it. They measured the energy wave that traveled through the sand at a distance of half a mile away, with a seismoscope. The experiment worked, and a seismic reading was generated that showed clearly, energy moved through sand in waves.

Robert also worked closely with William Rowan Hamilton, another great Irish scientist and mathematician. William had suggested to Robert that he might apply the laws of physics, as they apply to light, in order to describe how the energy generated by the explosion would pass through sand and rock (for the rock measurements he set up a seismoscope on nearby rocky Dalkey Island, rather than the sandy beach). Robert took William’s advice and Robert’s report on his experiment became the foundation of modern seismology.

ITALY

Robert is not well known in Ireland, except amongst the small community of geologists and earth scientists that would appreciate his importance in the advancement of our understanding of earthquakes.

However, in southern Italy Robert is well known, due to his role in studying the after affects of the ‘Great Neapolitan Earthquake of 1857′. This earthquake – which was the third biggest in recorded history at the time – struck in deadly fashion on the 16th December, and killed in the region of 20,000 people.

Robert reacted quickly and wanted to go to the earthquake zone and record the devastation, using the new technology of photography. Two powerful friends, Charles Lyle, a famous English geologist, and Charles Darwin, helped Robert to get a grant from the Royal Society to travel to Italy and carry out this work.

Robert arrived in Italy and worked right through Christmas and into the New Year, diligently recording the devastation along with a French photographer. This was the first time ever that photography had been used to take images of the after affects of an earthquake. It was a revolutionary approach at the time.

Robert’s report entitled ‘Great Neapolitan Earthquake of 1857: The First Principles of Observational Seismology’ was published by the Royal Society in 1862. It remains as ‘seminal research’ into seismic hazard and seismic risk, said Tom Blake, experimental officer in the geophysics section of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS).

The bicentenary of the birth of Robert Mallett was held in 2010 and the DIAS and the Royal Dublin Society had joint celebrations. This was done, said Tom Blake at the time, “so that, at least, once and for all, Irish people will understand, and know, that the father of controlled-source seismology is an Irishman – Robert Mallett”.

SEISMIC SCIENTISTS

In 132 AD, in China, a man called Zhang Heng, invented the world’s first seismometer – an instrument capable of measuring ground movements due to earthquakes. The machine Zhang invented enabled him to determine the direction and occurrence of the epicenter of an earthquake. For example, his device could pinpoint an earthquake occurring at a location 400 miles away, long before horse-bound messengers could bring the Emperor the bad news. This enabled the Emperor to quickly dispatch help to the afflicted area.

The west was far behind China in seismic studies. As late as 1755, more than 1,600 years after China had invented the first seismometer, people believed that the Great Lisbon Earthquake of that year, which killed 70,000 with an accompanying tsunami, was God’s punishment for the sins of mankind.

Not everyone in the west believed in the ‘God’ explanation for earthquakes in the 18th century. One of those was John Mitchell, a clergyman, and academic at Cambridge University. Mitchell proposed that earthquakes caused by energy waves originated below ground. At the time, his theory was largely ignored.

In 1795, Ascanio Filomarino devised a seismograph similar to the one Zhang had invented centuries before. It had a part that would stay stationary while the rest of the instrument would shake when an earthquake was occurring, and ring bells and set off a clock. Poor Ascanio was murdered on Mt Vesuvius by an angry mob that didn’t like his work. They also burned his workshop and destroyed his seismograph.

Another early ‘seismograph’ was developed by Luigi Palmieri, in 1855. Palmieri was the director of an observatory near Vesuvius. An instrument, designed by Palmieri, could measure small tremblings in the ground around Vesuvius, and recorded such movements on a paper strip – like later seismographs.

The big contribution of Robert Mallett to this emerging field came in 1857 when he examined the damage caused by the earthquake in Italy of that year. He generated isoseismal maps, which displayed contours of damage intensity. He also published a world map that revealed the clustering of earthquake incidences in specific locations around the planet. Thus, Mallett, was the first to see the ‘big picture’ with regard to earthquakes.

First published in the September-October 2009 edition of Science Spin

How Irish Scientists Changed the World, by Seán Duke, is due for publication by Londubh Books in Spring 2012.

The Irish Gold Frenzy


Famously, there have been gold rushes in California, Alaska, Australia and even Brazil. But, Ireland also had its own gold rush, in 1795, just before the United Irishman rebellion, following the chance discovery of a nugget in County Wicklow.

Peader McArdle, the recently retired director of the Geological Survey of Ireland, has written  ‘Gold Frenzy’ a book which charts the many aspects of the gold rush story in Ireland, in the years before rebellion set Wicklow’s  heather blazing.
LISTEN:  The Wicklow ‘Gold Frenzy’ —Peader McArdle, author of Gold Frenzy, interviewed on Science Spinning on 103.2 Dublin City FM (broadcast 27th October 2011).
This book is as much about geology as it is about great characters, the use of Ireland’s national resources, and the role of powerful politicians such as Charles Stewart Parnell, whose lands in Avoca lay in the heart of Wicklow gold.
Gold Frenzy is highly recommended and  is available from Dubray bookshop in Bray, the Geological Survey of Ireland, and other bookshops. It can also be ordered on line from the Science Spin website store.

The Volcanologist


Studying maths and maths physics as an undergraduate at UCD led Chris Bean into exciting and unexplored directions, such as finding himself atop a volcano in Costa Rica, being interviewed by a TV crew, as he ‘listened in’ to a volcano.

Neither of Chris’s parents were scientists, and rather there was a strong interest in classical music in the house. He did a lot of music as a boy, and for a time he might have thought that his ultimate destiny was to be a classical musician. The boarding school he went to for a time specialised in music, but, he changed schools after the Junior Certificate when he realised that he was not going to follow a career in music.

UCD Volcanologist, pictured here, at work ‘in the field’ in Tenerife, with a volcanic crater in the background (Credit: Chris Bean)

The first time Chris recalls being interested in science was as a young boy, watching the historic 1969 moon landings. His father got him out of bed to watch the events unfold on what he remembers as a very speckly black and white TV. He was totally captivated – hooked – and he followed all the other Apollo missions in detail.

The interest in science continued from there, and by the time he was in 6th year in school he had begun to develop an interest in the Earth and its natural processes. That interest was triggered at that time  by visits to the geology museum at TCD.

A  friend of Chris’s was interested in physical geography – the study of the Earth’s natural features – and his friend’s brother was studying physics in TCD. “We used to go down there to hang out after school in 6th year to play snooker, sometimes popping into the geology department for a look around,” recalls Chris. “Yes, officially we probably shouldn’t have been there! but nobody ever tried to stop us.”

SCHOOL

At primary school there wasn’t much science taught, he recalls. This was before there was a proper science curriculum at primary level. There were nature studies, but even that was “on the light side”. He remembers being interested in the physical aspect of geography, learning about rivers and so on, but it’s a bit hazy, he says. Primary school students today have a more interesting programme he believes.

Nevertheless, by the time he entered second level his interest in science was gaining strength, and after completing the Junior Cert he decided to take physics for the Leaving Certificate. He went to two different secondary schools, St Finian’s in Mullingar, a school renowned for music, but that also had good science labs, and later to Synge Street in Dublin’s south inner city – a school with a great reputation for science and has produced several winners of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition over the years.

COLLEGE

After leaving school he decided to go to UCD to study science and his chosen subjects in his first year were physics,  maths and maths physics. There was no clear career path in his mind at this point, he just ‘followed his nose’ and did what he was interested in doing.

He loved the college experience, and enjoyed it much more than school. There was much more freedom, and it was much more open, he says, in terms of the learning experience. It required taking control of things for yourself, but that’s a good thing, he says, and college is a fantastic experience for students that “fully engage” with it.

By now, he found himself watching Earth Science documentaries on television and he realised he was interested in using maths as a way to study how the Earth’s natural processes, such as volcanoes and earthquakes, work. He started down this road by doing an M.Sc. in Applied Geophysics at NUI Galway. Next he did a PhD at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) and he  spent a lot of time in Karlsruhe University in Germany as part of that. This was a really exciting time for Chris, doing research and travelling the world to present his finding at various conferences. Some of the people he met abroad during this time are still among his best friends.

JOB

Chris says that he was “pretty lucky” to get a job at UCD immediately after he finished his PhD at the DIAS. Since then he has also had several visiting positions in France, Spain and the US. One of the great things, of course, about being a scientist – up to now at least! – has been that it offers the chance to work and live abroad, meet new people and learn about different cultures and countries, but still then still be able to come back to a job in Ireland afterwards.

In terms of his work, Chris says that he studies several aspects of geophysical science, that is the physics of the Earth in all its aspects. This includes learning about volcanoes, says Chris. Volcanoes are interesting, he says because we don’t know how they work. The goal is to figure out how volcanoes actually work, which is not to be confused, he says, with describing how they seem to be working.

The volcano work involves going to exciting places and collecting data on volcanoes. It also involves lots of computer simulations of volcano processes. Chris and his colleagues develop new models and write their own software to apply these models.

The work on volcanoes is interesting, but it can also be dangerous, even fatal. Some of Chris’s colleagues were killed in the 1993 eruption on Galeras, Columbia, but he says, such deaths are very unusual. He doesn’t worry too much about the dangers, but neither is he reckless. He cancelled a field experiment due to take place on a volcano in Costa Rica last year, as he was not happy about the safety arrangements.

He also likes to make the point that there is more to geophysics than studying hazards such as volcanoes and earthquakes. There are aspects that are important to civil engineering and building projects, mineral exploration, petroleum exploration, and, increasingly, in the renewable energy area.

ADVICE

Science is exciting, and fun, but like most things it requires dedication adn there is no quick or easy route to success. For someone that is very interested in science, then a career in science can be very rewarding, says Chris.

“The best thing is that fundamentally you are searching for ‘the truth’, for how things work and fit together,” says Chris.

“If you are doing your job properly you will be open to changing your ideas as new evidence requires and you certainly will not toe the partly line, instead you will think independently. The worst thing is that it is hard to switch off. When you walk out of the office your job often walks with you with stuff swirling around in your head.”

In terms of monetary rewards, he says that scientists might have been exploited somewhat in the past because they were so committed to their jobs.

This meant that they didn’t have to be incentivised financially, as a lot of them were driven first and foremost to discover new knowledge.

The upside of this, he says, is that science must therefore be a career with very high levels of job satisfaction, as people are not going into it for purely financial reward.

This situation might be changing, said Chris, and the future looks bright for science.

The best advice he would give is to for students to do what they love best.

“Do law or medicine of you are really interested in law or medicine,” he says. “If you are interested in science and creative new discoveries, do science and it can lead you so some very strange and interesting places.”

“When I was an undergraduate, I never realistically thought that I would be hiking up volcanoes in Costa Rica and getting paid to do it.”

This article was first published in the May-June ed. of Science Spin

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 807 other followers

%d bloggers like this: