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2013 In the News


Shale has the spotlight for now. But there’s another, lesser-known substance with the potential to yield even greater quantities of natural gas: methane hydrate. “A lot of geoscientists are fascinated by hydrates because of how odd it is that you can take methane gas and add water and have it result in something with such…

While criticized as a water-intensive technique for producing oil and natural gas, hydraulic fracturing  ultimately cuts overall water use  in Texas and makes the state less vulnerable to drought, according to a new study from the University of Texas at Austin. “The bottom line is that hydraulic fracturing, by boosting natural gas production and moving the…

Hurricane Sandy last year did more harm to coastal cities and homes than any hurricane in U.S. history, except Katrina. Most of that damage has been repaired. But there’s other damage that people can’t see to the underwater coastline, known as the shoreface. Apparently, Long Island’s shoreface did remarkably well against the storm of the…

Currents and circulation patterns in the subsurface ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa may create heat and energy capable of sustaining life, U.S. scientists say.  U.S. and German researchers have used magnetometer data and observations of Europa’s icy surface to reveal oceanic conditions below the ice. Regions of disrupted ice on the surface, known as chaos…

A cluster of 18 small earthquakes in western Texas was likely triggered by the injection of carbon dioxide into oil wells, according to a study published Monday in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study is the first to link carbon dioxide injections to actual earthquakes, and may help scientists evaluate the…

The Miracle of Flight

Nobody had any idea just how gigantic a pterosaur could be until the spring of 1971. Douglas A. Lawson, MA ’72, was a 22-year-old graduate student in geology that year working under the supervision of professor Wann Langston. Lawson announced the discovery of his pterosaur in a 1975 article in Science. In that pre-Jurassic Park era, when…

A Classroom at the Edge of the World

Take the trip of a lifetime in this interactive online feature from the Alcalde magazine. The feature follows dozens of UT Austin geology and petroleum engineering students to Svalbard, Norway for a field trip hosted by Statoil. Alcalde Magazine, November/December 2013 Featuring: Scott Tinker, Ron Steel, Daniel Stockli, Rong Fu, Isaac Smith

The Amazon rain forest’s dry season lasts three weeks longer than it did 30 years ago, and the likely culprit is global warming, according to a new study by Rong Fu and her colleagues. The new findings forecast a more parched future for the Amazon rain forest than the climate report released last month by…

Joseph Levy was preparing for a season of scientific research in Antarctica last week when he got the call: Stand down. Dr. Levy, a research associate at UT Austin’s Institute for Geophysics, is studying the climate history of the dry valleys of Antarctica by analyzing buried ice sheets that have been frozen since the last ice age…

Variations in the rate of global warming since the 1970s were not caused by atmospheric changes that affect how much solar radiation reaches the Earth’s surface, a new study says.Over the past century, rising greenhouse gas levels have caused global average temperatures to increase, climate scientists Kaicun Wang and Robert Dickinson write in the Proceedings…

So much oil and water is being removed from South Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale that the activity has probably led to a recent wave of small earthquakes, according to a study that appears in the online edition of the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters. The peer-reviewed study’s authors suggest that taking oil and water out…

SciGuy Blog (Houston Chronicle), August 7, 2013 & Austin American-Statesman, September 8, 2013 Featuring: Don Blankenship For the first time scientists have done a complete study of a possible Europa lander mission. The work will be reported in the journal Astrobiology. I had the opportunity to speak with Don Blankenship, a University of Texas geophysicist who is…

Dallas Morning News, July 25, 2013 Featuring: Scott Hamlin Pioneer Natural Resources, one of the country’s largest independent oil and gas firms, is estimating the recoverable oil in a single field in West Texas’ Permian Basin at 50 billion barrels of oil and gas. At almost twice the estimated reserves in the Eagle Ford, that would…

Antarctica’s Dry Valleys are home to the oldest ice on Earth. The first signs of the massive thaw disturbing the Arctic’s frozen ground have now appeared in one of these valleys, melting a glacier buried since the last Ice Age. Time, Yahoo News-Live Science, Los Angeles Times, Science World Report, et al., July 24, 2013

Forbes, July 16, 2013 Featuring: Scott Tinker Last night, I watched the documentary “Switch,” narrated by Scott Tinker, a University of Texas professor and head of the Bureau of Economic Geology. Unlike “Gasland Part II,” the sensationalist all-fossil-fuels-are-bad screed that you’re likely to hear more about this summer, “Switch” offers a scientific look at how…

Austin American-Statesman, July 14, 2013 Featuring: Dusty Schroeder, Don Blankenship, Duncan Young, UTIG A team of University of Texas researchers recently discovered a swamplike system of water under an Antarctic glacier the size of New Mexico — a finding that might hold the key to how quickly the polar ice will melt and the seas…

Los Angeles Times, July 13, 2013 Featuring: Ian Dalziel Ancient volcanoes discovered deep in the ocean off Antarctica may explain a climate mystery critical to predicting Earth’s fate as humans pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. University of Texas geologists dredging thousands of feet below the surface of the central Scotia Sea off the…

Fox 7 Austin, July 10, 2013 Featuring: Jack Sharp A road crew has discovered a large cave just a few feet below the surface along Highway 620, just west of Round Rock, Texas. Jack Sharp responds to a proposal that the highway department fill in the cave.

LiveScience, July 10, 2013 Featuring: Dusty Schroeder, Don Blankenship A sprawling network of low-lying canals, similar to a swamp, hides under Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier, a new study finds. The fast-flowing Thwaites Glacier is one of the largest ice streams in West Antarctica. Scientists think Thwaites could significantly retreat in the next 20 years, adding to global sea level…

USA Today, July 9, 2013 Featuring: J.P. Nicot Texas’ current drought is caused by changes in ocean circulation patterns such as La Nina, anthropogenic climate change, and other factors. One thing intensifying the drought’s impact is hydraulic fracturing. Water consumption for fracking in the state jumped 125% in three years and will continue to increase…

Pete Rose, Jackson School alumnus, will receive the Petroleum Group Silver Medal from the Geological Society of London Thursday at the group’s annual dinner. He is the first American ever to receive the award, said Jonathan Craig, chairman of the society’s petroleum group. Austin American-Statesman, June 12, 2013 Featuring: Pete Rose

Rising Sea Level Tied to Faster Melt

Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2013 Featuring: Clark Wilson Accelerated melting of polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers was the driving factor behind a rise in the global sea level of 16.8 millimeters, or about two-thirds of an inch, between 2005 and 2011, according to a study published Sunday in Nature Geoscience. The study resolves long-standing…

Associated Press, May 4, 2013 Featuring: Jorge Pinon Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, but PDVSA’s production, earnings and income all appear to be on a downward slide and its debts to suppliers rose 35 percent. “The government of Venezuela today uses PDVSA as its petty cash box to lead populist social programs,” said Jorge…

American paleoecologist Dr. Robert Dull believes he’s pretty much solved the mystery behind a catastrophic global climate change event from the sixth century. As the new History series “Perfect Storms” shows, Dull has found solid circumstantial evidence that an eruption at El Salvador’s Lake Ilopango volcano was the cause of the so-called Dust Veil of…

Bloomberg, April 3, 2013 Featuring: Michelle Foss Canada is pulling ahead of the U.S. in a contest to be the first exporter of liquefied natural gas from the North American shale bonanza to Asia’s $150 billion LNG market. “The smart money is going to Canada” to export LNG, said Michelle Foss, chief energy economist at…

Christian Science Monitor, March 27, 2013 Featuring: Jorge Pinon Some 17 countries receive shipments of crude or refined oil products with preferential repayment terms under the Petrocaribe energy pact. But some nations fear oil shipments could stop post-Chávez. “Any cut to Petrocaribe would be disastrous for countries” that receive Venezuelan oil under such deals, says Jorge…

A tectonic plate that disappeared millions of years ago has turned up in Central California and Mexico. New research from Brown University found that part of the Baja region of Mexico and part of central California near the Sierra Nevada mountains sit upon slabs of this long-lost plate. It’s a big breakthrough in how we…

Can magnetic nanoparticles injected deep underground with hydraulic fracturing liquids reveal detailed dimensions of shale rock fractures and track movements of gas molecules? Can other particles — that change form when they encounter oil — be “interrogated” for clues about the amounts of oil in dense shale formations? These are among the goals of the…

Gas Boom Projected to Grow for Decades

The front page of The Wall Street Journal and scores of media outlets across the country reported that U.S. natural-gas production will accelerate over the next three decades, providing the strongest evidence yet that the energy boom remaking America will last for a generation. The conclusion is based on new research from a team led…

Evidence of a miniscule force that could exist between two particle spins over long distances could be lurking in magnetized iron under the Earth’s surface. That is the conclusion of a new study by physicists Larry Hunter and colleagues at Amherst College in Massachusetts, together with Jung-Fu “Afu” Lin of the University of Texas at…

Will Venezuela continue to subsidize Cuban oil supplies post-Chavez? “The impact of Cuba losing that arrangement would be disastrous,” said Jorge Pinon, an oil expert at the University of Texas’ Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy. CNN, Jan.. 22, 2013 Featuring: Jorge Pinon

Congress has now agreed to give some $60 billion to states damaged by Hurricane Sandy. A lot will go to Long Island, one of the hardest hit areas. Besides damages to homes and businesses, its system of protective barrier islands and beaches were partially washed away. Scientists are trying to find out where that sand…

An updated study from the Jackson School’s Bureau of Economic Geology has found that the amount of water used in the drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing has risen sharply in recent years as oil and natural gas production has surged. But the 97-page study, lead authored by J.P. Nicot of the Bureau, also found…

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