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2013 In the News

Methane HydratesShale 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 a concentrated store of energy,” said Peter Flemings, a member of the Energy Department’s methane hydrate advisory committee and professor at the University of Texas (Austin).

National Journal (Canada), Dec. 24, 2013
Featuring: Peter Flemings

W.A. Parish Electric Generating Station
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 state from water-intensive coal technologies, makes our electric power system more drought resilient,” said Bridget Scanlon, senior research scientist for the University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology.

FuelFix (Houston Chronicle), December 20, 2013
Featuring: Bridget Scanlon

Stony Brook University research vessels
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 21st century.

National Public Radio (NPR), RedOrbit, Dec. 11, 2013
Featuring: John Goff, Jamie Austin, Institute for Geophysics

Artist's conception of Europa's surface and subsurfaceCurrents 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 terrains, could result from convection in Europa’s ice shell, they said.

UPI, New Scientist, Discovery News, French Tribune, Tehran Times, io9, Nature World News, et al.
Featuring: Krista Soderlund, Don Blankenship, Britney Schmidt


Map of Earthquakes and Gas Injection Near Snyder TexasA 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 SciencesThe study is the first to link carbon dioxide injections to actual earthquakes, and may help scientists evaluate the risks of storing greenhouse gas emissions deep underground, a fledgling technology for managing climate change known as geologic carbon sequestration.

National Geographic, Nature, Fuel Fix Blog (Houston Chronicle), Climate Central/Huffington Post, LiveScience, AFP, Reuters, Environment & Energy Publishing, The Australian, and Dallas Observer (blog)
Featuring: Cliff Frohlich

Doug LawsonNobody 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 public fascination with paleontology was at a slow burn, he encountered an unexpected micro-burst of celebrity. He was getting ready to give a lecture at UT’s Thompson Conference Center on the paleoecology of the Late Cretaceous in Big Bend when he noticed something strange: reporters and TV crews were lining the walls of the conference room.
Alcalde, Nov. 1, 2013
Featuring: Wann Langston, Doug Lawson

Svalex Norway TripTake 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

Effects of Drought on Amazon Rainforest Vegetation GreennessThe 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 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the study authors said.
LiveScience, Huffington PostUPIClimate News NetworkScience World ReportRed Orbit, October 21-22, 2013
Featuring: Rong Fu

Antarctic Permafrost in the McMurdo Dry ValleysJoseph 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 and are beginning to thaw.
NYTimesKUT-FMAustin American-Statesman, October 15-16, 2013
Featuring: Joseph Levy

SunlightVariations 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 of the National Academy of Sciences this week.
Australian Broadcasting Corp., August 27, 2013
Featuring: Robert Dickinson

Eagle Ford Shale MapSo 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 of the ground allows surrounding rock and sand to settle, triggering small tremors that are typically too weak to be noticed on the surface.

Wall Street Journal, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Houston Chronicle’s FuelFix BlogSan Antonio Express-NewsStateImpact Texas/KUT-FM, The AtlanticBloomberg, August 27, 2013
Featuring: Cliff Frohlich

Europa from Galileo Spacecraft

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 obsessed with Europa as much as I am, and perhaps more, about the clipper and lander proposals. He had a hand in authoring both of them.

Scott HamlinDallas 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 make the field, named the Spraberry/Wolfcamp, the largest in the country and the second-largest in the world behind the Ghawar in Saudi Arabia.

Oil was first discovered in what was then known as the Spraberry in the 1940s but had always produced at “relatively low levels,” said Scott Hamlin, a researcher with the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas. “That’s changed in the last three years,” he said. “With the development of increasingly efficient techniques, they were able to produce rocks that were previously not producible, like the Eagle Ford.”

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 TimesScience World Report, et al., July 24, 2013

Switch Movie PosterForbes, 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 we use energy and how difficult it’s going to be to move away from fossil fuel. It also drives home the point that weaning ourselves from oil and coal in the U.S. is essential.

While coal is cheap and abundant, it’s dirty, and “clean coal” technology simply isn’t economically viable. “We probably could make coal clean,” Tinker says, “but we probably can’t afford to.”

Cross section cartoon of the West Antarctic Ice SheetAustin 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 will rise. From a nondescript office at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus, sweltering in the midsummer heat like the rest of Central Texas, this research team has become renowned for its study of some of the coldest places on Earth — not to mention Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa.

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 southeastern tip of South America hauled up volcanic rock after their sonar mapping showed formations that looked uncannily like a sunken island chain.

Jack SharpFox 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.

Cross section cartoon of the West Antarctic Ice SheetLiveScience, 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 rise. Knowing the extent of the waterways underneath Thwaites will help researchers model the glacier’s ebb and flow, because the water lubricates the ice.

Spicewood, TexasUSA 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 before leveling off in the 2020s, according to a University of Texas at Austin study this year by research scientist Jean-Phillippe Nicot. The UT study says oil and gas drilling accounts for less than 1% of water use statewide, and one-fifth of water used in fracking is recycled or brackish. But a similar 2011 study, also by Nicot, found it accounts for at least 20% of water in some counties where fracking is big business.

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

The Aletsch glacier in SwitzerlandWall 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 discrepancies that arose from different methods of measuring sea levels. “There was an increase in the melting rate in Greenland starting in 2005 and that is probably the underlying story why” a larger quantity of melt water has poured into the oceans in recent years, said Clark R. Wilson, geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the study.

El Palito refinery, near Moron, VenezuelaAssociated 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 R. Pinon, associate director of the Latin America and Caribbean Program at the University of Texas, Austin. “Whatever capital is left in PDVSA is being mismanaged, mismanaged because they’re just not focused on running the company. … They’re focused on building hospitals and schools.”

Robert DullAmerican 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 AD 536, when a thick dust and ash cloud over the Northern Hemisphere cooled parts of the Earth and led to millions of deaths.
The Canadian Press, April 5, 2013
Featuring: Robert Dull

Workers on a natural gas drilling rigBloomberg, 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 the Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas’ Bureau of Economic Geology. “They don’t have any objections to exporting gas and it’s closer to Asia, which cuts down on shipping costs.”

Hugo ChavezChristian 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 Piñon, an energy analyst and Caribbean specialist at The University of Texas at Austin. “It’s become an integral part of their economies.”

New plate discovered under Southern CaliforniaA 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 think about California’s 100-million-year-old geology. Sean Gulick, a geophysicist from the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics, gives Take Two a little lesson in plate tectonics to understand the discovery.

Take Two, Southern California Public Radio, March 20, 2013.
Featuring: Sean Gulick

Researchers at the Advanced Energy Consortium inspect nanoparticles in solutionCan 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 Advanced Energy Consortium (AEC), headquartered at the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas, Austin.

EnergyWire, March 15, 2013
Featuring: Mohsen Ahmadian, Scott Tinker

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 by Scott Tinker and Svetlana Ikonnikova of the Bureau of Economic Geology, which is conducting the most comprehensive survey to-date of the major unconventional shale gas basins in North America. The first results forecast gradually declining but steady production from the Barnett Shale, based on the first-ever survey of actual well data from the formation.
Wall Street Journal, NPR, Reuters, CNBCBloomberg BusinessweekRigZoneAustin American-Statesman, Houston Chronicle (Fuel Fix Blog)Ft. Worth Star TelegramStateImpact (NPR/KUT), Feb. 28-Mar. 5, 2013
Featuring: Scott Tinker

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 Austin’s Jackson School. The team has used our planet’s vast stores of polarized spin to place exacting limits on the existence of interactions mediated by hypothetical particles, which include the existentially evocative “unparticle.”

LiveScience, Boston Globe (blog), Physics World, TG Daily, Feb. 21-22, 2013
Featuring: Jung-Fu “Afu” Lin

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

John Goff

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 and sediment went, and whether it can be used to rebuild Long Island’s defenses.

NPR, January 29, 2013
Featuring: John Goff, Jamie Austin, Cassandra Browne

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 that the amount of water used in hydraulic fracturing would level off sometime in the decade starting in 2020, as water recycling technologies matured and the industry’s rapid growth rate cooled.

Texas Tribune, Jan. 15, 2013

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