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2014 In the News

smokestacks_in_Houston_Ship_ChannelOfficials from countries around the word have met for the last two weeks in Lima, Peru to talk global climate change.   At the heart of those talks is how to limit billions of tons of CO2 that are pumped into the atmosphere every year from coal burning power plants.

But how do we keep track of the CO2 we’re releasing? And just how do we weigh something that floats in the first place?

It turns out there is a venerable history to the science of weighing smoke.

In 16th century England Queen Elizabeth made a bet over the weight of smoke with famed explorer Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh is known for popularizing tobacco at the royal court. One day, so the story goes, he told the queen he could weigh the smoke that came from his pipe.

KUT, December 12, 2014

Featuring: Susan Hovorka, Senior Research Scientist, Bureau of Economic Geology.

The smoke stacks at American Electric PoThe deal that the U.S. and China have struck to curb carbon emissions has been hailed as a breakthrough by many concerned with climate change, and panned by politicians opposed to President Obama. But it’s also captured the interest of a group of researchers — some in Texas — who specialize in carbon capture and sequestration technology.

KUT, November 12, 2014

Featuring: Susan Hovorka, Senior Research Scientist, Bureau of Economic Geology.

622x350When state geologist Scott Tinker visited the Chronicle editorial board last week, he told us that industry regulators and professionals need to improve on the technique to further protect the environment. We agree.

Houston Chronicle, December 8, 2014

Featuring: Scott Tinker, director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the Jackson School of Geosciences

Frack1Production of natural gas in the United States is climbing rapidly, and the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts long-term growth. But studies by the University of Texas (UT) challenge that forecast.

The Texas team made forecasts for the four most productive shale-gas formations, or plays. Those forecasts suggest that gas production will peak soon and quickly drop, a much more pessimistic outlook than those offered by the EIA and several companies, such as Goldman Sachs.

Nature, December 3, 2014

Featuring: Scott Tinker, director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, the State Geologist of Texas, a professor in the Jackson School of Geosciences and director of the Advanced Energy Consortium

Soil moisture monitors could help predict weather patterns across Texas. Photo by Richard Casteel

Stanley Rabke’s family has lived and worked on their Hill Country ranch since 1889. Generations of Rabkes have struggled with the extremes of Texas weather, but one storm sticks out in Stanley’s memory: it came after the drought of the 1950s.

“It rained and rained and rained,” he says. “Back then we raised turkeys, we lost thousands of turkeys that washed away in the creek.”

The disaster underscores an irony of life in Texas. “You hope and pray that you’re going to get a good rain, [but] on the other side of it, you hope you don’t get a flood,” says Rabke.

A quick walk from where the turkeys met their fate, some new technology that will help manage that risk is being installed — soil monitoring sensors in the ground.

Dr. Todd Caldwell and his team have dug a pit and they’re connecting wires and setting up a tripod monitoring station, but they’ve run into some trouble.

“You see the sensors have about a 15 centimeter-long tine that’s thin metal, and we have to push those into the clay when it’s dry. This is kind of set up like a concert,” Caldwell  says. “So, we have to push really hard to get them in, so we’re struggling a bit right now…”

The tines measure the how much water is in the soil. That information travels on buried wires to the tripod. It gathers more data. then it feeds it on a cellular network back to the landowner, and then to the University of Texas. That’s where Caldwell works, at UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology.

NPR’s StateImpactTexas, November 25, 2014

Featuring: Todd Caldwell, research associate at the Bureau of Economic Geology, and Michael Young, associate director of environmental systems at the BEG

What are the best places to work in Central Texas? The Austin American-Statesman is helping answer that question.

After surveys of more than 22,000 workers at 159 companies, the American-Statesman’s 2014 Top Workplaces of Greater Austin project narrowed it down to 100 Central Texas employers worthy of earning Top Workplaces designation.

The Jackson School’s Bureau of Economic Geology ranked No. 15 among midsize employers.

Austin American-Statesman, November 16, 2014

James Austin, senior research scientist at the Institute for Geophysics, has been appointed to a new federal Ocean Exploration Advisory Board that will provide guidance to NOAA and the nation on the exploration of our ocean.

A new analysis from The University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics suggests a deep oceanic gateway, shown in blue, developed between the Pacific and Iapetus oceans immediately before the Cambrian sea level rise and explosion of life in the fossil record, isolating Laurentia from the supercontinent Gondwanaland. Credit: Ian Dalziel

A sudden explosion of new life-forms hundreds of millions of years ago may have been triggered by a major tectonic shift, new research shows.

About 530 million years ago, the Cambrian explosion brought a surge in new species to Earth, including most modern animal groups. Recent studies suggest that, during the Cambrian explosion, life evolved about five times faster than it’s evolving today. The sudden increase in species is sometimes referred to as “Darwin’s dilemma” because, at face value, it seems to contradict Charles Darwin’s theory of gradual evolution.

Huffington Post, November 19, 2014

Eos, November 18, 2014

ABC News, November 9, 2014

Live Science, November 7, 2014

Featuring: Ian Dalziel, research professor at the Institute for Geophysics and professor in the Department of Geological Sciences


Ever since an explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore rig in 2010 released about five million of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, researchers have been trying to figure out where much of the oil ended up. A new study is offering some answers.

State Impact, October 28, 2014

U.S. News and World Report, ABC News, October 27, 2014

Featuring Burch Fisher, postdoctoral fellow, Jackson School of Geosciences

Shallow-water acreage will be first up on the menu of E&P blocks being offered by Mexico following the country’s historic decision to deregulate its oil and gas industry, according to plans presented by Mexico’s top energy officials this week.

Hart Energy, October 22, 2014

Featuring: Jorge Piñon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Energy Program at the University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences

Credit: USGS

The University of Texas at Austin has won $58 million to investigate a potentially massive energy resource: methane trapped in ice-like crystals under the Gulf of Mexico and oceans around the world.

The Department of Energy is providing $41.2 million toward the grant, one of the largest government grants ever awarded to the university, with the rest coming from industry and research partners.

The university plans to use the funding to harvest and analyze core samples of methane hydrate from sandstone reservoirs thousands of feet under the Gulf – the first time the deposits have been retrieved from U.S. waters.

Houston Chronicle, Austin American-Statesman, October 22, 2014

Featuring: Peter Flemings, professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and research scientist at the Institute for Geophysics

Current computer models may have overestimated expected future levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, according to research released today.

And the models may need to be corrected to accurately predict the ramifications of climate change.

The scientists say current forecasts don’t account for the slow diffusion of atmospheric CO2 inside plant leaves and underestimate the contribution of increasing CO2 to plant growth by as much as 16%.

Business Insider Australia, October 14, 2014

Featuring: Robert Dickinson, professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences

Research done at the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas has cleared fracking of one of the most serious allegations leveled against it by environmentalists who oppose the practice – that it uses a disproportionate amount of water and risks depleting water sources for agricultural and residential users, especially in already water-challenged south Texas.

But researcher Dr. Bridget Scanlon tells Newsradio 1200 WOAI that claim is not true.

“The water used to produce oil using hydraulic fracturing is similar to the water used in the U.S. to produce oil using conventional techniques,” she said.

WOAI, October 6, 2014

Featuring: Bridget Scanlon, senior research scientist at the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences

The subglacial “plumbing system” beneath Greenland is slowing the ice sheet’s movement toward the sea as the summer progresses, according to new research.

“Everyone wants to know what’s happening under Greenland as it experiences more and more melt,” study co-author Ginny Catania, a research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics, said in a statement. “This subglacial plumbing may or may not be critical for sea level rise in the next 100 years, but we don’t really know until we fully understand it.”

Nature World News, October 6, 2014

Featuring: Lauren Andrews, Ph.D. candidate, and Ginny Catania, research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics and associate professor in the Jackson School of Geosciences

At a meeting just miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, Texas legislators heard a range of benefits their state can look forward to as Mexico remakes its energy sector – and also a stiff warning that capturing the windfall won’t be easy.

Over the past year, the Mexican government has approved a historical overhaul opening its energy industry to private investment after decades as a state-owned monopoly.

Houston Chronicle, Sept. 28, 2014

Featuring: Jorge Piñon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Energy Program at the University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences

Central Texas is having a pretty decent year, rain-wise. We’re sitting just below normal. And it’s been a good week, too: early Thursday, one part of Austin got over seven inches of rain.

So much rain fell over downtown Austin that the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan along Lady Bird Lake looked like he was walking on water. It brought back memories of the Halloween floods last fall — back then Stevie was standing in water waist-deep. But these big rain events all have something in common: They really haven’t fallen where we need them most.

NPR’s StateImpact Texas, September 19, 2014

Featuring: Michael Young, associate director of environmental systems at the University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology in the Jackson School of Geosciences

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas has selected William Fisher, inaugural dean of UT-Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences, to receive its Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award for 2014-2015. The award is the highest recognition the College bestows upon its graduates.

UT Professor Zong-Liang Yang was at a conference on extreme weather in the Netherlands. It was 2012, just one year after the worst single-year drought in Texas history. When it came to discussing extreme weather, Texas seemed like a good place to be.  He suggested to colleagues that their next conference should take place in the Lone Star State. Two years later, he and dozens of some of the world’s leading climate experts from 10 different countries have descended upon UT-Austin to talk about improving our ability to forecast and prepare for extreme weather.

StateImpact Texas (KUT/NPR), Sept. 9, 2014


Zong-Liang Yang, professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and director of the Center for Integrated Earth System Science

Michael Young, associate director for Environmental Systems and senior research scientist at the Bureau of Economic Geology

The Mexican Congress approved a massive overhaul of the country’s energy industry that will open it up to international oil companies and allow competition in Mexico’s stagnant energy sector. The legislation is part of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s plan to improve the country’s economy.

New York Times, Aug. 6, 2014

Featuring: Jorge Pinon

Chile Energy Minister Máximo Pacheco Matte

Chile’s energy sector is focusing its efforts on developing renewables, with a goal of meeting 20 percent of the country’s power needs with renewable energy by 2025. Chile Energy Minister Máximo Pacheco Matte discussed the issue at an event sponsored by the University of Texas-Austin Latin America and Caribbean Program.

Houston Chronicle, July 2, 2014

Featuring: Jorge Pinon

By day, Phil Bennett is a geology professor in the Jackson School of Geosciences. But he’s always on call as a volunteer with Travis County Search and Rescue.

Alcalde, April 28, 2014

Dr. Suzanne Pierce

Dr. Suzanne Pierce

Dr. Suzanne Pierce, Assistant Professor of Research, has won an award from the Sustainability Course Development and PLUS Awards Program to convert her Decision Pathways course to a Peer-Led Undergraduate Studying (PLUS) model.

The Sustainability Course Development and PLUS Awards competition is designed to incentivize the development of new sustainability courses or course conversions to a Peer-Led Undergraduate Studying (PLUS) model. To be eligible for either award, a course must address issues related to sustainability and fulfill the requirements for one or more flags.

The winner of the William Smith Medal, Martin Jackson, delivers a talk on the “Origin and Evolution of Allochthonous Salt Sheets”.

Colored dinoNew research points to an explosion of color in early paravians and maniraptors, but the research also suggests the genes that control the colors of skin, hair and feathers are part of the body’s melanocortin system, which also influences metabolism, inflammation and sexual function. “We hypothesize,” says Clarke, “that what we’re seeing is a big physiological shift in dinosaurs, a change that has other implications than just the color of feathers.”

Time, Feb. 12, 2014

Researchers at the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin, who earlier released a comprehensive study of the Barnett Shale, on Thursday said they estimate the Fayetteville Shale in Arkansas has about 38 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that can be recovered with current technology.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Jan. 10, 2014

Scott Tinker, Director, Bureau of Economic Geology

Scott Tinker, Director, Bureau of Economic Geology

“Earlier this year, the government shutdown stalled two crucial policy decisions in the United States involving the movement of energy: the Keystone pipeline and liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals. Rather than allow extreme arguments to dominate, Americans should demand lawmakers move toward the radical middle on both of these vital issues.”

Austin American-Statesman, Jan. 7, 2014
Featuring: Scott Tinker

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