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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

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