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Geoscience That Made Headlines in 2018





Lava flows from the LERZ eruption of Kīlauea, seen in July 2018. USGS/HVO.

Lava flows from the LERZ eruption of Kīlauea, seen in July 2018. USGS/HVO.

2018 was quite a year across the geosciences … which is hardly shocking considering we live on the most geologically active planet in the solar system. Some of the events were tragic, because when it comes to headlines, that is what gets the most attention. Others were warnings of things that could be headed our way and others were, thankfully, downright exciting and uplifting. Here’s my quick takes on some of the big geoscience events from the year that was:

Lower East Rift Zone Eruption at Kīlauea

I suppose for a volcanologist like me, it would be hard to top the largest eruption in the United States since 1980. Not only that, the surprising eruption of Kīlauea from its Lower East Rift Zone (top) — the first in half a century —  dumped over 1 cubic kilometer of lava out and collapsed the summit of the Hawaiian volcano. Thankfully the eruption was free of fatalities and only had a few minor injuries. Unfortunately, many people in the lower East Rift Zone communities of Lelani Estates and Vacationland Hawaii lost the homes and livelihoods.

Indonesian Tsunamis

Indonesia was struck but multiple tsunamis in 2018, neither of which were caused by the same mechanisms that generated the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. In September, a tsunami swept through parts of Sulawesi. This tsunami was likely caused by a submarine landslide triggered by an earthquake. The combined impact was over 2,200 deaths and tens of thousands of people made homeless, especially in the city of Palu.

This combination of synthetic aperture radar images taken by JAXA's ALOS-2 satellite and analyzed by Geospatial Information Authority of Japan shows Indonesia's Anak Krakatau volcano, center in images, before and after the Dec. 22, 2018, eruption. The images were taken on Aug. 20, 2018, left, and on Dec. 24, 2018, right, respectively. The satellite imagery showed a deformation on the volcano's southwest side. (JAXA - Geospatial Information Authority of Japan)

This combination of synthetic aperture radar images taken by JAXA’s ALOS-2 satellite and analyzed by Geospatial Information Authority of Japan shows Indonesia’s Anak Krakatau volcano, center in images, before and after the Dec. 22, 2018, eruption. The images were taken on Aug. 20, 2018, left, and on Dec. 24, 2018, right, respectively. The satellite imagery showed a deformation on the volcano’s southwest side. (JAXA – Geospatial Information Authority of Japan)

Just this month, a collapse of part of Anak Krakatau during an eruption triggered a tsunami in the Sunda Strait. Almost half of the volcano that grew inside the caldera formed by the massive 1883 eruption of Krakatau fell into the sea and the resulting tsunami has killed over 225 people so far. Since the collapse, the volcano has been producing explosive volcanic eruptions caused by magma interacting with seawater — something called Surtseyan-style eruptions.

Mysterious Mayotte Seismic Waves

A long-lasting seismic swarm had been occurring off the island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean for months, but it wasn’t until November that the seismicity made the headlines. Whatever is causing the swarm produced seismic waves that were detected across the planet, although no singular large earthquakes happened. This planetary “ring” may be caused by something to do with Mayotte’s volcanic heritage — these earthquakes and tremor might be caused by magma rising up near the island under the sea, although Mayotte has not seen volcanic activity (that we know of) in over 4,000 years.

Earthquake Triggers Massive Landslides in Japan

A magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck on the island of Hokkaido in Japan and due to the unstable soils of the hills in the region, dozens of massive landslides were triggered by the temblor. Over 40 people died in the earthquake and over 10,000 homes were destroyed by the landslides or earthquake. Before-and-after images of the area show how many hillslopes moved due to the shaking. The volcanic substrate in the area is made of relatively loose debris that weathers easily, likely adding to the intensity of the landslides.

First* Seismometer on the Surface of Mars

NASA's Insight lander placing a seismometer on the surface of Mars. NASA.

NASA’s Insight lander placing a seismometer on the surface of Mars. NASA.

NASA’s Insight lander reached Mars in November and since then, the robot has placed the first seismometer on the Martian surface. Yes, Viking did have a seismometer, but it was placed on the deck of those 1970’s landers, so they didn’t produce much useful data. The new seismometer on Insight is on the ground and such be able to detect Martian temblors so we can map out the interior of the planet. This is the first in what is hopefully a new wave of exogeology on Mars and beyond.

Anchorage Hit By Large Earthquake

In late November, a magnitude 7 earthquake struck just outside of Anchorage in Alaska, causing significant damage but luckily little in the way of casualties. Roads collapses but were quickly repaired. This was the six large earthquake to strike near the city over the past century, but its relatively shallow depth and proximity to the city meant it was felt widely across the region.

U.S. 2018 Climate Report

In November, the U.S. government (reluctantly) released the latest climate report and the forecast is grim. Not only is climate change still occurring unabated, but the report clearly details the changes we are already seeing across the country. These include the massive wildfires like the Camp Fire in California, agricultural issues across the Midwest and more. The report predicts that these climate shifts will impact the U.S. economy negatively to the tune of 10% of the current GDP. 2018 already lines up to be the fourth-warmest since we started keeping climate records.

We Arrived at Bennu

The strange world of Bennu, seen by NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission in late 2018. NASA.

The strange world of Bennu, seen by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission in late 2018. NASA.

When I picture how objects in the early solar system might have looked, I picture Bennu. The small asteroid looks like a bunch of rocks stuck together, with a rubbly surface. As objects grew in the early solar system, they accreted material — meaning rubble in the solar nebula stuck together, getting bigger and bigger. Some grew big enough to form planets and moons, and even start melting like Earth. Smaller objects never did that and Bennu might be just one of those objects. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission arrived to study Bennu and hopefully collect a sample, much like Japan’s Hayabusa2 at the asteroid Ryugu.

2019 will start off with a bang, as New Horizons reaches the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule on the first day of the year. We’ve never visited one of these primordial worlds beyond Pluto and New Horizons will pass closer to Ultima Thule than it did to Pluto and Charon. It should be a great way to start off the new year!

If you have any geoscience stories that really caught your attention, leave them here in the comments!



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Globe Climate: Canada’s resource reckoning is coming





Good afternoon, and welcome to Globe Climate, a newsletter about climate change, environment and resources in Canada.

This afternoon, the Alberta government announced that it is restoring a coal mining policy it revoked last spring. At the time, the move provoked a widespread public backlash detailed by The Globe. The original decision, which opened up more than 1.4 million hectares to exploration, was made without public consultation. Premier Jason Kenney previously defended the changes.

Lots more on coal and Canada’s resources industry in this week’s newsletter edition.

Now, let’s catch you up on other news.

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‘Incredibly destructive’: Canada’s Prairies to see devastating impact of climate change





As the climate continues to warm at an alarming rate, experts warn if dramatic steps to mitigate global warming are not taken, the effects in Canada’s Prairie region will be devastating to the country’s agriculture sector.

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the country is warming, on average, about double the global rate.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. recently found 2020 was earth’s second-hottest year on record, with the average land and ocean surface temperature across the globe at 0.98 of a degree C above the 20th-century average.

However, the agency found the northern hemisphere saw its hottest year on record, at 1.28 degrees C above the average.

“(In Canada) we are looking at about 6.4C degrees of warming this century, which isn’t much less than one degree per decade, which is just a terrifying rate of warming,” Darrin Qualman, the director of climate crisis policy and action at the National Farmer’s Union said.

Qualman said there is “massive change coming” to Canada’s Prairies, which will be “incredibly destructive.”

“It’s not going too far to say that if we made that happen, parts of the Prairies wouldn’t be farmable anymore,” he said.

According to the federal government, in 2018 Canada’s agriculture and agri-food system generated $143 billion, accounting for 7.4 per cent of the country’s GDP.

The sector employed 2.3 million people in 2018. The majority of the 64.2 million hectares of farmland in Canada is concentrated in the Prairies and in southern Ontario.

The effects of climate change are already being felt on the ground in the Prairies, Qualman said, adding that the NFU has already heard from farmers complaining of “challenging weather.”

“People are sharing pictures of flattened crops and buildings, et cetera, that have been damaged,” he said. “And we’re still at the beginning of this.”

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Insect-based dog food aims to cut your pet’s carbon pawprint





Meat has an enormous carbon footprint, with livestock liable for about 15 per cent of worldwide emissions, as we have beforehand mentioned on this e-newsletter. That is prompted specialists to suggest consuming much less meat for sustainability (and well being) causes.

However what about your pet? One research discovered that the methane and nitrous oxide emissions generated by canine and cat meals within the U.S. alone had been equal to about 64 million tonnes of CO2, or roughly the quantity produced by 13.6 million automobiles. And it might be getting worse, with a development towards feeding pets “human-grade” meat.

That is prompted some pet meals makers to look to lower-carbon protein sources — together with bugs.

Research present that producing insect-based meals requires far much less feed, land and water and generates far fewer greenhouse fuel emissions per kilogram than meats comparable to beef, pork or rooster.

That is one of many causes increasingly more pet meals containing insect protein are hitting the market. Purina, a model owned by multinational Nestlé, launched a line of canine and cat meals containing black soldier fly larvae in Switzerland in November.

In Canada, Montreal-based Wilder Harrier began promoting canine treats made with cricket protein in 2015 and pet food made with black soldier fly larvae in 2019. It plans to broaden to launch a line of insect-based cat treats later this yr and cat meals in 2022 due to “a ton of demand,” mentioned firm co-founder Philippe Poirier.

Wilder Harrier initially labored with animal nutritionists on insect-based merchandise to unravel a unique downside — specifically, the founders’ canines had allergy symptoms to frequent meats utilized in canine meals. Poirier mentioned now about half its prospects hunt down the product due to their pets’ allergy symptoms and about half for environmental causes.

Dr. Cailin Heinze, a U.S.-based veterinary nutritionist licensed by the American School of Veterinary Vitamin, has written concerning the environmental influence of pet meals. She mentioned we’re typically “not as involved as we probably ought to [be]” concerning the environmental footprint of pets.

Alternatively, she famous that the longer-term influence of newer diets, comparable to vegan meals and people containing bugs, hasn’t been nicely examined in comparison with conventional pet meals.

Maria Cattai de Godoy, an assistant professor of animal sciences on the College of Illinois who research novel proteins for pet meals (together with bugs, yeast and plant-based substances), mentioned such substances are rigorously examined to find out their security and diet earlier than being added to pet meals. 

“This can be a very extremely regulated trade,” she mentioned, however admitted it is also evolving.

Relating to bugs, she mentioned constructive information “reveals promise in direction of utilizing them increasingly more in pet meals.” Insect-based proteins have additionally earned the endorsement of the British Veterinary Affiliation, which says some insect-based meals could also be higher for pets than prime steak.

However Godoy famous that there isn’t any one-size-fits-all resolution, and pet homeowners ought to take into consideration the wants of their very own particular person pet and analysis whether or not a specific weight loss plan can be appropriate.

She mentioned that other than the kind of protein, issues like packaging and manufacturing strategies may also make a distinction. For instance, utilizing meat byproducts that may in any other case turn into waste would not drive elevated meat manufacturing the identical approach as utilizing human-grade meat.

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