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 Published by the American Geological Institute
November 2000
Newsmagazine of the Earth Sciences

News Notes

Looking good at GSA

Many attending this year’s meeting of the Geological Society of America will pack their time jumping between presentations that keep them somewhat within the bounds of their field of expertise. But for those who want to take a few minutes to hear about some work that might be a little off their beaten path, Geotimes has taken a closer look at a few lectures worth investigating.
By Laura Wright

A geologist wears 
a space suit

Remote sensing can’t tell us everything about the geology of other planets. There is no substitute for putting the “depth of expertise of a geologist” on another planet, Ralph Harvey of Case Western Reserve University says. Harvey will preside over Monday afternoon’s Pardee Keynote Symposium on the future of planetary geology, entitled “A New Age of Planetary Exploration: Sample Returns, In Situ Geological Analysis and Human Missions to Other Worlds.”

Among those tapped to speak is Dean Eppler of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Eppler is the last of the original team that designed and tested the suits worn by the Apollo astronauts who walked on the moon decades ago. Originally trained as a field geologist, Eppler now describes himself as the “prime crash-test dummy” for the space suits that could one day allow a person to set foot on Mars. While NASA currently has no definite plans to put another human on the moon or a human on Mars, Eppler and his fellow suit-testers hope to have the future suits ready in the next four or five years. 

Eppler tests old space suits and new experimental suits in different test areas. Because a suit weighs between 170 and 200 pounds, testing a field geologist’s ability to move about and conduct field work is not entirely possible under Earth’s gravitational pull. And the KC135 aircraft — also known as the vomit comet — that allows suit-testers to experience zero gravity for about 35 seconds does not have room for Eppler to set up Mars-like terrain to check out the suit’s mobility for climbing around and hacking away with his rock hammer. Eppler’s presentation begins Monday, Nov. 13, at 3:40 p.m.

November 9-18
Reno, Nev.

Yucca’s archaeological analogues

Before any high-level radioactive waste is deposited at Yucca Mountain, the government wants to know how much environmental factors will degrade the storage tunnel and waste containers over the next 10,000 years. While scientists have developed mathematical models that predict that, given moderate fluid flow through the bedrock, most of the water will not enter the storage tunnels, many do not believe that can truly predict what will happen. John Stuckless of the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver has turned instead to archaeological analogues to evaluate Yucca Mountain’s potential as a repository for the country’s most-feared waste product.

Stuckless has studied Paleolithic cave paintings in France and Spain and basaltic carvings in India, and has just returned from Egypt, where he travelled to the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens to study tombs dug into bedrock. At each of the archaeological sites he visits, he examines the human artifacts for evidence of degradation that includes water stains on paintings and chemical weathering of stone carvings. Stuckless has found that water tends to flow around a manmade opening or exposed surface, migrating instead through pore spaces and cracks within the rock.

Stuckless will present his work in session 234 of program T-79, called “Archaeological Analogues for the Performance of a Mined Geological Repository,” on Thursday, Nov. 16 at 5 p.m.

The future of frozen gas

Recently, gas hydrates have surfaced as a player in debates over fulfilling future energy needs and over climate change. But before anyone can begin to estimate how large gas hydrates’ role will be in either arena, scientists must first gain a better understanding of the amount, distribution, release kinetics and history of gas hydrates on Earth. “Frontiers in Gas Hydrate Research,” a day-long topical session (T2) that will be held on Monday, Nov. 13, will provide a forum for scientists working on many different aspects of gas hydrate research to present their work to their peers.

Miriam Kastner of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography will preside over the morning session that will include presentations on: the global distribution of gas hydrates, recently active systems near the sediment-
seafloor interface and the distribution of various gas hydrates on other planetary bodies in the solar system. 

As policy-makers consider burying carbon dioxide hydrates in the ocean as a means to lower greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, scientists such as Kastner worry about the profound impacts that might have on ocean chemistry, and especially on oxygen concentrations in sea water. Others hope to better understand the formation and distribution of gas hydrates by studying analogues on other planets. 

In the afternoon session, scientists studying historical catastrophic releases of gas hydrates into the ocean will discuss how their work affects the future of gas hydrates as a resource and climate catalyst. Work on hydrate systems located deeper beneath the ocean-sediment interface will be presented, as well as new attempts to model the generation and dissociation of gas hydrates.

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