Tuesday, December 12, 2017


This fall (2017) on Twitter, there have been exciting earth-science voting competitions: the iconic and ground-breaking #MinCup (favorite mineral), the subsequent #RockCup, and the recently-ended (November 2017) #DinoCup. Each competition pitted 32 choices, bracketed by pulling "competitors" out of a hat. #MinCup was the brainchild of @tectonictweets (Dr. Eddie Dempsey, structural geology lecturer at the University of Hull, England); #DinoCup is his paleontological follow-up. Picking up the gauntlet, A-level geology at Greenhead College, Huddersfield, England, held the #RockCup. The goal of these geologic social media/ science communication exercises was both fun geology community interaction and to engage/inform students. As @Geol_Greenhead specifically entreated during #RockCup: "help 16-18yr olds engage with geology[:] tell them about the rocks on their A-level specification". Most participants just voted daily, but many promoted their favorites with photos and relevant information about why their mineral, etc, was better than its competitor that day. #TeamGarnet was a particularly vocal, but ultimately vanquished, group during #MinCup (darn olivine). During #DinoCup, I learned, disappointingly, that the true velociraptor was quite small, possibly with feathers, resembling an ugly turkey; deinonychus was the actual model for the Jurassic Park “velociraptors”. 

Garnet by Hazel Gibson

Dempsey summarized the viral 2017 #MinCup experience in his blog (https://eddiedempsey.wordpress.com/2017/10/15/the-first-mincup/), and #MinCup was touted as a science communication success by various outlets. A beautiful legacy of this year’s #MinCup is Dr. Hazel Gibson’s charity calendar (https://mypatchworkplanet.com/mincup-charity-calendar/https://mypatchworkplanet.com/mincup-charity-calendar/) of mineral-contender ink drawings produced during her contemporaneous participation in #Inktober (“31 days, 31 drawings”).

Following in the success of these initial bracketed earth material/fossil competitions are #FaultCup and #ExoCup (vote for favorite exoplanet so not actually not “earth” science). There may be others of which I am not aware. A suggested competition is #OreCup. While #MinCup, #RockCup, #DinoCup may be annual events and have multitudinous contenders, is it possible, with further new earth-science-based matches, we could get either burned out or too specialized to have much of an audience?

So as a coal petrologist (although very proud of my earlier amphibolite-grade metamorphic roots [Go #TeamGarnet]), I thought what about a competition for favorite maceral: #MaceralCup? First off, many may query, hopefully politely, what is a maceral? Using an analogy, like the much-maligned ones previously common on US college-entrance exams, maceral:coal::mineral:rock. A maceral, as defined initially by paleobotanist and coal petrologist Marie Stopes, in 1935, is a microscopically distinguishable organic component of coal derived from the decomposed and macerated remains of plants. Besides coal, macerals are found dispersed in sedimentary rocks and are petroleum and natural gas precursors. Maceral names end “inite”. (FYI: Stopes, 1880-1958, is most famous for her books on intimate married relations and birth control, highlighted recently during one episode of Downton Abbey.)

However, there will be no #MaceralCup for the following reasons (Spoiler alert: the most important reason is the culminating #3; #1 is lengthy but informative maceral background for the non-organic geologist):

1) There are only about two-dozen macerals defined for bituminous and anthracite coals (Suárez-Ruiz, 2012; complete citation at bottom). This number of macerals is probably not too few for a competition, but tough to add in new competitors in subsequent years. Maceral quantity increases if one includes the duplicate names for vitrinite group macerals that are applied at the lower lignite/brown coal ranks (huminite group). For maceral photomicrographs in white and blue/UV oil-immersion reflected light see https://energy.usgs.gov/Coal/OrganicPetrology/PhotomicrographAtlas/OPTICCoalMaceralClassification.aspx and https://igws.indiana.edu/Coal/Macerals.cfm .

Just FYI, here are macerals with mostly quick definitions. (Definitions below are my own, or derived from Suárez-Ruiz, ICCP citations below, or the linked Indiana Geological Survey photomicrograph pages.):

LIPTINITE GROUP (a flashy competitive group since these lipid-rich components brilliantly fluoresce yellow to red under UV or blue-light excitation; more photomicrographs at https://igws.indiana.edu/Coal/liptinite_include.cfm)
            Sporinite- spores and pollen
            Cutinite- Leaf cuticle, the wax coating of leaves.
            Resinite- Plant resin of various compositions, including the amber of Jurassic Park.
            Alginite- Fossil algae. Can be broken into two subtypes, as described by Hutton (1987): telalginite- from large colonial or unicellular algae; and lamalginite from small thin-walled algae.
            Suberinite- Cell walls of cork
            Chlorophyllinite- Derived from chlorophyll but not present bituminous and anthracite rank coals (only lignite and subbituminous)
            Fluorinite- This is a subtype of resinite derived from essential oils associated with leaves. Usually found with cutinite, which aids its identification. More intense and yellower epifluorescence than most resinites. This is probably my favorite just because it was always a treat to find it present.
            Bituminite- Fine stringy, filamentous or granular, but essentially unstructured, groundmass from degradation of algae, bacteria or other predominantly autochthonous lacustrine or marine organic matter. Some use “AOM”, amorphous organic matter, interchangeably (me). But, officially the two are not synonymous since a maceral must be a “microscopically recognizable individual constituent” (Pickel et al., 2017), and “AOM” has been used for submicroscopic structureless solid organic matter. “Recognizable” may, however, depend on the magnification (500X-1000X), and discrimination of either bituminite or AOM from a clay matrix in whole rock microscope preparations can be difficult. I personally believe that AOM or bituminite is the same as the fluffy organic component of marine snow. Also bituminite is a confusing name since it can be mixed up by some with the term “solid bitumen” which is a produced hydrocarbon.
            Exudatinite- A secondary crack-filling fluorescing maceral produced during oil generation.
            Liptodetrinite- Liptinite detritus, frequently small, and frequently lacking structural identifiers so source is unknown.
Cutinite from Pickel and others (2017)

Darker-orange-fluorescing cutinite (long serrated) enclosing non-fluorescing phyllovitrinite and bright-yellow-fluorescing fluorinite. Yellow "liptodetrinite and sporinite in surrounding matrix". From Pickel and others (2017).

VITRINITE GROUP (The primary, and most abundant, maceral group in most coals, derived from woody tissue of stems, roots and leaves. Vitreous luster. The predictable increase in reflectivity of telinite with increasing diagenesis, “vitrinite reflectance”, is a commonly used very-low-grade-metamorphic indicator. Photos: https://igws.indiana.edu/Coal/vitrinite_include.cfm )
            Telovitrinite subgroup- In this group, the maceral telinite is identified clearly by preservation of woody cellular structure; in collotelinite, texture is more homogeneous with cell walls possibly only barely visible.
            Detrovitrinite subgroup- Vitrodetrinite is small vitrinite detritus. Collodetrinite: gelified vitrinite groundmass binding other macerals (like the gelatin of a fruited jello salad).
            Gelovitrinite- This subgroup is colloidal vitrinitic filling in voids: corpogelinite (discrete bodies between woody plant cell walls); gelinite (gelified vitrinitic fillings of other voids/cracks).
Reflected white-light oil-immersion microscopic image showing various macerals.
INERTINITE GROUP (These macerals are generally “inert” in industrial processes like coke-making for the steel industry. All higher reflectance than vitrinite. Many are the products of combustion in ancient widlfires. Photos: https://igws.indiana.edu/Coal/inertinite_include.cfm )
            Fusinite- Classic high-reflectance open-cell (cell walls but empty lumens) charcoal structure.
            Semifusinite- Lower reflectance than fusinite indicating possible lower temperature of combustion. Sometimes fossilized burnt tree trunks or branches show a gradation from fusinite exterior to semifusinite interior.
            Funginite- Highly-reflecting fungal remains.
            Secretinite- Oxidized resin or gel, no plant structures, frequently rounded.
            Macrinite- Structureless, no definite shape, but commonly elongated and high reflectance.
            Micrinite- Tiny, high reflectance, granular maceral. May be residue of AOM or other liptinites after oil generation.
            Inertodetrinite- Small highly-reflecting detritus that cannot be assigned to any of the inertinite groups.

2) Personally, some of my favorite macerals are not recognized officially by the ICCP (International Committee for Coal and Organic Petrology, governing body of coal petrographic terminology, www.iccop.org) so would sadly not be contenders. Like #1, this does not preclude a competition but limits competitors:
a) Algodetrinite: This is liptinite detritus derived exclusively from algae. The term was suggested by Adrian Hutton, but he stated that the general official term liptodetrinite should supercede. However, if the goal of a maceral count study is documenting land plant vs. lacustrine/marine organic contribution, the provenance-neutral liptodetrinite is not a useful category if the detritus is clearly algal-derived.
b) Pseudovitrinite- An oxidized, slightly higher reflecting, variety of telinite showing remnant cell structure and tell-tale slits. First described by Benedict and others (1968) of Bethlehem Steel; determining volume percent is a useful predictor of coal behavior in the coking process.
c) Phyllovitrinite- Woody or lignin-cellulose material in leaves. Not listed as an official definition, but a useful descriptor when found enclosed by cutinite.

3) MOST IMPORTANTLY---There will be no #MaceralCup because THERE ARE HARDLY ANY COAL (OR ORGANIC) PETROLOGISTS ON TWITTER!!! I know only ONE coal-petrology trained geologist on Twitter, and her research concentration is palynology (see correction below).  Although I have run into other palynologists on Twitter, not all palynologists (specialists in taxonomic identification of modern and fossil spores and pollen) are trained also in coal/organic petrology and lingo. I searched for names of colleagues and board members in organic petrology professional societies and came up empty. Are there younger organic petrologists I haven’t found? One cannot have a friendly, and informative, Twitter debate between #TeamSporinite and #TeamFusinite in a #MaceralCup competition if no one is out there. (Humble correction 30 minutes after posting: There are several coal petrologists on Twitter who I did miss who are active modern and ancient wildfire researchers: that would make the sporinite/fusinite debate awesome!! I thank palynology friend for pointing that out.) But still, WHERE ARE YOU ALL??

Benedict, L. G., Thompson, R. R., Shigo, J. J. III, Aikman, R. P., 1968, Pseudovitrinite in Appalachian coking coal: Fuel, v. 47, no. 2, p. 125-143.

Hutton, A. C., 1987, Petrographic class of oil shales: International Journal of Coal Geology, v. 8, p. 203- 31.

International Committee on Coal and Organic Petrology, 1998, The new vitrinite classification (ICCP System 1994): Fuel, v. 77, no. 5, p. 349-358.

International Committee on Coal and Organic Petrology, 2001, The new inertinite classification (ICCP System 1994): Fuel, v. 80, no. 4, p. 459-471.

Pickel, W., and others, 2017, Classification of liptinite—ICCP System 1994: International Journal of Coal Geology, v. 169, p. 40-61 (http://ogs.ou.edu/docs/articles/IJCG-V169-P40-61.pdf )

Suárez-Ruiz, Isabel (2012), Organic petrology: An overview, in Al-Juboury, Ali (ed.), Petrology- New perspectives and applications: InTech (http://www.intechopen.com/books/petrology-new-perspectives-and-applications/organic-petrology-an-overview)

Other organic petrology resources see http://carbonacea.blogspot.com/2015/06/coal-and-organic-petrology.html

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Scientist jobs that don’t include teaching or research . . .

At the recent 2017 Northeast/North Central joint section meeting of the Geological Society of America, I ran into a thirty-something alumnae of my undergraduate college who had finished her Ph.D. in geology in 2009. I first met this woman on a metamorphic-geology field trip several years ago while she was still a grad student. It was great to see her again and catch up. She told me she is STEM coordinator and adviser for a leadership scholars program at a major university, but was apologetic that it was not a position actually doing science. I said no apology needed! What a better adviser for students considering STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) careers than someone who has done science research and personally navigated undergraduate and graduate science education?

This interaction also reminded me of grad school classmate who, just before finishing her dissertation at what is a major research institution, felt she was sensing disapproval from faculty for expressing an interest in post-grad academic positions that focused mostly on teaching and little on research. But there is not just one valid career path for persons educated as scientists or engineers: teaching, research, advising/consulting, academic or corporate leadership, public policy are among possible pathways, depending on one’s talents, interests, and opportunities.

Teaching science includes a range of university (post-secondary) positions from those at top-tier research institutions to community and junior college. Research may be an essential part of many university departments and a requirement for tenure; directing student research is an important component. However, at institutions such as community colleges, teaching may be the major or sole job requirement with limited opportunities for one’s own or student research. However, that does not diminish the important task of educating the students on the methodology of science, its role in society, and the specifics of the science field chosen for a major or distributive course requirement.  In addition, science education begins way before college: science subject K-12 teacher certifications start at the middle school level (~age 10), if not before.

Careers that have science as a base, whether one has a bachelor’s, Master’s, or Ph.D. degree in a science field, are numerous and varied. Teaching is only one career line. Those who do research or applied science work for a variety of institutions: academia, industry, government. Some scientists or engineers in industry, as they advance their careers, may transition into a corporate leadership track (example: Rex Tillerson, engineer and former CEO of ExxonMobil). In academia and government, those who start in research and/or teaching may choose to advance to institutional administration.

Scientists have also made career transitions into public policy, working for non-profit science institutions, as staff for elected representatives, or themselves holding elected or appointed government leadership roles. In the US, Congressional Science Fellowship programs sponsored by many professional scientific societies, under the oversight of AAAS, is one avenue to participate in public policy for a year or a basis to make a permanent transition into public policy. One could also apply directly for Congressional staff jobs through the US Senate employment office or the equivalent in the House of Representatives. AAAS and some other scientific societies have fellowships in other government agencies.

Science communication is a career path where a science background is a plus. Some professional societies (American Geosciences Institute, AGI; American Geophysical Union, AGU; American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS) offer media internships or fellowships. University schools of journalism, like at Columbia and Missouri, may have concentrations in science and/or environmental writing.

It was recently pointed out in an opinion piece in the AAPG Explorer (March 2017) by AAPG (American Association of Petroleum Geologists) Executive Director David Curtiss that General Colin Powell was an undergraduate geology major.

     He “completed his degree in geology from City College of New York and was immediately sworn in as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He never worked as a geologist. But, . . . his knowledge of geology and how the Earth works informed his entire career. Whether it was moving troops over rugged terrain or the delicate balancing act of the geopolitics of oil and natural gas, his understanding of the planet helped him navigate these challenges. If ever there was an endorsement for studying the geosciences – even if you want to pursue a career outside of traditional geological professions – look no further than Colin Powell.

So don’t be ashamed of whatever career path you take after getting a science degree! Your best contribution will be in a job that makes you happy.

Below is a limited list of scientists who made career choices where they eventually were not teaching science or doing research:

Rush Holt- physicist, former Congressman, CEO American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Harrison Schmidt- Geologist, Astronaut (Apollo 17), Senator (1977-1983)

Joanne Liu- President of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF),

Marcia McNutt, Director, US Geological Survey (2009-2013); President, National Academy of Sciences

Melody Brown Burkins- Congressional Science Fellow (1999-2000); US delegation chair, 2016 International Geologic Congress (IGC); Director for Programs and Research of The John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding and Adjunct Professor of Environmental Studies (ENVS), Dartmouth College

Steven Chu- Physicist, Nobel Prize winner, US Secretary of Energy (2009-2013)

Ernest Moniz- Physicist, US Secretary of Energy (2013-2017)

Maria Honeycutt- Congressional Science Fellow (2007-2008), Coastal hazards policy analyst (NOAA)

Kevin Wheeler- USAID, science and international development consulting

David Curtiss- Congressional Science Fellow (2001-2002); Executive Director, AAPG

Wendy Hill- Neuroscientist and Provost, Lafayette College (to 2014); Head, Agnes Irwin School (private secondary school)

Friday, April 7, 2017

What do we do now? What post-election shell-shocked US liberal voters have been asking themselves since November 2016. . .

U.S. Capitol, 9 PM, January 20, 2017. Photo by MLMalinconico during evening walk, checking out any preparations for next day's Women's March (nothing set up yet, still removing Inauguration traffic barriers).

By 10 pm Eastern standard time on election night, November 8, 2016, liberal-progressive American voters were getting the uneasy feeling that the likely, but not guaranteed (71% chance according to FiveThirtyEight), election of Hillary Clinton to the US Presidency was not going to happen. The next day, pro-Clinton voters, started to go through the various stages of grief with anger and disbelief being most common, walking around like aimless zombies. With sustained Republican majorities in the House and Senate, a combination of fear and uncertainty has gripped left-to-moderate citizens concerned about what promises by conservative candidates (or, in some cases, those running as Republicans but whose commitment to even conservatism is not clear) may actually be enacted and become law. 

There are a range and number of issues that could be severely affected, changed, undone: government-mandated health care, immigration policy, women's health access, gender rights, environmental regulations, federal science funding, etc. The large number and variety or breadth of endangered policies is part of the confusion among many citizens yearning to be come more civilly active: where to start, what exactly can one do now? Even now in the Spring 2017, I hear these questions. They are voiced both by those who had worked/volunteered for campaigns of Democratic candidates and those who did not. In contemplating this, I have assembled a list of some possible ACTION CHOICES:

A) Do GENERAL advocacy for multiple liberal/progressive positions: I have come across these various initiatives for involvement that cover a range of issues.
    1) The "Indivisible Guide" (https://www.indivisibleguide.com/), "Practical Guide on Resisting the Trump Agenda" written by former Congressional staffers, outlines using the strategy of the successful Tea Party movement for the benefit of liberal causes. The essential point is start local and small, forming groups to influence municipal/state/federal legislators for the benefit of liberal causes. The website has a search feature to find contact information for groups in one's area. As of mid-February 2017, over 7000 local groups are being reported. One issue on the liberal agenda is gerrymandering. In many states, the state legislature determines federal Congressional district boundaries after each 10-year census (next census 2020), and gerrymandering in favor of the political party with a state-legislature majority is common. In Pennsylvania, district boundaries in 2011 were determined by the conservative Republican state legislature, and will not be redrawn until around 2021. Therefore, focusing on state elections in the next few cycles can have an eventual effect at the federal level. 
     2) To become or continue to be active in local established political parties is always an avenue: one may not have to wait until the 2018 midterm Congressional elections to volunteer for a campaign, since some gubernatorial elections will be in late 2017. One can always volunteer across state lines. A friend from the blue Democratic District of Columbia may commute up here to the flipped-red state of Pennsylvania to volunteer for the 2018 mid-term Congressional election.
     4) The Women's March on Washington, which morphed into a nationwide and international event, occurred on January 21, 2017. As follow-up, the March website (https://www.womensmarch.com/100/action2/) outlines future actions, and provides activity agenda for the formation of small local groups (huddles). Like Call to Action, the Women's March tries to make advocacy easy for eager participants by outlining series of action steps and activities.
     5) The Resistance Calendar (https://www.resistancecalendar.org/) lists advocacy events all across the country by date with links to event/organization websites.

B) Pick ONE issue area that is important to you and focus on that. When I looked back at my own history, I realized that I had a record of active support for federal science spending through participating annually, since 2011, in Geoscience Congressional Visits Day (GeoCVD). I wrote about GeoCVD in a November 2015 blogpost, and it will be even more vital now that I continue to participate in GeoCVD, take part in other science events, and, as is the intention of any Congressional visit, nurture those established relationships during the year through written/phone communication, visits to local Congressional district offices, and/or town hall meetings to voice related science (or perhaps other) concerns. (Some friends, on the other hand, want to diversify and pick one issue very different from their work life; a few in education (school social worker and a principal) are investigating options distinctive from their daytime work with children and families.)
Here are some science-related events and resources, particularly earth and environmental science issues and legislation:     
     1) The March for Science (https://www.marchforscience.com/; @ScienceMarchDC; also on Facebook), Earth Day April 22, in Washington, DC and satellite locations around the world. This has now been endorsed by numerous professional science societies which may also have March information on their websites or Facebook pages.
     2) "Protect our Air, Water, & Public Lands - Call Your Reps & Senators!" A fantastic easy-to-follow spreadsheet updated frequently by a group of paleontologists, listing coming legislation with bill number, brief synopsis, action stage, which committee or member to contact, and separate lists of House and Senate members and their Committee memberships. (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1o3Y77WeXlbf3VJL5nPoiRX0bj5kqMu6BmSaSEZe7958/htmlview)
     3) If you are a member of a professional scientific society, check out their science policy pages and resources they offer. One may also be able to sign up for policy alert services. Geoscience societies with US-focused policy programs include: American Geophysical Society (AGU; http://sciencepolicy.agu.org; http://actioncenter.agu.org/home), Geological Society of America (GSA; http://geosociety.org/GSA/Science_Policy/GSA/Policy/Home.aspx), American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, https://www.aaas.org/programs/programs), American Geosciences Institute (AGI,a federation of 51 geoscience societies including AGU and GSA, https://www.americangeosciences.org/policy-critical-issues). 
     4) Apply for policy or media internships/fellowships. Many professional scientific societies, including AGU, GSA, AGI, AAAS listed above, sponsor such programs including Congressional Science Fellowships, media fellowships, policy internships for scientists in various stages of education and career.
     5) Attend a Congressional Visits Day! Geoscience Congressional Visits Days are traditionally in September and information can be found on the professional society policy pages above. In the spring is the large SET-CVD (Science-Engineering-Technology: http://setcvd.org/); this year, it will be held April 25-26. One must pay their own travel/lodging expenses to attend.
     6) In the second part of a recent AGU blog 3-post series by earth scientist Dr. Christy Till, Arizona State University, she also contemplates what to do now, and lists her areas of focus: conversation, science mentoring, advocacy connections, community involvement, and education with helpful web links. For the last, education, she is both becoming involved in local public school outreach and, focusing on assuring the high quality of her own science research and teaching.
     7) Dr. Till, above, also mentions 500 Women Scientists (https://500womenscientists.org/), a group similar to the Women’s March that is building a network of local groups (pods) of women scientists. Even if there is not a pod near you, you can follow and support through their website.
     8) Join an environmental organization like the Nature Conservancy, American Rivers, Sierra Club, etc., that matches your interests and goals. These organizations range from the small and local to large national and international groups. Many have policy or action webpages.

C) DONATE money or join (pay membership in) an advocacy organization such as a non-profit organization, scientific society, or political party. Do NOT think that just giving money is lazy!! Even though you can easily do this sitting on your couch with your dog, credit card, and laptop while watching The Big Bang Theory, this is a VERY important contribution. Organizations' advocacy and policy activities and staff require financial operational support. Organizations may have special funds, like AGU's Capitol Cause, that directly support public policy programs. However, funding of advocacy and policy activities (including staff, interns, fellows) of an organization may come directly from membership, other income, or from associated foundations. The American Geosciences Institute did an innovative GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Spring 2017 policy interns, this campaign website seems to still be open despite the 12/31/16 deadline). What happens when organization income decreases? Programs are cut. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists recently closed their ten-year-old Washington, DC, Geoscience and Energy Policy office and laid off the 2 policy specialists (plus decreased general staff at AAPG headquarters) because of serious budget shortfalls during the recent downturn in the petroleum industry and resulting decreases in membership and conference income.

So how best to contact one's Senator or Representative? AAPG Geoscience and Energy Policy Office Director Edie Allison's concluding communication, "DIY Advocacy", outlined how to contact elected representatives, track bills, and provided general background on federal regulation (http://www.aapg.org/publications/news/explorer/column/articleid/36952/diy-advocacy). Phone calls, email, faxes, post cards are best. Snail mail in envelopes to Congress goes through an extensive and slow physical security screening since the anthrax attack of late September 2011, so not recommended. There are all sorts of advice out there about which method is best with some that just does not seem true. Someone on Facebook posted that a friend of a friend of a friend who was a former Congressional staffer said that offices only track phone calls and discard, don’t log paper mail and email. Fake news!! Emails, faxes, postcards are all counted regarding topic and position (for/ against).

There were rumors that the office of my Republican Senator Patrick Toomey was not answering phones on January, so thousands of people sent faxes. I sent two Toomey emails, got immediate general thank you replies with a promise of a more detailed reply, and that I did, a few weeks later! Interestingly, I got more responses from Toomey than from my Democratic Senator and Representative.

Most important in whatever communication form one uses is to be succinct, brief, and to the point. Some of the action services will give one talking points for phone calls. Remember, you have only a minute or two to convey your message. Think “elevator talk”. Many others may be trying to call in. For emails, make sure the first paragraph says upfront exactly what you want. I had started one email to my Congressmen pointing out that I had visited their offices during GeoCVD which promotes the importance of federal science spending; then in the second paragraph, my topic sentence was my issue of concern and my stance (the importance of international science collaboration in the wake of the January immigration executive order). However, Senator Toomey's reply was on his support for federal science funding (good), but missed addressing my specific point. Totally my fault for not putting the "ask" right in the first sentence. 

Remember, EVERY little bit counts. This revitalized liberal effort to make one's voice heard is not a contest of who does more, or how frequently. The goal should simply be to do something. However, the most important aspect in whatever strategy one chooses, is CONTINUED SUSTAINED EFFORT or communication= "persistence". On The Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC) on February 1, 2017, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) voiced his concern about "outrage fatigue", that interest would fade. Indeed, some initial criticism of the Women's March on Washington (January 20, 2017) was that, if the event was a one-and-done event, its impact and legacy could be minimal. Recognizing this is why the Women's March supports and encourages continued advocacy, as outlined above. 

 ". . .We must put to rest threats to science, while at the same time seeking friends among opinion-makers who understand the power, beauty, and usefulness of science and the need to incorporate it into public policy. . . to confidently, respectfully, and clearly explain the connection between scientific advancement and our economic progress, human well-being, and national security. . . The need for scientists and scientific institutions to effectively communicate about science and its relevance is more important than ever."  AAAS CEO (physicist and former Congressman) Rush Holt, December 20, 2016.

Keywords: science advocacy, science policy, March for Science

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Black gold, Texas tea. . .

My May 16, 2015, blogpost title included this metaphor for oil, "the black blood of the machine age" (1952 television documentary, Victory at Sea), one of the most appropriate and vivid I know. However, those of us from the US baby boomer generation may have first heard other oil nicknames in the early 1960's from the opening theme song of the TV show, The Beverly Hillbillies: "black gold, Texas tea" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvE9zJgm8OY)*.

I googled around looking for other colorful oil monikers, more dramatic than just fossil fuel, earth oil, fossil oil. I found Devil's tar, flowing gold, Devil's tears, and liquid sunlight, very appropriate since the energy stored in petroleum originated as solar energy used by plant photosynthesis. A sorrowful reference is to the oil slowly leaking from the USS Arizona, sunk during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and entombing most of its crew: the black tears of the Arizona.

The terms black gold and flowing gold make me think of the first day of Petroleum Geology, a class of about 40 students, winter quarter, November 1978, at Michigan Tech (I, an undergraduate history major, was taking various geology and science courses so I could apply for geology grad school). The professor began class by passing around a plastic quart lab bottle of crude oil asking, "What does it smell like?" After we all had a whiff, he told us. . . "It smells like MONEY".

“The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power” is the subtitle of The Prize, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Daniel Yergin. The Prize (1991) covers the history of the petroleum industry from its beginnings to the late 1980’s (the “sequel”, The Quest (2011), continues from the First Gulf War). The title itself may come from a quote in the Prologue from Winston Churchill, regarding the pre-World War I transition of the British Navy from a coal-fueled to a faster, more efficient oil-fueled armada: “Mastery itself was the prize of the venture.” (Italics mine)

Admittedly, there are political and social concerns about fossil fuel business practices, anthropogenic global warming, pollution, energy security, and dwindling recoverable resources. However, any transition from liquid or gaseous (or solid) fossil fuel must be balanced concomitantly with finding suitable replacements for the myriad products (not just transportation and electrical generation fuel) from petroleum (http://elsegundo.chevron.com/home/abouttherefinery/whatwedo/what_is_in_a_barrel_of_oil.aspx) in order to maintain current quality of life.

Regrettably, there is one "Fossil Fuel" that has already ceased production that, I confess, I desperately hope reappears: 

* This is a fun rap cover of the Beverly Hillbillies theme by actor John Goodman during closing credits of an episode of Roseanne.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

"Chariots of Fire" to "Fire on Earth": Stream-of-consciousness from the Olympics to fossil charcoal/fire studies through poet William Blake

Until the gymnastics and swimming got underway, I hadn’t been watching much of this year’s summer Olympics. However, on the day after the opening ceremonies, I started my quadrennial games viewing odyssey with Chariots of Fire, the 1981 movie highlighting the athletic and faith journeys of two British runners, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, to the 1924 Olympics. The movie story line begins and ends with the 1978 memorial service for Abrahams. The sequence at the end (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vxlX5wyEQs) includes the hymn, “And did those feet in ancient time”, the unofficial hymn of England. (Some feel it should be the national anthem although there are dissenters: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/01/theres-nothing-patriotic-about-william-blakes-jerusalem/) The hymn has been included in other movies, such as Calendar Girls (sung in Women’s Institute meetings) and Four Weddings and a Funeral (sung during first wedding).

The lyrics for the hymn are from a poem by William Blake, written ~1804 (music* by Sir Hubert Parry). The movie title, Chariots of Fire, is from a phrase in the poem (at the end of the third poem stanza; in middle of second hymn verse), alluding to the Old Testament Bible description of the prophet Elijah being taken to heaven in a fiery chariot pulled by flaming horses. Other events and locations in the four-stanza poem, however, are not the standard Bible references of Reformation-to-early 20th-century Protestant hymns.  The first line queries if Jesus walked in England, possibly during his pre-ministry years, while the last lines of the second stanza ask “And was Jerusalem builded here, Among these dark Satanic mills”.

There are different interpretations of what Blake meant by “dark Satanic mills". Was he referring to the Albion Flour Mills, “first major factory in London” built in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, destroyed by fire in 1791, but not torn down for almost 20 years? The factory mill, when operational, threatened to ruin the livelihood of small local millers. Or was he referring metaphorically to establishment churches or major universities? Whatever Blake’s intention, images of soot-belching factories of the Industrial Revolution initially pop into one’s head.

One instance using the Industrial Revolution metaphor is found in Fire on Earth: An Introduction by Andrew Scott, David Bowman, William Bond, Stephen Pyne, and Martine Alexander (Wiley Blackwell, 2014; http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-111995357X.html). The author of Chapter 12 writes, discussing the ‘Pyric Transition’ when civilization transitioned from biomass to fossil fuel usage:
     “For fire history, ‘industrialization’ is shorthand for that shift in fuel from surface biomass to fossil biomass, with all that means for how humanity applies and withholds fire on the land. Usefully, the general culture agrees, since popular imagination has long identified the Industrial Revolution with William Blake’s ‘dark satanic’ mills’ belching soot from combusted coals” (p. 231).

The book covers the history of “fire on earth” and the scientific methods of studying it. The authors include a geologist (Scott whose work, plus those of his colleagues and students, I have written about previously, http://carbonacea.blogspot.com/2014/10/paleo-wildfires-and-extinctions-at-gsa.html, http://carbonacea.blogspot.com/2014/10/wildfire-and-extinction-ii-gsa-2014.html), a botanist, ecologist, historian, and forester. All the authors’ research has involved aspects of fire science, how fire has affected landscape, ecosystems, and civilization, and the geologic and anthropological records preserving that information. I have not read the book from front to back, but have read or skimmed through sections that have particular interest to me.

Sixteen chapters are divided into four major parts: I) Fire in the Earth System; II) Biology of Fire; III) Anthropogenic Fire; IV) The Science and Art of Wildland Fire Behavior Management. The book’s Preface explains that each author spoke “in his own disciplinary tongue”, so the style of descriptive language may vary among chapters written by scientists versus historians. Following an introduction to what is fire and methods of studying fire (ancient and modern events), the historical flow of the book is from deep geologic time when plants (the fuel) first appeared on land (late Silurian/early Devonian, ~400 million years ago) to the present day. Some of the sections on fire in the geological record seem too short for my interest in that aspect, but the authors point out that the 390-page text is meant as an introduction to a topic that spans several disciplines. The references for each part, however, are comprehensive, and a companion website includes the figures and tables from the book, teaching material, and links to relevant websites, videos, podcasts.

This book is an excellent example of the value of interdisciplinary research in earth processes. As Scott writes in the online book description, fire is "an integral part of the study of geology, biology, human history, physics, and global chemistry".  In fact, this approach is very "Big History". Big History “examines long time frames using a multidisciplinary approach based on combining numerous disciplines from science and the humanities.”

I found particularly interesting, possibly from being an undergraduate history major before switching fields to earth science for grad school, the historical development of human interaction with fire, based on both historic documents and anthropological and geologic research into the last couple million years since the appearance of earliest human species. Man (using “man” and “his” as inclusive genderless terms) began his fire management relationship as a fire sustainer before he learned how to start or make a fire. The Chapter 11 author points out that man is the only creature that can control fire, and used it for cooking, warmth, land clearing, warfare. Eventually sustainable fresh wood/plant fuels for combustion could not keep up with demand, and, in the Pyric Transition during Industrialization, fossil plant-derived fuels (coal, petroleum, natural gas) became the primarily combustion sources (p. 231, 232).
Prometheus bringing fire to mankind (D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, 1962)
 Fire is a natural process; we utilize it as a resource and tool, but also attempt to manage it as a natural disaster. Man has different relationships with various earth materials and processes, including what we call disasters because of their human disruption. For example, volcanoes, earthquakes, cyclones/hurricanes/tornados: we cannot control those, but try to lessen damage and injury through building codes or just getting out of the way. At the other end of the spectrum, various rock and fuel resources we exploit for civilization's benefit, and currently or retroactively try to ameliorate pollution and damage from extractive processes. Between these endpoints, fire, like surface water, we use and try to beneficially manage, but we cannot totally control.

The management of wildfires includes modern study of both physics and chemistry of burning plus methods to extinguish fires. The results of this research also benefit those trying to interpret the scale and intensity of fire events recorded in the rock record. Andrew Scott, his students and colleagues, particularly Claire Belcher and her own students, have made an important leap in interdisciplinary research in using modern fire science experimental techniques to interpret the fire record in the deep geologic past (hundreds of millions of years). Fusinite (the fossil charcoal 'maceral' in coal) and related combustion particulates in coals and sedimentary rocks are indicators of ancient wildfire. But, a better understanding of temperature and type of deep-time fire events and what the source material was (for example, plant or exposed/eroded coal deposit) has come from experiments testing the types of combustion products produced by various materials (https://sites.google.com/site/palaeofirelab/home; Fire Phenomena and the Earth System: An Interdisciplinary Guide to Fire Science).

This interdisciplinary approach to the analysis of geologic and prehistoric fire events, combining modern fire science, and geologic and anthropological charcoal/fire studies, is innovative. Fire on Earth, brings together related topics and useful avenues of research that could be easily missed otherwise if their results were published in specialty topic journals (not just physical versus social science journals but among narrowly specialized science/technology publications). Fire on Earth, similarly to how David Christian has described Big History in general, “help(s)” the reader “across the divide between the two cultures—from the sciences to the humanities” in the discussion of a millions-year-old natural process that has shaped civilization.

*I was recently surprised to find, regrettably at a funeral, that there is another hymn to the same tune but with different words: “O day of peace that dimly shines”. It was the closing anthem for the deceased, an English immigrant to the US, because the tune identifies so strongly with England.

**More on Big History:
https://www.bighistoryproject.com/home (Gates’ funded high school Big History project)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Particulate organic matter as paleocurrent indicators: dispersed fossil wood in Pennsylvania Bluestone

The tag line for this blog describes that posts are about geologic carbon, excluding carbonate and aqueous dissolved organic matter, focusing on sedimentary and metamorphic organic matter (OM=organic matter) and products from fossil fuel resources. I come at this topic from the organic petrology or microscopy methods I use to investigate geologic problems of level of diagenesis/ very-low-grade metamorphism or what assemblages of particulate organic matter can convey about depositional environment or climate. Many applications of or advancements in organic petrology are related to fossil fuel exploration or utilization, but there are other non-fossil-fuel applications of sedimentary OM data in the geologic sciences. However, in my experience and opinion, those are not commonly used, either because organic petrology is not part of the usual geology curriculum, therefore, not well known, or because light microscopy is not "high tech".

One occurrence of sedimentary OM greets me frequently while I am walking the dog. I live in an old neighborhood of lawns, large trees, and pachysandra (my personal trace plant for old neighborhoods); most of the homes were built around 1900. Although numerous sidewalks are now cement, many remain the original large slabs of Pennsylvania Bluestone, some with fossil wood fragments exposed on cut or slabbed surfaces. Pennsylvania Bluestone is a Middle to Upper Devonian feldspathic sandstone of the Catskill delta or Catskill/Pocono clastic wedge, outcropping now in southern New York, northeastern Pennsylvania, and northern New Jersey. It is the "molasse" of the Acadian orogeny, whose thermal and deformational peak in the northern Appalachians to the east (Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut) occurred in the Lower Devonian.

Bluestone in disrepair but shows typical sidewalk slab size and thickness. Twenty-pound (9 kg) puppy for scale.

Bluestone derives its name "from a deep-blue-colored sandstone first found in Ulster County, NY" (http://www.endlessmountainstone.com/bluestone/). In Pennsylvania, the focus of the bluestone industry is in Susquehanna County bordering New York state. Other colors include tans, various grays, and lilac/purple. The Endless Mountain Stone Company website (in 2002, Endless Mountain was the "largest  'bluestone' producer in Northeastern Pennsylvania, FCOFG field guide, p. 85*) also describes the quarrying, cutting or slabbing operations that produce stone for sidewalks, paving, building and facing stone. The environment of deposition of quarried stone includes offshore bars, beaches, and tidal interchannels.
Ripple marks (interference ripples?) on bluestone sidewalk slabs.

Ripple marks, in different location than above, on wet sidewalk in street lights at night.
Although the Pennsylvania Bluestone Association states that the stone is "clear of most organic residues", megascopic particulate fossil wood is occasionally visible. A stratigraphic section of one quarry in the 2002 Field Conference of Pennsylvania Geologists guidebook (Figure 79, p. 86) to the bluestone region, marks locations of "carbonized plant fossils" and "plant-bearing ss".
Patio bluestone showing range of color, some ripple marks, and, in slab in foreground, dispersed fossil wood fragments.
Old bluestone sidewalk slab; fossil wood weathered out leaving casts.

Fossil wood in both rippled and non-rippled bed surfaces in recently-quarried bluestone (in re-laid sidewalk using old original slabs and smaller new slabs to replace broken material). Fragments on non-rippled surface (lower left) show a general consistent orientation.
In the photo above, fossil wood, on the non-rippled bedding surface, is generally aligned due to the ancient water flow direction that deposited the layer and acts as a paleocurrent indicator. Such indicators include any elongated particles including graptolites and other fossils, and sedimentary structures such as ripples, crossbedding, and flute casts. However, alignment of linear objects, such as the wood fragments, can only narrow paleocurrent flow direction to two directions 180 degrees apart. Asymmetrical ripples and flute casts are examples of structures that can define a single direction. Below is an example of paleocurrent direction analysis, showing bidirectional results, from measuring orientation of wood fragments in a Devonian shale of the Appalachian/Catskill basin (in Potter and others, 1979, Devonian Paleocurrents in the Appalachian Basin).

Three more examples of oriented fossil wood in Pennsylvania Bluestone. Blue color in bottom two photos due primarily due to time of day, just prior to sunset.
(from Potter and others, 1979, Devonian Paleocurrents in the Appalachian Basin)

Above is the cumulative paleocurrent direction analysis of Appalachian Devonian sediments, including those of the Catskill/Pocono wedge, showing general western flow and deposition due to unroofing/erosion of the lower Devonian Acadian orogenic thermal/deformational axis to the east. Fossil wood fragments (=particulate land plant organic matter), such as that seen in the bluestone, were an important contributor to this data set.

BTW, at the time this post was written, the blog background was an extreme close-up of wood fragments in bluestone (below).

*Catskill delta field guides:
    Facies and Sedimentary Environments of the Catskill System Tract in Central Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Association of Petroleum Geologists, 2009 http://www.papgrocks.org/PAPGGuidebook_Spring09.pdf
    From Tunkhannock to Starrucca: Bluestone, Glacial Lakes, and Great Bridges in the “Endless Mountains” of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Field Conference of Pennsylvania Geologists, 2009.