Scientists offer explanation on how oil and gas activity triggers North Texas earthquakes

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: July 25, 2016

In a long-awaited study, researchers have offered a possible explanation for how oil and gas activity may have triggered earthquakes in Dallas and Irving last year.

The disposal of wastewater from oil and gas production and hydraulic fracturing “plausibly” set off the tremors, which shook Dallas, Irving, Highland Park and other cities from April 2014 through January 2016, said Matthew Hornbach, the study’s lead author and professor of geophysics at Southern Methodist University.

While the quakes were too small to cause much damage to buildings, they spread alarm through a metro area unaccustomed to feeling the ground shift.

The quakes contributed to a tenfold increase in North Texas’ earthquake hazard level, prompted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to warn of stronger quakes that could cause billions of dollars of damage, and moved local emergency managers to begin preparing for worst-case scenarios.

The study, posted online this week in the peer-reviewed journal Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, is the first scientific work to offer an explanation for the Dallas and Irving quakes. It also provides new evidence that other recent quakes in North Texas’ were likely induced by humans.

Such findings in recent years have prompted pushback from oil and gas companies. This week, through a trade group, they again came out swinging. Steve Everley, a spokesman for an arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, questioned the scientists’ work. “Were they looking for media attention?” Everley said in an email. “The authors’ willingness to shift assumptions to fit a particular narrative is concerning, to say the least.”

The state agency that regulates oil and gas, the Railroad Commission, said in a statement that it was reviewing the report “to fully understand its methodology and conclusions.”

Independent experts contacted by The Dallas Morning News praised the study, while cautioning that more work remains before the cause of the Dallas and Irving earthquakes can be firmly established.

“It’s the single best explanation for the increase in earthquakes within the Dallas-Fort Worth basin,” said Rall Walsh, a Ph.D. candidate in geophysics at Stanford University who studies human-triggered earthquakes. READ MORE

Meet the Scientist, Paleontology

Originally Posted: June 29, 2016

SMU alumna, Katharina Marino, who used to prepare fossils in the Shuler labs and then worked as an educator at the Perot Museum, is now pursuing a Master’s degree in science communication at the University of Otago in New Zealand.  She has started a blog in which she interviews scientists.  Her first interviewee is another SMU alum, Yuri Kimura, who received her Ph.D. at the same time Katharina received her Bachelor’s degree.  Please click the link below to read this very nice interview from two of our finest.

https://therockrecord.wordpress.com/2016/05/30/meet-dr-yuri-kimura/

New study by geophysicists Zhong Lu, professor, Shuler-Foscue Chair, and Jin-Woo Kim research scientist, Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, finds massive sinkholes are unstable

Science Daily

Originally Posted: June 14, 2016

Geohazard: Giant sinkholes near West Texas oil patch towns are growing — as new ones lurk

Satellite radar images reveal ground movement of infamous sinkholes near Wink, Texas; suggest 2 existing holes are expanding, and new ones are forming as nearby subsidence occurs at an alarming rate

Two giant sinkholes that sit between two West Texas oil patch towns are growing — and two new ones appear to be lurking, say geophysicists. Satellite radar images reveal substantial ground movement in and around the infamous sinkholes near Wink, Texas — suggesting expansion of the two existing holes, with subsidence in two other nearby areas suggesting new ones may surface. READ MORE

 

Geohazard: Giant sinkholes near West Texas oil patch towns are growing — as new ones lurk

SMU Research

Originally Posted: June 13, 2016

Residents of Wink and neighboring Kermit have grown accustomed to the two giant sinkholes that sit between their small West Texas towns.

But now radar images taken of the sinkholes by an orbiting space satellite reveal big changes may be on the horizon.

A new study by geophysicists at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, finds the massive sinkholes are unstable, with the ground around them subsiding, suggesting the holes could pose a bigger hazard sometime in the future.

The two sinkholes — about a mile apart — appear to be expanding. Additionally, areas around the existing sinkholes are unstable, with large areas of subsidence detected via satellite radar remote sensing.

That leaves the possibility that new sinkholes, or one giant sinkhole, may form, said geophysicists and study co-authors Zhong Lu, professor, Shuler-Foscue Chair, and Jin-Woo Kim research scientist, in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU. READ MORE

New research on Alamosaurus

Journal of Systematic Palaeontology

Originally Posted: June 6, 2016

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Ronald S. Tykoski and Anthony R. Fiorillo recently published new research titled, An articulated cervical series of Alamosaurus sanjuanensis Gilmore, 1922 (Dinosauria, Sauropoda) from Texas: new perspective on the relationships of North America’s last giant sauropod.

READ MORE

 

Matthew Siegler, Earth Sciences, What If The Moon Were Bigger?

GeorgiaWorld

Originally Posted: May 25, 2016

The questions kids ask about science aren’t always easy to answer. Sometimes, their little brains can lead to big places adults forget to explore. With that in mind, we’ve started a new series called Science Question From a Toddler, which will use kids’ curiosity as a jumping-off point to investigate the scientific wonders that adults don’t even think to ask about. I want the toddlers in your life to be a part of it! Send me their science questions and they may serve as the inspiration for a column. And now, our toddler …


Q: How big is the moon? What if it were bigger? — Hagen G., age 5

The first part of your question is easy-peasy. The moon has a circumference of 6,783.5 miles, about 27 percent that of Earth. Imagine setting out from Boston and walking to Peshawar, Pakistan. (Don’t do this. Among other hazards, there is an ocean in the way.) That same walk would take you all the way around the moon at its equator. Here’s another way to think of it: If Earth is a softball, then the moon is a shooter marble. (The circumference of the sun, in this analogy, is represented by the General Sherman sequoia, one of the largest trees in the world.)

But what about a bigger moon? This part of your question took me from a simple Google search to sitting on the telephone with a planetary scientist while we both made thinking sounds and waved our hands around in an attempt to gesture our way through logical speculation about gravitational physics. So, thanks for that, Hagen.

The scientist, Matthew Siegler, is a research assistant professor at Southern Methodist University and an associate research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute.1 He told me that the question of what would happen if the moon were bigger matters because the moon and Earth are a system. Our gravitational pull affects the moon. The moon’s gravitational pull affects us. We’re linked to each other by the push and pull of invisible hands. And that has some big impacts on our planet. READ MORE

Early armored dino from Texas lacked cousin’s club-tail weapon, but had a nose for danger

SMU Research

Originally Posted: May 23, 2016

Pawpawsaurus’s hearing wasn’t keen, and it lacked the infamous tail club of Ankylosaurus. But first-ever CT scans of Pawpawsaurus’s skull indicate the dino’s saving grace from predators may have been an acute sense of smell.

Well-known armored dinosaur Ankylosaurus is famous for a hard knobby layer of bone across its back and a football-sized club on its tail for wielding against meat-eating enemies.

It’s prehistoric cousin, Pawpawsaurus campbelli, was not so lucky. Pawpawsaurus was an earlier version of armored dinosaurs but not as well equipped to fight off meat-eaters, according to a new study, said vertebrate paleontologist Louis Jacobs, Southern Methodist University, Dallas. Jacobs is co-author of a new analysis of Pawpawsaurus based on the first CT scans ever taken of the dinosaur’s skull. READ MORE

SMU scientists co-authored study showing that humans have been causing earthquakes in Texas since the 1920s

SMU NEWS

Originally Posted: May 17, 2016

Earthquakes triggered by human activity have been happening in Texas since at least 1925, and they have been widespread throughout the state ever since, according to a new historical review of the evidence published online May 18 in Seismological Research Letters.

Causes of earthquakes in TexasThe earthquakes are caused by oil and gas operations, but the specific production techniques behind these quakes have differed over the decades, according to Cliff Frohlich, the study’s lead author and senior research scientist and associate director at the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin. SMU seismologists Heather DeShon, Brian Stump, Chris Hayward and Mathew J. Hornbach, and Jacob I. Walter at the University of Texas at Austin are co-authors. READ MORE

Ancient Hammerhead with Sharp Teeth was First Vegetarian Reptile

Modern Readers

Originally Posted: May 9, 2016

Don’t let those sharp teeth fool you, because this ancient hammerhead reptile had no appetite for meat.

The hammerhead’s most distinctive feature was its two menacing rows of teeth, with one group resembling needles and another group resembling chisels. That would normally hint that it was a carnivore, and probably one of the most fearsome sea creatures of its time. But the strangest thing about the animal is that it ate plants, with those rows of teeth serving a different purpose than what one may think.

A new study has detailed how Atopodentatus unicus (“uniquely strangely toothed”) existed in the middle Triassic era, millions of years before dinosaurs rose to prominence. Fossils of the hammerhead reptile were first spotted in 2014 in southern China, and based on scientists’ findings, the animal had lived about 242 million years ago, making it the earliest herbivorous marine reptile by only about eight million years. Not to mention, one of the strangest, according to the researchers.

“On a scale of weirdness, I think this is up there with the best,” said study lead Nicholas Fraser of the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. “It kind of reminds me of some of the Dr. Seuss creations.”

Aside from the unique teeth that gave the reptile its scientific name, A. unicus had a longer neck in proportion to its body, and a tiny head, also in relation to its overall size. Another key feature was the animal’s strong fore-limbs for swimming. Overall, A. unicus measured nine feet long from head to tail, making it about as large as a modern alligator.

Southern Methodist University paleontologist Louis Jacobs was not involved in the study, but he told Live Science about how A. unicus may have used its teeth. He said that the needle-like teeth may have also been used by the animal to collect plants, in a similar way to how baleen whale catches krill. The chisel teeth, on the other hand, may have helped the reptile scrape plants from the seafloor. Once A. unicus gathered its food, he added, it would “suck in a mouthful of water,” presumably to make the food easier to swallow down.

“Then, they squish the water out of their mouth, and those little teeth along the sides of the jaw and on the roof of the mouth strain out all of the plant bits,” Jacobs continued. “That’s an amazing way to feed. I’d like to do that myself.”

Fraser also shared his insights about A. unicus’ peculiarities, namely its being a plant-eater despite its sharp teeth, which was unusual for marine reptiles during the era. He believes this may have been due to a lack of plant diversity at the time.

“This fossil took us very much by surprise. However, this was a whole different world,” said Fraser. “So now we are beginning to accept this strange and wonderful environment that gave rise to very unfamiliar body forms.” READ MORE

Could Texas’ dirty coal power plants be replaced by geothermal systems?

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: April 26, 2016

For Texas electricity customers, geothermal energy is pretty much an afterthought. But some scientists — and even some people in the oil and gas business — say that heat from deep underground may become a significant source of power.