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

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 10.50.04 AM

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.

SMU ‘Power Plays’ conference April 25-26

SMU NEWS

Originally Posted: April 22, 2016

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU’s renowned Geothermal Lab will host its eighth international energy conference April 25-26 on the Dallas campus, focused on using the oilfield as a base for alternative energy production through the capture of waste heat and fluids.

In addition to oil and gas field geothermal projects, experts will discuss coal plant conversion for geothermal production, the intersection of geothermal energy and desalination, and large-scale direct use of the energy source produced by the internal heat of the earth.

“Power Plays: Geothermal Energy in Oil and Gas Fields” begins with an opening reception and poster session from 5:30 – 8 pm Monday, April 25, followed by a daylong program of speakers and presentations Tuesday, April 26. Conference details are available here. Walk-up registration is available at the conference site, the Collins Center at 3150 Binkley Avenue, Dallas, 75205.

The technology that is the primary focus of the conference takes advantage of an existing resource frequently considered a nuisance – wastewater produced by oil and gas wells during extraction. As a well ages it will typically produce more water and less oil or gas over time, which raises the cost of production. Where the produced wastewater is hot enough, and the water flow rate is sufficient, specially designed turbines can draw geothermal energy from the wastewater.

That “bonus” geothermal energy can be used to either generate electricity to operate the oil field equipment and lower the cost of production, sell the electricity directly to the power grid or – more likely – to nearby industry users seeking a highly secure electrical source. READ MORE

Heather DeShon, Earth Sciences, seven million Americans at risk of man-made earthquakes, USGS says

Washington Post

Originally Posted: March 28, 2016

Earthquakes are a natural hazard — except when they’re man-made. The oil and gas industry has aggressively adopted the technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to shatter subsurface shale rock and liberate the oil and gas lurking there. But the process results in tremendous amounts of chemical-laden wastewater. Horizontal drilling for oil can also produce massive amount of natural, unwanted salt water. The industry disposes of this wastewater by pumping it into deep wells. READ MORE