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Oil & Gas: Geothermal in the oil field, the next emerging market

One of the petroleum industry’s major sources for industry news has covered the emergence of geothermal energy from existing oil and gas fields as a potential source of power generation.

The June 20 article “Geothermal in the oil field, the next emerging market” provides context for the emerging technology that is making geothermal production possible. The article cites SMU’s annual geothermal conference as a source of more information about geothermal production.

The SMU Geothermal Laboratory hosted its fifth international conference dedicated to “Geothermal Energy Utilization Associated with Oil & Gas Development” in mid-June on the SMU campus.


Oil & Gas Magazine

The petroleum industry is at a crossroads. A perfect storm of declining reserves, aging oilfields, increasing costs for exploration, operating, and decommissioning, volatile oil prices, and the uptick trending of “green” energy — it has never been more important to make the most out of existing reserves, assets and infrastructure.

Geothermal energy is an emerging worldwide energy market. Geothermal often gets overlooked in a world of PV, CSP, wind and hydro; however, geothermal offers more reliability (average 95 per cent capacity factor), lower carbon emissions and lower maintenance costs compared to these more “glamorous” renewable energy sources.

Geothermal has some major barriers to entry to the mainstream energy market. The largest barriers include the high-initial capital costs related to drilling and constructing new geothermal wells, long payback periods, and the risk associated with unknown formation performance when drilling in a new area.

Using proven technology, expertise and reservoir data from the petroleum industry, this unlikely partnership can provide a springboard for the geothermal industry to enter the mainstream renewable energy market, while at the same time benefiting the petroleum industry. If the initial capital costs for drilling geothermal wells could be reduced by utilizing existing oil field infrastructure, while also minimizing risk by using existing oilfield data, the barriers to entry for geothermal suddenly come tumbling down.

Recent advancements in energy conversion technologies and Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) technology have made incorporating geothermal in the oil field a viable and exciting emerging-energy market. In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funded several projects demonstrating electricity generation from geothermal fluids, produced from active, abandoned, or marginal oil and gas wells. Federal tax incentives, the Department of Treasury Cash Grant and the DOE Loan Guarantee program combined with aggressive state renewable portfolio goals are expected to drive growth in the geothermal industry in the near term.

Read the full story.

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Youtube: Trailer of Projecto PaleoAngola documentary

SMU paleontologists Louis L. Jacobs and Michael J. Polcyn appear in a new documentary about Projecto PaleoAngola, a collaborative international scientific research program focused on the ancient life of Angola.

“The results of our fieldwork in the Cretaceous of Angola have been extraordinarily spectacular,” says Jacobs.

Besides the discovery of the first dinosaur of Angola the team has uncovered mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, turtles and other Cretaceous marine animals, but the aim is also to create a strong and lasting institutional and scientific collaboration that has a multiplier effect in Angolan academia.

A trailer of the upcoming documentary is available on YouTube. The film was written, directed, and produced by Kalunga Lima of LS films, based in Luanda Angola, and edited by Helena Alves. Lima interviewed Jacobs and Polcyn, who are both members of the Projecto PaleoAngola team.

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To book a live or taped interview with Louis Jacobs or Mike Polcyn in the SMU News Broadcast Studio call News and Communications at 214-768-7650 or email (Photo: Octavio Mateus)

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Louis L. Jacobs Michael J. Polcyn Projecto PaleoAngola Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences

A professor in Dedman College’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Jacobs joined SMU’s faculty in 1983.

Besides Angola, Jacobs also does field work in Mongolia. His book, “Lone Star Dinosaurs” (1999, Texas A&M University Press) was the basis of an exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History that traveled the state. He also consulted on the exhibit, Mysteries of the Texas Dinosaurs.

In the laboratory, Jacobs’ research utilizes advanced imaging and stable isotope techniques to investigate paleoenvironmental, biogeographic and phylogenetic issues of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras.

Polcyn is director of the Visualization Laboratory in SMU’s Department of Earth Sciences and an SMU adjunct research associate.

A world-recognized expert on the extinct marine reptile named Mosasaur, his research interests include the early evolution of Mosasauroidea and adaptations in secondarily aquatic tetrapods.

Polcyn’s research also includes application of technology to problems in paleontology.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Tiny teeth discovered from Inner Mongolia are new species of today’s birch mouse, rare “living fossil”

Birch mouse is now 9 million years older than previously known and migrated from Asia to North America

Tiny fossil teeth discovered in Inner Mongolia are a new species of birch mouse, indicating that ancestors of the small rodent are much older than previously reported, according to paleontologist Yuri Kimura, Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Fossils of the new species were discovered in sediments that are 17 million years old, said Kimura, who identified the new species and named it Sicista primus to include the Latin word for “first.”

Previously the oldest prehistoric ancestor of the modern-day birch mouse was one that inhabited Inner Mongolia 8 million years ago.

Adding 9 million years to the ancestry of the rodent family that includes birch mice and jumping mice distinguishes this genus, Sicista, as a “living fossil,” Kimura said. That places the genus among some of the most unique rodents on earth — those whose ancestry spans 2 to 3 times the average, she said.

Kimura identified Sicista primus from 17 tiny teeth, whose size makes them difficult to find. A single molar is about the size of half a grain of rice. The teeth, however, are distinctive among the various genera of rodents known as Dipodidae. Cusps, valleys, ridges and other distinguishing characteristics on the surface of the teeth are identifiable through a microscope.

“We are very lucky to have these,” Kimura said. “Paleontologists usually look for bones, but a mouse is very tiny and its bones are very thin and fragile. The teeth, however, are preserved by enamel. Interestingly, small mammal teeth are very diverse in terms of their structure, so from that we can identify a species.”

Kimura reported the new species in the article “The earliest record of birch mice from the Early Miocene Nei Mongol, China” in the scientific journal Naturwissenschaften. Images of the research and expedition are posted on the SMU Research flickr site. Go to SMUVideo’s “Inner Mongolia yields ‘living fossil’” to watch Kimura discuss the research.

An SMU doctoral student in the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Kimura was part of the international team that discovered the fossils during expeditions to Inner Mongolia in 2004, 2005 and 2007.

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To book a live or taped interview with Yuri Kimura in the SMU News Broadcast Studio call SMU News at 214-768-7650 or email SMU News at

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Microscopic evidence of a living fossil
The new fossils of Sicista primus from the Early Miocene age are also now the earliest known record of Sicista, the birch mouse genus that comprises 13 modern and 7 fossil species, said Kimura. As a result, Sicista now boasts the most ancient ancestry of the 326 genera in the largest rodent suborder to which it belongs, Myomorpha. The suborder includes laboratory mice and rats.

“The birch mouse is a rare case of a small mammal genus persisting from the Early Miocene without significant morphological changes,” Kimura said in reporting the findings.

Rodents, both modern and prehistoric, rank as the most prolific mammals on earth. After the reign of dinosaurs, 65 million years ago, rodents evolved and dispersed worldwide during the Cenozoic, the “Age of Mammals.” They comprise about 42 percent of all living mammals. Scientists know now that only 1.5 percent of modern rodent genera, however, go as far back as the Early Miocene or older.

“Diversity within a rodent genus is not unusual, but the long record of the genus Sicista, first recognized at 17 million years ago, is unusual,” said Kimura. “The discovery of Early Miocene S. primus reveals that Sicista is fundamental to understanding how a long-lived genus persisted among substantially fast-evolving rodent groups.”

Birch mice migrated from Asia to North America
Previously the record for the oldest species of Sicista belonged to an 8 million-year-old species identified in Eurasia, Kimura said.

In identifying the new species, Kimura also reverses the long-held hypothesis that ancestors of birch mice migrated from North America to Asia. That hypothesis has been based on a 14.8 million-year-old specimen from South Dakota, which was identified in 1977 as the separate rodent genus Macrognathomys. Kimura’s analysis, however, concludes that Macrognathomys is actually Sicista. For that reason, she concluded, Sicista first inhabited the forests and grasslands of prehistoric Asia and then dispersed to North America via the Bering Land Bridge, Kimura said.

In a comparison of the molars and premolars from Macrognathomys and Sicista primus, Kimura reported finding 12 shared dental characteristics. In addition, phylogenetic analysis to identify evolutionary relationships indicated that both belong to the same genus, Sicista, she said.

Reconnaissance of earlier Central Asiatic Expedition localities yields small mammals
The teeth of Sicista primus were discovered in fine sediments gathered from Gashunyinadege, a fossil locality in the central region of Inner Mongolia.

Gashunyinadege is one of several fossil localities near Tunggur, a fossil site discovered in the 1920s by the Central Asiatic Expedition, which was led by Roy Chapman Andrews from the American Museum of Natural History.

Kimura is a member of an international scientific team sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The team’s expeditions have been led by paleontologists Qiu Zhuding, IVPP; Wang Xiaoming, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County; and Li Qiang, IVPP. Their expeditions retrace important classic localities, as well as prospect new fossil localities.

Kimura and other members of the team discovered the birch mouse fossils by first prospecting Gashunyinadege for small mammal fossils visible to the naked eye. Those fossils indicated the possibility of even smaller mammal fossils, so the team gathered 6,000 kilograms, more than 13,000 pounds, of Early Miocene sediment. Using standing water from recent rains, they washed the sediments repeatedly through continually smaller screens to separate out small fossils. Bags of concentrate containing particles the size of mouse teeth were returned to IVPP laboratories to hunt for fossils with a microscope.

The research was funded by the Institute for the Study of Earth and Man at SMU, Dallas Paleontological Society, Geological Society of America, Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology. — Margaret Allen

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with SMU’s Yuri Kimura or to book her in the SMU studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.

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Earth magazine: “Mapping Dino Footprints in 3-D”


The May 2011 issue of Earth Magazine reports on the research of SMU paleontologists in the SMU Huffington Department of Earth Sciences.

In a project led by SMU paleontologist Thomas L. Adams, the scientists used portable laser scanning technology to capture field data of a huge 110 million-year-old Texas dinosaur track and then create to scale an exact 3D facsimile.

They have shared their protocol and findings with the public — as well as their downloadable 145-megabyte model — in the online scientific journal Palaeontologia Electronica.

The model duplicates an actual dinosaur footprint fossil that is slowly being destroyed by weathering because it’s on permanent outdoor display, says Adams. The researchers describe in the paper how they created the digital model and discuss the implications for digital archiving and preservation.

Scientists increasingly are using computed tomography and 3D laser scanners to produce high-quality 3D digital models, say Adams and his colleagues, including to capture high-resolution images from remote field sites. SMU’s full-resolution, three-dimensional digital model of the 24-by-16-inch Texas footprint is one of the first to archive an at-risk fossil, they say. Click here to see a large image of the Earth magazine cover.


Sam Lemonick
for Earth Magazine

Dinosaurs are now leaving their footprints on computers — in 3-D. Having 3-D scans of dinosaur footprints in a computer database could be the surest form of preservation of these delicate fossils, researchers say.

Dinosaur tracks found outdoors can’t always be excavated and moved indoors for preservation and study. That includes a theropod dinosaur footprint that is embedded in a bandstand made of limestone and fossil wood in Glen Rose, Texas — a town just southeast of Dinosaur Valley State Park. So a team led by Thomas Adams of Southern Methodist University in Texas decided to create a 3-D model of the print.

They used a high-resolution laser scanner the size of a small briefcase to map the shape of the footprint with beams of laser light from multiple angles. The laser scanner produces what is known as a point cloud, with each point representing a part of the object. The point cloud is then “smoothed” by software to produce a continuous surface.

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National Geographic: Volcano Pictures: First Descent Into a Magma Chamber


Science journalist Ker Than writes on the April 8 Daily News blog of National Geographic about the first-ever scientific expedition into a volcanic magma chamber, citing analysis from SMU volcanologist James E. Quick, a professor in the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences.

The expedition into Iceland’s dormant Thrihnukagigur volcano in October charts a chamber shaped like a long-necked bottle, with the neck rising up to the surface of the earth and the massive chamber down below.

“Magma chambers supply the molten rock that oozes or bursts onto the Earth’s surface during an eruption,” wrote Than. “The bottom half is about a hundred feet (30 meters) across, while the ‘neck’ that connects to the surface is only about 10 feet (3 meters) wide. The entire chamber is about 450 feet (137 meters), from top to bottom.”

For the story — “Volcano Pictures: First Descent Into a Magma Chamber” — Than interviewed Quick, associate vice president for research, and dean of graduate studies.

Quick, who was not part of the expedition, said the magma channels the team discovered appear to be “beautiful textbook examples of how magma can be transported laterally in the Earth’s surface and stored in shallow chambers.”

Quick’s analysis about the magnitude of the expedition is excerpted below.

Read the full story.


James Quick, a volcanologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, said the Thrihnukagigur expedition will provide a firsthand look into a part of Earth only roughly known before.

“We knew from geophysical tools what the plumbing system inside of a volcano looked like, but we only knew it in the crudest way,” said Quick, who wasn’t part of the expedition.

While inside the Thrihnukagigur magma chamber, about a hundred miles (160 kilometers) away, the expedition team’s biggest risk was gas poisoning, SMU’s Quick said.

“Whenever you go into magmatic systems like that, you run the risk of exposure to high levels of carbon dioxide” that can well up from Earth’s interior, he said.

The University of Rhode Island’s Sigurdsson — who was prepared for such a scenario — said the thought did occur to him during his descent.

“I sniffed the air as I went down to see if I felt light-headed at all,” he said. “I had a

[gas mask] in my backpack, but we didn’t need it.”
Read the full story.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.