Friday, 3 July 2015

Wollangambe River severely affected by mine runoff following wall collapse at Clarence Colliery.

The New South Wales Environmental Protection Agency is assessing damage to the Wollangambe River ecosystem near Lithgow in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales, following the collapse of a wall of mine waste at the Centennial Coal operated Clarence Colliery on Thursday 2 July 2015. The river is showing signs of being clearly impacted within 150 m of the incident, which led to several tonnes of coal fines entering the river, and there is concern that the incident could impact the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, which is less than two kilometers downriver of the incident.

Gully between the waste storage area at Clarence Colliery and the River Wollangambe, now heavily polluted with coal runoff following the 2 July 2015 incident. New South Wales Environmental Protection Agency.

Coal, which in its pure form is basically pure carbon, is not inherently toxic, however fine coal dust presents a number of hazards to the environment. It can coat the surfaces of photosynthesizing plants and algae, preventing them from getting light, and clog the gills and other organs of a wide range of invertebrates. Coal also frequently contains high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are toxic and carcinogenic to a wide range of organisms, including Humans. Furthermore it is a source of carbon which some bacteria can use, potentially leading to bacterial blooms and de-oxygenation of closed water systems. Furthermore coal, and in particular coal waste, is seldom pure and frequently contains toxic elements such as mercury or arsenic. Coal waste from the Clarence Colliery is known to be high in nickel and sulphur, both of which are toxic to a wide range of invertebrates. 

The Clarence Colliery was already a cause of concern to the New South Wales Environmental Protection Agency, who earlier this year published a report revealing dangerously high levels of nickel, sulphur, sulphate and calcium in the River Wollangambe, as well as concerns about the levels of zinc, and demonstrated that the river had suffered a 90% drop in the populations of large invertebrates since the mine opened in 1998, which in turn presents a hazard to the areas aquatic vertebrates, including the iconic and insectivorous Duck-billed Platypus.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2 July incident the New South Wales Environmental Protection Agency have ordered the building of a silt wall between the waste site and the river, to prevent any further runoff reaching the waterway, and are carrying out further investigations to determine the extent of the incident and what measures can be taken to restore the river system.

See also...

A worker was killed in an accident at the Glencore Xstrata owned CSA Copper Mine in Cobar, New South Wales, at about 11.15 pm local time on Wednesday 11 June 2014. The worker has been described as a...


Two miners are missing and an unknown number have been injured after a cave-in at the Austar Coal Mine at Paxton in Hunter Valley, New South Wales...


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Series of landslides kills at least 30 in Darjeeling, India.

At least 30 people have died and at least sixteen more are still missing following a series of landslides which struck the Darjeeling District of West Bengal State, India, in the first few days of July 2015. At least 25 separate landslides have occurred, several hitting homes in towns and villages and others blocking roads and railways, thereby hampering rescue efforts. The highest death toll occurred in the resort town of Mirik, where seventeen people have now been confirmed dead and over 200 are currently living in temporary accommodation due to damage to or destruction of their homes. Deaths have also been confirmed in Kalimpong, Lava, Sukhia and Gorubathan.

The body of a landslide victim recovered in Darjeeling on Wednesday 1 July 2015. Mikma Lepcha/The Indian Express.

The landslides occurred following a period of 48 hours of continuous heavy rainfall. Landslides are a common problem after severe weather events, as excess pore water pressure can overcome cohesion in soil and sediments, allowing them to flow like liquids. Approximately 90% of all landslides are caused by heavy rainfall. Such events are common during the monsoon season in Darjeeling, which lasts from June to September, but had not been a problem previously this year, with the area receiving cool weather and moderate rainfall that attracted many visitors to the district's resorts.

Rescue workers searching a building following a landslide in Darjeeling. National Disaster Response Force.

Monsoons are tropical sea breezes triggered by heating of the land during the warmer part of the year (summer). Both the land and sea are warmed by the Sun, but the land has a lower ability to absorb heat, radiating it back so that the air above landmasses becomes significantly warmer than that over the sea, causing the air above the land to rise and drawing in water from over the sea; since this has also been warmed it carries a high evaporated water content, and brings with it heavy rainfall. In the tropical dry season the situation is reversed, as the air over the land cools more rapidly with the seasons, leading to warmer air over the sea, and thus breezes moving from the shore to the sea (where air is rising more rapidly) and a drying of the climate. This situation is particularly intense in South Asia, due to the presence of the Himalayas. High mountain ranges tend to force winds hitting them upwards, which amplifies the South Asian Summer Monsoon, with higher winds leading to more upward air movement, thus drawing in further air from the sea. 

Diagrammatic representation of wind and rainfall patterns in a tropical monsoon climate. Geosciences/University of Arizona.

See also...

At least 21 people have died in the district of Cox's Bazar in the Chittagong Division of Bangladesh...


At least seven people have died following torrential rainfall overnight in the city of Guwahati in Assam State, northeast India. Three people from one family were killed and another injured when a landslide struck their...


Seven members of a single family have been killed by a landslide that struck their home in the village of Satkoragool in the Karimganj District of Assam...


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Magnitude 1.1 Earthquake in south Derbyshire, England.

The British Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 1.1 Earthquake at a depth of 7 km between the villages of Sutton on the Hill and Marston on Dove in south Derbyshire, England slightly before 2.35 pm British Summertime (slightly before 1.35 pm GMT) on Friday 27 June 2015. There are no reports of any injuries associated with this event, though it may have been felt locally.

The approximate location of the 27 June 2015 Derbyshire Earthquake. Google Maps.

Earthquakes become more common as you travel north and west in Great Britain, with the west coast of Scotland being the most quake-prone part of the island and the northwest of Wales being more prone  to quakes than the rest of Wales or most of England. However, while quakes in southern England are less frequent, they are often larger than events in the north, as tectonic presures tend to build up for longer periods of time between events, so that when they occur more pressure is released.

The precise cause of Earthquakes in the UK can be hard to determine; the country is not close to any obvious single cause of such activity such as a plate margin, but is subject to tectonic pressures from several different sources, with most quakes probably being the result of the interplay between these forces.

Britain is being pushed to the east by the expansion of the Atlantic Ocean and to the north by the impact of Africa into Europe from the south. It is also affected by lesser areas of tectonic spreading beneath the North Sea, Rhine Valley and Bay of Biscay. Finally the country is subject to glacial rebound; until about 10 000 years ago much of the north of the country was covered by a thick layer of glacial ice (this is believed to have been thickest on the west coast of Scotland), pushing the rocks of the British lithosphere down into the underlying mantle. This ice is now gone, and the rocks are springing (slowly) back into their original position, causing the occasional Earthquake in the process.

(Top) Simplified diagram showing principle of glacial rebound. Wikipedia. (Bottom) Map showing the rate of glacial rebound in various parts of the UK. Note that some parts of England and Wales show negative values, these areas are being pushed down slightly by uplift in Scotland, as the entire landmass is quite rigid and acts a bit like a see-saw. Climate North East.

Witness accounts of Earthquakes can help geologists to understand these events, and the structures that cause them. If you felt this quake, or were in the area but did not (which is also useful information) then you can report it to the British Geological Survey here.

See also...

The British Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 1.4 Earthquake at a depth of 2 km about 10 km to the east of Loughborough in Leicestershire, England...


The British Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 2.8 Earthquake at a depth of 7 km between Nottingham and Mansfield in southwest Nottinghamhire, England, slightly after 7.15 pm GMT on Tuesday 28 October 2014. An event of this size is highly unlikely to have caused any damage or injuries, but people have reported feeling the event across southwest Nottinghamshire.



The British Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 1.3 Earthquake at a depth of 1 km in northern Nottinghamshire, England, slightly after 9.30 pm...


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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Japan restricts access to Mount Hakone after small eruption.

Authorities in Japan have closed off part of Mount Hakone, a popular tourist resort in Kanagawa Prefecture with hot springs and views of Mount Fuji, following a small eruption on Monday 29 June 2015. Nobody was injured in the event, in which a small amount of ash was produced slightly before 7.00 am, and was preceded by a Magnitude 3.3 Earthquake, but about 40 people were evacuated from the area due to the possibility of a phreatic eruption (explosion caused by water coming into contact with hot lava and vapourising).

Ash cloud over Mount Hakone. Reuters.

The Hakone area is noted for its hot springs, which are caused by water coming into contact with burried hot rocks, then rising to the surface, however Earthquakes near volcanoes are often caused by liquid magma moving through chambers beneath the volcano, and can be symptoms of future eruptions. In the case of Hakone there is a concern that magma closerto the surface my come into contact with liquid water, leading to explosions capable of throwing debris into the air at the surface.

The location of Mount Hakone. Google Maps.

Japan has a complex tectonic situation, with parts of the country on four different tectonic plates. Eastern Honshu area lies on the boundary between the Pacific, Eurasian and Philipine Plates, where the Pacific Plate is passing beneath the Eurasian and Philipine Plates as it is subducted into the Earth. This is not a smooth process; the rocks of the two plates constantly stick together, only to break apart again as the pressure builds up, causing Earthquakes in the process. 

The movement of the Pacific and Philippine Plates beneath eastern Honshu.Laurent Jolivet/Institut des Sciences de la Terre d'Orléans/Sciences de la Terre et de l'Environnement.

Mount Hakone is located directly on the Bonin Arc, a chain of volcanoes fed by liquified material from the Pacific Plate which is melted by the heat of the Earth's interior and rises through the overlying Eurasian Plate.

See also...

Authorities in Kanagawa Prefecture have closed off an area of Mount Hakone, a popular tourist destination, following a rise sharp in seismic activities since 26 April 2015. An area of around 300 m around the...


The Japan Meteorological Agency (which also monitors seismic activity) recorded a Magnitude 5.7 Earthquake at a depth of 50 km off the coast of Iwate Prefecture, slightly after 1.45 pm Japan Standard Time (slightly after 4.45 am GMT) on Tuesday 17 February 2015. There...


The Japan Meteorological Agency (which also monitors seismic activity) recorded a Magnitude 6.8 Earthquake at a depth of 10 km in Nagano...

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Monday, 29 June 2015

Microbial sediments from the Early-to-Middle Archean of Mpulanga Province, South Africa.


The quest for evidence of the earliest life is made difficult by both the presumed simplicity of such life (almost certainly Bacteria-like cells with no capacity for biomineralization, let alone large distinctive skeletons) and the limited amount of surviving, unaltered sediments from the earliest eras of the Earth. The best hopes for finding evidence of such life are biomarkers, chemicals or isotopic ratios known to be produced by living things, but which are difficult to explain in the absence of life.

In a paper published in the journal Geology on 26 May 2015, a team of scientists led by Frances Westall of the Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Orléans, France, describe evidence for the presence of a microbial community in the 3.33 billion-year-old (Early-to-Middle Archean) Josefsdal Chert of Mpulanga Province, South Africa.

The Josefsdal Chert forms part of the Barberton Greenstone Belt, and represents a series of inshore sediments 6-30 m thick and several kilometres in extent along the border with Swaziland, sandwiched between layers of volcanic basalt. These sediments have been preserved intact, without compression, by the action of a number of hydrothermal systems, which produced silica-saturated waters, leading to mineralization of the sediments in a chert matrix.

Stratigraphy and facies associations of Josefsdal Chert, South Africa. Stratigraphic column (A) comprises four stratigraphic units (1–4) consisting of four interbedded sedimentary (chert) facies associations (A–D) that represent sedimentation in shifting upper offshore to foreshore environments. (B) Swaley and hummocky cross-stratification, deposited by storms in the upper offshore to shoreface, dominate Unit 1, which also exhibits abundant, penecontemporaneous, hydrothermal white to translucent, vertical chert dikes (vcd) and thin chert sills (facies A). (C) Iron-stained, poorly sorted, rhythmically laminated sediments of facies B, interpreted to have been deposited in a shoreface setting that was periodically tidally influenced. (D) Hydrothermal black and white banded chert constitutes facies C. (E) Planar-laminated volcanic accretionary lapilli and ash, comprising Unit 3, were intermittently reworked into small current and wave ripples. Facies D is inferred to have been deposited in an upper shoreface setting. Unit 4 contains alternations of facies A (with rare dessication cracks), C, and D that accumulated in shoreface to foreshore settings. Biosignatures occur ubiquitously in all facies; they are generally uncommon but dense in the vicinity of paleo-hydrothermal activity. Westall et al. (2015).

Preserved biofilms (saccharine-rich films produced by Bacteria both to secure themselves in place in aquatic environments and to help them interact with those environments) are found throughout the Josephdal Chert, though they are better preserved close to areas of palaeohydological activity (i.e. the vents producing the silica-rich waters). These comprise both films occurring on bedding surfaces, interpreted as having been produced by photosynthetic Bacteria, and clotted structures within finer-grained sediments, interpreted as having been produced by chemoautrophic Bacteria (Bacteria which obtained energy by processing chemicals within the sediments).

Types of carbonaceous material in the Josefsdal Chert, South Africa. (A) Dark wavy, phototrophic laminae (type 1; black arrows) coexisting with dark, chemotrophic clots (type 2; labeled as C). (B), (C) Details of phototrophic biofilms showing entrapped detrital grains (arrows, B) and compensation of laminae over underlying clot (arrow, C). (D) Laminated, detrital type 3 carbonaceous matter, partly rippled (black arrow), with sedimented clot (white arrow). (E) Type 2 clots, whose irregular shape suggests insitu growth, co-occur with sedimented carbonaceous matter (white arrow). (F) Detrital fragment of well-preserved phototrophic biofilm in facies A. (G) Phototrophic laminae are generally poorly preserved in the coarse sands of facies A (and facies D). Westall et al. (2015).


The bedding horizon films were found to be highly depleted in carbon-13 (the heavier of the two most abundant stable isotopes of carbon), which is generally accepted as evidence of photosynthesis (which preferentially uses carbon-12), supporting the idea that these films were produced by photosynthetic, rather than some other, possibly non-biological, phenomenon.

See also…

In the nineteenth century the origin of life seemed an intractable problem for palaeontologists, with large complex animal fossils appearing in the Cambrian explosion, but scientists having access to neither examples of earlier fossils nor the means with which to examine them. However from the early twentieth...


The potential of there being life on Mars has been a stalwart of popular fiction for over a century, though to date no signs of actual life have been...


The blood plasma and lymph of modern animals is similar in chemical composition to seawater, strongly supporting the idea that animal life began in the oceans, but the liquid inside our cells has a quite different chemistry, suggesting that cells themselves first...



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Asteroid 2015 MX103 passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2015 MX103 passed by the Earth at a distance of 4 389 000 km (11.4 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 2.93% of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly before 4.45 pm GMT on Monday 22 June 2015. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though had it done so it would have presented only a minor threat. 2015 MX103 has an estimated equivalent diameter of 25-78 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 25-78 m in diameter), and an object of this size would be expected to explode in an airburst (an explosion caused by superheating from friction with the Earth's atmosphere, which is greater than that caused by simply falling, due to the orbital momentum of the asteroid) in the atmosphere between 20 and 1 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's surface, although since an object at the upper end of this range would be expected to release an amount of energy equivalent to about 22 megatons of TNT (roughly 1300 times the energy released by the Hiroshima bomb), then being directly underneath it might be fairly unpleasant.

The calculated orbit of 2015 MX103. JPL Small Body Database.

2015 MX103 was discovered on 19 June 2015 (three days before its closest approach to the Earth) by the University of Arizona's Catalina Sky Survey, which is located in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The designation 2015 MX103 implies that it was the 2678th asteroid (asteroid X103) discovered in the second half of June 2015 (period 2015 M).

While 2015 MX103 occasionally comes near to the Earth, it does not actually cross our orbital path. It has an elliptical 715 day orbit, at an angle of 7.40° to the plane of the Solar System, that takes it from 1.02 AU from the Sun (1.02 times the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun), slightly outside our orbit, to 2.11 AU from the Sun, (2.11 times the distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun and considerably more than the distance at which the planet Mars orbits the Sun). As a Near Earth Object that remains strictly outside the orbit of the Earth it is classed as an Amor Family Asteroid.

See also...

Asteroid 2015 LQ21 passed by the Earth at a distance of 4 983 000 km (13.0 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 3.33% of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly before 7.00 pm GMT on Thursday 18 ...



Asteroid 2015 MA passed by the Earth at a distance of 656 700 km (1.71 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 0.44% of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly before 2.10 am GMT on Wednesday 17 June 2015. There...



Asteroid (1566) 1949 MA Icarus passed by the Earth at a distance of 8 054 000 km (20.9 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 5.38 % of the average distance between the Earth and the...


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Sunday, 28 June 2015

Magnitude 1.9 Earthquake in Flintshire, North Wales.

The British Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 1.9 Earthquake at a depth of 5 km, to the southeast of Prestatyn in Flintshire, North Wales, at about 12.55 pm British Summertime (at about  11.55 am GMT) on Friday 26 June 2015. An Earthquake of this size is not dangerous, and is highly unlikely to have caused any damage or injuries, but is likely to have been felt locally.

The approximate location of the 26 June 2015 Flintshire Earthquake. Google Maps.

Earthquakes become more common as you travel north and west in Great Britain, with the west coast of Scotland being the most quake-prone part of the island and the northwest of Wales being more prone  to quakes than the rest of Wales or most of England.

The precise cause of Earthquakes in the UK can be hard to determine; the country is not close to any obvious single cause of such activity such as a plate margin, but is subject to tectonic pressures from several different sources, with most quakes probably being the result of the interplay between these forces.

Britain is being pushed to the east by the expansion of the Atlantic Ocean and to the north by the impact of Africa into Europe from the south. It is also affected by lesser areas of tectonic spreading beneath the North Sea, Rhine Valley and Bay of Biscay. Finally the country is subject to glacial rebound; until about 10 000 years ago much of the north of the country was covered by a thick layer of glacial ice (this is believed to have been thickest on the west coast of Scotland), pushing the rocks of the British lithosphere down into the underlying mantle. This ice is now gone, and the rocks are springing (slowly) back into their original position, causing the occasional Earthquake in the process. 

(Top) Simplified diagram showing principle of glacial rebound. Wikipedia. (Bottom) Map showing the rate of glacial rebound in various parts of the UK. Note that some parts of England and Wales show negative values, these areas are being pushed down slightly by uplift in Scotland, as the entire landmass is quite rigid and acts a bit like a see-saw. Climate North East.

Witness accounts of Earthquakes can help geologists to understand these events, and the structures that cause them. If you felt this quake, or were in the area but did not (which is also useful information) then you can report it to the British Geological Survey here.

See also...

The British Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 3.0 Earthquake at a depth of 9 km, off the east coast of Caernarfon in Gwynedd, North Wales, slightly after...


The British Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 1.5 Earthquake at a depth of 10 km, about 2 km to the west of Coedpoerh in Wrexham, North Wales, at about...

The British Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 1.0 Earthquake at a depth of 12 km in northeast Gwynedd, North Wales, slightly after 10.30 pm British...


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