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Frontiers of Geophysics Lecture at AGU Fall Meeting 2009: “Cool Things” at the USGS

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The new director of the USGS, Marcia McNutt, presented the “Frontiers of Geophysics lecture” last night at the AGU fall meeting. She tried to give an overview of “what’s cool” within the USGS, leaving out all modelling efforts and Landsat.

Despite not being a remote sensing expert, I knew about “Landsat”, but I wasn’t aware that the USGS is involved in it in a big way. Being somewhat active on the modelling side, I was a little bit disappointed at first, but some of the “cool things” she presented, were actually cool. Also for modellers. Here is the list of “cool things” she talked about — without claiming being complete, these are my notes:

  • Lidar: there are quite a few interesting research projects going on with Lidar, the difference being a different wavelength the Lidar is tuned to. I found an application for mapping ground surface below dense vegetation quite interesting.
  • earthquake warning systems: there is an attempt to put an automatic warning system for California in place, which means for example that gas mains could be shut off automatically, assuming a warning time of a couple of minutes
  • airborne geophysics of volcanoes
  • unmanned aircraft: for desserts, below clouds
  • research related to “atmospheric rivers”. This concept was new to me, but the atmosphere doesn’t seem to be as homogeneous as we’ve thought in the past – d’oh!
  • “prospecting remotely”; the USGS completed an airborne hyperspectral survey of the surface of the entire country of Afghanistan in order to assess the situation of minerals in Afghanistan. According to McNutt, “Afghanistan is rich [in minerals] beyond your wildest dreams”. These resources could be used to help the country financially. It would be interesting to see the results.
  • a US-wide map of methylmercury concentration
  • Biochar for better soil and for carbon sequestration
  • a plasma based mass-spectrometer;
  • “creating moon dirt at 37,000°F” using a plasma-torch;
  • arsenic in the evolution of earth and extraterrestrial ecosystems;
  • gas hydrates discovered in the US gulf of Mexico;
  • gas hydrates & climate change;

Written by Claus

December 15th, 2009 at 5:55 pm

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