Taming the White Dragon

Called a “white dragon,” an avalanche is unexpected, unstoppable, and lethal. A single skier can trigger one, killing hundreds. By unexpected, I mean, utterly. They are impossible to predict.

Until now. This story comes from ABC television. They did a special on two Australians who have developed a sort of avalanche-predicting technology.

After his friend Chris was buried and killed by an avalanche, Roddy MacKenzie made a vow to prevent that from ever happening on his watch again.

Normal resorts dig one avalanche pit (a hole where they can see each of the layers of snow) on a slope to check if it’s stable, but that’s not enough. MacKenzie wondered if there was a way to check the entire slope with digital imaging.

He helped to create a probe that is easy to carry and, once pushed into the snow, can read the layers in seconds. After scanning the entire slope, they can blast away any unsafe portions.

They are sure that this will save lives. I don’t ski or snowboard, but I do hope that it will.


Valley of Death

A desert is dangerous. Water in the desert is rare. But in the rare instances where there comes too much water in the desert?

This is on highway Highway 395 at Dunmovin, California, near Death Valley. See that semi?

According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, a mudslide is 50% silt/sand/clay/junk and at least 30% water (and 20% houses, trees, small animals?). Especially in a desert, when flash flooding occurs, there isn’t any vegetation to keep the sand in place and so it all gets swept up and carried away by the water.

That particular mudslide occurred an intense period of flash flooding in the Mojave Desert this last August (2010). The Guzzler has a few articles written about that time (you have to scroll down, though. It’s a bit of a pain).

Life on Mars?

There very well could be.  Life in its most basic form, at any rate

Taken from an article on my new favorite website, Wired, scientists believe that water once existed beneath Olympus Mons, a volcano on Mars three times the height of Mount Everest. There may be a chance that the water is still warm, making it very life friendly.

On Earth, it is believed that life began around hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. So, why not in water channels under a volcano on Mars?

On a side note: Olympus Mons is huge. That’s Hawaii superimposed on top of it for scale. It’s generally believed that there is a hot spot beneath the mountain (same idea as Yellowstone), but the plates on Mars don’t move, so the same volcano keeps getting bigger and bigger.

The View from Above

The site mentioned in my previous post yielded some other interesting pages. This one is a series of volcanic eruptions as seen from space. I imagine that it’s a safer viewpoint than at the volcano itself.

Kliuchevskoi, the most active volcano on Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula (1994):

Augustine volcano in the Cook Inlet (2006):

Sarychev Volcano in the Kuril Islands, northeast of Japan (June 2009):

Alaska’s Redoubt Volcano erupted five times in one night this year (2010) after almost three decades of relative quiet. It continued erupting on and off for weeks afterward. This image was taken by the commercial satellite GeoEye-1 on March 30 when the ash reached heights of 27,000 feet:

Mount Etna on the island of Sicily. The smaller plumes of smoke on the slopes on the volcano are forest fires started by lava flows (2002):

Cleveland Volcano in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands (2006):

Popocatépetl, which means “smoking mountain” in the Aztec language, is just 44 miles outside Mexico City (2001):

Chaitén caldera in Chile (2008):

Sierra Negra volcano in the Galapagos Islands (2006):

Shiveluch volcano erupting on Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula (2004):

These are some incredible images. I’ve only included some really basic information on each of them, so please go to the actual page to find out more about the photos and the volcanoes.

Earth as Art

If I were a painter, I think I’d paint these. We often see images of the earth from space, but how much detail can you really see? Honestly. Some blue for water, some green for grass…. These false color images show every distinct detail not quite as you normally imagine them, but in a way that is stunning. Check it out.

False color imaging is a technique that uses infrared-sensitive film. That’s about all I can tell you. Something about heat.

(My favorite image is Mount Elgon)

The Sistine Chapel of Crystals

This isn’t a natural disaster, but it’s a natural marvel. From an article I found in National Geographic, imagine this: spelunking in an oppressively hot, deep cave bearing mineral crystals the size of trees. Yeah, you read it. Crystals as tall as 30 feet.

From the article: “In the presence of such beauty and strangeness, people cast around for familiar metaphors. Staring at the crystals, García [a crystollographer] decided the cavern reminded him of a cathedral; he called it the Sistine Chapel of crystals.

“In both cathedrals and crystals there’s a sense of permanence and tranquillity that transcends the buzz of surface life. In both there is the suggestion of worlds beyond us.”

The Crystal Cave

Click the picture to make it bigger. See the little people?

This is the Cueva de los Cristales, or the Cave of Crystals, far beneath the Naica mine in Mexico, near the city of Chihuahua.

A magma intrusion simmers only a mile below the cave, so while most caves are constant and cool, the Cave of Crystals reaches up to 112 degrees Fahrenheit, with 90-100 percent humidity. Those allowed in the cave are only able to stay for up to 20 minutes.

How could a phenomenon such as this form? I pride myself in my writing abilities, but the writer at National Geographic put it the best.

“By examining bubbles of liquid trapped inside the crystals, García and his colleagues pieced together the story of the crystals’ growth. For hundreds of thousands of years, groundwater saturated with calcium sulfate filtered through the many caves at Naica, warmed by heat from the magma below.

“As the magma cooled, water temperature inside the cave eventually stabilized at about 136°F. At this temperature minerals in the water began converting to selenite [a mineral like gypsum], molecules of which were laid down like tiny bricks to form crystals.

“In other caves under the mountain, the temperature fluctuated or the environment was somehow disturbed, resulting in different and smaller crystals. But inside the Cave of Crystals, conditions remained unchanged for millennia.

“Above ground, volcanoes exploded and ice sheets pulverized the continents. Human generations came and went. Below, enwombed in silence and near complete stasis, the crystals steadily grew. Only around 1985, when miners using massive pumps lowered the water table and unknowingly drained the cave, did the process of accretion stop.”

A heavy steel door and Mexico law keep out miners and other scavengers, by crystallographers are concerned about the elements. Without water to sustain them, the crystals may bend and crack beneath their own weight. Now that they are open to air, carbon dioxide and other gases will dull their glory.

From the article:

“We stop for a moment to rest. Everything around us glitters; it is as though we are standing inside a star. Badino turns, and the lines crease at the corners of his eyes. He pulls his mask away. ‘You know,’ he says, smiling, ‘there would be worse places to die.’

“Cathedral, star, tomb. We look for something to anchor the otherworldly in the familiar. After half an hour we depart, soaked in sweat, our veins throbbing, and a visiting filmmaker asks what it was like. I have a little trouble. He nods, understanding.

“‘Es como un sueño de niño,’ he says. ‘It is like a child’s dream.'”

A Crusty Calamity

Have you ever watched the earth crack in half in a movie and asked yourself, “Could that really happen?” I have. Here are some fun sites to check out real scientists’ views on the various disaster movies that Hollywood has thrown at us.


The Day After Tomorrow

Dante’s Peak

The Core

2012 – This one is not so much factual as it is hysterical