Category Archives: Geology

Salt Domes – An Economically Significant Geological Formation

Enlarged view of salt crystals

What is a Salt Dome?

A salt dome is a geological formation deep under the surface of the Earth. It is a vertical column of salt which protrudes upwards into the layer of sediments called the caprock. Salt formations are typically horizontal, but when in a sedimentary basin where a thick layer of salt is covered by a layer of sediments of heavy mineral, salt formations can rise vertically. 

How is Salt Domes Formed?

A phenomenon known as diapirism takes place beneath the surface of the Earth. It allows lighter material to force its way upwards through denser material. In the case of a salt dome, salt has a lower density compared to the rocks above it. When a gravitational force, tectonic force, and a combination of various other forces act upon salt, this results in the deformation of salt. As a result, the salt flows upwards like a viscous liquid. 

For the formation of a salt dome, the pressure on the salt must be high enough to allow the salt to penetrate through the layer of sediment above it. Once the salt begins to flow, the process will continue as long as the pressure on the salt is more than the forces acting against it, but once the forces are in equilibrium, the flow of salt will stop. 

When conditions are favorable, salt domes can grow thousands of feet above their core. They can also reach the surface of the Earth and result in the formation of salt glaciers. The formation of salt domes does not occur overnight. It is a long process which can take centuries. The process begins in an isolated marine inlet. When the water evaporates, it leaves concentrated salt. Geologists believe that the evaporation process should occur multiple times. This will help achieve the required concentration of salt essential for creating a salt dome

Once the large deposits of salt are created, wind and other external forces will come into play. Over time, sediments are deposited on the salt. Once the sediments have completely covered the salt formation, the forces acting on the salt will become stronger. Since salt is a mineral with lighter density, it will find its way upwards through the sediments. 

Size of the Salt Domes 

Salt domes are often very large structures. The diameter of the salt dome can range from ½ a mile to over five miles. The origin or the parent rock from which the salt dome rises is typically found thousands of feet below the surface. A typical salt dome rises at least a mile from its origin and some are known to be higher than six miles.

Economic Significance of Salt Domes 

Salt domes are important due to various reasons. They serve as a reservoir for oil and gas. They are also a critical source for sulfur and salt. Once the salt is extracted, the remaining salt dome holes can be used as an effective underground storage and waste disposal site for hazardous waste. 

Oil and Gas Reservoirs 

Salt domes have a unique significance in the oil and gas industry. As the salt is rising vertically, it exerts pressure on the rocks above it. The caprock, which is the layer of sediment above the salt, is arched upwards. This upward arch serves as a structural trap and can reserve oil and gas. As the caprock is arched upwards, oil and gas migrate towards the salt dome. Salt is an effective trap rock as oil can come to rest up along the salt. 

This upward arching of the rock and collection of oil and gas in the arch allows better flow rates of hydrocarbons. This helps in the extraction and recovery of fossil fuels trapped along the salt dunes. The extraction of hydrocarbons along the salt dunes is more cost-effective and environmentally friendly compared to conventional drilling. A single salt dome can have numerous reservoirs of oil and gas at various depths and locations around the salt dome. 

A Source of Salt and Sulfur 

Since salt domes are salt formations, they can be exploited through mining. Salt is used as an essential raw material in numerous industries. It is widely used in the chemical industry and for treating snow-covered highways. Apart from commercial use, salt also has domestic applications as well. 

Another important mineral that can be recovered from salt domes is sulfur. Sulfur is not a part of the salt dome but an important component of the caprock. It occurs as a crystalline material and is known to be formed as a result of bacterial activity. The caprock of certain salt domes contains enough sulfur that can be recovered economically. 

The process of recovering sulfur from salt dome involving drilling a well and treating the rock with superheated water and air. However, as of now, this method of recovering sulfur is not cost-effective. Therefore most of the sulfur which is produced today is a byproduct of refining hydrocarbons. 

Underground Storage and Waste Disposal 

When the salt, sulfur and hydrocarbons are extracted, this leaves large holes which can be used for underground storage. Some of the mines which are developed into salt domes are sealed and can be used for the storage of oil and gas. In the US and Russia, salt domes also serve as state reservoirs of helium gas. This is because salt is the only type of rock that has very low permeability. As a result, it can hold the tiny atoms of helium gas. 

Since salt has low levels of permeability, it also restricts the flow of any type of liquid into the soil. These properties make salt domes very effective for the disposal of hazardous radioactive waste.

Conclusion 

Salt domes are a distinct geological formation with great economic value. Though it takes centuries to form, once formed, humans can continue to benefit from them for years.  

Top Five Rice Producing Nations in the World

Rice crop in a field

Rice is one of the top three food crops grown in the world. Based on production and use of land, rice only follows maize and sugarcane. Around 78% of the total crop grown in the world is consumed by humans as food. While it continues to be a dinner table essential, it has many other uses as well. It is used as a gluing agent in various industries and is primarily consumed in the Eastern part of the world, specifically Asia. Additionally, rice has some nutritional benefits, especially brown rice.

It is one of the very few crops which need a lot of water to grow. Hence, it is grown in areas where water is available abundantly. Rice, along with maize and wheat, is the main source of calories for almost 50% of the world’s population. It is cheap, easily accessible, and many different varieties of rice are available. Since it is a staple crop for more than half of the world’s population, rice cultivation is increasing every year.

However, with the ever-growing population, the consumption of rice is also on the rise. In fact, the rate is much higher than the cultivation rate. Another major issue with rice cultivation is the shortage of water. Thus more and more farmers are relying on the genetic modified crop which can be grown in a shorter span of time with less need of water. 

Rice is mainly grown in the Asian belt with countries like China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh securing a place in the top ten list of world’s largest rice producers. But the interesting fact is the same countries are also the world’s largest consumer of rice. 

It is estimated that the demand for rice will rise up to 555 million tons in the current year as opposed to 490 million tons in 2019. It is also expected that Asians will be responsible for consuming 67 % of the total yield. An overview of top rice-producing countries is as follows. 

China

China tops the list of the world’s largest producers of rice. The largest producer of rice is also the biggest consumer, as it also tops the list of countries with the largest population. Rice, being a dietary staple in China is essentially part of every Chinese meal. The country alone produces 35% of the top world’s rice yield. China manages to produce around 197 million tons of rice every year.

The crop is grown on more than 30 million hectares of land. With technological advancements in genetic engineering and increased use of genetically modified foods, the yield of rice per hectare in China is much higher compared to other countries in the world. China consumes almost 148 million tons on its own. Whereas the rest is exported to other parts of the world. 

India

India secures second place on the list of top rice-producing nations in the world. The cultivation area of rice in India is more than in China. Rice is grown on 44.1 million hectares in India as opposed to 30.17 million hectares in China. However, due to the use of genetic engineering and hybrid seeds, the annual rice yield in China is more than that in India.

The annual yield in India is 148 million tons compared to 197 million tons in China. More than 50% of the Indian population feeds on rice as a primary food and consumes around 99 million tons of rice domestically. This also makes India the second-largest consumer of rice. 

Moreover, the government supports rice cultivation by providing subsidies on rice seeds, fertilizers and machinery. Together India and China account for more than 55% of the total rice grown in the world. 

Indonesia

Third on the list is Indonesia. Compared to the two rice giants, the rice cultivation in Indonesia is substantially less. The crop is grown on approximately 12.2 million hectares of land. 65 million tons of rice is produced annually in Indonesia, but the country only consumes 37.5 million tons. The rest of the rice crop is exported to other parts of the world. 

The global demand for rice is increasing very rapidly and Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim country, is playing an important role in meeting this demand. 

Bangladesh 

Bangladesh is the fourth-largest producer of rice and has the highest per capita rice consumption in the world. The crop is grown on 12 million hectares of land.  The annual rice production in Bangladesh is 47 million tons. Unlike the top three producers of rice where rice is grown on a large field, Bangladesh rice cultivation is usually owned and managed by families.

The annual consumption in Bangladesh is around 40 million tons. Thus, there is practically nothing left to export. Rice is considered as a food security in Bangladesh mainly because of the high consumption rate.

Thailand

The fifth-largest producer of rice is Thailand. With cultivation on an area of fewer than 10 million hectares, the country manages to produce more than 30 million tons of rice. However, the consumption of rice is around 10 million tons domestically. Hence, Thailand is one of the major exporters of rice around the world. In fact, Thailand is the largest exporter of rice with annual rice exports of around 18 million tons. The jasmine basmati rice grown in Thailand is one of the most famous varieties in the world.

Source: 

Top Five Countries with Largest Reserves of Natural Gas

Stove with gas lights running
Source: https://pixabay.com/images/id-2257

Natural gas is considered to be one of the most essential fuels used in households. Natural gas, which primarily comprises methane is commonly used in oven and stoves in almost every country of the world. Chemically, natural gas is composed of one part of carbon and four parts of hydrogen. It is much lighter in weight compared to oxygen. This is the reason why it evaporates very rapidly. Natural gas has a pungent smell which can be noticed quite easily. 

This gas is an important fossil fuel and originally natural gas reserves were classified as associated and non-associated reserves. Associated gas reserves are found along with oil reserves. They can be extracted or transferred back to the reservoir. Non-associated gas reserves are gas reserves found independently. However, as of now, we categorize natural gas into two different types; conventional natural gas and unconventional natural gas, also known as shale gas. These two distinct types of natural gas are found in different types of rock formations. Regardless of the type, natural gas is primarily used as a domestic fuel. It also has wide industrial applications and is also used as an alternative fuel for vehicles. 

Today the global reserves of natural gas are estimated to be 7,121.4 trillion cubic feet. 80% of the total proven natural gas reserves are found in eight countries. It is expected that there are other reserves of natural gas, which are not proven so far. From the data of 2018, the top five countries with the largest reserves of natural gas are: 

Russia

Russia holds the largest reserves of natural gas in the world. As of 2018, the country reserves are estimated to be 1,688.23 trillion. This makes up for around 24% of the global reserves of natural gas. Hence, Russia has a big stake whenever the global gas prices fluctuate. More than 50% of the Russian gas reserves are located in the cold region of Siberia, specifically in Nadym-Pur-Taz (NPT) region of the upper western Siberia. The three largest gas fields in Siberia are Yamburg, Urengov, and Medvedev, which account for nearly 45% of the total country’s gas output.

Gazprom, a state-run company, is responsible for more than 80% of the gas production in the country. This is one of the biggest known stakes in a natural resource for a single entity as this accounts for 20% of the world’s gas production. 

Iran

Second on the list with the largest gas reserves is Iran. The country which has always been under political instability and sanctions has managed to capitalize on its natural resources. Iran is not only rich in natural gas but possesses many other natural resources. 

Iran holds almost 1,200 trillion tons of natural gas, which accounts for almost 18% of the total global gas reserves. The largest gas field in the world, the South Pars is located in Iran. More than 80% of the Iranian gas reserves are non-associated gas reserves. This means that they are not found along with reserves of crude oil. 60 % of the country’s total gas reserves are located in the ocean as South Pars extends to Qatar and a large part of it is in the ocean. This gas field is responsible for more than 25% of the country’s total gas output. Other major gas fields in Iran include the North Pars, Kish and Kangan. 

Recently, Iran had discovered a new natural gas reserve, which according to its oil ministry holds 19 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of the resource and could potentially produce 400 million barrels, worth about $40 billion. However, increased sanctions by the US may prove cumbersome and delay or even halt their natural gas exports from this area. We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out.

Qatar

Qatar, a Middle Eastern nation, which is the largest supplier of LNG liquid natural gas comes third on the list of largest gas reserves.. The country possesses around 175.5 billion cubic meters of proven natural gas reserves. The South Pars located in Iran extends to Qatar. This is the world’s largest offshore field holding the largest reserves of non-associated gas. Another major gas field located in Qatar is the North field. Also, the Barzan gas project played an important role in increasing the output of gas in Qatar since its completion in 2015.

Saudi Arabia

The global oil-producing giant and a leading member of OPEC comes fourth on the list. The country holds over 7.9 billion cubic meters of gas reserves which makes up almost 4% of the world’s total proven gas reserves. 

The Famous Ghawar onshore, Ghawar offshore, Safaniya, and Zuluf fields produce more than 50 % of the total gas output. These gas fields account for more than 55% of the total reserves in the country. There are many non associated gas fields in the country as well. They include Karan field, Arabiyah field, and Hasbah gas fields. 

Turkmenistan

5th on the list is Turkmenistan. The country also holds proven gas reserves of 7.57 billion cubic meters which account for almost 4% of the world’s supply. The reserves are located mainly in the Amu Darya basin in the South East and the Murgab South Caspian Basin which is located in Western Turkmenistan. The Dauletabad field is by far the oldest and the largest gas field in the whole country. 

The country lacks proper infrastructure and there have been very few developments when it comes to the oil and gas sector.  

There are some other major players when it comes to global reserves of natural gas. This includes countries such as Venezuela, Nigeria, Australia, Iraq, China and Israel with exports planned to go to Egypt and Jordan in the near future. Additionally, Israel recently signed a deal with Greece and Cyprus to export natural gas to these countries as well. 

Ten Interesting Facts about Floods in the US

A bench partially submerged in flood water
Photo by gufoto – yayimages.com

To experience the devastations of floods, you don’t necessarily need to live in a high-risk flood zone. Regardless of where you live, floods can severely affect you. As the global climate is changing, there is a tremendous increase in the frequency of floods. Every year, floods are becoming more intense and causing more damage to life and property. 

The United States experiences floods very often. This is because the country is prone to many other natural disasters. Some interesting facts in the United States are highlighted below. 

Floods Can Occur Anywhere 

Where there is water, there can be floods. This natural disaster can occur anywhere, anytime. In the United States, flash floods can occur in all 50 states. They are triggered by a preceding event like a hurricane or a storm. 

The eastern part of the US often experiences hurricanes and severe thunderstorms. Both of these conditions can trigger flooding. On the other hand, the western part of the US is more prone to snow melts and heavy rainfall. 

Flash Floods May Develop Quickly 

Flash floods may develop is as little as six hours following the triggered event. In case of a dike or levee breakdown or the collapse of a dam, flash floods can occur within minutes. They may take slightly longer in case of excessive flow of river water through ice melts.

While heavy rainfall is one of the potential causes of floods, other natural disasters including hurricanes, storms, and snow melts can also lead to flooding. 

Floods Follow Tornadoes

In terms of loss of property and lives, floods are the second most destructive natural disasters in the United States. Tornadoes are the only natural disaster that has caused more damage in terms of life and property compared to floods.  

In the year 2011, the total damages from floods were $8.41 billion. As the intensity and frequency of floods has increased over the last few years, the damages also hiked.

Flooding is a “Top 5 Causes” of Weather-Related Deaths in the US

In the year 2014, flooding was the 4th leading cause of weather-related deaths in the US. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration collected the data regarding fatalities due to natural disasters for the years 1984-2013. The data revealed that the average deaths related to flooding was 85 per annum. This was highest amongst other natural disasters including tornadoes, lightning strikes, and hurricanes.  

Floodplains Are Just 2% of the Earth’s Surface 

Floodplains are areas that have a higher risk of floods. They are low lying areas near the rivers and other water bodies. Naturally, only 2% of the Earth’s surface can be categorized as floodplains. The rest of the surface of land also gets affected by floods, but not as much as floodplains. 

Though floodplains experience extensive damage due to frequent floods, they play an important role in maintaining the ecosystem. Floodplains maintain the level of groundwater by absorbing flood water and releasing it gradually. They also provide clean water, wildlife habitat, and crops.  

Wetlands Save Costs

Flooding incurs a major repair cost as it extensively damages property and infrastructure. In the US, wetlands save more than $30 billion in damage repair. Since wetlands act as sponges, they absorb and store excess water. As a result, flood water does not remain standing. A single acre of wetland can absorb up to 330,000 gallons of water. This volume of water is enough to submerge thirteen homes. 

Apart from saving costs, wetlands play a crucial role in maintaining groundwater levels.  

Floods are Becoming More Frequent and More Intense 

Over the last few decades, the US has experienced major shifts in the weather. There has been a 20% increase in heavy rainfalls. Heavy rainfall has increased the frequency of floods. This, combined with the increased use of land, has intensified damages from the floods. The average annual loss from floods has increased from $6 billion in 2013 to $10 billion in 2017. 

Considering the global climate change, scientists have predicted that the weather will further worsen in the United States. The size of the floodplains in the US will increase by 40% in the next 50 years. This can have devastating consequences on future generations. 

Dikes or Levees Can Collapse 

Civilizations have been residing around rivers for centuries. When the technology was limited, people living near rivers built levees or dikes. This was their only defense against overflowing floodwater. As technology improved and dams were constructed, people continued to rely on levees. 

In the US, 100,000 miles of levees run across the nation. However, there is no record of the condition of these levees. An estimate of 40% of the population in the US lives in counties that still rely on levees. People now do not rely on levees for agricultural purposes alone; instead, homes and businesses are now constructed behind them. However, with the growing intensity of floods, levees are no longer a reliable option. 

Heavy rainfall induced by climate change, along with the deteriorating condition of the levees, can pose a threat to the population residing near rivers and streams. 

Tectonic Movements: How Earthquakes Happen

Earth cutaway schematic of the Earth

Felling the earth rumble under you has got to be one of the scariest moments one could experience. It feels like the whole planet is moving and you are helpless to stop it or even run somewhere for safety. If you are one of those unlucky people who have actually experienced this, you are not alone, as thousands of others have experienced the same horror.

Fortunately, these movements, more commonly called by their every day name – earthquakes, only last less than a minute, but the damage it leaves behind in both human lives and property is incomprehensible.

So you ask yourself – why did this happen? What can be done about it? Let’s delve into what causes earthquakes and see if we can remove the mystery of why the earth moves.

The Tectonic Plates

Map of earthquakes across the world
Fault lines across the world. Red indicates heavy plate movement and black depicts most intensive or most destructive earthquakes.
At a level that is just under the earth’s service, within an area called the lithosphere, platforms called tectonic plates exist. According to scientific studies, these plates move a about 0.6 inches per year. Nothing to really get excited about. It is when there is heavy movement that we need to worry.

The plates are broken up into 12 regions, like 12 pieces of a jig saw puzzle that are connected to each other. When the plates move, they bump into each other at their (jig  saw) connections, officially called boundaries, causing collisions, or conversely, break away from each other. The image above depicts where these boundaries exist, which are called fault lines. The colors represent how intense the earthquake was. It is at these fault lines that when the plates move, volcanoes, mountains and tsunamis occur. As you can see, there is an abundance of fault lines across the entire west coast of the United States.

What lies directly under these plates is the source that causes the tectonic plates to move.

The Earth’s Mantle

Under the Earth graphic cut away
Under the tectonic plates is the mantle, which consists of magnesium and iron-bearing silicates. You can think of the tectonic plates as the ‘skin’ of the earth, analogous to the skin of an apple. Proportionally they are about the same in depth. So when the there is movement in the mantle, the plates above it feel this movement and they will then move accordingly. How much movement is dependent upon the intensity of the changes within the mantle.

What Occurs When the Teconic Plates Collide?

Earthquakes are caused by these collisions, as one plate moves over the other, the Earth shakes. The measurement of intensity is rated using a Richter Scale, which records the magnitude of the collisions, with ‘1’ being unnoticeable, up to ’10’, which can cause massive death and destruction. Fortunately, an earthquake of ’10’ is very rare.

What is the Current Theory of Plate Movement?

The reason why the plates move is still under conjecture, but one theory is that heat from radioactive processes within the planet’s interior is what causes the plates to move.

The latest theory is called slab pull, where areas of the lithosphere becomes less dense than the asthenosphere. This causes these areas above to sink further down into the mantle, pulling slabs of the lithosphere apart,  causing the plates to move in different directions. As a result, these regions are spreading or rifting,

Tetonic activity map over the Earth's history
Tetonic Activity Map Over the last One Million Years

The Latest Findings

But as it turns out, such interactions between continental plates is not the only reason for these various geological processes. Research led by a joint team of the University of Toronto and University of Aberdeen researchers have achieved an enormous breakthrough!

According to the research that uses supercomputers to run a model of the Earth’s upper mantle and crust, the prehistoric geological events could have left deep ‘scars’ that may play a significant role in earthquakes, tsunamis, formation of mountains or ocean trenches and many other ongoing geological processes.

The models created by the researchers indicate that the previous plate boundaries could stay buried deep below the surface of the Earth. These structures, which are no less than many millions of years old, are located far from the current plate boundaries and may cause drastic changes in the surface properties and structure of the interior of the continents.

The researchers went a step further to propose a new map highlighting the ancient geology of the Earth. The ‘perennial plate tectonic map’ explains through illustrations how the prehistoric geological events could affect today’s geological processes. The map is based on the common tectonic map, which is taught in elementary school, but it has been modified to include the concealed, ancient plate boundaries that may be involved in plate tectonic activity in the past as well as the present.

Owing to this recent breakthrough, some major revisions are required to the fundamental idea of plate tectonics. The research paper titled, ‘Lasting mantle scars lead to perennial plate tectonics’ appeared in the Nature Communications issue of June 10, 2016.

Conclusion

So we see that plate movements below the Earth’s surface can cause these disturbances to occur, but how they occur is still a forum for debate. At least we know where it happens most (fault lines) and precautions have been and will be taken for earthquakes to minimize damage.

Some of the Most Environmentally Dangerous Places on Earth

Kilauea Volcano with smoke plume rising
Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii © SS

You’ve heard the term: “It’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there”. Well, we going to explore places that appeal to some for a short visit but wouldn’t want to overrun their stay. 

The Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii is one of these places. A live volcano that spits out lava like a bottle pouring ketchup on a hamburger, but it doesn’t have a peak, instead it is rather flat; nevertheless, it is a live volcano.

Big Island Hawaii volcano areaJust walk along the charred ground leading up to the lava plume and you will see what I am talking about. A friend of ours traversed this chard ground, passing many warning signs of “danger to your health and possible death.” He walked for about a mile to the ocean to see the molten lava spewing down into the water from the rocks above. It was a sight to see and a place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to camp out there, not to mention live there.  

There are however, locations on this planet that are a little more charitable and surprisingly, some people do make the places their home. Maybe not as treacherous as the Kilauea Volcano, but tough and scary just the same, as they are sitting right in the middle of mother nature’s hidden fury. 

According to the World Health Organization, about 90,000 people are killed every year due to natural disasters. Globally, natural disasters affect almost 160 million people yearly. They have an immediate effect on the lives and property, but in the long run, it can be detrimental to human survival. 

The places which are most prone to natural disasters are considered to be the most dangerous places on earth. Let’s take a look at where they are. 

I-44 Tornado Corridor 

Large tornado moving towards a house in a rural area
“crazy tornado” by rustybrick is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Ranked as one of the most dangerous places to live, the I-44 tornado corridor is located between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. This geographical location has been hit by hundreds of tornadoes since 1950. The only period when there were no tornados was between the years 1992 and 1998. The following year has been known to be one of the most deadly years in the history of Oklahoma and Tulsa. 

In 1999, the area was hit by a series of 70 tornadoes which swept thousands of homes and killed hundreds of people in multiple cities. This series of tornadoes affected the areas of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  

The areas of Oklahoma City and Tulsa are densely populated and are a home for over a million people. The spring season is particularly damaging for this location as the cool and dry air from the mountains collide with the warm, hot and humid air of the coastal area. As a result, most tornadoes hit the region in the spring season making it very difficult for people to live. 

Guatemala

A rural area in central Guatemala showing houses and people“Guatemala” by Green Empowerment is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A relatively poor country south of Mexico in Central America, Guatemala is constantly affected by natural disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. According to a survey, natural disasters between 1975 and 2015 have caused damage that has cost a total of $9.1 billion. 

A hurricane hit the country in 2005 caused severe damage. It also triggered landslides and floods. Multiple villages disappeared. With changes in the global environment, Guatemala is likely to experience an increase in temperatures and heat waves, which can affect more lives.  

Indonesia

Fishermen boats in Cirebon, west Java, Indonesia

“Fishermen boats in Cirebon, west Java, Indonesia.”by USAID Digital Development is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Indonesia has managed to survive many natural disasters, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis. With a recorded history of natural disasters dating back to the 13th century, Indonesia has endured multiple disasters in the last three decades. 

The most famous being the deadly tsunami of 2004, which caused 227,898 deaths. Being started by an earthquake of magnitude 9.1, this tsunami affected many other Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, Thailand, Maldives, and Sri Lanka. 

Due to changes in the global climate, Indonesia has experienced one major natural disaster every year since the 2004 tsunami. 

Africa’s Killer Lakes 

Lake Kivu, Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun, located in Congo and Cameroon are known as the “Killer Lakes of Africa”. These lakes have large volumes of methane and carbon dioxide stored underneath their surface. Eruption of these gases from the lakes have resulted in creation of a gas cloud which has killed thousands of people in the region. According to research, the reason for this eruption is the volcanic activity taking place under the surface of these lakes. 

Lake Kivu, located between Congo and Rwanda is the home for over 2 million people. However, this is a very dangerous zone as Lake Kivu, holds 2.3 trillion cubic feet of methane gas. It also holds around 60 cubic miles of carbon dioxide gas. Both these gases have a greenhouse effect. However, release of these gases can immediate kill the entire population in the region. 

Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun which also holds large reserves of these dangerous gases are located in Cameroon. People living around these lakes have experienced the eruptions of these harmful gases. The cloud of gas which formed after the release of CO2 and methane gas has killed thousands. Not only does it kills human beings, but it is also deadly for all creatures including plants and animals. 

The population living there is under immense threat as any volcanic eruption under the lakes can kill the entire population living in the region. 

The Cold Pole 

The toughest place for human survival is near the poles. The cold and dry climate not only hinders the growth of vegetation and animals but is also detrimental for the human survival. The oldest city located in the heart of Siberia is known as the Cold Pole. The Cold Pole is known to be the coldest place which is inhibited by humans. The Russians have been living in this harsh climatic zone for more than three centuries. 

The river which flows in the region is frozen for nine months in a year and the city hardly sees sun during winters. During summers which range from September to March, the area gets sunlight for less than five hours per day. The temperatures during winters can go down to -60 degrees Fahrenheit, but this area of extreme climatic conditions is still home for 1,500 people.  

China 

The most populated country in the world has probably endured the most dangerous and deadly natural disasters in history. China is prone to many natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods, and typhoons. 

China is located in a region where the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates are always colliding. This makes China one of the most dangerous countries in the world when it comes to natural disasters. Out of the 10 most deadly earthquakes on the planet, the top three were experienced by China. Not only earthquakes, but China’s coastal region is regularly hit by typhoons and storms. 

Between 2000 and 2015, natural disasters in China have affected 1.6 billion people and resulted in damages worth $300 billion. 

Creeping Sandbox, China 

If China doesn’t have enough to worry about, the once fertile oasis located in the Minqin Country in China is now an arid land. The people residing there are under an extremely tough situation as they are trapped between two deserts which are growing at a rapid rate. Human activities like deforestation has increased the rate of desertification and each year, the desert is growing by 10 meters. As a result, the land is becoming arid and barren and farmers living there are unable to meet their agricultural needs. 

Around two million people reside in this difficult climatic zone where there are 130 days of wind and sand storms each year. Due to extreme weather conditions and increased deforestation, the area of cultivable land has decreased from 360 sq. miles to 60 sq. miles. A number of farmers are relocating because of difficult living conditions. The government has also officially announced the relocation of displaced farmers in January this year.

Sahel Region of Africa 

Slightly change the definition of natural disasters, and you will notice that drought can also be disastrous to a region – a natural disaster in its own right. The dry and arid region of the Sahel region situated right next to the Sahara desert is prone to droughts. 

According to the UN Environmental Program, the drought in the Sahel region killed more than 100,000 people between 1972 and 1984. Over 750,000 people were dependent on food aid as they were unable to grow their crops due to extreme weather conditions and shortage of water. Studies have shown that the exploitation of resources by humans has further increased the risk of drought in the future, making it one of the world’s most dangerous places. 

Lake Nyos, Cameroon 

As soon as you hear about a death toll of 1,700 people, the kind of natural disasters which may come to mind are earthquakes, volcanic eruption or a flood. No one can imagine that this high death toll can be the result of the release of carbon dioxide.

Lake Nyos is located in Cameroon with no signs of volcanic activity. However, this silent blue lake killed 1,700 people and thousands of animals due to an abrupt turnover of water. Studies have shown that the volcanic activity taking place underneath the surface release carbon dioxide gas (CO2). This CO2 dissolved in the depths of the lake and the water became saturated with CO2. 

The water which is rich in CO2 does not mix or circulate, causing layers to form. These layers do not mix with each other. However, there is a periodic turnover of water which releases the trapped CO2 into the environment. 

This turnover which occurred in 1986 resulted in a sudden and disastrous release of CO2 in the atmosphere and killed many people. This periodic turnover continues to be a threat for people living near Lake Nyos in Cameroon.

Conclusion

There are many other places on earth which experience natural disasters of varying intensity, making them very dangerous places to live. With changes to the climate, the intensity and frequency of natural disasters have drastically changed. However, natural disasters are nothing but Mother Nature’s way of restoring balance to the earth. 

The Role of Minerals in Promoting Low-Carbon Technologies

Modern life on planet Earth thrives on the use of energy. The industrial advancements made in the past century have bestowed many favors upon us. However, these perks have come at great expense that is inhibiting the purity of our ecosystem; specifically, the use of two main energy sources – fossil fuels and coal results in the formation of carbon-laden byproducts, which are detrimental to our environment. In addition, coal combustion is one of the major sources of anthropogenic arsenic emission into the biosphere, of which India, China, and the United States are currently major contributors.

Due to the unrestrained production and emission of these byproducts in the past few decades, the Earth’s climate is getting warmer and unpredictable. Several environmental studies have issued warnings that the ongoing climate deterioration has put the existence of many geographical regions in jeopardy.

Many countries have understood the perils of conventional energy resources and are now willing to cut down their use. For instance, France has pledged to go gasoline-free on roads by the end of 2040. Similarly, many other countries have also set targets to reduce their reliance on carbon-intensive technologies.

Low-Carbon Technologies

Solar energy, wind energy, and batteries are at the core of the low-carbon paradigm. Sun and wind are considered the two most abundant sources of renewable energy. In addition, only they have the potential to take the place of conventional energy options. Batteries, on the other hand, play a vital part towards cleaner energy for our environment, but a car using electricity as a fuel has to have a robust and long-lasting battery as the fuel reservoir and transmission. Similarly, solar panels and wind turbines can’t become part of the main power grid without suitable battery installments.    

Interestingly, all the aforementioned components of the low-carbon future extensively depend on different minerals. Let’s have a look at how minerals play a major role in low-carbon energy solutions.

Use of Minerals and Metals in Wind Turbines

Offshore Wind Turbines

Wind power is at the center of the eco-friendly energy landscape. It has the ability to replace conventional energy sources in coastal areas and other regions with good average gust speed. It has been estimated that, in the next 5-6 years, a 1000-feet tall wind turbine will be able to produce enough energy to provide electricity to a small town.

The wind turbines designed on the latest technology require extensive use of minerals for its production. For instance, the power setup of a three-megawatt wind turbine needs.

  •        335 tons of steel
  •        4.7 tons of copper
  •        3 tons of aluminum
  •        2 tons of rare earth minerals

1,200 tons of concrete is also required to put up a 3-MW wind turbine. (Note: concrete also consists of different minerals).

The above figures clearly indicate that we will need different minerals and metals in great quantity for making wind turbines. Without the easy availability of raw materials, the prospect of setting up a wind turbine will remain an expensive affair. This downside will discourage both public and private entities to fulfill their power needs through wind energy.

Use of Minerals and Metals in Solar Cells

According to a study from 2017, solar energy makes up more than half (54.5%) of the global renewable capacity. It has also been estimated that the share of solar energy will be increased by 3% in the next three years. Photovoltaic cells, which convert light energy into electricity, are at the core of solar energy generation.

Metals and minerals are important raw materials needed in the making of PV cells. A standard PV cell is 70% glass. This means a large amount of silicon will be required for extensive solar cell networks. Aluminum, tin, copper, and lead are also part of solar cell construction. It is interesting to note that a fractional amount of silver is required in PV cells. However, its consumption in solar cell production still accounts for 7% of the overall silver demand.

For wide-scale and economical manufacturing of PV cells, governments and private companies have to expedite the mining of different minerals especially silver, aluminum, and tin.

Use of Minerals and Metals in Batteries

Batteries are the backbone of renewable energy transmission. Whether it’s solar or wind, any alternative energy model can’t sustain without efficient batteries in place. Lithium-ion cells are considered ideal batteries in setting up an efficient renewable energy system. Besides lithium, nickel, and cobalt are also needed to make these batteries.    

The Growing Demand for Minerals

By keeping in mind the ongoing and future renewable energy projects, researchers have projected the increase in demand of several minerals by 2050. Since every renewable energy project needs lithium-ion batteries, the demand for lithium will most likely see an exponential rise. Researchers have concluded that the lithium demand will be shot up by 965% in comparison to its current production.

Regarding copper, some experts predict that we are going to need the same amount in the next 25 years that we have used in the last 5,000 years. Nickel, Vanadium, Indium, cobalt, and graphite are also some of the minerals that will experience a significant rise in their demand for a low-carbon environment.

The Paradox of Mining and Low-Carbon Energy Generation

It is really evident that extensive mining is required for fulfilling the mineral and metal demand of the renewable energy sector. As things stand, mining makes up 11% of global energy consumption. While striving for clean energy, it is equally important to make current mining methods more efficient so that they can’t negate the efforts made for reducing greenhouse emissions.   

An Opportunity for Developing Countries

Many large deposits of minerals and metals required to devise clean-energy are present in developing countries. These countries now have an opportunity to boost their economies while playing a critical role in cutting down the global dependence on carbon-laden fuel and energy sources. However, it is extremely important that they employ smart mining methods to excavate the required minerals. Without better mining practices, the entire exercise of ‘minerals for clean energy’ can end up without bearing any substantial results.

Discovery of Rarest Mineral Reidite in the Largest Australian Crater

Craters are circular depressions caused by the high impact of planetary bodies (meteorites, comets etc.) that crash on Earth. The arbitrary patterns that we see on the moon are actually craters. Our planet also has this geological feature but not in the abundance that we see on extraterrestrial bodies.

Besides having an extraterrestrial connection, a very few craters are known for their rich mineral content. There are around 128 small and large craters on the earth’s surface but only six of them have a noteworthy mineral presence.   

In this article, we are going to discuss one of the largest craters of our plant and how its creation led to the formation of an entirely new class of extremely rare minerals.

Woodleigh Crater: Australia’s Largest Impact Crater

Woodleigh Crater, Australia

Woodleigh Crater Region of Australia

Woodleigh Crater is located in Western Australia, created by a meteorite impact that occurred millions of years ago. It was relatively a newly found crater discovered just 19 years ago. Geologists initially estimated that Woodleigh had a diameter around 74 miles.

Later on, another research team claimed that its diameter was not more than 37 miles. The exact diameter of Woodleigh is still under research.

Even if we take the later finding into consideration, Woodleigh will still be one of the largest craters on the planet. It is indisputably the largest crater of Australia. The age of the crater is believed to be 300 million years old. In other words, 300 million years ago a meteorite collided with the terrestrial surface that now comes within Western Australia.  It was the period when the dry land is predominantly covered with plants and the evolution of sharks who just started evolving in the oceans.

Reidite Discovery in Woodleigh Crater

There are some preset geological activities associated with the discovery of any crater. At the outset, researchers try to determine the age of the discovered depression. Secondly, they try to estimate the size of the celestial body that caused it by determining the radius of the depression. In some cases, they also try to make the mineral profile of the discovered region. It depends on how much relevant authorities are interested in the given project.

Before the accidental discovery of reidite, Woodleigh Crater was also one of those sites where geologists were only trying to determine the age of the meteorite. Reidite is an extremely rare mineral only found on six sites around the world. This exceptionally rare specimen is actually a re-crystallized form of zircon, which is a widely available silicate mineral. Reidite is formed when zircon undergoes an extreme pressure change.

As we know, diamonds are formed when carbon deposits experience certain high-pressure conditions underneath. Reidite is also formed through the same process when zircon undergoes extremely high-pressure changes. However, the pressure required for the formation of reidite is exponentially higher than that of what is required for diamond formation.

Earth’s atmospheric pressure is 1 atm and reidite formation takes place at a whopping 300,000 atm. Scientists believe that geological processes going in the Earth’s crust can’t generate such tremendous pressure. This leads to the conclusion that reidite can only be formed under the great pressure and shock waves generated when a hypervelocity meteorite collides with the earth surface. The rarity of reidite and its discovery from Woodleigh Crater have also substantiated this assertion.

The rearrangement of the zircon molecules to form reidite is akin to stuffing a space dedicated for 20 people with an additional 20 more. Geologists haven’t recorded such tremendous re-crystallization with any other terrestrial mineral specimen since then.

Discovered by Chance

Reidite is a mineral so rare that there is not even enough amount of it that can be used in multiple studies. It is not a mineral for which geologists would particularly devise a prospecting plan. So, the discovery of reidite from Woodleigh was also an accidental event. Undergrad students who were studying the crater for its geological features and the connection with the meteorite actually stumbled upon a specimen that had some reidite traces.

What Does the Reidite Discovery Mean?

From a gemological standpoint, there is nothing much to say about the recent reidite discovery. The mineral is extremely rare and can’t even be prospected for the sake of collection. However, the discovery has more implications regarding the geological history of our planet and how extraterrestrial phenomena have impacted it over time.  

Possible Uses of Reidite

There are really slim chances that reidite can ever be found to have any commercial significance. Nevertheless, reidite specimens can be used for the same purposes as zircon. Reidite is 10% denser than zircon and also has better hardness measurement. This means reidite specimens would be suitable for the manufacturing of abrasives and refractories.

Crater Mining Is Not an Issue

Geologists don’t worry about crater mining while deciding the commercial viability of a mineral. Craters in Canada and South Africa have abundant deposits of nickel and gold and miners excavate these minerals from there like any other mining site. However, the lack of commercial incentive and the extremely rare nature of the mineral are major reasons for companies not wanting to spend their resources on the prospecting of reidite.

Synthetic Reidite

Scientists have also tried to synthesize reidite in labs, but they couldn’t get a completely identical specimen. Again, with no commercial value in sight, companies are not pretty much interested in creating reidite in Labs.

Zircon: the Parent Mineral of Reidite

Zircon is a silicate mineral abundantly present in the earth’s crust and has many uses. It’s fine and colored specimens are used as gemstones. Blue zircons are the most common gem-grade stones in the category. It is also found in a colorless crystallized form which is polished and faceted to produce low-priced diamond alternatives.

In addition, its opaque specimens have many commercial uses as well. For instance, the white zircon deposits are processed to make pigments and whitening agents. It is really fascinating how a meteorite impact has transformed a widely available zircon into one of the rarest geological specimens.

Japan Discovers a Rare-Earth Mineral Deposit Worth of Hundreds of Years of Supply

Tantalite Mineral

Rare-earth minerals, as the name suggests, are one of the most valuable natural commodities offered by the earth’s crust.  Apart from being rare, these minerals have immense economic importance. For example, they are used in the manufacturing of the majority of electronic equipment that we use today.

Rare-earth minerals may contain any of the 13 metallic elements that are located on the second to last row of the periodic table. According to experts, they are abundantly present in the earth’s crust but in a dispersed form. This means it’s really hard to find deposits where these rare metallic elements are clumped together in an amount that can be mined for industrial purposes.

According to a research report published in the Journal of Nature, Japan might have discovered the world’s largest single deposit of rare-earth minerals on the coast of Minamitori Island over 1,100 miles southeast of Tokyo. It’s important to mention here that the discovery is still in its prospecting phase. However, what has been found until now is quite astonishing. It is safe to say that this discovery will have substantial implications for the high-end and complex manufacturing industries. First, let’s have a look at what geological and mineralogical experts have hinted about the deposit.

After the scientific prospecting of the site, researchers indicated that the deposit contains over 16 million tons of these rare-earth gems. Yes, you read that right. In the researchers’ own words, the amount of different rare-earth minerals present at the site can fulfill the global needs for a semi-infinite time period.

For example, it has been found out that there is enough yttrium and dysprosium on the site to fulfill the global needs of these metals for more than 700 years. Moreover, these europium deposits can last for more than 600 years. Terbium can be supplied for around 400 years from Minamitori Island mines.

Formation of Rare-Earth Minerals  

Rare-earth minerals exist in the deepest layers of the earth’s crust. They move closer to the surface through tectonic and volcanic activity. It is believed that rare-earth minerals are the debris of a supernova explosion occurring millions of years ago, which then got integrated into the earth’s core upon its formation. Scientists believe that it is only natural to find such a large deposit of rare-earth minerals in Japan since the region experiences more volcanic activities and tectonic shifting than anywhere else in the world.

Economic Implications of the Discovery  

China has a monopoly over the exports of rare-earth minerals and Japan is one of the largest consumers of this community, due to its expansive electronic manufacturing landscape. It has to rely on Chinese rare-earth imports to fulfill its industrial needs, but they have been guilty of abusing their authority over exports to Japan several times in the past.

For instance, it abruptly slashed the rare-mineral export quota to Japan and increased the price by 10 percent. In 2014, China withheld rare-earth mineral shipments to Japan over the issue of a disputed island between the two countries. The 2014 fiasco actually pushed Japan to start searching and prospecting rare-earth minerals on its own territory.

With the newly found deposits, Japan won’t have to bear with these shenanigans anymore. As mentioned earlier, the deposits are so enormous that they can fulfill the demand for several rare-earth minerals for centuries.  

The discovery of the minerals in Japan has great economic prospects for the US as well. The United States is already in a trade war with China, where both countries are trying to damage the exports of the other. Successful mining of rare-earth minerals from Minamitori Island means the US can also drop one more Chinese import from the list in the future.  

Challenge: Finding an Economic Excavation Method

The research further indicates that the difficult and expensive excavation is the major reason why Japan hasn’t already started mining in this area. According to the report writers, Japanese mineral experts are trying to work out an excavation technique that can turn the deposit mining into an economically viable project.

Uses of Rare-Earth Minerals Found in Japanese Site

To understand the significance of this discovery, let’s have a look at many the different uses that rare-earth minerals discovered on Minamitori Island can provide.

Yttrium

Yttrium is used as reinforcement in the making of magnesium and aluminum alloys. It is also used in the manufacturing of white LED lights. Yttrium is also in solid-state lasers, which are used to cut through metals. The radioactive isotopes of yttrium are used in some cancer treatments.  

Dysprosium

The most significant use of dysprosium is seen in the manufacturing of control rods of nuclear reactors. It is used because of its remarkably good capability of absorbing neutrons. Moreover, its magnets are also used in motors and generators because of their exceptionally good resistance against temperature-derived demagnetization. Dysprosium is also used in the manufacturing of halide lamps since it produces intense white light.

Europium

Europium glows red under UV light. It is used in the printing of Euros to deter forgeries. A fake Euro banknote doesn’t give a reddish glow under UV lamps because of the absence of Europium from it.  Europium is also used in really small amounts in the manufacturing of low-energy light bulbs. Moreover, some super-conducting alloys also contain the traces of europium.

Terbium

Terbium is used in the manufacturing of low-energy light bulbs. It is used in medical X-rays for quality improvement of images within short exposure time. Terbium basically makes the use of X-ray equipment safer. Its amorphous form is also used in the manufacturing of laser devices.

As the research into the excavation of these minerals without exhausting resource is still underway, it will easily take a couple of years before the industrial sector can benefit from this deposit. The Japanese track record regarding such developments is commendable. So, we should have a positive outlook regarding the optimal utilization of these rare-earth mineral deposits in the near future.  

The Baffling Strange Waves That Rippled Across the World


Something very odd happened a little before 9:30 on November 11, 2018. A seismic wave was picked up by instruments around the world. The ground zero point originated near the shores of the French island of Mayotte, off the coast of Southeast Africa.

This bizarre wave began rolling off of Mayotte and continued to travel for nearly 11,000 miles. It flew over vast oceans, hovered past Chile, New Zealand, and Canada and even made its way  to Hawaii.

Seismic waves are often detected by the instruments and these vibrations are not really strange.  They are often unexpected, but completely normal.

What really made this seismic wave bizarre is the fact that no one saw or felt it and only one person was able to observe the signal on the US Geological Survey’s real-time seismogram displays. And as the world was busy doing other things, this one earthquake buff was paying attention to the real-time readings and happened to take pictures of the zigzags. When the picture of the waves was posted on Twitter with the caption, “This is a most odd and unusual seismic signal. Recorded at Kilima Mbogo, Kenya …” it gained national and international attention. Subsequently, seismologists from all over the world began to analyze this strange phenomenon.

To make sense of what happened on this day, we first need to understand how seismograms function.

How Does a Seismogram Work?

Seismogram at Weston ObservatorySeismograms were drawn on a piece of paper through drum recorders 30 years ago. The roll of paper was wrapped around these drums and just when the drum revolved, the pen changed its position and left traces across the paper.

Seismograms were drawn on a piece of paper through drum recorders 30 years ago. The roll of paper was wrapped around these drums and just when the drum revolved, the pen changed its position and left traces across the paper.

Today, the display is digital and records about 100 samples per seconds.

As soon as an earthquake occurs, a seismograph will display its motions as well as its time. They typically last from seconds to minutes. The height of the seismogram shows the actual ground motion. As a result, the kind of waves that would develop will also show on the seismogram. It could be a P or S. P indicates fastest travelling waves, whereas S indicates shear waves.

That said, earthquake vibrations aren’t the only thing that are caught on the seismogram. If a seismogram is placed too close to the road, it will detect the vibrations caused by all the upcoming cars.  

The only way seismologists are able to tell which waves are an indication of an earthquake is through the fluctuating patterns. Ones that show an earthquake are usually spiky and sudden.  

Theories

  • Earthquake

Anthony Lomax, an independent seismologist, shared his theory, “the event is almost certainly volcanic-related, since Mayotte and the region around are volcanic. The seismic waves may be from earthquake-like, faulting rock movement responding to inflation/deflation or collapse of a volcanic edifice, or directly related to movement or vibration of magma.” 

Again, comes the question, why was it so weird then?  

The signals were noted to be very strange with their long and monochromatic lines, according to Lomax Goran Ekstorm, a seismologist at Columbia University, while explaining the situation to National Geographic said that it was pretty straightforward.  

“I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it [but] it doesn’t mean that, in the end, the cause of them is that exotic,” Ekstorm said.

According to him, these waves began as a result of an earthquake, yet it passed by stealthily without anyone noticing it because it was a very slow earthquake.  

This theory is also supported by the fact that the French island Mayotte is actually part of an archipelago called Comoro, and the islands belonging to this group are identified as volcanic.

Additionally, Mayotte itself is home to two volcanoes that have stayed dormant for more than 4000 years.

National Geographic did some more digging and stated that this island has already experienced hundreds of tremors since May last year.  

The tremor has certainly caught the attention of the experts and the authorities.  The French Geological Survey has become highly active in the area to monitor the zone for any new volcanic activity.

Based on their examination, The French Geological Survey put forward the theory that these waves might be an indication of a mass movement of magma underneath the earth’s crust, referred to as chamber collapse.

The collapse is mostly triggered when the magma chamber beneath the volcano empties because of a large volcanic eruption. This eruption could be a singular event, or it could be a series of eruptions.  

  • Nuclear Tests

There were many online theorists who did not share Ekstorm and Lomax’s views. Their theory is based on the probability that traditional earthquakes send a jolt of high frequency waves, and that is how it is seen on the seismogram. On the other hand, this reading from November 11 picked up low yet consistent waves that lasted for more than 20 minutes.

If the effects of these were really felt, it almost would have felt like as if the earth rang like a bell.

Not yet ready to cast this off as earthquake related waves, online theorists suggested that these waves might be a result of covert nuclear tests.

  • Other Theories

Since the pictures went public, netizens began to come up with their own theories.

Some suggested sea monsters, humongous ones. Others also suggested a meteorite that could have caused this rumbling tremor seen on the seismogram.

Helen Robinson, a PhD candidate in applied volcanology at the University of Glasgow, also agrees with the first theory, believing that it could be a result of the complex geology of Mayotte that caused these strange waves.

However, talking to National Geographic, she also said. “It is very difficult, really, to say what the cause is and whether anyone’s theories are correct—whether even what I’m saying has any relevance to the outcome of what’s going on.”