Seeking Moab’s missing groundwater

January 29, 2016

Groundwater is an important resource for Utah’s Grand and San Juan counties, and provides nearly 100 percent of the drinking water for the city of Moab. Surface water in the Moab area is fully allocated, and with the population growing, it is important to find how much groundwater is available. So University of Utah geology and geophysics professor Kip Solomon and graduate student Nora Nelson are working with U.S. Geological Survey researchers to find “missing” groundwater in Spanish Valley, south of Moab. Spanish Valley’s groundwater resources last were evaluated in 1970. However, more recent sampling of groundwater at the valley’s downstream end failed to find much of the groundwater that was included in the 1970 evaluation. While groundwater is by far the largest reservoir of usable fresh water on Earth, replenishment rates are highly variable and difficult to measure, which complicates management decisions that seek to use groundwater in a sustainable manner.

Kip Solomon, office 801-581-7231, cell 801-718-6921, kip.solomon@utah.edu

Lead in Flint’s water

January 22, 2016

Residents of Flint, Michigan are dealing with the consequences of lead in their drinking water, brought about by a switch in the city’s water supply that sent corrosive water through pipes that contained lead. What is it about the water in the Flint River that caused such widespread contamination? Do other cities, including communities in Utah, face a similar hazard? Geology and geophysics professor Bill Johnson is available to comment on how contaminants enter and move through surface water, groundwater, and drinking water systems. He is available via phone or email.
William Johnson cell: 801-664-8289 | Email: William.johnson@utah.edu

Nature soothes the brain

January 22, 2016

David Strayer, a U psychology professor known for his research into how cellphones and vehicle infotainment systems distract drivers, also studies how our stressed-out brains may benefit when we spend time in nature unplugged from electrical devices. In 2012, he published a small study showing how backpackers scored 50 percent better on a creativity test after they spent four days on electronics-free Outward Bound treks.  Strayer, more recently, has recorded the brain waves of his students during hiking trips. A reporter accompanied Strayer and students on one such trip and reports in the January 2016 issue of National Geographic (“This is Your Brain on Nature”) on evidence from Strayer and other researchers suggesting nature – from wilderness to city parks to backyards – helps our overstressed brains.  Strayer is available to discuss the subject (except when he teaches Monday, Tuesday, Thursday mornings).
David Strayer office 801-581-5037 | cell 801-949-1271 |Email:  david.strayer@utah.edu


January 14, 2016

Using a new method to sample “hard water” deposits or coatings on buried river gravel from Wyoming’s Wind River Basin, Erik Oerter found that the interior of North America had much wetter, cooler summers during a small ice age 70,000 to 55,000 years ago, with summers 4 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than today, and winters also colder. At the time, glacial ice covered an area from the Great Lakes to the Northeast. A persistent, clockwise-rotating, high-pressure area sat over the ice sheet, pushing moist air from the Gulf of Mexico into the North American interior. Oerter defines that area rather vaguely, given the data come only from Wyoming. He says wetter summer conditions didn’t necessarily occur in Utah because it sits on the other side of the Rockies from the Wyoming study site. Oerter did the research for his doctoral dissertation at University of California, Berkeley. He now is a geology postdoctoral fellow in the U’s Global Change and Sustainability Center. His study was published Jan. 11. Oerter and colleagues determined dates, precipitation and temperature data using existing methods to analyze ratios of carbon, oxygen and uranium isotopes in the gravel coatings for the past 120,000 years. But they used new techniques with laser and ion beams to sample minute bits – one-2,500th of an inch in size – of the gravel coatings, providing a record of climate conditions on a more detailed scale of thousands of years, compared with tens of thousands previously. The coatings on the gravel are known as pedothems, soil carbonates or calcium carbonate. “They are basically hard water deposits similar to the ones on your bathroom faucet,” Oerter says.
Erik Oerter, cell: 303-990-1499, erik.oerter@utah.edu

Flash technology

December 17, 2015

U metallurgical engineers will celebrate completion of their innovative $5 million Flash Ironmaking Reactor – a project aimed at developing “flash technology” to make iron and steel as an alternative to the traditional blast furnace and coke oven. The new process is expected to significantly reduce energy consumption, save money and reduce water and air pollution, especially climate-warming carbon dioxide gas. The project – funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, American Iron and Steel Institute and the U – is led by metallurgical engineering professor Hong Yong Sohn and project manager Yousef Mohassab. They will lead a tour of the lab, followed by a presentation in the nearby Olpin Union.
Hong Yong Sohn, office: 801-581-5491, cell 801-809-7457 | Email: h.y.sohn@utah.edu
Yousef Mohassab, office: 801-585-5867, cell 801-386-0358 | Email: yousef.mohassab@utah.edu
Ribbon-cutting and tour, Mining Systems Research Lab, Bldg. 59 (onsite signs say Ivor Thomas Lab), 128 Central Campus Drive, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.
Presentation of Flash Ironmaking Reactor, Panorama East Room, Olpin Union Bldg., 200 Central Campus Drive, 11:30 a.m. – noon.

A state takeover of federal lands: what are the implications for mineral resources?

December 11, 2015

If states overcome long odds to prevail in their efforts to take over public lands from the federal government, states would not obtain significant mineral resources—a factor that could hobble the state’s economy, a new analysis from the Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law reveals. The analysis, titled “When Winning Means Losing: Why a State Takeover of Public Lands May Leave States Without the Minerals They Covet,” discusses Utah’s Transfer of Public Lands Act, or TPLA, which demands that the federal government transfer title to more than 31 million acres of federal public lands within Utah to the State. The TPLA has inspired 13 other states to take up related legislation. Using Utah as an example, the analysis by Bob Keiter, Distinguished Professor of Law and director of the Stegner Center, and John Ruple, an associate professor of law, argues that states wouldn’t gain mineral resources if taking over public land from the federal government. Moreover, Keiter and Ruple found any mineral rights that states could obtain would be realized only after years of costly litigation—ligitation above and beyond the court cases required to test the validity of states’ questionable TPLA-based claims. Ruple is available to discuss more details about the research.
Phone: 801-581-6545 | Email: john.ruple@law.utah.edu

What you need to know in advance of the Paris Climate Change Conference

November 24, 2015

The eyes of the world have been on Paris in recent weeks, and the focus won’t be shifting anytime soon. The city is set to host officials from across the globe on Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 at the United Nations’ COP 21, also knows at the Paris Climate Change Conference 2015.

At the gathering, leaders will work to establish a pact to keep global warming below what most scientists say is a critical threshold.

Professors at the University of Utah will be watching the discussions closely. Many have their own research to add to the debate, and are available for commentary on what’s happening at COP 21 as well as their own academic research on the topic. A few of the many researchers at the U studying issues related to climate change include:

Prospects for the Greatest Snow on Earth in a Warming World
Utah’s climate is about 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer today than it was in the early 1900s. Scientists expect this warming will continue during the 21st century, with the amount of warming dependent on future greenhouse gas emissions. University of Utah atmospheric scientists Jim Steenburgh and Courtenay Strong project that during coming decades, this warming will exert an increasingly discernible influence on the Greatest Snow on Earth. More winter precipitation will fall as rain instead of snow, especially at lower elevations. Utah’s higher elevations have some insurance against the early stages of global warming due to their cool winter climate. But winter storms will become warmer, the density of snowfalls will increase, and the quality of powder will decline. Eventually, with continued greenhouse gas emissions, the likelihood of significant snowfall and snowpack declines at even upper elevations increases. Ultimately, the future of the Greatest Snow on Earth depends on the decisions we make today.
Jim Steenburgh, office: 801-581-8727, cell 801-230-5715| Email: jim.steenburgh@utah.edu
Courtenay Strong, office: 801-585-0049| Email: court.strong@utah.edu

The kids aren’t alright: Climate change can lead to lower birth weights
From melting glaciers to increasing wildfires, the consequences of climate change and strategies to mitigate such consequences are often a hotly debated topic. A new study led by the University of Utah adds to the ever-growing list of negative impacts climate change can have on humans—low birth weight. In the first study of its kind, a two-year project led by U geography assistant professor Kathryn Grace examined the relationship among precipitation, temperature and birth weight in 19 African countries. The findings show that a pregnant woman’s exposure to reduced precipitation and an increased number of very hot days results in lower birth weights. Grace is available to discuss her study’s results and implications.
Office 801-581-3610 | Email: grace@geog.utah.edu

Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment
Over the summer, Pope Francis’ much-anticipated encyclical on the environment drew much attention, and may be discussed again at COP21. The document calls for urgent action to protect the Earth and fight global warming, a trend the pope declares is a result of the burning of fossil fuels and human activity. The document outlines Francis’ viewpoint on the scientific and moral reasons for protecting the environment. It states low-income people in the world suffer the most from air pollution and toxic dumping. Law professor Lincoln Davies can offer a local perspective on these issues. He previously organized a summit on religion, faith and the environment. A recognized expert in energy law and policy, Davies’ research spans a broad array of energy topics, including renewables and alternative energy, carbon capture and sequestration, nuclear power, utility law and regulatory and technology innovation.
Phone: 801-581-7338 | Email: lincoln.davies@law.utah.edu

Communicating Climate Change
Scholars have called climate change the most difficult communication challenge of the century. Communication plays a major role at all levels of social change to address the issue and involves far more than simply providing more information. Julia Corbett, professor of communication, teaches both an undergraduate and graduate course exploring the major players in climate communication: the public, mass media, climate scientists and their deniers and institutions. Corbett writes both academic research and creative nonfiction about human relationships with the natural world. She’s available to speak about news coverage, attitude and behavior, social and cultural change, activism and protest in regards to climate change.
Office: 801-581-4557 | Email: corbett.julia@gmail.com

Forecasting a chaotic lake effect

November 13, 2015

Utah meteorologists call it the “dreaded lake effect” because they have trouble forecasting when and where heavy snow will be produced by cold air sweeping over the warmer Great Salt Lake. Such storms tend to be strongest in the morning, often during rush hour, so detailed forecasts of lake-effect snowfall would be ideal if available the previous night. So-called next-generation forecast models simulate the lake effect in unprecedented detail. But a study by Jim Steenburgh, a professor of atmospheric sciences, provides a sobering assessment how well these computer models can make night-before forecasts of the strength and location of lake-effect snowfall. The models raise false alarms, forecasting intense bands of lake-effect snow when actual snowfall is lighter and not banded. Steenburgh says lake-effect snowfall is mathematically chaotic. He says next-generation forecast models can do better if their shortcomings are addressed and enough computing power is provided to take into account the chaotic nature of the lake effect.

Office: 801-581-8727| Email: jim.steenburgh@utah.edu

Follow the water on Mars – to Life?

October 2, 2015

While scientists previously identified ice on Mars, NASA on Monday announced evidence of salty water flowing intermittently on the Red Planet. U geology and geophysics professor Marjorie Chan for years has studied landscapes and geological records on Earth that serve as analogs for those on Mars. More than a decade ago, she studied rocks in southern Utah known as Moqui marbles – round “concretions” that form underground when minerals precipitate from flowing groundwater. She predicted similar rocks would be found on Mars. And NASA’s Opportunity rover indeed found such rocks, which were nicknamed “Martian blueberries.” In the last six years, Chan has led Mars researchers on field trips to Utah sites that may help them understand similar sediments on Mars. With growing evidence of past and present water on Mars, Chan believes the possibility is higher than ever that microbial life may exist today on Mars or be preserved in soils there. Chan is available Oct. 5-9 to discuss water and the possibility of microbial life on Mars.Office 801-581-6551/ Email: marjorie.chan@utah.edu

Is it getting hot in here?

September 25, 2015

If you’re a Salt Lake City resident and have wondered if it seems a little toasty here, it might be because the city is one of the top “urban heat island” cities in the U.S., according to a new study by the University of Georgia. Urban heat island refers to the fluctuation of temperatures based on the configuration of the city along with other factors such as the materials predominant in the area (like asphalt), how much vegetation is there and the density of people. According to the study, Salt Lake City is in the top three urban heat island cities along with Miami and Louisville, Kentucky. U Civil and Environmental Engineering associate professor Christine Pomeroy is part of a research team that is looking at how green infrastructure could be used in Salt Lake City to possibly lower the urban heat island-related temperatures. She is available to speak about the team’s research and why Salt Lake City may be contributing to these higher temperatures.

Phone: 801-585-7300 | Email: christine.pomeroy@utah.edu