Category: outreach

Simon Carn on the Tonga Eruption

Simon Carn (GMES) was a guest on a BBC Science In Action podcast episode on January 5, 2023, titled “One year on from the Tonga eruption.”

The episode discussed what made the January 2022 eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano so powerful and unpacked its long-lasting impacts.

“Amongst all the material ejected by Hunga Tonga was a huge amount of water. The massive water vapour cloud is still present in our atmosphere, as Professor Simon Carn from the Michigan Technological University tells us.”

BBC Science in Action

A Note from the Chair

Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Alumni,

Greetings from the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech! I hope that this newsletter finds you well and in good spirits.

The second half of the year 2022 has brought our Department new challenges, but also achievements and successes. 

Professor Aleksey Smirnov, Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences

First and foremost, I am proud to report that, after some hiatus, we inducted eight (!) new members to our Academy of Geological and Mining Engineers and Scientists. I hope you will join me in congratulating David Adler ‘82, Daniel Farrell ’60, Mary Herrmann-Foley ’83, Terre Lane ’82, Julie (Varichak) Marinucci ’02, Richard Saccany ’71, Brian Schwanitz ’77, and Todd Stone ’85! The Induction Ceremony, held on October 14, was a success and well-attended. In particular, we were happy to see the current academy members Catherine Aimone-Martin, Suzanne Beske-Diehl and Jimmy Diehl, William Brice, Karl Burgher, Gerald Carlson, Richard Gray, Catherine Dummer McRae, and Bill Rose. The festivities continued the next day with a Director’s Tour of the Mineral Museum and apple pressing at Professor John Gierke’s farm. Everyone had a good time. I would like to praise Brittany Buschell, our Department Coordinator, whose diligent work was instrumental in the success of this event. I intend to preserve the biennial cycle of the Academy from now on.

The success of our department is ultimately measured by the success of our students, and it is no secret that we’ve been blessed with more than our fair share of capable, dedicated, enthusiastic individuals who’ve been very successful in their classes and professional development. Just to give you a small sampling of these successes—our student chapter of the American Institute of Professional Geologists won the nationwide Student Chapter of the Year Award, not just one time, but three times in a row! Our mining engineering senior, Jake Maxon won the highly prestigious national Lord Bagri Scholarship Award from the Copper Club. It’s the second time in a row the award goes to our students.

In addition, our geology majors, Elliz McClelland and Samuel Johnson received the DeCleene Memorial Scholarship awarded by the Copper Country Rock and Mineral Club (CCRMC). Our graduate students get awards, too. For example, Beth Bartel was awarded the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award from the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) and the prestigious Smithsonian Institute Fellowship. Beth was also featured in the book, Quake Chasers: 15 Women Rocking Earthquake Science—check it out!

Increasing undergraduate and graduate enrollment to full capacity is one challenge that remains. We have been active in our recruitment efforts. We recently developed an articulation agreement with the Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) for our Geology and Applied Geophysics programs. We plan to complete similar agreements for our Geological Engineering and Mining Engineering degree programs soon. I am especially grateful to Luke Bowman, research professor and recruitment director, for his meticulous and efficient work in developing these initiatives. So far we have been able to withstand national enrollment trends, even slightly increasing our numbers this year. But much more remains to be done. 

We are dedicated to providing students with the greatest possible opportunity to succeed—something we can only do with the best faculty, staff, equipment, facilities, and scholarship opportunities. Your generosity makes our goal of providing truly excellent undergraduate and graduate experiences a reality, as we educate the scientists and engineers of the future, while still meeting the needs of today’s employers.

We especially need your help to support incoming and current students. This can be done in a variety of ways:  funding undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships; helping us to incorporate modern instrumentation and software in the classroom and field; developing new opportunities for the professional development of our students; and extending our efforts to offer a cutting-edge, quantitative, digital-age curriculum. You can find more information here, or contact me via email, at asmirnov@mtu.edu.

On behalf of all of our students, faculty, and staff, I want to express our deepest gratitude to those of you who have provided support to our department, by sharing your experience and expertise, providing professional opportunities to our students, or offering monetary and logistical support. As always, we welcome all new ideas and inquiries, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Alumni and friends are always welcome in person, too! Feel free to stop by the department office (room 630) on the 6th floor of the Dow Building whenever you are in Houghton. We would be very pleased to meet with you and arrange a tour of the teaching and research laboratories during your visit. Meanwhile, I invite you to stay connected to the department via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and our website.

Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season!

Aleksey Smirnov
Professor and Chair
Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences


Pictured here: Canyon Falls, L’Anse, Michigan

Erika Vye Presents on Geoheritage Education in the Keweenaw

Erika Vye (GLRC/GMES) delivered an invited presentation (virtually) titled “Place, Partnerships, and Practice – Geoheritage Education Initiatives in Michigan’s Keweenaw Region” during the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GS), held October 9–12, 2022.

Vye and co-author Bill Rose (GMES) were invited to present as part of a Pardee Keynote Symposia titled “Geoheritage: Connecting Our Stories to Earth’s History.”

Pardee Keynote Symposia are special events of broad interest to the geoscience community. Examples of topics include those on the leading edge in a scientific discipline or area of public policy and those that address broad fundamental problems, provide new interdisciplinary insights, or focus on global problems.

Abstract

The Keweenaw Peninsula in Upper Michigan sits at the heart of the Midcontinent Rift and is renowned for the world’s largest accessible native copper deposit and Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake on Earth. The geologic underpinnings of the Keweenaw have fostered relationships with land and water for millennia and has imbued our place with significant sites that provide opportunity to broaden both Earth science and cultural literacy. Geoheritage offers opportunities to learn from the many stories, the issues impacting our community, and opportunities for sustainable economic development – all rooted in Earth systems processes.

Read more at GSA Connects 2022, by Erika Vye and Bill Rose.

A Note from the Chair

Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Alumni,

Greetings from the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences! I hope that this newsletter finds you well and in good spirits.

The long Keweenaw winter is finally over and so is another fruitful academic year at Michigan Tech. We continue to thrive in the strong pursuit of our research and educational missions. 

Professor Aleksey Smirnov, Chair, Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences

With most pandemic-related restrictions lifted, our GMES faculty and students alike enjoyed in-person interaction in both the classroom and the lab, and also resumed their travel to fieldwork, conferences, and other professional activities. 

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we were able to fund student participation in professional meetings. One particular highlight: our faculty and students were honored and recognized for their contributions and hard work at the 2022 SME Annual Conference & Expo in Salt Lake City. 

Our central priority is to enrich the learning experiences of our students and ensure their future success. At the end of April we wholeheartedly congratulated our Spring 2022 graduates, wishing them godspeed in their future endeavors. We also celebrated the well-deserved promotions of Dr. Radwin Askari to Associate Professor of Geophysics with tenure, and of Dr. Nathan Manser to Professor of Practice in Mining Engineering. Dr. Manser also received the Robert W. Piekarz award from the Industrial Minerals and Aggregates Division of SME.

Our faculty, staff, and students have been actively engaged in a wide range of research and engineering problems, working around the globe from Central America to India. Funding for this research comes from various agencies including NSF, NASA, USGS, NIOSH, and others. I am especially proud to report the success of our students who won no less than six Michigan Space Grant Consortium awards this year!

Many of these achievements are made possible through your ongoing encouragement and support. Thank you! We strive to provide the best opportunities for our students. As we work toward our goals, with your continued support, I am certain we will get where we want to be. 

While this letter is mainly intended to share our news with you, I hope that you will in turn share your own news and achievements with our Department, so that we can celebrate the impact each of us has on the wider world.

And, if your travels bring you to Houghton, please stop by–we are always happy to see you.

Best wishes,

Aleksey Smirnov
Professor and Chair
Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences

Pictured here: a portion of the Keweenaw Boulder Garden on campus at Michigan Tech, a dream fulfilled for geoscientist and GMES Professor Emeritus Bill Rose.

GMES Student Travels with Women in Physics

Geophysics Ph.D. student Gabriel Ahrendt recently participated in an outreach activity at the Gwinn HS organized by Michigan Tech Women in Physics. On April 28th, he and the six other chapter members visited Daniel Kelpela’s junior and senior physics classes to give presentations on each member’s research and their particular concentrations in physics— including geophysics, atmospheric physics, applied physics, materials science, and astrophysics.

Gabriel presented his research on using rock magnetism for mineral exploration, structural mapping, and tectonic studies using paleomagnetism, as well as the timing of the Earth’s early inner core formation.

Gabriel Ahrendt presenting to high school students.

The 70 high schoolers received a basic rundown of the researchers’ projects, including a basic synopsis of the topic, methodology, and raison d’etre. Here, the students received some insight into applied and theoretical physics research such as magnetic geodynamo,  simulations of ice nucleation and cloud seeding, phone battery design and production of synthetic magnets, studies on the effect of airborne particulates on climate, and the search for dark energy. 

During the demonstrations, the students were able to ask more personal questions of the researchers and share their interests after finishing high school. A few showed interest in attending Michigan Tech for geology and geophysics!

After the presentations, the students walked around to 10 different demonstrations of basic physical principles ranging from concepts like static friction — where two students tried to rip apart two phonebooks connected by having their pages intercalated,  to concepts like resonance, where they made water vibrate through the audible properties of a brass bowl. Other demos included showing optical principles of diffraction through laser pointers diffracting off of CDs and DVDs, and conservation of momentum while spinning. Gabriel presented principles of rock magnetism by differentiating magnetic minerals by measuring their susceptibility and physical properties. 

Gabriel’s Ph.D. research is supported by the USA National Science Foundation and the US Geological Survey. He is advised by Dr. Aleksey Smirnov.  

Pictured left to right, back to front:
Tong Gao, Elise Rosky, Oindabi Mukherjee, Sushree Dash, Rita Wilson, James Turkovich, Shreya Joshi, Gabriel Ahrendt, Miraj Kayastha

MTU Geology Major Assists in Tracking Uplift at the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory in Oregon

The area around Three Sisters volcanoes in Oregon is moving, and geology MS student, and NAGT/USGS intern Natalea Cohen, demonstrates the portable GPS monitoring equipment used to track it. Uplift, a subtle rise in the ground’s surface, is monitored by the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory. Could magma underground be to blame? See how radar satellite data and GPS equipment come together to get scientists one step closer to knowing the truth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QfARy8zPEk

Nat Cohen Volcano Picture
Natalea Cohen, pictured, received the 2021 NAGT/USGS Cooperative Summer Field Training Internship before joining MTU.

Q&A with SATAVIA: Climate and Contrails

Contrails are the biggest contributor to aviation’s climate impact. The company SATAVIA works on data analysis software to help airlines avoid long-lasting contrail formation.

Dr. Adam Durant (MS Geology ’06, PhD ’07) discussed how modifying flight plans lessen long-lasting contrails and reduce climate impacts–so-called green aviation. Physics professor Raymond Shaw and Professor Emeritus Bill Rose, who advised Adam in his graduate studies here, host the discussion.

It’s not rocket science. It’s harder — or at least harder to predict. Clouds are often referred to as the wildcard of climate modeling, and while some basic physics have become much clearer using tools like the cloud chamber at Michigan Technological University, atmospheric science remains a fascinating and complex space.

Shaw, distinguished professor of physics and director of Michigan Tech’s atmospheric sciences doctoral program, studies ice crystal formations in clouds. When Durant worked with him as a graduate geoscience student, the team studied how volcanic ash and frigid water interact in the atmosphere. For Durant, experimenting with specks of dust and drops of supercooled water coalesced into an ongoing interest in the interaction’s effects on airplanes — and the industry’s climate bill. Drawing on his interdisciplinary background, Durant started the company SATAVIA in 2013.

In their Q&A, Shaw (RS) and Durant (AD) explain how rerouting airplanes to minimize contrails can have the biggest impact with the smallest changes.

Adam Durant, CEO SATAVIA
Research Interests:
– Green aviation
– Ice crystal morphology and cloud formation
– Volcanic ash plumes
– Sustainable business

Q: Why focus on contrails to curb climate change impacts?

AD: It’s not just direct engine emissions that matter in terms of aviation’s climate impacts. Non-carbon dioxide sources — like the climate forcing from contrails — make up almost two-thirds of the industry’s impact, which is a surprisingly big number. In fact, it equates to 2% of all human-caused climate change.

RS: Contrails are pretty and localized, so it’s understandable that few people would guess they’re of consequence. And it’s relatively rare flights that make these long-lasting contrails, which are heavily weighted in terms of their climate impact.

AD: Yes, of about 500 flights, only one or two make these kinds of contrails.

Q: How does SATAVIA’s software help predict contrail formation?

AD: We are a data analytics company, building software that uses cutting-edge atmosphere and climate science. We use a commercial cloud structure to create a digital twin of the Earth’s atmosphere from surface to space, quantifying many key meteorological parameters like temperature, humidity, cloud cover and other factors that affect flight operations. We aggregate that information and apply it to different use cases, including contrail formation and other applications such as contaminant exposure and corrosion factors. Predicting contrail formation and persistence in the atmosphere is complex, so it becomes a big data problem – unless you’ve got a high-performance atmospheric digital twin, you won’t be able to crunch through the data properly. Right now, we’re working with a major Middle East airline through a collaboration with Aviation X Lab, a Dubai-based aviation incubator. They want to be proactive about assessing their impact, and they’re helping us validate our models. The next challenge is software integration, so we can help airlines optimize flight paths for contrail prevention while minimizing fuel burn.

Q: How can industry, universities and government groups work together?

RS: It’s important to acknowledge that while Michigan Tech doesn’t have direct collaborations with SATAVIA, it was a former student who started the company and a new graduate, Subin Thomas, starts there soon as a key player on their science team. Academia can play a role by training people in the fundamental science so they can carry on innovation within the private sector. We also work with agencies, like our partners at the National Center for Atmospheric Science (NCAR) and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). For example, a current graduate student, Elise Rosky, is at this moment at NCAR flying a holographic instrument through clouds to investigate how ice forms and grows. Who knows where that fundamental research will lead, and even how it might tie into the science of contrails?

Raymond Shaw
Research Interests:
– Atmospheric Physics
– Cloud Physics
– Nucleation
– Turbulence
– Digital Holography

AD: We all want to solve real world problems. There’s a lot more to solving problems than throwing science at it. If it doesn’t cost money or make money, it’s hard to get business to care. As the cost of carbon rises, there is going to be more and more incentive for airlines to fly smarter and greener. With our model, we not only assess a flight plan and help make changes that actually lower aviation’s climate impact, but we also estimate what a company can save in associated carbon credits and carbon offsets.

Q: How did your Michigan Tech research help make these kinds of collaborations possible?

AD: This brings me back to doing my PhD on volcanic ash with Bill Rose, who blended a lot of disciplines. I felt like an atmospheric scientist but my degree was geoscience. I moved on to a climate research group next — mostly climate modelers and remote sensing experts — and that experience also brought me closer to policy.

RS: Sometimes, Adam, we jokingly call students like you a gluon [bad physics joke] — “Well, Bill does this and Raymond does that, so we need a go-between.” To Bill’s credit, he was always roving and looking for people who could help him solve the problems he was working on. So, Adam asked in his research: What happens when we put ash in a supercooled droplet? It was a logical next step to ask what happens when an airplane flies into an ash plume.

Q: What inspires you in your work?

AD: I want to take tangible action on climate change — that’s what my mission has become. We’ve been thinking about our vision as a company and it always comes back to solving climate change.

RS: We say all the time that we do basic science to help society. Examples like Adam’s company make that true. In some ways, it’s easier to stay in academia, but moving into the private sector means there is so much more potential for influence. Much of research is curiosity-driven and with a genuine interest in solving fundamental problems, with the hope that eventually the solutions will make a difference. But no one would fund us to solve puzzles every day; we hope that when we train students that our fundamental work will be connected to the private sector and help make the world a better place.

Contrails are the biggest contributor to aviation’s climate impact. The company SATAVIA works on data analysis software to help airlines avoid long-lasting contrail formation. Credit: Conor Farrington, SATAVIA

Q: What are challenges that remain ahead?

AD: Raymond, here is what we are always asked: Do we know enough about the science of contrail formation and whether we can predict it?

RS: Well, the basic physics is there. The part that is complicated, which falls under current research, is how persistent will a contrail be — will it be ice or water, and what’s the crystal shape? The good news is that the basics are clear.

AD: I agree that the fundamental science is sound, and that the challenge facing us now is scaling and creating contrail forecasts at flight altitudes so that aviation operators can avoid making them. And policy and regulation — that is what will influence how big organizations deal with this problem.

RS: That’s the surprising part. Thinking from the company spreadsheet point of view, in the right economy, SATAVIA’s approach can actually save money.

AD: Yes, many companies already pay to offset their carbon emissions. Changing flight plans would make a bigger difference and save them more money. What we need to work on most from a technical perspective is software integration, and that’s going to take time and close partnerships with more airlines.

Q: The pandemic changed travel. How has this impacted your work?

AD: Before COVID, much of our work focused on how atmospheric and climatic factors can damage aircraft engines and airframes, and responding to that with smarter condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. 

But as the pandemic began and continued, we pivoted to focus more on aviation’s impact on climate. We just happened to be at the right place at the right time with our ice crystals research. People care about green aviation now, to the extent that it will influence their choice of airline, though some consumers will always be driven by the cheapest prices. In the near term, it’s likely to be business travelers who care most about the green credentials of a flight.

RS: Even before the pandemic, I was starting to notice an uptick in the number of colleagues who would say, “I’m not going to go to that meeting because I’m trying really hard to minimize the aviation part of my carbon footprint.” Or saying, “I can’t go on that airline, I’m going to choose this other airline because they’re doing more to solve this problem.” And I do think the pandemic has made more of us aware of what can and can’t be done. The nice thing is that we can have a global aviation industry and mitigate the impact to some extent. As you think about returning to air travel, why not expect more from the airline you’re flying with? Because there are actions they can take. Contrails are something most people would never think about, but SATAVIA’s work shows that it’s possible to do something about their climate impacts.

GMES Grad Student Presentation Wins GSA Award

Daniel J. Lizzadro-McPherson
Daniel J. Lizzadro-McPherson

The Department of Geological and Mining Engineering Sciences (GMES) announced that master’s student Daniel J. Lizzadro-McPherson’s talk, “Remapping the Keweenaw Fault and Discovery of Related Structures in Michigan’s Historic Copper District,” was awarded the Best Graduate Oral Presentation from the Geological Society of America’s (GSA) 2020 North-Central Section Meeting, held online this past May 2020.

The talk was featured in the Unique Geology and Geoheritage of the Lake Superior Region Session led by Erika Vye (GLRC), William Rose (GMES), Jim Miller, and James DeGraff (GMES).

Lizzadro-McPherson presented on the history of mapping the Keweenaw Fault and the current remapping efforts aimed at understanding this complex fault system in northern Keweenaw County. For more information about this project or to receive a link to the virtual presentation please email djlizzad@mtu.edu.

Explore the eight presentations in the session by Michigan Tech researchers:

  1. REMAPPING THE KEWEENAW FAULT AND DISCOVERY OF RELATED STRUCTURES IN MICHIGAN’S HISTORIC COPPER DISTRICT
  2. ANALYSIS AND INTERPRETATION OF FOLDS AND FAULT SEGMENTS ALONG THE KEWEENAW FAULT SYSTEM, MICHIGAN
  3. KEWEENAW SHORELINES: SHALLOW WATER SCIENCE, HISTORY, EDUCATION AND GEO TOURISM + YouTube Video
  4. GEOHERITAGE AND THE ARTS: BUILDING AWARENESS USING THE KEWEENAW MINES + YouTube Video
  5. DIGITAL CAPTURE AND PRESERVATION OF HISTORIC MINING DATA FROM THE KEWEENAW COPPER DISTRICT, MICHIGAN
  6. TEACHING THE GEOLOGIC HERITAGE OF MINNESOTA’S NORTH SHORE AT THE NORTH HOUSE FOLK SCHOOL, GRAND MARAIS
  7. SHIPWRECK EXPLORATION WORKSHOP IN NEARSHORE KEWEENAW WATERS
  8. CONNECTING RESEARCH AND COMMUNITY – A KEWEENAW LAKE SUPERIOR NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY
GSA North-Central Duluth 2020 Superior rocks logo of Lake Superior.

Thank You Ted Bornhorst

Ted Bornhorst
Ted Bornhorst

The Department of Geological and Mining Engineering Sciences offers our congratulations and best wishes to Theodore J. Bornhorst on his retirement after a long and productive career as Director for the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum and professor at the Department of GMES! He has inspired many with his passion for mineralogy and Keweenaw geoheritage.

We are happy that he will continue his research at our department as a professor emeritus.

Simon Carn on the Spectacular Raikoke Image

Raikoke Volcano aerial view.
Raikoke via NASA

Simon Carn (GMES) was quoted in the story “NASA asked the public to choose its all-time best photos of Earth. Here are 17 of them,” in UPWorthy.

An unexpected series of blasts from a remote volcano in the Kuril Islands sent ash and volcanic gases streaming high over the North Pacific Ocean.

“What a spectacular image. It reminds me of the classic Sarychev Peak astronaut photograph of an eruption in the Kuriles from about ten years ago,” said Simon Carn, a volcanologist at Michigan Tech. “The ring of white puffy clouds at the base of the column might be a sign of ambient air being drawn into the column and the condensation of water vapor. Or it could be a rising plume from interaction between magma and seawater because Raikoke is a small island and flows likely entered the water.”

Read more at Upworthy, by Tod Perry.