For years, scientists and public health officials have known that arsenic threatens the water supplies of millions of people in the heavily populated floodplains of Southeast Asia. A recent study centers on Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, but has profound implications for the people of the entire region. In Vietnam, arsenic is naturally hosted in sediments drained off the Himalayas, which wash into the Mekong.
As North Dakota’s state geologist, Ed Murphy has spent a fair amount of time mapping the geology of the Killdeer Mountains in the western part of the state, hiking up and down buttes of the White River Group and the Arikaree Formation. In the 1980s, he and colleagues mapped large deposits of rocks bearing erionite — a zeolite mineral formed when volcanic ash is altered by water — that may have had some commercial use.
Tomorrow’s agriculture is facing an immense challenge. By 2050, the world’s population will reach somewhere between 9 billion and 10 billion people, and a greater proportion of those people will be enjoying a richer diet than today’s population. That means farmers will have to grow twice as much food. The world has already witnessed a preview of what might happen if large populations don’t receive an adequate supply of food: They do not accept their fates passively.
The global financial disaster of 2009 has many parallels with catastrophic natural hazards. It struck pretty much without warning, its impact was greatly exacerbated by an incredibly complex system of cascading consequences, and finally, mechanisms supposedly in place to mitigate the worse impacts (regulations, in the case of the financial system) failed. There was awareness that such a meltdown could theoretically occur, but it was considered such a low-probability event that it was evidently not worth planning for.
At the close of the Permian, 252 million years ago, conditions on Earth took a turn for the worse, nearly wiping out life on land and at sea in the planet’s most severe extinction event. Now, eons later, geologists are implicating a coal seam that dates to the “Great Dying” at the Permian-Triassic boundary in one of the modern world’s worst cancer epidemics.
In eastern India, north of the Damodar River, approximately 70 fires are burning in the Jharia coalfield, the largest coalmine fire complex in the world. The majority of fires in Jharia ignite when coal, exposed to air during mining operations, spontaneously combusts. Particulate matter and noxious gases emitted from the burning coal — including sulfur, carbon and nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons released at the surface from gas vents, ground fissures and the soil — have caused illnesses that range from stroke to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
For the past 10 years, geoscientists have been helping to characterize the dust that blanketed lower Manhattan following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, hoping to determine if and how that dust may be causing long-term health problems.