Tag Archives: National Science Foundation

Geology Students Study Tectonic Rifts

note: the following is a news release from Oklahoma State University

Four Oklahoma State University geology students traveled to Malawi in Africa to study tectonic rifts last summer thanks to a 2014 grant from the National Science Foundation.

courtesy: Oklahoma State University: Sam Dawson, from Davidson, North Carolina; Tiara Johnson, from Midwest City, Oklahoma; Courtney Hall, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and Bryan Clappe, from Chelsea, Oklahoma.

courtesy: Oklahoma State University

courtesy: Oklahoma State University: Bryan Clappe, from Chelsea, Oklahoma; Tiara Johnson, from Midwest City, Oklahoma, and Dr. Estella Atekwana study tectonic rifts in Malawi.

Dr. Estella Atekwana, geology department head, and Dr. Daniel Laó-Dávila, a geology professor, took four students to Karonga, Malawi, to explore the East African Rift that extends for thousands of miles along the continent’s edge bounded by the Indian Ocean.

“People don’t know what rifts are,” Atekwana said. “There used to be one big continent, called Pangea; it’s because of rifts that the continents broke apart. Malawi has a young rift system and is the go-to place to study the entire rift process.”

The grant allowed the Boone Pickens School of Geology to create an international program for its students, sending a total of 12 students in groups of four for three years. The trips allow the students to collect geological data and gain cultural experience outside of the university.

“The last thing I was expecting was a culture shock,” said Sam Dawson, a graduate student from Davidson, North Carolina. “Seeing what life was like in a developing country was eye-opening. The people are so happy. I saw some kids playing with simple toys for hours on end.”

courtesy: Oklahoma State University

courtesy: Oklahoma State University: Landscape view of Karonga, Malawi, where the students studied tectonic rifts.

courtesy: Oklahoma State University

courtesy: Oklahoma State University

Other students included undergraduates Tiara Johnson, from Midwest City, Oklahoma; Bryan Clappe, from Chelsea, Oklahoma; and Courtney Hall, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Clappe has since enrolled in the graduate program. The trip lasted from July 14 to Aug. 11, with students working five or six days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. This international opportunity will help make the students more competitive for job opportunities after graduation, according to Atekwana.

“It was a win-win experience,” she said. “Students can do research from the beginning of a rift and learn a lot. They don’t just learn about the science, but what it takes to collect it, to learn new cultures, meet new people. Students need to be competitive in the global economy. This gives them the advantage because they’ve now been there and done that.”

Karonga is a small town in northern Malawi, with a population similar to Stillwater. In 2009, there was a major earthquake in the town. Atekwana said the earthquake meant the rift was still active, so they needed to find the earthquake zone and image it.

“It’s sort of like a CT scan but of the underground,” she said.

In previous years, the geology department has led trips to Zambia and is looking into more places in the future, including Uganda and Ethiopia. But Laó-Dávila says there are other places in the U.S. that can be explored as well.

“There’s an ancient rift in Oklahoma not many people know about,” he said. “It’s in the southwest part of the state by the Wichita Mountains. Other places we can explore are the Rio Grande Rift, in New Mexico, and the Mid Continent Rift System that spans across Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan. It’s one of the oldest examples of a rift, at about 1.1 billion years old.”

But the trip wasn’t all work and no play. The group took trips to see different national parks in Malawi, including the Nyika National Park, a major tourist destination for the country. The group also toured the Cultural and Museum Center Karonga as well as going on safari rides.

“I woke up the next morning to see zebras out of my window,” Dawson said. “So that was pretty cool. I enjoyed getting to learn more about the geologic and cultural history at the museum as well. And there were so many beautiful sites to see.”

Some of the struggles the group had throughout the trip included living conditions and Internet connectivity. The hotel they stayed at cost $6 a night. Dawson said sometimes he didn’t have a shower, and if he did, there was only cold water available. Other problems included the electricity going on and off and waiting days to get Internet connectivity.

“That made it difficult for us to record our data or get connected to our resources on campus when we needed to.”

In the end, the experience was one that Atekwana believes changed the students’ lives. She said it showed them how people get by with a tenth of what Americans have and to learn how to get good scientific data from it.

“I recommend people not being closed minded as far as interacting with the culture goes,” Dawson said. “I did not expect to become such great friends with our driver, Kennedy. He taught us some of the language, including some pick up lines for us to use. We paid him $30 a day for a month, and he said that money would pay for his entire living expenses for six months. If I go back, I’d definitely try to find him again.”

The students reported on their trip at the American Geophysical Union’s 2015 Fall Meeting December 14-18, where 24,000 attendees met to present research and discover more about the latest happenings in their fields. For more about the Boone Pickens School of Geology, visit geology.okstate.edu.

courtesy: Oklahoma State University

courtesy: Oklahoma State University: Tiara Johnson, from Midwest City, Oklahoma; Sam Dawson, from Davidson, North Carolina; Courtney Hall, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and Bryan Clappe, from Chelsea, Oklahoma.

How Dust can help control Climate Change

Research by a University of Oklahoma scientist could lead to novel way to fight climate change. It has to do with dust.

Dr. Gerilyn Soreghan, courtesy University of Oklahoma

Dr. Gerilyn Soreghan, courtesy University of Oklahoma

Dr. Gerilyn Soreghan and a team of researchers from the University of California Riverside, Florida State University, University of Leeds, Hampton University, and Cornell University have been looking at some really old, iron-rich dust deposits. Like 300-million year old dust from the late Paleozoic period.

(I’ve talked with Dr. Soreghan before, click here and here to learn more about her.)

Dr. Soreghan says Earth’s atmosphere was as dusty as it has ever been 300 million years ago. She says it’s important to study those dust deposits because of the impact they had back then on Earth’s climate.

Here’s why: dust carries iron- iron is a fertilizer for plants- plants use photosynthesis-photosynthesis removes carbon from the atmosphere and replaces it with oxygen.

Dr. Soreghan says deep-time dust contained a lot of iron which means it “…should have even larger consequences for burial of carbon.” As for the modern day, there’s talk of iron fertilization as a geoengineering scheme to control the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Dr. Soreghan says her study on deep-time events shines a light on how those types of geoengineering endeavors may work in the present day but, she says, more research is needed.

You can read more on the study in this brief write-up by Dr. Soreghan or here where the Geological Society of America has published an article. The National Science Foundation and American Chemical Society funded the research.

 

 

OK Researchers Study Plant Development

Some Oklahoma scientists are teaming with a Michigan State University scientist to study if plants can overcome a nutrient-poor environment. Here are the three scientists who are heading up the project. Be sure to click on page 2 for a news release from the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore with a detailed explanation of the project.

Noble Foundation researchers Wolf Scheible, Ph.D. (center), Michael Udvardi, Ph.D. (left), and Patrick X. Zhao, Ph.D. (right), in collaboration with Michigan State University recently received a four-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Noble Foundation researchers Wolf Scheible, Ph.D. (center), Michael Udvardi, Ph.D. (left), and Patrick X. Zhao, Ph.D. (right), in collaboration with Michigan State University recently received a four-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

This Scientist is OK- Dr. J.P. Masly

Dr. J.P. Masly is an assistant professor of biology at the University of Oklahoma. He studies how genes evolve over time to form complex organisms (like you and me!!).

He recently received an award from the National Science Foundation that will allow him to continue with his research and build educational outreach programs in the community.

He talks, in this video, about why he studies the genes of fruit flies (here’s a hint, we’re a lot a like) and at the 2:15 mark about why he thinks science and religion do not have to conflict.

Using Radar to Track Bird Migration

Two University of Oklahoma students have discovered a way to use weather radar to track bird migrations. Kyle Horton is a biology student and Phillip Stepanian is studying meteorology and electrical engineering. They recently found a way learn how birds migrate using the country’s weather radar network. Below the pics is a news release from OU. I think this is a fantastic way to use an already existing system (the weather radar network) for an entirely different field than it was built.

Phillip M. Stepanian- Doctoral student in Meteorology and Electrical Engineering at the University of Oklahoma

   Phillip M. Stepanian- Doctoral student in Meteorology and Electrical Engineering at the University of Oklahoma

Kyle G. Horton- Doctoral student in Biology at the University of Oklahoma

Kyle G. Horton- Doctoral student in Biology at the University of Oklahoma

OU Students Use Nation’s Weather Radar Network to Track Bird Migration at Night

Norman, Okla.—Using the nation’s weather radar network, two University of Oklahoma doctoral students have developed a technique for forecasting something other than the weather: the orientation behavior of birds as they migrate through the atmosphere at night.  The students have discovered a way to use the latest dual-polarization radar upgrade to measure broad-scale flight orientation of nocturnal migrant birds—a promising development for biologists and bird enthusiasts.

The approach to the problem paired Phillip M. Stepanian, a meteorology and electrical engineering student, and Kyle G. Horton, a biology student, on the study that demonstrates how the upgraded national weather radar network contributed to the understanding of animal flight orientation behavior at a large spatial scale. Stepanian and Horton may be the first to develop a practical application of polarimetric radar data for tracking migrant birds during nighttime flight.

“This is an important advance because we can now measure how migrants compensate for wind speed and direction to achieve a particular migration track direction; essentially extracting a large-scale measure of bird behavior.  We are already involved in several follow-on studies that look at the behavioral variation in flight orientation at large spatial scales,” says Jeffrey F. Kelly, Oklahoma Biological Survey.

Horton, who is interested in bird strategies and orientation as they migrate from one place to another at night, will use the methodology to track migrant birds on the east coast and weather events that may disrupt flight patterns of the birds.  Stepanian is interested in the method for collecting the data using the nation’s upgraded weather radar network.  He wants to apply measurements to bird migration in ways not done before, which is a new application of the radar.

The ability to forecast migrant bird patterns will provide biologists and birders with an important tool for tracking nighttime flight of migrants.  Horton hopes to answer some big biological questions with this methodology, while Stepanian values the importance of the radar in tracking migrants and applying the data in new and innovative ways.

An article on this study has been published in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering’s Geoscience and Remote Sensing online early edition.  The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded this research project.