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Geological Carbon Sequestration in Mantle Rocks Prevents Large Earthquakes in Parts of the San Andreas Fault

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Outcrop of carbonate-altered mantle rock in the San Andreas Fault area. A recent study shows that carbon sequestration in mantle rocks may prevent large earthquakes in parts of the San Andreas Fault.

Smaller, more frequent quakes help to reduce tectonic strain

Newswise — Woods Hole, MA — The San Andreas Fault in California is renowned for its large and infrequent earthquakes. However, some segments of the San Andreas Fault (SAF) instead are characterized by frequent quakes of small to moderate magnitude and high rates of continuous or episodic aseismic creep. With tectonic strain released in a quasi-steady motion, that reduces the potential for large earthquakes along those segments.

Now, researchers say ubiquitous evidence for ongoing geological carbon sequestration in mantle rocks in the creeping sections of the SAF is one underlying cause of aseismic creep along a roughly 150 kilometer-long SAF segment between San Juan Bautista and Parkfield, California, and along several other fault segments.

“Although there is no consensus regarding the underlying cause of aseismic creep, aqueous fluids and mechanically weak minerals appear to play a central role,” researchers say in a new paper, “Carbonation of serpentinite in creeping faults of California,” published in Geophysical Research Letters.

The new study integrates field observations and thermodynamic modeling “to examine possible relationships between the occurrence of serpentinite, silica-carbonate rock, and CO2-rich aqueous fluids in creeping faults of California,” the paper states. “Our models predict that carbonation of serpentinite leads to the formation of talc and magnesite, followed by silica-carbonate rock. While abundant exposures of silica-carbonate rock indicate complete carbonation, serpentinite hosted CO2-rich spring fluids are strongly supersaturated with talc at elevated temperatures. Hence, carbonation of serpentinite is likely ongoing in parts of the San Andres Fault system and operates in conjunction with other modes of talc formation that may further enhance the potential for aseismic creep, thereby limiting the potential for large earthquakes.”

The paper indicates that because wet talc is a mechanically weak mineral, “its formation through carbonation promotes tectonic movements without large earthquakes.”

The researchers recognized several possible underlying mechanisms causing aseismic creep in the SAF, and they also noted that because the rates of aseismic creep are significantly higher in some parts of the SAF system, an additional or different mechanism – the carbonation of serpentinite – is needed to account for the full extent of the creep.

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With fluids basically everywhere along the SAF, but with only certain portions of the fault being lubricated, researchers considered that a rock could be responsible for the lubrication. Some earlier studies had suggested that the lubricant could be talc, a soft and slippery component that is commonly used in baby powder. A well-established mechanism for forming talc is by adding silica to mantle rocks. However, the researchers here focused on another talc-forming mechanism: adding CO2 to mantle rocks to form soapstone.

“The addition of CO2 to mantle rocks  – which is the mineral carbonation or carbon sequestration process – had not previously been investigated in the context of earthquake formation or the natural prevention of earthquakes. Using basic geological constraints, our study showed where these carbonate-altered mantle rocks are and where there are springs along the fault line in California that are enriched in CO2. It turned out that when you plot the occurrence and distribution of these rock types and the occurrence of CO2-rich springs in California, they all line up along the San Andreas Fault in creeping sections of the fault where you don’t have major earthquakes,” said Frieder Klein, lead author of the journal article.

Klein, an associate scientist in the Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, explained that carbonation is basically the uptake of CO2 by a rock. Klein noted that he had used existing U.S. Geological Survey databases and Google Earth to plot the locations of carbonate-altered rocks and CO2-rich springs.

“The geological evidence suggests that this mineral carbonation process is taking place and that talc is an intermediary reaction product of that process,” Klein said. Although researchers did not find soapstone on mantle rock outcrops, results from theoretical models “strongly suggest that carbonation is an ongoing process and that soapstone indeed could form in the SAF at depth,” the paper notes.

These theoretical models “suggest that carbon sequestration with the SAF is taking place today and that the process is actively helping to lubricate the fault and minimize strong earthquakes in the creeping portions of the SAF,” Klein said.

The paper also notes that this mechanism may also be present in other fault systems. “Because CO2-rich aqueous fluids and ultramafic rocks are particularly common in young orogenic belts and subduction zones, the formation of talc via mineral carbonation may play a critical role in controlling the seismic behavior of major tectonic faults around the world.”

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“Our study allows us to better understand the fundamental processes that are taking place within fault zones where these ingredients are present, and allows us to better understand the seismic behavior of these faults, some of which are in densely populated areas and some of which are in lightly populated or oceanic settings,” Klein said.

This work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation.

Authors: Frieder Klein1*, David L. Goldsby2, Jian Lin1, Muriel Andreani3

Affiliations:

1Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA

2University of Pennsylvania, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, USA

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3Laboratoire de Géologie de Lyon, UMR 5276, ENS et Université Lyon 1, 69622 Villeurbanne Cedex, France

*corresponding author

Rod is a blogger, writer, filmmaker, photographer, daydreamer who likes to cook. Rod produces and directs the web series, CUPIC: Diary of an Investigator. He is also the editor, producer and administrator of TNC Network.

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Science

NASA Awards Millions to Historically Black Colleges, Universities

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NASA awards 11.7 million to HBCUs to conduct data science research that will contribute to the agency’s Science Mission Directorate missions.
Credits: NASA/Cory Huston

NASA is awarding $11.7 million to eight Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) through the new Data Science Equity, Access, and Priority in Research and Education (DEAP) opportunity. These awards will enable HBCU students and faculty to conduct innovative data science research that contributes to NASA’s missions.

“We’re pleased to make progress through awards like this to intentionally build the STEM pipeline of the future, especially in communities of color,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy. “It’s fitting during Black History Month that we make this tangible step to build on the talent pool at HBCUs in our ongoing work to bring to the table all the talents and perspectives we’ll need to send humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond, and do amazing science throughout the solar system.”

Technology advancements in the field of data science, including the growth of artificial intelligence and machine learning, are poised to significantly impact the work of data scientists and analysts. The awarded projects have up to three years to establish institutes and partnerships to increase the number and research capacity of STEM students at HBCUs, accelerate innovation in a wide range of NASA science, technology, engineering, and mathematic research areas, and prepare the future workforce for data-intensive space-based Earth sciences.

“The increasing use of data science at NASA and beyond really drives home the need for a future workforce with data science knowledge,” said Mike Kincaid, associate administrator of NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement, which manages MUREP. “With our newest collaboration, NASA created an exciting pathway to find new talent at HBCUs.”

The agency’s Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) and the Science Mission Directorate collaborated on the DEAP opportunity, and selected the following institutions and their proposed projects:

Bethune-Cookman University Inc., Daytona Beach, Florida

NASA MUREP DEAP Institute of Environmental Intelligence for Advanced Space-based Earth Sciences

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The project will establish a DEAP Institute focusing on machine learning-based development of a virtual constellation of satellites that will capture changing water levels, from events such as storm flooding to multi-decadal time scales, such as sea level rise. NASA tracks sea level changes and its causes from space.

Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville, North Carolina

Institute for Multi-agent Perception through Advanced Cyberphysical Technologies (IMPACT)

The IMPACT project will build on existing capacity and collaboration with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Silicon Valley, California, to engage students and faculty in using data science to address scientific questions as one of the key factors to manage NASA’s Earth mission research.

Florida A & M University, Tallahassee, Florida

Effects of Gravity on Creeping Salts and Salt Mixtures: Developing Image-based and AI-enhanced Diagnostics for Determining Chemical Compositions

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This project will rely on artificial intelligence and machine learning to better understand the science of concentrated salt solutions and the formation of ring-like deposits called evaporites. Understanding the science of salt concentrations and formation of evaporites will bring new insight into identifying where water may have existed. Water is a critical source NASA researches and explores to better understand other planets’ surface geology and the potential future of lunar and Martian exploration.

Lincoln University, Jefferson City, Missouri

Using Data Science to Understand Soil, Wildfire, & Social Disparity of Climate Change and Air Pollution

This project aims to provide data science problem-solving, skill development, and professional development of minority and underserved students. Students will utilize existing state-of-the-art ML methods to develop new data analytic approaches to solve some of the core problems in Earth science research.

Morgan State University, Baltimore

Long-Term, High-Resolution Urban Aerosol Database for Research, Education and Outreach

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Through innovative data analysis algorithms, including ML/AI methods, this project will produce a high-resolution, open-access, and user-friendly urban aerosol database focusing on the Baltimore-Washington area. The database will also be used in both classroom teaching and scientific outreach, accompanied by online tools and educational materials bringing new, authentic Earth science education to local schools and communities.

North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, Greensboro, North Carolina

DEAP Institute: Harnessing Data Science for Flood Monitoring and Management

Three North Carolina-based HBCUs will work together on this project developed to harness data science for flood monitoring and management.

North Carolina Central University, Durham, North Carolina

Capacity Building to Support the Machine Learning-Based Detection of Floods and other Natural Hazard Impacts in the Department of Environmental, Earth and Geospatial Sciences at North Carolina Central University

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This project will create training, data resources, and opportunities to use machine learning/artificial intelligence to identify and measure the impact of flood events and other natural hazards such as earthquakes, hurricanes, drought, wildfires, and more.

Prairie View A & M University, Prairie View, Texas

DEAP Institute in Research and Education for Science Translation via Low-Resource Neural Machine Translation

This project aims to build an AI-based system that can share interactive, instantaneous, and user-relevant Earth science information, making NASA science more discoverable and accessible to a broad audience.

“NASA is tackling how to use the latest techniques in data science combined with the volumes of data produced by our missions to answer questions about our changing planet,” said Steven Crawford, senior program executive for scientific data and computing. “Working with students from HBCUs will not only engage the generation that will be most affected by these subjects but will help NASA scientists and engineers address these challenges.”

Administered by OSTEM, MUREP supports and invests in the research, academic, and technology capabilities of Minority Serving Institutions. For more information about NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement, visit:

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https://stem.nasa.gov

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astronomy

Astronomers use novel technique to find starspots

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New method seen as powerful tool in studying stars

Newswise — COLUMBUS, Ohio – Astronomers have developed a powerful technique for identifying starspots, according to research presented this month at the 241st meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Our sun is at times dotted with sunspots, cool dark regions on the stellar surface generated by strong magnetic fields, which suppress churning motions and impede the free escape of light. On other stars, these phenomena are called starspots, said Lyra Cao, lead author of the study and a graduate student in astronomy at The Ohio State University

“Our study is the first to precisely characterize the spottiness of stars and use it to directly test theories of stellar magnetism,” said Cao. “This technique is so precise and broadly applicable that it can become a powerful new tool in the study of stellar physics.” 

Use of the technique will soon allow Cao and her colleagues to release a catalog of starspot and magnetic field measurements for more than 700,000 stars – increasing the number of these measurements available to scientists by three orders of magnitude.

Since sunspots were first discovered in the 17th century, scientists have typically detected signatures of stellar magnetism indirectly, by looking at stars through different filters or detecting the modulation of spots in a star’s light curve. But by analyzing legacy high-resolution infrared spectra from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, Cao was able to develop a technique for identifying starspots in 240 stars from two open star clusters, the Pleiades and M67. 

The study showed that precision starspot measurements are a powerful new class of data which could help researchers understand how stellar magnetic fields work. Due to precision of the technique, Cao was also able to see how age and rotation affected the magnetic fields on these stars. 

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“It was lurking in plain sight: Within the spectrum, there was a cooler component corresponding to the starspot which was only visible in the infrared,” Cao said.

As it turns out, younger stars can be enveloped in starspots – some of them more “spot” than star, with 80% of their surfaces covered. During her studies, Cao realized that these larger cooler regions may block so much light, it might have a measurable effect on these stars. Since the light must eventually escape, she said, the star compensates by expanding and cooling enough to make more surface area available for radiation. 

Researchers also found that relying on classical methods to estimate the temperatures of these stars could be wrong by more than 100 degrees. Because scientists often rely on a star’s temperature when trying to estimate its size, astronomers could wrongly assume the radius of the star is smaller than it actually is.

“When this happens, you start seeing large changes in the stars’ structure, which can throw other important astronomical measurements off as well,” said Cao. As scientists use stellar parameters to understand our solar neighborhood and galaxy, and at times, the sizes and habitability prospects of nearby exoplanets, this method could dramatically improve researchers’ ability to test other scientific theories.

Additionally, researchers found a class of stars that are too active for standard theories to explain in the Pleiades cluster. According to Cao, these stars are not only magnetic and rife with starspots, but also overflowing with UV and X-ray radiation.

“You wouldn’t want to live around these stars,” said Cao. “But understanding why these stars are so active could change our models and criteria for exoplanetary habitability.” Further study of these unusual stars could hold the key for understanding why low mass stars are so active, the study notes.

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“We can directly study the evolution of stellar magnetism in hundreds of thousands of stars with this new dataset, so we expect this will help develop key insights in our understanding of stars and planets,” said Cao.

Marc Pinsonneault, a professor of astronomy at Ohio State, co-authored the study. This work was supported by NASA.

Contact: Lyra Cao, [email protected]

Written by: Tatyana Woodall, [email protected]

Source:  Ohio State University

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NASA’s Joe Acaba to Serve as Agency’s Chief Astronaut

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Lee esta nota de prensa en español aquí.

NASA has appointed veteran astronaut Joe Acaba as chief of the Astronaut Office at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. A decorated veteran of multiple spaceflights, as well a former U.S. Marine and former educator, Acaba is the first person of Hispanic heritage selected to lead the office.

Acaba takes the place of NASA astronaut Drew Feustel, who spent two years as deputy chief and has been acting chief of the office since NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman left the post late last year.

“Congratulations to Joe Acaba on being named the new chief of the astronaut office! Joe is an experienced space flyer and a proven leader, and he will undoubtedly inspire the next generation of NASA astronauts. As we build on the International Space Station’s unparalleled success in low-Earth orbit with our eyes on the Moon and then Mars, Joe will play an integral role in ensuring our NASA astronauts are prepared for the challenges ahead,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “I also want to thank Reid Wiseman for his steady leadership, and to Drew Feustel for jumping in to continue the office’s long legacy of excellence and integrity.”

In his new role, Acaba will be responsible for managing astronaut resources and operations. He also will help develop astronaut flight crew operation concepts and make crew assignments for future spaceflight missions, including astronauts assigned to fly on Artemis missions.

“Our Johnson Space Center team congratulates Joe Acaba on his appointment to chief of the Astronaut Office. We wish him well as he takes on this new and exciting leadership role,” said NASA Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche. “I extend my sincerest thanks to Reid Wiseman for his dedicated service to the Astronaut Office, as he completed the tremendous task of preparing our astronaut corps for daring missions to and from the International Space Station, and integrating their expertise and space knowledge to develop and test future technologies, software, and procedures, making space travel safer, reliable, comfortable, and attainable for our nation’s explorers. A special thank you to Drew Feustel for stepping in to lead our astronaut corps following Reid’s transition. I appreciate his willingness to step in and help prepare our nation’s astronauts to explore space for the benefit of humanity.”

A veteran of three spaceflights, Acaba was born in Inglewood, California. He earned a bachelor’s degree in geology at University of California in Santa Barbara, one master’s degree in geology from the University of Arizona, and one in education, curriculum and instruction from Texas Tech University, Lubbock. Before his selection as an astronaut candidate in 2004, Acaba spent time in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and the Peace Corps, worked as a hydrogeologist, and taught high school and middle school.

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“Joe is an excellent leader who brings a wealth of experience to the Astronaut Office,” said NASA’s Director of Flight Operations Norm Knight, who made the selection. “Knowing the significance of this position and the integrity of those who have previously served, I am confident Joe will be an outstanding chief for the Astronaut Office who will successfully lead our astronauts through an exciting future.”

Acaba spent 306 days in space, serving as mission specialist on space shuttle Discovery’s STS-119 mission and as flight engineer aboard the International Space Station for Expeditions 31 and 32 in 2012, as well as Expeditions 53 and 54 in 2017-2018. During that time, he took part in three spacewalks building and upgrading the space station, supported the arrival of the first commercial resupply spacecraft, SpaceX’s Dragon, in May 2012. He was aboard the station when its standard crew complement increased from three to six, enabling NASA and its international partners to double the amount time dedicated to research. Since returning to Earth, he has supported the astronaut office in a number of roles, including director of operations in Russia, and chief of the Vehicle Integration Test Office.

Wiseman served as chief astronaut for two years before stepping down Nov. 14, 2022, to return to the pool of astronauts eligible for flight assignments. Feustel will continue to support the Astronaut Office.

Follow Acaba on Twitter.

View Acaba’s complete biography at:

https://www.nasa.gov/astronauts/biographies/joseph-m-acaba

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Source: NASA

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