Tag Archives: lava

Geography provides an Opportunity to study other worlds

Surface of Mars taken by Viking 1

By Paulette Cully

Until  now, the record for the longest surviving mission of a lander on Mars was held by the Viking 1 Lander,  the first spacecraft to touch down on the planet. The Lander successfully performed its mission, which was to take soil samples and search for life, over a period of 6 years and 116 days until in 1982 a faulty command sent by ground control resulted in loss of contact. But this month, the record has been bettered by a NASA robot buggy called Opportunity which landed on Mars in 2004. Opportunity’s twin rover Spirit, on the other side of Mars has not been heard from since March 22nd after becoming trapped in sand. Scheduled to last only three months, Opportunity is showing no signs of stopping and at the moment is slowly travelling from a crater called Victoria to another crater called Endeavour, eight kilometres away. The scientific objective of the mission is to search for and characterise rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars. This information in turn will be used to help identify observed landforms such as gullies, channels and gorges.

Interestingly, according to Goro Komatsu writing in “Geography Compass”, on other planetary bodies, a wide range of fluids can be involved in creating landforms. For instance on the Moon, Venus, Mars, Io, and Titan, fluids including water, lava of varying compositions, carbon dioxide, and hydrocarbons, have been proposed for the origins of channels and valleys. On Earth, water either as a liquid or ice, is the most common fluid which produces landforms, although lava flows can also create surface features. Additionally, on Earth it is generally clear which fluid is responsible for surface features, because the formation process is in the main observable. On other planetary bodies however, planetary geologists and geomorphologists have to rely on their knowledge of geomorphology and the environment to infer which liquids were involved in the process of formation.

Click here to read about Opportunity and Spirit and their mission

Click here to read more about Opportunity

Click here to read the article by Goro Komatsu in Geography Compass

Land of Ice and Fire; and Dust

By Paulette Cully 

Iceland is at present living up to its epithet of a land of ice and fire since the most recent volcanic eruption took place on 20th March 2010. Quiet for the last 120 years, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano awoke, disgorging lava fountains and flows and later plumes of volcanic dust. However, as far as natural disasters go, according to Degg and Chesters (2006) writing in The Geographical Journal, earthquakes, droughts, floods and windstorms are the four major players in terms of losses, which claimed almost two million lives between 1900 and the time of writing. In contrast volcanic eruptions over the same time period caused less than 100,000 deaths. Commonly, volcanic hazards are spatially more restricted than other natural hazards, but Eyjafjallajökull has proved to be an exception, causing widespread disruption to air travel over Europe. 

NASA who have been monitoring the event using satellite artificial intelligence  are concerned that this eruption might be a precursor to another larger eruption at the Katla volcano nearby and if this is the case they will be ready to provide imaging data of any eruption as it progresses. On the ground, earthquake and volcanic activity is monitored by the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) which observes earth movements via GPS monitors, water conditions and weather and issues warnings based on these observations. In addition, the IMO has weather radar situated at the southwest tip of Iceland which aids in calculating the height of the ash plume which is essential for determining the distribution of the ash.  Allaying the fears of NASA, as of the 20th April the IMO have measured no earthquakes at Katla and GPS measurements do not indicate a forthcoming eruption. 

As for how long Eyjafjallajökull will continue to erupt; the answer is blowing in the wind. Volcanologists can only speculate, although the last time that the volcano erupted in 1821 it continued to erupt from time to time over a period of a year.

Read the full NASA article 



Keep informed of seismic activity in Iceland



Read the Degg and Chester article in The Geographical Journal