NSF in the News
AN ISLAND GROWS IN HAWAII
Hawaii is gaining real estate. An underwater volcano,
named Loihi, is being pushed up, and now, about 100,000 years after it
began rising, its crest is within half a mile of the surface.
This is the birth of an island. Robert Bodnar, a volcano expert at Virginia
Tech, jokingly suggests that his students should buy the watery property. "Then
wait," Bodnar told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "Sometime within
the next 100,000 years, you may own a tropical resort island."
Geologists have come to understand the underwater birth of Hawaiian islands
only in the last 10 years. The islands are formed as the Pacific Plate
moves over a hot spot in Earth's mantle. As the plate glides across, the
hot spot melts rocks, causes earthquakes, and pushes up volcanos, some
of which become islands.
Researchers will be able to watch the growth of
Hawaii's youngest island with an NSF-funded, underwater observatory
called the Hawaii Undersea Geology Observatory, or HUGO. With data-collecting
cables located right where the action is -- such as, earthquakes, lava
flows and gas expulsions -- volcanologists expect to collect never-before-seen
details of an island's ascent from the seafloor.
PROOF POSITIVE: METEORITE IMPACT AND DINOSAURS' EXTINCTION
An international team of
researchers recovered new evidence of a large Caribbean meteorite impact
that occurred 65 million years ago. Many scientists believe this meteorite
collision led to the extinction of dinosaurs and other species.
NSF Assistant Director for Geosciences Robert
W. Corell praised the scientists from the drill ship, the JOIDES Resolution.
The JOIDES scientists reported their findings last February after a
one-month research expedition.
"This is the most significant discovery in geosciences
in 20 years," says Corell. "Deep sea sediment cores collected during
the expedition provide a remarkable record of the meteorite's impact
and the resulting debris--which may have triggered a serious decline
in the globe's temperature and created a kind of nuclear winter' that
drove dinosaurs and other species to extinction."
But the team's work didn't stop there. The fact
that the core sample shows what happened after the meteorite's impact
is also significant, says Corell. "The team's deep sea sediment cores
show the slow process of the earth's long rejuvenation and recovery
from this catastrophe."
The ocean researchers reported their new evidence
just as NBC-TV premiered its show Asteroid. The timing provided
a good comparison between science and fiction, says Corell. "Here's
a case where science shows how real life is more cataclysmic and amazing
than television or Hollywood -- with all their special effects -- can
depict. The impact of the asteroid featured in the NBC-TV show Asteroid
is peanuts compared to the real thing faced by the world 65 million
Corell congratulated the leader of the expedition,
Richard Norris of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Norris'
colleagues. "Their work will assist us in better understanding the earth's
past and in determining the ocean's role in global climate change in
JOIDES Resolution is the world's largest scientific
research vessel. It is operated by the Ocean Drilling Program, which
is primarily funded by NSF and research agencies in 19 foreign countries.