Tag: geography of the united states

Canyonlands Artwork Now Dated 1,000 to 2,000 Years Ago

ctvnews.ca SALT LAKE CITY -- Life-sized figures sketched into red rock cliffs in Canyonlands National Park were drawn 1,000 years more recently than what had long been believed, a team of Utah State University scientists discovered about the world-r...

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Has the Death Valley Moving Rocks Mystery Finally been Solved?

Death Valley rock mystery
One of several hundred rocks that have left trails as they moved across the surface of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park. (Louis Sahagun / Los Angeles Times)

Louis Sahagun/ L.A. Times

Scientists get lucky break, are able to photograph how rocks 'move' across Death Valley lake bed

Researchers Richard and James Norris were awestruck by the ferocity of the cracking sounds as a frozen lake in Death Valley National Park began breaking apart under sunny skies.

As they watched, huge panes of ice were lifted by light winds and pushed against rocks weighing up to 200 pounds. Unbroken, the panes became sails and the rocks began to move across the slick muddy bottom of a normally dry lake bed known as “the Racetrack Playa.”

“My god, Jim, it’s happening,” Richard yelled to James, his cousin.
James Norris grabbed a camera and began snapping photos.

Their observations on Dec. 21 provided the final evidence in solving a mystery of the Racetrack Playa that has long puzzled visitors and scientists: What mechanism propels rocks across the playa in the heart of the hottest, driest place on Earth? There was a side of me that was wistful because the mystery was no more. - James Norris

Rocks of various heft – weighing up to 1,000 pounds – leave trails that wiggle like snakes or form complete loops or even rectangles. The trails are cut sharply into the earth, but no other tracks are visible — as if the rocks were pushed by unseen forces.

Theories over the decades have included sporadic hurricane-force winds when the surface is covered with rain water, or rocks carried across the mud by small rafts of ice, or even UFOs.

But until the Norrises had an incredible stroke of luck that day in December, no one had witnessed and recorded the phenomenon. The findings were formally presented Wednesday in the online scientific journal PLOS ONE.

“I’m amazed by the irony of it all,” James Norris said, nodding toward the glistening playa on a recent weekday. “In a place where rainfall averages two inches a year, rocks are being shoved around by mechanisms typically seen in arctic climes.”

“And the movement is incredibly slow,” he added. “These rocks clock in at about 15 feet per minute.”

Geologists have been studying the moving rocks since 1948, when the first scientific study suggested they were driven by dust devils. One reason the mystery endured is that the movements are episodic, often with no motion for periods of decades until a precise series of natural events occurs.

The first requirement is rain in a parched climate. Next, temperatures must fall low enough to freeze the water before it evaporates. Then the sun has to come out and thaw the ice. And finally, a light wind — not a heavy wind — has to blow strongly enough lift the ice into sheets and sail them against the rocks gently enough that the ice doesn’t shatter.

Ralph Lorenz, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory who had investigated playa rock movement for a decade, believed strongly enough that ice sails were the cause that he erected time lapse cameras in the area about seven years ago. But they failed to record the phenomenon.
The Norrises subscribed to a different theory, believing hurricane force winds were the cause.

Richard Norris, 55, a paleobiologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and James, 59, a research engineer, launched their “Slithering Stones Research Initiative” in 2011.

Over the next two years, friends and relatives armed with permits from the National Park Service helped them install a weather station in the area and place 15 cantaloupe-size stones equipped with global positioning devices on its pancake-flat surface.

The “GPS stones,” which were engineered to record movement and velocity, were stationed at the southern end of the playa where rocks begin their strange journeys after tumbling down a cliff.
On Dec. 20, 2013, Richard and James Norris returned to inspect the instruments.

“We found the playa covered with ice,” Richard recalled. “We also noticed fresh rock trails near shards of thin ice stacked up along the shoreline.”

The following afternoon, “we were sitting on a mountainside and admiring the view when a light wind kicked up and the ice started cracking,” he said. “Suddenly, the whole process unfolded before our eyes.”

“There was a side of me that was wistful,” James Norris added, “because the mystery was no more.”

A review of the weather data showed that a rare winter storm had dropped about 1 1/2 inches of rain and seven inches of snow on the region in late November. The playa was transformed into a shallow lake where the GPS stones recorded movements on sunny days with light winds following nights of sub-freezing temperatures.

James Norris' photographs put it all in perspective. Panes of ice hundreds of feet across and as thin as 1/4-inch thick blew into rocks. The rocks slid along the slushy, slippery mud on trajectories determined by the direction and velocity of the winds.

The cousins first shared the news with Lorenz, whose specialty is the Saturn moon of Titan and who became one of the five authors of the PLOS ONE study.

“The back of the problem has been broken,” Lorenz said. “While it takes away the mystery, it also underscores what an amazingly rare and wonderful mechanism is at work there.”

After viewing the photos of the ice sails earlier this month, Richard Friese, Death Valley’s hydrologist, said he was glad to see the matter finally resolved. But he added, “What worries us is that we expect this information to result in increased visitation to the Racetrack Playa, which is remote.”

Park rangers warn that the rocky road to the playa is treacherous and stories abound of ill-equipped motorists stranded with multiple flat tires.

The Norris cousins’ fascination with the region began in the 1960s, when their fathers – who were brothers and noted scientists – took them on excursions to the forbidding wilderness of scruffy mountains, buckled earth and geological mystery.

Standing beside a fresh zigzagging trail on the playa this month, under an evening sky filled with stars and bats, James said, “Wouldn’t our fathers have loved to have known this?”

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This Genius Project Will Create Tiny Homes For People Making Less Than $15,000 A Year

tiny homes portland or


Another American city is embracing the idea of small homes that'll make a big difference. 

The city of Portland, Oregon, is nearing approval of construction for tiny home communities on public land in order to house homeless and low-income residents, the Oregonian reported. Josh Alpert, the city's director of strategic initiatives under Mayor Charlie Hales, said it's not so much a question of if, but rather, when the homes will be built in partnership with Multnomah County, according to the news source. The city will ask various public branches in the area -- including Portland Public Schools -- to provide surplus land for the homes.

"Before people can get back on their feet and take advantage of job training and drug and alcohol counseling, they need a place to live," Multnomah County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury said Wednesday, according to the Oregonian. "This helps accomplish that."

Creating tiny home communities has proven to be a successful strategy for other cities around the country combating homelessness. Similar projects in Wisconsin, Texas and New York have put permanent roofs over heads in recent years, Reuters reported, allowing residents to focus more on moving forward in other areas of their lives.

"It's exciting. I've never owned my own house,” Betty Ybarra, a formerly homeless woman who'd lived in a tent in Madison, Wisconsin, told NBC 15 News last December.

Portland hopes to have the first micro-community in place by February of next year. 

Nonprofit Micro Community Concepts teamed up with TechDwell, an area company specializing in micro-home design, to work on concepts with the city.

tiny homes in portland
portland tiny homes
portland oregon tiny homes
All images courtesy of TechDwell.

Initial plans include 25 housing units on a given plot of land, with laundry, administrative services and other amenities present on-site. The 192 square-foot homes, which would cost $250 to $350 per month to rent, would allow individuals making just $5,000 to $15,000 a year to be able to afford them, according to Dave Carboneau of TechDwell. 

The tiny homes project being led by Mayor Hales -- who Alpert said is "infatuated" with the idea -- reflects a significant change in dealing with homelessness from city leadership. In February, protesters carrying lit torches descended upon Portland City Hall, angered by the mayor's attempts to clear out homeless campsites in public spaces, according to the Portland Mercury.

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Chevron-shaped Object with Multiple Lights over Milford, New Hampshire

  Milford, New Hampshire - 07-31-14 - Shape: Chevron - Duration: 45 seconds Chevron-shaped object over Milford, NH, with many lights flying low; making no sound. At approximately 3:45 am I was standing at our kitchen window when I saw ...

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Mysterious Object Caught in Photograph Over Maui, Hawaii

ufocasebook.com Maui, Hawaii - 07-24-14 Take off the Hana Highway in Maui using phone that has a 13.1 mega pixel lens. I didn't notice the object until I looked at the photograph, I sure wish I had! My name's Brad and the last year I've been diligen...

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