Supercomputer Simulates Dynamic Magnetic Fields of Jupiter, Earth, Sun

By Becky Oskin

As the Juno space probe approached Jupiter in June last year, researchers with the Computational Infrastructure for Geodynamics’ Dynamo Working Group were starting to run simulations of the giant planet’s magnetic field on one of the world’s fastest computers. While the timing was coincidental, the supercomputer modeling should help scientists interpret the data from Juno, and vice versa.

Video: Simulation of Jupiter’s magnetic fields 

“Even with Juno, we’re not going to be able to get a great physical sampling of the turbulence occurring in Jupiter’s deep interior,” Jonathan Aurnou, a geophysics professor at UCLA who leads the geodynamo working group, said in an article for Argonne National Laboratory news. “Only a supercomputer can help get us under that lid.”

How Useful Are Earthquake Early Warning Systems?

Mexico’s earthquake early warning system may have helped save lives in the Sept. 19 earthquake. Sirens in Mexico City sounded seconds before the earthquake struck the city, giving a brief window to shut down vital infrastructure and evacuate buildings. There was more warning, about 90 seconds, before the larger earthquake that occurred off the coast of Mexico Sept. 8.

ShakeAlert is an Earthquake Early Warning system for the US West Coast. It is being developed by the US Geological Survey and a consortium of universities.

A similar system has been tested for the U.S. West Coast including California and is expected to begin limited public operation in 2018.

$1.6M from NSF to Study Water, Land Use in Disadvantaged Communities

By Kat Kerlin

The National Science Foundation has awarded $1.6M to the University of California, Davis to analyze the complex relationships between surface water and groundwater supply, agricultural land use and the economic wellbeing of rural, disadvantaged communities.

The project is led by principal investigator Helen Dahlke, an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Land, Air and Water Resources. The team will develop models to help guide decision-making regarding water management and land use in the state.

Helen Dahlke in field

Helen Dahlke studies how groundwater is used and replenished in California. (Tiffany Kocis/UC Davis)

Floods, Floodplains and Green Infrastructure in California’s Future

by Peter Moyle, Jeff Opperman, Amber Manfree, Eric Larson, and Joan Florshiem

The flooding in Houston is a reminder of the great damages that floods can cause when the defenses of an urban area are overwhelmed.  It is hard to imagine a flood system that could have effectively contained the historic amount of rain that fell on the region—several feet in just a few days.  However, these floods are a stark reminder of the increasing vulnerability of urban areas across the world and the need for comprehensive strategies to reduce risk.  The evidence is clear that green infrastructure, as defined below, can increase the resiliency of flood management systems and, when managed for multiple services, can reduce flood risk for many people while also promoting a range of other benefits.

Engineer Takes Part in Eclipse Experiment

For most of us Monday’s solar eclipse was a wonderful spectacle, but some scientists were out gathering data, too. Holly Oldroyd, assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, joined a team led by Chad Higgins at Oregon State University to measure atmospheric fluxes during the eclipse.

As night turns to day and back there are changes in atmospheric temperature and pressure, water vapor and carbon dioxide, and in emissions from soils and plants into the atmosphere. Higgins’ experiment aimed to find out whether the same kinds of changes take place during the very short “night” created by the total solar eclipse. Normally these measurements are taken over time spans of half an hour or so, so the team, which also included researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, had to come up with ways to make accurate measurements over a couple of minutes.

Podcast: Synestia, a New Type of Planetary Object

In this month’s Three-Minute Egghead, Sarah Stewart and Simon Lock talk about synestias. A synestia is a new type of planetary object, they proposed, formed when a giant collision between planet-size objects creates a mass of hot, vaporized rock spinning with high angular momentum. Synestias could be an important stage in planet formation, and we might be able to find them in other solar systems.

https://soundcloud.com/user-570302262/three-minute-egghead-synestia-a-new-planetary-object?in=user-570302262/sets/three-minute-egghead-a-podcast

More information

News release: Synestia, A New Type of Planetary Object

New Theory Explains How the Moon Got There

Simon Lock’s Synestia Page

New Technique Provides Earthquake Risk for Major Cities Worldwide

By Larry O’Hanlon

Scientists have developed snapshots of the likelihood of major earthquakes occurring in megacities around the world using a new statistical approach for estimating earthquake risk. The work will be presented today, May 22 at the joint meeting of the Japan Geoscience Union and the American Geophysical Union in Chiba, Japan.

A “nowcast” for Tokyo. The red thermometer at right shows how far along the Tokyo region is in its cycle of smaller quakes between quakes of at least 6.5 magnitude. (John Rundle, UC Davis)

Refining the Ocean’s Thermometer

By Becky Oskin

Chronicling Earth’s past temperature swings is a basic part of understanding climate change. One of the best records of past ocean temperatures can be found in the shells of marine creatures called foraminifera.

The foraminiferan Neogloboquadrina dutertrei forms a record of ocean conditions as it builds its shell. Photo by J. Fehrenbacher

Known as “forams” for short, these single-celled plankton build microscopic calcite shells. When forams die, their shells fall to the ocean floor and accumulate in sediments that provide a record of past climate. The surface-feeding plankton are natural thermometers because the chemical makeup of foram shells is linked to the environmental conditions they grow in. For example, the levels of magnesium in foram shells reflect the seawater temperature in which they lived.

Clues to Life on Mars in a Polluted California Mine

By Becky Oskin

To find evidence of life on Mars, scientists from UC Davis and the U.S. Geological Survey are chasing clues in Mars-like environments on Earth.

Pollution at the disused Iron Mountain mine near Redding, Calif. turns the soil red and makes the environment Mars-like. Amy Williams, Towson University

The environment at the Iron Mountain mine near Redding, Calif. is similar to Mars. Amy Williams, Towson University

The researchers hope to find rock patterns and textures that are uniquely linked to microscopic life such as bacteria and algae. “It’s challenging to prove that a mineral was made by a living organism,” said lead study author Amy Williams, an assistant professor at Towson University in Towson, Maryland. Williams led the research as a graduate student at UC Davis. Finding similar textures in Mars rocks could bolster confidence that microscopic shapes in Red Planet rocks were formed by living creatures.

Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Soil Microbiome

By Lisa Howard

Soil Actually Has a Microbiome

Gut bacteria have been getting a lot of attention lately (yogurt, anyone?) but it turns out the soil in your own back yard is teeming with microbial life. According to Kate Scow, a professor of soil science and microbial ecology at UC Davis, a quarter teaspoon of soil can easily contain a billion bacterial cells. And she estimates there can be 10,000 to 50,000 different taxa of microbes in a single teaspoon. Soil is one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems on the planet, and it is one that is essential for human life through all the functions it provides: the breakdown of organic materials, food production, water purification, greenhouse gas reduction, and pollution cleanup, just to name a few.