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Lacustrine carbonates in a 12.4-m-long core from Lower Pahranagat Lake (LPAH), southern Nevada, indicate that radiogenic isotopes of Sr and U (87Sr/86Sr and 234U/238U) preserve evidence of past variations in water sources and evolving hydrologic conditions. Sr and U isotope compositions in LPAH carbonates fall within the range defined by the three primary groundwater sources in Pahranagat Valley and reflect variable mixtures of those sources since the mid-Holocene. Compositions in the oldest sample (5.78 ka) closely match modern compositions of modern discharge from nearby springs, indicating that LPAH water was derived almost exclusively from the local volcanic aquifer. By ca. 5.3–5.2 ka, LPAH water compositions shifted sharply towards isotopic compositions observed in groundwater from the regional carbonate aquifer, indicating a marked increase in surface flow from high-volume springs discharging from the carbonate aquifer to the north. Sediments deposited between 3.08–1.06 ka indicate reduced contributions from the regional aquifer. A comparison of uranium- and oxygen-isotope values in LPAH carbonates suggests that wetter climate conditions favor increased supply from deeper, regional carbonate aquifers compared to drier conditions when contributions from shallower, local volcanic aquifers were more important.
Active geothermal systems in fluvial-deltaic sediment of the Salton Trough typically develop a thick, carbonate-cemented sandstone caprock which shows a regular progression of carbonate minerals, mineral reactions, rock-fluid mass transfer, and physical properties on increasing temperature. The Sinclair 3 well contains calcian ankerite at < 175 °C, ankerite from 175 to 195 °C, calcite+minor dolomite from 195 to about 250°C, and calcite at higher temperatures. The carbonate content of sandstone decreases on increasing temperature from > 45% at < 140 °C to about 10% at > 250 °C, The most abrupt decrease occurs in the 140 to 170°C range where significant compaction of sandstone occurs as carbonate is reduced to < 25%, and kaolinite reacts to form chlorite. The overall result is the loss of significant Ca, Fe, Mg, and CO2 from sandstone to the fluid phase on increasing temperature. Reaction ofcalcian ankerite to ankerite near 175 °C, and of ankerite to calcite and minor dolomite in the 195 to 245°C range, takes place on a constant carbonate-volume basis by direct replacement of one carbonate by another. The latter reaction produces significant chlorite, with Al derived from solution of detrital feldspar and from the smectite-to-illite transformation. The equilibrium coexistence of calcite with dolomite and ankerite near 200 °C has allowed construction of an isothermal section in the Ca-Mg-(Fe+Mn) carbonate phase diagram and provided a low-temperature constraint on the calcite limb of the calcite-dolomite solvus.
The Ziegler Reservoir fossil site near Snowmass Village, Colorado (USA), provides a unique opportunity to reconstruct high-altitude paleoenvironmental conditions in the Rocky Mountains during the Last Interglacial Period. We used four different techniques to establish a chronological framework for the site. Radiocarbon dating of lake organics, bone collagen, and shell carbonate, and in situ cosmogenic 10Be and 26Al ages on a boulder on the crest of a moraine that impounded the lake suggest that the ages of the sediments that hosted the fossils are between ~140 ka and >45 ka. Uranium-series ages of vertebrate remains generally fall within these bounds, but extremely low uranium concentrations and evidence of open-system behavior limit their utility. Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) ages (n = 18) obtained from fine-grained quartz maintain stratigraphic order, were replicable, and provide reliable ages for the lake sediments. Analysis of the equivalent dose (DE) dispersion of the OSL samples showed that the sediments were fully bleached prior to deposition and low scatter suggests that eolian processes were likely the dominant transport mechanism for fine-grained sediments into the lake. The resulting ages show that the fossil-bearing sediments span the latest part of Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage (MIS) 6, all of MIS 5 and MIS 4, and the earliest part of MIS 3.
In North America, terrestrial records of biodiversity and climate change that span Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage (MIS) 5 are rare. Where found, they provide insight into how the coupling of the ocean–atmosphere system is manifested in biotic and environmental records and how the biosphere responds to climate change. In 2010–2011, construction at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village, Colorado (USA) revealed a nearly continuous, lacustrine/wetland sedimentary sequence that preserved evidence of past plant communities between ~140 and 55 ka, including all of MIS 5. At an elevation of 2705 m, the Ziegler Reservoir fossil site also contained thousands of well-preserved bones of late Pleistocene megafauna, including mastodons, mammoths, ground sloths, horses, camels, deer, bison, black bear, coyotes, and bighorn sheep. In addition, the site contained more than 26,000 bones from at least 30 species of small animals including salamanders, otters, muskrats, minks, rabbits, beavers, frogs, lizards, snakes, fish, and birds. The combination of macro- and micro-vertebrates, invertebrates, terrestrial and aquatic plant macrofossils, a detailed pollen record, and a robust, directly dated stratigraphic framework shows that high-elevation ecosystems in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado are climatically sensitive and varied dramatically throughout MIS 5.
Geologic archives show that the Earth was dustier during the last glacial period. One model suggests that increased gustiness (stronger, more frequent winds) enhanced dustiness. We tested this at Loveland, Iowa, one of the thickest deposits of last-glacial-age (Peoria) loess in the world. Based on K/Rb and Ba/Rb, loess was derived not only from glaciogenic sources of the Missouri River, but also distal loess from non-glacial sources in Nebraska. Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) ages provide the first detailed chronology of Peoria Loess at Loveland. Deposition began after ~ 27 ka and continued until ~ 17 ka. OSL ages also indicate that mass accumulation rates (MARs) of loess were not constant. MARs were highest and grain size was coarsest during the time of middle Peoria Loess accretion, ~ 23 ka, when ~ 10 m of loess accumulated in no more than ~ 2000 yr and possibly much less. The timing of coarsest grain size and highest MAR, indicating strongest winds, coincides with a summer-insolation minimum at high latitudes in North America and the maximum southward extent of the Laurentide ice sheet. These observations suggest that increased dustiness during the last glacial period was driven largely by enhanced gustiness, forced by a steepened meridional temperature gradient.
The science of extra-solar planets is one of the most rapidly changing areas of astrophysics and since 1995 the number of planets known has increased by almost two orders of magnitude. A combination of ground-based surveys and dedicated space missions has resulted in 560-plus planets being detected, and over 1200 that await confirmation. NASA's Kepler mission has opened up the possibility of discovering Earth-like planets in the habitable zone around some of the 100,000 stars it is surveying during its 3 to 4-year lifetime. The new ESA's Gaia mission is expected to discover thousands of new planets around stars within 200 parsecs of the Sun. The key challenge now is moving on from discovery, important though that remains, to characterisation: what are these planets actually like, and why are they as they are?
In the past ten years, we have learned how to obtain the first spectra of exoplanets using transit transmission and emission spectroscopy. With the high stability of Spitzer, Hubble, and large ground-based telescopes the spectra of bright close-in massive planets can be obtained and species like water vapour, methane, carbon monoxide and dioxide have been detected. With transit science came the first tangible remote sensing of these planetary bodies and so one can start to extrapolate from what has been learnt from Solar System probes to what one might plan to learn about their faraway siblings. As we learn more about the atmospheres, surfaces and near-surfaces of these remote bodies, we will begin to build up a clearer picture of their construction, history and suitability for life.
The Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory, EChO, will be the first dedicated mission to investigate the physics and chemistry of Exoplanetary Atmospheres. By characterising spectroscopically more bodies in different environments we will take detailed planetology out of the Solar System and into the Galaxy as a whole.
EChO has now been selected by the European Space Agency to be assessed as one of four M3 mission candidates.
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