What It’s Like to Work As a Volcanologist

There’s science you do in a lab, and then there’s science that requires hands-on—and sometimes treacherous—work. For volcanologists, that’s all part of the appeal.

In "Volcanology: Life in the Field," filmmaker Zach Voss provides a short, behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to study these often unpredictable landforms. The Santa Maria and Santiaguito volcanoes near Quetzaltenango, Guatemala are the area of focus for the scientists in the film—the latter of which erupts every hour, making it a perfect "laboratory volcano."

The volcanologists discuss the danger and excitement of the job, and that constant push and pull to get close to the action for the sake of retrieving data, but far enough away to stay safe. The dynamic nature of their subject means it can often be difficult to get samples and measurements for further study, far away from the danger zone.

As volcanologist Bill Rose says: "These are not people who stay in their lab. These are people who really go out and look at things and see what’s going on, and there’s no substitute for that. And that's why this place is so extraordinary."

Voss’s short was picked up by National Geographic’s Short Film Showcase, which you can learn more about over at the NatGeo website.

Banner image: Wikimedia Commons

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AI Could Help Scientists Detect Earthquakes More Effectively

Thanks in part to the rise of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, earthquakes are becoming more frequent in the U.S. Even though it doesn't fall on a fault line, Oklahoma, where gas and oil drilling activity doubled between 2010 and 2013, is now a major earthquake hot spot. As our landscape shifts (literally), our earthquake-detecting technology must evolve to keep up with it. Now, a team of researchers is changing the game with a new system that uses AI to identify seismic activity, Futurism reports.

The team, led by deep learning researcher Thibaut Perol, published the study detailing their new neural network in the journal Science Advances. Dubbed ConvNetQuake, it uses an algorithm to analyze the measurements of ground movements, a.k.a. seismograms, and determines which are small earthquakes and which are just noise. Seismic noise describes the vibrations that are almost constantly running through the ground, either due to wind, traffic, or other activity at surface level. It's sometimes hard to tell the difference between noise and legitimate quakes, which is why most detection methods focus on medium and large earthquakes instead of smaller ones.

But better understanding natural and manmade earthquakes means studying them at every level. With ConvNetQuake, that could soon become a reality. After testing the system in Oklahoma, the team reports it detected 17 times more earthquakes than what was recorded by the Oklahoma Geological Survey earthquake catalog.

That level of performance is more than just good news for seismologists studying quakes caused by humans. The technology could be built into current earthquake detection methods set up to alert the public to dangerous disasters. California alone is home to 400 seismic stations waiting for "The Big One." On a smaller scale, there's an app that uses a smartphone's accelerometers to detect tremors and alert the user directly. If earthquake detection methods could sense big earthquakes right as they were beginning using AI, that could afford people more potentially life-saving moments to prepare.

[h/t Futurism]

Stefan Flöper, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Why There's a 4-Ton Steel Ball Making Mini-Earthquakes in Germany
Stefan Flöper, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Stefan Flöper, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

An earthquake is caused by the shifting of tectonic plates, the pieces of Earth's crust that make up the surface of the planet. But humans have figured out how to create artificial earthquakes without relying on Mother Nature. YouTube personality Tom Scott recently visited the world's oldest working seismic station in Göttingen, Germany, to experience one of these mini-earthquakes in person.

Wiechert'sche Erdbebenwarte Göttingen is home to a 4-ton steel ball that can be hoisted 46 feet in the air. When dropped, the impact sends shock waves through the ground. The power to manufacture earthquakes on demand helps the team calibrate their seismographs, but there's another reason the rig was set up: It proved the theory that artificial quakes can be used to measure the earth underground.

German geophysicist Emil Wiechert got the idea a century ago. By using seismic meters to measure the reflections of waves rocking an area, he hypothesized that he would end up with an accurate sketch of what the world looked like below. The steel ball was set up in Göttingen in 1903, and it proved his theory to be correct.

More sophisticated instruments are used to measure subterranean landscapes today, but the mini-earthquake maker still functions as well now as it did 100 years ago. You can see it in action in the video below.

[h/t Tom Scott]


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