Mars 2067, the Olympus Mons Expedition (Part I)

Photo: ESA,  DLR,  FU Berlin,  Justin Cowart

Photo: ESA, DLR, FU Berlin, Justin Cowart

In spite of its incredible height, Olympus Mons was well below the horizon as seen from ‘Olympia’, just like that Earthly committee as shorn of imagination as it was endowed with political acumen which had originally named the colony Mars Base Alpha. The residents had immediately renamed it in honour of the largest volcano in the Solar System as that giant lay only some 540 km distant. Although some 26 km high, you had to get within 412 km for its peak to begin to become visible above the mean horizon. But to Gerry Stevens, leader of the four-man expedition, the mountain was so huge it blocked out half the sky to the west even if nothing but the escarpment was visible from the expedition Base camp. Here, a colossal landslide had covered much of the plains so that the remaining escarpment was only some five km high and ran at a relatively gentle angle of incline over the difficult terrain of the debris avalanche.

The drive from Olympia had taken his team almost ten days. Because of the logistics involved, it had been decided almost as soon as the possibility of an exploration had been mooted many years ago, that it would trek overland and thus arrive at the foot of the mountain rather than on top of it had it been rocketed in. First of all, were it to rocket in, an expedition would have had to carry enough fuel for the return trip, fuel that would in turn have required even more fuel to get it there. With that method of transportation, the payload would have been limited to an expedition of two with supplies for not more than a week and the ability to carry back less than a hundred kilos of samples for analysis at the base. Exploration too would have been limited to the immediate area of the landing and instrumentation to aid in the exploration restricted to the barest minimum. In addition to that, what they sought for primarily, mineable sources of Rare Earth Elements, were not to be found near the summit.

Although the overland trek had been slow and arduous, the four gigantic vehicles allowed the first to serve as living quarters for the crew and to carry supplies for them; air, food and water. The second contained the work and control space as well as a relatively well-instrumented laboratory for field analysis. The third carried the blimp and rovers that were going to be used with the gear required for their operation while the fourth served as general stores and spare parts transport plus repair shop. They had been modularly designed so that even if three were knocked out, the expedition could still manage to get back within rescue range in the remaining one if they jettisoned its current cargo and fitted some of the modules from the others in their place. If everything went well, they could carry as much as five tons of samples isolated in their respective containers. Even so, with such a huge mountain to explore, space for samples was still rather limited and Elena Trofimova, the expedition geologist, had to be selective.

View of Mars centered on Valles Marineris, a 4,000 km long and 7 km deep canyon slightly longer than the width of the United States. The canyon is thought to have formed as the planet cooled and is possibly as close to plate tectonics as Mars ever got. Visible to the left are three giant shield volcanoes (bottom to top); Arsia Mons with its 110 km in diameter summit caldera, Pavonis Mons and Ascraeus Mons. Because these align on a straight line, it has been suggested that they may be the result of plate tectonics. But as the “chain” is over 1,500 km long with no other signs of continental drift such as Martian Alps or Himalayas, as they also have similar ages and do not form a time sequence like the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount chain on Earth, this is probably incorrect. (NASA)

View of Mars centered on Valles Marineris, a 4,000 km long and 7 km deep canyon slightly longer than the width of the United States. The canyon is thought to have formed as the planet cooled and is possibly as close to plate tectonics as Mars ever got. Visible to the left are three giant shield volcanoes (bottom to top); Arsia Mons with its 110 km in diameter summit caldera, Pavonis Mons and Ascraeus Mons. Because these align on a straight line, it has been suggested that they may be the result of plate tectonics. But as the “chain” is over 1,500 km long with no other signs of continental drift such as Martian Alps or Himalayas, as they also have similar ages and do not form a time sequence like the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount chain on Earth, this is probably incorrect. (NASA)

Gerry took a moment to find Earth in the sky to the south-east, a bluish-white star which at this point in its orbit was too far away for its companion to be visible. Or maybe the Moon was in a position where it didn’t show. He shrugged and while he was setting up additional solar panels to garner vital solar energy, he pondered the two planets and their different fates; the ancestral one where he had never been and the one he called Home. Earth was a lucky planet. It grew large enough to retain its atmosphere and oceans. Even when struck by a Mars-sized planetoid about 4,500 million years ago, this was actually beneficial as it created the Moon, which stabilises the axial tilt and climate of Earth, and greatly increased the effect of tides. It may also have aided the formation of life.

Mars on the other hand was an unlucky planet. Not only did giant Jupiter dislodge so much of the raw materials in its orbit that Mars has remained half the diameter, an eight the volume and 10.7% the mass of Earth. When Mars was struck by a moon-sized object about 4,000 million years ago, it hit obliquely at the North Pole and gouged out a huge basin, but there was no creation of a substantial moon. This had been Mars’ last chance. The oceans were lost or froze into the soil. Most of the atmosphere leaked away into space. Mars soon became a dead planet, too small and too cold for plate tectonics; continents. The Martian surface solidified into one homogenous unit. But while dying, Mars became host to the largest volcanoes in the Solar system.

With the exception of Subduction Arc volcanism and the effects of continental plate movement over hotspots, volcanism on Mars is similar to that of Earth. On the Mother planet, the largest volcano currently is Hawaii with the twin peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa which each rise almost 10,000 metres as measured from the Abyssal plain. But this is as high as Hawaii will get because the Pacific plate is moving over the hotspot and already the next peak, the still submarine Loihi, is being formed. On Mars, the volcanoes do not move away from such hotspots. The stay put and as a consequence, they grow to staggering proportions. Since the Mariner 9 mission of 1971-2, humans have known that volcanic features including extensive lava flows, vast lava plains and the largest known volcanoes in the Solar System cover large portions of the Martian surface. The Tharsis volcanic province is the home of five truly gigantic volcanoes, overshadowing everything found elsewhere by several orders of magnitude; Ascraeus Mons, Pavonis Mons and Arsia Mons with Olympus Mons, the largest single volcanic edifice in the Solar system, just to the side and Alba Mons/ Alba Patera to the north.

The topography of Mars from data obtained by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA). The location of “Olympia” or “Mars Base Alpha” is marked by a blue and white star just to the east of Olympus Mons. The North Polar Basin, the result of a moon-sized object hitting Mars at least 3,900 million years ago, is obvious at the top as are the 2,300 km and 1,800 km wide impact basins Hellas and Argyre respectively. If placed side-by-side, the scars left behind by these two asteroid strikes would cover almost the entire United States. Since Mars shows little evidence of plate tectonics, there is no evidence of antipodeal volcanism resulting from such strikes. This rather kills off the antipodeal LIP hypothesis where a large asteroid strike supposedly set off the Siberian Traps hotspot c.250 MY. (C.M. Rodrigue, CSULB, based on mola.gsfc.nasa.gov)

The topography of Mars from data obtained by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA). The location of “Olympia” or “Mars Base Alpha” is marked by a blue and white star just to the east of Olympus Mons. The North Polar Basin, the result of a moon-sized object hitting Mars at least 3,900 million years ago, is obvious at the top as are the 2,300 km and 1,800 km wide impact basins Hellas and Argyre respectively. If placed side-by-side, the scars left behind by these two asteroid strikes would cover almost the entire United States. Since Mars shows little evidence of plate tectonics, there is no evidence of antipodeal volcanism resulting from such strikes. This rather kills off the antipodeal LIP hypothesis where a large asteroid strike supposedly set off the Siberian Traps hotspot c.250 MY. (C.M. Rodrigue, CSULB, based on mola.gsfc.nasa.gov)

Even if water once flowed over the Martian surface and life found a foothold, nothing larger than the fossilised remains of microbes have ever been found. Yet there is life on Mars and bipedal Martians now occasionally walk its surface. Beginning in 2032, Earth launched what could very well be its final attempt to reach the stars. Preceded by gigantic, at least by spacecraft standards, robotic cargo ships laden with everything a Martian colony would need in order to establish itself and survive long-term, 300 men and women were sent on a one-way trip to the Red Planet. They delved underground dwellings for themselves as even the most optimistic estimates put a breathable atmosphere well over a thousand years, probably tens of thousands of years, into the future. Oxygen and nitrogen is plentiful in the Martian soil and all that is needed is power to separate them. Vegetables grow in great underground greenhouses that in deference to countless science fiction novels are referred to as Hydroponic Farms. Power is limitless thanks to the Hashimura-Tochanov Fusion units, HashTags for short.

But one necessity for the colony to survive and thrive is the Rare Earth Elements, or REE, such as the lanthanides Neodymium for the magnets of the HashTags and Gadolinium with its exceptionally high absorption of neutrons for radiological shielding and consequent use as a contrast agent in medical diagnosis. Also post-transition metals and metalloids such as Germanium, Gallium and Indium are vital for the manufacture of semi-conductors. Almost all modern technologies including electronics, computers and networks, communications, energy generation, advanced transportation, health care, environmental mitigation etc., require these rare earth elements. Because higher concentrations of these elements are usually found associated with hotspot volcanism, the location chosen for the colony was in Tharsis at longitude 236, latitude +15. Even if the colony location itself would not yield mineable deposits, the original planners felt that with the five largest volcanoes in the Solar system nearby, the colonists would eventually locate them.

Olympus Mons, the largest known volcano in the solar system. With a relief (prominence) of 22.5 km, it stands up to 26 km above some areas of the surrounding plains due to the in places up to 8 km high escarpment. An approximate conical volume of Olympus Mons is 2.2 million cubic kilometres. The actual figure is well in excess of 3 million cubic kilometres and even greater if the effects of crustal deformation and loss of the outer perimeter are taken into account. In comparison, the conical volume of the entire Island of Hawaii as counted from the seafloor is a mere ~175,000 cubic km, only 7.93% of the conical approximation for Olympus Mons and possibly as little as ~3% of the true volume. The location of the 2067 expedition Base camp is shown by a cross to the right. (NASA)

Olympus Mons, the largest known volcano in the solar system. With a relief (prominence) of 22.5 km, it stands up to 26 km above some areas of the surrounding plains due to the in places up to 8 km high escarpment. An approximate conical volume of Olympus Mons is 2.2 million cubic kilometres. The actual figure is well in excess of 3 million cubic kilometres and even greater if the effects of crustal deformation and loss of the outer perimeter are taken into account. In comparison, the conical volume of the entire Island of Hawaii as counted from the seafloor is a mere ~175,000 cubic km, only 7.93% of the conical approximation for Olympus Mons and possibly as little as ~3% of the true volume. The location of the 2067 expedition Base camp is shown by a cross to the right. (NASA)

The eastern scarp failure was one of a limited number of areas where you could access the upper slopes without having to, somehow, scale six to eight kilometres high, in places almost vertical and fragile cliff-faces. The jumble caused by the landslide also meant that sampling for minerals would yield a far better cross-section of what was available than laboriously collecting samples from the different strata exposed on the escarpment wall itself. Although Elena as expedition geologist would be able to make initial assessments in the field, innumerable samples would have to be taken back to Olympia for a full laboratory analysis. It was her job to decide which samples were essential and should be given priority considering the relatively limited space available.

About 600 - 800 km wide, Olympus Mons would cover most of France. (WikiMedia)

About 600 – 800 km wide, Olympus Mons would cover most of France. (WikiMedia)

All members of the expedition were true Martians, born on Mars, and easily identifiable as such by their slender build. Because Mars only has a surface gravity of 3.7 m/s² against Earth’s 9.8 m/s², you do not need as much muscle mass and as a consequence, bone structures are lighter too, albeit more fragile. Had he been able to stand on Earth, Gerry would have weighed only 61 kg in spite of being 182 cm tall. On Mars, he weighed no more than 23 kilos even if he massed the same. Unlike their Earth-born parents, the Mars-born were lithe and very agile but they could not compete in brute strength. As shown by the Flores Hobbit, the human genome is immensely versatile and it would not take more than a couple of thousands of years for mankind to become fully adapted to life on the Red Planet.

Already, Elena had identified minute amounts of the REE-bearing minerals Monazite and, tentatively, Bastnäsite. On Earth, bastnäsite had been the primary source of REE as its thorium content was much lower. But due to the alpha decay of thorium and uranium, monazite contains a significant amount of helium which can be extracted by heating. As helium was another vital resource for the colony, even if the Helium-3 isotope used in the fusion process was only present in the ratio of one in ten thousand, their brief was to locate monazite-bearing pegmatites which were far more likely to be found than carbonatites, the mother rocks of bastnäsite, which are rare on Mars. Although theoretically, carbonatite magmas and lava flows ought to be more common on Mars due to the presence of CO2 as the dominant volatile, these rocks are fragile and easily eroded. After billions of years of erosion, it was doubtful in the extreme if such rocks containing mineable amounts of bastnäsite were still to be found.

The expedition engineers Yaema Bah Amadu and Adewele Adebajo were both of African descent as were over half of the Martian colony. The reason is again genetic. In order to survive long-term, the colony had to have as wide a genetic pool as possible and almost 90% of the variation in the human genome is limited to Africa. Unsurprisingly, it had been one of the major stumbling blocks as almost every nation had clamoured for a pair of representatives. Even if in the end only minor concessions had been necessary, North America and Europe were genetically speaking overrepresented with their 44 out of 300 original colonists. As many hailed from Asia and there had been 18 South and Central Americans as well as 20 from the Middle East. The “winners” had been minority groups such as the Inuit, Australian Aborigines, North American Indians and Incas with four colonists from each group. But the majority were of African descent.

Yaema and Adewele were busy readying the blimp and the fleet of exploratory craft that were to be deployed for the exploration of the upper slopes. First, the expedition airship, named LLAMA – Large Low Altitude Mars Airship – by that Earthly committee (and immediately renamed the Graf by the less acronymically inclined colonists), would ascend the slope, firing pins into the rock through which a monofilament fibre header would be fed to which a tether cable would be attached and pulled in place. The Graf was a hydrogen-filled zeppelin hybrid with inflatable wings in order to make use of even the minimal lift provided by the ever-present Martian winds. Because the pressure gradient in the Martian atmosphere is less – at 10 km altitude it is 60% compared with 30% on Earth – an airship is much more efficient on Mars. High-yield Solar panels were part of the polymer that forms the semi-rigid skin, semi-rigid because the great variations in Martian atmospheric pressure even at “sea level” due to seasonal changes and changes in the weather of up to 20 – 30%, precluded the use of a rigid airship. It had to be able to expand and contract with the variations in pressure in order to maintain buoyancy. The electric energy generated by the solar cells powers two sets of high-speed, multi-bladed propellers more akin to turbine shovels than Earthly aircraft props that force the thin Martian air through a series of ever-narrowing apertures, a sort of compressed air jet. This could be augmented by the airship pulling itself along the tether with the aid of electric motors. Because of its large surface area in relation to the moderate thrust generated, the Graf would have to be tethered or it would just float away in anything more than a stiff breeze, especially the ubiquitous dust-devils that plague the Martian landscape. This makes weather forecasts crucial for LLAMA operations and the weather forecast for tomorrow and the days after were favourable, even if continuous monitoring for dust devils would be required.

Once the Graf had laid out the tether, it would be used – weather permitting – to ferry a fleet of rovers similar to those legendary Martian rovers Spirit and Opportunity, albeit vastly superior. The advances over the past fifty years had led to increases in efficiency in every department. While the solar cells generate more than twice as much power per area unit and the motors consume about a third less, the greatest advance was in energy storage. Where Spirit and Opportunity had utilised cumbersome lithium ion batteries, both the Graf and the rovers made use of second-generation Graphene batteries which coupled with super-capacitors give a more than ten-fold increase in efficiency: Ten times the power, ten times quicker charging, higher voltage, greater efficiency, you name it. Where Spirit and Opportunity had weighed 180 kg (68 kg on Mars) with a top speed of 5 centimetres per second and an average speed of 32 metres per hour, the expedition rovers weighed only 60% of that, in part due to less instrumentation and communications equipment, and had a sustainable speed of 1,800 metres per hour. Even so, exploration would be a long, slow and arduous procedure.

The vast summit caldera of Olumpus Mons with its six nested calderas form an irregular depression about 60 × 80 km across and up to 3.2 km deep. The caldera is so large it could swallow Mount Shasta, the most voluminous of all the Cascade Volcanoes, in its entirety. Vesuvius would be no more than a barely identifiable pimple if located here. (NASA)

The vast summit caldera of Olumpus Mons with its six nested calderas form an irregular depression about 60 × 80 km across and up to 3.2 km deep. The caldera is so large it could swallow Mount Shasta, the most voluminous of all the Cascade Volcanoes, in its entirety. Vesuvius would be no more than a barely identifiable pimple if located here. (NASA)

Once the rovers had, hopefully, located areas with the pegmatites that held monazite, humans would follow and a new base camp would be set up from which these locations could be fully assessed. The ultimate goal of the expedition was to find at least one workable site where a permanent base for a mining community could be built in order to extract the vital REE and other minerals and resources essential to the colony. Also, they had to assess the hazards posed by the giant volcano; likelihood of eruptions, landslides, the effects of Mars-quakes and suchlike. But Gerry Stevens had hopes of more than that. The huge mountain fascinated him and he dreamt of one day reaching the summit to stand on highest point of Mars and look out over the vast summit caldera and from there view far more of Mars, his home planet, than can be seen from any other Mars-bound vantage point.

(In Part II, the story of the exploration of the slopes of Olympus Mons will be told.)

124 thoughts on “Mars 2067, the Olympus Mons Expedition (Part I)

  1. I like the chosen format of presenting actual scientific findings. That makes it easily accesible.

    Locally, we have a thunderstorm breakout happening and I am having a blast listening to the weather dude. Some of his statements are hilarious when you concider what he has actually said. Such as “if you live in a trailer there, you still have time to run a couple hundred yards down the road to seek shelter”

  2. I enjoyed the format, it is a good change of pace.
    And all the scientific Ts are crossed.
    Good one Albert and Henrik!

    • This is very much Henrik’s idea, his writing and his content! Any non-Henrik input has been very limited. I could easily see this idea grow into a book!

      • Be that as it may, it was and still is vital and we did have fun doing it!

  3. Love it.

    Nice, well written, with factual data as the basis for what could indeed be possible. Space exploration and aviation have been subjects that first piqued my interest growing up around Houston.

    The vast majority of the folks that lived in my neighborhood were the scientists and engineers at what became JSC. The astronauts all lived down in Clear Lake, which was the village adjacent to JSC. Most of my buddies were kids of what would now be called “super-geeks”.

    Folks that took their kids to work on the weekends (seems there was a lot of that if memory serves), exposed the kids to the technology that was required to get men off the planet. Sliderules and CRTs ruled.

    Those years were a special time, where a can-do attitude was all enveloping, that seems to be so sorely lacking these days. Hopefully those days can return with a desire to do it for the entire population, vs those few that stand to gain the most politically or financially in the near term.

  4. Love it! Brilliant way of presenting hard science in an accessible format. Looking at this from the viewpoint of a seasoned SF fan, a few queries: Have you read the critically-acclaimed ‘Mars’ trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson? And are you familiar with the work of the late Hal Clement? Your approach reminded me very strongly of Clement’s emphasis on the basics of physics, chemistry and planetary science.

    Was ‘Mars Base Alpha’ a deliberate tip of the hat to that not-exactly-acclaimed series ‘Space 1999’?

    And finally, specifically for Albert: the BSFA Annual SF convention (Eastercon) is being held in Manchester this year if you’re interested; I suspect a good few of the con-goers certainly will be interested in Mars 2067

    • I guess that the Mars Base Alpha is a nod towards the TV series Moonbase Alpha aired between 1975 and 1977.

    • Thanks for the kind words! A great many questions to which, alas, I have to answer “no”. If a tip of the hat in any direction other than the lack of imagination with which NASA name many of its projects, Mars Base Alpha would be one to Moonbase Alpha as Carl suggests. I did watch that avidly when young.

    • Despite the occasional verbal faceplants, this is actually a really good station for severe weather coverage.

    • So, you have a perfectly fine cave to take shelter in. Instead you are supposed to dig a tunnel under the cave to take shelter in.
      Reminds me of the chinese earthquake safe bunker bed that will suffocate and/or crush you as a means of saving you from an earthquake.

      • Saw that on tv the other day. Spewed coffee all over the place. Lordy that was funny. 😀

        The model they showed operated rather quickly. Instantly wrapping the occupant into what amounts to a padded coffin.

      • Depending on where the sensor is at, that thing could make intimate encounters terrifying

        • Once concern that I saw voiced in one of the video’s comments. (different mfr but same idea)

          What about people who tend to sleep with a limb dangling off the bed?

          As for this particular one. I notice that the mattress pad is about the same as you would find on a standard bunk on a Naval ship. Strangely, they are refereed to as coffin lockers, not because they resemble a coffin, just that your locker space is the body of the thing you sleep on, and it opens much like a coffin.

          This is a generic photo of one. By far, the middle one is the best one to have. Not as far to fall, and people aren’t sticking their boots next to your face. In general, you get one coffin locker, and a small upright locker for your uniform shirts.

          • Ah, Geo – I so miss sleeping under the coffee table! 😉

            At 6′ 5″, I always took issue with how, um, short they were! I always had to sleep with my socks on to keep from inadvertently flash freezing the soles of my feet on the rack’s end. They were always a little claustrophobia inducing, but I could not imagine having one collapse in on me – by design!

          • On my first ship, I had a top rack that was open on the back. I secured the entry side so I wouldn’t fall out, having no idea that I would fall out the back of it in heavy weather. Bounced off a transformer bank and wound up in the middle rack. (unoccupied fortunately). I actually fared quite well. Another guy in the compartment slid out into the aisle from his top rack, desperately clutching his mattress, seemed to hover, and crashed to the deck.

      • great article, Henrik! regarding the earthquake bed, 20 days…..no toilet….she won’t be laughing long.

    • Oh look, now the weather channel is getting in on the action and immediately gets it wrong.

      • Went back to the local weather guy. He just made probably the most intelligent statement I have ever heard from a bobble head. “If you are under a heavy storm, and you suddenly feel uneasy, take shelter, don’t wait for an official alert “

      • Confirmed tornado in the McDavid area. Reporter in Century Fl notes copious damage but no report of injuries yet. Radio intercept seems to indicate that county fire has invoked their incident command protocols. Ambulances can be heard headed north towards that area.

      • Btw, I’ve worked with county fire here, the ambulance movement is normal. They likely want then nearby in case they find more than they expect. Emergency managers here don’t hesitate to stage equipment .

        • And apparently it paid off, 30 homes damaged, some outright destroyed, at least one trauma alert transported.

          The reporter was flummoxed by just how many people came out to walk their dogs at the same time.

          Anecdotal comments from my step son indicate that Century Fire Department took damage. That would explain why they rolled the mobile incident command R/V when they did.

  5. Regretfully, when this occurs, I will most likely be passed, or else I will be a RECORD holder for longevity (unless the scientists come up with some sort of retroactive life serum).

    I went into the wrong field of training; should have been geology, which has always fascinated me. I have been a fan of this site and its earlier locations since slightly before Bardebunga decided to make life interesting. I was traveling in Italy when Eja… (long Icelandic name) decided to go off. Will we get home… The links here are addicting. I only need to have time to read them all.

    I praise all those here with much more knowledge than I and are willing to share it so that “WE” can be better educated.

    Now back to Mars, I wish that I could see it here from Earth… IT WILL BE FASCINATING!

  6. Interesting / good post.

    On a somewhat unrelated note, has anything ever been written regarding the Sakurajima seismic crisis that occurred last summer? Or does anybody know anything about it beyond the initial reporting?

    • I just know that the authorities issued a warning back then that it would probably lead to a larger eruption. It is believed that the larger explosive eruption last week was part of that.
      The earthquakes was seen as a sign of magma starting to move upwards into the shallow reservoir under Sakurajima.
      Sorry, I do not have much more than that since most is in Japanese, and the translated form gives me a severe headache.

      • Maybe if they released their reports in the style of a Manga, they might be more comprehensible.

        • When I was in Japan I found a manga style advisory in how to act during fires, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. It is understandable and pretty good regardless of your language on how to act when it happens.
          The only thing that is odd is the last image of the tsunami part. Most westeners do not need a warning against dressing up as a fox and make love to a giant octopus that has been hurled inland by the tsunami. It probably implied something else, but it is what it looked like. I blame it on a cultural misunderstanding on my part.
          I have a copy of it somewhere in my hord of things volcanic that I haven’t bothered to un-pack since I moved.

  7. Dogs have excellent hearing. Today, the little Pekingese was going batty for most of the day. See, the little critter doesn’t like thunder at all. I had to point out to my wife that the dog could hear the thunder of the approaching storm though we couldn’t hear anything.

    Here is a really good example. Keep your eye on the dog. She notices the quake before going into full bolt mode.

    https://youtu.be/1MFzcl-kZHo

    • Google is planning to move its financial operations there. Apparently tax rates are very low and Martian money only exists virtually so everything can be done electronically and remotely. Their main bank is called InCuriosity

  8. Love this article. One of my favorite movies of late is “the Martian”.
    I read Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, and later, Niven and Pournelle
    as my Sci-Fi authors…
    “The arching sky is calling, Spacemen back to their trade.”
    “Green Hills of Earth.”-Heinlein..
    Wife says she is married to a frustrated Spaceman, BTW,,,

    • Your reading list is eerily similar to mine. 🙂 I actually did meet and spent a whole day together with Dr Pournelle whilst still in the Army and managed to fulfill his ambition of firing the Carl Gustaf recoil-less anti-tank rifle/gun in spite of being specifically forbidden to do so by the Regimental CO. I always was the rebel… :mrgreen:

      • I would add Clark and Baxter as UK representatives (Baxter a bit wasteful with his characters!), and Bear. one of my favourites was Stanislaw Lem.

        • Indeed! And also Michael Moorcock, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Tanith Lee (even if Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven named their hell-planet Tanith in her “honour”, I have that straight from Dr Pournelle) once the big threesome of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke had been read from cover to cover.

    • Interesting.
      Almost as interesting as to why every time paleologists make a picture of a hominid they make them hairy…
      For instance, according to all images neanderthals are depicted as hairy brutes, but they where not. Intriguing how we use hair as a sign of inferiority.

    • Great Article/Story, really like the creative format.

      Not buying this new species thing, off skull measurements??

      These hominids ended up on this island, isolated and without any mixing with others developed “island” features, to claim a new species is quite the stretch

  9. Really liked the article Henrik & Albert. This is something my youngest daughter & I enjoyed together thru the years, Astronomy. I really miss gazing at the heavenly objects without her since she went to college 3 yrs ago. Maybe sometime, someone could do an article on Venus. It has more volcanoes than any other planet on our solar system. It’s highest volcano is Maat Mons. 🙂

  10. Great post, Henrik & Albert! Keep this up and you will have a following – complete with Fan Fiction and everything! I cannot wait for Episodes II-VIII (Keep the Science, continue to skip on the Jar-Jar, forgo any Ewok temptations, and add more lightsaber duels!)

    I have something that is a little off topic, though; an observation that is part volcanic, part meteoric, part mystery – earthbound, however.

    I was reading up on the La Garita Caldera and San Juan Volcanic Complex in Colorado. To get a feel for the size of the thing, I decided to Gargle Earth it. It is big. Impressive, even. But then I noticed something else.

    Off to the east, at the base of the foothills, there is a circular formation formed by two rings, one 2.5 miles in diameter nested inside a larger one 6 miles in diameter.

    https://goo.gl/maps/A3zy5N2mR8H2

    This formation appears to have a central uplift with ridges radiating outwards at the 12, 1, 2, 4, 5, and 8 o’clock positions all terminating (or beginning) at the boundary of the inner ring and radiating beyond the boundary of the outer ring.

    Given the proximity to the La Garita Caldera (30 miles due east) I initially assumed that it was part of the SJVC, but after searching the usual suspects (USGS, Smithsonian, Colorado Mining, etc.) I found nothing referencing it. At all. Then, I thought, maybe this is a meteor crater, so I hit up the PASSC database and found nothing. I then tried a plain Gargle search for anything referencing either in the area – and again, I came up empty.

    So, here I am, seeking help from the best amateur scientific collaborators I know of on all things geologic and volcanic. This may be as easy as someone who knows exactly what it is by sight or because they lived in the area. I hope so. Or, this may be something a lot more difficult to nail down and thereby infinitely more interesting, in which case, I REALLY hope so! But regardless, I don’t know – and I hate not knowing. Can you help?

    • Not a meteor crater. It looks somewhat an erosion structure, but quite elevated compared to the lower land to the right. Could it be glacial?

      • Would glacial form the radial ridges originating from the central point? (I know, if that central point were tall enough, yes). But, you would expect that from a stratovolcano of some fashion, but there are no such critters in the region. All of the mountains in the region formed via uplift and compression around the Late Cretaceous (Farallon Plate Subduction during the Laramide Orogeny).

        The radial ridges almost remind me of dikes.

        • It looks a funny structure, certainly. If you look on the satellite images, you can see similar ridges at the edge of the mountains north and south, where they drop into the valley. That suggests erosion structures, such as water courses. What is missing at this place is the mountain! It looks almost like a high plain, although care must be taken because appearance in such images can be deceptive. It made me think of glacial deposits at the high plain. But perhaps an ancient land slip could have done the same. But I don’t know the area well. There are volcanoes a bit further south, in New Mexico, but not stratovolcanoes (I know that area much better!). In that area, the Rio Grande follows a fault line.

        • To me, it looks like the remains of a volcanic mountain where all the softer strata have been eroded away (glacial erosion?), leaving the harder lava flows and interior dikes behind. But that is what it looks like to me.

    • That is most certainly an eroded volcano. Got a book about the geology of Colorado and it states that is the eroded remians of an old stratovolcano.

      • Erik Klemetti a while back tweeted something about this formation. Apparently it’s a popular place for aspiring geologists to learn. I cant find the tweet or post about this however, but I know I read something specific about this mountain / extinct volcano.

        • Worked a fire in that specific area years ago. Just by looking at the
          area by aircraft and sometimes looking UP at certain features,
          I always wondered if it wasn’t an eroded cone…

  11. I found this on ‘Mindat’ – there was a working iron mine there, the Del Norte Bog Iron Deposit, in the Summer Coon Volcanic Center, San Juan Volcanic Field.
    The host rock is given as Butte Quartz Monzonite – part of the Boulder Batholith.

    http://www.mindat.org/loc-118496.html

    This might be some help I hope!

  12. Anyone notice the 4 or 5 mag 2.5-4.8 earthquakes around the southern Long Valley Caldera boundary this evening? Lone Pine, I believe.

    • For reference: a picture of quakes during Gjálp eruption together with today’s swarm. Gray dots show the normally active areas. Red dots are from the Gjálp eruption. Blue crosses are from today’s swarm.

      Data source IMO.

      The activity is a little to the side of the Gjálp area, but then again, in 1996 the Vatnajökull area was not as well instrumented as today, so those positions are probably less precise.

      • I have a map with them hand checked. They formed a very tight band running 1/3rd of the way from Grimsvötn to Gjálp.
        Todays swarm is more to the south. And, notice that the main activity is between Hamarinn and Thordharhyrna with Grimsvötn being separate. So far the earthquakes are fairly deep, but probably tectonic so far.
        Will be interesting to see where the activity leads to.

        • Something showing on the Jokulheimar drumplot, I do not see this on any others so it looks local, maybe more flooding?

        • The vatnajokull earthquake map just got updated; looks like Herdubreid and Askja are joining in the swarm, some deep little ‘quakes there this afternoon.

          • It has been really windy for the last few days and now it is very calm, the automatic system seems to pick up a lot of these small deep quakes when it is calm and not so many when it is windy.

        • The answer of Askja/Herdubreid to Hamarinn and Thordharhyrna. 🙂

          Screenshot ‘http://baering.github.io/’

    • I’d been wondering about today’s activity. Carl, why is the Grimsvotn activity “anomalous” – in relation to what, for example? Thanks.

      • It is anomalous in comparison to how Grimsvötn normaly behaves. When such a large and powerful volcanic system as the Grimsvötn volcanic system does something new for a change it is intriguing and a good mental exercise to try to understand what is going on down there.

        In a way today reminds me of the weeks prior to the big earthquake hubbub started under Bárdarbunga. A lot of weird deep and semi-deep earthquakes hitting all over the place. It was like the entire area was hit from below with a huge soft pillow.
        Same thing seems to be happening now, but this time there are no evident activity at Bárdarbunga, instead we see it around Grimsvötn, Hamarinn, Askja and Herdubreid.
        Time will tell what will be happening. But my bet is Grimsvötn or maybe Thordarhyrna if an eruption would occur down the line.

        • Thank you for a very full and informative reply that helps me keep a more informed eye on things.

  13. Checked on Colima webcam tonight; for the first time since I’ve been checking it there is a difference in its appearance, with a dark covering -fresh ashfall?- on the upper slopes

    • Yes, Michael Colima has been popping off 2, 3 times a day.

      Nothing big, just often.

  14. Curious question – not sure if there is a definitive answer to this, but with the deeper quakes, I was wondering how much the heat gradient and fluidity of the rock as depth increases affects the quakes?

    I would assume the slip distance and displacement involved in a magnitude 2.0 earthquake would be significantly different when you go from a shallow depth to a 50km deep earthquake, right?

  15. I guess that’s a sign.

    My wife just caught herself bringing me a bowl of water. It was the dog’s bowl that she had just filled. The fact that she absentmindedly was bringing it to me sort of tells me where I sit in the grand scheme of things.

    “Good dog…”

    With regards to the occasional large Bárðarbunga quake, keep in mind that Bárðarbunga sits at almost directly on the connection point of three fault systems at what amounts to a triple junction. And like a hingepin in a rusty hinge, will creak first if there is any movement along the fault systems that connect there. It’s likely also the reason that Bárðarbunga is such a an active volcano. It shares festivities with it’s brother, Grímsvötn. Who has control of the beer tap is anybodies guess.

  16. I enjoyed going to mars, not likely, unless I come back to life again, neve rmind, had a reality check, heard a bark from outside, I knew it was a young male, he has 2 girls to amuse himself and is very happy, this bark sounded like help, so I raced outside, he stood back and the girls where going for the doghouse, which meas a lizzrd or snake, climbed over and got the ‘kids’ out of harms way in another run, went into the house to get a torch, layeed carefully on the ground to see what was going on, well, it was a brown snake, ( a beautiful specimen) they have a go at you if not careful and are very potent with their venom, shit… I knew I was safe for the moment, he/she was squeezing a chicken, all the juices came out, it was gross but fascinating, when it was almost done, I hightailed it out of the run, which I opened the gate before having a look, was gone 1/2 hour or so later, didn’t feel to good after all that, this is the reason I will not go for a hike to do a post, will wait until the snakes hibernate.

    • And now there’s just been a 2nd deep quake at Bardarbunga. 18 kilometers deep.

      • I am starting to have the annoying feeling that I am about to soon have to eat my own words about Bárdarbunga. Yes, there was no reason to suspect an upcoming eruption before now, but still irritating 🙂
        But, there has been deep earthquakes all over the place and it is still early days. We will soon know better what is happening as GPS-data points start to accumulate.

          • Keep munching, it gets pretty wild.

            With luck, some background information will be coming soon. Think “Stuper” volcano…

    • It is the kind of name that would be likely to kill a Swede. He or she would just go there expecting a nice place for a swim and hours of looking at something hot according to taste.

    • Seems unlikely unless there is a major magma chamber underground near there, with hydrothermal springs feeding into the river. And magma chamber implies volcano, whether one is known there or not. The lack of a prominent edifice then points to a restless caldera volcano morphology.

      Likely there is a hotspot there, and the jungle has concealed a Yellowstone-sized supervolcano sitting directly on top of it, given it’s too far inland to be associated with the subduction zone along the west coast.

      Which means there’s one very understudied supervolcano out there, in a prime position to wreak havoc. Time to get geologists out there with seismometers and GPS meters and other instruments to start watching the ground.

      A VEI-8 resembling the last Yellowstone supereruption happening there would blanket the Amazon rainforest in ash, pretty much destroying the whole thing. That could lead to a significant drop in planetwide oxygen levels, as the Amazon is basically one “lung” of the planet, with ocean algae plus the northern boreal forests being the other. And a big drop in oxygen levels, possibly associated with heavy volcanism, was implicated by some research in the Permian extinction event, the worst one of the Phanerozoic thus far.

      • I can’t tell if this is supposed to be a serious response or not.

        If it isn’t, then all I can really say is that this is ridiculously far off base. If it was a joke, then well played 😛

        GL Edit: You need to use a capital “P” behind the colon to get the smilie.

      • I think the Amazon is pretty much oxygen-neutral: decomposition of biowaste on the forest floor uses up about as much oxygen as the trees produced in the first place. Otherwise oxygen levels would have varied a lot during the ice ages when it was too dry for large rain forests! Our oxygen comes mostly from marine algae. Don’t mess with the sea..

        • Exactly. I’m not an expert on Climatology by any means, but from what I know, changes in the Ocean is what keeps climatologists up at night more than anything else.

        • So, they’re implying a giant lightning bolt caused the formation of Mons because it looks slightly similar to a structure that is millions of times smaller created by lightning on earth?

          Occam’s Razor…

    • Okay, freak me out why don’t ya…

      I was listening to Frank Zappa on the other tab. “The Torture Never Stops” and playing the boiling river video in another. I heard someone humming along with the Zappa song and had to look to see if I had Teamspeak open and if someone was overhearing what I was playing. Nope. The guy humming in the River Video is humming that same Zappa Song.

      • That is spooky, funny how coincidences like that happen.

        About fifteen years ago I was driving along in Somerset county, England, following a car with a bumper sticker that declared “Live free or Die”. The radio was on and the theme song came on for the James Bond film “Live and let die”. Seconds later we drove past a pub named “Live and let Live”.
        That gave me something to think about.

        That is one of my favourite Frank Zappa songs – I often sing it to myself when I am at work and feeling pissed off 🙂

    • I got an email from one of our readers who I think was spot on in identifying this phenomenon.

      “I’ve been following your blog at Volcano Cafe with much interest since the action started happening at Bardarbunga in early 2014, but I’ve never felt like I know enough to attempt to post anything.
      The boiling river that is being discussed in comments to your latest post looks like it is in a caldera. If you go to its coordinates, .8.813196S, 74.722072W, in Google Maps, and turn on the terrain, it is very easy to see the structure. I’m pretty sure I found the right place. It is locally called Agua Caliente. The sattelite picture shows a lot of clearing and other development (mining?) at what looks like the eroded central cone of an old volcano.

      Loxahatchee”

      As I went there I found what looks like a medium sized somma-volcano that has had a small caldera event. And when I zoomed out a bit I found what looks like a back-arc. Of course somebody would need to stick their nose out and get samples, but it sure looks like a back-arc somma-caldera.

  17. 😊

    And after what you did up above you are hereby awarded another week to cool down and hone your skills in debating in a way that does not break our cardinal rule “be nice”.
    I would suggest that you try to ponder upon why you are getting chucked into the cold so often.

    See you in a week!
    Admin

  18. @Carl, Re: followup.

    My wife relayed to me that according to the news, the motorcycle guy that I mentioned in the back channel passed away.

    Tragically, Darwin wins again.


    And, since I have been up all night pondering this development, I have become partially sorrowful for the dude, and partially ticked off. I had a few years experience responding to traffic accidents as a BlackCat firefighter, enough to where I grew sick of the carnage and lost my taste for the adrenaline. In my mind, there is no good reason for this person to have died. The accident did not seem to involve a great deal of energy, nothing that you would expect from a 70 mph crash, so it was likely at a much lower speed. (it was at an offramp coming up to a stop sign) and the Motorcycle was still partially wedged under the rear collision bar. (a tubular framework assembly to keep vehicles from driving fully up under the rear wheels of the trailer. Mainly intended to keep car drivers from being decapitated by the trailer body in an impact.) The motorcycle was easily recognizable and appeared pretty much intact. When I spotted the scene, EMS was already on site and working on the patient. Dunno the level of care available, but the nearest medical facility was about a half mile away on the other side of the Interstate. A pretty new place that was built in the last two years or so. Florida has a really bizarre set of rules regarding helmets. They are not required if you carry a high enough level of insurance. In my opinion, that is what killed this man. As slow as he apparently was going, a helmet could have easily saved his life. Noticing the 80,000 pound truck at the stop sign would have also helped considerably. His inattention cost him his life.

    Sorry for the rant. Back to your regularly scheduled article. Dunno what is coming up, Hobbes is putting together his update, but Carl has a really cool article on standby as well. What we get will be up to what they decide. Your gonna really like the Carl article, but it might be Monday before it shows… unless Hobbes gets wheel wrapped in his Friday update.

  19. Morning all, just a note to say the this weeks update WILL be up (hopefully) tonight, however it might be later than normal.

    My work schedule hasn’t allowed me the time to fully compile it just yet (four 12 hour night-shifts in a row) but once I climb out of my bed this afternoon I’ll get straight on it!

    It should be just a case of writing out my notes and gathering some images, so hopefully it’ll only take a couple of hours 😀

  20. Interesting noise on JOK once again this morning, looks like the hydrothermal action may be increasing

      • Yes, very low key, maybe water running?

        There has been deep quake activity in the past couple of days positioned right between the active cauldrons but very deep.

        • Just to thicken the plot a little…

          Jokulheimar is adjacent to one of the biggest rivers in Iceland, so if it is running water, this sudden increase in flow is pretty odd: it’s mid-winter, so flow will be at its lowest; and it’s currently –4 C at Jokulheimar and it hasn’t been above freezing in the relevant period. If it was run-off from the glacier, one wouldn’t expect it so early in the day and in any case, it’s been cloudy there…

  21. Another deep quake at Bardarbunga.
    Friday
    19.02.2016 11:36:03 64.696 -17.589 12.8 km 0.5 99.0 6.8 km NNW of Bárðarbunga

    • Sitting back, cracking a beer, waiting for one of the most respected astrophysicists on the planet to answer this one 🙂

    • “when examined in detail, it bears only a superficial resemblance to some earthly volcanoes”

      But why should it bear much resemblance to Earthly volcanoes? Mars has half the gravity, volcanoes should look quite different.

      • Also, never mind the lack of plate tectonics and water to shape the volcano

    • I think we can safely relabel this as a fun fairytale. The slope of Martian volcanoes is due to the type of magma and the low gravity. Nothing that needs explaining! Apart from the monstrous size. If you take Bardarbunga, Iceland’s biggest volcano, it would fit comfortably in the Olympus Mons caldera, and the top would be some distance below the edge.

      • I think all the factors just mentioned (low gravity, no crust movement, no water erosion) explain the size.

  22. Oh no, I clicked a link onto the electric cosmos stuff. Eighteen seconds of my life gone! Still, amusing in a sort of quaint crinkly tin foil way.

      • Too bad – Yellowstone made a much better story. But this makes more sense

    • Horsetail Falls.

      Saw a news article about photographers flocking there to catch the phenomena when the sun lines up perfectly for the effect. Since it was not foggy and overcast, they had high hopes for it showing up this year.

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