Sunday, March 28, 2010

Geology and wine #4 - Wine and Earthquakes

Some of the oldest wine growing regions in Romania are in Vrancea, an area also known for the highest seismicity in Romania.  The red ellipse on the image below shows where Vrancea is located: within a structurally complex area named in Romanian "zona de curbura" literally translated as the "bend zone", because the Carpathian arch bends as it transitions from the Eastern Carpathians to the Southern Carpathians.
I'll start with the earthquakes, so that my post will have a happy ending, on the topic of wine.
Vrancea is a subduction zone and the widely accepted model for the seismicity is shown in the E-W cross section below (sourced from the Romanian earthquake forum,
It is postulated that a slab from the plunging plate detached about 10 million years ago and its motion, as it sinks and is consumed in the mantle, generates quakes. The depth range for the hypocenters varies between 15 and 220 km.  Areas to the NE or SW of Vrancea are the most affected during an earthquake, which is why Bucharest is the number two European capital with the highest seismicity (after Lisbon).  I went through a 7.4 earthquake in Bucharest in 1977, and it was not fun (I wasn't even a geologist yet at the time, to at least find "pleasure" in the scientific aspect of the event).  More on Vrancea quakes here and here.

As for the wine, the best known wine regions in Vrancea are Panciu, Odobesti and Cotesti.  The best wines from native grapes here are the Feteasca Regala, Tamaiosa Romaneasca and Feteasca Neagra.  The last is my favorite, with its bouquet of blackberries and dried plums, and a hint of bitterness as it gets more mature.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Depositional facies models - the need to move on?

I am reading John S. Bridge's River and Floodplains, which I highly recommend for anyone interested in fluvial processes and the resulting deposits.  His comments on depositional facies models deeply resonate with me:
Most facies-association models in the literature are inadequate for anything more than a very general qualitative environmental interpretation because: (i) the deposits are normally represented in only one or two vertical sections, normal and parallel to the flow direction; (ii) the information shown in these two-dimensional sections lacks critical detail of the spatial variation of strata thickness and orientation, grain size, internal structures, paleocurrents, and biological features; (iii) the nature of preservation of the strata is not indicated, because the models are not dynamic; and (iv) the models are purely qualitative and many do not even contain scales.  The reasons for this state of affairs are: (i) incomplete knowledge of depositional environments (ii) incomplete knowledge of the evolution of depositional environments and their deposits over time periods in excess of a few hundred years; and (iii) uncertainties in translating essentially two-dimensional (parallel to land surface) information representing a single snapshot in time into a fully three-dimensional dynamic model.
I really agree with Bridge's comments and strongly believe that the principal focus on descriptive and qualitative, amplified by the proliferation of conceptual models in sedimentary geology was and is detrimental to the advancement of the science.  Which reminds me of a Twitter exchange I had with @clasticdetritus a while ago.  It started from my venting over how overwhelmingly descriptive and qualitative sedimentary geology is, and how beneficial would be to have a much stronger link between designing (quantitative) experiments to test concepts.  The Twitter thread is shown below, in "proper stratigraphic order", with the newest comment at the top.

This was a fun exchange, unfortunately for me it was so late in the day, and the 140 character limitation was not helping.
There is a solution to this problem, and I will cite again from Bridge, because he expressed it so well:
The solution to these problems require much more serious, comprehensive studies of modern processes and deposits, supplemented by scale-model experimentation and quantitative theoretical modeling
What are your thoughts on this?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day 2010: Stefania Maracineanu

Today is "Ada Lovelace Day", the international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science.   My post recognizes the Romanian physicist, Stefania Maracineanu, a woman whose research impacted the field of radioactivity.  She .... almost received the Nobel Prize in chemistry for discovering the artificial radioactivity.  She is inspiring because she represents the struggles that women scientists had to face in the early 1900s in order to have an impact and be recognized in their field of research.

Stefania was born in Bucharest, on 18 June 1882. Very little is known about her early life, except that she had an unhappy childhood about which she did not want to talk. She obtained an advanced degree in physical and chemical sciences at age 28, after which she begun teaching at the Royal Boarding School in Bucharest, a public school for girls from the social elite. In 1922 Maracineanu received support from the Romanian Science Minister to pursue graduate research in France with Marie Curie.

Studying in Paris at Curie's Institute must have been a dream come true, and Maracineanu started her first project focusing on determining the precise half-life of Polonium. One of the first observations she made was that Polonium's half-life depends on the metal onto which the Polonium layer has been deposited. Her explanation of the phenomenon was that the alpha-rays of the Polonium must have transformed some of the atoms of the metal into radioactive isotopes. At the time, this was a very important observation and it is unclear why Maracineanu did not pursue the topic in more detail. Further experiments and documentation would have turned this observation into the first documented example of artificial radioactivity.

After receiving her doctorate degree in 1924, and as a result of the research conducted at the Curie's Institute, Stefania stayed for six more years in Paris to study the effect of the solar radiation on the radioactivity of substances. In 1930 she returned to Romania and studied the link between radioactivity and rainfall, and later the relationship between earthquakes and rainfall.

In 1935, the Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to Frederik Joliot and Irene Joliot-Curie for the discovery of artificial radioactivity. Stefania Maracineanu expressed her dismay at the fact that Irene Joliot-Curie used much of her observations and work dealing with artificial radioactivity without giving proper credit. Maracineanu publicly claimed that she first discovered artificial radioactivity during her research years in Paris.

Stefania Maracineanu is often considered an "ignored Romanian scientist". Was this because of the challenges that women faced in the scientific community in the early 1900s ? Because she did not have a proper network of scientists with which to discuss ideas, and as a result lost focus and pursued research topics on the fringe of science? Was she marginalized in favor of bigger names and interests? Were her scientific methods and observations not careful or focused enough? We may never find an answer to these questions, or the answer may be a combination of all of the above, and then some...

Other references:
Bulletin of the National Research Council, v.10, 1925-1926, The National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC

Monday, March 1, 2010

Martisor - the Spring is here!

On the 1st of March Romanians celebrate the arrival of spring. Many other countries have some sort of spring celebration, but as far as I know, "Martisor" (Romanian pronunciation: [mərt͡siˈʃor])  is a Romanian custom.  A "martisor" is a little object attached to a red-and-white string and is worn pinned to the blouse, or sweater, or whatever you are wearing.  It may look something like this (I received it from my brother last year):

Nowdays it is worn by women and children during the first couple of weeks in March.  It is a symbol of the nature coming back to life after a long winter and it is supposed to brings good luck.  In some parts of Romania, during the first weeks of March the young women used to wear necklaces made of round pebbles collected from a river bed, which they pained red and white.
I don't have the red-white pebbles, but I made my own geology-related "martisor".  It may be too heavy to pin on to my blouse, but it matches the "Romania Rocks" theme.  Happy Spring everyone!
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