Thursday, February 21, 2008

Nevada Earthquake Rattles Utah

Did you feel it? At 7:16 am on Thursday, February 21, an earthquake struck just outside of Wells, Nevada. The quake measured 6.0 on the Richter Scale, and was felt for hundreds of miles around. Here in Salt Lake City, 152 miles away from the epicenter of the quake, people reported feeling some mild shaking. "I woke up because I thought my cats had jumped on to my bed, but when I looked there was no one there. It turns out I was feeling the earthquake," said Salt Lake City resident and UMNH educator Shelli Campbell.

In Wells, however, the quake's impact was much worse. According to news reports, almost every building in town was damaged in some way. Luckily, no one was hurt and only three minor injuries were reported.

What about you? Did you feel anything? If so, the US Geological Survey wants to know! Fill out a report about your experience, and leave us a comment below!

This map shows the center of the quake (star). The colored lines show how intense the quake felt to people in each circled area on the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Scientist in the Spotlight: The Secrets of Snow

We had a great time this past Friday as Tim Garrett of the University of Utah meteorology department hosted the kick-off event to our Scientist in the Spotlight Series. We made ice crystals and paper snowflakes, looked at real flakes under the microscope, and explored sundogs, all here at the Museum. Check out photos of the event and instructions on fun things to do at home!

Don't miss our next event!
March 7, from 2-4 pm
Our Feathered Friends
It’s birds galore! Join Wayne Martinson of the National Audubon Society to learn about Utah’s best bird habitats.

Have a topic you'd like to explore with a scientist? Let us know! Leave a comment below!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Head in the Clouds

Have you ever spent a lazy afternoon watching the clouds go by? University of Utah meteorologist Tim Garrett spends lots of time observing clouds, but for him it’s not a relaxing pastime; it’s his job. “I want to understand how clouds work,” he says. “They appear and disappear, they’re constantly evolving. Why?” Garrett hopes to uncover some simple principles that guide the behavior of these “ephemeral beasts.”

Garrett’s interest in the nature of clouds isn’t purely academic. Understanding the details of how clouds work is important to scientists trying to predict the future effects of climate change. As the Earth warms, clouds might act like a blanket, trapping heat in the atmosphere just like greenhouse gases do, and making the problem worse.

Or instead, clouds might act like a shield, reflecting sunlight back into space and slowing the effects of global warming. It all depends on how the clouds themselves react to a changing climate: different kinds of clouds have different effects on the atmosphere. Nobody knows which ones will dominate. But a better understanding of how clouds work might help predict what will happen in the future.

Garrett's work unraveling the mysteries of clouds takes a lot of different forms. He's done research on how pollution affects snowfall and sea-ice melting in the Arctic, on the size of ice crystals in cirrus clouds, and on the motions in clouds. He relies on data collected by satellites, airplanes, and ground-based weather stations to draw his conclusions, but he swears that one of the best sources of information is something everyone has access to: the sky outside. "I just look at the sky and there's huge amounts of information there," he says. "I look at a cloud and think, 'How much light would this reflect? What can I see through the cloud? What does the sun look like?' The most sophisticated instrument ever developed is the human eye. If you're patient, and keep your eye on the sky, you can learn a lot."

What can you notice about clouds? Check out these videos of clouds evolving, or go look at the sky outside!

Watch timelapse videos of clouds evolving!