Mars: Curiosity Rover finds a dry stream bed on the Red Planet

Here’s the release from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration:

NASA’s Curiosity rover mission has found evidence a stream once ran vigorously across the area on Mars where the rover is driving. There is earlier evidence for the presence of water on Mars, but this evidence — images of rocks containing ancient streambed gravels — is the first of its kind.

Scientists are studying the images of stones cemented into a layer of conglomerate rock. The sizes and shapes of stones offer clues to the speed and distance of a long-ago stream’s flow.

“From the size of gravels it carried, we can interpret the water was moving about 3 feet per second, with a depth somewhere between ankle and hip deep,” said Curiosity science co-investigator William Dietrich of the University of California, Berkeley. “Plenty of papers have been written about channels on Mars with many different hypotheses about the flows in them. This is the first time we’re actually seeing water-transported gravel on Mars. This is a transition from speculation about the size of streambed material to direct observation of it.”

The finding site lies between the north rim of Gale Crater and the base of Mount Sharp, a mountain inside the crater. Earlier imaging of the region from Mars orbit allows for additional interpretation of the gravel-bearing conglomerate. The imagery shows an alluvial fan of material washed down from the rim, streaked by many apparent channels, sitting uphill of the new finds.

The rounded shape of some stones in the conglomerate indicates long-distance transport from above the rim, where a channel named Peace Vallis feeds into the alluvial fan. The abundance of channels in the fan between the rim and conglomerate suggests flows continued or repeated over a long time, not just once or for a few years.

The discovery comes from examining two outcrops, called “Hottah” and “Link,” with the telephoto capability of Curiosity’s mast camera during the first 40 days after landing. Those observations followed up on earlier hints from another outcrop, which was exposed by thruster exhaust as Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory Project’s rover, touched down.

“Hottah looks like someone jack-hammered up a slab of city sidewalk, but it’s really a tilted block of an ancient streambed,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

The gravels in conglomerates at both outcrops range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. Some are angular, but many are rounded.

“The shapes tell you they were transported and the sizes tell you they couldn’t be transported by wind. They were transported by water flow,” said Curiosity science co-investigator Rebecca Williams of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz.

The science team may use Curiosity to learn the elemental composition of the material, which holds the conglomerate together, revealing more characteristics of the wet environment that formed these deposits. The stones in the conglomerate provide a sampling from above the crater rim, so the team may also examine several of them to learn about broader regional geology.

The slope of Mount Sharp in Gale Crater remains the rover’s main destination. Clay and sulfate minerals detected there from orbit can be good preservers of carbon-based organic chemicals that are potential ingredients for life.

“A long-flowing stream can be a habitable environment,” said Grotzinger. “It is not our top choice as an environment for preservation of organics, though. We’re still going to Mount Sharp, but this is insurance that we have already found our first potentially habitable environment.”

During the two-year prime mission of the Mars Science Laboratory, researchers will use Curiosity’s 10 instruments to investigate whether areas in Gale Crater have ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech, built Curiosity and manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For more about Curiosity, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl.

So far there is no news about Front Range water interests hoping to build a pipeline to Mars for new supplies.

Reclamation Awards Contract for Arkansas Valley Conduit Investigations

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Here’s the release from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

The Bureau of Reclamation has awarded a $715,477.50 contract to Vine Laboratories of Denver, Colo., to conduct geologic investigations, including drilling, testing, and sampling of unconsolidated material and bedrock necessary for design of the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit project.

Vine Laboratories is a woman-owned small business in Colorado.

“Reclamation is pleased to award this contract to one of Colorado’s small businesses,” said Michael J. Ryan, Great Plains Regional Director.

The contract will provide some preliminary data describing geological conditions and other variables.

If constructed, the AVC would convey water from Pueblo Reservoir to communities in southeastern Colorado.

For more information, please visit www.usbr.gov/avceis.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update: 190 cfs in the river below Ruedi Dam

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Today around 5 p.m., the release from Ruedi Dam to the Fryingpan River will be curtailed by about 50 cfs.

The reason for the slight decline is that water for the endangered fish program is almost at an end for the year. Releases related to that program will now start ramping down.

As of this evening, Friday, Sept. 28, flows in the Fryingpan at the Ruedi Dam gage should be about 190 cfs.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here and here.

CWCB Statewide Drought Conference: ‘dry and hot conditions…have desiccated rangeland’ — Hannah Holm

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current U.S. Drought Monitor map and the July 24, 2012 map. We are seeing improvement over the central and southwestern mountains. Exceptional drought is expanding on the eastern plains. Let’s hope that Klaus Wolter’s forecast (presented Wednesday at the Water Availability Task force meeting Twitter hashtag #cwcbwatf) for a wetter fall over the northern and eastern part of Colorado holds up.

Here’s a report about last week’s CWCB Statewide Drought Conference from Hannah Holm writing for the Grand Junction Free Press. From the article:

Meteorologists told us that some signals are good, and some are bad, but it’s quite possible that we’ll have more dry times ahead — maybe up to a decade before Colorado gets significantly wetter, or not, depending on which models end up working best. The good news is that the scientists are beginning to get a better understanding of how warming and cooling temperatures in various ocean locations affect Colorado. They’re keeping an eye on a lot more than just “La Niña” and “El Niño,” and better long-term forecasts could be coming soon, which would help ranchers and farmers make better decisions about when to sell cows and when to plant.

So, what to do? We heard about that, too. Planning might help, particularly if we implement our plans. Disaster aid actually does soften economic impacts. Given that agriculture uses upwards of 80% of our water, a lot of attention is going to getting more efficient with water use in that sector. New tools are coming online that help farmers get a lot more precise about irrigation. Restoring damaged rangeland with native vegetation can help improve the soil’s ability to hold water and slowly release it back to streams.

Cities can mitigate their vulnerability by interconnecting with neighboring systems and adopting a “one for all and all for one” philosophy, like Grand Valley domestic water providers do. Even the seven states that share the Colorado River are starting to figure out ways to share shortages. Collaboration and creativity will clearly be important if we are to do more with less water. Several speakers, including Gov. Hickenlooper, pointed out that more reservoir storage could help us better adapt to increasing volatility between wet and dry years. And, of course, we all need to conserve.

Most of this sounded familiar to me from other water meetings. I did hear some things I hadn’t heard before, though, at least not from featured speakers at meetings like this. Hickenlooper commented that at some point, we will have to ask: “What is the carrying capacity of the state?”

Keynote speaker Steve Maxwell, author of “The Future of Water,” argued that increasing prices for water will begin to impact business development and individuals’ location decisions — which could be good news for the nation’s rust belt. Another speaker commented that the market may take care of some of our looming supply and demand imbalances by shifting water demand away from dry regions like this one.

More coverage from Steamboat Today (Todd Hagenbuch):

Climatologists from Colorado State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are working on ways to determine how various environmental conditions across the world affect weather patterns in Colorado. We all are familiar with how El Niño and La Niña affect local weather patterns, but climatologists now are understanding how similar conditions in the Atlantic, Indian and other oceans conspire with one another to affect how much moisture our area receives. Such information could prove invaluable to farmers who could know in advance what type of crops to plant for appropriate moisture levels or for ranchers to know how to alter stocking rates in advance of a drought.

Part of becoming a more resilient business is to plan for the long term. Ranchers know that managing range for health will reap long-term benefits, even when a tough year makes an appearance. This point was driven home at another workshop I attended this week.

The CSU Extension Service, in partnership with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and multiple other partners, has developed the Colorado Rangeland Monitoring Initiative. The group presented a workshop in Walden this week to educate landowners and range managers about how to monitor range health with those long-term goals in mind.

More CWCB coverage here.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill update: Concerned citizens balk at Cotter rep on steering committee related to decommissioning

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Citizens objections to Cotter Corp. having a representative on a steering committee nominating members for a new Community Advisory Group have made health officials want to rethink the idea.

State and federal health officials hosted a public meeting to get input on reforming the Community Advisory Group that will be the community voice for weighing in on the decommissioning plans for the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill. Because the mill’s Manager John Hamrick was listed as a steering committee member, citizens raised questions about whether that would be ethical because Cotter is the responsible party for the clean up.

“This is a trust issue,” Paul Carestia of Canon City told health officials.

Although EPA Regional Superfund Remedial Program Director Bill Murray said that health officials felt it was appropriate to have a Cotter representative, Dr. Chris Urbina, state health department executive director, said he would like more time to think about the steering committee makeup.

More nuclear coverage here and here.