November 2014

Teacher Submissions
Partner Announcements
Windows to the Universe Facebook Group

Hope You Are Enjoying Fall!
by Roberta

The fall here in the Northeast never ceases to amaze me!  I had the pleasure of once again taking a group of students up to the Helderberg Escarpment near Albany - one of the best exposures of fossil-rich sedimentary geology in the U.S., and the view of the fall foliage is really breathtaking.

Windows to the Universe and NESTA had a successful day of Earth and space science professional development at the NSTA Area Conference in Richmond, Virginia, and we are looking forward to our upcoming events in Orlando and Long Beach later this fall.  Once the fall conference season is over, we plan to offer web seminars on this material for those who could not attend in person, to help disseminate the resources more widely.  

Don't forget that we offer classroom activity kits in our online store.  These include classroom activity kits for the following popular activities:  Glaciers: Then and Now, Traveling Nitrogen Game, CO2: How Much Do You Spew?, and Feeling the Heat - Part 2.  Most activity kits are available in a variety of sizes to fit your classroom needs.  We are also happy to be offering the Universe at Your Fingertips 2.0 DVD from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.  The DVD is loaded with 130 different resources for you, spanning the Earth and space sciences.  It is really fabulous!

Finally, at this time of Thanksgiving, I'd like to thank everyone who has helped with the Windows to the Universe website since its inception back in 1995.  Over this period, the website has been used by well over 220 million learners and educators around the world, and is approaching a billion page views.  Over the 18 years that this project has been in operation, we've collaborated with over 100 smart, creative people that have helped us develop this resource - educators, education specialists, scientists, graphic artists, translators, legal specialists, and many more.  Thank you for all your help and for your commitment as well, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

NESTA/Windows to the Universe Archived Web Seminars
by Julia

Please visit our Web Seminars page to view archived webinars on topics in space science, planetary science, and astronomy.  The webinars were recently offered by NESTA and Windows to the Universe and featured Ardis Herrold (NESTA Past-President, 35-year science teacher, planetarium director, and JPL Solar System Ambassador Master Teacher) and Roberta Johnson (PhD, Geophysics and Space Physics; NESTA Executive Director; Clinical Professor, University at Albany; Director, Windows to the Universe).  Enjoy learning about tides, dwarf planets, distances in space, galaxies, and more on the Windows to the Universe Web Seminar page.  

  Site and Science News

Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving Time (DST) ends on November 2nd this year in most of the U.S.  Don't forget to turn your clocks one hour back.  Daylight Saving Time (or Summer Time as it is called in many countries) is a way of getting more light out of the day by advancing clocks by one hour during the summer.

Ancient civilizations had to adjust daily schedules to the sun more flexibly than we do.  Romans divided daylight into 12 equal hours, so the length of each hour was longer during summer.  In 1784, Benjamin Franklin, then an American envoy to France, anonymously published a satirical letter suggesting that Parisians economize on candles by rising earlier to use morning sunlight.  The New Zealand entomologist, George Vernon Hudson, first proposed modern DST in 1895.  English builder, William Willett, independently conceived of DST in 1905 when he noticed during an early summer morning ride that many people were still sleeping.  He became an advocate of DST but didn't live to see it adopted.  Many European countries started to switch their clocks in 1916, in an effort to conserve fuel during World War I.  The United States adopted DST in 1918, but it was inconsistent till 1966, when President Johnson signed The Uniform Time Act.

Different nations start and end DST on different dates.  In the Southern hemisphere, beginning and ending dates are reversed.  Some nations shift time year-round, and some do not observe DST at all.  And just to keep you on your toes, sometimes different areas of one country have different time shifts!

Leonid Meteor Shower - Peaks November 17th

The Leonid meteor shower is expected to peak this year on the evening of November 17th.  The Leonids are an unpredictable shower; most years it is quite tame, displaying only 10-15 meteors per hour at its peak.  However, the Leonids occasionally produce meteor "deluges", with hourly meteor counts soaring into the hundreds.  During a spectacular storm in 1883, observers estimated that they could see more than 1,000 Leonids per hour!  The Leonid showers of 1998-2002 were also quite eventful. 

Fortunately in 2014, the light of the crescent Moon won't prevent you from seeing the Leonids.  This shower is definitely for night owls, as the peak of the shower is expected to be after midnight and before dawn.  Bundle up and enjoy!

NASA Study Finds Earth’s Ocean Abyss Has Not Warmed

The cold waters of Earth’s deep ocean have not warmed measurably since 2005. Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, analyzed satellite and direct ocean temperature data from 2005-2013 and found the ocean abyss below 1.24 miles has not warmed measurably. Some use this fact to argue that global warming has stopped. Study coauthor Josh Willis of JPL said these findings do not throw suspicion on climate change itself.

"The sea level is still rising," Willis noted. "We're just trying to understand the nitty-gritty details." In the 21st century, greenhouse gases have continued to accumulate in the atmosphere, just as they did in the 20th century, but global average surface air temperatures have stopped rising in tandem with the gases. The temperature of the top half of the world's oceans -- above the 1.24-mile mark -- is still climbing, but not fast enough to account for the stalled air temperatures.

Many processes on land, air, and sea have been invoked to explain what is happening to the "missing" heat. One of the most prominent ideas is that the bottom half of the ocean is taking up the slack, but supporting evidence is slim.

"The deep parts of the ocean are harder to measure," said JPL's William Llovel, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. "The combination of satellite and direct temperature data gives us a glimpse of how much sea level rise is due to deep warming. The answer is -- not much."

The study took advantage of the fact that water expands as it gets warmer. Sea level is rising because of this expansion and the water added by glacier and ice sheet melt.

To arrive at their conclusion, the JPL scientists did a straightforward subtraction calculation, using data for 2005-2013 from the Argo buoys, NASA's Jason-1 and Jason-2 satellites, and the agency’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites. From the total amount of sea level rise, they subtracted the amount of rise from the expansion in the upper ocean, and the amount of rise that came from added meltwater. The remainder represented the amount of sea level rise caused by warming in the deep ocean.

The remainder was essentially zero. Deep ocean warming contributed virtually nothing to sea level rise during this period.

Coauthor Felix Landerer of JPL noted that during the same period warming in the top half of the ocean continued unabated, an unequivocal sign that our planet is heating up.

NASA will continue to monitor Earth for vital signs from land, air, and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. No doubt future findings will help answer many of these tough Earth system questions.

Comet Siding Spring Seen Next to Mars

This composite NASA Hubble Space Telescope Image captures the positions of comet Siding Spring and Mars in a never-before-seen close passage of a comet by the Red Planet, which happened at 2:28 p.m. EDT October 19, 2014. The comet passed by Mars at approximately 87,000 miles (about one-third of the distance between Earth and the Moon). At that time, the comet and Mars were approximately 149 million miles from Earth.

The comet image shown here is a composite of Hubble exposures taken between Oct. 18, 8:06 a.m. EDT to Oct. 19, 11:17 p.m. EDT. Hubble took a separate photograph of Mars at 10:37 p.m. EDT on Oct. 18.  The images were taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3.

The Mars and comet images have been added together to create a single picture to illustrate the angular separation, or distance, between the comet and Mars at closest approach. The separation is approximately 1.5 arc minutes, or one-twentieth of the angular diameter of the full Moon. The background starfield in this composite image is synthesized from ground-based telescope data provided by the Palomar Digital Sky Survey, which has been reprocessed to approximate Hubble’s resolution. The solid icy comet nucleus is too small to be resolved in the Hubble picture. The comet’s bright coma, a diffuse cloud of dust enshrouding the nucleus, and a dusty tail, are clearly visible.

This is a composite image because a single exposure of the stellar background, comet Siding Spring, and Mars would be problematic. Mars is actually 10,000 times brighter than the comet, and so could not be properly exposed to show detail in the Red Planet. The comet and Mars were also moving with respect to each other and so could not be imaged simultaneously in one exposure without one of the objects being motion blurred. Hubble had to be programmed to track on the comet and Mars separately in two different observations.

Shorter Days Bring Autumn Colors

Did you know that trees in temperate forest ecosystems sense the onset of shorter days and longer nights in the fall?  This change of seasons triggers the development of a weak zone of tissue at the base of each leaf in deciduous trees.  Stems will eventually snap in the breeze, releasing leaves to the ground.

The bright side of this story is that some leaves may become brilliantly colored before they fall, thanks to their pigments—green chlorophyll, orange carotenoid, and yellow xanthophyll.  Leaf pigments sustain plants by means of photosynthesis throughout spring and summer by capturing visible light energy in the blue, violet, and red wavelengths of the Sun’s electromagnetic spectrum.  This chemical reaction enables plants to grow, flower, and produce seeds by harnessing light energy to transform carbon dioxide and water into sugar, releasing the byproduct, molecular oxygen.

As transport of water and nutrients to the leaves decreases in autumn, chlorophyll production ceases.  The green color fades, and the more stable carotenoid and xanthophyll pigments become visible, delighting our eyes with shows of gold and orange foliage.  In plant species such as maple and sumac, sugars trapped in autumn leaves are turned into anthocyanin pigments.  They appear to set forests ablaze with breathtaking hues of red and purple.  The best autumn colors can be expected when a moist growing season is followed by dry, cool, and sunny fall days with no nighttime frost.

The Study of Saturn Over Centuries

The history of the study of Saturn is a good example of how scientists have persevered through time to learn more, building on the work of others.  Although Saturn can be seen with the naked eye, Galileo was the first to observe Saturn with a telescope in 1610.  Because of the rudimentary nature of his telescope, he couldn't determine what Saturn's rings were.  In 1655, the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens solved the mystery of Saturn's "arms".  Due to improved telescope optics, he correctly deduced that the "arms" were actually a ring system.  Huygens also discovered Saturn's moon Titan.  In 1675, the Italian-French astronomer Giovanni Cassini discovered 4 other major moons of Saturn:  Iapetus, Rhea, Tethys, and Dione.  Cassini also discovered a narrow gap that splits Saturn's ring system into two parts, and the gap has since been known as the Cassini Division.  The German-born British astronomer William Herschel discovered two more moons, Mimas and Enceladus, in 1789.  The irregularly-shaped satellite Hyperion, which has an orbital resonance with Titan, was discovered simultaneously in 1848 by British astronomer William Lassell and by the American father-and-son team of William and George Bond.  In 1859, Scottish physicist and mathematician James Maxwell deduced that Saturn's rings could not be solid and must be made of "an indefinite number of unconnected particles".  In 1899, the American astronomer William Henry Pickering discovered Phoebe, an irregular moon that does not rotate synchronously with Saturn as the larger moons do.

Saturn was first visited by Pioneer 11 in September 1979.  In November 1980, the Voyager 1 probe visited the Saturn system.  Almost a year later, in August 1981, Voyager 2 continued the study of the Saturn system.

The study of Saturn continues even now with the Cassini-Huygens mission.  This mission was designed and planned as a cooperative effort between the European Space Agency and NASA, and included a Saturn orbiter (Cassini) and a Titan probe (Huygens).  It was launched in 1997, with the goal of studying Saturn’s rings, as well as the surface and atmosphere of both Saturn and Titan.  Cassini’s main mission was completed in 2008, and has been extended by NASA to allow for continuous observation of Saturn until 2017, when its orbit is expected to deteriorate, sending the orbiter into the planet’s atmosphere.

Recently, NASA scientists were able to identify an unexpected high-altitude methane ice cloud on Saturn's moon Titan that is similar to exotic clouds found far above Earth's poles. This lofty cloud, imaged by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, was part of the winter cap of condensation over Titan's north pole. Now, eight years after spotting this mysterious bit of atmospheric fluff, researchers have determined that it contains methane ice, which produces a much denser cloud than the ethane ice previously identified there. "The idea that methane clouds could form this high on Titan is completely new," said Carrie Anderson, a Cassini participating scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study. "Nobody considered that possible before."  To read more about Cassini's newest discoveries about Saturn and to see some stunning images, visit:

What's Your Freshwater Footprint?

The photo to the left shows the water aisle at a local grocery store where I live in mid-Maryland just before Hurricane Sandy hit (2 years ago this month).  It's clear that many people in my neighborhood were concerned with having enough water to last through this emergency.  Preparing for water service to be cut off or for possible water contamination brings to mind how important clean, usable water is!

Did you know that only about 2.75% of the water on Earth is freshwater? And that most of that (~2% of Earth's water) is frozen in glaciers? That leaves only a very small fraction of Earth's water to support the needs of people around the world, and it is clear that this resource is only going to become more limited as global population increases.

It's important to take a few minutes to think about the ways we use this critical resource every day, as well as ways we might be able to conserve water.

For instance, did you know that even a very quick shower in a typical American house uses at least 4 gallons of water, and that using an automatic dishwasher on its shortest cycle uses about twice that much? Even brushing our teeth uses a half gallon, and that’s only if we don’t let the water run while we brush—otherwise it could be much more!

There are some really easy ways to conserve water. Installing low-flow showerheads and faucets in your home can save 45 gallons of water per day in a typical American household. Installing a low-flow toilet can add another 50-75 gallons in savings per month, and together those two steps can cut a typical household's water use (and water bills!) in half. We can also be careful in the ways we use water, like only watering the grass at night when less of it will evaporate, and only running the dishwasher or washing machine when it’s full.

The World Health Organization estimates that people around the world need at least 20 liters (5.28 gallons) of clean water per day, and that much of the world's population will have difficulties accessing safe water supplies by 2025. With that in mind, please think about how you can help conserve water and make our limited supplies stretch even further.

Do you want to learn more? Read about the World Health Organization's latest studies of water resources. Access some really good tips on water conservation. Use a water consumption calculator to determine your water footprint. Then challenge your household to bring that number down!

Thanksgiving - How Big a Bird Did You Cook?

At the end of November, millions of turkeys are served on U.S. dinner tables as part of Thanksgiving.  Consequently, this is the month in the U.S. when many people ask questions like, "how big a bird did you cook?"

Ask questions about life adaptation skills and evolutionary processes with our Changing Planet Activity: Adaptation of Species (Birds and Butterflies).  This activity uses very simple materials, is aligned to the National Standards (see activity for more details), and can be used for upper elementary through high school levels.

Changing Mosquito Genes Classroom Activity

DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, which is a substance found in every living cell on Earth, including the roughly 10 trillion cells that make up your body. DNA is made up of four subunits: adenosine, cytosine, guanosine, and thymidine, which are often referred to by their initials—A, C, G, and T. These subunits are arranged in strings of specific sequences called genes, and genes contain instructions for building all the parts of the cells, tissues, and organs in which DNA is found.

You can think of the DNA in a cell as the master blueprint for your body, and although all the members of a species have DNA that is very similar, each individual has DNA sequences that are slightly different from all of the other individuals. These differences are very small, but they're what determine your height, the color of your hair, and all the other unique characteristics that make you who you are. Humans, animals, and plants have two copies of their DNA, one from each parent. Because the two parents' DNA, each containing differences that are unique to the mother or father, are mixed in a child, a child usually has some of his mother's characteristics and some of his father's.

The small differences in individuals' DNA sequences are really important in nature, because those differences are what leads to diversity. Different people have slightly different versions of the genes that determine how tall a person becomes, and humans around the world can be anywhere from about 4 feet tall to over 7 feet tall! In animals, diversity is found in body size too, as well as in things like fur or feather color, beak size, intelligence, and lifespan. Scientists sum this up by saying that genotypic differences (small differences in DNA) between members of a species lead to phenotypic variation (differences in those members' physical characteristics).

Diversity happens naturally because of the way DNA is copied in the cell (sometimes the cell makes a mistake as it makes a copy of the DNA, and a "difference" is made). It's important to remember that some differences are helpful and some are harmful. For instance, a bird's DNA sequence could gain a small change that makes it more brightly colored and helps that individual attract mates, or it could acquire a small change that makes its feathers shorter and hurts the bird's ability to fly. Individuals that have helpful differences in their DNA will have an easier time surviving and reproducing than those that have harmful differences, and over time this will mean that the helpful changes are passed down from generation to generation and become widespread in the population.

What this really means is that in nature, changes are constantly occurring in all species' DNA sequences, and the changes that have a positive effect on an organism tend to be passed on to the next generation. This is called natural selection, and it's the process that shapes life on Earth. It's important to remember that natural selection is still happening, and as a species encounters changes in its environment (like new climate patterns, new predators, or new prey), its DNA changes to adapt to its new situation (for instance, an insect that is being preyed upon by a new predator may adapt by changing its color so it is less easily seen by the new predator). This is easy to see in the example of the mosquitoes in the Changing Planet: Changing Mosquito Genes classroom lesson, where a population of pitcher plant mosquitoes is adapting to climate changes by lengthening their growing season.

  Partner Announcements

Registration for Geophysical Information For Teachers (GIFT) Workshop Now Open

Educators, you may now register to attend GIFT 2014! In this free two-day workshop at the AGU Fall Meeting, you will hear from scientists about the latest geoscience research and learn new ways to incorporate science into your classroom. Attendees will be given classroom materials and teaching guides, and will be shown hands-on activities to engage students in learning about a variety of geoscience topics. Visit the GIFT Workshop page to register.

Climate Smart & Energy Wise Book

The National Center for Science Education’s Mark McCaffrey has a new resource to improve your students’ understanding of the intersection of science and social policy by making climate and energy literacy the centerpiece of your curriculum. The book offers a virtual blueprint to climate and energy education, packed with resources and strategies, including:

  • A high-level overview of where climate and energy topics fit (or don’t fit) into your current curriculum
  • A discussion of the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and how you can meet them with well-planned pedagogical strategies 
  • Proven methods to teach climate change and related topics in a grade-appropriate way
  • Sample learning activities and high-quality online resources from the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN)

For details about Climate Smart & Energy Wise and for ordering information, visit the publisher’s website:


AGU’s Live Education Activity Resource Network (LEARN) is a great resource for K-12 teachers. LEARN contains videos and teaching guides from AGU’s GIFT (Geophysical Information for Teachers) workshop, designed to provide geoscience educators with hands-on activities they can use to engage their students in such topics as climate change, earthquakes, planetary science, and more. All of the resources tie back to the Next Generation Science Standards. And, if you have a great activity that you’d like to share, you can also submit your own video to the LEARN collection.

Digital Earth Watch and Picture Post Network - Activities and Tools for Observing and Measuring Environmental Change

The land, water, and air around us are changing.  Often, the changes are subtle and we cannot see them without the help of modern technology.

Repeat photographs reveal measurable changes in vegetation including phenology, growth patterns and plant health, snow and water levels, and sky conditions.  A Picture Post is an easy-to-build platform for collecting panoramic photographic data from the same vantage point.  Participants upload their pictures and share findings on the Picture Post website.  As a whole, the Network contributes to national climate change monitoring programs.

Collecting pictures is just the beginning!  Picture Post and Digital Earth Watch (DEW) are online resources for educators, students, communities, and citizens to design and carry out investigations, challenges, and environmental stewardship projects with low-cost, do-it-yourself tools and a free software program, Analyzing Digital Images (ADI), that measures spatial features in a picture and analyzes plant health based on color.

For more information, contact Dr. Annette Schloss, University of New Hampshire, 446 Morse Hall, Durham, NH 03824.  Email:  Phone: (603)862-0348

The Picture Post Network is part of the Digital Earth Watch (DEW) environmental-monitoring program.  Picture Post is based at the University of New Hampshire and was developed with funding from NASA.

  Calendar of Events

America Recycles Day - November 15

Since 1997, communities across the country have come together on November 15 to celebrate America Recycles Day, a nationally-recognized initiative by Keep America Beautiful dedicated to encouraging people to recycle more at home, at work, and on the go.  Recycling reduces waste, energy usage, and helps mitigate future climate change.  Thousands of groups have hosted thousands of events for America Recycles Day.  This year, you can organize recycling events for your workplace or school or find events happening in your community online at

Get Ready for Geography Awareness Week! November 16-22

In 2014, Geography Awareness Week, celebrated from November 16-22, will focus on the theme of The Future of Food.  See how the National Geographic Society is focusing on food all year round, check out a new suite of resources all about geography as a field and discipline, and find tips and tools to plan your own GeoWeek celebrations!  Past Geography Awareness Week materials dating back to 2000 are archived for your convenience.

Check out the Geography Awareness Week site for many more ways to get involved!

GIS Day - November 19, 2014

This year, GIS Day will be celebrated on Wednesday, November 19, and you can be part of the celebration!  Host a GIS Day event for your co-workers, at a local school, or for your community.  This is your opportunity to demonstrate how you use GIS in your daily work, and how this powerful technology plays a role in making our world a better place!  If you don't use GIS technologies currently, but would like to learn more, attend an event in your area.

GIS Day focuses on raising geographic awareness throughout our world.  The event provides an international forum for users of geographic information systems (GIS) technology to demonstrate real-world applications that make a difference in society.

Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program (Deadline - November 20)

The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program is now accepting applications for the 2015-2016 Fellowship Year.  Program applications are due November 20, 2014, and must be submitted through an online application system.

The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship (AEF) Program provides a unique opportunity for accomplished K-12 educators in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to serve in the national education arena. Fellows spend 11 months working in a Federal agency or U.S. Congressional office, bringing their extensive classroom knowledge and experience to STEM education program and/or education policy efforts. 

Information about the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program, including eligibility requirements, program benefits, application requirements, and access to the online application system can be found at  For any questions, please contact

Mars Balance Mass Challenge - Deadline November 21

The Mars Balance Mass Challenge seeks design ideas for small science and technology payloads that could potentially provide dual purpose as ejectable balance masses on spacecraft entering the Martian atmosphere.  Submissions are due by November 21.  A winner will be announced in mid-January 2015 and will receive an award of $20,000.

NASA Solve, which will host content for all agency challenges and prizes, features information on this new challenge at:

AAPG Teacher of the Year Award - Deadline is December 1, 2014

The American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Foundation will award $6,000 at its Annual Convention in Denver (May 2015) to its Teacher of the Year.

The award includes $3,000 for school use under the teacher’s supervision for educational purposes, and $3,000 for personal use by the teacher. The winner also will receive an expense-paid trip for two to the convention to receive the award. Additionally, for the first time this year, each of five finalists also will receive a $500 cash award.

Entries must be submitted by December 1, 2014. To learn more, see

2014 President's Environmental Youth Awards - Deadline is December 31, 2014

The PEYA program promotes awareness of our nation’s natural resources and encourages positive community involvement.  Since 1971, the President of the United States has joined with the EPA to recognize young people across the U.S. who are protecting our nation’s air, water, land, and ecology.  It is one of the most important ways the EPA and the Administration demonstrate commitment to environmental stewardship efforts created and conducted by our nation’s young people.  One outstanding project from each region is selected for national recognition.  Projects are developed by young individuals, school classes (K-12), summer camps, and youth organizations to promote environmental stewardship.  Thousands of young people from all 50 states and the U.S. territories have submitted projects to the EPA for consideration.  Winning projects in the past have covered a wide range of subject areas, including:
-environmental science projects
-recycling programs in schools and communities
-construction of nature preserves
-major tree planting programs
-videos, skits, and newsletters that focus on environmental issues

Evaluation results consistently demonstrate that the experience is a life-changing event for many of the young people and sponsors who participate.

Find out how to apply.  The annual deadline for the regional award program is December 31.

2015 Edward C. Roy, Jr. Award for Excellence in K-8 Earth Science Teaching - Deadline January 10, 2015

AGI has announced details for the 2015 Edward C. Roy, Jr. Award for Excellence in K-8 Earth Science Teaching.  Each year, this award recognizes one full-time, U.S., K-8 teacher for leadership and innovation in Earth science education.

The winner will receive a $2,500 prize and a travel grant of $1,000 to attend the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Annual Conference in Chicago in March 2015 to accept the award. To be eligible for the 2015 competition, applications must be postmarked by January 10, 2015.

This award is named in honor of Dr. Edward C. Roy, Jr., a past president of AGI, who was a strong and dedicated supporter of Earth science education.  To learn more, visit

  Other Announcements

The Geoscience Community Honors the Man Who Shook Up Earthquake Science

The American Geosciences Institute is honoring one of the scientists who advanced earthquake hazards preparedness and mitigation in the U.S. by his superlative service to the earth sciences. This year's recipient of the Ian Campbell Medal, Dr. James "Jim" Davis, is one of the key scientists behind U.S. earthquake hazards and loss reduction policy as it is known today.  He has also helped to shape how geoscientists communicate with the public to help people better understand the seismic environment they live in. Davis has been a State Geologist of not one, but two states, and has the distinction of being the longest serving State Geologist in California history; a tradition started in 1850.

His career started in New York with the New York State Geological Survey. There, he demonstrated the importance of using geology and seismology in siting of nuclear power plants and nuclear waste-disposal facilities, as well as publishing reports detailing mineral resources, developing geologic standards for a variety of environmental quality applications, and creating the Northeastern U.S. Seismic Monitoring Network.

Davis' successes made him a candidate for the California State Geologist position that was vacant. In that position, he has been a strong advocate for expanding modern seismic monitoring systems as a tool for assessing regional earthquake vulnerability enabling structural engineers to design structures that are more earthquake resistant. Because of Davis' work, emergency responders can also better evaluate post-earthquake needs. He also oversaw the implementation of the Seismic Hazards Mapping Act in California that has resulted in high-resolution geologic mapping of faults, liquefaction-, and land-hazard susceptibility maps. Following the Northridge Earthquake in 1994, he accelerated seismic safety reviews of new public school construction and hospital upgrade construction designs.

Davis has taken every opportunity in his career to apply a robust knowledge of geoscience to creating legislation to protect Americans, and his techniques have been replicated globally. He is a Past-President of AGI, and his work continues with leadership positions at AGI member organization, the Geological Society of America, and his colleagues continue to laud him for "strength, good character, and a willingness to listen to others." AGI thanks Davis for his monumental contributions to geoscience and public policy.

We're All Living in the Aftershock Zone

When large earthquakes hit Earth in quick succession, many people wonder if the events are linked. Scientists generally say that such events aren't linked, but the latest research seems to indicate that a large earthquake can potentially trigger another quake hundreds or even thousands of kilometers away in a process called dynamic triggering. However, when it could happen is far from predictable.

"The more we look for evidence of dynamic triggering, the more we find, sometimes even on opposite sides of the world," Tom Parsons, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey, told EARTH. "We're used to putting out alerts after a big quake [that local residents should] expect aftershocks nearby, but should the whole planet be on alert?" Parsons asks. "Should the whole world be considered an aftershock zone?"

Read more about how researchers are studying dynamic triggering, what they're finding and how it might relate to global earthquake hazards in the November issue of EARTH magazine.

How the Spanish Invasion Altered the Peruvian Coast

When Francisco Pizarro landed in Peru in 1532, his band of Spanish conquistadors set off a chain of far-reaching consequences for the people and economics of western South America. The Chira Beach-Ridge Plain in northwestern Peru is rippled by a set of nine ridges — several meters tall by up to 300 meters wide and 40 kilometers long, and large enough to be visible from space — running parallel to the shoreline. The pattern, observed along at least five other Peruvian beaches, was thought to have formed naturally over the past 5,000 years. New research shows, however, that left on its own, Chira Beach does not form ridges. Instead, these ridges are formed by the huge quantities of mollusk shells left by pre-colonial coastal communities.

Read more about how the Spanish conquistadors actually changed the shoreline of northern Peru by ending a several-thousand-year cycle of anthropogenic alteration in the October issue of EARTH magazine.

EPA Has Climate Resources For Teachers and Students

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers a climate education web site for students, teachers, and school administrators, including information and activities related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In one activity, for example, middle school and high school students estimate and conceptualize their schools’ emissions and explore ways to mitigate them. Also, teachers can learn from climate experts and search a database of lesson plans, videos, books, and tools. See the EPA web site at

AGI Report Details Status of Geoscience Workforce

AGI, the American Geosciences Institute, recently released its latest “Status of the Geoscience Workforce Report,” showing that jobs requiring training in the geosciences continue to be lucrative and in-demand.  Despite increased enrollment and graduation from geoscience programs, data project a shortage of around 135,000 geoscientists by the end of the decade. 

The 2014 report covers the state of the geoscience workforce and education in K-12 schools, universities, and two-year colleges.  The number of graduating geoscience majors who started their degrees at a two-year college has increased, according to report author Carolyn Wilson.

“There is incredible potential for institutions to recruit from the diverse talent pools arising at two-year institutions, and many career opportunities available to students enrolled in geoscience programs, and early-career geoscientists entering the workforce,” Wilson said.  Click here for more information on the report.

Table of Contents


Daylight Saving Time
Leonid Meteors
Ocean Abyss Warm?
Mars Comet Encounter
Autumn Colors
Discover Saturn
Freshwater Footprint
Mosquito Genes - DNA

GIFT Workshop
Climate Smart/Energy
DEW & Picture Post

America Recycles
Geography Week 2014
GIS Day 2014
Einstein Fellowships
NASA Mars Challenge
AAPG Teacher Award
PEYA 2014
2015 Roy Award

AGI Honors Davis
Aftershock Zone
Invasion Alter Coast
EPA Climate Resource
Geoscience Workforce














Information about Opportunities with Stipends, Honorariums, or Awards for Teachers/students
Educator members of Windows to the Universe should log into the website and go to the Member Special Offers page for details about these opportunities. If you're not a member, join today and find out how to apply to these opportunities! Additional information for non-members is available at

Teacher Submissions
Partner Announcements

Newsletter archive
Log in to visit our members' area, change your registration information or newsletter options.

The source of this material is Windows to the Universe, at from the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA). The Website was developed in part with the support of UCAR and NCAR, where it resided from 2000 - 2010. © 2010 National Earth Science Teachers Association. Windows to the Universe® is a registered trademark of NESTA. All Rights Reserved. Site policies and disclaimer.