Friday, August 31, 2012

Blue Moon

A blue moon will grace the night sky tonight (Aug. 31), giving skywatchers their last chance to observe this celestial phenomenon for nearly three years. The moon will wax to its full phase at 9:58 a.m. EDT (1358 GMT) today, bringing August's full moon count to two (the first one occurred Aug. 1). Two full moons won't rise in a single month again until July 2015.

The pictures included in today's posting were taken last night -- so the moon was not quite full yet.

The term has long been used to describe rare or absurd happenings.  This somewhat obscure and complicated definition, in fact, is found in the 1937 edition of the "Maine Farmers' Almanac." But in 1946, a writer for "Sky and Telescope" magazine misinterpreted it, declaring a blue moon to be the second full moon in a month with two of them. Widespread adoption of the new (and incorrect) definition apparently began in 1980, after the popular radio program "StarDate" used it during a show.

A Blue Moon occurs because lunar months are not synched up perfectly with our calendar months. It takes the moon 29.5 days to orbit Earth, during which time we see the satellite go through all of its phases. But every calendar month (except February) has 30 or 31 days, so two full moons occasionally get squeezed into a single month.

Though the phrase "once in a blue moon" suggests the phenomenon is exceedingly rare, that's not quite the case. On average, blue moons come around once every 2.7 years, making them more common than the Summer Olympics, or a presidential election in the United States. Some years even boast two blue moons. This last happened in 1999, and it will occur again in 2018.


Here are some cool moon photos from the Internet:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Polychrome Jasper and Labadorite

The other day I received a shipment of new Polychrome Jasper and Labadorite. 

All the specimens come from Madagascar.  The Polychrome was discovered three years ago when geologists were looking for more of the Ocean Jasper, which has been mined out since 2006.  The picture Jasper has some of the most amazing colors and patterns.

In the rough, the mineral is not nearly as impressive.  The polished side of the following specimen is the next photo. 

Most of the specimens I have for sale are polished entirely.

I also have some incredible specimens of Spectrolite Labadorite. This is a complex mineral that forms from lava. Its distinctive flash of iridescent colors is known as "labradorescence." These beautiful flashes of color change according to the layers of different minerals in the specimen and the angle of light refraction, and may be blue, green, yellow, and pink.

I cannot find a map on the internet for where the Polychrome is from. I know it is from the northwest coast. Below is a map of where the labadorite comes from -- in the central part of the country.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hurricane Isaac, Mars Rover, and More

On the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, another hurricane is pounding the Gulf Coast. A tropical cyclone is a storm system characterized by a low-pressure center and numerous thunderstorms that produce strong winds and heavy rain. Tropical cyclones strengthen when water evaporated from the ocean is released as the saturated air rises, resulting in condensation of water vapor contained in the moist air. They are fueled by a different heat mechanism than other cyclonic windstorms such as nor'easters, European windstorms, and polar lows. The characteristic that separates tropical cyclones from other cyclonic systems is that at any height in the atmosphere, the center of a tropical cyclone will be warmer than its surroundings; a phenomenon called "warm core" storm systems.

The term "tropical" refers both to the geographical origin of these systems, which usually form in tropical regions of the globe, and to their formation in maritime tropical air masses. The term "cyclone" refers to such storms' cyclonic nature, with counterclockwise wind flow in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise wind flow in the Southern Hemisphere.

Here is a photo of Hurricane Isaac, which is spreading intense rain for over 1,200 miles.

I found this NASA photo of Hurricane Ivan, which occurred in 2004. I like the photo because you can see Michigan in the upper part of the picture.

Here are some hurricane records:

Fastest hurricane movement: 70 mph (110 km/h, Great New England Hurricane, 9/15/1938.

Fastest Intensification from a Tropical Storm to a Category 5 Hurricane: 16 hours - 70 mph to 155 mph - Hurricane Wilma 2005

Maximum pressure drop in 12 hours: 90+mb - Wilma 2005

Maximum pressure drop in 24 hours: 98mb - Wilma 2005 - 1200 UTC October 18 to October 19

Fastest Intensification from a Tropical Depression to a Hurricane: 12 hours - Lorenzo 2007

Fastest Intensification from a Depression to a Category Five Hurricane: 51 Hours - Felix 2007

Largest hurricane by gale diameter: Igor, 2010, 920 miles (1,480 km)

Longest duration hurricane: 28 days, Hurricane San Ciriaco, August 1899

Farthest Travel: 7500 miles, Hurricane Faith, 1966

Year with most hurricanes: 15 in 2005

Most tornadoes spawned: 117 during Hurricane Ivan in 2004

Costliest hurricanes:
$108.0 billion Hurricane Katrina 2005
$37.6 billion Hurricane Ike in 2008
$26.5 billion Hurricane Andrew in 1992

Here is a chart showing the number of storms per year from 1893 through 2010:


Good luck to everyone in the gulf coast region.

On a lighter note, here is the latest full resolution photo of Mount Sharp, taken by the Mars rover, Curiosity. This image taken by the Mast Camera (MastCam) on NASA's Curiosity rover highlights the interesting geology of Mount Sharp, a mountain inside Gale Crater, where the rover landed. Prior to the rover's landing on Mars, observations from orbiting satellites indicated that the lower reaches of Mount Sharp, below the line of white dots, are composed of relatively flat-lying strata that bear hydrated minerals. Those orbiter observations did not reveal hydrated minerals in the higher, overlying strata.

The MastCam data now reveal a strong discontinuity in the strata above and below the line of white dots, agreeing with the data from orbit. Strata overlying the line of white dots are highly inclined (dipping from left to right) relative to lower, underlying strata. The inclination of these strata above the line of white dots is not obvious from orbit. This provides independent evidence that the absence of hydrated minerals on the upper reaches of Mount Sharp may coincide with a very different formation environment than lower on the slopes. The train of white dots may represent an "unconformity," or an area where the process of sedimentation stopped.

We have no weather issues in the upper peninsula right now. Here are a couple of after glow photos of the sunset last night, taken form my front porch.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lake Superior Water Temperatures and More

I have not had time to go swimming, but a lot of tourists who come into the museum tell me how warm Lake Superior is this year.  So I went onto the Internet to get the data.  Sure enough, the temperatures are well into the 60s.  When I was a kid, I remember when it was rare in summer for the temperatures to get above 50.

I also went onto Google Earth and captured the following photo of the Grand Sable Dunes and Sable Lake.

Here are some photos of the public works project signs, as well as an updated photo of the new fire ambulance barn.

A close up of the seagulls watching over the construction of the new breakwall.  They are sitting on the end of the old east pier.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Antique Cars and Grand Marais Break Wall Update

On the way to the museum yesterday, I documented some antique cars that were in town.

After closing the museum last night, I drove out on the point to get some pictures of the new break wall.

The largest boulders are dolomite from Pembine, WI.  Some of the other rock being used is Kona Dolomite from Ishpeming.  This is stramatolite formation.  Here are a couple of pictures I took of Kona rocks being used in the project.

I went to the Army Corp of Engineer web page to try to get clarification about what is happening with the second bid regarding the break wall project. The search engine on the web page is poorly constructed, so it took a while to find actual updated information.  Below are some graphics from the Army Corp's web page, a Google Map showing the original and new break wall, information from the corp's original project information sheet, and some updates.

This Army Corp photo shows where the original break wall was built in the late 1800s.

The old break wall and the new one that is oriented 55 degrees to the southeast, are shown below.

The map below shows Lonesome Point (which no longer exists).

The next two graphics show the ruins of the original break wall, which will be removed by the contractor as part of the second bid.

Project Description
Burt Township has determined it will proceed with construction of a project at Grand Marais with state funding. As is required of any construction project in the waters of the United States a permit from the Corps is required. The Detroit District Regulatory Office has given the highest priority to the review of the application from Burt Township. In reviewing any permit application we are required to conduct an independent evaluation to determine whether the work is contrary to the public interest. The possible outcomes of our review are issuance of a permit as proposed, issuance with special condition, modification, or denial. Our regulatory review can use documentation previously prepared for a civil works project, but changes to the project from the civil works plan necessitate added review. Regulatory staff communicated that an expedited review is possible so long as there are no significant differences between the proposed design and the one approved with the 2010 Environmental Assessment, EA. In this case there were enough changes for additional review.
  • An application from Burt Township was received on Aug. 29, 2011. There were notable differences from the Corps' authorized project including the breakwater at a 71 degree angle vs. 55 degree angle, missing the dogleg, different stone sizes, etc. On Sept. 28, 2011 the applicant submitted a revised plan to a 55 degree angle. They followed with a revised written work plan on Oct. 4, 2011. Once the application was complete the Corps initiated its review (Oct. 5, 2011) review with internal experts.
  • The township's permit application has proposed a variation in the structure (compared to the basis of the U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service's biological opinion and the Corps' existing environmental assessment). As such,coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USFWS,will be required as part of the permit review.
  • Timeline for permit application: Regulatory has sent a coordination letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USFWS. The Corps expects to rely on the information in the existing Biological Opinion on the piping plover and will request concurrence from USFWS. Officially, USFWS has 90 days to provide an opinion, but a quicker response is hopeful.
The local community (Burt Township) has received a commitment from the State of Michigan for $5 million to be used for repair of the breakwater, available upon notification from the township that all necessary permits have been obtained.

Corps' funds totaling $2,640,000 were allocated in 2006 and 2008 for the required repairs for Grand Marais through the Congressional Add process. To date, funds have been expended for: collection of survey and geotechnical data, shoreline evaluation model study, completion of engineering & design, final construction plans & specifications, a biological assessment required for a final biological opinion from the USFWS and the environmental assessment. Approximately $1.6 million remain for contract award and construction oversight, however, Burt Township is not ready to enter into a contributed funds agreement with the Corps which is the mechanism the Corps can use to partner with the local community to deliver a high quality navigation structure at Grand Marais. The $1.6 million, currently held by the Corps as "carry-over" funds, has not been expended on other projects, but it is (as all funds are) subject to reprogramming at any time based on the needs and priorities of the Nation.

Update (as of 11/23/2011)
The Corps has recommended that Burt Township enter into a contributed funds agreement with the Corps. If the Township were to agree the Corps would join the State funds to the remaining Federal appropriation, and the Corps could advance the project. Burt Township has indicated serious reservations about entering into such an agreement with the Corps and they are proceeding with construction on their own with the State funding. The township has requested that the Corps provide the remaining federal funds to the local commuinty in the form of cash and/or materials (stone), or that the Corps utilize the funds to proceed with construction of a limited portion of the repairs in advance of their contract. The Corps has informed the Township that they do not have the authority to provide the funding/materials as requested, nor would a shortened structure provide a tangible solution to reducing the overall wave climate and/or sediment buildup in the inner basin of the harbor.

Update (as of 8/7/2012)
A bid to complete the last part of the break wall project was awarded by the Army Corp of Engineers to a different contractor: Marine Tech, out of Duluth, MN. The bid is for $1,495,428.

Contract work consists of, but is not limited to marine construction on the Grand Marais Harbor federal breakwater in Grand Marais, MI. Work is to be performed on the southern most portion of the east pier. This section of the breakwater is located approximately 1,500 feet from the shoreline. Work to be performed includes removal of approximately 300 lineal feet of existing timber crib and all stone to lakebed and the construction of a rubble mound breakwater in its place. The rubble mound breakwater will be constructed of three stone layers consisting of core stone, filter stone, and armor stone. The armor stone layer consists of 6 to 12 ton stone. At lakebed elevation, the width of the structure varies from approximately 150 ft to 100 ft. At crest elevation, the width of the structure varies from approximately 13 ft to 36 ft. The contract will include a base contract and 3 options. The base contract involves all demolition and construction of 150 feet of breakwater with each option adding 50 feet for a total possible length of 300 feet. Because of Piping Plover, the contractor is required to remain 250 ft lakeward from the shoreline. Therefore, all work is expected to be marine based. Construction of the rubble mound breakwater shall be completed within 120 calendar day of NTP. Any remaining site restoration shall be completed by 31 August 2013.