Rockaholic Adventures

Rockaholic Adventures is the place for conversation and discussion about geologic phenomena and mountaineering excursions. You'll also read reviews written from the perspective of today's technologically-advanced outdoorsman - one with a background in engineering and geology.

Rockaholic Adventures also covers topics such as unconventional oil & gas technologies and environmental geochemistry. The blog's owner, Shawn, is a technical writer at IHS where he writes a quarterly newsletter, Unconventional Oil & Gas News. He graduated magna cum laude in 2006 from the University at Albany where he majored in geology.

Morphology of Olympus Mons

Posted December 05, 2016 2:42 PM by Shawn

After discussing the morphology of Olympus Mons I felt compelled to share my intuition of the shield volcanos existence and morphology strictly through a hypothetical approach. The shield volcano may often be compared to our largest terrestrial feature Mt. Everest due to its sheer size, but it’s believed to have more in common with Mauna Kea. It is in fact three times the height of Mt. Everest at 22km above Mars’ surface and exhibits the properties of a shield volcano.

A shield volcano is formed by a continuous convection of mafic magma that produces the volcano’s shield shape through continuous eruption of mafic rich lava. Although it is believed that plate tectonics exists on Mars I suggest that it is a dying planet and the vector velocity of any rigid plates would be minuscule. Furthermore the planet is lacking any great variance in plate densities. That is in contrast to our planet where plate tectonics evolves through the highly contrasting densities between oceanic and continental plates. In the absence of subduction complexes, stratovolcanoes, and spreading ridges we are left with a much more homogenous lithosphere. This theory led me to believe that Mauna Kea could rival Olympus Mons if the Pacific plate would stop moving and form a single feature rather than a chain of volcanic islands.

Secondly, there are a few phenomena regarding the morphology of Olympus Mons that may be hypothesized but as far as I understand poorly understood or explained for. The enlarged basal scarp circumventing the mountain and the enormous scalloped caldera are two features that are unrivaled in our terrestrial environment.

The enlarged basal scarp has baffled many as the dramatic elevation profile drops 7km, almost the full height of Mt. Everest. One theory suggests this may have been caused by glaciation but I’d like to entertain a phenomenon non-existent on earth.

Plausibly the enlarged lithosphere emanating from the epicenter of Olympus Mons fights gravity. Buoyancy may be induced by accretion of outer mantle material. As the connected lithosphere is pulled upwards by the large feature there exist strain and ultimately detachment and settlement. The basal scarp is then an area of localized strain and a fault in itself. Think of an iceberg connected to a thin ice sheet where only the iceberg grows in thickness causing detachment and settlement of the surrounding ice sheet.

Lastly I’ll attempt to explain the scalloped caldera. This I again attempt to contribute to the object being near stationary on the planet’s surface. There isn’t a satellite caldera or cone but rather and overlay of large massive calderas where each implosion is an overlay in succession time frames. New calderas are formed and exit through a path of least resistance. The size of these calderas dwarfs those known on Earth due to a greater resistance to extrusive lava flow by its increases height and volume of overburden. It would be more conducive to smaller calderas if flow began to exit through the side of the volcano as if it were part of a moving tectonic plate.

5 comments; last comment on 12/08/2016
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Levees Fail Again

Posted March 10, 2016 2:21 PM by Shawn

Lack of accurate data plagues geological predictions. Whether we are assessing climate change, tropical storm probabilities, or the significance of unseasonably warm temperatures there is only a small sample size available. There may be semi-accurate data back as far as the early- to mid-18th century, but one could debate that accurate data was not available until the 1970's when the first Earth Resources Technology Satellite was launched, now known as Landsat. A prime example of data issues is exemplified by the 100-yr flood level.

The US Army Corp of Engineers continually strives to build up levees and protect southern Louisiana from flooding down through New Orleans. The ever increasing levees along with the Old River Control Structure (ORCS), which regulates water flow from 'The Big Muddy' towards a more natural course down through the Atchafalaya River safeguard the developed areas along the Mississippi River Delta.

Without the 'The Big Muddy' there would be a lack of sediment deposited on the now elongated delta, and subsidence along with tidal erosion would wash away the City of New Orleans. The fight to keep New Orleans safe requires a firm understanding of mathematical probabilities. The 100-yr flood level is an elevation alongside a river bank where no structures can be built. In lower Louisiana this law is not enforced as many urban developments existed before such laws came into effect, and are grandfathered in.

Instead of regulating where we can build the State of Louisiana relies on levees. Levees are built to a height that safeguards neighboring areas with significant confidence that they can withstand normal and even elevated river stages that are predicted to occur. Modern events suggest we are losing the battle with 'The Big Muddy'. The St. Louis flood wall was rebuilt after the record floods observed in 1993. The new levees are designed to contain a river stage of 54 feet, 4.4 feet above the flood crest of 1993. On New Year's Day the Mississippi River at St. Louis crested at its third highest level on record at 42.58 feet, and again today we are witnessing significant flooding.

As quoted by Mark Twain, "One who knows the Mississippi will promptly aver-not aloud, but to himself-that ten thousand River Commissions, with the mines of the world at their back, cannot tame that lawless stream, cannot curb it or confine it, cannot say to it, Go here, or Go there, and make it obey; cannot save a shore which it has sentenced; cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over, and laugh at."

Image Credit: Wikipedia | CC BY-SA 2.0

14 comments; last comment on 12/13/2016
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East Coast Mourns

Posted March 04, 2016 10:53 AM by Shawn
Pathfinder Tags: 2015/2016 winter El Nino

I'm afraid there is an epidemic going around that has all but squandered any resemblance of a winter for portions of the East Coast of the United States. Presidents Week began with a hit of winter and nearly 2 ft of fresh snow at our beloved gem, Mad River Glen, but in the dead of winter we saw rising temperatures and rain wash away Monday morning's glory moments on Paradise. Two days later the community was handcuffed to the practice slope and I watched my sons get some use out of their season passes. I feel fortunate to have had my moments on the mountain, but I need to reflect on how abnormal this winter has been while I sit gaping as the Pineapple Express dumps yet another load of treasures on the Sierra and Cascade Ranges of the West coast to the Wasatach and Rocky Mountains in our interior lands.

There is large debate if these abnormal products are the effect of 'Global Warning' as some non-believers blame finite modes of climate variability, such as the El NiƱo/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon lapping every 3 to 7 years or Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). Yes, these modes of variability are responsible for annual climate patterns but the frequency and extremity of these events has been indicative of a period of rapid change to global climates and at this moment in time we can only expound on how extreme this winter's weather anomaly has been for a localized community.

As of March 3rd the recorded snow fall at Mad River Glen, VT is in the range of 72" to 113" varying from base to summit. We have recorded less than half the average annual snowfall of 250" after the three snowiest months of the year have already past us. Current forecasts are predicting another weather anomaly that will keep temperatures above the freezing mark for a good portion of the next two weeks. Barring any substantial late season snowfall this is a near record low snowfall year that is rivaling what was observed in 1956-57. I'm ready to throw in the towel by tuning up my mountain bike and purchasing a new climbing rope. Maybe this will be an abnormally dry spring and the biking and climbing conditions will make up for the lack of winter pleasures.

12 comments; last comment on 03/30/2016
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Engineering Your Climbing Rack (Part II)

Posted February 25, 2016 2:32 PM by Shawn
Pathfinder Tags: climbing rope free climbing

A climber's rope is the life line of their fall protection equipment. It connects the climber to his partner and renders all other fall protection useless should it fail. A lead climber's partner extends the rope through a belay device in order to provide a controlled ascent. It is snaked through a series of fall protection pieces between climber anchors. The importance of a quality climbing rope cannot be under rated and your rope should be selected based on your own needs.

Climbing ropes are dynamic, meaning that they offer some amount of elongation when under load. This prevents any abrupt stops that could cause whiplash in the event of a fall. It also helps limit the amount of stress placed on your anchor and protection pieces.

The UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme) is the international mountaineering and climbing federation that tests ropes against established safety standards. They rate ropes by the impact force, the number of lead falls they can withstand before they need replacement, and percent elongation under static and dynamic loads. All modern climbing ropes meet minimum safety requirement while these ratings help identify ropes that best suit your needs.

The most common mistake of purchasing a rope is done by inexperienced climbers who fail to recognize their own needs. There truly is a rope designed for every purpose. Dry ropes have a special treatment that protects the rope from the formation of ice, and selecting a wear protection coating will add the same benefit if you have no intentions of winter ascents. Also keep in mind ropes are meant to be replaced and should be purchased for near future needs.

The movement towards skinny single ropes in many cases is unwarranted. The product was designed for high endurance athletes that are pushing their limits on longer sport routes and are more or less professional climbers. The thinner ropes have a lower fall rating, lower impact force, are harder to grip, and are more easily severed by sharp rock faces. I understand the movement towards lighter gear, but going for the lightest product when you are climbing moderate grades 5.10 or less just doesn't make sense. In the world of climbing ropes the most expensive product does not signify the best product for everyone's needs.

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Engineering Your Climbing Rack (Part I)

Posted February 11, 2016 2:39 PM by Shawn
Pathfinder Tags: free-climbing rock climbing

Engineering innovations have transformed sporting equipment, allowing athletes to compete at levels never before thought attainable. In the world of rock climbing we have seen the current generation thwart the achievements made by pioneers of the sport a mere few decades ago. Since the birth of free-climbing, meaning "free from aid", where anchors and fall protection equipment is only to be used to protect climbers from injury as results of a fall and not to assist in the act of climbing, we have seen significant advances in equipment.

In line with Royal Robbins' philosophy from his publication of Basic Rockcraft in 1971 that emphasized the need for free climbing skills and a clean-climbing ethic where only minimal invasive equipment, such as pitons, were to be used as aids to ascent any given route, the sport was being revolutionized. The following generation would push the envelope by free-climbing routes that were previously seen as impossible. to compete at levels never before thought attainable. In the world of rock climbing we have seen the current generation thwart the achievements made by pioneers of the sport a mere few decades ago. Since the birth of free-climbing, meaning "free from aid", where anchors and fall protection equipment is only to be used to protect climbers from injury as results of a fall and not to assist in the act of climbing, we have seen significant advances in equipment.

What has been achieved is in large part due to the engineering of better footwear as Boreal's introduction of the first "sticky rubber" shoe, the Fire in 1980, would later allow Lynn Hill to free-climb the coveted Nose Route of El Capitan (5.14a/b) in 1993. Protection pieces were also being revolutionized in-line with Royal Robbins' philosophy. The invention of a lighter piece of fall protection equipment referred to as spring loaded camming devices (SLCDs) by Ray Jardine in the late '70s would replace the wide use of pitons. The idea of using protection pieces that did not deface the rock and were retrieved for re-use would set a standard that would gain wide appeal.

The modern climbing community now praises each minute advance in equipment. Tech savvy climbers, referred to as gear heads, voice the need for smaller, lighter, and more versatile protection equipment, such as Black Diamonds X4 cams, released in the spring of 2013. There is now a shoe, a rope, and protection piece for every purpose, but what do you need to suit your individual needs, and are all modern advancements worth the premium they come with? Should you sport the latest model climbing shoes or purchase a rope that is a few meters longer, a few tenths of a millimeter thinner, and few grams lighter per foot at a premium that costs more than double than what may be coined an all-purpose rope by the same brand? What embodies a climbing rack that allows new age climbers to safely ascend any given route while preserving the beauty of the rock itself?

2 comments; last comment on 02/16/2016
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