Imaggeo on Mondays: The odd ‘living’ rocks

Imaggeo on Mondays: The odd ‘living’ rocks

Microbialites – structures which result from the interaction between microbes and sediments – have existed in the rock record since 3700 Ma ago until the present day. The presence of microbes in environments where mineral precipitation is prevalent, usually derives in the development of such chemical sedimentary structures. This can take place in marine, non-marine, and subterranean environments. The most common type of microbialites may be referred to as stromatolites.

The stromatolites shown here formed ~72 Ma ago in an intra-arc basin – a basin, located between two chains of volcanoes formed above subducting plates, where sediments deposit –  within the Tarahumara Formation, which was emplaced during the Laramide orogeny (some 70 to 80 million years ago) in Northwestern Mexico (Sonora).

The locality has been named the Huepac Chert because of the presence of thin and thick chert – a very fine grained rock made of silicon dioxide – horizons. The chert is black and it contains a great variety of fossils, including pollen grains, fungal spores, green algae, cyanobacteria, diatoms, arthropod remains, fruits, palm roots, aquatic plants (e.g. Haloragaceae), and numerous achritarchs.

Preliminary studies of the Fe2O3/TiO2 and MnO/TiO2 ratios in the chert suggest that hydrothermal activity was frequent and that it promoted the deposition of the majority of the chert where important organisms are beautifully preserved.  Iron-rich laminae, instraclasts, and evaporation processes may be inferred for the topmost sediments covering the stromatolites, suggesting that the water level fluctuated while these structures were forming.

There is still much work to do regarding the paleoenvironments where those Cretaceous stromatolites developed. These Upper Cretaceous successions are rare in Sonora, and biostratigraphic correlations can be made only with one locality to the South (Cerro El Obispo), but no other localities with similar lithology and fossil content have been reported.

By Hugo Beraldi, researcher at the Institute of Geology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at

Imaggeo on Mondays: recording the Earth’s magnetic field one grain at a time

Imaggeo on Mondays: recording the Earth’s magnetic field one grain at a time

The Earth’s magnetic field extends from the core of the planet, right out to space. It is an invisible, butterfly-like, shield which protects us against the harmful particles ejected by solar flares. In addition, it guards us from atmospheric erosion and water loss caused by solar wind.

But how do scientists study the Earth’s magnetic field when it can’t be see? Much of what is known results from a combination of methods: computer simulations help understand the inner core – where the field is generate – while rocks of all ages can contain information about the changes in strength and direction of the past magnetic field.

The best recorders of this information are volcanic rocks, but sediments (those rocks formed through processes of deposition) and other types of igneous rocks can also be studied.

For a rock to be a good source of information about the properties of the magnetic field, it needs to contain some ferromagnetic minerals (magnetite, titanomagnetite – as pictured above – maghemite, among others). The more ferromagnetic minerals a rock contains the better it will record information about the Earth’s magnetic field.

To find out more about the Earth’s magnetic field and magnetic minerals take a look at some of these resources:
·         A visualisation of the Earth’s invisible field by NASA
·         The Earth’s Magnetic Field: An Overview by the British Geological Survey (BGS)
·         How does the Earth’s core generate a magnetic field? USGS
·         Magnetic vortices record history of Earth’s magnetic field by the Institute of Physics (IOP)


Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at


Geosciences column: Making aurora photos taken by ISS astronauts useful for research

Geosciences column: Making aurora photos taken by ISS astronauts useful for research

It’s a clear night, much like any other, except that billions of kilometers away the Sun has gone into overdrive and (hours earlier) hurled a mass of charged particles, including protons, electrons and atoms towards the Earth.  As the electrons slam into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, the night sky explodes into a spectacular display of dancing lights: aurora.

Aurora remain shrouded in mystery, even to the scientists who’ve dedicate their lives to studying them. Photographs provide an invaluable source of data which can help understand the science behind them. But, for aurora images to be of scientific value researchers need to know when they were taken and, more importantly, where.

You’ve got to be in the right place at the right time to catch a glimpse of the elusive phenomenon. In the Northern Hemisphere, aurora season peaks in autumn through to winter. Geographically, the best chance of seeing them is at latitudes between 65 and 72 degrees – think the Nordic countries.

That is unless you are an astronaut on the International Space Station (ISS), in which case, you’ve got the best seat in the house!

The orbit of the ISS means it skims past the point at which aurora intensity is at its peak, which also happens to be the point at which they look their most spectacular. Its orbital speed means it can get an almost global-scale snapshot of an aurora, passing over the dancing lights in just under 5 minutes.

Not as much is known about Aurora Australis (those which occur in the southern hemisphere) as we do about the Northern Lights (visible in the northern hemisphere), because there are far less ground-based auroral imagers south of the equator. The ISS orbit means that astronauts photograph Aurora Australis almost as frequently as Aurora Borealis, helping to fill the gap.

Testament to the privileged viewpoint is the hoard of photographs ISS astronauts have amassed over time – perfect for scientists who study aurora to use in their research.

Time-lapse shot from the International Space Station, showing both the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis phenomena. Credit: NASA

Except that, until recently, the ISS photographs were of little scientific value because they aren’t georeferenced. The images are captured by astronauts in their spare time using commercial digital single lenses reflector cameras (DSLRs), which can’t pinpoint the location at which the photographs were taken – they were never intended to be used in research.

Now, researchers at the European Space Agency (ESA) have developed a method which overcomes the problem. By mapping the stars captured in each of the photographs and the timestamp on the image (as determined by the camera used to take the photograph), the team are now able to geolocated the images, giving them accurate orientation, scale and timestamp information.

Despite the success, it’s not a straightforward thing to do. One of the main problems is that the timestamps aren’t always accurate. Internal clocks in DSLRs have a tendency to drift. Over the period of a week they can be out by as much as a minute, making it difficult to establish the location of the ISS when the image was captured. This has implications when creating the star map, as the location of the station is used as a starting point.

To resolve the issue, aurora images which also include city lights can be aligned to geographical maps using reference city markers to get a timestamps accurate to within one second or less. In the absence of city lights, images which also capture the Earth’s horizon are aligned with its expected position instead. The correction works best if both city lights and the horizon can be used.

Errors are also introduced when the star maps can’t be fully resolved (due to the original image being noisy, for example) and because the method assumes that auroras originate from a single height, which isn’t true either.

detailed comparison between the ISS image plotted in Fig. 11 (b) and the contemporaneous image acquired by the SNKQ THEMIS ASI (a) . The original ISS image is plotted in (c) . Red and blue symbols trace the locations of the j shaped arc and northern edge of the main auroral arc, respectively, derived from their locations in the THEMIS image. The features are marked with the same coloured arrows in (c) . The magenta arrows point out a vertical feature projected very differently in (a) and (b) .

A detailed comparison between an ISS image of aurora (a) plotted and (b) the contemporaneous image acquired by the SNK THEMIS ASI [ground-based]. The original ISS image (a) is plotted in (c). For more detail see Riechert, et al., 2016.

Comparing images of an aurora on 4 February 2012, captured both by the ISS crew and a ground-based instrument, has allowed the researchers to test the accuracy of their method. Overall, the results show good agreement, but highlight that the projection of the ISS images has to be taken into account when interpreting the results.

Now, a trove of thousands of Aurora Borealis and Australis photographs can be used by researchers to decipher the secrets of one the planet Earth’s most awe-inspiring phenomenon.

By Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer



Riechert, M., Walsh, A. P., Gerst, A., and Taylor, M. G. G. T.: Automatic georeferencing of astronaut auroral photography, Geosci. Instrum. Method. Data Syst., 5, 289-304, doi:10.5194/gi-5-289-2016, 2016.

Automatic georeferencing of astronaut auroral photography:

The research was accomplished using only free and open-source software. All the images processed to date are made freely available at htttp://, as is the software needed to produce them.

Celebrating Earth Science Week!

Celebrating Earth Science Week!

For those not so familiar with the Earth sciences, geosciences and all its subdisciplines might be shrouded in mystery:  boring, unfathomable, out of reach and with little relevance to everyday life. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Earth Science Week, an international annual celebration founded by the American Geosciences Institute in 1998, aims to change the public’s perception of the geosciences.  Since 2011, the London Geological Society also hosts a range of events and activities to raise awareness and better understanding of the Earth sciences.

In 2016, Earth Science Week takes place between 8 and16 October. For the first time, the EGU will run events to mark the special date, all of which we invite you to take part in!

Earth Science Week Photo Competition

From Wednesday 5th to Friday 14th October submit an original photo on any broad theme related to the Earth, planetary and space sciences to our open access image repository, Imaggeo.

For your image to be included in the competition be sure to include the tag #EarthSciWeek when prompted during the upload.

Upon the submission period closing, all entered images will be published to the EGU’s Facebook page. The photograph with most likes, as chosen by the public, will be crowned the competition winner.

The winner will get one free book of their choice from the EGU library and a pack of EGU goodies! We’ll also feature the top five most popular entries on our Instagram.

I’m a geoscientist – Ask me Anything: Live Twitter Q&As

Have you always wanted to know how glaciers move and carve out unbelievable landscapes? How about which emissions cause the most pollution? What are the benefits of publishing in an open access journal vs. a pay-walled publication? If politicians make all the decisions, how can we get them to take scientists more seriously?

If you’ve ever asked yourself these questions, stay tuned or, better still, take part in our daily Earth Science Week live #EGUchat with an EGU member on Twitter. Starting on Monday, every lunchtime, you’ll have the opportunity to put your questions to a range of scientists and EGU experts and discuss a variety of subjects.

Our very own Sarah Connors (@connors SL), the EGU’s Policy Fellow, will kick off a week, of what we hope will be fruitful discussions, by taking questions on all things science policy. Come Tuesday Emma Smith (@emma_c_smith) and Nanna Karlsson (@icymatters), Cryosphere Division Blog editors, will team up to shed light on the processes which operate in the iciest places on the planet.

Wednesday brings editor of the EGU’s open access journal Earth Surface Dynamics (ESurf) and Professor of Physical Geography at the University of Hull, Tom Coulthard (@Tom_Coulthard), who will shed light on the processes which shape our planet and the trials and tribulations of getting published.

If you are interested in natural hazards, how we mitigate, manage them and how they impact on our daily lives, then tune in to the chat on Thursday, where Giorgio Boni (@EguNHpresident), President of the Natural Hazards Division will be answering all your questions!

For the final chat of the week, we bring you Michelle Cain (@civiltalker), an atmospheric scientist and former Atmospheric Division Early Career Scientist Representative. Michelle will be taking questions on gaseous emissions and topics related to the Earth’s atmosphere.

Joining the conversation couldn’t be easier! To put your questions to our experts follow the hashtag #EGUchat on Twitter. Not on twitter or aren’t available during the chats? Not to worry, send us your questions in the comments below or via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram: we’ll ask the experts on your behalf.earth_sci_week_ama_twitter-01



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