Geologic Mapping for Predicting Groundwater Contamination; Wisconsin’s Role in Earth Imaging from Geostationary Orbit; How Sea Ice Impacts the World; When Good Trees Go Bad

For 22 June 2022    

Hi WN@TL Fans,

 The summer solstice is upon us, or over us, and the languid days linger long into the evening.  Here in Brittany the crepuscule glows til 11 pm.  West of Rennes the wheat harvest is underway, the round bales of hay dot the fields of alfalfa, and the corn is not yet a metric knee high.  It could be Wisconsin, except for the distinctive architecture of the farm houses, and their tile or slate roofs.  And every so often, a field of artichokes pointedly reminds us we are not in America’s Dairyland.

 As at home, the fields here now are green and gold, but the barns are grey.  I’m not sure why the nation that gave us Manet & Monet demures at splashing some color on their barns.  I’m grateful our countryside is spangled with red courtesy of the five-gallon buckets of barn paint at Farm & Fleet.

 Here in France the heat & the rain are the lead stories of the day.  On Saturday the heatwave, the canicule, peaked across the country and several hundred communities, including Paris where we were staying, broke records for high temperatures for mid-June.  That night a thunderstorm swept the streets and sidewalks clean, and based on the patterns of lodging in some of the wheat fields on Sunday, the winds blew through Brittany with alacrity.

 The agriculture in most regions I’ve ever visited reflect the rains and waters, and the underlying soils and rocks and aquifers of the land.   We think of most water contaminants as coming from above and from human hands, but this Wednesday we get to hear about arsenic, a naturally occurring contaminant, in Wisconsin, and strategies for minimizing arsenic’s impacts.



On June 22 we begin a string of three talks on water on the land, in the air, and upon the sea.  Eric Stewart of the Wisconsin Geological & Natural History Survey, a component of UW-Madison’s Division of Extension, leads us on a Midsummer Nite’s Dream deep underground to get to the Bottom of clean water with his talk on “Geologic Mapping for Predicting Groundwater Contamination.”

Description:  Dissolved arsenic in private drinking water wells remains an important problem for many Wisconsin residents. Arsenic is a known carcinogen that can lead to various cancers. While release mechanisms and sources of arsenic have been well studied in parts of northeastern Wisconsin, less work has been done to the south in Fond du Lac and Dodge counties. Additionally, the role of bedrock folding, fracturing, and faulting has not been systematically studied to determine if a link to arsenic detection probability exists.

This talk will describe the various causes of arsenic contamination in groundwater wells in eastern Wisconsin, as well as ongoing work to try to model risk and potential solutions. Using geologic maps as the foundation, this talk will describe the process of identifying and quantifying statistically significant variables that influence arsenic detection in wells. It will also cover modeling to determine how casing requirements on groundwater wells might help reduce risk.


Bio:  Eric studies the Precambrian to the Paleozoic history of bedrock folds, faults, and fractures in Wisconsin, and how these structures affect Wisconsin’s natural resources today. Most of his research is based on the construction of geologic maps. He uses new geologic mapping to solve problems in the geosciences from the plate tectonics scale (such as how subduction zones initiate) to the local scale (e.g. the probability of detecting arsenic across a township). He has worked at the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey since 2019.


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On June 29 Jean Phillips and Tim Schmit return to WN@TL to paint for us the celestial panorama of “Wisconsin’s Role in Earth Imaging from Geostationary Orbit, 1966-2022″

Description:  Phillips and Schmit will share the story of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s leading role in imaging Earth from geostationary orbit, past and present. The Spin-Scan Cloud Camera, invented at UW and carried on NASA satellites in the 1960s, pioneered continuous viewing of weather from space.

Those technologies were further refined to support the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, including the most recent satellite in the series, GOES-18, with its high-resolution imaging capabilities. Advancements in data and imagery collection from today’s weather satellites are resulting in better forecasts and warnings to the public, saving countless lives.

Better data, better forecasts and better warnings to the public are saving lives.

Bio:  Tim Schmit works at the Advanced Satellite Products Branch (ASPB) within NOAA’s NESDIS Center of Satellite Applications and Research located in Madison, Wisconsin. Tim had a lead role in the band selection for the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) on GOES-R and has played a key science role during the on-orbit check-outs of GOES-8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and now 18. Tim has published over 100 journal articles, several book chapters, and co-edited a book, all associated with some aspect of GOES. Tim received his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Bio:  As librarian, historian and communicator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Space Science and Engineering Center, Jean Phillips has led the development of collections and services to support research and education in the field of satellite meteorology — past and present. She is a past chair of the American Meteorological Society’s History Committee and co-authored a biography of Verner Suomi who is widely known as the ‘father of satellite meteorology.’ She earned her master’s degree from UW-Madison.

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On July 6 Till Wagner of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences will temper the summer heat with his talk on “How Sea Ice Impacts the World.”

Description:  Sea ice is a hugely consequential component of the climate system. It impacts the physical configuration of the oceans and atmosphere, it plays a key role in the yearly cycle of the polar ecosystems, it is an integral part of the traditional ways of life in the high Arctic, and it is increasingly perceived as a factor determining Arctic tourism, economic development, and geopolitics.  In this talk I will discuss how sea ice works, and why we’d do well to learn more about it.

Bio:  Till Wagner grew up in southern Germany and moved to the United Kingdom to study physics and philosophy in college. An early focus on modern physics in graduate school soon gave way to a fascination with applied math and its use in the geosciences. Till’s postdoc years brought him to California where he learned about modeling of the climate system, in particular the polar regions. He spent the next three years in North Carolina, teaching physics and physical oceanography and continuing his research on polar climates and ice-ocean interactions. Till joined the UW–Madison Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences in July 2021. He once made a stop-motion animation of a giant glacier calving event. 

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Background on Arctic Sea Ice:

An interesting Blog on Arctic Geopolitics:



Hope to see you soon, in person or by zoom, at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.

Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H

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