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News Tip


January 23, 2003

For more information on these science news and feature story tips, contact the public information officer listed at (703) 292-8070. Editor: Josh Chamot

Earth Scientists Forge New Understanding of Mountain-Building Dynamics

typical texture of what was once magma
Photograph showing typical texture indicative of what was once magma within the central parts of a batholith (a large intrusion of magma into rock).
Credit: Photo courtesy of Keith Klepeis, University of Vermont; NSF
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(Size: 809KB)

a melt-enhanced shear zone
Outcrop photograph of a melt-enhanced shear zone that developed along the base of an intruding batholith (shown in yellow in crustal column).
Credit: Photo courtesy of Keith Klepeis, University of Vermont; NSF
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(Size: 745KB)

rock from Early Cretaceous continental crust
Unusually well exposed section of rock from Early Cretaceous continental crust located in Fiordland, New Zealand. (Section constructed by Keith Klepeis, University of Vermont)
Credit: Photo courtesy of Keith Klepeis, University of Vermont; NSF
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(Size: 324KB)

Understanding how mountains form is critically important -- from volcanic eruptions to earthquakes to catastrophic mudslides, the geologic processes active in mountain belts affect human societies every day. Yet, even though mountains are on all continents and in all ocean basins, scientists still understand relatively little about the forces that interact to form and destroy mountains, how mountains change over time, and the relationship between mountains and Earth's climate.

To better understand these dynamics, earth scientists are now integrating studies across traditional disciplinary boundaries. In research funded by NSF and published in the January 2003 GSA Today, scientists have demonstrated a new way to integrate results from observations collected in the field with laboratory and experimental techniques. The team studied a mountain belt located in Fiordland, South Island, New Zealand.

"This integrative approach has allowed a better understanding of the processes [behind mountain building]," said Tracy Rushmer, a geologist at the University of Vermont and a co-author of the GSA Today paper. The findings have revealed processes that control the movement of magma, the impact of magma on rock deformation, and how the strength of the mountain belt changes through time, said Rushmer.

In Fiordland, where rocks from early mountain-building on Earth are exposed at the surface, the research has, "revealed the mechanisms by which magma was generated and transported through lower continental crust, and how these processes affected the formation of mountains over millions of years," said Rushmer.

Researchers know that mountains are the surface expression of plate tectonic forces -- forces that make our planet different from all others in the solar system. Tectonic forces are the dynamic link between processes active in the deep Earth, processes that change Earth's surface, and the atmosphere that drives the hydrologic cycle and fosters life. Towering mountain ranges, such as the Himalayas, exist because rock is uplifted so quickly that erosion can not strip it away fast enough to level the peaks. Such an understanding is important, say geologists, because ultimately it will allow us to more accurately predict the Earth's behavior. [Cheryl Dybas]

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Estimates Point to Slower R&D Growth in 2002

Preliminary estimates from NSF data indicate that public and private sector research and development (R&D) expenditures have continued to grow in 2002, but at a slower pace than in the previous seven years.

The estimates, published in a recent Info Brief from NSF's Division of Science Resources Statistics, project total R&D performance in the U.S. to reach almost $292 billion dollars in 2002, nearly $10 billion above estimates for 2001. Even so, the inflation-adjusted growth rate in R&D from 2001 to 2002 will be only 2.4 percent, compared to 4 percent the year before, and an average 5.8 percent from 1994-2000.

Despite the slowdown last year, NSF analysts say that total R&D for the nation will keep pace with the growth in the economy as a whole in 2002, based on estimates of the gross domestic product (GDP) provided by the Office of Management and Budget. Also, the U.S. is still spending a significant percentage of its GDP on research and development (estimated to be 2.79 percent in 2002). That level is nearly as much as the highest year on record, 1964, when U.S. expenditures on R&D reached 2.88 percent of its GDP. The lowest percentage of R&D spending compared to GDP was in 1953, when statistics were gathered for the first time. In that year, only 1.36 percent of the nation's GDP was spent on R&D activities. [Bill Noxon]

For the entire Info Brief, see:

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Pinpointing Human Activity in a Video Barrage

a humanoid puppet
A humanoid puppet performing a complex motion - touching its toes, then sitting and crossing its legs -- that was interactively animated.

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Video Credit: Produced in MVL lab, ECE Dept., University of Illinois at Chicago, November 2002. PI: Jezekiel Ben-Arie

a person doing jumping jacks
Video of a person doing jumping jacks.

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Video Credit: Produced in MVL lab, ECE Dept., University of Illinois at Chicago, November 2002. PI: Jezekiel Ben-Arie

a humanoid puppet doing jumping jacks
A humanoid puppet performing the same jumping jacks, created by tracking the body segments of the person in the previous video.

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Video Credit: Produced in MVL lab, ECE Dept., University of Illinois at Chicago, November 2002. PI: Jezekiel Ben-Arie

Larger versions (Total Size: 1,955KB) of all images from this document

 Note About Images

Video cameras are used to keep an eye on many indoor and outdoor locations, but to pinpoint suspicious activity, human security guards or intelligence analysts have the unenviable task of watching dozens of video monitors or many hours of recorded video.

Supported by an NSF award, Jezekiel Ben-Arie and his students at the University of Illinois at Chicago have developed a technique, much faster and more reliable than previous methods, that allows a computer to recognize a human action contained in a video.

Ben-Arie envisions a system that will allow human analysts to search vast databases of digital video by animating the desired action with virtual "puppets" or by videotaping a person making the movements. Ben-Arie's method makes it feasible to quickly find matching human motions within large amounts of video. This includes searches through databases of surveillance videos for suspicious activities, such as a person putting down an object and leaving.

"Security guards have to monitor 10 or 20 screens continuously, and it's very boring," said Ben-Arie, a professor of electrical and computer engineering. "A machine won't get bored. It's much more practical to have the computer do it."

Ben-Arie's method, for which he has a provisional patent, identifies and tracks nine major body parts and needs only a few poses from a video segment to distinguish an activity. Yet the method is robust enough to differentiate between activities as similar as walking and running, even with several people in the video.

The technique may have medical applications in physical therapy or analysis of motor function. Other applications might include choreography or sports training, in which a dancer's or athlete's movements can be compared against ideal or standardized movements. Ben-Arie and his students described the method recently in IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence (PAMI). [David Hart]

For more on Ben-Arie's research, see

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