Cutting the Canyons

A packed crowd listened to the presenters at Science Moab On Tap in December at Woody’s Tavern. The second event in the winter series will be on Tuesday, Jan. 14. [Photo courtesy of Science Moab]

“People were psyched and the place was packed!” Kristina Young said.

The founder of Science Moab was celebrating the success of the second season of Science Moab on Tap, a series of lectures that pair local scientific research with hanging out and getting a beer with friends. The first event in the winter series was last month and featured a group of Moab-area river guides presenting on changes in the Colorado River.

“I think what people were really excited about was that the speakers were locals, people who know the river and who wanted to start asking questions,” said Young. “They didn’t use jargon, they just wanted to talk about the amazing stuff they learned.”

Young says that’s just the enthusiasm that Science Moab looks for in those they select to present on locally relevant science. She says that the goal of the On Tap series is to present research in an accessible way that everyone can relate to.

“That’s why I’m so excited about our next talk,” Young said. “Everyone in town can relate to this one.”

Local Chris Benson is next up, presenting cutting-edge work that details just how Moab and the stunning canyons that surround it came to be formed. He’ll present on Tuesday, Jan. 14, at 6 p.m.

“Science Moab has presented a lot of work on biology and plants,” said Benson, with a laugh. “I’m trying to bring a little more geology into the conversation.”

“The research Chris is presenting is only a few years old and painting a totally new picture of how this area was formed,” said Young.

Benson, who works at the U.S. Geological Survey, has also worked as a guide and considers himself a “science communicator for the great work the other folks have done in our backyard.”

“I’ll be presenting research that I haven’t done myself, but is really interesting recent research into landscape evolution and the carving of the canyons in this area,” Benson said.

Scientists have been using new advances in geochronology to more precisely date stream deposits, Benson said, leading to revelations about how recently the river has cut down into the older rock.

“When you look at the rocks, they’re ancient,” said Benson, “but what people don’t realize is that the river canyon and the modern topography is only a couple million years old.”

As a former guide, Benson can see how relevant and interesting the recent science can be to locals.

“If people have hiked around Mill Creek, there are stream deposits that tell a really interesting story. I’ll be talking about the Daily section of the Colorado River as well,” Benson said. “For people who do interpretation and for river guides, this’ll be a good one.”

Benson will also talk about how the salt deposits that underlie this area are still on the move, according to Utah State University researchers.

“The whole Moab/Spanish Valley area is a collapsed, salt-cored anticline,” said Benson, mentioning that new science shows that there’s been movement along the faults created by retreating salt deposits just in the last thousand years.

“When we look at stream deposits and salt activity, it helps us understand the Moab Valley and how it’s changing and that helps us with planning and land use,” said Benson.

“I think that people will be able to walk out of the talk and look at our backyard in a different way,” said Young, “and that’s always our goal.”

Benson said that he loved that he could present science to a group of locals who would be able to connect with it directly.

“It’s great to be able to tell the story through things that people a thousand miles from here wouldn’t understand or care about, like the gravel pile behind the bowling alley,” said Benson.

The next events in the winter series of Science Moab On Tap will be on Feb. 11 and a special film event on March 10.

Young says that with all the interesting research being done in the Moab area, she doesn’t see any slowdown for the series in the future.

“There’s so much going on that it’s not so hard to find amazing science to share,” she said. “In fact, we already have a roster for next year’s On Tap!”

For more information on Science Moab programming, go to www.sciencemoab.com.