The Department of Mineral Sciences is an active participant in major, cross-agency research initiatives that seek to understand the Earth both past and present.
Global Volcanism Program
The Global Volcanism Program (GVP) is the hub of an international network for monitoring, reporting, and maintaining data related to volcanic activity around the world. GVP plays a leadership role in global volcano information - tracking events as they happen, building the database of critical information, and using these resources both for our own forefront research projects and for answering questions about volcanology from other scientists, the media, and the public. The large and growing database contains the geographic, historic, and volcanological characteristics of nearly 3,000 active volcanoes from around the world. Monthly reports concerning on-going eruptive activity are published in the Global Volcanism Network Bulletin. GVP works in close collaboration with non-SI scientists and organizations concerned with volcano hazards, airline safety, geothermal energy, and global climate change (USGS, DOE, NASA, NOAA, and FAA).
Antarctic Meteorite Program
Of the 16,850+ distinct meteorites in the Smithsonian's National Meteorite Collection, more than 14,000 come from Antarctica. The Antarctic has proven to be fertile ground for meteorite collecting. Ice on the polar cap moves towards the coast. At the Transantarctic Mountains, this moving conveyor belt of ice is shoved to the surface, where strong winds and warm summer temperatures ablate the ice and leave the meteorites behind.
Begun in 1976, the U.S. Antarctic Meteorite Program is a cooperative program run by the Smithsonian Institution, NASA, and the National Science Foundation for the collection, curation, and long-term storage of meteorites recovered from the Antarctic ice sheets each year by U.S. Scientists.
Curators at the Department of Mineral Sciences at the National Museum of Natural History classify each of the meteorites returned and publish these results in the Antarctic Meteorite Newsletter, issued twice a year by NASA's Johnson Space Center. The Smithsonian also provides long-term curation for Antarctic meteorites at the Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland, which contains a clean room modeled on the facility used for Moon rocks at NASA's Johnson Space Center.
While the Antarctic Meteorite Program has returned more meteorites in the last 30 years than were collected over the entire Earth in the previous 500, the real success is in the rare meteorites now recognized from the Moon, Mars, and previously unsampled asteroids. These rocks have been invaluable in increasing our understanding of the history of the Solar System.