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june 2012

Five outstanding questions in earth science

Even 15 years after the release of “Good Will Hunting,” there remains something appealing about watching the title character, a mathematically inclined janitor at MIT, scribble the solution to an unsolved mathematics problem on a hallway blackboard. In reality, there are a number of unsolved problems in mathematics, seven of which were designated in 2000 by the Clay Mathematics Institute as “Millennium Prize Problems,” each with a purse of $1,000,000. To date, only one has been solved.

27 Jun 2012

Neutralizing the rain: After much success in the battle against acid rain, challenges remain

Every Tuesday at 9 a.m., Dave Warner collects water from a white plastic 3.5-gallon tub that sits on a strip of tall grass between two cornfields at the University of Nebraska Agricultural Research and Development Center near Mead, Neb. For more than 30 years, the bucket has collected all forms of precipitation — from hail to rain to snow — to be analyzed for nitric and sulfur oxides, the main components of acid rain.

21 Jun 2012

No pre-Columbian deforestation of the western Amazon

Relying primarily on clues in soil cores, a research team has unearthed evidence that pre-Columbian western Amazonian people did not significantly disturb or alter interfluvial forests, contrary to previous suggestions.

18 Jun 2012

New dates place Spanish cave art as oldest in Europe

But were the artists modern humans or Neanderthals?

Scientists have studied Paleolithic cave art for more than a century, but new research suggests paintings and carvings in some Spanish caves are thousands of years older than previously thought, which would make them the oldest cave art in Europe. The new evidence has left researchers wondering if the artists were modern humans or Neanderthals.

14 Jun 2012

Blogging on EARTH: Rarity the only reason for Venus transit fever?

If you read one or more stories leading up to yesterday’s transit of Venus across the face of the sun (or if you followed #VenusTransit on Twitter), you likely learned that the transit is akin to a solar eclipse — when the moon crosses directly between Earth and the sun, temporarily blocking part or all of the latter from our view — with the caveat that Venus only blacks out a small dot of the sun because of its distance from Earth. So what was all the fuss about? What was it about the celestial equivalent of watching a marble roll slowly across a dinner plate that brought people out in droves, from professional and amateur scientists to casual observers and families with young children?

06 Jun 2012

Voices: Italian quakes and deaths point to industrial facilities as death traps

On May 29, eighteen people died in northern Italy when a magnitude-5.8 earthquake struck near the town of Mirandola. Arguably, these deaths were preventable, and they bring up the questions of how we can prevent such deaths in the future. Building codes are key in protecting people. If the most modern buildings collapse while old ones remain standing, something is wrong.

06 Jun 2012

Venus in transit to the transit

5 June 2012 - Reader Elizabeth Talley snapped an iPhone photo of an ice ring around the sun yesterday afternoon in Port Charlotte, Fla., and unexpectedly also captured this image of Venus as it heads toward this evening’s rare celestial event — a transit of the sun. The seven-hour transit, during which the planet will appear as a small black disk moving across the solar face, will begin at 6:03 p.m.

05 Jun 2012

Ecosystem collapse in Pleistocene Australia

Between 50,000 and 45,000 years ago, in the Late Quaternary, Australia suffered a major loss of its megafauna. Sixty taxa of mammals, predominantly large leaf- and twig-eating animals called browsers, went extinct, including all 19 species exceeding 100 kilograms, like the half-ton Palorchestes azael, a marsupial similar to a ground sloth, and the rhinoceros-sized Diprotodon.

05 Jun 2012

Better warnings for the consequences of earthquakes: Bringing seismic hazard and risk assessments to policy

Although seismologists and engineers have generated a world map of seismic hazard, which shows the level of ground shaking not likely to be exceeded, the ground motions and death tolls of several recent large quakes have far exceeded expectations. It’s time to change the way we measure seismic hazard and seismic risk.

29 May 2012

Carbon and the city: Tracking emissions from megacities

Sometime in the first century A.D., Rome’s population passed 1 million. It took more than 18 centuries for a city to surpass the 10 million mark, which both New York City and Tokyo did by 1950. Just six decades later, the world now has about 20 such “megacities” with populations of 10 million or more, including the largest, Tokyo, with a population of 35 million.

22 May 2012

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