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mary caperton morton

Solar flare calibration reveals past patterns of volcanism and cooling

When Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, it sent a cloud of ash and sulfuric acid into the atmosphere that blocked incoming solar radiation and caused global temperatures to drop 0.5 degrees Celsius for three years. Quantifying such effects of prehistoric volcanic eruptions on climate, however, has long proved difficult due to inconsistencies in the proxies used to reconstruct atmospheric and temperature fluctuations. In a new study, scientists have used markers left by an unusual solar flare event to align ice-core and tree-ring records, enabling a more accurate accounting of the effects of volcanic eruptions in recent millennia.
25 Nov 2015

Enceladus' extremely alkaline underground ocean

Saturn’s moon Enceladus is home to a vast underground ocean that erupts to the surface at the moon’s south pole in a giant plume of gas, ice and dust. Scientists studying observational data of this plume collected by the Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, have recently learned more about the chemistry of Enceladus’ hidden ocean. 
24 Nov 2015

Butchery or trampling? Controversy marks ancient animal bones

At some point in early human evolution, our ancestors began regularly hunting, butchering and consuming meat from large game, a protein- and fat-rich change in diet that may have helped fuel the development of a larger and more complex brain. When exactly this change took place has long been a matter of debate. Stone tools from 2.6 million years ago have offered the most solid evidence to date. But the discovery several years ago of a pair of 3.4-million-year-old animal bones in Dikika, Ethiopia, that appear to show cut marks indicative of butchery could push the date back significantly. Some researchers think the bones were marked by incidental trampling, however, not by early humans. 
22 Nov 2015

Opalescent pools shimmer beneath Santorini

With its bright blue waters and dramatic cliffside villas, Santorini, Greece, is an idyllic vacation destination, but lurking beneath the Aegean waves lay the remains of one of the most active volcanoes in human history. Because of its eruptive past and proximity to population centers, the Santorini Caldera is closely monitored, but a recent expedition revealed something never before seen there or anywhere else: shimmering opalescent pools of carbon dioxide sequestered on the seafloor.
15 Nov 2015

Travertine buildup reflects ancient Rome's water usage

By the third century, Rome had 11 aqueducts — engineered rivers enclosed by masonry — that supplied water to more than a million people in the metropolis, as well as to the city’s many extravagant public baths and fountains. But just how much water was being sourced from distant rivers, lakes and mountain springs has long been a mystery. Now, scientists are putting some impressive numbers to ancient Rome’s water usage based on a study of travertine deposits that built up over time in the Anio Novus aqueduct as freshwater flowed through it to the city.
08 Nov 2015

Marine microorganisms drive summer clouds over Southern Ocean

The Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica is home to some of the most pristine air anywhere on Earth. And yet it’s also one of the cloudiest places on the planet, a seeming contradiction because water droplets require particulate matter in the air to condense into clouds. Now, a study looking at cloud droplet concentrations over the Southern Ocean is giving scientists a clearer understanding of the role played by marine microorganisms in cloud formation and climate.
06 Nov 2015

Does the sun trigger autoimmune disease?

For hundreds of years, humans have charted the appearance of sunspots, the changing frequency of which marks highs and lows in the sun’s 11-year solar cycle. Peaks in the solar cycle cause surges in the amount of solar radiation reaching Earth, which can lead to changes in weather and climate, and can disrupt radio signals and electrical grids. Now, researchers have found that the solar cycle may also affect human health, with cases of rheumatoid arthritis and giant cell arteritis seeming to spike in concert with solar fluctuations.
01 Nov 2015

Triceratops relative 'Wendi' sported a fantastic frill

The discovery of a 79-million-year-old frilled and horned relative of Triceratops is shedding light on the early evolution of the ceratopsid’s distinctive look. The new specimen, discovered in a quarry in southern Alberta, Canada, and described recently in PLOS ONE, was named Wendiceratops pinhornensis after the famed fossil hunter Wendy Sloboda of the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, who discovered the site in 2010.
24 Oct 2015

Santa Ana winds get a fiery boost from the stratosphere

Southern California’s Santa Ana winds have long been implicated in the region’s dangerous and destructive wildfires. Now, a new study in Geophysical Research Letters points the finger at an accomplice: a phenomenon called stratospheric intrusions, which are natural atmospheric events that bring warm, dry air from the upper atmosphere down to the surface. These intrusions may exacerbate fires, as well as the region’s infamously bad air pollution.
23 Oct 2015

A Cambrian-like explosion of mammals in the Mid-Jurassic

Dinosaurs dominated the continents during the Mesozoic, and for a long time, paleontologists assumed our mammalian ancestors kept a low-profile in that era, existing only as small, ground-dwelling, nocturnal insect-eaters. But in the last decade, discoveries of an ever-increasing diversity of mammal fossils have forced a rethink: Mesozoic mammals were also gliders, climbers, diggers and swimmers. Now, scientists looking at mammalian rates of evolution during the time of the dinosaurs have found that this diversity peaked in the Mid-Jurassic, leading to new physical characteristics that would remain for millions of years.
20 Oct 2015