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mary caperton morton

Humans evolved early to be more efficient sleepers

We humans spend about a third of our lives asleep. While that might sound like a lot, we require less sleep than most mammals. In a new study, researchers have quantified how much less sleep we need than other primates, and the findings may offer clues to how and when human sleep patterns evolved.

22 Apr 2016

China's Red Deer Cave people may have survived until the last ice age

In the 1980s, a collection of bones from very small hominids was excavated from a cave in southwestern China, alongside a number of bones from a species of large red deer. Nicknamed the “Red Deer Cave people,” but not yet declared a distinct species, researchers previously dated radiocarbon in the sediments where the bones were found to about 14,000 years ago. In a new comparative study, the same team has now found that the hominids from which the bones came appear to have been similar to — although far smaller than — Homo habilis and Homo erectus, suggesting it could indeed be a new species.

19 Apr 2016

An absentee note for ancient blueschist: Lack of metamorphic rock does not date onset of plate tectonics

Plate tectonics is a defining characteristic of our 4.5-billion-year-old home planet, responsible for earthquakes, mountain building, and much of the evolution of the planet’s oceans and atmosphere. But when this formative process began is a mystery. Some researchers have pointed to the lack of blueschist — a type of metamorphic rock that only forms in tectonically driven subduction zones — in rocks older than 800 million years as a clue to when subduction began. But a new study rules this option out, offering a novel explanation for the rock’s absence in ancient rocks.

05 Apr 2016

Downgoing plate topography stopped 2005 Sumatra rupture

In late March 2005, a magnitude-8.7 earthquake struck off the northwest coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, rupturing a portion of the Sunda Megathrust Fault and further terrorizing a region still reeling from the devastating 2004 Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami just three months prior. The March quake, however, could have been far larger than it was, according to new research. Scientists have identified a topographic barrier on the oceanic Indo-Australian Plate — which descends under the Sunda Plate in the Sumatra Subduction Zone — that may have stopped the 2005 rupture from propagating farther.

04 Apr 2016

Inside an icthyosaur's brain

While the dinosaurs were busy ruling the continents in the Mesozoic, an order of marine reptiles known as the ichthyosaurs ruled the oceans. Ichthyosaurs are well known from numerous fossils, but they are often found flattened, limiting researchers’ ability to study the skulls and braincases as they existed in life.

01 Apr 2016

Human-induced quakes included in new seismic hazard maps

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) regularly releases National Seismic Hazard Maps that summarize hazards from potential ground shaking produced by faults around the country. This year, for the first time, those maps include not only natural earthquakes, but also earthquakes induced by human activities — particularly injection of wastewater produced during oil and gas extraction practices. The new maps were released Monday on the USGS website.

29 Mar 2016

Sailors right about sneaky rogue waves

Sailors are notorious for telling tall tales, including legends about monstrous “rogue waves” that appear at sea without warning. Oceanographers have traditionally dismissed such stories because they thought that unusually large waves would be preceded by series of waves of increasing size.

29 Mar 2016

Where fire freezes: All eyes, ears and instruments on Iceland's volatile volcanoes

With examples of every type of volcano on Earth — each with its own eruptive pattern — Iceland presents a special challenge to volcanologists, but also serves as an ideal natural laboratory for studying how volcanic processes evolve.

29 Mar 2016

Eerily quiet Katla

Katla Volcano is located near the southern tip of Iceland, under the Mýrdals­jökull Ice Cap. Ashfall deposits found as far away as Norway and Denmark indicate that Katla erupted at least 20 times between A.D. 930 and the last eruption in 1918. Its present dormancy is the longest-known quiet period in the volcano’s history.

29 Mar 2016

Hekla the heckler

Hekla is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, erupting more than 25 times since its first recorded eruption in 1104. The most recent eruptions in 1970, 1980, 1981, 1991 and 2000 have allowed geoscientists to create a detailed eruption profile for the volcano.

29 Mar 2016