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mary caperton morton

For toothed whales, ecolocation is an ancient art

A new fossil find shows that toothed whales — including dolphins, orcas and sperm whales — have been using echolocation to navigate in low-visibility waters for millions of years. The discovery of a 28-million-year-old skull belonging to a previously unknown genus of toothed whale suggests that echolocation evolved extremely early in the whale family tree.

22 Jul 2014

Pompeii-like eruption fossilized dinosaurs in death poses

In A.D. 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted in Italy, burying the town of Pompeii and entombing its citizens in ash, which preserved their death poses for thousands of years. In northern China, a similar fate seems to have befallen dinosaurs, mammals and early birds. A new study, published in Nature Communications, sheds light on the preservation history of the Jehol Biota — an ancient ecosystem dating to between 130 million and 120 million years ago.

20 Jul 2014

Desert dust influences monsoon rains

India’s summer monsoons are stronger some years and weaker other years. This year-to-year variability dances around the mean by about 10 percent, but that difference can spell disaster in both arid and flood-prone regions. Pollutants and atmospheric circulation have long been blamed for wetter years and drier years, but now a new study has found that desert dust may also play a role.

17 Jul 2014

Hell Creek Formation reveals a 'chicken from hell'

The Late Cretaceous landscape was a scary place, populated by TyrannosaursVelociraptors and a newly described ostrich-sized predator nicknamed the “chicken from hell.” The discovery of three specimens in the Hell Creek Formation in North and South Dakota that add up to a nearly complete skeleton is giving paleontologists their first good look at Anzu wyliei, a 66-million-year-old theropod related to Oviraptors.

16 Jul 2014

People's earthquake reports influenced more by locomotion than location

In this era of high-tech seismic networks and GPS, scientists still rely on low-tech earthquake intensity scales, generated from public surveys like the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Did You Feel It? questionnaire, to characterize ground shaking in places with low instrument coverage. But how accurate are people’s perceptions of shaking? 

15 Jul 2014

Ancient food web shows modern structure

All animals have to eat, but who eats whom or what is often difficult for ecologists to discern in modern habitats, let alone in extinct ecosystems. Now a new study focusing on an exceptional assemblage of 48-million-year-old fossils in Germany has pieced together one of the most complex food webs ever constructed, and the results show this ancient ecosystem was strikingly similar to today’s food webs.

11 Jul 2014

La Brea climate adaptation as different as cats and dogs

The La Brea tar pits are famous for being a predator trap. For every herbivore, a dozen or more carnivores are pulled from the prolific Pleistocene fossil site in downtown Los Angeles. Two new studies focusing on the two most common species found at the tar pits — dire wolves and saber-toothed cats — are characterizing how the tar pits’ two top predators coped with the warming climate toward the end of the last ice age, and the results are surprisingly dissimilar: While the wolves got smaller, the cats got bigger.

09 Jul 2014

Getting there and getting around the Causeway Coast

To visit the Causeway Coast, fly into Dublin or Belfast and rent a car or take a bus to Ballycastle, Bushmills or Portstewart. During the summer tourism season, public buses run on a regular schedule up and down the coast. Accommodations are available in most of the small towns, ranging from high-end hotel rooms in Portstewart to quaint bed-and-breakfasts to budget hostels. More information on the Causeway Coast Kayak Association’s Port Moon Bothy hut can be found at: www.canoeni.com/canoe-trails/north-coast-sea-kayak-trail/access-point/po....

03 Jul 2014

The legend of Finn Maccool's Causeway

A long time ago, when giants ruled the Earth, a massive Irishman named Finn MacCool was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Now, as everybody knows, giants can’t swim, so MacCool, an expert mason and not one to back down from a fight, built a walkway of hexagonal stones across the North Channel to the coast of Scotland so the two behemoths could meet.

03 Jul 2014

Between rocks and hard places

If you are interested in exploring Northern Ireland but are unsure about going it alone, the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland offers custom-guided landscape tours to any and all of Northern Ireland’s natural attractions, including the Causeway Coast, Mourne Mountains and Sperrin Mountains. Experienced guides will take you on half-day or all-day trips highlighting the region’s geology, history and folklore. The “Between Rocks and Hard Places” tours can be scheduled seven days a week, year-round, for groups of up to 29 people. For more information, email gsni@detini.gov.uk and see www.bgs.ac.uk/gsni/landscape.

03 Jul 2014

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