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mary caperton morton

Earliest primates were tree dwellers

The first primates evolved shortly after the mass extinction of the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago. But whether these small mammals lived on the ground or in trees has puzzled paleontologists, who only had fossil teeth and jaws to examine, which left much of the animals’ appearance and behavior a mystery.

24 Apr 2015

Bird genomes untangle branches of avian family tree

Birds, the only surviving descendants of dinosaurs, have one of the most fascinating — and perplexing — family trees in the animal kingdom. To sort it out, an international collaboration known as the Avian Phylogenomics Project has sequenced the genomes of dozens of different bird species, representing all the orders in the bird family. Even with a glut of new data, however, many questions remain about the branches of the avian family tree.

 
22 Apr 2015

Of temperature and tone: Has climate shaped human languages?

Humans today speak more than 6,500 languages, and thousands more dialects once spoken have gone extinct. Understanding how and why so many languages have evolved over human history has long been the work of linguists. Recently, however, the emerging field of geo-phonetics has begun looking into how geography — and perhaps climate — affects language. In a new study, researchers suggest that humidity and temperature, which can impact our ability to craft certain sounds, appear to have influenced the evolution of tonality in languages in different parts of the world.

20 Apr 2015

A front-row seat at a fire-and-ice show

Many of the world’s volcanoes are high enough and cold enough to sport seasonal snow, and some even boast year-round glaciers. But what happens when those volcanoes erupt and molten lava hits snow and ice? Observing such extreme interactions of hot and cold is often dangerous in the field, but a slow-moving basaltic eruption in Russia in 2012 provided the right conditions to give scientists a close-up view on one fire-meets-ice display.

 
13 Apr 2015

Fire-driven clouds and swirling winds whipped up record-setting New Mexico blaze

At about 1 p.m. on June 26, 2011, a wind-downed power line sparked a blaze in the Las Conchas area of Santa Fe National Forest. It would become the largest fire in New Mexico’s history at the time. Within hours, the flames spread to cover more than 160 square kilometers, threatening the town of Los Alamos, home of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), which develops nuclear fuels and safeguards nuclear weapons, among other activities. Now, a new study identifies why the fire spread so far so fast, and the results may have implications for fire management practices in other mountainous regions.

12 Apr 2015

Soft-bodied fossils cast in fool's gold

Most of the fossil record is composed of hard bones and shells — only a handful of places preserve fossils of soft-bodied organisms from early in Earth’s evolutionary history. The processes by which these delicate fossils form are not well understood, but a new study looking at an assemblage of 550-million-year-old soft-bodied fossils found in China sheds light on one potential mechanism.

 
10 Apr 2015

Methane be dammed!

Beavers were nearly killed off in the 19th century as trappers hunted them for their soft pelts. A successful conservation effort over the past 100 years brought the dam-builders back from the brink, but a new study published in the journal AMBIO has found that all those beaver-built ponds may be producing significant amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas.

 
05 Apr 2015

Coastal cities will see regular flooding

Rising sea levels will likely lead to regular flooding in most coastal cities in the future, according to a study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The report, which used tide-gauge records to chart annual flood rates, showed that these rates have increased substantially in the past 50 years and projected that a majority of U.S. coastal areas will likely experience 30 or more days of flooding each year by 2050.

 
03 Apr 2015

Two new looks at Titan's dunes

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is covered with extensive fields of sand dunes around its equator. From a distance, the wind-swept landscape looks similar to those seen on Earth, Mars and Venus, but new research suggests that dune formation on Titan may require different conditions than previously thought.

31 Mar 2015

Chaitén's vigorous volcanic history revealed

When the Chaitén volcano erupted in southern Chile on May 2, 2008, the explosive event took local residents — and geologists — by surprise: Previous studies concluded that the mountain had been quiet for more than 10,000 years. Now, a detailed look at sediments preserved in a nearby lake reveals a much more active history for Chaitén, a finding that may impact the proposed rebuilding of the ash-filled town.

29 Mar 2015

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