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mary caperton morton

Great drying led to great dying down under

If not for the megafaunal extinctions that wiped out many large animals at the end of the Pleistocene, the world might be a very different place today — with humans coexisting alongside still-living saber-toothed tigers, woolly mammoths and 3-meter-tall birds. The agents of these mass extinctions have been debated for decades: Were shifting climates, or our spear-wielding ancestors mainly responsible? A new study of the receding shorelines of Australia’s largest lake has found that a substantial drying of the environment, more so than human pressure, is mostly to blame for the loss of megafauna down under.
 
08 Jul 2015

One whale's incredible journey details East Africa's uplift

About 17 million years ago, a 7-meter-long beaked whale took a wrong turn off Africa’s east coast and swam hundreds of kilometers up the Anza River before stranding. In 1964, the fossilized remains of the wayward whale were discovered at high elevation in West Turkana, Kenya, and then transported to the U.S., where they were subsequently lost in storage for more than 30 years before being rediscovered at Harvard in 2011. The whale’s incredible journey is now providing crucial clues about the timing of uplift in East Africa.
 
07 Jul 2015

Hydrogen chloride on the rise in Northern Hemisphere skies

Levels of the atmospheric pollutant hydrogen chloride have increased substantially in the lower stratosphere over the Northern Hemisphere since 2007, according to a new study. The increase, however, is not due to an influx of chlorine, but rather to a side effect of the recent slowing of stratospheric circulation that was first reported in 2005.
 
02 Jul 2015

Bigger is better in the sea

Since first appearing in the fossil record more than 550 million years ago, complex animals have steadily grown in average size, from millimeters to meters to many meters in length. This tendency of species to evolve toward larger sizes over time — known as Cope’s rule — has been studied before in individual species, such as horses and clams, but a new dataset of thousands of marine animals is giving scientists their first large-scale look at how Cope’s rule applies to whole ecosystems over hundreds of millions of years.
 
28 Jun 2015

Banana-preserving bacterium shows promise against bat-killing fungus

Since White Nose Syndrome began decimating bat colonies in New England in 2006, most of the news hasn’t been good, and to date, as many as 6 million bats in 26 states have died as a result of infection. But a new trial pitting a particular soil bacterium against White Nose is providing a glimmer of hope in the fight to slow its devastating march across the country.

18 Jun 2015

Exploding source of lithium

Trace amounts of lithium are found in all living organisms, and the soft metal is widely used in cellphones and batteries, and as a mood-stabilizing medication. But the galactic source of the element has been unclear.

10 Jun 2015

Oldest climbing and burrowing mammals discovered in China

During the Mesozoic, mammals were small and inconspicuous, remaining hidden in the shadows of their larger reptilian neighbors and only diversifying into the many ecological niches they now occupy after the dinosaurs went extinct. Or so scientists thought. Now, two new shrew-sized fossils, each dating to about 160 million years ago, lend support to the alternative idea that mammals were ecologically diverse long before the dinosaurs left the scene.

09 Jun 2015

Getting to the bottom of a tectonic plate

Earth’s rigid, brittle lithosphere is broken into seven major plates, as well as many minor plates, which ride along atop a ductile layer of the upper mantle called the asthenosphere. For all we know about Earth’s cracked outer shell, however, a clear picture of the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary at the bottom of the plates has proved elusive. Now, new research using explosives to image the oceanic plate dipping beneath New Zealand’s North Island is helping to blast away some of the uncertainty about this boundary by giving scientists a sharper look at a piece of the planet’s tectonic underbelly.

08 Jun 2015

Monkeys in the New World earlier than thought

Monkeys originated in Africa, but how and when they first appeared in Central and South America has long been something of a mystery. Now, a new set of fossilized teeth places monkeys in South America about 10 million years earlier than previously thought.

 
07 Jun 2015

Did volcanism drive Earth into global glaciation?

Between about 720 million and 635 million years ago, Earth suffered two big chills. During these “Snowball Earth” episodes, geologists think the world’s oceans froze over and glaciers spilled from tropical coastlines. Scientists have previously suggested that intense volcanism, unleashed by the disintegration of the supercontinent Rodinia, plunged Earth into these global glaciations. New research now lends support to this so-called fire-and-ice hypothesis.
05 Jun 2015

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