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mary caperton morton

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

Did a geographic shift trigger the Cambrian Explosion?

Roughly 530 million years ago, Earth’s living cast of characters ballooned as a surge of evolutionary development led to the sudden appearance of almost all modern animal groups. Fossils from this period document the change in species, but the geologic, atmospheric and/or biotic factors that may have caused the radiation remain mysterious. Now, a new study suggests that massive changes in the positions of the continents may have played a significant role in sparking the Cambrian Explosion.

27 Mar 2015

One-of-a-kind dinosaur skull goes digital

Some dinosaur species are only known from a single skull, and gaining access to study such rare and fragile fossils can be difficult, especially if the skull is stored in a far-flung place like a museum in Mongolia. Now, a new technique using medical CT scans and digital imaging to create a digital model of fossils will allow such rarities to be studied by lots of eyes, all over the world, without damaging or transporting the delicate original.

14 Mar 2015

Tricky take-off limited pterosaur size

Pterosaurs are the largest flying animals in Earth’s history — some boasted nearly double the wingspan of the largest flying birds. But just how big the airborne reptiles grew and what kept them from achieving even greater sizes are outstanding questions. Now, a new study examining the mechanics of pterosaur flight suggests that taking off was perhaps the trickiest part of flying for pterosaurs, and likely constrained their size more so than other factors.

12 Mar 2015

Magma pancakes underlie Toba supervolcano

Giant eruptions from so-called supervolcanoes eject tremendous volumes of lava and ash, but details about the source of all that volcanic material have been unclear. Now, a new study has found that magma reservoirs intrude into the crust under volcanoes over millions of years in the form of multiple horizontally oriented chambers stacked on top of each other, like a stack of pancakes.

11 Mar 2015

Early horse history written in Indian coal mine

Modern horses, rhinos and tapirs — all ungulates with an odd number of toes — belong to a group of animals called Perissodactyla. The oldest Perissodactyla fossils date from the Early Eocene Epoch about 56 million years ago, but the animals’ earlier evolution remains a mystery. Now, a discovery in India suggests that the group likely originated on the Indian subcontinent when it was still an island on a collision course with Asia.

10 Mar 2015

Lidar reveals Roman gold mines

The Romans’ thirst for gold was legendary, fueling mining operations that rival the scope and scale of modern mines. The Las Médulas mines, for example, near what is now León in northwest Spain, were massive, extending for many kilometers along the Erica River Valley. A new look at this region using lidar has revealed the extent of the ancient mining works, as well as the complex hydraulic systems used by the Romans in the first century B.C. to extract the gold.

07 Mar 2015

Sharks collect storm data

Sharks are among the planet’s most prolific travelers, with some species swimming up to 50 kilometers a day in search of food and mates. Now, a program at the University of Miami plans to harness these top predators’ wandering ways to help study hurricanes.

06 Mar 2015

El Niño disaster stunted children's growth

In 1997 and 1998, warmer-than-average temperatures brought on by El Niño weather patterns led to copious rainfall and extensive flooding in northern Peru. The rising waters wiped out crops, drowned livestock, cut off bridges, and caused prolonged famine in many rural villages. Now, a new study that tracked long-term health impacts on children from the affected region has found that those born during or soon after the floods continued, a decade later, to bear signs of the hardship endured early in their lives.

03 Mar 2015