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mary caperton morton

New species of extinct dolphin found in Smithsonian archives

Freshwater river dolphins are one of the most compelling — and endangered — branches of the cetacean family tree. Now the discovery of a new species of extinct river dolphin found in the fossil archives of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is shedding light on the dolphin family tree, as well as the origins of the highly endangered South Asian river dolphin.

01 Dec 2016

Tilted Himalayan temples hold clues to past shaking

The Himalayan Mountains have not been raised gently. The ongoing collision between India and Asia that has uplifted the highest mountain range on Earth is punctuated by large earthquakes. But one region in the northwest Himalaya, known as the Kashmir seismic gap, has remained eerily quiet, save for a magnitude-7.8 event in 1905, and a mysterious quake in 1555. Now, a new study looking at damaged temples in the Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh in India, within the seismic gap, is shedding some light on the two historical quakes.

18 Nov 2016

Newly discovered Earth-like worlds are rocky, not gassy

In May, a new planetary system was discovered just 40 light-years from Earth, including three Earth-sized planets orbiting around their red dwarf sun in a temperature range that could potentially harbor life. Now, a follow-up study on the system has found that the two innermost planets are primarily rocky with compact atmospheres, as opposed to inhospitable gas giants, like Jupiter.

15 Nov 2016

Turtle shells evolved for burrowing, not protection

How the turtle got its shell is one of the long-standing conundrums of paleontology. Paleontologists know that one of the first steps toward a shell was a broadening of the ribs, which occurred about 50 million years before full shells evolved. But why the broadening, which conferred some disadvantages to movement and breathing, began, has been a mystery. Now, the discovery of a proto-turtle with a partial shell in South Africa is shedding some light on the early stages of shell development.

11 Nov 2016

Frosted forams foil radiocarbon dating

Climate studies often rely on radiocarbon dating of tiny shells in seafloor sediments to pinpoint the timing of when warming or cooling events began and ended. But a new study indicates that chemical reactions that take place on the seafloor may affect the accuracy of such radiocarbon dates, with potential implications for the dates published by past studies

01 Nov 2016

NYC pigeons are canaries of lead poisoning

New research suggests that pigeons might prove useful for tracking high lead levels in cities. “Pigeons breathe the same air, walk the same sidewalks, and often eat the same food as we do. What if we could use them to monitor possible dangers to our health in the environment, like lead pollution?” said Rebecca Calisi of the University of California, Davis, in a statement.

20 Oct 2016

New type of meteorite found in Sweden

Meteorites offer a glimpse into the workings and origins of our solar system. Now, a meteorite found in a Swedish quarry, reported in a new study in Nature Communications, is opening a whole new window: The find has been classified as a new type of meteorite, never before seen on Earth.

18 Oct 2016

Humans, megafauna coexisted in Patagonia before extinction

During the last ice age, giant mammals roamed the wide-open steppes of what is now Patagonia. Around the time that humans were making their way down through North America and into South America, the climate began warming and large species of giant sloths and saber-toothed cats soon disappeared. Now, researchers looking at mitochondrial DNA from some of these megafaunal species are shedding light on the timing of the extinction and whether encroaching humans or changing climate — or both — were to blame for their disappearance.

11 Oct 2016

Everything's bigger in Texas, including the Wink sinkholes

Residents of the neighboring West Texas towns of Wink (population 940) and Kermit (population 6,000) have had decades to get used to a pair of large sinkholes that opened a couple of kilometers apart between their towns, the first in 1980 and the second in 2002. But according to a new study, the ground around the two holes is subsiding and unstable, opening up the possibility that they could collapse into one giant sinkhole.

10 Oct 2016

Antarctic no place to hide during end-Cretaceous extinction

The end-Cretaceous extinction is famous for killing off the dinosaurs, but many other species perished as well. A new study in Nature Communications of marine fossils found in the Antarctic indicates that the extinction event was just as deadly for creatures in the polar regions.

07 Oct 2016

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