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Tracking plastic in the oceans

Despite worldwide efforts to curtail plastic use — to ban plastic grocery bags, to switch to reusable water bottles instead of disposable plastic bottles, and to get rid of the microplastics in cosmetics, for example — we still produce more than 260 million tons of plastic each year. Almost a third of that plastic goes into disposable, one-time-use items. Only about 1 percent of it is recycled globally, so much ends up in landfills. Worse still, some of the plastic winds up in the world’s oceans.

24 Jan 2012

Setting off a supervolcano

Supervolcanoes are one of nature’s most destructive forces, but given that there are no recorded observations of super-eruptions — the last occurred 74,000 years ago in Indonesia — scientists don’t fully understand how they work. Now a team studying the world’s fastest-inflating volcano, Bolivia’s Uturuncu, is shedding some light on how supervolcanoes become so powerful.

17 Jan 2012

Source code: the methane race

Ten years ago, John Eiler couldn’t convince anyone to build him his dream machine. He wanted a mass spectrometer that could measure the mass of common gases with extreme precision and sensitivity, but such a device would cost more than a million dollars and might not find a market: The companies that could make it didn’t think they would be able to sell more than just the one to Eiler, which didn’t make it worth their while. Even Eiler didn’t know exactly what problems he could solve with the device, though he had a hunch it would be useful.

10 Jan 2012

Afghanistan's mineral resources laid bare

A mineral assessment milestone confirms world-class resources

Each donning about 10 kilograms of protective gear, including helmets and Kevlar, scientists trudged up the rugged, rocky volcanic terrain of southern Afghanistan, slowing now and then to catch an extra breath of thin air. Some carried guns. Others carried rock hammers.

29 Dec 2011

Creationism creeps into mainstream geology

It was easy to miss the part where the field trip leader said the outcrop formed during Noah’s Flood. After all, “During these catastrophic flood flows, turbulent, hyperconcentrated suspensions were observed to transform laminar mudflows” sounds like a reasonable description of alluvial fan processes. And “massive marine transgression” sounds scientific enough. But when creationist geologists use those phrases, they take on a very different meaning.

10 Jun 2011

Saving Afghanistan: Redevelopment one resource at a time

In his campaign and early in his presidency, U.S. President Barack Obama has said he plans to make Afghanistan a priority, calling the resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan “the greatest threat to [U.S.] security.” Fortunately, military might isn’t the only focus of Obama’s plan; he also intends to dedicate more resources to revitalize Afghanistan’s economic development. Finally!

14 Jun 2010

Travels in Geology: Patagonia: The ends of the earth

Patagonia, a region encompassing much of the southern halves of Argentina and Chile, may seem more mythical than real. As the author found, the glacial landscape is full of grandiose mountains, crystal blue lakes, wildflowers, fossils and stunning glaciers. The adventure is well worth the trip.
03 May 2010

Venturing into Argentina

We chose to spend most of our time on the Chilean side of Patagonia, although you could just as easily decide to spend your entire trip on the Argentine side. But if you follow an itinerary similar to ours (see main story), it’s still worth a jaunt into Argentina. The town of El Calafate, an inexpensive five-hour bus ride from Puerto Natales, Chile, is a great place to sample wines from the Mendoza region and try the local delicacy, crucified lamb. The sheep is affixed to a steel cross and roasted slowly over a campfire. The resulting image is graphic, but the meat is tender and savory. El Calafate is also the gateway to Glaciers National Park. This park is home to many wondrous sights, but prime among them is the Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina’s top tourist attraction. 
 
03 May 2010

Getting there and getting around Patagonia

There are many ways to get to Patagonia. I would have preferred to get there by following Charles Darwin’s route, aboard a replica of H.M.S. Beagle (especially considering that last year was the 200th anniversary of his birth). Sadly, the modern school calendar dictated that I move more quickly: Two weeks was all I had to work with.
 
03 May 2010

Travels in Geology: Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro: From parasitic cones to equatorial glaciers

Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro is the world’s tallest mountain that climbers can reach without technical means. The author decided to try it for herself, and brought back a lifetime of memories and dozens of photos of parasitic cones, equatorial glaciers, lava outcrops, volcanic vents and scenery to die for.

02 Apr 2010

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