Taxonomy term


Antimony may have poisoned Pompeii's drinking water

The ancient Romans may have had advanced water distribution systems, but the water pipes they used were highly toxic. Many Roman-era water pipes were lined with lead, leading some archaeologists to suspect a public health crisis among Romans that may have contributed to the empire’s eventual fall. But others point out that the high levels of calcium carbonate in the Romans’ water supply would have quickly coated the pipes with scale, limiting the exposure of drinking water to lead. However, a new study suggests lead wasn’t the only concern: A sample of pipe from Pompeii dating to A.D. 79 has shown that the Italian city’s drinking water may have also contained alarmingly high levels of antimony. Antimony is an acutely poisonous element, ingestion of which can lead to severe vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and/or death from ailments such as kidney failure and cardiac arrhythmia.

23 Nov 2017

Opportunist organisms rafted across the Pacific on plastic

Since World War II, fiberglass and plastic — which are stronger, lighter and require less maintenance than wood — have become the materials of choice for coastal infrastructure like docks. An unforeseen consequence of this transition, however, is that when structures built from these durable materials break free from their moorings and drift out to sea, they can serve as resilient rafts for opportunistic organisms. 

21 Nov 2017

Imaging Iceland's volcanic roots

Home to more than 30 active volcanoes, Iceland is one of the most vigorous volcanic settings on Earth. A new look at the core-mantle boundary thousands of kilometers below the island is offering one of the most complete pictures yet of how Iceland’s volcanoes are fueled.

21 Nov 2017

Alaskan subduction zone mirrors Tohoku zone that unleashed tsunami

In 2011, a large swath of coastal Japan was devastated and more than 15,000 people were killed when the magnitude-9.1 Tohoku earthquake unleashed massive tsunami waves that inundated land with run-up heights of 30 meters in places. In a new study, researchers have discovered that the seafloor off the Alaska Peninsula exhibits structures and fault patterns similar to the region where the Tohoku quake originated — a finding that may indicate a higher tsunami risk for coastal Alaska than previously thought.

20 Nov 2017

Extinct lunar magnetic field lasted longer than previously thought

Magnetized lunar rocks collected by the Apollo missions indicate the moon had its own magnetic field, generated by motion of liquid metal in its core, until at least 3.2 billion years ago. However, what powered the lunar field and how long it lasted has been unclear. Now, new research reveals that the lunar magnetic field lasted until at least 2.5 billion years ago, and possibly even until 1 billion years ago.

17 Nov 2017

Marine megafaunal extinction discovered

Extinctions of large land animals during the Pleistocene are well documented. In a new study, scientists report that marine megafauna also suffered severe losses several million years ago, around the time that the first hominid ancestors were emerging in Africa.

17 Nov 2017

Volcanic activity contributed to first of the "Big Five" mass extinctions

During the Ordovician, between about 488 million and 444 million years ago, plant life first emerged on land, while primitive fish and a variety of marine invertebrates flourished in the oceans. Toward the end of the period, however, a mass extinction — the first of the so-called “Big Five” Phanerozoic extinctions — wiped out roughly 60 percent of all marine invertebrate genera. In a recent study, researchers shed new light on a possible cause of the Late Ordovician extinction: volcanic activity.

15 Nov 2017

Ice (Re)Cap: November 2017

From Antarctica to the Arctic; from polar caps, permafrost and glaciers to ocean-rafted sea ice; and from burly bears to cold-loving microbes, fascinating science is found in every nook and crevasse of Earth’s cryosphere, and new findings are announced often. Here are a few of the latest updates.

14 Nov 2017

Microbes influence ooid formation

The formation of carbonate spheroids called ooids is a bit of a mystery. They are thought to form in warm waters saturated with carbonate, which combines with calcium to form concentric layers of calcium carbonate on shell fragments or sand grains. Some scientists have suggested that the presence of microbes might encourage calcium carbonate to precipitate out of water to form ooids in a process called organomineralization.

10 Nov 2017

Second stars can distort planet size estimates

When light from a star is blocked by another celestial body — as when the moon obstructed light from the much-larger sun during the recent solar eclipse — astronomers can estimate the density of exoplanets that orbit the star. And from the density, they can determine whether a planet is rocky like Earth or gaseous like Jupiter. But a new study in the Astronomical Journal shows that such density assessments, which are normally calculated from the size of the planet, may be skewed by the presence of “hidden” stars.

08 Nov 2017