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Red Planet Roundup: June 2017

With two rovers patrolling the surface of Mars, six spacecraft orbiting above it, and scientists here on Earth studying the Red Planet from afar, new findings are announced often. Here are a few of the latest updates.

08 Jun 2017

Horses evolved to get along: Competition between species not main evolutionary driver

Horses have changed size and shape dramatically over the last 20 million years, evolving from small dog-sized creatures with multiple toes into the large, hoofed grazing animals we see today. But the factors that drove these changes have been unclear. In a new study in Science, scientists tested the long-held theory that horses evolved rapidly to compete with one another during the worldwide expansion of grasslands starting 18 million years ago.

07 Jun 2017

The mackerel year: Tambora changed how New England fished

The 1815 eruption of Indonesia’s Tambora Volcano led to a 1- to 1.5-degree-Celsius drop in the average global temperature, prompting 1816 to be called the “year without a summer.” New research analyzes weather data and historical records from New England to explain why, in the northeast U.S., 1816 was also called the “mackerel year.” As eruption-induced extreme weather triggered food scarcity in some areas, including a reduction in alewife numbers along the U.S. Atlantic coast, fishermen in the Gulf of Maine turned to mackerel fisheries farther offshore that had been neglected while more easily fished coastal and freshwater species were available.

06 Jun 2017

Monsoon shifts shaped early Chinese cultures

Rapid, climate-driven shifts in monsoon patterns may have shaped ancient Chinese societies, according to new research. And their history could be our future.

01 Jun 2017

Ups and downs of potassium feldspar may play role in clouds and climate

For water vapor in the atmosphere to transform into icy, cloud-forming droplets, it needs a seed around which to condense, such as aerosols, sea salt or bacteria. One of the most effective seeds is mineral dust, in particular potassium feldspar, one of the main ingredients in granite. New research tracking fluxes of potassium feldspar in the atmosphere through geologic time is shedding light on the long-term importance of the mineral in cloud formation and climate feedback cycles.

30 May 2017

1883 sea rescue informs new model of wind-wave interactions

Despite improvements in oceanographic observation, knowledge gaps remain about the interactions between ocean waves and wind blowing over the water’s surface. This is in part due to the difficulty of observing the ocean in high seas and windy conditions. In a new study in Geophysical Research Letters, however, researchers have used a historical record of a treacherous 1883 at-sea rescue — aided by the wave-calming effects of a fish-oil slick — to develop a model of how wind and water interact to form different sizes and types of waves.

29 May 2017

Timing of famed "Millennium Eruption" pinpointed

Changbaishan Volcano in northeastern China, on the border with North Korea (where it’s known as Mount Paektu), is steeped in superstition, having produced devastating eruptions several times in recorded history. Legends that a massive eruption in the 10th century led to the downfall of a regional empire have now been refuted, however, thanks to a new analysis of a fossilized tree killed by the eruption that dates the eruption to after the kingdom fell.

25 May 2017

Horned dinosaur find a first for eastern North America

Fossils of horned dinosaurs called ceratopsids, the group that includes Triceratops, are usually found in either western North America or Asia. But the discovery of a single ceratopsid tooth in Mississippi, reported in a new study in PeerJ, hints that this group spread into new territory at the tail end of the Mesozoic Era — just prior to going extinct.

23 May 2017

Meteorites did not spark Ordovician biodiversification

During the Ordovician Period, roughly 470 million years ago, an asteroid the size of a small moon collided with another rocky object in the belt between Mars and Jupiter, shattering the asteroid into billions of pieces. Fragments from the epic collision still occasionally fall to Earth today, making up a large share of the meteorites recovered. But in the immediate wake of the Ordovician event, many pieces rained down on the planet, settling on the surface and in layers of rock forming at the time. In a new study, researchers studying some of these meteorite-rich layers have refined the timescale for the collision. The results bring into question a proposed link between the meteorite bombardment and an evolutionary uptick known as the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (GOBE).

23 May 2017

Are North Atlantic storm tracks shifting south?

As the Arctic warms, decreasing temperature differences between the Arctic and the lower latitudes may push North Atlantic storm systems south. The factors that influence storm tracks are complicated, however, and the accuracy of models predicting future storm tracks is uncertain. The results of a new study, in which researchers looked at changes in Atlantic storm tracks over the past 4,000 years, could improve the accuracy of predictive models and help Europe prepare for shifting storm patterns.

19 May 2017

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