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News

Bottom dropping out of coral reefs

Coral reefs provide habitat for 25 percent of all marine life, support fishing and tourism economies, and protect shorelines from surging waves and storms. But since the 1970s, coral populations have been waning because of warming waters, coastal development and pollution. Recently, scientists studying several beleaguered reef systems have discovered an unexpected consequence of their decline — the seafloor around the reefs is eroding, leaving coastal communities more vulnerable to high winds and waves.

17 Jul 2017

Ice (Re)Cap: July 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 Jul 2017

New global volcanic emissions map debuts

Volcanoes may not always be erupting ash or lava, but that doesn’t mean they’re not venting other materials. Many, in fact, continuously spew gases like carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide into the air. In a new study, volcanologists compiled data tracking such releases, collected by NASA’s Aura satellite, into the first global map of volcanic sulfur dioxide emissions.

13 Jul 2017

Hangover echinoderms survived the Great Dying

The end-Permian extinction event was disastrous for a wide range of organisms on land and in the sea, with as many as 70 percent of terrestrial and 81 percent of marine species dying off. One of the hardest hit marine phyla was the echinoderms, which today includes sea urchins and starfish. Echinoderms are thought to have suffered one of the most severe population reductions in evolutionary history, with only a few members surviving to repopulate the oceans in the Triassic. But in a new study, researchers have identified Triassic fossils from a handful of “hangover” species whose ancestors were previously thought to have gone extinct at the end of the Permian, suggesting the extinction wasn’t quite as cataclysmic for echinoderms as paleontologists have suspected.

12 Jul 2017

Precambrian rumblings of the Cambrian Explosion

The Cambrian Explosion, when the ancestors of most of today’s animal groups began appearing in the fossil record about 542 million years ago, was — as the name suggests — a geologically abrupt event. Paleontologists have long thought of the event as marking a boundary between distinct Precambrian and Cambrian faunas. In new research published in Geology, however, scientists report that small, shelly fossils once thought to occur only in Cambrian rocks have been found in rocks dating to the late Ediacaran, just before the Cambrian, implying an earlier start to the explosion than previously thought.

11 Jul 2017

Magnetic method dates glacial floods in Iceland

In Iceland, volcanoes buried under glaciers occasionally melt huge quantities of ice, setting off massive glacial floods called jökulhlaups. Dating past jökulhlaups helps geologists better understand the eruptive history of Iceland’s many active volcanoes, which, in turn, sheds light on future volcanic hazards. But such dating is no easy task. A new study of magnetic minerals preserved in large boulders moved by floodwaters might provide a new tool in the effort.

07 Jul 2017

Bipedalism left its mark on human skull: Kangaroos and upright rodents show same signs

The transition to bipedal walking in our ancestors changed the hominin skeleton in many ways. New research looking at how upright walking affected the structures at the base of the skull in both early humans and other bipedal mammals, like kangaroos, is shedding light on a once-controversial marker for bipedalism.

04 Jul 2017

More than a nuisance: Over time, small floods cost more than extreme events

Devastating storms like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy dominate public attention when they hit, causing massive amounts of damage from high winds and waters. But small floods driven by rising seas may end up costing some coastal areas more in the long run. According to a new study published in the journal Earth’s Future, the cumulative property damage from these so-called nuisance floods could eventually match or exceed costs from rare extreme storms.

03 Jul 2017

Martian channels carved by lava, not water?

A complex system of river-like channels on Mars widely thought to have been formed by flowing water could instead have been carved by a huge lava flow, according to a new study. The findings could affect our understanding of how supportive Mars might have been for life in the past.

29 Jun 2017

Evolution of eyes, not limbs, led fish onto land

In the Middle Devonian, roughly 385 million years ago, the first vertebrates began making their way out of water. For these pioneering fish, the adaptation of fins into limbs facilitated the transition. But in a new study, researchers have found that millions of years before fully functional terrestrial limbs evolved, some fish were developing better eyesight — an evolutionary adaptation they suggest gave an advantage to fish hunting insects near the shore.

28 Jun 2017

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