Taxonomy term

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El Nino "flavors" affect California rainfall

Twenty years ago, the 1997–98 El Niño surpassed the 1982–83 event to become the strongest El Niño ever recorded, contributing to famine and drought in Southeast Asia, devastating floods in Southern California, and other natural disasters. By many metrics, the 2015–16 El Niño bested both to claim the title of the strongest El Niño on record. This most recent event, nicknamed the “Godzilla El Niño,” did contribute to extreme weather in parts of the world, including disastrous fires in Indonesia and the longest, global coral-bleaching event on record. However, it did not have the anticipated effect on California, which, at the time, was in the midst of a severe multi-year drought. In a recent study, researchers suggest the 2015–16 El Niño was the wrong “flavor” to bring heavy precipitation to the state.

13 May 2018

Rising waters sink seafloors

Predicting how much the ocean surface will rise in the coming years requires complicated, global-scale bookkeeping of the many factors that affect sea levels. In a new study, scientists have, for the first time, quantified the role of ocean-bottom deformation — the gradual deepening of ocean basins under the weight of more water — in both global and regional sea-level rise, an effort that may help produce more accurate sea-level projections.

13 May 2018

Geologic evidence confirms existence of 405,000-year Milankovitch cycle

Earth’s rock record preserves evidence of numerous natural processes, from evolution and extinction to catastrophes and climate change, and sometimes even planetary configurations. In a new study, a well-preserved sequence of Triassic lake sediments bearing evidence of cyclical patterns of climate change in the Newark Basin confirms the existence of a Milankovitch cycle — a periodic change in the shape of Earth’s orbit caused by, in this case, Earth’s gravitational interactions with Jupiter and Venus. The finding can be used to precisely date other events in the geological record, and inform climate and astronomical models.

11 May 2018

Flightless dino had bright, rainbow-colored feathers

In recent years, many dinosaurs have gotten a fabulously feathered makeover, but for the most part, scientists still aren’t sure what colors the animals were. A new discovery of a finely preserved feathered dinosaur fossil in China suggests that some dinosaurs were as brightly colored as modern-day hummingbirds.

10 May 2018

Ice (Re)Cap: May 2018

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.

02 May 2018

New map of Titan shows moon's hidden surface

Before NASA’s Cassini mission, which ended in 2017 after 13 years orbiting Saturn, little was known about the surface of the planet’s largest moon, Titan, as most of its features lie obscured under a dense, opaque atmosphere composed mainly of nitrogen gas. However, thanks to special filters that enabled Cassini’s cameras to see through the haze, the spacecraft captured high-resolution images of about 9 percent of Titan’s surface, with 25 to 30 percent of the moon imaged in lower resolution. Researchers have now used an algorithm to interpolate the remainder of the moon’s surface and create the most complete global topographic map of Titan yet.

01 May 2018

How Borneo got its elephants

Elephants may not seem like islanders, but a small population lives on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo. How and when the animals arrived on the island has long been a mystery. A new DNA analysis points to colonization at the end of the Pleistocene, when a land bridge may have connected Java, Borneo and Sumatra to the Malay Peninsula and mainland Asia.

28 Apr 2018

Lidar preserves record of destroyed theropod tracks

In 2011, the first theropod dinosaur tracks ever discovered in Arkansas were uncovered at an active gypsum quarry near Nashville in the southwestern part of the state. Over two weeks, researchers collected a set of high-resolution digital scans of the trackway that has now allowed scientists to piece together its 100-million-year-old story, even though the tracks have long-since been destroyed by mining operations.

26 Apr 2018

Origins of plant photosynthesis illuminated

Photosynthesis, the process by which plants harness sunlight to make their food, is a defining feature of plants and an important evolutionary development. But when photosynthesis evolved in ancient plant ancestors is not clear. The Precambrian fossil red alga Bangiomorpha pubescens, discovered in the Canadian Arctic in 1990 by University of Cambridge paleobiologist Nicholas Butterfield, displays evidence of traits that suggest it photosynthesized the way plants do, but the exact age of the fossil was also unknown. In a new study, researchers report an age for the alga of about 1.047 billion years, making it the oldest-known direct ancestor of plants.

25 Apr 2018

Radium levels suggest Arctic Ocean chemistry is changing

Rising temperatures have already caused changes in the Arctic environment, like diminishing sea ice and thawing permafrost. Now, it appears that sea-ice loss could be throwing Arctic Ocean chemistry out of whack.

24 Apr 2018

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