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Pluto's surprising dunes

Images and data sent back by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its flyby mission to Pluto (and beyond) show a series of regularly spaced linear ridges sandwiched between a mountain range and Sputnik Planitia, a vast plain of nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane ice. “When we first saw the New Horizons images, we thought instantly that these were dunes, but it was really surprising because we know there is not much of an atmosphere [on Pluto],” said Jani Radebaugh, a planetary scientist at Brigham Young University and co-author of a study in Science announcing the findings, in a statement.

10 Oct 2018

Where will the San Andreas Fault rupture next?

In 1906, the San Andreas Fault Zone ruptured, and the shaking that followed brought the city of San Francisco to its knees. Buildings toppled and fires raged and, in the end, more than 3,000 people died as a result. Since then, Californians have often wondered aloud when and where the next “Big One” will strike. Geologists do not know the answers, but recent research has offered a new clue: Field mapping of the San Andreas’ southernmost reaches, near the Salton Sea, reveals a type of fault structure that researchers think may be just right for triggering a big earthquake.

08 Oct 2018

Earth's first footprints

As far as we know, life originated on Earth about 3.5 billion years ago, and for roughly the first 3 billion years of that history all life was microscopic. Then, during the Ediacaran Period from 635 million to 541 million years ago, the first organisms visible to the naked eye emerged. Although many members of this group, called the Ediacara biota, would have looked alien to us, some nonetheless had features we might find familiar. And according to a new study, it was Ediacaran creatures that left behind Earth’s oldest-known footprints.

05 Oct 2018

Methane emissions offset some blue carbon burial benefits

Wetlands are prolific sinks for atmospheric carbon. They pull carbon dioxide out of the air and sequester the carbon in plants, soils and sediments. But there’s a catch: Wetlands also emit methane, an even more potent, albeit far less abundant, greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Two new studies, one measuring methane emissions from a rehabilitated freshwater peatland in California and the other looking at emissions from tropical mangrove forests in Australia, are revealing that these so-called “blue carbon” sinks may emit much more methane than previously thought.

03 Oct 2018

Dry rivers secretly star in carbon cycle

In arid environments, some seasonal rivers and streams spend more time as dry riverbeds than they do as flowing waterways. A new study is giving scientists a clearer understanding of how these intermittently dry streambeds contribute to the global carbon cycle.

02 Oct 2018

Sunny Southern California burns, missing its coastal clouds

Coastal Southern California is famous for cloudless blue skies all summer long, but it hasn’t always been that way. A new study indicates that cloud cover has decreased dramatically over the beaches between Los Angeles and San Diego since the 1970s. And that could affect fires in the region.

01 Oct 2018

New measurement shakes up earthquake estimates

As tectonic plates collide and sink in subduction zones, huge megathrust earthquakes can produce devastation above. Yet, there are many unknown factors that control how much energy is released in each earthquake. Now, a team of scientists has come up with a new model to help crack the complexity and nature of megathrust earthquakes using global historical records.

13 Sep 2018

Ice (Re)Cap: September 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. 

07 Sep 2018

Ocean tide size linked to supercontinent cycle

Daily tides are driven primarily by Earth’s rotation and the gravitational force of the moon on oceans. However, in a new study in Geophysical Research Letters, researchers suggest that tidal magnitudes are also influenced, on longer timescales, by the size and shape of the ocean basins, and are therefore driven by plate tectonics.

07 Sep 2018

Obliquity and eccentricity determine exoplanet habitability

Finding habitable Earth-like planets may be even more challenging than previously thought, suggests a recent Astronomical Journal study looking at how the planetary obliquity, or tilt relative to an orbital axis, and orbital eccentricity affect the habitability of planets orbiting G-dwarf stars — which are similar to the sun.

05 Sep 2018

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