Taxonomy term

april 2017

To find a mate, go big or go small, just don't go medium

The showy features of male animals are often advantageous for attracting mates. Yet these same traits can also prove harmful: A peacock’s long, many-eyed feathers — great for enticing females — can get in the way if a predator gives chase, and a red deer’s elaborate antlers can become stuck in branches, potentially trapping the animal. In a new study, researchers report that a distinctive bimodality in male ornamentation occurs in some species, suggesting that when it comes to successfully courting females, it pays for males to either have the flashiest, most elaborate ornaments, or no such parts at all.

06 Apr 2017

Soil acidity changes quickly from place to place

The acidity of soils, which affects soil fertility, depends largely on a region’s climate. What has been less clear is just how abrupt — or gradual — shifts in acidity are at the boundaries between adjacent regions with different climates. In a new study in Nature, scientists report that acidity transitions are indeed abrupt, and the results may provide a glimpse into how plant communities will evolve as the planet’s climate continues to change.

04 Apr 2017

Ash vs. airplanes

Between 1953 and 2009,* there were 129 reported incidents of airplane-ash encounters, with 79 of those causing some degree of airframe or engine damage. Twenty-six involved significant or severe damage, and nine involved some degree of engine shutdown during flight. Most of the encounters occurred within 24 hours of the onset of ash production during an eruption and within 1,000 kilometers of the source volcano. All flights landed safely.

02 Apr 2017

Of airplanes and ash clouds: What we've learned since Eyjafjallajökull

The havoc created when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull Volcano erupted in 2010 and closed trans-Atlantic and northern European airspace for days also created research opportunities. Scientists, engineers and the airline industry have been working together to figure out how to keep the aviation system going when volcanic ash can’t be avoided.
02 Apr 2017

Warning: Ash Ahead!

One of the next-generation tactics being pursued by engineers is the use of ash-sensing equipment installed on airplanes that could warn of an ash cloud ahead and allow pilots time to adjust their flight path to avoid the cloud. “If you’re driving a car and you see a hazard up ahead, you can navigate around it,” says Fred Prata of the University of Oxford in England. “Every aircraft has radar equipment with which [pilots] can see weather systems and fly around them. This is the same concept, but adapted to image volcanic ash.”

02 Apr 2017

Where on Earth? - April 2017

Where on Earth was this picture taken? Use these clues to guess and submit your answer via mail, email or Web by the last day of the month (April 30, 2017).

01 Apr 2017

Maui reef degradation linked to contamination in coastal groundwater

Submarine groundwater discharge — the flow of fresh and brackish groundwater from land to sea — can transport contaminants to coastal ecosystems. But little is known about the direct impacts of this process on marine communities. In a new study published in PLOS ONE, researchers examined links between land use, water quality and coral reef health at coastal sites around Maui, finding that anthropogenic contaminants delivered via submarine groundwater are a source of chronic stress to nearshore marine ecosystems.

31 Mar 2017

Dental plaque reveals later start date for hominin cooking

Ancient teeth have long been a source of information about ancient diets, mainly through analyses of isotopic compositions and wear patterns. In a new study published in the Science of Nature, researchers studied microfossils of food particles extracted from the teeth of a 1.2-million-year-old unidentified hominin found at the Sima del Elefante site in northern Spain. The microfossils include traces of raw animal tissue, uncooked starch granules from grasses, pollen grains from a species of pine tree and insect fragments. The lack of charring of the recovered fibers and an absence of micro-charcoal suggest the bearer of the teeth neither cooked his or her food nor spent significant time around a fire source.

30 Mar 2017

Down to Earth With: Planetary geologist James W. Head III

In the late 1960s, as James W. Head III was finishing his graduate degree in geology at Brown University in Providence, R.I., he decided one day to take a look at a college placement annual, a phone book-like publication that listed prospective employers according to the types of jobs they had available. When Head looked up geology in the index, he saw several consecutive pages of related listings, as well as one separate page number. Curious about the outlier, Head flipped to it — and never looked back. Covering that entire page was a photo of the moon, a D.C.-area phone number, and a single line of text: “Our job is to think our way to the moon and back.”

29 Mar 2017