Taxonomy term

february 2017

Burning grass releases more nitrogen pollution than burning wood

Smoke from fires — whether from wildfires or from residential and agricultural grass and crop burning — carries pollutants into the air that affect climate and can be toxic to humans and ecosystems. According to new research, smoke from crop and grass fires appears to contain higher levels of some hazardous nitrogen-containing chemicals than wood fire smoke. The work also calls into question whether certain chemicals commonly used as distinctive signatures of biomass burning are still valid.

06 Feb 2017

Benchmarks: February 5, 1931 and February 20, 1935: Antarctic firsts for women

We can only guess what Caroline Mikkelsen was thinking on Feb. 20, 1935, as she sipped her coffee, resting on a rocky hillside surrounded by the noise and stink of thousands of Adélie penguins. Minutes before, she had become the first woman to set foot in Antarctica and had helped hoist the Norwegian flag into place atop a rock cairn, claiming Norway’s influence in the land. Was she thrilled? Proud? Did she care about the significance of her presence there? We don’t know — little was recorded about the event; and most of what was recorded was lost for decades, resigning the episode, for a time, to footnote status amid the annals of a continent shrouded in mystery and a culture of polar exploration enraptured by the heroic and masculine deeds of the male explorers who had come before.

05 Feb 2017

A mysterious first

Women sailed around the sub-Antarctic islands well before Caroline Mikkelsen or Ingrid Christensen’s journeys, usually accompanying their sailor husbands. Maori navigators are known to have traveled these waters for centuries. 

05 Feb 2017

Small floods can carve big canyons

Through the early 20th century, geologists argued over how the giant canyons of the Channeled Scablands in Eastern Washington were formed. Ultimately, a theory proposed by J Harlen Bretz in the 1920s — that the canyons were carved by catastrophic, short-lived outbursts of floodwaters unleashed when natural dams holding back glacial lakes collapsed — was shown to be correct. Controversy still exists, though, about the size of these ancient floods.

03 Feb 2017

Geomedia: Books: Exploring "The Worst of Times"

Every reader of this magazine knows something about mass extinctions. But few of us know as much as Paul B. Wignall, a professor of paleoenvironments at the University of Leeds in England who studies mass extinctions. In 1997, he co-authored with Anthony Hallam a scholarly volume titled “Mass Extinctions and their Aftermath.” Now, his first book aimed at a popular audience, “The Worst of Times: How Life on Earth Survived Eighty Million Years of Extinctions,” has been issued in paperback.

02 Feb 2017

Robotic mussels track temperature change

Among the crashing waves of rocky shorelines, tiny robotic mussels are providing scientists with insight into climate change impacts on marine life. The battery-powered “biomimics” hide among real mussels, with internal thermometers to estimate temperatures of their nearby living neighbors. Mussels’ body temperatures are changing with solar radiation, cloud cover and wind speed, says Brian Helmuth, a marine ecologist from Northeastern University in Boston. Because of this, the mussels’ body temperatures are generally much higher than the temperature of the surrounding air during exposure at low tide.

01 Feb 2017

Where on Earth? - February 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 (February 28, 2017).

01 Feb 2017

Fungi stabilize steep slopes

The steep slopes of Switzerland’s high Alps are unstable — with loose soil and few plants — which poses hazards such as shallow landslides. In a new study, researchers have found that the symbiosis between plant roots and mycorrhizal fungi helps ground gravelly hillsides, suggesting a possible eco-engineering tool to stabilize the slopes.

30 Jan 2017

Temblor: An app that brings home your seismic hazard

The public has a serious thirst for seismic knowledge. But the language that matters to homeowners is dollars and safety. Temblor was founded with the goal of making seismic resilience personal and the language accessible.
30 Jan 2017

Early birds quacked

Researchers have found the oldest-known avian voice box from an ancient bird that lived more than 66 million years ago. Scientists found the vocal structure, called a syrinx, while examining the fossil remains of a specimen of Vegavis iaai, a Late Cretaceous diving bird similar to modern ducks and geese. The finding suggests that the prehistoric bird may have “quacked” like modern ducks, says Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at the University of Texas at Austin and lead author of the new study in Nature.

27 Jan 2017