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july 2014

Geologic Column: By train or pipeline: That is the question

Transporting hazardous materials like oil on North America’s aging rail networks is risky. But pipelines are also risky. So what’s the best option, given that we must choose one?

25 Jul 2014

Moving cars could help gauge rainfall

Accurate and timely rainfall measurements are crucial for the design of drainage systems, dams and other modern infrastructure. But rain gauges are often spread too sparsely to provide the necessary coverage in densely populated regions. In parts of Germany, for example, gauges equipped to make hourly readings are especially scarce — just one per 1,800 square kilometers. To help fill in the gaps, researchers at the Leibniz University of Hannover are developing an idea they call “RainCars” — using moving cars to measure rainfall.

23 Jul 2014

Rings not just for planets anymore

Saturn is famously circled by halo-like rings of dust and debris, as are Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune. Now, a 250-kilometer-wide rock named Chariklo is breaking up the planetary monopoly and showing that other extraterrestrial bodies can host rings as well.

23 Jul 2014

For toothed whales, ecolocation is an ancient art

A new fossil find shows that toothed whales — including dolphins, orcas and sperm whales — have been using echolocation to navigate in low-visibility waters for millions of years. The discovery of a 28-million-year-old skull belonging to a previously unknown genus of toothed whale suggests that echolocation evolved extremely early in the whale family tree.

22 Jul 2014

Ocean waves explain which La Niña events will linger

Cattle scavenging parched landscapes in search of tufts of crispy grass were the iconic image of the Texas drought in the winter of 2011. Record dry conditions inflicted nearly $8 billion in economic losses on the state’s agricultural sector before April showers brought a scant dose of relief. By fall, however, it became clear that warm, dry weather would return the following winter thanks to a persistent weather pattern in the tropical Pacific known as La Niña.

21 Jul 2014

Unlocking the Cascadia Subduction Zone's secrets: Peering into recent research and findings

Megathrust earthquake hazards drive much of the research into the 1,000-kilometer-long Cascadia Subduction Zone, which lurks off the coast of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. New studies are helping elucidate what is happening off the Pacific Northwest coast.

20 Jul 2014

Pompeii-like eruption fossilized dinosaurs in death poses

In A.D. 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted in Italy, burying the town of Pompeii and entombing its citizens in ash, which preserved their death poses for thousands of years. In northern China, a similar fate seems to have befallen dinosaurs, mammals and early birds. A new study, published in Nature Communications, sheds light on the preservation history of the Jehol Biota — an ancient ecosystem dating to between 130 million and 120 million years ago.

20 Jul 2014

Ancient seawater found in Chesapeake Bay impact crater

The oldest seawater discovered to date — up to 145 million years old — has been found in deep sediments below the Chesapeake Bay impact crater. The highly saline water, a remnant from the ancient North Atlantic Ocean, was likely preserved when a 3-kilometer-wide bolide impacted the Delmarva Peninsula 35 million years ago, altering the region’s underlying structural geology, reported U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Ward Sanford and colleagues in Nature.

19 Jul 2014

Striped pyrites link earthquakes to gold deposition

Many of the world’s richest gold deposits are found in fault zones, where the precious metal is concentrated in quartz veins that cut through the surrounding rock. For several decades, scientists have suspected that earthquakes help form these deposits by releasing pressure and giving metals in mineral-rich hydrothermal fluids in the fault zone a chance to precipitate. But clear evidence for this so-called “fault-valve” process has been hard to come by. Now, researchers studying the geochemical makeup of tiny pyrite crystals from one well-known gold mine appear to have found some long-sought confirmation.

18 Jul 2014

Desert dust influences monsoon rains

India’s summer monsoons are stronger some years and weaker other years. This year-to-year variability dances around the mean by about 10 percent, but that difference can spell disaster in both arid and flood-prone regions. Pollutants and atmospheric circulation have long been blamed for wetter years and drier years, but now a new study has found that desert dust may also play a role.

17 Jul 2014

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