Taxonomy term

june 2017

Down to Earth With: Paleoclimatologist Gifford H. Miller

“Hope for the unexpected.” This motto has pulled paleoclimatologist Gifford H. Miller to remote corners of the world to conduct fieldwork for more than half a century. Miller, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) and associate director of the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research, thrives on the pursuit of knowledge, asking tough questions about the global climate system whose answers have far-reaching implications. But it’s the thrill of unexpected discoveries — of which he’s made many — that keep him returning for more. His discoveries, including the extinction timing of giant birds in Australia, the existence of “zombie mosses” that document the life-cycle of Arctic ice caps, and the finding of lake sediments that tell the story of Iceland’s deglaciation, have led to advances in our understanding of Earth’s climate history and the role humans have played in it.

30 Jun 2017

Martian channels carved by lava, not water?

A complex system of river-like channels on Mars widely thought to have been formed by flowing water could instead have been carved by a huge lava flow, according to a new study. The findings could affect our understanding of how supportive Mars might have been for life in the past.

29 Jun 2017

Evolution of eyes, not limbs, led fish onto land

In the Middle Devonian, roughly 385 million years ago, the first vertebrates began making their way out of water. For these pioneering fish, the adaptation of fins into limbs facilitated the transition. But in a new study, researchers have found that millions of years before fully functional terrestrial limbs evolved, some fish were developing better eyesight — an evolutionary adaptation they suggest gave an advantage to fish hunting insects near the shore.

28 Jun 2017

New cloud types recognized

Familiar clouds like cumulonimbus, cirrocumulus and nimbostratus have some new company. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has published a new edition of its International Cloud Atlas, the first revision since 1987. The updated version — released in digital format for the first time — compiles recent observations and introduces about a dozen new terms, such as “asperitas,” which refers to a cloud whose sweeping undulations resemble the surface of a stormy sea, as well as names for clouds induced by wildfires and by human activity. There is even a new cloud species, “volutus,” which describes long, tube-shaped rolling clouds.

27 Jun 2017

Comment: A moving target: What you need to know about drone regulations

Drones can be useful tools for geoscience teaching and research, but the rules governing their use are evolving. Here’s what you need to know. 
25 Jun 2017

Geomedia: Mixed media: Geo-art collaboration shifts perspectives on earth materials

“Arts and Sciences.” The phrase is familiar to students and faculty on most campuses, often serving as the moniker of colleges or other curricular subdivisions within universities. While the pairing suggests a joint enterprise of some sort between the two fields, it might more aptly be termed, “Arts or Sciences,” as curricula rarely encompass both.

23 Jun 2017

Two ichthyosaurs become one

While dinosaurs ruled on land in the Mesozoic, dolphin-like marine reptiles called ichthyosaurs roamed the oceans. Paleontologists first described the genus in 1821 based on remains discovered in England, naming the first species Ichthyosaurus communis. The description of a second species, I. intermedius, followed in 1822. Although these two species were the earliest-known ichthyosaurs, they are also some of the most poorly understood, as their initial descriptions were based on limited remains.

22 Jun 2017

Platinum may point to impact theory for Younger Dryas

Some large meteorite strikes leave obvious craters on Earth’s surface, while others that hit water or ice or explode in the air may only leave subtle markers in the soil, such as exotic minerals or elevated levels of rare elements like platinum or iridium. In a new study, researchers report spikes of platinum in sediments at archaeological sites across North America, offering new evidence, they suggest, of a major meteorite strike about 12,800 years ago, just before the onset of a global cold period known as the Younger Dryas. The lack of a telltale crater dating to this time, however, has left scientists debating for years whether an impact actually occurred and what, if any, role it had in setting off the cold snap and affecting some of Earth’s human and animal populations.

21 Jun 2017

Rearranging the dinosaur family tree

Dinosaurs have long been grouped into two major clades — Ornithischia and Saurischia — largely based on the shapes of their hips. But new phylogenetic research is shaking up the dinosaur family tree, suggesting the traditional two-branch system needs reorganizing.

20 Jun 2017

The only Earth: Exploring the link between plate tectonics and life on the blue planet

Earth is the only planet known to have plate tectonics and life. Could that be a coincidence? Most geoscientists don't think so. In fact, it seems that plate tectonics is fundamental to life itself.

18 Jun 2017