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lucas joel

Benitoite: A rare gemstone

The tectonic forces that formed Pinnacles also helped form one of the world’s rarest gemstones: benitoite. Gem-quality specimens are only found in San Benito County where Pinnacles National Park is located. Benitoite, which is California’s state gemstone, has a deep azure color, a pyramidal crystal habit, and a light-blue fluorescence under ultraviolet light. 
 
10 Jan 2016

Rainbows reclassified

Rainbows — those arches of color that streak across wet skies — are recognizable to almost everyone. Our understanding of rainbows, though, particularly how they form and the diversity of shapes they can take, is still fuzzy.

21 Dec 2015

Is aviation 'whitening' the sky?

Clear blue skies may not be as clear as they appear. Skies are actually becoming less clear, causing incoming sunlight to scatter in different directions, rather than striking the planet directly — and aviation may be to blame, according to research presented this week at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco.

17 Dec 2015

Narratives from Nepal: Relief and rebuilding after the Gorkha Earthquake

When a magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, mountaineer Ben Erdmann was on a climbing expedition on Annapurna; meanwhile, seismologist Susan Hough and engineer Ajay Sitaula were at home in California and Colorado, respectively, watching the disaster unfold. Soon after, all would be on the ground in Nepal, involved in relief efforts or working to assess what happened — especially why the quake did not do as much damage as scientists expected it would.

06 Dec 2015

Working near Gorkha's epicenter

Hari Krishna Bhattarai works for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Nepal, as well as for Educating Nepal, an organization that aims to improve the education of Nepali schoolchildren. On Friday, April 24, Bhattarai was working at a field site in Gorkha, tending to various WWF-related projects and working with locals in the Gorkha region. The next day, April 25, was a Nepalese public holiday, so Bhattarai returned to his home city, Pokhara, near the Annapurna Massif. The Gorkha quake struck Saturday, doing little damage to Pokhara. On Monday, Bhattarai returned to the area near Barpak, where he had been working, to deliver relief supplies like beans and rice. 
 
06 Dec 2015

Down to Earth With: Paleobiologist Nigel Hughes

I first met Nigel Hughes, a paleobiologist at the University of California at Riverside (UCR), in 2010. He took me on a brisk walk through the UCR Botanical Gardens, where the trees kept us cool in the hot Southern California sun while he told me all about trilobites. 
 
03 Dec 2015

Warty algae-like sheets survived Snowball Earth events

Between about 730 million and 635 million years ago, during the Cryogenian Period of the Late Proterozoic, Earth is thought to have been almost completely covered in ice twice, events that scientists have termed “Snowball Earth” glaciations. The first global glaciation, the Sturtian, lasted from 730 million to 700 million years ago, and the second, the Marinoan, lasted from 660 million to 635 million years ago. Both glaciations likely put severe limitations on the ability of life — predominately microorganisms — to thrive. 
 
19 Nov 2015

Ancient lakes may have been refuges for early life

All life needs nitrogen to build essential molecules like proteins, RNA and DNA. And to acquire nitrogen, cells need molybdenum. But molybdenum is thought to have been very scarce in Mesoproterozoic oceans 1.6 billion to 1 billion years ago, potentially stalling the evolution and diversification of life in this period, which was then entirely microscopic. New research, however, is revealing that lakes during this time contained relatively high levels of molybdenum, suggesting life may have continued evolving in those settings.
 
03 Nov 2015

The quake's impact on western thinking

The quake occurred on All Saints’ Day, and it destroyed almost every major church in Lisbon. This sparked debate among theologians about whether disasters like earthquakes were acts of divine judgment, or whether they should be seen more as indiscriminate natural phenomena.
 
01 Nov 2015

Benchmarks: November 1, 1755: Earthquake destroys Lisbon

Today, the Carmo Convent in Lisbon, Portugal, stands half destroyed; the walls remain, but the roof has been gone for 260 years. On the morning of Nov. 1, 1755, the church was packed with people attending mass for All Saints’ Day, a Catholic holiday. At about 9:30 a.m., the ground heaved, and the church’s roof fell. A magnitude-8.7 earthquake had struck. Churchgoers not crushed by falling debris fled into the streets. Across the city, candles, stoves and oil lamps fell, igniting fires that eventually burned down about half the city. Along with the shaking, the fires drove people to the banks of the Tagus River — Lisbon’s main river — and to the city’s harbor, where many boarded ships in search of safety. About 45 minutes after the shaking began, however, a 5- to 10-meter-tall tsunami entered the Tagus from the Atlantic Ocean, smashing ships against one another and against the sea walls surrounding the city.
 
01 Nov 2015

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