Taxonomy term

march 2012

Tree-climbing hominin with opposable toes co-existed with Lucy

When Lucy and other Australopithecines were walking around Ethiopia 3.4 million years ago, they may have encountered another hominin species that still climbed trees and also walked, but with a gait more like an ape than their bipedal neighbors. The tantalizing new discovery of a few fossil foot bones shows that at least one species retained an opposable big toe, one million years after the grasping feature was thought to have disappeared.

29 Mar 2012

La Niña could set the stage for flu pandemics

In 1918, the Spanish flu spread around the world, claiming between 50 million and 100 million lives — more than 3 percent of the world’s population. The previous fall and winter, La Niña had brought cooler-than-normal sea-surface temperatures to the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. More recently in 2009, swine flu swept across the planet. Again, the widespread outbreak was preceded by La Niña conditions. This link might be more than coincidental, according to new research, and could lead to improved predictions of future pandemics.

26 Mar 2012

Blogging on EARTH: Panelists weigh in on tsunami preparedness policy

“It is not a question of whether it will happen, but when it will happen,” said John Schelling, addressing the room at a Congressional Hazards Caucus briefing last week, as experts discussed the need for more tsunami preparedness in the United States.

23 Mar 2012

Danger in paradise: The hidden hazards of volcano geotourism

In November 2000, rangers at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park made a gruesome discovery. The bodies of a man and a woman, in an advanced state of decomposition, were found near the site where lava from the Kilauea eruption flows into the sea, sending up plumes of scalding white steam. The area, aptly named the Eruption Site, is littered with chunks of tephra, a glassy volcanic rock, which are formed and ejected violently into the air when the 2,000-degree-Celsius lava is quenched by seawater.

19 Mar 2012

Energy Notes: November 2010-2011

Oil and petroleum imports data are preliminary numbers taken from the American Petroleum Institute’s Monthly Statistical Report. For more information visit

19 Mar 2012

Mineral Resource of the Month: Cadmium

The element cadmium was discovered in 1817 by Friedrich Stromeyer, a professor of chemistry at the University of Göttingen in Germany. Stromeyer noticed that a yellowish glow would occur when heat was applied to certain samples of calamine, a zinc-carbonate. This was unusual as the reaction was expected to be colorless. After further testing, Stromeyer deduced that an unknown metallic impurity in the carbonate caused the color change. He called the new metal “cadmium” after “kadmeia,” the Greek word for calamine.

13 Mar 2012

Down to Earth With: Glaciologist Richard Alley

If you don’t know who Richard Alley is, stop reading for a minute and search for him on YouTube. Go on, this can wait. Back? What you likely saw was Alley singing his rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” in which he explains subduction zones, or another similar song. In addition to being something of an Internet sensation for his energetic lectures and songs about geologic processes, Alley is a glaciologist who studies the effects of climate change.

13 Mar 2012

Voices: From Haiti to Japan: A tale of two disaster recoveries

A year ago this month, a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck northern Japan. Two years and two months earlier, on Jan. 12, 2010, a much smaller earthquake devastated Haiti. Both earthquakes occurred on a weekday and in the afternoon, but there is very little else that is similar about these two events or how the countries have recovered.

09 Mar 2012

Quoth the feathered, iridescent Microraptor, Nevermore

Our knowledge of the evolution of feathers in dinosaurs is sketchy, at best, but new research on fossilized feathers is painting a remarkably clear picture of what one species, known as Microraptor, may have looked like — a raven with black iridescent feathers. The findings may have implications for the importance of sexual display in the early origins of feathers.

08 Mar 2012

Undressing Vesta

Researchers find surprising characteristics of the asteroid

Since last July, NASA's Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting the asteroid Vesta and sending back images and other data to the delight and amazement of researchers. Among other surprising characteristics, Vesta has been shown to be one of the most colorful objects in the solar system.

05 Mar 2012