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mary caperton morton

Fossil reefs show sea level rose in bursts

Off the coast of Texas, a collection of fossil coral reefs sits under 60 meters of water — relics from 20,000 years ago, when the sea surface was much lower than today. In a new study, researchers created high-resolution maps of the reefs that suggest they drowned as sea levels rose in rapid bursts — each lasting decades to centuries — instead of at a steady rate, as has long been assumed.

06 Feb 2018

Ice age didn't freeze Florida's category 5 hurricanes

A new study looking at turbidites off the coast of Florida shows that category 5 hurricanes may still have battered Florida even during the chilly conditions of the Younger Dryas, about 12,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age.

01 Feb 2018

Looking under Lusi: Indonesian mud volcano linked to nearby volcanic complex

On May 29, 2006, a massive mud eruption in East Java, Indonesia, began spewing as much as 180,000 cubic meters — the volume of 72 Olympic-sized swimming pools — of hot muddy debris each day from several vents, quickly burying nearby villages and forcing the relocation of more than 60,000 people. Almost 12 years later, the eruption, nicknamed Lusi, continues to produce more than 80,000 cubic meters of mud a day, and nobody knows how long the oozing will continue. In a new study, however, scientists have gotten the clearest look yet of the roots of the mud volcano and its possible connection to a nearby volcanic complex that may be driving the eruption.

01 Feb 2018

Mediterranean tsunami record may be overreported

Tsunamis are one of the most destructive natural hazards on Earth, sometimes even upstaging the major earthquakes that send the waves surging across entire ocean basins. Knowing when, where and how severely tsunamis have struck coastlines in the past is valuable for countries trying to prepare for the impacts of future tsunamis. But distinguishing tsunami deposits in geologic paleorecords from deposits left by more common storm waves is notoriously difficult. Researchers recently highlighted this challenge by taking a hard look at tsunami- and storm-wave records around the Mediterranean Sea over the last 4,500 years. The findings may serve as a cautionary tale for scientists interpreting tsunami records elsewhere in the world.

18 Jan 2018

Small warm ponds: Ideal incubators for first life?

The first embers of life are thought to have emerged on Earth between 4.5 billion and 3.7 billion years ago, but how and where the initial sparks arose remains a mystery. Two leading theories suggest that the first self-replicating molecules — a necessity for life — may have gotten a start either in deep-ocean hydrothermal vents or in small warm ponds on land. In a new study, researchers suggest that the wet-dry cycles occurring in small, seasonal ponds would have made a better natural incubator.

17 Jan 2018

It's an asteroid, no wait, a comet, no wait…

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has spied a unique object in the debris-filled asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter: a pair of asteroids — orbiting tightly around each other — that also show comet-like characteristics, including a bright halo of ice and dust known as a coma and a long tail of dust. The odd object, called 2006 VW139/288P, is the first known binary asteroid that is also classified as a main-belt comet.

12 Jan 2018

In feats of tectonic strength, grain size matters

Plate tectonics involves some of the most powerful forces on Earth, but the lithosphere, of which the plates are made, is not infinitely strong: Weaknesses in the lithosphere allow it to break apart and form plate boundaries. Determining the strength of tectonic plates based on field observations has proved tricky, however, due to the sheer scale of plates, while experiments and calculations in the lab on olivine — the main mineral that makes up the lithosphere — have depicted plates as misleadingly strong. In a new lab-based study, researchers have taken a novel approach to testing olivine’s strength, and the results fit existing models of plate tectonics better than previous efforts.

04 Jan 2018

Fossilized dinosaur feces reveal flexitarian diet

Fossilized feces tell paleontologists a lot about what dinosaurs ate. Some unusual coprolites discovered in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument may indicate that normally herbivorous dinosaurs occasionally ate crustaceans.

03 Jan 2018

Science meets art: Tiny trilobite gets huge makeover

At less than a centimeter in size, Agnostus pisiformis might not look like much, but a new series of larger-than-life sculptures is giving the arthropod its due as one of the most ubiquitous and recognizable Cambrian fossils.

01 Jan 2018

Turkey DNA reveals Mesa Verde denizens moved to New Mexico

The Mesa Verde region of southern Colorado was home to as many as 30,000 Puebloans through the middle of the 13th century, until severe drought drove them south into New Mexico, ending the cliff dwellers’ reign. In a new study, researchers have charted this mass migration using mitochondrial DNA from a novel source: turkey bones from the domesticated birds kept by Puebloans in both Mesa Verde and northern New Mexico.

28 Dec 2017

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