Taxonomy term

mary caperton morton

Seismic patterns help forecast eruptions from quiet stratovolcanoes

Earth is home to more than 1,500 potentially eruptive volcanoes on land, each with a unique character and history. Predicting when and how a particular volcano may erupt is notoriously difficult, in large part because each eruption is unique. Recent work tracking pre-eruptive seismic behavior beneath two dozen reawakened volcanoes has revealed a distinctive pattern that seismologists may be able to use to assess when — and how violently — a rumbling volcano could blow its top.

24 Nov 2017

Antimony may have poisoned Pompeii's drinking water

The ancient Romans may have had advanced water distribution systems, but the water pipes they used were highly toxic. Many Roman-era water pipes were lined with lead, leading some archaeologists to suspect a public health crisis among Romans that may have contributed to the empire’s eventual fall. But others point out that the high levels of calcium carbonate in the Romans’ water supply would have quickly coated the pipes with scale, limiting the exposure of drinking water to lead. However, a new study suggests lead wasn’t the only concern: A sample of pipe from Pompeii dating to A.D. 79 has shown that the Italian city’s drinking water may have also contained alarmingly high levels of antimony. Antimony is an acutely poisonous element, ingestion of which can lead to severe vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and/or death from ailments such as kidney failure and cardiac arrhythmia.

23 Nov 2017

Imaging Iceland's volcanic roots

Home to more than 30 active volcanoes, Iceland is one of the most vigorous volcanic settings on Earth. A new look at the core-mantle boundary thousands of kilometers below the island is offering one of the most complete pictures yet of how Iceland’s volcanoes are fueled.

21 Nov 2017

Alaskan subduction zone mirrors Tohoku zone that unleashed tsunami

In 2011, a large swath of coastal Japan was devastated and more than 15,000 people were killed when the magnitude-9.1 Tohoku earthquake unleashed massive tsunami waves that inundated land with run-up heights of 30 meters in places. In a new study, researchers have discovered that the seafloor off the Alaska Peninsula exhibits structures and fault patterns similar to the region where the Tohoku quake originated — a finding that may indicate a higher tsunami risk for coastal Alaska than previously thought.

20 Nov 2017

Marine megafaunal extinction discovered

Extinctions of large land animals during the Pleistocene are well documented. In a new study, scientists report that marine megafauna also suffered severe losses several million years ago, around the time that the first hominid ancestors were emerging in Africa.

17 Nov 2017

Humans arrived Down Under earlier than thought

Analysis of sediments surrounding a trove of artifacts discovered in northern Australia suggests the first humans arrived on the continent about 10,000 years earlier than previously thought, a finding that has implications for the hypothesized role of humans in the extinctions of Australian megafauna.

07 Nov 2017

When agriculture went to our heads

The dawn of agriculture left an indelible mark on early human societies, and a new study finds that eating softer, cultivated foods subtly changed the shape of human skulls. Scientists have long suspected that the transition from hunting and foraging to farming and raising livestock would have affected our skulls, specifically the mandible and other anatomy involved in chewing, but quantifying such changes has proven difficult.

01 Nov 2017

Northern Finns didn't starve during Little Ice Age

Today, Finland’s Northern Ostrobothnia region is one of the northernmost places in Europe that can support agriculture. But how this region fared during the Little Ice Age — a period of globally cooler temperatures that lasted roughly from A.D. 1300 to 1850 — is unknown. Scientists assume the climatic cooling would have adversely affected food supplies. Now, however, the discovery of a mysterious medieval cemetery in northern Finland dating to the middle of the Little Ice Age is offering clues that the inhabitants were well fed and well suited to the northern clime.

31 Oct 2017

Another whiptail dinosaur added to sauropod family tree

With their massive size, long necks and whip-like tails, the sauropods are one of the most recognizable dinosaur groups. They grew as large as 100 metric tons, and it seems their huge frames were an effective adaptation: The sauropods were among the most diverse dinosaur groups, with more than 15 species known from North America alone. That list is now one species longer, with the identification of a new species based on a specimen found in Wyoming in 1995.

25 Oct 2017

Can distant earthquakes trigger submarine landslides?

Large earthquakes can nudge both nearby and distant faults closer to failure, sometimes setting off additional earthquakes halfway around the world. New evidence from the Cascadia Subduction Zone suggests that large seismic events can also trigger submarine landslides, called turbidity currents, perhaps as far as 13,500 kilometers away. If true, researchers say such long-distance connections could complicate interpretations of paleoseismic records from the Cascadia margin and elsewhere that rely on data from turbidites — the stratified remains of the underwater slides — to piece together when past local earthquakes occurred. But not everyone is convinced that long-distance landslide triggering is possible.

23 Oct 2017