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mary caperton morton

Dating of landslides around Oso reveals recurring patterns

On March 22, 2014, after a period of heavy rain, a hillside near the town of Oso, Wash., collapsed, sending 7.6 million cubic meters of mud and debris across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, destroying a rural neighborhood and killing 43 people. The slide took Oso residents by surprise, but scientists say the event was not altogether unexpected, as evidence for dozens of past landslides can be found throughout the Stillaguamish River Valley. New research suggests that large slides have occurred in the Oso vicinity even more frequently than previously suspected.

07 Jun 2016

Underwater Roman marble traced to Greece, Italy and Turkey

From the first century B.C. to the third century A.D., the city of Baiae, located on the west coast of Italy, near Naples, was the preferred summer home of Roman emperors, including Augustus and Nero. The once-grand city now lies under more than 5 meters of water due to coastal subsidence, and is preserved as the Underwater Archaeological Park of Baiae. Researchers have now traced the opulent city’s white marble floors to some of the most famous quarries in Italy, Greece and Turkey.

03 Jun 2016

Ancient Indonesian tools made by mysterious inhabitants

The island of Sulawesi is one link in a chain of islands between mainland Asia and Australia, and was likely an important stepping stone in human dispersal from Eurasia through Oceania to Australia. Previous research has placed modern humans on Sulawesi as early as 40,000 years ago, but scientists have now dated a set of stone tools to at least 118,000 years ago, suggesting humans occupied the island far earlier than thought.

01 Jun 2016

Surprise quake at Mount Fuji triggered by rising gases

On March 15, 2011, four days after the magnitude-9 Tohoku megathrust earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, a magnitude-5.9 earthquake shook the southern flank of Mount Fuji. Seismicity has been rare at the volcano since its last eruption in 1707, leading many researchers to suspect that the Fuji quake — which hit about 300 kilometers southwest of the megaquake — was remotely triggered by the Tohoku event. In a new study, scientists looking at the volcano’s underlying structure and plumbing have offered a potential mechanism for how Tohoku’s shaking could have touched off the Fuji earthquake: through rising gas-rich fluids released from the magma chamber beneath the volcano.

27 May 2016

Lack of fungi did not lead to copious Carboniferous coal

The Carboniferous Period is famous for supplying Earth with an abundance of coal deposits. According to one hypothesis, the formation of all this coal is explained by a proposed 60-million-year gap, or lag, between the spread of the forests globally about 360 million years ago and the rise of wood-eating microbes and fungi that could break down tough plant matter. But a new study refutes this idea, instead attributing the Carboniferous’ copious coal to the consolidation of the supercontinent Pangea.

25 May 2016

Double trouble: Volcanic eruption leads to strong earthquake eight months later

In January 2002, Nyiragongo Volcano erupted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, killing more than 100 people. Eight months later and 19 kilometers to the south, a magnitude-6.2 earthquake shook the Lake Kivu region, partially destroying the town of Kalehe. Now, scientists have determined that the two events were linked, and their results highlight a newly observed trigger for strong earthquakes near active volcanoes.

24 May 2016

Giant icebergs spur carbon storage in Southern Ocean

A new study shows that giant icebergs floating in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica may be playing a larger role in carbon sequestration and Earth’s global carbon cycle than previously thought.

19 May 2016

Underwater archaeology reveals pre-Clovis people butchered mastodon in Florida

Evidence has been mounting for cultures older than the Clovis people, with archaeological sites and artifacts older than 14,000 years found as far south as Chile and genetic evidence dating the first incursions into North America to about 15,000 years ago. Now, a new study reporting on an underwater archaeological excavation at a site in Florida that dates to 14,550 years ago is adding more evidence of pre-Clovis people, and shedding light on how they may have spread across the Americas.

13 May 2016

Did the Medieval Warm Period welcome Vikings to Greenland?

Vikings are often depicted as hardy folk and fearsome warriors, but they were not immune to the harsh realities of the northern latitudes. Archaeological evidence suggests that Viking migrations around the North Atlantic were highly influenced by climate, with new settlements being colonized during warm periods and abruptly abandoned during colder times. However, according to a new study of glacial movements in Greenland during the time of Viking occupation, the local climate may have been just as cold when the Vikings arrived as when they left 400 years later. The finding may further shrink the area thought to have been affected by the Medieval Warm Period.

09 May 2016

Looking for life in coldest, driest Antarctica

Antarctica is nicknamed the “White Continent,” but one site — University Valley in the continent’s McMurdo Dry Valleys region — has remained virtually snow-free for more than 150,000 years, making it the coldest, driest desert on Earth. For the past four years, researchers involved in NASA’s ASTEP (Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets) program searched for signs of life in the valley because it is thought to closely resemble the northern polar regions of Mars where the Phoenix spacecraft landed in 2008. In a new study, though, the team reports that it came up empty-handed, confirming that University Valley is indeed one of the least-habitable places on Earth.

05 May 2016