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mary caperton morton

Dental plaque reveals later start date for hominin cooking

Ancient teeth have long been a source of information about ancient diets, mainly through analyses of isotopic compositions and wear patterns. In a new study published in the Science of Nature, researchers studied microfossils of food particles extracted from the teeth of a 1.2-million-year-old unidentified hominin found at the Sima del Elefante site in northern Spain. The microfossils include traces of raw animal tissue, uncooked starch granules from grasses, pollen grains from a species of pine tree and insect fragments. The lack of charring of the recovered fibers and an absence of micro-charcoal suggest the bearer of the teeth neither cooked his or her food nor spent significant time around a fire source.

30 Mar 2017

Seafloor volcanism linked to glacial cycles

Eruptions from seafloor volcanoes and cycles of global glaciations may seem unrelated, but new research suggests otherwise, indicating that pulses of volcanism at mid-ocean ridges might have influenced glacial and interglacial periods during the latter half of the Pleistocene.

28 Mar 2017

El Niño gets animated

In the winter of 1997 and 1998, a powerful El Niño pattern in the Pacific Ocean caused billions of dollars in damage from flooding and extreme weather worldwide. Now, a new animation of the event is highlighting the complex feedbacks that conspired to create such a devastating climate cycle.

24 Mar 2017

Tectonics trigger underwater volcanism

In 2006, a large eruption occurred on the seafloor about 1,000 kilometers off the coast of Mexico. Geochemical dating of the erupted lava suggested the event went on for up to 10 months. Now, researchers taking a closer look at seismic and audio recordings made during the event have found that the eruption likely occurred over a much shorter period — a matter of days instead of months. The findings shed light on the sequence of events leading up to the event, as well as on the mechanisms of such seafloor eruptions.

21 Mar 2017

Early spring thaw triggers Arctic greenhouse gas release

During the few short months of Arctic summer, plants and animals race to grow and reproduce, fueling the most active time in the Arctic carbon cycle. But in a new study, researchers examining one corner of the Arctic demonstrate that ecosystems in the icy north aren’t entirely shut down during the offseason, with pulses of carbon dioxide and methane released some years starting during the first spring thaw.

19 Mar 2017

Gravity changes may warn of large earthquakes

Large earthquakes alter the planet’s gravitational field by displacing big portions of the crust. In a new study looking at earthquake-induced gravity signals produced by Japan’s magnitude-9 Tohoku quake in 2011, researchers conclude that such signals may prove useful in earthquake early warning systems.

10 Mar 2017

Tiny fish illuminates tooth fairy mystery

When kids lose their milk teeth, the roots shrivel up and just the outer enamel falls out — a process known as basal resorption. Now, the discovery of a tiny jawbone from a 424-million-year-old fossil fish is shedding light on the origin of our modern mode of tooth replacement.

08 Mar 2017

Early Pacific seafarers set sail in El Niño years

Even with modern airplanes and ships, the far-flung islands of Tonga, Samoa, Hawaii, Micronesia and Fiji are difficult to reach. Thousands of years ago, the seafarers who first settled the islands had a much more arduous journey, sailing thousands of kilometers and navigating by the stars. According to a new study, these intrepid travelers may have gotten a boost from weather associated with El Niño-Southern Oscillation patterns, which sweep through the Pacific every three to seven years.

27 Feb 2017

Early fossils demonstrate dinosaurs' slow rise

Dinosaurs were so dominant through much of the Mesozoic that it’s easy to forget that wasn’t always the case. The discovery of a specimen of an early small dinosaur alongside a lagerpetid — a precursor to the dinosaurs — is giving scientists a glimpse into the slow-paced early stages of dinosaur evolution.

23 Feb 2017

Ants developed farming millions of years ago

A new study in Nature suggests that ants may have invented agriculture as much as 3 million years before humans.

20 Feb 2017

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