Taxonomy term


Volcanic activity contributed to first of the "Big Five" mass extinctions

During the Ordovician, between about 488 million and 444 million years ago, plant life first emerged on land, while primitive fish and a variety of marine invertebrates flourished in the oceans. Toward the end of the period, however, a mass extinction — the first of the so-called “Big Five” Phanerozoic extinctions — wiped out roughly 60 percent of all marine invertebrate genera. In a recent study, researchers shed new light on a possible cause of the Late Ordovician extinction: volcanic activity.

15 Nov 2017

Mercury's recent tectonics revealed

Not so long ago, Mercury was the least-studied planet in the inner solar system, known only from Earth-based observations and from Mariner 10’s brief flyby in the 1970s. In 2011, the MESSENGER spacecraft began orbiting Mercury, imaging the planet’s crater- and fault-scarred surface before crashing into it, as planned, in 2015. As MESSENGER spiraled downward, it took a last series of high-resolution images, analyses of which are revealing new information about the planet’s surface geology, including evidence for recent tectonic activity.

05 Jan 2017

First global topographic map of Mercury released

Mercury’s surface is arid, gray and scarred by craters over much of its landscape. Given its close proximity to the sun, a manned trip to Mercury is out of the question — but now you can explore Mercury’s pockmarked surface in its entirety with the first global topographic map of the planet.

02 Sep 2016

Mercury levels support volcanic role in end-Cretaceous extinction

The end-Cretaceous extinction, known for finishing off the last dinosaurs about 66 million years ago, often evokes scenes of a large asteroid hurtling toward Earth. However, new evidence supports a growing consensus that the massive bolide wasn’t the only hazard that life on Earth had to contend with: A prolonged bout of major volcanic eruptions was also spewing climate-altering gases and other emissions such as mercury into the atmosphere.

28 Apr 2016

MESSENGER mission ends with a bang, and more data

After 11 years in space and more than 4,100 laps around Mercury since entering orbit in 2011, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft was decommissioned in heroic fashion on April 30, slamming into the planet’s surface at more 14,000 kilometers per hour after it had run out of propellant. Fittingly, it gouged a 16-meter-wide crater of its own amid the myriad others it observed there.
12 Sep 2015

Mercury formed by hit and run?

The solar system was once as busy as a store parking lot on Black Friday. Collisions were common in the early days, and new evidence of a hit-and-run scenario may explain some of Mercury’s peculiarities.

17 Oct 2014

Tracking trace elements and isotopes in the oceans

A report from the GEOTRACES cruise across the Atlantic

For decades, scientists have been trying to piece together the enormously complicated puzzle that is the ocean. They have collected many different kinds of information, from trace elements like iron to tritium isotopes, from many different parts of the ocean. Bringing together these disparate pieces to form a more complete picture is crucial to understanding how human activities, the marine food web, the global carbon cycle and the circulation of seawater are all interconnected.

25 Apr 2011

The rising global interest in coal fires

In eastern India, north of the Damodar River, approximately 70 fires are burning in the Jharia coalfield, the largest coalmine fire complex in the world. The majority of fires in Jharia ignite when coal, exposed to air during mining operations, spontaneously combusts. Particulate matter and noxious gases emitted from the burning coal — including sulfur, carbon and nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons released at the surface from gas vents, ground fissures and the soil — have caused illnesses that range from stroke to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

01 Sep 2010

Sunlight mobilizes mercury in wetlands

Elemental mercury — whether produced naturally by volcanoes or forest fires, or released from industrial sources such as power plants — is easily volatilized into the atmosphere; from there, it can settle in aquatic settings and enter the food chain.

22 Dec 2009

The long legacy of Peru's "Mine of Death"

The Inca knew there was something sinister about the cinnabar they hauled out of the ground at Huancavelica in Peru hundreds of years ago. They called the mine the Mine of Death. Now, a new study has exposed a 3,500-year history of mercury pollution from the cinnabar mines, a much longer legacy than researchers had previously realized.

05 Aug 2009