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Hazard lingers after South Napa earthquake

The magnitude-6 earthquake that shook buildings and rattled wineries in California’s Napa Valley on Aug. 24, 2014, continues to affect homes in at least one neighborhood in the city of Napa more than three months later. The quake’s epicenter was about 6 kilometers south of the city, but post-quake movement, or afterslip, along the principal fault line to the north of the epicenter is ongoing, according to a fast-track report prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Scientists involved in producing the 51-page report — released to the public on Tuesday — discussed it at a press conference at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

17 Dec 2014

Link between volcanoes and drought cools geoengineering prospects

The realization that large volcanic eruptions can trigger climatic cooling has inspired some to call for stratospheric geoengineering projects, which mimic volcanic eruptions, to combat the effects of global warming. But the approach is not without risks. And a new study looking at the effects of volcanic eruptions on monsoon cycles in China over the past 700 years elucidates one: Eruptions can also cause profound drought in some regions. The finding suggests that although artificially induced cooling may have benefits in some places, it could backfire in others.

14 Dec 2014

Limited ranges left ammonites vulnerable to extinction

Why spiral-shelled, ocean-faring ammonites went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous while the nautilids — the ammonites’ less abundant and less diverse cephalopod relatives — survived has long puzzled paleontologists. Nautilids tended to dwell deeper in the ocean than ammonites, perhaps keeping them farther out of harm’s way after the asteroid struck, which likely led to acidification of the ocean surface. Now, a new study suggests that the animals’ geographic range may have contributed to which ones lived and which ones died.

13 Dec 2014

When science meets film at MIT

Across the Internet, science shows abound, such as “Crash Course,” “The Brain Scoop” and “Vsauce.” A good educational video is like watching a professional ballerina — if the dance is done well, it looks effortless. Of course, neither ballet nor film is actually easy, especially when the medium is meant to carry a message. A new class at MIT is helping students break down the steps and twirls of video and having them choreograph their own short educational films — with the goal of teaching them to better communicate, and deepen their own sense of the science, by explaining complex ideas like the Big Bang, the architecture of the Wheatstone Bridge or the chemistry of bread.

13 Dec 2014

Pliocene tropical oceans were warmer after all

Scientists may have overturned the idea that Earth’s tropical oceans were the same temperature during the Early to Middle Pliocene — between about 5 million and 3 million years ago — as they are today, despite the world being a far warmer place then.

12 Dec 2014

Gravity builds stone sculptures

Every visitor to Arches National Park in Utah wonders how the spectacular, seemingly improbable sandstone arches form, but although there are many hypotheses, testing different ideas in the field has proved all but impossible. Now a new modeling study suggests that while arches may seem to defy gravity, their formation actually depends on it.

11 Dec 2014

Better flood forecasts eyed from space

Satellite measurements of total water storage in river basins — including surface waters, snow, groundwater and soil moisture — may help indicate, months in advance, whether those basins will be predisposed to major flooding, according to new research published in Nature Geoscience. Thus, they could help improve on conventional flood forecasts, which are often based on shorter-term weather forecasts combined with incomplete estimates of basin saturation and offer abbreviated lead times for predictions.

09 Dec 2014

Hundreds of methane seeps discovered along the U.S. East Coast

The release of methane from seafloor sediments may have a significant influence on global climate, but the ubiquity and stability of such pockets is not well understood. Now the discovery of hundreds of methane seeps on the seafloor along the U.S. East Coast suggests that such reservoirs may be more common along passive margins than previously thought. The easily accessible region may prove to be an ideal natural laboratory for studying how such seafloor methane may influence water temperatures and ultimately climate.

07 Dec 2014

Polar dino tracks show full ecosystem

Researchers recently uncovered a new dinosaur tracksite in Alaska’s Denali National Park. The well-preserved Late Cretaceous footprints were left by duck-billed dinosaurs called hadrosaurs. Most of the tracks are incredibly detailed, and some even show some skin impressions; they represent animals of various ages. Given the wealth of data, the tracks provide insight into the herd dynamics and paleobiology of the greenhouse-world Arctic.

28 Nov 2014

Inland earthquake triggers distant tsunami

On Sept. 24, 2013, a magnitude-7.7 earthquake struck southern Pakistan, killing more than 800 people. The quake made global headlines in part due to the birth of a small island it triggered just off the coast — a mound of mud dubbed Quake Island that has since washed away. A new study has found evidence of another curious event linked to the quake: a small tsunami that appears to have been remotely triggered by a submarine landslide far from the earthquake’s inland epicenter.

26 Nov 2014

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