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The Chesapeake Bay gets some good news

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is the largest on the Atlantic seaboard, encompassing most of Maryland and Virginia, along with parts of Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. More than 150 rivers flow into the system, carrying pollution and nutrient runoff from a 160,000-square-kilometer area into the bay ecosystem. A new study tracking long-term effects of the Clean Air Act has some good news about the often-poor water quality in some areas of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, but the overall picture may be complicated by hydrology.

02 Apr 2014

Massive earthquake strikes Chile

A massive magnitude-8.2 earthquake struck off the coast of Chile about 95 kilometers north of Iquique on Tuesday night at 6:46 p.m. local time, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Because the quake occurred underwater along a thrust fault in the subduction zone, a tsunami warning was issued for several cities along the Chilean coast and around the Pacific Basin. A 2.1-meter wave was reported in some Chilean cities. Preliminary reports indicate several deaths and some damage; power is out in many areas and landslides have also been recorded, according to news reports. So far, widespread destruction — which could easily accompany such a large quake — has thankfully not been reported.  The quake followed weeks of increased seismic activity, including dozens of earthquakes up to magnitude-6.7 that have struck since March 16. It is now clear these were foreshocks. 

01 Apr 2014

From boom to bust in Neolithic Europe

As agricultural practices spread from the Fertile Crescent across Europe, gradually expanding west and north starting about 8,500 years ago, they brought increased and localized food production to a continent where nomadic hunter-gatherers had long made their living subject to the whims of climate and the environment. With agriculture, long-term settlements developed, fertility rates rose and, thus, populations grew steadily. Or at least that’s been the conventional wisdom.

20 Mar 2014

Bare Earth Elements: Mars rocks wear manganese coats

Several rocks on the surface of Mars are coated with distinctive dark-colored surface layers enriched in manganese that, while sharing similarities with manganese-rich rock varnish found on Earth, do not appear to be varnish themselves based on differences in trace element levels, according to new research presented Wednesday by Nina Lanza of Los Alamos National Laboratory at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in The Woodlands, Texas.

19 Mar 2014

Seattle's landslide risk greater than thought

Landslides have been part of Seattle’s history “from a time to which the memory of man runneth not back,” wrote famed city engineer Reginald Thomson in 1897. A new study shows that landslides will also play a central role long into the future. They will be “extensive and potentially devastating, causing direct losses and impeding recovery,” reported a team in Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

17 Mar 2014

Harvesting fog could bring water to millions

In northern Chile, as in many other parts of the world, freshwater is a limited commodity, but heavy fogs are a regular occurrence. For at least two decades, people in such areas have turned to fine mesh nets to harvest moisture from fog, but to date the nets have never been terribly efficient. Now, new research could greatly improve the nets’ efficiency, increasing the amount of water they’re able to capture.

14 Mar 2014

Sudden gas eruption shakes the ground near Rome's airport

On Aug. 24, 2013, visitors arriving at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, located in the Fiumicino municipality, flew over a surprising hazard: a gas emission that suddenly exploded from the ground a few meters outside the airport compound. The expulsion, referred to as the Fiumicino Gas Vent (FGV), occurred about 15 kilometers southwest of Rome and was first noticed by passing motorists. Shortly after the explosion, scientists sought  to determine the gas’ makeup and whether it posed a continuing danger.

03 Mar 2014

GPS measurements of ground inflation help forecast ash plumes

When Grimsvötn Volcano in Iceland erupted in May 2011, northern European airspace was closed for seven days and about 900 passenger flights were canceled. Scientists were charged with trying to read the volcano — to tell how high the ash plume would go and to figure out how long the violent eruption would last. Such features are hard to predict, but in a novel study, one research team has found a correlation between the height and composition of the Grimsvötn ash plume and ground deformation before and during the eruption. The findings, the team says, could improve volcanic plume dispersion models, which in turn could help air traffic managers determine when and where it’s safe to fly when volcanoes like Grimsvötn and Eyjafjallajökull suddenly erupt.

20 Feb 2014

Ocean dynamics speed sea-level rise along U.S. East Coast

Over the past century, sea levels along the East Coast of the U.S. have risen faster than the global mean. This accelerated rise has so far been attributed to nonclimatic factors, such as land subsidence along the Eastern Seaboard, but available tide gauge data don’t fit with such slow and near-constant processes. A new study now links this regional sea-level rise to climate change and ocean dynamics — and the results may bring more bad news for ocean-front properties along the East Coast.

09 Feb 2014

Warring trolls explanation for mysterious basalt pillars revised

Peculiar basalt pillars found in Iceland — attributed in local lore to a pair of angry trolls hurling projectiles at each other — are having their origin story updated. In a rare example of nonexplosive lava-water interactions occurring on land, the hollow pillars likely formed around vertical columns of steam and superheated water venting through lava as it flowed over saturated ground, according to a new study.

02 Feb 2014

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