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Western wildfires affect water quality

Wildfires have burned increasing acreage in recent decades, a trend that’s expected to continue with global climate change. In the U.S. West, the frequency of fires has implications for water availability — both water used to fight wildfires and municipal water supplies, which can be contaminated by loosened debris from eroding, fire-burned slopes.

09 Jan 2018

Nothing is clear about who left marks on ancient bones

An ongoing debate regarding the origin of scrape marks on ancient animal bones has taken a new turn. The marks were first thought to have been made by early hominid butchers, then by trampling, and now it’s looking like crocodiles might have been responsible, according to a recent study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

05 Jan 2018

Impact signature in rock produced by lightning strikes

When a meteorite smashes into Earth’s rocky surface, the immense temperatures and pressures created can melt rock into glass and leave signatures of the impact behind. Impacts produce tell-tale planar features in quartz grains called shock lamellae — picture a scrambled television signal, with repeating horizontal lines chopping and distorting the image into layers — that scientists have thought were produced only by meteorites.

05 Jan 2018

In feats of tectonic strength, grain size matters

Plate tectonics involves some of the most powerful forces on Earth, but the lithosphere, of which the plates are made, is not infinitely strong: Weaknesses in the lithosphere allow it to break apart and form plate boundaries. Determining the strength of tectonic plates based on field observations has proved tricky, however, due to the sheer scale of plates, while experiments and calculations in the lab on olivine — the main mineral that makes up the lithosphere — have depicted plates as misleadingly strong. In a new lab-based study, researchers have taken a novel approach to testing olivine’s strength, and the results fit existing models of plate tectonics better than previous efforts.

04 Jan 2018

Fossilized dinosaur feces reveal flexitarian diet

Fossilized feces tell paleontologists a lot about what dinosaurs ate. Some unusual coprolites discovered in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument may indicate that normally herbivorous dinosaurs occasionally ate crustaceans.

03 Jan 2018

Science meets art: Tiny trilobite gets huge makeover

At less than a centimeter in size, Agnostus pisiformis might not look like much, but a new series of larger-than-life sculptures is giving the arthropod its due as one of the most ubiquitous and recognizable Cambrian fossils.

01 Jan 2018

In the lab, machine learning improves quake forecasts

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that about 500,000 detectable earthquakes occur worldwide every year. But accurate forecasts of when quakes will occur have long been out of reach, in large part because of the complexities of fault behavior.

29 Dec 2017

Driftwood reveals ancient Arctic currents and sea-ice levels

Arctic driftwood up to 12,000 years old is giving scientists a better understanding of how ocean currents and sea ice in the far north have changed through the Holocene. In a new study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, scientists at the University of Oxford in England studied more than 900 pieces of driftwood collected from Arctic shorelines since the 1950s to investigate how shifting Arctic Ocean currents help melt or fortify sea ice.

28 Dec 2017

Turkey DNA reveals Mesa Verde denizens moved to New Mexico

The Mesa Verde region of southern Colorado was home to as many as 30,000 Puebloans through the middle of the 13th century, until severe drought drove them south into New Mexico, ending the cliff dwellers’ reign. In a new study, researchers have charted this mass migration using mitochondrial DNA from a novel source: turkey bones from the domesticated birds kept by Puebloans in both Mesa Verde and northern New Mexico.

28 Dec 2017

Mysterious Miocene bipedal footprints found in Crete

A curious set of 5.7-million-year-old bipedal footprints found in western Crete — far from the cradle of humanity in Africa and dating to the Late Miocene, long before hominins are thought to have walked upright — has paleoanthropologists scratching their heads.

27 Dec 2017

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