Taxonomy term

october 2015

Bare Earth Elements: In honor of 'Back to the Future Day,' a few things geoscientists might (or might not) have been thinking about in 1985

Today is the day 30 years in the future to which Marty McFly — a feisty ‘80s teenager from fictional Hill Valley, Calif. — travels from 1985 courtesy of Doc Brown’s ingenious, time-traveling, “flux capacitor”-powered (though sadly also fictional) DeLorean DMC-12 in the 1989 film, “Back to the Future 2.” And the heaping pile of “BTTF” nostalgia that’s going around the Internet got me pondering a few topics that geoscientists might (or might not) have been thinking about in 1985.

21 Oct 2015

Tree of life reshaped

Since the 1970s, the classic “tree of life” taught in classrooms has portrayed three domains of life — Archaea, Bacteria and Eukaryota — all descending from an unknown common ancestor. But behind the scenes, this textbook picture has been shifting. Many scientists now think the tree’s deepest root lies within the bacteria; and, even more recently, some have begun suspecting that the Eukaryota — including all animals, plants, fungi, slime molds and other organisms whose cells have nuclei — are actually an offshoot from the Archaea, paring the tree from three to two domains. Now, a new study furthers that claim, and with the help of a novel technique for parsing phylogenetic data in greater detail than ever before, suggests a revised backstory for the Archaea — and, by extension, us.
 
21 Oct 2015

A Cambrian-like explosion of mammals in the Mid-Jurassic

Dinosaurs dominated the continents during the Mesozoic, and for a long time, paleontologists assumed our mammalian ancestors kept a low-profile in that era, existing only as small, ground-dwelling, nocturnal insect-eaters. But in the last decade, discoveries of an ever-increasing diversity of mammal fossils have forced a rethink: Mesozoic mammals were also gliders, climbers, diggers and swimmers. Now, scientists looking at mammalian rates of evolution during the time of the dinosaurs have found that this diversity peaked in the Mid-Jurassic, leading to new physical characteristics that would remain for millions of years.
 
20 Oct 2015

Finding and tracking conflict minerals in the heart of darkness

Conflict minerals such as tantalum, used in electronics, are fueling violence. But the financial, technology, mining and geologic communities are coming together to identify, track and remove these tainted minerals from the global supply chain, with the goal of helping reduce war.

18 Oct 2015

Campi Flegrei makes its own concrete caprock

In the 1980s, Tiziana Vanorio was a teenager living in the Italian port city of Pozzuoli west of Naples when the  Campi Flegrei volcanic complex that underlies the town and its harbor began to stir. Between 1982 and 1984, the caldera swelled more than 2 meters — the most rapid volcanic uplift ever measured anywhere. The rising seafloor shallowed Pozzuoli’s harbor so that ships could no longer enter. The uplift was followed by a magnitude-4 earthquake and thousands of microquakes that prompted the evacuation of 40,000 residents. Thereafter, the seismicity waned and the residents returned home, but geologists were left with a puzzle: How did the caldera withstand such extreme strain and deformation for so long without rupturing? 
 
16 Oct 2015

Peculiar shape of hair ice linked to fungus

If you have ever taken a morning hike through the woods and seen strange, silky-looking ice on fallen logs, you might have been observing a phenomenon that has puzzled hikers and scientists alike for at least a century. In a new study, researchers examining so-called hair ice have unraveled an explanation for these peculiar formations.

13 Oct 2015

Ice (Re)Cap: October 2015

From Antarctica to the Arctic; from polar caps, permafrost and glaciers to ocean-rafted sea ice; and from burly bears to cold-loving microbes, fascinating science is found in every nook and crevasse of Earth’s cryosphere, and new findings are announced often. Here are a few of the latest updates.
 
13 Oct 2015

First fossilized bird of another feather found in Brazil

Delicate bird bones and feathers aren’t easily preserved as fossils, and most known examples of Cretaceous birds and feathers come from a few sites in northeastern China. An exquisitely feathered bird fossil found recently in the Araripe Basin of Brazil is the first to be discovered in South America, putting the ancient southern supercontinent Gondwana on the map of early avian evolutionary history.
 
12 Oct 2015

Step one: Soil testing

The first step in planning a community or backyard garden should always be to get the soil tested, getting a read on not only pH and nutrient levels, but possible contaminants like lead and arsenic. “Some cities have public health programs to help residents get their gardens tested for low or no cost, but it’s kind of hit or miss,” says Gabriel Filippelli, a biogeochemist at Indiana University in Indianapolis. Some cities such as Philadelphia have also held one-day “soil kitchen” workshops where people can bring in samples of soil for immediate testing with an X-ray fluorescence instrument. 
 
11 Oct 2015

Kennewick Man related to modern Native Americans

After two decades of controversy surrounding the origins of Kennewick Man — a 9,000-year-old skeleton found on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington state — a genomic analysis has revealed that he was, in fact, related to modern Native Americans. The 1996 discovery of the well-preserved skeleton led to a protracted legal battle among scientists, Native American tribes and the federal government over the disposition of the remains, and sparked a scientific debate about the origins of the first Americans. 
 
11 Oct 2015

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