Taxonomy term

september 2015

Map shows where lightning zaps most

Lightning strikes far more often over land than sea and is more concentrated closer to the equator — both testaments to the greater atmospheric instability over those parts of the planet.

29 Aug 2015

Sea-level rise accelerating

Studies tracking sea-level rise over the past few decades have been all over the map, with reports variously indicating that the rate of rise has accelerated, stayed constant or declined. Now, a new GPS-based study published in Nature Climate Change indicates that sea-level rise has indeed been accelerating over the last decade.
28 Aug 2015

Ocean 'sneezes' spread algae-infecting virus

Microscopic phytoplankton, or microalgae, permeate ocean surfaces, sometimes forming huge blooms visible from space. Nutrient concentrations in seawater are known to regulate such blooms, which play a major role in oceanic food chains and carbon cycling, and occasionally prove harmful to other marine life as well as humans. Less understood are the other factors that influence a bloom’s onset and demise. New research sheds light on one such influence, demonstrating that an algae-infecting virus can become airborne and travel long distances, potentially infecting and eradicating parts of a bloom hundreds of kilometers away.
27 Aug 2015

Seismometers listen for falling rocks

Scores of natural rockfalls occur in California’s Yosemi­­te Valley every year, often with little or no advance warning, posing hazards to people and infrastructure. In 1980, for example, a fall near Yosemite Falls killed three people and injured 19. Efforts to record and document rockfalls are rudimentary, relying only on eyewitness accounts and after-the-fact observations of fresh talus piles, which means many events are likely going unreported. In a new study, however, researchers interested in whether there’s a better way to monitor these events propose that seismic and infrasound sensors can help keep tabs on the granite slabs dropping from Yosemite’s cliffs.
25 Aug 2015

Oldest birds unearthed in China

The discovery of two well-preserved fossils in the Sichakou Basin of northeastern China has pushed back the known evolutionary record of birds by as much as 6 million years, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
24 Aug 2015

Ancient marine reptiles born alive and ready to hunt

Mosasaurs, giant marine reptiles found in all the world’s oceans during the Late Cretaceous, may have reached up to 18 meters in length, and they were fearsome predators. Little is known, however, about newborn, or neonate, mosasaurs because very few have been found. Now, new research describing a rare fossil find from Kansas reveals that mosasaurs likely gave birth to live young that were born swimming and able to survive alongside the adults.
23 Aug 2015

Thorny plant marks West African diamond deposits

West Africa is famous for diamonds, brought up from the depths of Earth’s mantle eons ago during explosive volcanic eruptions. On the surface, the eroded remains of these eruptions, known as kimberlite pipes, are infamously hard to find under the thick jungles of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and only a few of the deep, narrow pipes contain profitable diamonds. Now, a researcher has identified an unusual feature that might point the way toward such pipes, and possibly revolutionize the search for diamond-rich deposits: a tall, thorny palm-like plant that seems to only grow atop kimberlites.
23 Aug 2015

Earth-like atmosphere enough to set some exoplanets spinning

Earth is “Exhibit A” in showing that planetary rotation — which moderates global climate, keeps a lot of water in liquid form and generally makes the place more livable — is a plus when it comes to sustaining life. But scientists have thought that many of the rocky, Earth-like exoplanets discovered recently, which might otherwise be considered potentially hospitable to life, aren’t so fortunate. On these unlucky worlds, unable to rotate because they’re held too tightly by their parent stars’ gravity, one half of the planet is perpetually roasted by stellar radiation while the other is left frigid and dark. Now, however, a new study suggests that a little atmosphere can go a long way toward helping exoplanets rotate.

22 Aug 2015

De-evolving the bird beak

The transition from dinosaurs with snouts to birds with beaks was a pivotal change in the evolution of dinosaurs into birds during the Late Mesozoic. Now, biologists have partially reversed this process by transforming chicken embryos into specimens with snout and palate configurations similar to those of small dinosaurs like Velociraptor and Archaeopteryx.
21 Aug 2015

Down to Earth With: Engineer Jeffrey Bielicki

With degrees in mechanical engineering, business administration and public administration from a variety of prestigious universities, one might get the impression that Jeffrey Bielicki is an inveterate academic with his head buried in books. And, indeed, Bielicki has spent most of his career in research, looking into solutions for problems in engineering, energy and policy. But far from narrowing his focus, Bielicki’s schooling in multiple disciplines has given him the desire and ability to see issues from a range of perspectives, thus informing and broadening his approaches to solving them. 
20 Aug 2015