Taxonomy term

september 2016

The current extinction of life will leave a scant fossil record

Life on Earth has endured five major mass extinctions, known as the “Big Five.” We know about these past events thanks to fossils: During mass extinctions, many species evident in the rock record disappeared from Earth relatively quickly. Today, human alteration of the environment is driving what scientists call the sixth great extinction, but according to new research, the current extinction differs from the Big Five in a key way: Much of the life facing extermination today will likely not be preserved as fossils. This means that, to future paleontologists looking at the rock record from today, the sixth extinction might not appear to have been such a major event.

05 Sep 2016

Tiny ocean bacteria could play big role in climate

In the 1990s, researchers identified the most abundant group of organisms in the ocean as Pelagibacterales, a class of free-living bacteria that live in surface waters as a microscopic but major part of the phytoplankton community. Now, a new study suggests that Pelagibacterales could play an important role in the global climate cycle by producing dimethylsulfide (DMS), an organosulfur compound that stimulates cloud formation when it gets into the atmosphere.

05 Sep 2016

First global topographic map of Mercury released

Mercury’s surface is arid, gray and scarred by craters over much of its landscape. Given its close proximity to the sun, a manned trip to Mercury is out of the question — but now you can explore Mercury’s pockmarked surface in its entirety with the first global topographic map of the planet.

02 Sep 2016

Geologic Column: The notion of mantle plumes

EARTH’s feature on mantle plumes in the January/February issue reminded the author of his own evolving trip along the plate tectonic road.

01 Sep 2016

Where on Earth? - September 2016

Where on Earth was this picture taken? Use these clues to guess and submit your answer via mail, email or Web by the last day of the month (September 30, 2016).

01 Sep 2016

Peeling North American Plate causing East Coast earthquakes

On Aug. 23, 2011, a magnitude-5.8 earthquake struck near Mineral, Va., shaking the Piedmont region and damaging several historic buildings in Washington, D.C. The quake caught many people by surprise because the eastern U.S. lies in the interior of the North American Plate, more than 1,500 kilometers from the nearest plate boundary. In a new study, researchers peering beneath the southeastern portion of the North American Plate may have found an explanation for why parts of the region experience more quakes than expected.

31 Aug 2016

Modeling Io’s weird mountains

Jupiter’s innermost moon, Io, is home to some of the strangest mountains in our solar system: towering isolated peaks, some more than 8,000 meters tall, that jut from the moon’s surface with little evidence of underlying tectonics. Now, a new model may explain how Io’s odd peaks formed.

30 Aug 2016

Observers at the edge of the ice: Smaller, cheaper machines can safely go where humans can't

Glaciologists want to get as close to ice as possible, but safety is a concern. Enter drones, automated kayaks and disposable remote ice-monitoring devices.
28 Aug 2016

Earthworms build big mounds to escape floodwaters

When researchers looking for archaeological remains in satellite imagery came across unidentified mounds — some as tall as humans — in the seasonally flooded wetlands of northern South America, they found a landscape shaped not by ancient civilizations but, rather, by modern earthworms.

26 Aug 2016