Taxonomy term

timothy oleson

Message in a bottle gourd

For about the last 10,000 years, bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) have been cultivated the world over for food and crafted into canteens, instruments and other utilitarian goods. But just how they became globally ubiquitous by the Early Holocene has long been a subject of debate among anthropologists and archaeologists. Some scientists thought the plant migrated with humans from Africa to Asia and, eventually, across the Bering land bridge to the Americas. But a new study suggests it’s unlikely the plants would have survived the long trek through harsh Arctic conditions, and instead offers a different globe-tripping hypothesis for everyone’s favorite dried fruit-turned-drinking vessel.

04 Jul 2014

Down to Earth With: Steven Stanley

It’s no wonder Steven Stanley says he can’t imagine having pursued any career other than research and teaching in geology and paleontology. After studying under eminent scientists like Alfred Fischer, Colin Pittendrigh and Harry Hess while a student at Princeton and then Yale in the 1960s, Stanley went on to add many of his own paradigm-shifting contributions to our understanding of fossils, evolution and Earth’s environmental history. He has also authored several popular textbooks and has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Mary Clark Thompson Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 2006 and, most recently in 2013, the Geological Society of America’s (GSA) highest honor, the Penrose Medal.
 

24 Jun 2014

Cryptic creatures made for a spectacular hanging garden

Researchers studying an outcrop of Middle Devonian-aged carbonate rock in the Hamar Laghdad area of Morocco have found the remains of a community of submarine cave-roof-dwelling corals, crinoids, cnidarians and sponges that, while living, would have constituted a “spectacular hanging garden.”

22 Jun 2014

Early Triassic fossil showed live birth in action

An exceptional case of fossil preservation has provided the oldest view yet of the moment of live birth in a vertebrate. The fossil contains parts of four marine reptile individuals — a mother and her three young — from the ichthyopterygian genus, Chaohusaurus, and was unearthed in the Anhui Province of eastern China. While one of the young is still inside the mother and a second is already outside (and mostly obscured from view by other portions of the fossil), the third juvenile can be clearly seen emerging headfirst from the mother’s pelvis. Thought to be about 1 meter long when fully grown, Chaohusaurus lived about 248 million years ago in the Early Triassic and was an ancestor of later ichthyosaurs.

22 Jun 2014

Pike's Peak

The 4,300-meter-tall peak that Zebulon Pike first spied in November 1806 was already known to Native Americans, as well as Spanish settlers, who called it El Capitán. Pike first dubbed it Grand Peak, but by the mid-19th century, the name Pike’s Peak (later Pikes Peak) had begun to stick.

16 Jun 2014

Longmenshan fault zone in the spotlight after two major quakes in five years

In May 2008, a magnitude-7.9 earthquake struck near Wenchuan, China, killing more than 80,000 people in the country’s biggest quake since 1950. Then, in April 2013, the magnitude-6.6 Lushan earthquake hit just 90 kilometers to the south — also within China’s Longmenshan Fault Zone, which separates the Tibetan Plateau to the west from the Sichuan Basin to the east — and caused another 200 deaths. Now, scientists have found that a roughly 60-kilometer segment of the fault zone between the epicenters of the two big temblors could be the next to rupture, although no one knows when or how big it might be.

05 Jun 2014

Recovery of 1960s sea-ice satellite images wins dark data contest

Scientists from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA who resurrected 50-year-old satellite images of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice from dusty 35-millimeter film reels took home first prize in an international geoscience data rescue contest sponsored by publisher Elsevier and the Integrated Earth Data Applications project at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

25 May 2014

Mix of acid mine drainage and fracking fluid a recipe for remediation?

Mixing contaminated wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, also called hydrofracking or fracking, operations with acid mine drainage (AMD) may sound like an ecological disaster in the making. But according to the authors of a new study, such a toxic brew may actually be a recipe for remediation. And, if some hurdles are cleared, researchers say, it could relieve stress on precious freshwater resources by offering companies drilling for natural gas a cheaper alternative to those resources.

21 May 2014

Humans causing California's mountains to grow

Humankind has proven time and again that it can reshape mountains, or even tear them down. Now, it appears, we can make them rise as well. Geologists studying growth rates of the Sierra Nevada and of central California’s Coast Ranges have identified an anthropogenic contribution to the mountains’ uplift that they suggest is tied to the decades-long depletion of groundwater in the state’s Central Valley. What’s more, the researchers report in a new study published in Nature, the long-term water loss may be affecting how stress builds up on faults like the San Andreas.

14 May 2014

Benchmarks: May 6, 1852: Edward Sabine links the geomagnetic and sunspot cycles

At the beginning of the 19th century, little was understood about Earth’s magnetic field, but interest in its workings had begun to grow, especially in Europe. That the magnetic field exists had long been recognized, and magnetic compasses had aided in navigation for centuries, particularly at sea where fixed landmarks are hard to come by. Not surprisingly, the increased attention emerging around the turn of the century came from naval and shipping interests, which recognized that an accurate understanding of the field’s behavior would be a boon to their fleets.

By this time, the underlying physical explanation for the magnetic field had also become a major source of scientific curiosity. In the preceding two centuries, observers had measured differences in the field’s intensity, inclination and declination — the angle between magnetic and true north — between locations, as well as changes in those properties at the same location, both over varying lengths of time. Others had noted the synchronized occurrence of colorful atmospheric auroras with widespread disturbances in the magnetic field, termed magnetic storms.

It was clear the planet’s magnetic field was an inconstant and complex phenomenon, and many eminent scientists saw it as the next great natural mystery to unravel.

13 May 2014

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