Taxonomy term

timothy oleson

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

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

Geomedia: Film: 'The Martian' puts the magnificence and messiness of science at the fore

“The Martian,” in both movie and book form, is all about elevating science — with all its attendant magnificence and messiness — as well as the best of the collective human spirit. In this, it succeeds mightily.

02 Oct 2015

Aerosols help mitigate ill effects of Amazon fires

Forest fires across the Amazon Basin — many of which are set intentionally to clear land for human use — burn thousands of square kilometers each year, releasing roughly 240 billion kilograms of stored carbon to the atmosphere. According to a new study, however, the vast amounts of black carbon and other aerosolized particles also sent into the skies by such fires offset much of this carbon loss by stimulating increased photosynthesis.

24 Sep 2015

Injection experiment offers new view of fluid-filled faults

Scientists have known since the late 1960s that injecting fluids underground can cause earthquakes if those fluids find their way into slip-prone fault zones. Evidence of fluid-induced quakes has continued mounting in recent years with observations of abnormally high levels of seismicity in the central U.S., coincident with increased injections of wastewater into the ground — mostly related to oil- and gas-mining operations. But understanding the inner workings of fluid-filled faults is challenging because researchers have been limited by how close they can get to study them. Now, a new study is offering a glimpse into the future of induced-seismicity studies by monitoring fault motions on the spot and in real time.
19 Sep 2015

Red Planet Roundup: September 2015

With two rovers patrolling the surface of Mars, five spacecraft orbiting above it, and scientists here on Earth studying the Red Planet from afar, new findings are announced often. Here are a few of the latest updates.
15 Sep 2015

MESSENGER mission ends with a bang, and more data

After 11 years in space and more than 4,100 laps around Mercury since entering orbit in 2011, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft was decommissioned in heroic fashion on April 30, slamming into the planet’s surface at more 14,000 kilometers per hour after it had run out of propellant. Fittingly, it gouged a 16-meter-wide crater of its own amid the myriad others it observed there.
12 Sep 2015

Fate of atolls not necessarily tied to sea-level rise

The western Pacific Ocean is home to many atolls: rings of low-lying islands built from calcite sands and the erosional remnants of coral reefs. This region is also home to some of the highest rates of sea-level rise in recent decades — an unsettling fact for the atolls’ inhabitants and others worried that rising waters will eat away at the islands and evict residents for good. But according to a new study documenting long-term change at one Pacific atoll, the future for such islands might not be so bleak.

30 Aug 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

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