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Budget cuts pare real-time monitoring of volcanoes

May 14, 2013 8:09 am | by Rachel D’Oro, Associated Press | News | Comments

Worldwide, hundreds of flights are diverted each year because of volcanic activity. Scientists monitoring Alaska's volcanoes have been forced to shut down stations that provide real-time tracking of eruptions and forgo repairs of seismic equipment amid ongoing federal budget cuts—moves that could mean delays in getting vital information to airline pilots and emergency planners.

Revising Darwin's sinking-island theory

May 13, 2013 7:41 am | by Genevieve Wanucha, Oceans at MIT | News | Comments

The three different formations of South Pacific coral-reef islands, fringing, barrier, and atoll, have long fascinated geologists. The question of how reefs develop into these shapes over evolutionary time produced an enduring conflict between two hypotheses, one from Charles Darwin and the other from Reginald Daly. But in a recently published paper, researchers use modern measurements and computer modeling to resolve this old conundrum.

Hubble finds dead stars “polluted” with planet debris

May 10, 2013 9:24 am | News | Comments

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has found the building blocks for Earth-sized planets in an unlikely place—the atmospheres of a pair of burned-out stars called white dwarfs. Hubble's Cosmic Origins Spectrograph observed silicon and only low levels of carbon in the white dwarfs' atmospheres. Silicon is a major ingredient of the rocky material that constitutes Earth and other solid planets in our solar system.

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New analysis suggests wind, not water, formed mound on Mars

May 7, 2013 7:33 am | News | Comments

A roughly 3.5-mile high Martian mound that scientists suspect preserves evidence of a massive lake might actually have formed as a result of the Red Planet's famously dusty atmosphere, an analysis of the mound's features suggests. If correct, the research could dilute expectations that the mound holds evidence of a large body of water, which would have important implications for understanding Mars' past habitability.

Scientists reveal relationship between sea floor lava and deep-carbon cycle

May 3, 2013 12:16 pm | News | Comments

A team from the Smithsonian and the University of Rhode Island has found unsuspected linkages between the oxidation state of iron in volcanic rocks and variations in the chemistry of the deep Earth. Their detailed spectroscopic work has uncovered chemical trends that not only run counter to predictions from recent decades of study, they belie a role for carbon circulating in the deep Earth.

Meteorite study may reveal Mars’ secrets of life

May 2, 2013 8:57 am | News | Comments

In an effort to determine if conditions were ever right on Mars to sustain life, a team of scientists has examined a meteorite that formed on the red planet more than a billion years ago. And although this team’s work is not specifically solving the mystery, it is laying the groundwork for future researchers to answer this age-old question.

Ohio hopes to save Richter scale developer legacy

April 25, 2013 9:16 am | by Lisa Cornwell, Associated Press | News | Comments

Fans of the Ohio native credited with developing the Richter scale of rating earthquake magnitude want to be sure that Charles Richter's name and legacy remain prominent in history. They are concerned because many reports about earthquakes no longer mention the scale developed in the early 1930s and just refer to magnitudes in general.

Fossil shells, new geochemical technique provide clues to ancient climate cooling

April 23, 2013 9:41 am | News | Comments

Using a new laboratory geochemical technique to analyze heavy isotopes of carbon and oxygen in fossil snail shells, scientists have gained insights into an abrupt climate shift that transformed the planet nearly 34 million years ago. At that time, the Earth switched from a warm and high-carbon dioxide "greenhouse" state to the lower-carbon dioxide, variable climate of the modern "icehouse" world.

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Superstorm Sandy literally shook the United States

April 19, 2013 12:57 pm | News | Comments

When superstorm Sandy turned and took aim at New York City and Long Island last October, ocean waves hitting each other and the shore rattled the seafloor and much of the United States—shaking detected by seismometers across the country, University of Utah researchers have recently found. These “microseisms” generated by Sandy were detected by Earthscope, a network of 500 portable seismometers.

Carbon’s role in atmosphere formation

April 9, 2013 4:53 am | News | Comments

A new study from a collaboration of several universities suggests that the way carbon moves from within a planet to the surface plays a big role in the evolution of a planet's atmosphere. If Mars released much of its carbon as methane, for example, it might have been warm enough to support liquid water. This finding offers important clues about the early atmospheric evolution of Mars and other terrestrial bodies.

Mars missions scaled back in April because of sun

April 4, 2013 12:39 pm | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

It's the Martian version of spring break: Curiosity and Opportunity, along with their spacecraft friends circling overhead, will take it easy this month because of the sun's interference. For much of April, the sun blocks the line of sight between Earth and Mars. This celestial alignment—called a Mars solar conjunction—makes it difficult for engineers to send instructions or hear from the flotilla in orbit and on the surface.

Power behind primordial soup discovered

April 4, 2013 12:06 pm | News | Comments

Researchers at the University of Leeds may have solved a key puzzle about how objects from space could have kindled life on Earth. While it is generally accepted that some important ingredients for life came from meteorites bombarding the early Earth, scientists have not been able to explain how that inanimate rock transformed into the building blocks of life, until now.

Study provides evidence ancient asteroid caused global firestorm on Earth

March 28, 2013 7:48 am | News | Comments

A new look at conditions after a Manhattan-sized asteroid slammed into a region of Mexico in the dinosaur days indicates the event could have triggered a global firestorm that would have burned every twig, bush, and tree on Earth and led to the extinction of 80% of all Earth’s species, says a new University of Colorado Boulder study.

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Study: Volcanic eruptions triggered the end-Triassic extinction

March 22, 2013 2:28 pm | News | Comments

It’s not entirely clear what caused the end-Triassic extinction, although most scientists agree on a likely scenario: Over a relatively short period of time, massive volcanic eruptions from a large region known as the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) spewed forth huge amounts of lava and gas, including carbon dioxide, sulfur and methane. Now, a research team has determined that these eruptions occurred precisely when the extinction began, providing strong evidence that volcanic activity did indeed trigger the end-Triassic extinction.

Computer models show how deep carbon could return to Earth's surface

March 21, 2013 9:17 am | News | Comments

Computer simulations of water under extreme pressure are helping geochemists understand how carbon might be recycled from hundreds of miles below the Earth's surface. Carbon compounds are the basis of life, provide most of our fuels and contribute to climate change. The cycling of carbon through the oceans, atmosphere, and shallow crust of the Earth has been intensively studied, but little is known about what happens to carbon deep in the Earth.

Scientists discover layer of liquified molten rock in Earth’s mantle

March 20, 2013 2:30 pm | News | Comments

Using advanced seafloor electromagnetic imaging technology, scientists with Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution imaged a 25-km-thick layer of partially melted mantle rock below the edge of the Cocos plate where it moves beneath Central America. The finding of this layer, which may be responsible for the sliding motions of the planet’s massive tectonic plates, could have far-reaching implications to our understanding of geologic processes.

Under California: An ancient tectonic plate

March 18, 2013 4:39 pm | News | Comments

Large chunks of an ancient tectonic plate that slid under North America millions of years ago are still present under parts of central California and Mexico, according to new research led by Brown University geophysicists. Called the Isabella anomaly—a large mass of cool, dehydrated material about 100 km beneath central California—is in fact a surviving slab of the ancient Farallon oceanic plate driven deep into the Earth’s mantle about 100 million years ago.

Mars rover shows planet could have supported life

March 13, 2013 12:26 pm | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Drilling into a rock near its landing spot, the Curiosity rover has answered a key question about Mars: The red planet long ago harbored some of the ingredients needed for primitive life to thrive. Topping the list is evidence of water and basic elements that teeny organisms could feed on, scientists said Tuesday.

Lunar impacts created seas of molten rock

March 12, 2013 10:46 am | News | Comments

A new analysis of data from NASA’s Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter shows that molten rock may have been present on the Moon more recently and for longer periods than previously thought. Differentiation—a settling out of rock layers as liquid rock cools—would require thousands of years and a fluid rock sea at least six miles deep.

Study: Glaciers contribute significant iron in Atlantic Ocean

March 11, 2013 4:24 pm | News | Comments

All living organisms rely on iron as an essential nutrient. In the ocean, iron’s abundance or scarcity means all the difference as it fuels the growth of plankton. A new study from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution identifies an unexpectedly large source of iron to the North Atlantic—meltwater from glaciers and ice sheets, which may stimulate plankton growth. This source is likely to increase as melting of the Greenland ice sheet escalates under a warming climate.

Stone in shipwreck may be Viking navigators' tool

March 8, 2013 3:10 pm | by Raphael Satter, Associated Press | News | Comments

A rough, whitish block recovered from an Elizabethan shipwreck may be a sunstone, the fabled crystal believed by some to have helped Vikings and other medieval seafarers navigate the high seas, researchers say. That's because of a property known as birefringence, which splits light beams in a way that can reveal the direction of their source with a high degree of accuracy.

Researchers track sediments’ fate in largest-ever dam removal

March 8, 2013 12:35 pm | News | Comments

Salmon are beginning to swim up the Elwha River for the first time in more than a century. But University of Washington marine geologists are watching what’s beginning to flow downstream—sediments from the largest dam-removal project ever undertaken. It turns out there is even more sediment than originally thought—about 34 million cubic yards.

Report: First discovery of a natural topological insulator

March 6, 2013 10:59 am | News | Comments

Unlike conventional electrical insulators, which do not conduct electricity, topological insulators have the unique property of conducting electricity on their surface, while acting as an insulator inside. In a step toward understanding and exploiting an exotic form of matter that has been sparking excitement for potential applications in a new genre of supercomputers, scientists are reporting the first identification of a naturally occurring topological insulator that was retrieved from an abandoned gold mine in the Czech Republic.

“True grit” erodes assumptions about evolution

March 5, 2013 1:13 pm | by Sandra Hines, University of Washington | News | Comments

New research led by the University of Washington challenges the 140-year-old assumption that finding fossilized remains of prehistoric animals with such teeth meant the animals were living in grasslands and savannas. Instead it appears certain South American mammals evolved the teeth in response to the gritty dust and volcanic ash they encountered while feeding in an ancient tropical forest.

Researchers find link to arsenic-contaminated groundwater

March 5, 2013 10:01 am | News | Comments

Millions of people in Bangladesh and neighboring countries are chronically exposed to arsenic-contaminated groundwater, which causes skin lesions and increases the risk of certain cancers. According to an international team of scientists, human activities are not the primary cause of arsenic found in groundwater in Bangladesh. They found instead that the arsenic is part of a natural process that predates any recent human activity, such as intensive pumping.

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