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11 February 2014

Sniffing the Arctic winds

The polar vortex made large parts of the country miserable this year with freezing cold air. But, in the Arctic, air temperatures were above average, sea ice grew slower than average, and the yearly ice cover continues thinning into sheets that break up in the summer. This shift is altering the chemistry of the air over the Arctic, and may affect the climate in ways that scientists don’t yet understand.


18 December 2013

Santa Cruz Island tsunami more massive than previously thought

An 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck 70 kilometers west of Santa Cruz Island in the Solomon Islands Feb. 6. It triggered a tsunami that swept through tribal towns and wooden huts along a 20-kilometer stretch of coastline.


17 December 2013

Former German mining site becomes laboratory for carbon dioxide storage research

A local legend circulates in the Upper Neckar Valley in southeast Germany. It tells of a worker, a healthy, strong young man, who lay down one day beside the railroad tracks for a midday nap. The man never woke up, prompting speculation about his death that endures until today.


16 December 2013

Seismic activity near Samoan Islands hints at crust’s thickness

Seismologists at James Madison University are analyzing 20 years worth of seismic data to create a map of the Earth’s crust and a possible mantle plume underneath the Samoan Islands.


As the Earth warms, Arctic tundra rots

Melting ice caps may not be the only problem the Arctic has to worry about as the climate changes. As temperatures rise, permafrost melts earlier and stays wet longer. When plants and other organic material in the soil thaw, they decompose, releasing huge quantities of methane and carbon dioxide.


13 December 2013

Microbial memories carry the pulse of past ocean climates

New data from ocean microbes in the Soledad basin off the coast of Baja, Calif., confirms a La Niña-like effect cooled surface waters 4,000 to 10,000 years ago.


NEPTUNE and VENUS: Sentinel sea observatories of the north Pacific

Wally the robot crawls along the ocean floor, watching the bubbles. And 8,000 miles away, a German scientist sits on a couch with a laptop, watching with him.


Scientists developing dating method based on Earth’s ancient magnetic field

Cassette tapes or eight-tracks might be the first things that come to mind when thinking about dated magnetic storage, but Bronze Age clay pottery has them both beat. Using information stored in the clay’s magnetic minerals, scientists are developing methods to determine how old these artifacts are when other dating methods come up short.


12 December 2013

Volcanic eruptions bubbled beneath Earth’s largest extinction

Long before the dinosaurs died off, the “Great Dying” killed nearly all life in the ocean, 70 percent of terrestrial animals and even insects. But this mass extinction more than 250 million years ago – Earth’s greatest natural disaster – is still a scientific mystery. Little evidence remains of why and when life on the planet crashed to this long pause.


Rooting out carbon’s effect on plant growth

In 1988, scientists at the Tennessee Oak Ridge National Environmental Research Park planted a scattering of Sweetgum seedlings to fill a space equivalent to a running track. Nearly 10 years later, after the trees had matured, construction crews plopped four rings of 40-foot PVC pipes into the floor of the new deciduous forest. In 1998, two sets of pipes switched on and began blowing carbon dioxide into the trees’ air supply, non-stop for 12 years.


Lasers and radar find typhoon risks in the Philippines

A new way to identify areas at risk for landslides will help countries avoid tragedies like super-typhoon Bopha. The storm slammed into the Philippines in 2012, killing 1,200 people and causing $1 billion in damage. Scientists from the University of the Philippines are using lasers and radar to identify alluvial fans: sediment deposits resulting from streams or debris flows. Debris flows are landslides with rocks and dirt wet enough to …


What to expect when the sun’s ejecting: forecasting space weather from coronal mass ejections

When whorls of plasma clouds erupt away from the sun in events known as coronal mass ejections, the portions that reach Earth can create terrestrial spectacles. These sun storms fuel stunning auroras in the night sky, but they can also foul up communication networks and Global Positioning Systems. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have developed a method to better forecast these storms before they hit Earth.


The viruses lurk below

From hydrothermal vents to the soft mud of riverbeds, geophysical hideouts where viruses thrive are windows into how life evolved, and could be crucial to protecting human health. Here are two examples from Tuesday’s American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco:


NASA’s new LVIS sensor to map polar regions with ‘return to sender’ technology

NASA’s Land Vegetation and Ice Sensor has yet to leave the atmosphere, but that’s the long-term plan for this high-flying mapping technology. In the nearer future, LVIS will produce high-resolution, three-dimensional maps of Earth’s unexplored polar regions, allowing scientists to follow changes in ice cover more accurately than ever before. Since 1998, LVIS has mapped rainforest canopies in Costa Rica, surveyed Gulf Coast ocean topography, and even tracked ivory-billed woodpeckers …


Smartphone app could decipher mysterious gamma-ray bursts from thunderstorms

Amid flashing lightning and booming thunder, storms emit a very powerful but little understood form of energy — gamma radiation. These terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs) produce short-lived but immensely powerful bursts of energy that could zap airplane passengers with unhealthy doses of radiation. Now, researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz think they might be able to use a smartphone app to learn more about these mysterious bursts.


11 December 2013

Seismologists showcase model for profiling underground nuclear blasts

Since the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) opened for signatures in 1996, there has been a growing interest in monitoring for underground nuclear test explosions. When a nuclear bomb goes off underground, it produces enough force for seismographs to detect it.


‘Butterflies of the sea’ record ocean conditions in their shells

The shell of a tiny marine mollusk carries evidence of the ocean conditions that formed it, researchers have found. These “butterflies of the sea” could be used to determine the temperature and carbon dioxide levels of ancient oceans, they said this week at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting


Buoyant rover records Arctic ice from beneath

Researchers have developed a rover that floats beneath the surface of the ice and photographs it from underneath. The upside down images could help scientists understand the source of methane bubbles trapped in Arctic ice, and how much of this powerful global warming gas is seeping from the permafrost.


Magnetic patterns give away the oldest ocean fragment’s age, origins

Continents have re-shaped and seas have parted, but one fragment of the ocean floor has remained locked in place for more than 200 million years. The Ionian basin – a patch of seafloor under the Mediterranean – is the oldest-known section of the seabed to have remained static, held by irregular-shaped continental joints that prevent its motion. The Ionian Sea carries its years well – scientists have debated its true …


10 December 2013

Trawling is a drag for continental shelf’s sediments

While GPS is normally deployed to home in on lost cell phones or navigate tricky driving routes, satellite tracking may help ocean researchers better understand how fishermen’s trawls scrape away the sediment compositions of the continental shelf.