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13 December 2012

Secret tsunamis of the South Pacific

Cocos Island Atoll. The underwater landslides that shape atolls may create thousands of undocumented tsunamis. (Credit: PalawanOz / Wikimedia Commons)

The crumbling volcanic islands of the southern Pacific Ocean could be a major source of undocumented – and potentially dangerous – tsunamis.

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12 December 2012

California’s faults have synchronized bursts of movement

Sections of the San Andreas fault, seen here in Central California, shake in time with a neighboring fault, according to new research. (Credit: USGS)

Twenty years after the Loma Prieta earthquake, seismologists are still learning from the faults that zigzag across California. Now, new information on the movements of two of these faults suggests they are shaking in tandem.

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7 December 2012

Cosmic ray muons watch for carbon leaks

Geologists fear sequestered carbon dioxide could leak back to the surface, like in this Utah geyser fueled by natural carbon dioxide. (Credit:Gouveia2 via wikimedia)

Out of sight, out of mind – that’s the essence of carbon sequestration, an emerging technology designed to fight climate change by packing liquefied carbon dioxide in underground rock formations. But rocks have cracks, wells, holes, and other surprises that could let that carbon, so painstakingly injected, bubble back up to the surface again. Engineers and scientists need a way to watch for leaks that’s reliable and inexpensive. The solution, one scientist says, is already falling from the skies.

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Calculating the Cost of Erosion for Coastal Homeowners

Coastal erosion in Pacifica, Calif, from 1997. (Credit: U.S. Geological Survey)

Erosion takes the “beach” out of beachfront property. And when the sand drifts away, so do the property values. With climate change predictions that include rising sea levels and more intense storms, the beaches won’t get better.

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Scientists put a new spin on waves

Pollution can be spread faster and further by breaking waves that shot off spinning eddies. (Credit: Glen Bowman/flickr)

Whirlpools created at the edges of breaking waves can influence how ocean nutrients – and pollution – get mixed about in the ocean.

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Aerial surveys make light work of snow-depth measurements

Geophysicist Sveta Stuefer of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks takes one of over 15,000 depth measurements used to validate airborne LiDAR estimates of snow depth near the north-central coast of Alaska. (Credit: Mark Parsons, National Snow and Ice Data Center)

­­­­­ Scientists have recently developed a technique for sharpening the accuracy of detailed tundra snow-depth maps critical to issues ranging from climate modeling to figuring out where to herd grazing caribou. “Budgets for observing the snow are comparatively small, and the area to observe is comparatively large,” said geophysicist Chris Polashenski with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “So, efficiency is key.” One innovation in snow-depth measurements has been the …

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Heat Release From Eurasian Soils Amplifies Arctic Warming

ncreased annual heat flux from Eurasian soils thaws permafrost and changes regional climate patterns. The Siberian landscape shone above is dotted with thermokarst lakes, those formed as permafrost melts. (Credit: NASA/ Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon).

Two of the strongest knobs on Earth’s thermostat sit in the Arctic: sea ice and permafrost. Both spur feedback loops that can ripple down to lower latitudes and alter global weather patterns. Oliver Frauenfeld, a climatologist at Texas A&M University, thinks he has found another important knob on Earth’s thermostat that has hitherto been overlooked.

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6 December 2012

Ground under ancient Chilean volcano is rising fast

The Chilean Andes Mountains. Researchers have found uplift in part of the Laguna del Maule volcanic field (credit: Sarah Strierch / Wikimedia Commons)

The Laguna del Maule volcanic field in the Chilean Andes Mountains lies in the heart of volcano country. The region is a well-known subduction zone, where the friction of one crustal plate sliding under another heats rock to form magma. But for the last 2,000 years, Laguna del Maule has been a quiet water-filled caldera. Now, scientists are recording rapid deformation of the land around the caldera, suggesting that a magma reservoir is inflating below the surface.

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Shelter from the Snowball

An artist's depiction of a fully frozen Earth during a Snowball Event (Credit: Image by Neethis, via Wikimedia Commons)

Bacteria dependent on light may have found refuge from encroaching glaciers in inland seas some 600 million years ago, when Earth was a giant ice ball.

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Rocky “Bumps” Anchor Antarctic Glaciers

Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier is currently stabilized by a rocky ridge underneath its base. (Credit: NASA / Jim Yungel)

When glaciers have rock to cling to, they hold on tight. Luckily for us, a ridge of rock lines the edge of an expansive Antarctic glacier that might otherwise – without the ridge – be rapidly retreating and raising global sea level.

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