18 December 2014
In tanks at the University of Iowa, mussels equipped with heart rate monitors are purifying water with their excrement. Like human heart monitors, the gadgets glued to the mussels’ shells provide information about activity and metabolism. But in the mussels’ case, this information is helping researchers understand how mussels cleanse the water of agricultural runoff.
Michael Wong wants to understand how life could evolve on other worlds. A graduate student in planetary sciences at the California Institute of Technology, he usually focuses on planetary atmospheres. But recently, his quest took Wong to a strange, hostile setting: the bottom of an acidic ocean on Earth, 4 billion years ago.
17 December 2014
Scientists have created a computer system that will help predict malaria outbreaks in northwestern Ethiopia. The advance warning system, which uses local epidemiological information and real-time environmental data, will allow public health officials to transport resources to high-risk areas and contain outbreaks early, explained ecologist Chris Merkord from South Dakota State University.
Located about 25 miles north of Houston, Mueschke Cemetery is a historical burial ground. With its oldest headstone dating back to 1849, the cemetery is the resting place for close to 150 people, many of them soldiers killed in 150 years of American wars. But the cemetery is also known to contain dozens of unmarked graves, their locations lost over time. Now, a tool used by geologists and engineers is helping to find them: radar.
The Northern Hemisphere suddenly cooled about 12,800 years ago in an event named the Younger Dryas. Scientists have debated the cause for many years. One widely-believed explanation is that the massive but long gone Lake Agassiz in central Canada rapidly flooded fresh water east down the St. Lawrence River into the northern Atlantic Ocean. That pulse of fresh water interfered with warm ocean currents and triggered the cooling.
The asteroid that smashed into the Yucatan Peninsula a little more than 66 million years ago left behind the Chicxulub crater, but it also left behind something else: iridium, a rare element, which settled in a fine layer all over the world. When scientists discovered this layer between rock strata in the 1980s, it eventually led them to the crater as well, and an explanation for the disappearance of the dinosaurs. But on either side of that layer, which serves as a geological boundary between the Cretaceous and the Paleogene, determining the age of rock is more difficult. This fuzziness makes it harder for paleontologists to piece together the timeline of life’s evolution after the mass extinction, which included the emergence of humans and all other mammals.
Most lightning hits as a short-lived luminosity, a flickering flash in the pan. Other lightning lingers 10 to 100 times as long. It can simmer the sap of an entire tree and spark a dangerous forest fire. Now, researchers at the University of Alabama in Huntsville have identified hotspots worldwide where long-lived lightning clusters occur.
16 December 2014
A NASA team utilized satellite data to create a map of past volcanic deposits and modeled the risk to nearby towns. They found one town on a potential lava flow path and a second town at risk for mud flows. The results were presented at Monday’s poster session at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting. The group’s methodology using satellite images can serve as a template for remotely assessing volcano risk, according to the researchers.
To walruses, ice means life. It’s their home base, their mating ground, and their transportation. As climate change threatens the extent of ocean ice, a new study takes a first step at determining how changing ice conditions are influencing walrus dynamics.
When ocean scientists visit the beach they pack more than sunscreen and a towel – they pack drones. Researchers show in a new study that drones can be used to cheaply and accurately monitor the movement of water in the surf zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The drones provide a new way of documenting the movement of plant and animal plankton, sediments and pollutants, including spilled oil, near the shore.