16 December 2013

Seismic activity near Samoan Islands hints at crust’s thickness

A seismic monitoring station on an island in Samoa. Credit: Bob Greschke

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.

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As the Earth warms, Arctic tundra rots

Arctic tundra in Summer. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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.

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13 December 2013

Microbial memories carry the pulse of past ocean climates

The Soledad basin lies off Baja California. Credit: Flickr user Kenneth Lu

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.

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NEPTUNE and VENUS: Sentinel sea observatories of the north Pacific

The Endeavour, located 2,000 meters below sea level, makes a recording from a black smoker hydrothermal vent. Researchers at NOAA receive live temperature readings from the site and, when aberrations occur, they can collect biological samples by clicking a button. Credit: Ocean Networks Canada

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.

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

Scientists may be able to accurately determine the age of remnants of clay pots and tools when carbon dating and archaeological methods can’t help. Credit: Wessex Archaeology

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.

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12 December 2013

Volcanic eruptions bubbled beneath Earth’s largest extinction

Volcanic activity formed the igneous rock of Putorana Plateau in present-day Siberia. Credit: Photo by jxandreani

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.

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Rooting out carbon’s effect on plant growth

Six 25-meter long plots of deciduous forest at the Oak Ridge National Environmental Research Park in Tennessee. PVC pipes comprise the Free Air Carbon-dioxide Enrichment (FACE) facility. Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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.

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Lasers and radar find typhoon risks in the Philippines

Supertyphoon Bopha making landfall, 2012. Credit: NOAA Satelline Services Division

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 …

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

Above Taken by a NASA satellite on August 20, this image shows coronal mass ejection arcing away from the sun — the dark central circle.  Image Credit: ESA & NASA/SOHO, SDO Below The space weather conditions near Earth on Wednesday provided by the UCSD team. More material from solar ejections is contained within the darker orange regions. Image Credit: UCSD Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences/Solar-Terrestrial Environment Laboratory (Japan)

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.

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The viruses lurk below

Duck standing by a boat pond in Central Park, New York City. Credit: NikBoiv.

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:

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