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Earth Happenings Archive
August, 1999
Primate Genus Sheds Light on Great Ape and Human Origins (Science Daily 8/31)
"A team of scientists has set aside an entire new genus within the family of primates that includes great apes and humans after discovering an exquisitely preserved 15 million year old partial skeleton of an ancient ape. The new genus Equatorius, reported in the 27 August issue of Science, helps reshape the complex evolutionary tree around the time when the ancestor to humans and great apes arose, and reveals that one species, Kenyapithecus wickeri, is more closely related to that ancestor than previously thought."
Charles Masters Dies (AP 8/28)
"Charles Day 'Chuck' Masters, 70, a government geologist who directed the first comprehensive national assessment of untapped oil and gas resources in the United States, died of a brain tumor Aug. 19 at his home in East Hampton, Conn. He moved there from Falls Church last year. He retired in 1995 as chief of the world energy resources project at the U.S. Geological Survey after working on global assessments of undiscovered oil and gas. He had also served there as chief of energy resources and marine geology. The first national resources survey, published in 1975, was used in forming federal energy policies."
Dino Steps Revealed in Cliff Fall (BBC 8/27)
"Fossil footprints from what may be a previously unknown species of dinosaur have been discovered in Yorkshire, England. They appeared after a section of sandstone cliff collapsed on a beach near Scarborough. The scientists who found the tracks say they are about 175 million years old. Geologists Dr Gordon Walkden and Dr Mike Simmons noticed the tracks during a field trip they were running for fourth-year students at the University of Aberdeen."
Fossil Find Aids Evolution Study (AP 8/27)
"A 15 million-year-old skeleton unearthed in Kenya belongs to a previously unknown animal type that may be a sort of great-uncle of our oldest direct relative, scientists say. The recent find predates by several million years the long-sought 'holy grail' of paleoanthropology: the last common ancestor that great apes and humans had before each of those groups diverged and developed separately."
A Meteoric Discovery: Extraterrestrial Water (AP 8/27)
"A meteorite that whistled into a West Texas yard last year contained the first extraterrestrial water ever captured on Earth, scientists reported yesterday. Like a cosmic message in a bottle, the microscopic bubbles of primordial water are locked inside crystals of halite, the mineral that makes up table salt, but in this case has been turned blue and purple by radiation. The crystals and their liquid cargo appear to date from the dawn of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago."
Remains of an Ancient Ocean (Nature 8/26)
"Images of the innards of the Earth created from earthquake records have given new insight into the creation of the highest mountains on Earth, as well as tracking the demise of an ocean which was once as great as the Atlantic is today. Until 65 million years ago, a great ocean, the Tethys, separated India from Asia. There were no Himalayas and no Tibetan Plateau. These high points of todayÕs globe were created by the slow collision of India and Asia, and are still being forced upwards today as the plate carrying India grinds to a halt. The area around present-day Lhasa was an island, dividing the Tethys into two parts. But what became of this ancient ocean?"
Quake Provides Lessons About Faults (AP 8/26)
"Scientists say they have learned key lessons from the deadly earthquake in Turkey that could save lives along the country's North Anatolian fault and its California twin, the San Andreas. When the North Anatolian fault unleashed a 7.4-magnitude quake on Aug. 17 that resulted in more than 13,000 deaths, it behaved in ways scientists had imagined possible, but never seen. It jumped over lakes and ignited other faults, which has some seismologists worried the same could happen along the San Andreas."
One-of-a-Kind Fossil Discovered (Discovery 8/20)
"Scientists have locked in on a one-of-a-kind fossil that may turn out to be a very distant ancestor of humans, says a study in the current journal Nature. Xidazoon stephanus lived in the ocean 540 million years ago, grasping at passing prey with the razor-thin ridges surrounding its gaping mouth, while anchoring itself to the sea bed through spines on its bottom."
MIT Researchers Monitoring Earthquakes In Turkey Say Istanbul Could Be Next Target (Science Daily 8/19)
"This week's earthquake, which killed thousands in northwestern Turkey, increased the likelihood of a future earthquake near the metropolis of Istanbul by increasing the forces on the fault just south of the city, say MIT researchers who have been studying earthquakes and tectonic deformation in Turkey since 1971."
'Lost' Topsoil Hasn't Gone Far, Study Finds (Reuters 8/19)
"Warnings that fertile topsoil is flushing down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico are based on mistaken beliefs, a geographer said Thursday. In fact, topsoil from the Midwestern breadbasket is staying pretty much put, and what little does wash away does not go far, Stanley Trimble of the University of California in Los Angeles reported in the journal Science."
Giant Microbes That Lived for a Century (Nature 8/19)
"Microscopic, single-celled organisms reproduce rapidly and have only the most fleeting existence as individuals. Wrong -- millions of years ago, there were disc-shaped, single-celled organisms called nummulites, some of which were as big as coasters and, according to new research, could have lived for more than a century -- certainly the biggest, and arguably the longest-lived, of all known single-celled creatures."
Squashy Fossil in the Bag (Nature 8/19)
"A fossil unearthed from 540-million-year-old sediments in China enriches and challenges our understanding of past life on Earth. The fossil animal is called Xidazoon stephanus, and it is described in the 19 August issue of Nature by Degan Shu of Northwest University, Xi'an, China, with Simon Conway Morris of the University of Cambridge, UK, and their colleagues. It fits into no known animal category, showing the surprises that still await us in the fossil record."
How to Spot an Alien When You See One (Nature 8/19)
"Three years ago, a report in the journal Science, hinting at possible past life on Mars, made headlines and stimulated a debate about the nature and existence of life elsewhere in the Universe. But what would such life be like, were we to meet it? For Mars, at least, it is assumed that the most likely fossils will be of organisms resembling bacteria found on Earth. In a review of the subject in the Journal of Geophysical Research [25 July], Frances Westall of the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas takes us on a comprehensive tour of ancient bacteria and the conditions in which they are known to fossilize on Earth. Her account should be a handy guide to would-be alien-spotters."
Simply Brilliant: UF/Russian Team Makes Gem-Quality Diamonds (Science Daily 8/17)
"Like Superman squeezing a lump of coal in his mighty fist, scientists and engineers from the University of Florida and Russia are speeding up Mother Nature's handiwork through creating gem-quality diamonds with man-made heat and pressure. Using what they describe as a remarkable new technology first developed in Russia, the team has created yellow, amber, green and colorless diamonds as large as 1.6 carats since making their first attempt about a year ago."
Major Turkish Quake Was Predicted (AP 8/17)
"U.S. and Turkish scientists predicted two years ago that within the following three decades, a major earthquake was likely to strike Turkey. When the North Anatolian fault Tuesday unleashed a quake so strong it killed more than 2,000 people and injured thousands more, the epicenter was in the area of the port city of Izmit. The team of scientists had estimated a 12 percent probability of a 'large event' near that city. Earthquake researchers say the 30-year timeframe of the study, published in 1997 in the England-based Geophysical Journal International, is too broad to claim a bull's eye prediction, or to have prevented the death and destruction associated with Tuesday's 7.8-magnitude quake. But the authors of the study said the similarities between the prediction and Tuesday's quake demonstrated that the inexact science of earthquake prediction is improving."
Giant Antarctic Iceberg Poses Threat to Shipping (CNN 8/17)
"The U.S. National Ice Center issued a warning Tuesday that a giant iceberg is posing a threat to shipping in the ocean between South America and Antarctica. The iceberg, named B-10A, measures 24 by 48 miles (39 by 77 kilometers) and is located in the shipping lanes in the vicinity of latitude 58 degrees, 36 minutes South, longitude 57 degrees West."
Scientists Say Antarctic Lake Worth a Look-See (CNN 8/13)
"The possible existence of microbes unknown to science residing in the liquid waters of Lake Vostok beneath the Antarctic ice sheet justifies exploration of the sub-glacial environment, according an Aug. 3 National Science Foundation report. The scientists believe that the sub-glacial environment may resemble the environment of Jupiter's moon Europa. Recent images of Europa have led scientists to believe that an ocean lies beneath the ice that covers the moon."
When the Mediterranean Was a Desert (Nature 8/12)
"Tourists who flock to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea may not appreciate how precarious those warm waters are. If the connection to the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar were to become blocked, the entire sea would evaporate within something like a thousand years. However unlikely that might sound, researchers discovered in the early 1970s that such a thing did indeed happen around five and a half million years ago."
Life on Earth a Billion Years Older Than Previously Shown (CNN 8/12)
"Scientists studying Australian rocks have found evidence that primitive forms of life existed 2.7 billion years ago -- a billion years earlier than had been previously shown. 'The molecular fossils we report are the oldest preserved biological molecules in the world,' said researcher Jochen J. Brocks."
Earthquake Research Finds New Way to Measure Slippage Deep Underground (Science Daily 8/11)
"Ticking clusters of identically repeating tiny earthquakes on a stretch of the San Andreas Fault can be timed to reveal the rate at which two great tectonic plates are grinding past each other deep within the earth, according to Robert Nadeau of the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The timing of these 'tickers' may provide a new way to monitor the buildup of fault strain associated with larger earthquakes."
Kansas Questions Evolution (Discovery 8/10)
"The Kansas State Board of Education is expected to vote Wednesday on whether evolution should be left off a list of topics on statewide assessment tests in science for high school students. The heads of all six state universities have sent a letter to the board chairwoman saying the proposal 'will set Kansas back a century.'"
Team of 200 Scientists Presents New Research That Reveals Full "Tree of Life" for Plants (Science Daily 8/6)
"A five-year effort to reconstruct the evolutionary relationships among all of Earth's green plants has resulted in the most complete 'tree of life' of any group of living things on the planet, scientists announced today. The team has revealed that the group traditionally thought of as 'plants' is really four separate lineages or 'kingdoms,' with one group --fungi -- being more related to animals than to plants. The team has overturned the traditional belief that the so-called 'land-plant invasion' was led by seawater plants. Instead, the research team has found that primitive freshwater plants provided the ancestral stock from which all green plants now on land are descended and that this ancestor spawned every green plant now alive on earth."
Diamonds Made of 'Stardust,' UMass Geoscientist Suggests (Science Daily 8/6)
"In the Aug. 6 issue of the journal Science, University of Massachusetts geoscientist Stephen Haggerty contends that some of the carbon in diamonds comes from outer space. Haggerty argues against the long-held view that the carbon in diamond comes from the remains of plants and marine organisms as they decayed under the high temperatures and pressures of the EarthÕs deep interior. The invited review is titled, 'A Diamond Trilogy: Superplumes, Supercontinents, and Supernovae.'"
Proof Found of Early Organisms (AP 8/4)
"The earliest direct evidence of organisms pumping oxygen into Earth's ancient atmosphere has been found in the fossilized remnants of bacterial slime, according to research that also gives scientists a new tool in the hunt for life on Mars. The 2 1/2 billion-year-old molecular fossils from Australia show that early forms of life began paving the evolutionary path for oxygen-breathing animals at least 700 million years earlier than previously known, researchers said in Thursday's journal Nature."
Mount Baker Sets Snowfall Record (AP 8/3)
"Americans sweltering in the summer heat may want to take a moment to imagine 95 feet of snow in the driveway. That's how much accumulated last winter at Mount Baker, Wash., setting a seasonal snowfall record for the United States and the world, the National Climatic Data Center announced Monday. The National Climate Extremes Committee said the 1998-99 snowfall at Mount Baker totaled 1,140 inches."
Satellite Images of Arctic Declassified (CNN 8/3)
"Scientists studying global warming now have access to 59 previously classified satellite images of the Arctic Ocean, Vice President Gore said Monday. The National Imagery and Mapping Agency at the request of the National Science Foundation approved release of the high-resolution images of the Arctic Ocean. Two images, taken by U.S. intelligence satellites, are available online at the National Snow and Ice Data Center."
Nearby Supernova May Have Caused Mini-Extinction (Science Daily 8/3)
"The recent discovery of the rare radioactive isotope iron-60 in deep-sea sediments could be the telltale sign of a killer supernova, a University of Illinois researcher says. 'A nearby supernova would bathe our planet in high-energy particles -- cosmic rays -- with potentially disastrous effects,' said Brian Fields, a visiting professor of astronomy at the U. of I. 'Increased cosmic-ray bombardment could have affected Earth's biosphere by enhancing the penetration of harmful solar ultraviolet radiation and by increasing the global cloud cover, leading to a 'cosmic-ray winter' and a mini-extinction.'"
Book Chronicles Coastline Battle (AP 8/1)
"Sea levels are rising. Sandy beaches, the coastal gold standard, are more unstable than ever -- 70 percent are eroding. Jetties, seawalls, groins and dredging often only worsen beach conditions. Yet all along the nation's shoreline, construction of pricey beachfront homes is booming, for Americans will not be denied the solace of sand and sea. Demographers predict that 80 percent of the U.S. population will live within an hour's drive of a coast by next year."
Study: Downtown LA Is Shifting (AP 8/1)
"Forces deep in the Earth's crust are moving downtown Los Angeles toward the San Gabriel Mountains, possibly making the region in between more susceptible to earthquakes, according to a study published Sunday. Using satellite surveying techniques, researchers found that downtown is edging toward the mountain range by about one-fifth of an inch annually. The crunched area or 'shortening belt' responds by thickening, or slowly building up mountains."

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