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Earth Happenings Archive
September, 1999
U.S. Fossil Raises Questions About Mammal Origins (Reuters 9/28)
"The fossil remains of a shrew-like creature found in Montana could challenge prevailing theories that the first mammal ancestors of humans evolved in Asia, the excavation's lead scientist said Tuesday. The fossilized set of jaw bones have been determined to be 110 million years old, about the same age as the oldest remains from similar mammals that so far were found only in Asia, said paleontologist Richard Cifelli. 'It suggests that our existing model for mammals, that of Asian origination, is completely up in the air,' said Cifelli, of the University of Oklahoma's Museum of Natural History."
Can Science Conquer Kansas? (Why Files 9/27)
"On Aug. 11, the Kansas State Board of Education fired another salvo in the long battle between religion and science by removing evolution from the high school curriculum. While it did not ban teaching of the controversial theory, it also deleted evolution, which biologists call the fundamental principle of biology, from state assessments of student performance. By endorsing the theory that evolution through natural selection is an unproven theory, the elected board defied 150 years of science."
Scientists Probe L.A. Shoreline (AP 9/27)
"It's another day at the prehistoric beach for Heidi Spenner as she scrapes up a layer of sand with a metal spatula, pinches some of the dark gray muck and rolls it between her fingers. The U.S. Geological Survey scientist is examining a patch of ancient shoreline, sandy dirt from 400 feet below the surface. It's one of many layers of soil that fill the Los Angeles basin and affects how violently the ground moves in an earthquake. Researchers like Spenner say data from a 1,000-foot continuous core sample extracted from the border of Long Beach and Los Alamitos could give them a clearer picture of how the ground shakes."
Spanish Find Centuries-Old Ice (AP 9/23)
"Scientists studying global climate changes say they've made a startling find - centuries-old ice in sunny southern Spain. The discovery came in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Andalusia, in a range called the Corral del Veleta, at an altitude of 10,300 feet. Until now, the southernmost point in Europe known to have such material, called permafrost, was 420 miles to the north, in another Spanish mountain range, the Picos de Europa, said Antonio Gomez, a geology professor at the University of Barcelona."
Yellowstone Park Is Old Faithful Stand-In for Jupiter's Moon (Science Daily 9/22)
"NASA scientists have found that when it comes to teaching educators about volcanoes in the solar system, there's no place like Jupiter's fiery moon Io -- except for Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. With its blasting geysers and bubbling thermal vents, 'it's almost like being there,' said Leslie Lowes of JPL, lead outreach coordinator for NASA's Galileo mission studying Jupiter and its moons. 'Yellowstone is the closest we can come to taking teachers to Io without actually putting them on a spacecraft.'"
Taiwan Quake Should Offer Insight (AP 9/22)
"Taiwan, which sits on the edge of two plates on the Earth's crust gets shaken by dozens of earthquakes each year. Most are centered in the Pacific Ocean and rarely cause damage. But the magnitude 7.6 quake that hit Taiwan early Tuesday was very unusual because it occurred beneath the island's central mountains. The quake killed more than 1,700 people. It was Taiwan's worst since a 7.4 magnitude temblor hit the island in 1935, killing 3,276 people. In 1986, a magnitude 7.8 quake off Taiwan's east coast killed 15."
Tracks in Iron Provide an Insightful Map of Microbial World (Science Daily 9/21)
"Reading the narrow bands of iron found in some sedimentary rocks, scientists may have found a way to assess microbial populations across time and space, opening a window to the early history of life on Earth and possibly other planets. Writing this week in the journal Science, a team of scientists led by University of Wisconsin-Madison geochemist Brian L. Beard describes a geochemical signature in iron indicative of life."
Brazil Unveils Fossil of Earliest Known American (CNN 9/21)
"Anthropologists in Rio unveiled the oldest known human fossil from the Americas on Monday, a woman's skull with African features that could revolutionize theories on the continent's early inhabitants. The fossil -- first discovered in Brazil in 1975 but only recently found to come from a woman who lived 11,500 years ago -- shows there were human beings on the continent long before Asian immigration, said anthropologist Ricardo Ventura Santos."
Leaky Seas Drying Up Earth, Scientists Report (CNN 9/17)
"Geoscientist predict the Earth will be as dry and barren as Mars in a billion years, due to leaky seas. Within a billion years, the Earth could dry up and resemble Mars - barren and waterless, according to geologists from the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Their calculations show the oceans are leaking billions of gallons of water into the Earth and only a trickle is coming back out, according to a report the Sept. 11 issue of New Scientist."
Gargantuan Iceberg Bobs Toward Argentina's Shores (CNN 9/17)
"A gigantic iceberg six times the size of Buenos Aires is drifting aimlessly toward Argentina's southern coastline after breaking off Antarctica seven years ago, a high-ranking Navy official said on Friday. 'It is swirling around out there, caught in a very peculiar current, as if in a sort of whirlpool,' said Hipolito Picasso, meteorology chief at the Navy Hydrographics Service. The iceberg, labeled 'B10A,' measures 41 miles long (66 km) and 13 miles wide (21 km). It rises up to 60 yards (55 meters) out of the sea and reaches an underwater depth of 300 yards (274 meters)."
Iron Might Hold Ancient Signatures of Microbes (Reuters 9/17)
"Thin layers of iron found in ancient sedimentary rocks could carry the signatures of the most ancient microbes and answer questions about the origins of life, researchers said Thursday. If the traces turn out to be valid, they could also help settle arguments about whether there was ever life on Mars, the team at the University of Wisconsin said. 'This could be an ideal biosignature,' Brian Beard, who led the study, said in a statement. Writing in the journal Science, Beard and colleagues said they found evidence that iron in older sedimentary rocks had been digested by microbes. Their method provides a way to look for the very oldest traces of life."
Antarctica Gives Clues to 'Lost' Supernova (Reuters 9/16)
"Evidence of a 'lost' supernova that exploded some 700 years ago has turned up in the snows of Antarctica, New Scientist magazine said Wednesday. X-rays from the German-US orbiting Rosat satellite have shown a glowing supernova remnant just 640 light years away, suggesting the star's explosion lit up our skies at the beginning of the fourteenth century, making it by far the closest supernova in our past. But unlike other supernovas which astronomers recorded, scientists found no historical reference to this event. Then 20 years ago, analysis of an ice core in the South Pole showed four concentrations of nitrates in the snow. Dating revealed that three of them coincided with bright supernova explosions in 1181, 1572 and 1604, which were all recorded. Now scientists say the fourth 'spike' or concentration is the sign of the explosion pinpointed by Rosat."
A New Angle on Volcanoes (Nature 9/16)
"A large number of the world's volcanoes are located near the boundaries between tectonic plates, where one part of the EarthÕs outer crust slides beneath another. In many places, where pieces of oceanic crust override each other, chains of volcanoes are formed. For example, the volcanoes of Japan have formed where the Pacific and Philippine plates slide beneath the Asian plate. Volcanoes such as Mount Fuji have their origins 80-150 km beneath the surface, where rocks from the floor of the Pacific Ocean descend into the denser mantle rocks beneath. Kenji Mibe of the University of Tokyo, Tokyo, and colleagues have duplicated in the laboratory the temperatures and pressures found at the root of these volcanoes, to try and understand what makes them form where they do."
Dinosaurs Fought for Supremacy (Times 9/16)
"The prodigious armoury of many dinosaurs was not for defence against attacks by predators, but for battling with other members of their own kind, Neill Alexander of the University of Leeds said yesterday. He compared the horns of triceratops and the club-like tails of ankylosaurs with the horns of deer and the spurs of cocks. 'In animals, the vast majority of fighting is done between males of the same species battling for superiority,' he said."
Giant Marine Dino Surfaces (Discovery 9/14)
"The fossil of a giant marine reptile, found in Israel's Negev Desert in 1993, has been identified as a new type of mosasaur, Danish scientists announced at a conference Monday. Dubbed Oronosaurus after the Oron phosphate field about 30 miles southeast of Be'er Sheva where it was found, the fossil was first thought to be an over-large example of a type of mosasaur called Prognathodon. But as the five-foot-long cranium and seven cervical vertebrae were worked out of the hard stone surrounding them, Per Christiansen of the Zoological Museum and Niels Bonde of the Geological Institute, both in Copenhagen, realized that it differed greatly from other known mosasaurs."
Evidence of Ancient Disaster Found (AP 9/13)
"A scientist has found fossil evidence of a large pileup of dinosaur bodies that suggests a possible natural disaster more than 140 million years ago. Kirby Siber, director of a commercial dinosaur museum in Aathal, Switzerland, said the evidence is contained in a dig he has been working for the past decade near Shell, in northern Wyoming. Siber believes the dinosaur fossils represent a remarkable Jurassic catastrophe, such as a huge hurricane, flood or similar natural event."
Family Discovers New Dinosaur (BBC 9/11)
"Scientists have revealed that a fossilised bone from a previously unknown dinosaur has been found on a Scottish isle. A holidaying family found the fossilised elbow joint of a previously unknown member of the stegosaur family in sandstone on the Isle of Skye. After two years of research, scientists have revealed the bone belonged to one of the herbivores which roamed the earth 175 million years ago."
Greece and Turkey on Seismic Pane of Glass (Reuters 9/9)
"The earth deep underneath quake-hit Greece and Turkey is fracturing like a pane of glass, increasing the possibility of further tremors in the region, a British seismologist said Wednesday. 'It's a bit like a crack in a piece of glass. If you're moving a crack then you put all the stress at the end of a crack and it makes the next bit more likely to break,' said James Jackson of the Earth Sciences department at Cambridge University. 'Whether it [the fault] will move tomorrow, in 10 or 100 years' time we're not very good at predicting,' Jackson told Reuters."
New Landsat 7 Images of the Earth Now Available (Science Daily 9/9)
"After soaring to space last spring, NASA's latest Earth-imaging satellite has completed its checkout phase and is now 'open for business.' New images from the Landsat 7 spacecraft are now available for viewing and purchase by scientific researchers and the general public via the Internet from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and NASA."
Natural Gas Found off Gaza Strip (AP 9/9)
"An explorer searching for ancient shipwrecks found a large undersea field seeping natural gas off the coast of the Gaza Strip and Egypt. The discovery by marine geologist Robert Ballard was announced Thursday by the National Geographic Society, which sponsored his research. In June, a natural gas reservoir was found undersea off the Israeli city of Ashdod, north of Gaza, estimated to be able to produce 30 million cubic feet of gas per day. Ballard's discovery indicates the gas field extends south, along the full length of the Gaza Strip and the coast of Egypt."
The Unknown Southern Land (Nature 9/9)
"Antarctica is the key to understanding the geology of the Southern Hemisphere and the oceans' currents. Above all, Antarctica's ice caps lock up so much water that even small changes could cause sea level to rise or fall, affecting millions of coastal dwellers. Despite its importance, human knowledge of Antarctica is less than two hundred years old. So how have we learnt the little we know about the southern regions and what remains to be investigated there?"
Fossil Feather Beds (Nature 9/9)
"It used to be that feathers were seen as diagnostic features of birds -- until, that is, remains of dinosaurs were found that had feathers, as well as fringes of possibly feather-like fibrous tissue. Palaeontologist Mary H. Schweitzer of Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana and colleagues have taken an unprecedentedly close look at possible feather-like structures in a dinosaur known to have been a close relative of birds."
Researchers Find Dinosaur Tracks in the Yukon (CNN 9/6)
"Researchers say they have found dinosaur footprints believed to be more than 65 million years old in Canada's north. A team of Canadian and U.S. researchers say three tracks were discovered in the Faro/Ross River area of the Yukon, in the far reaches of Canada's north. The footprints -- which range from about 10 centimeters to 45 centimeters (4 to 18 inches) -- are both individual casts and trackways. One trackway preserves four steps of a dinosaur left in soft mud."
Field Volunteers Unearth Grain of Mammal History (Chicago Tribune 9/2)
"For nearly a year, Dennis Kinzig, a retired Ameritech training instructor, and Ross Chisholm, a retired carpentry contractor, volunteered Saturdays at the Field Museum to peer through a microscope at 50 pounds of dirt from Madagascar. One grain at a time. Dwarfed but undeterred by colossal dinosaur fossils that generally hog all the public attention in paleontology, they persevered until they, too, made what has turned out to be a big discovery: It's a 165-million-year-old jaw of a mouse-size mammal, a fragment so tiny it spans only half the length of a grain of rice and has three teeth not visible to the naked eye. What it proves to scientists is that mammals were alive and sharing the world's southern continents with dinosaurs far earlier than previously believed."
Greek Scientists Dig Up Ancient Oak (AP 9/2)
"With roots and trunk largely intact, a 25-million-year-old tree related to the modern oak has been unearthed in northern Greece, scientists said Thursday. Petrified by volcanic activity, the sand-colored tree stands more than 60 feet and is one of the oldest and best preserved of its kind found in Europe, said Evangelos Velitzelos, professor of historical geology and paleontology at Athens University."
River Deep, Mountain High (Nature 9/2)
"For the past 60 million years or more, the Earth's climate has been slowly cooling. Simultaneously, the great mountains of the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau have grown. Recent theories have suggested that there could be feedback between these two events-- that mountain growth causes climate change, which in turn causes more mountain growth. Writing in the 2 September issue of Nature, Kelin Whipple of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts and colleagues put new limits on this idea."
'Domino Effect' Could Threaten More Turkish Quakes (Reuters 9/2)
"A scientist who two years ago predicted last month's devastating Turkish earthquake warned Thursday that a 'domino effect' on the country's North Anatolian Fault could mean dangerous seismic stress is building up around Istanbul. Ross Stein, a geophysicist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS), said a string of large earthquakes that have shaken the Turkish fault since 1939 indicated that each large shock opened the door for the next. The latest quake in this series, the disastrous Aug. 17 temblor that leveled thousands of apartment blocks and killed at least 14,000 people around the city of Izmit, left just one 'domino' in the chain: the fractured fault lines which stretch under the Sea of Marmara toward Istanbul."
Microbes in Basalt Thrive on a Mixed Diet of Toxic Wastes (Science Daily 9/1)
"Seventy-five meters beneath the surface of a site in Idaho where high-level radioactive waste has been stored for more than 40 years, microorganisms living in the pores and crevices of dry basaltic rock are able to reduce a toxic form of chromium to a much less toxic form-- and they do so faster in the presence of volatile organic wastes."

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