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Study: Volcanoes Triggered Little Ice Age

Scientists have debated about what caused the Little Ice Age, an unusually cool period that lasted for several centuries and ended in the late 19th century. Some have suggested it was caused by shiny aerosol particles from volcanoes blocking out a portion of sunlight; others have suggested the sun itself was shining less brightly; or, perhaps a bit of both. Until now, the experts couldn’t even agree on when it started. Estimates of onset have ranged from the 13th to the 16th century. A new study published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters might settle both questions in one fell swoop. The researchers, led by Gifford Miller, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, say new evidence from northern ice sheets suggests the Little Ice Age was triggered by … Read entire article »

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Archaeopteryx had (some) black feathers

A team of scientists announced yesterday the first evidence of feather color in Archaeopteryx, a feathered dinosaur that has also long been considered one of the earliest birds. The first fossil remains, consisting of a single feather, were discovered in Germany in 1861. It’s this single feather that was analyzed using a technique developed by Jakob Vinther, currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences. Comparing microstructures called melanosomes in the fossil to a database of 115 living bird species, the team concluded with 95% certainty the feather was black. That’s not to say that all of it’s feathers were black. It might just as well have had a white body and black wings. Evidence from more complete fossils might give a better picture. This video from Brown … Read entire article »

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Solar storm delivering a “glancing blow”

Many news outlets are reporting on the solar storm in progress. The storm, which began as a coronal mass ejection (CME), or explosion of electrically charged particles from the sun, reached Earth about 9:30 this morning (eastern time). According to Space.com, even though the CME was fairly large because it’s hitting us at an angle and not head on, the resulting effects on Earth will be tempered. There is the potential for beautiful displays of auroras in the north. Still, communications satellites and power grids could be damaged and airlines may be forced to reroute or delay flights for passenger safety. According to the Space Weather Prediction Center, operated by the National Weather Service, this is the largest Solar Radiation Storm since October 2003. For those who live in the far north, you might check out OVATION, a … Read entire article »

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America’s top greenhouse gas emitters

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency released its Greenhouse Gas Data Publication Tool, an interactive map indicating how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are emitted each year by power plants and industrial sites. Among the top 10 CO2 emitters is the Martin Lake coal plant in Tatum, Texas. Other top sites were in Georgia, Alabama, and Indiana.   … Read entire article »

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Charles Darwin’s nemesis reconsidered

In his Laelaps blog, science writer Brian Switek explains how much of what you may have heard or read about Richard Owen, famed “anti-evolutionist” and nemesis of Charles Darwin, is in fact wrong. Switek writes: If we wish to tell the stories of highly-influential scientists like Darwin and Owen, the least we can do is try to accurately comprehend their words and what they meant by them. … Read entire article »

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Top earth science news stories of 2011

As usual, there were lots of great earth science related discoveries, events and debates this past year. There were some pretty big items from the Jackson School of Geosciences at UT Austin, but we’ve covered those extensively on the school’s website. So here are a few highlights from beyond our walls that caught our attention: Natural Disasters At number 9 on Discover magazine’s top 100 stories of 2011, we find natural disasters. These include Hurricane Irene in the U.S., flooding in Australia, the earthquake and tsunami that spawned a nuclear catastrophe in Japan, and a devastating drought in East Africa. While we’re at it, Discover posted 5 lessons from the Japanese earthquake. By the way, the second anniversary of the 2010 Haiti earthquake is fast approaching. Jackson School scientists were there soon after to sort out how … Read entire article »

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