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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 faults had shifted and better understand risks of future large quakes in the area.

Fracking
Hydraulic fracturing hit the news big time this past year. Discover magazine put it at number 21 for the year. Amid growing concerns over impacts to drinking water from fracking fluids, scientists and petroleum industry experts are seeking to assure that public that the procedure is safe.

Dinosaurs
Dinosaur Tracking, a Smithsonian Institution blog, notes the first discovery of sauropod dinosaurs in Antarctica, as well as important studies of dinosaur smell and vision, among others. Like Discover magazine (see #30), the blog mentions new research that suggests Archaeopteryx may not be the earliest known bird after all. At #35, Discover also notes the discovery of a Triceratops horn just a geologic heartbeat away from the KT boundary, adding one small point of evidence that dinosaurs might have disappeared quickly rather than slowly declining.

Have I left any big stories out? Leave a comment below.

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