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Field Update: Like Threading a Needle from 7 kilometers away

The goal we are working towards on the JFAST2 expedition is to install an observatory of temperature sensors across the fault zone that slipped more than 50 meters during the March 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. The temperature sensors will allow us to measure the frictional heat and determine the strength of the fault.  To accomplish a critical step of the installation, we must first find the wellhead we installed last May on the seafloor 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) below the ship, reenter it with the drill bit, and then drill down about 850 meters (2800 feet) through the plate boundary fault. The only way we are able to reenter the wellhead on the seafloor, which will allow us to install the observatory into the hole after drilling across the fault, is by … Read entire article »

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Field Update: Return to the Japan Trench

[Editor's Note: Patrick Fulton is a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics. He was part of an expedition last spring aboard a deep sea drilling ship to study the fault near Japan that unleashed one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history in 2011. That expedition ran into technical difficulties and so now the team has returned to finish the job. For the next few days, Fulton will be sending updates from the ship on the progress of the follow-up expedition. This is his first installment.] Greetings from the scientific deep sea drilling vessel Chikyu and the second part of the Japan Trench Fast Drilling Project: JFAST2 – IODP Expedition 343T. The focus of the JFAST project has been to quickly drill into and study … Read entire article »

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Possible New Human Species Discovered

A new study describes human fossils from southern China that have a blending of modern and archaic features. The fossils date from between 11,500 and 14,500 years ago, a time when it was thought that Neanderthals and all other human species had died out except ours (Homo sapiens). Scientists aren’t sure if the new fossils represent a previously undiscovered human species that lived alongside ours, a group of modern humans that migrated from Africa much earlier than other known migrations, or simply modern humans with unusual features. The report, co-authored by evolutionary biologist Darren Curnoe of the University of New South Wales, appeared online in the journal PLoS One on March 14. The fossilized individuals have been dubbed the Red Deer Cave people after a cave in Yunnan province where several … 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, 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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