Tag: earth science

What the Heck is Google Earth Doing to the Bridges of Our Fair Planet?

By Veronique Greenwood | April 14, 2011 9:17 am

Perusing Google Earth’s quilt of aerial images is good for hours of stalkerish fun (Find your house! Find your ex’s house!). But every now and then, Google’s geo toy can also bend the fabric of reality—literally:

Something’s wrong with this picture…

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

Look at the Size of That Chinchilla Poop–to Know How Much It Rained

By Joseph Calamia | August 10, 2010 4:22 pm

chinchillaThe bigger the fossilized feces the more ancient rain. A team of paleontologists has uncovered this apparent correlation during a study of chinchilla scat at nine sites in South America’s Atacama Desert.

Claudio Latorre Hidalgo of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago presented his findings on this rainfall metric at a talk held yesterday during the ongoing American Geophysical Union’s Meeting of the Americas. Science News, where we found the story, reports that Latorre Hidaglo looked at fossilized feces from middens–shared rodent poop piles that contain “fecal pellets cemented together by crystallized urine.”

Latorre Hidaglo’s team carbon dated organic bits from the largest twenty percent of the chinchilla pellets (so as to exclude pellets from rodent youth). Given information on rainfall from other sources, they correlated the larger feces with periods of greater rainfall. According to Science News, Latorre Hidaglo suggests that the more rain, the better the environment to support bigger chinchillas; the bigger the chinchillas, the bigger the chinchilla poop. The poop test, the researchers say, may provide a way to estimate past rainfall when other tests aren’t available.

The American Geophysical Union talk announcement advises researchers to keep digging into the middens for more information:

A correlation between the size of rodent droppings and rainfall quantities is enabling researchers to establish a new paleoclimate record. Plus, a study of the contents of middens accumulated long ago by rodents offers further insights into the Atacama’s past.

Related content:
Discoblog: Is Muskrat Poop the Next Penicillin?
Discoblog: Archeologists Find the Darnedest Things Digging Around in Hyena Poop
Discoblog: To Maintain Clean Nests, Social Insects Hold in Poop for a Very Long Time
Discoblog: Whale Shark Poops on Camera; Scientists Rejoice

Image: wikimedia / Rumpelstiltzkin

Royal Society Scientists Endorse a Major Earth Makeover

By Andrew Moseman | September 3, 2008 4:29 pm

sunsetOver the weekend United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that whichever candidate becomes the next U.S. President this coming January needs to start from day one leading the world on confronting global warming. But that’s not enough for some members of Britain’s esteemed Royal Society, who in a collection of papers published this week called for major steps in geoengineering to fight climate change.

Perhaps you’ve heard of some of the wilder ideas for fighting global warming: seeding the ocean with iron to make it grow phytoplankton which will absorb carbon dioxide, or launching a Greenland-sized, Montgomery Burns-inspired deflector shield (or many trillion tiny ones) to block some of the sun’s rays. Cockamamie schemes or not, the Royal Society scientists say that because governments have done so little to curb greenhouse emissions, any possible method to fight global warming should be on the table because doing something is better than doing nothing.

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Dutch Town Follows the Green Brick Road to Cleaner Air

By Andrew Moseman | August 7, 2008 11:32 am

Holland RoadIf the roads are going to allow you to drive an air-polluting automobile, they could at least do their part to take those toxins out of the sky.

Dutch scientists from University of Twente have created concrete paving stones with an additive created from titanium dioxide. The nitrogen oxides released by cars bind to the additive, changing from a greenhouse gas into benign nitrates.

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Antarctica and the American Southwest: Former Neighbors?

By Andrew Moseman | July 11, 2008 9:46 am

Sand and snowDo penguins like salsa?

As the continents have made their slow drift around the world, the landmasses have intermingled in all sorts of ways, and occasionally formed supercontinents like Pangaea and Gondwanaland. Now, University of Minnesota Duluth geologist John Goodge says that in a supercontinent called Rodinia, which sat near the Equator 800 million years ago, Antarctica and Arizona used to be neighbors.

According to Science News, experts have argued over what bordered Laurentia—the geologic name for the large landmass that contained most of what is now North America—during the time the continents were clustered in Rodinia. Australia, Siberia and China were all candidates.

So Goodge tested the presence of different chemical isotopes, trying to get a match. And he did—to Eastern Antarctica. Granite found there matches the chemical composition of granite from the American Southwest, he says, and the Transantarctic Mountains contain the same sediments as Laurentian samples he’s studied.

The Antarctica-America connection may have been short-lived; Rodinia broke apart about 750 million years ago. No word yet whether the split was amicable.

Image: iStockphoto

Balloon to Tell Parisians Whether They're Breathing Smog

By Andrew Moseman | July 10, 2008 1:56 pm

The Paris skylineThe creators of The Red Balloon probably never had this in mind.

Aérophile, a French company that produces hot air balloons, has created a model that changes color to tell people how clean—or unclean—the Parisian air is that day. After gathering data from Airparif, an agency that monitors air quality in France, the balloon’s owners will adjust its color to correspond with the pollution level—green meaning excellent air quality, yellow signifying OK, and red meaning highly polluted.

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One More Impact of Climate Change: Longer Days (Literally)

By Melissa Lafsky | April 23, 2008 4:51 pm

hourglassKeren Blankfeld Schultz at Scientific American has an interesting report on the effects of severe weather on the length of a single day, or the total time it takes Earth to rotate once on its axis. As it turns out, the speed of the planet’s rotation is determined by the amount of mass across its surface, which is made up of the “roiling aggregation of gases that comprise the atmosphere, the solid earth itself, its fluid core, and the sloshing ocean.”

So when an event that has the power to move a huge amount of mass—such as, say, an earthquake and/or tsunami—occurs, it can alter the earth’s rotation speed enough to lengthen or shorten a day by as much as several thousandths of a second.

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