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17 news posts in Earth science

Earth science

14 Nov 2023

New study highlights need to address risk of continued global warming after net zero

by Liad Hollender, Frontiers science writer Image: The UN Climate Panel’s latest best estimate is that global warming will end once we reach net zero CO2 emissions – but a study in Frontiers in Science warns significant warming could still occur. Researchers including those from Imperial College London and University of Exeter assess factors controlling global temperatures post ‘net zero’ and offer a pioneering framework for better estimating climate change risks. These risks must inform climate mitigation and adaptation policies to protect future generations.  From scorching heatwaves to torrential downpours and devastating storms, the disastrous effects of global warming are sweeping across the world. Being the predicted outcome of burning fossil fuels, our best and only plan to limit warming is to reduce CO2 emissions from human activities to ‘net zero’ – where the amount of CO2 we emit into the atmosphere is equal to the amount we remove from it. To keep within the 1.5°C limit of the 2015 Paris Agreement, this needs to happen as soon as possible.   Though the scientific community’s current best estimate from models is that global warming will stop at net zero, an article published in Frontiers in Science raises a red flag.  […]

Earth science

04 Apr 2023

New low-cost camera could help scientists forecast volcano eruptions affecting millions

By Deborah Pirchner, Frontiers science writer Image: Monitoring emissions from volcanoes – particularly sulfur dioxide (SO2) using specialized cameras – is important for hazard forecasting. Gathering long-term time series datasets is critical because volcanoes can exhibit significant changes in activity over time. Now, researchers have developed a cheap and low-power SO2 camera suited for long-term measuring. The tool could have significant implications for millions of people worldwide who live close to active volcanoes, they say. Gas emissions are the manifestation of activity occurring beneath the surface of a volcano. Measuring them lets researchers see what can’t be seen from the surface. This knowledge is vital for hazard monitoring and the prediction of future eruptions. Since the mid-2000s, ultraviolet SO2 cameras have become important tools to measure emissions. The measurement campaigns, however, must be accompanied by a user, making SO2 cameras unsuitable for acquiring long-term datasets. Building and operating this type of camera can cost upwards of $20,000, resulting in very few cameras being installed permanently. To get better long-term monitoring data, an international team of researchers has developed an SO2 camera to continually measure emission rates from volcanoes. They have now published an article about the camera design and two […]

Earth science

17 Jan 2023

Rare fossilized feathers reveal secrets of paleontology hotspot during Cretaceous period

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Fossil STM 15-36, photographed by Xuwei Yin at the Shangdong Tianyu Museum of Natural History. Photograph courtesy of the authors. Rare preserved soft tissue – feathers from early Cretaceous birds at Jehol Biota – sheds new light on the world in which they died, millions of years ago. The site of Jehol Biota in China is famous for stunning fossils which preserve soft tissue – skin, organs, feathers, and fur. These fossils offer rare insights into the evolution of characteristics like flight, but they need careful interpretation to understand what the soft tissue looked and behaved like in life, and how decomposition may have affected it. A study published in Frontiers in Earth Science analyzed five fossils of an early Cretaceous bird, Sapeornis chaoyangensis, in order to study how the environment they were buried in changed the preservation of their soft tissue. “Jehol Biota provides the most informative source for understanding Mesozoic ecology,” said corresponding author Dr Yan Zhao, based at the Institute of Geology and Paleontology, Linyi University. “Better understanding of the diverse taphonomy of Jehol terrestrial vertebrates can help us finally understand more about the past and future of biological evolution.” […]

Earth science

18 Oct 2022

WWII shipwreck has leaked many pollutants into the sea, changing the ocean floor around it

By Suzanna Burgelman, Frontiers science writer Torn deck plating of the V 1302  John Mahn that was damaged by the bomb that hit amidships. Image: Flanders Marine Institute/VLIZ Researchers have discovered that an 80 year old historic World War II shipwreck is still influencing the microbiology and geochemistry of the ocean floor where it rests. In Frontiers in Marine Science, they show how the wreck is leaking hazardous pollutants, such as explosives and heavy metals, into the ocean floor sediment of the North Sea, influencing the marine microbiology around it. The seabed of the North Sea is covered in thousands of ship and aircraft wrecks, warfare agents, and millions of tons of conventional munition such as shells and bombs. Wrecks contain hazardous substances (such as petroleum and explosives) that may harm the marine environment. Yet, there is a lack of information about the location of the wrecks, and the effect they might have on the environment.  “The general public is often quite interested in shipwrecks because of their historical value, but the potential environmental impact of these wrecks is often overlooked,” said PhD candidate Josefien Van Landuyt, of Ghent University. For example, it is estimated that World War I and […]

Earth science

09 Aug 2022

Traces of 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill still detectable in 2020

By K.E.D. Coan, science writer Image: Breck P. Kent/ Small amounts of highly weathered oil residues from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster were still present in the surroundings ten years later, shows a new report. Crude oil is a complex mixture with many components that undergo chemical reactions in the environment. These transformed chemicals, as well as longer persisting oil products, can impact local ecosystems and a better understanding of the fates of these molecules can help future clean-up efforts. The oil spilled during the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 was largely transformed by the end of that summer, reports a new study in Frontiers in Marine Science. But some small quantities of chemical residues still persisted in the environment even ten years later. This latest study follows the varied fates of the leaked petroleum components, providing important insights for future spills and clean-up efforts. “The better we understand the chemicals and their chemical reactive properties as well as their physical properties, the better we will be able to mitigate oil spills and understand and detect environmental damages from oil spills,” said first author Prof Edward Overton of Louisiana State University. “Our paper describes the most abundant chemicals that make […]

Earth science

25 Mar 2022

Last of the giant camels and archaic humans lived together in Mongolia until 27,000 years ago

By Mischa Dijkstra, Frontiers science writer Camelus knoblochi would have dwarfed the modern domestic Bactrian camel, Camelus bactrianus, which also has two humps. Image credit: Bandurka/ This is the first report of fossils of a species of giant camel, Camelus knoblochi, from today’s Mongolia. The author show that the species’ last refuge in the world was in Mongolia until 27,000 years ago. There, they coexisted with archaic humans and the much smaller wild Bactrian camel C. ferus. Climate changing leading to desertification and possibly hunting by humans and competition with C. ferus drove C. knoblochi into extinction. A species of giant two-humped camel, Camelus knoblochi, is known to have lived for approximately a quarter of a million years in Central Asia. A new study in Frontiers in Earth Science shows that C. knoblochi’s last refuge was in Mongolia, until approximately 27,000 years ago. In Mongolia, the last of the species coexisted with anatomically modern humans and maybe the extinct Neanderthals or Denisovans. While the main cause of C. knoblochi’s extinction seems to have been climate change, hunting by archaic humans may also have played a role. “Here we show that the extinct camel Camelus knoblochi persisted in Mongolia until climatic […]

Earth science

08 Feb 2022

5 fascinating Frontiers articles you may have missed in January 2022

By Colm Gorey, Science Communications Manager A newly born desert tortoise. Image: K. Kristina Drake/ USGS. At Frontiers, we bring some of the world’s best research to a worldwide audience. But with tens of thousands of articles published each year, many often fly under the radar. Now, as part of new series each month, Frontiers will highlight just some of those amazing papers you may have missed.    1: Too hot to nest? In a hot summer, one tortoise can switch from nesting to developing eggs internally Researchers from Australia and South Africa published an article in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution identifying what may be a novel reproductive strategy in Chersina angulate tortoises that has the potential to enhance the resilience of species to global warming. After observing a captive colony of in Cape Town, South Africa and checking back through historical data, Gerald Kuchling of The University of Western Australia and Margaretha Hofmeyr of the University of Western Cape found that local ambient temperature altered how females deposited their last clutch of eggs. Periods of unusual heat may result in females switching from depositing their eggs in a nest to develop(oviposition), to growing the egg in their body […]

Earth science

16 Aug 2021

Secret to speediness of ancient bipedal reptile has been revealed

By Clarissa Wright, Frontiers science writer Close-up of a reptile eye, but not the ancient Eudibamus cursoris. Image Aedka Studio/ The Early Permian marked a time of major seasonal changes on the planet, as reptiles rapidly diversified. A key innovation is seen in bolosaurids with the ability to run at high speeds on two legs. Scientists from California State University and Carnegie Museum of Natural History in the US and University of Toronto Mississauga, Canada, collaborated in a study recently published to Frontiers presenting the first comprehensive description of the earliest known bipedal reptile from the Early Permian – a type of bolosaurid called Eudibamus cursoris. For the first time, its unique style of locomotion that achieved high running speeds on two legs has been revealed. The Permian period (between 298.9m and 252.2m years ago) was the last period of the Paleozoic Era. The Earth was warming out of an ice age, while weather intensified. Remnants of carboniferous rainforests disappeared, replaced by open desert. Facing these environmental changes, reptiles rapidly diversified and showed remarkable innovations during the Permian. Bolosaurids are the oldest family belonging to the ancient group of extinct reptiles known as Parareptilla (or parareptiles), and are considered a […]

Earth science

15 Jul 2021

Biogeoscience Chief Editor is the Recipient of the 2021 R. Berner Lectureship

Dr. Alexandra Turchyn We are honored to announce that Dr. Alexandra (Sasha) Turchyn, Co-Chief Editor of the Biogeoscience section of Frontiers in Earth Science is a recipient of the 2021 R. Berner Lectureship for her important contributions in the field of global geochemical cycles.  Recipients of this Lectureship are selected for their ‘exceptional ability to define globally important biogeochemical processes, develop new understandings, and significantly advance the corresponding area of research.’ Dr. Turchyn was presented the lectureship at the Goldschmidt 2021 conference, where she gave a Keynote Lecture on the topic of ‘Exploring the biogeochemical sulfur cycle over the past 150 million years’.  Dr. Turchyn graduated from Harvard University in 2005, and is currently a Reader in Biogeochemistry at the University of Cambridge. Her present research field includes understanding how the ocean’s chemistry has changed over time. It focuses on how interrelated biogeochemical cycles have responded to changes in climate on earth. Check out the Biogeoscience section The R. Berner Lectureship was established in 2017 to commemorate the late Robert Berner who was known for his outstanding contributions in the field of Geochemistry, including his contributions to modeling the carbon cycle. It is a joint program of the Geochemical Society […]

Jingmai O'Connor crossing her arms and leaning on a table while looking at fossilized remains of a bird.

Earth science

22 Feb 2021

Jingmai O’Connor: ‘I think people imagine we spend far more time digging up fossils than we actually do’

By Colm Gorey, Frontiers science writer/Jingmai O’Connor Jingmai O’Connor, associate curator of fossil reptiles at Chicago’s Field Museum. Image: Jesse Goldberg Jingmai O’Connor, associate curator of fossil reptiles at Chicago’s Field Museum, discusses a recent ‘bizarre’ ancient digestive discovery and the issue of diversity in paleontology. In a recently published study to Frontiers in Earth Science, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Field Museum in the US published findings on the discovery of quartz crystals in the stomach of a fossilized bird that lived alongside the dinosaurs. According to Jingmai O’Connor, the associate curator of fossil reptiles at Chicago’s Field Museum who contributed to the paper, it appeared to be “some kind of bizarre form of soft tissue preservation that we’ve never seen before”. She added: “Figuring out what’s in this bird’s stomach can help us understand what it ate and what role it played in its ecosystem.” O’Connor is an American paleontologist whose research focuses on the dinosaur-bird transition and the Mesozoic evolution of birds and other flying dinosaurs. Her research includes studies of exceptional soft tissues, such as lung and ovary traces preserved in specimens from Jehel Biota between 130 million and 130 million years ago. […]

Earth science

15 Feb 2021

Strange creatures accidentally discovered beneath Antarctica’s ice shelves

Prior research has suggested that the watery depths below the Antarctic ice shelves are too cold and nutrient poor to sustain much life. But a new study from British Antarctic Survey reveals the discovery of a colony of sponges and other animals attached to a boulder on the sea floor – challenging researchers’ understanding about the existence of life in extreme environments. British Antarctic survey camera travelling down the 900-meter-long bore hole in the Filchner-Ronne ice shelf. (marine creature pictured is unrelated to the discovery) CREDIT: Dr Huw Griffiths/British Antarctic Survey By K.E.D Coan, science writer/British Antarctic Survey Far underneath the ice shelves of the Antarctic, there’s more life than expected, finds a recent study in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science. During an exploratory survey, researchers drilled through 900 meters of ice in the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, situated on the south eastern Weddell Sea. At a distance of 260km away from the open ocean, under complete darkness and with temperatures of -2.2°C, very few animals have ever been observed in these conditions. But this study is the first to discover the existence of stationary animals – similar to sponges and potentially several previously unknown species – attached to a boulder […]

Earth science

10 Feb 2021

Scientists propose three-step method to reverse significant reforestation side effect

By Colm Gorey, Frontiers science writer Image: Farid Suhaimi/Shutterstock Reforestation efforts using a monoculture of a fast-growing tree species, while effective, significantly impact the soil water content of humid, tropical regions and threatens global freshwater supplies. Scientists have now found that the transpiration rate and transpiration-related trait values are up to 10 times greater in the fast-growing species than nearby, dominant slow-growing species. The team has proposed a three-step method for ensuring reforestation efforts in tropical regions don’t harm the surrounding soil water content. ► Read original article► Download original article (pdf) While deforestation levels have decreased significantly since the turn of the 21st century, the United Nations (UN) estimates that 10 million hectares of trees have been felled in each of the last five years. Aside from their vital role in absorbing CO2 from the air, forests play an integral part in maintaining the delicate ecosystems that cover our planet. Efforts are now underway across the world to rectify the mistakes of the past, with the UN Strategic Plan for Forests setting out the objective for an increase in global forest coverage by 3% by 2030. With time being of the essence, one of the most popular methods of reforestation in […]

Earth science

03 Feb 2021

Why we cannot ignore the place of viruses on the ‘Tree of Life’

By Dr Hugh Harris, APC Microbiome Ireland/University College Cork Image: Corona Borealis Studio/Shutterstock One particular virus has come to dominate our lives. Now Dr Hugh Harris of APC Microbiome Ireland and University College Cork writes that viruses deserve a place on the ‘Tree of Life’. A single virus has dramatically changed our lives. SARS-CoV-2 is keeping most of us at home, often with other members of our family. The next time we get annoyed by a relative, some perspective might be achieved by thinking about how inclusive the concept of family can be. A family tree is a familiar sight to many people. There is something intriguing and even nostalgic about looking into the past, beyond our parents and grandparents. We all want to know where we came from. How far back do the branches of kinship reach? A visit to the zoo might have us looking at the chimpanzees and gorillas as they go about their day – these are our cousins. Richard Dawkins described a thought experiment where a female chimpanzee held the hand of her mother. The mother, in turn, held the hand of her own mother and so on back across the generations, forming an unbroken […]