Rocks in Canada hold oldest evidence of life we’ve found

September 29, 2017 by  
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3.95 billion-year-old rocks could offer the oldest evidence we’ve found for life on Earth . A team led by the University of Tokyo found graphite in Labrador, Canada that they think is biogenic, or produced by living organisms. They contend this is the oldest evidence of life, as opposed to microfossils found earlier in Quebec , saying the dating process used in the latter was highly controversial. In March, the journal Nature published the findings of an international team of researchers who’d found fossils in Quebec that they said could be between 3.77 and 4.28 billion years old. Now, nine scientists at institutions in Japan say they’ve actually found the oldest evidence of life on this planet, and it’s in 3.95 billion-year-old rocks. Related: World’s oldest fossils discovered in Canada – and they’re 4 billion years old These researchers found graphite in sedimentary rocks. Tsuyoshi Komiya of the University of Tokyo said, “Our samples are also the oldest supracrustal rocks preserved on Earth.” Phys.org pointed out the Quebec fossils were found in a similar formation. The Japan team measured the isotope composition of the graphite to find it was biogenic, although the identity of the organisms that produced the graphite or their appearance are mysteries. Komiya said the team could work to identify the organisms by scrutinizing “other isotopes such as nitrogen, sulphur, and iron of the organic matter and accompanied materials.” They can also analyze the rock’s chemical composition to try and figure out the organisms’ environment . Other researchers, like geochemist Daniele Pinti of the University of Quebec at Montreal, seem impressed by the new team’s findings and process. He told CBC News, “For the moment, it looks very convincing.” Phys.org said that should the discovery be accurate, it would mean life sprung up on Earth a geological second after the planet formed around 4.5 billion years ago. Nature published the new study this week. Via Phys.org and CBC News Images via Wikimedia Commons and Tashiro, Takayuki, et al.

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Rocks in Canada hold oldest evidence of life we’ve found

Montana earthquake felt along line of over 500 miles

July 7, 2017 by  
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An earthquake that rocked Montana yesterday was felt by people across hundreds of miles. The 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck the western part of the state close to northwest Helena at 12:30 AM local time, but was felt by people in multiple states and even Canada. The quake was large enough to wake people up. The recent Montana earthquake was shallow but was felt by people across a line over 500-miles-long from around Billings to Spokane, Washington. There weren’t any reports of injuries, according to Montana Public Radio, but people over a widespread area were awakened by the shaking. The earthquake was the strongest Montana has experienced in possibly over a decade – according to NPR a 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck in 2005. Related: Oklahoma earthquake activity up 4000%, locals sue oil and gas companies Between 12:30 AM and 1:31 AM on July 6, a minimum of 10 measurable tremors struck Montana, and the last two had magnitudes of 3.9 and 4.4. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said the earthquake “occurred as the result of shallow strike slip faulting along either a right-lateral, near vertical fault trending east-southeast, or on a left-lateral vertical fault striking north-northeast.” The earthquake hit around 230 miles away from Yellowstone National Park , and as it was felt over such a wide area some people wondered if the Yellowstone supervolcano had become active. But the park service said the area typically has over 1,000 earthquakes yearly, and experts have said it is very unlikely a large eruption will occur in the next 1,000 to 10,000 years. The earthquake may not have stemmed from the supervolcano but still rattled residents out of the routine of their daily lives. Volunteers pitched in to help clean up a local grocery store in Lincoln, the D&D Foodtown, which lost pickle jars and wine bottles – but assistant manager Ruth Baker said all of the eggs in the store survived. Via NPR and the United States Geological Survey ( 1 , 2 ) Images via Wikimedia Commons and screenshot Save

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Montana earthquake felt along line of over 500 miles

China breaks ground on 12-mile treetop walkway in Fuzhou forest

July 7, 2017 by  
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China’s magnificent new walkway is giving people a treetop experience of Fuzhou’s sub-tropical forests unlike any before. Singapore-based LOOK Architects recently completed the first phase of the Fuzhou Forest Walkway, a snaking treetop walkway that will span over 19 kilometers (nearly 12 miles) at completion. The elevated pedestrian pathway looks like a dragon’s back threading down the lush Jinniushan mountain and offers urban dwellers the chance to reconnect with nature and brings attention to one of the city’s quickly diminishing green lungs. Covered in greenery thanks to a sub-tropical climate, Fujian’s capital of Fuzhou is one of China’s greenest cities and is famous for its numerous banyan trees that line the streets. LOOK Architects’ Fuzhou Forest Walkway brings nature closer to the city with an elevated path that covers the full breadth of Jinniushan mountain and offers beautiful views of the canopy , the city, and mountains beyond. The architects described the project as “a signature urban connector network that provides public accessibility to indigenous hinterland stretching north- east of Minjiang. Fudao signifies an awakened consciousness to improve lives of city dwellers by bringing nature within closer reach.” The project also presented the opportunity to open up and redevelop many parts of Jinniushan that had been inaccessible to the general public due to proximity to military camps and burial sites. The new enhancements included a modern columbarium complex constructed to rehouse exhumed graves, the adaptive reuse of an abandoned quarry into a new visitor’s center, and the transformation of an old bus depot Xikezhan into the main entrance that doubles as a food and beverage enclave. The walkway can be accessed via 10 different entrances, each with unique and eye-catching features such as the grand 24-meter-wide spiral ramp at the entrance of the existing Jinniushan indoor sports hall. Built with a gentle gradient, the elevated walkway is punctuated with amenities that include rest shelters, viewing decks, observation towers, and teahouses with bathrooms. The structure is also equipped with WIFI connectivity, touch-screen information boards, and visitor traffic monitors, giving the project the potential to set a new bar for China’s eco-routes. Related: Spiraling treetop walkway gives visitors a bird’s eye view of a Danish forest Environmental conservation is a major priority of the project. The walkway is made up of eight modular components that can be combined in various permutations, each made up of steel grating to allow natural light to pass through. Carefully spaced supporting columns minimize site impact. The Fuzhou Forest Walkway is slated for completion in next year. + LOOK Architects Via ArchDaily Images by Zhou Yue Dong

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China breaks ground on 12-mile treetop walkway in Fuzhou forest

New map provides clues into 500-million-year mystery in Earth’s past

June 29, 2017 by  
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1,000 to 520 million years ago, Earth’s climate was undergoing dramatic changes. From icy extremes in what some have termed Snowball Earth , to warmer conditions as an increase in oxygen led to the Cambrian explosion of biodiversity , it’s a period of the planet’s climate history we knew little about – until now. Scientists recently created the first ever global map of plate tectonics during this time, shedding light on their influence on other Earth systems. Tectonic plate movement helps researchers understand how life evolved and how Earth’s climate changed. But there was around a 500-million-year gap that a group of 12 researchers in Australia and Canada just filled in with their new map, which they describe as the “first whole-Earth plate tectonic map of half a billion years of Earth history .” Related: World’s oldest fossils discovered in Canada – and they’re 4 billion years old The researchers were able to draw up the map by studying rocks that formed near where tectonic plates meet or where they ripped apart. The rocks came from Brazil, Ethiopia, and Madagascar. The scientists said the work took them a few decades. Their map offers new details, further back in geological time, than we had before. Two of the co-authors on a paper in press at the journal Gondwana Research wrote a piece for The Conversation detailing their map and the role of plate tectonics in our planet’s climate and the evolution of life. Andrew Merdith of the University of Sydney and Alan Collins of the University of Adelaide said the lack of ancient tectonic maps has made it difficult for researchers trying to unravel the mysteries of the past. They wrote, “Understand ancient plate tectonics and we go someway to understanding the ancient Earth system. And the Earth as it is today, and into the future.” Via The Conversation Images via Andrew S. Merdith, et al.

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New map provides clues into 500-million-year mystery in Earth’s past

Scientists will attempt to be the first to drill into Earth’s mantle

April 21, 2017 by  
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Scientists want to plumb the Earth for one of its last secrets. An international group of researchers led by  Japan’s Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology say they plan to be the first to successfully drill into the mantle, that is, the region sandwiched between the planet’s outer crust and its inner core. Although the mantel makes up about 80 percent of the Earth’s mass, much of it remains a geological enigma. “We don’t know the exact [composition] of the mantle yet,” researcher Natsue Abe told CNN . To access the mantel, JAMSTEC will deploy the Chikyu, one of its biggest and most sophisticated drilling vessels, to penetrate 2.5 miles of ocean, then another 3.7 miles of sea floor (a.k.a the crust). The Japanese government is backing the expedition in the hopes that the data gleaned will help scientists better predict earthquakes. Related: Geologists find seventh continent hiding in plain sight “In Japan we have some volcanoes, earthquakes and such kind of natural hazards,” Abe said. “People [want to create] some monitoring or analysis equipment but we don’t know … what kind of factor to use. So we need to know the natural system more clearly or precisely … we have to observe the Earth more precisely.” All three drilling sites currently under consideration are located in the Pacific Ocean. The first is off Hawaii, the second off Costa Rica, and the third is off Mexico. “We already drilled and have taken some samples from the ocean floor but [only] from the top,” Abe said. “[We want] to dig from the ocean floor to the deep pristine mantle.” Via CNN Earth image via Wikimedia  and Flickr

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Why scientists will march in over 400 cities on Earth Day

April 21, 2017 by  
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Even if the president of the United States rejects science , scientists plan to make their voices heard. Tomorrow they’ll march on Washington, D.C. and over 400 locations around the world in the March for Science . While organizers say the march was inspired by the success of the January 21 Women’s March, they also emphasize their event is nonpartisan. Their march will celebrate science and highlight “the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world.” Tens of thousands of people are expected to show up for the March for Science in Washington, D.C. tomorrow. People will gather at the Washington Monument starting at 8:00 AM, and will participate in teach-ins and a rally program until the march at 2:00 PM. Speakers include Bill Nye and pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha who helped expose Flint , Michigan lead poisoning. Related: Trump inspires 400 scientists to run for office Trump isn’t the only reason for the March for Science. Scientists and academics have been concerned for years now over public distrust of science. The event’s mission page says, “People who value science have remained silent for far too long in the face of policies that ignore scientific evidence and endanger both human life and the future of our world. New policies threaten to further restrict scientists’ ability to research and communicate their findings. We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely…We must take science out of the labs and journals and share it with the world.” The American Association for the Advancement of Science , the American Chemical Society , and the American Geophysical Union all support the march. Satellite marches will take place on six different continents. You can register for the march in Washington, D.C. or find a march near you here . If you can’t attend the Earth Day science march, you can march for climate science in the People’s Climate Mobilization on DC on April 29. + March for Science Via The Washington Post Images via Wikimedia Commons and March for Science

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The original Brexit: ancient Britain’s geological split from Europe

April 5, 2017 by  
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Brexit – or Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – remains controversial even as Prime Minister Theresa May begins the process of leaving. But it turns out this process may not have been the first Brexit ever. Research led by Imperial College London scientists found evidence of an ancient geological Brexit – “the Brexit nobody voted for” – in the Dover Strait. According to their research a land bridge once existed between England and France . Ancient Britain, regardless of the lack of cities and people, might have been almost unrecognizable according to geophysical and seafloor data. In this Britain, which could have existed 450,000 years ago during an ice age, the whole English Channel would have been a frozen tundra crossed only by small rivers. Britain may have been physically connected to Europe by a chalk rock ridge spanning the Dover Strait that held back a proglacial lake , or lake in front of an ice sheet according to Imperial College London, in what is today the North Sea. Giant waterfalls from the lake could have contributed to erosion that breached the ridge. Related: UK’s Brexit vote could reverse environmental protections and contribute to climate change The data shows a valley system and huge holes on the seafloor. In France, there are around seven of these holes, or plunge pools, around 328 feet deep in a solid rock line between Dover and Calais. The straight line backs up the idea the holes were created by waterfalls cascading over a ridge about 328 feet high and around 20 miles long – the land bridge – to hit the ground below and erode rock. Catastrophic flooding is thought to have finished the ancient Brexit. The researchers found evidence of megaflood processes, which could have carved the valleys. Imperial College London professor Sanjeev Gupta, co-author on a paper published online yesterday in Nature Communications , said in a statement, “The breaching of this land bridge between Dover and Calais was undeniably one of the most important events in British history, helping to shape our island nation’s identity even today. When the ice age ended and sea levels rose, flooding the valley floor for good, Britain lost its physical connection to the mainland. Without this dramatic breaching Britain would still be part of Europe. This is Brexit 1.0 – the Brexit nobody voted for.” Via Imperial College London Images courtesy Imperial College London and Wikimedia Commons

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Research reveals the Earth may have once had a solid egg-like crust

March 2, 2017 by  
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Extending the symbolism of eggs as a metaphor for life and reproduction, recent research reveals the Earth itself may have once had an egg-like structure. According to a report from the University of Maryland , the plate tectonics that now define the Earth’s geology may have begun later in the planet’s history. Before the plates began moving and colliding to define the surface we know and love today, the Earth’s crust likely consisted of a solid but deformable shell encasing a molten liquid interior. The research, a joint effort between the UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, Curtin University and the Geological Survey of Western Australia , was recently published in the journal Nature, and represents the latest in a longstanding debate over the Earth’s geological history. One side of the debate says plate tectonics began right after the Earth started to cool (known as uniformitarianism), while the other proposes the planet went through a long phase with a solid shell enveloping it. This latest study clearly favors the latter view. Models for how the first continental crust formed generally fall into two groups: those that invoke modern-style plate tectonics and those that do not, says Michael Brown, a professor of geology at the University of Maryland and a co-author of the study. “Our research supports the latter ‘stagnant lid’ forming the planet’s outer shell early in Earth’?s history. Related: Geologists find seventh continent hiding in plain sight Coming to this conclusion was no easy task. Brown and his team studied rocks collected from the East Pilabara Terrane – a large area of ancient crust located in Western Australia . As old as 3.5 billion years, these rocks are some of the oldest on the planet. The researchers looked at the granite and basalt rocks for signs of plate tectonic activity, such as subduction of one plate beneath the other. As UMD explains it: “Plate tectonics substantially affects the temperature and pressure of rocks within Earth’?s interior. When a slab of rock subducts under the Earth’s surface, the rock starts off relatively cool and takes time to gain heat. By the time it reaches a higher temperature, the rock has also reached a significant depth, which corresponds to high pressure – in the same way a diver experiences higher pressure at greater water depth.” In contrast, a stagnant lid regime would be very hot at relatively shallow depths and low pressures. Geologists refer to this as a “high thermal gradient.” According to Brown, the results showed the Pilabara granites were produced by melting rocks in a high thermal gradient environment and the composition of local basalts shows they came from an earlier generation of source rocks supporting the ‘stagnant lid’ theory of the Earth’s early formation. Images via Robert Whitehead , domdomegg

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New details of feathered dinosaur could elucidate the origins of flight

March 2, 2017 by  
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A small red-crested dinosaur from the Late Jurassic era could help us unlock the origins of flight, now that we have a better idea of what it looked like. Using high-powered lasers, scientists from the University of Hong Kong have illuminated previously invisible soft tissues of the foot-tall Anchiornis , providing, for the first time, a detailed outline of the avian-like creature. The quantitative reconstruction of Anchiornis , which was first discovered in northeastern China in 2009, show that the animal possessed drumstick-shaped legs, long forearms connected by wing-like membranes, foot scales, and a slender tail. “The detail was so well lit that we could see the texture of the skin,” said paleontologist Michael Pittman, who described the discovery in a paper published in Nature Communications this week. These traits, Pittman added, could help us understand how dinosaurs eventually took to the skies as birds. As a field of science, paleontology is riddled with mysteries. The skeletons scientists dig up from the ground are seldom complete, and soft tissues like organs, muscle, or skin almost never survive into the present. On the rare occasion that tissues have endured the test of time, they’re unobservable with the naked eye. Related: Scientist finds dinosaur tail trapped in amber and it is covered with feathers That’s where a technique known as laser-stimulated fluorescence comes in. By bouncing wavelengths of light aimed a fossil sample in a dark room, Pittman and his team were able to manifest high-fidelity features that offer clues to how Anchiornis attempted, or even achieved, aerodynamic flight 160 million years ago. Anchiornis didn’t necessarily fly, of course. Even modern birds with wing folds, like the weka of New Zealand , never escape the pull of gravity. Nevertheless, the research remains vital to our understanding of where birds came from, since they appeared around the same time, Pittman said. “What our work does underscore,” Pittman told National Geographic , “is the broad extent to which bird-like dinosaurs were experimenting with their anatomy and functional capabilities before we had the first unequivocal gliding and flying birds.” + Nature Communications + University of Hong Kong Via National Geographic

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Geologists find seventh continent hiding in plain sight

February 16, 2017 by  
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There’s another continent on Earth , and it’s been lurking in plain view for a long time. Geologists have traditionally identified six continents, combining Asia and Europe into Eurasia, but a new study reveals New Zealand and New Caledonia are actually part of a seventh geologic continent called Zealandia. In the Geological Society of America ‘s journal GSA Today , 11 scientists from institutions in New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Australia revealed the find. They claim New Caledonia and New Zealand aren’t just an island chain as was once thought, but are part of one 1.89 million square mile piece of continental crust that comprises Zealandia. Once part of the supercontinent Gondwana, now just around five percent of Zealandia is above the ocean’s surface. Related: Scientists find evidence of lost continent beneath Mauritius To discern a continent, geologists consider four criteria: first, elevation above the ocean floor; second, if igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks can found; third, if the land is comprised of a thicker piece of crust compared against the ocean floor; and fourth, if there clearly defined limits around an area bigger than a continental fragment or microcontinent. Geologists have known for decades New Zealand and New Caledonia fit criteria one through three, but in their new study, the 11 scientists drew on satellite gravity data to help recognize Zealandia as a continent around the size of greater India. If you think you’ve heard the word ‘Zealandia’ before, it’s because geophysicist Bruce Luyendyk, who wasn’t part of the new study, coined the name back in 1995, to refer to the two islands and other submerged pieces of crust that once broke off Gondwana. Luyendyk said he wasn’t trying to describe a new continent then, but he thinks the scientists’ find will be accepted. He told Business Insider, “These people here are A-list earth scientists. I think they have put together a solid collection of evidence that’s really thorough. I don’t see that there’s going to be a lot of pushback, except maybe around the edges.” Luyendyk said there are clear economic implications to the study. United Nations agreements often describe continental shelves as boundaries that help determine resource extraction, and according to Business Insider New Zealand might have tens of billions of dollars of minerals and fossil fuels near its shores. Via Business Insider Images via Wikimedia Commons and N. Mortimer, et al./GSA Today

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