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EARTH Magazine November 2018

Each month, EARTH Magazine brings the latest news and information about the science of the Earth, energy, and the environment in a colorful and approachable format ideal for all. All EARTH stories come straight from the actual published science and tells the real story behind the headlines.

United States
American Geological Institute
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from the editor

Seventy years ago, the National Academy of Sciences encouraged the major geology societies in the U.S. to form the American Geological Institute (AGI) to provide a federation to unify and serve the geological sciences. Like all things that thrive, AGI has evolved substantially since its founding in 1948. AGI now has 52 member societies — compared to 11 when the organization began — and represents the entire range of earth science. This wider scope led to AGI’s renaming as the American Geosciences Institute in 2011, but the mission has remained the same: to serve the interests of the broader geoscience community. The ways in which that mission is fulfilled have changed, however, with commitments to education, public outreach, communications and policy growing stronger over the years. Of course, we still…

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making social media work for scientists

Whether true or not, scientists are famous for not being great public communicators, yet communication is a key aspect of our work. Traditional science communication involves sharing findings with colleagues through published articles in peer-reviewed journals and presenting work at conferences. Scientists are encouraged to communicate using this well-defined framework and are rewarded for doing so; in fact, our career progress is often assessed using such publication records. Meanwhile, communication with wider audiences might entail visits with schoolchildren or perhaps talking to journalists for stories in a magazine like this one. But sharing findings with and promoting science to the public is a less-defined task, and often one with few incentives and little support. That communicating with wider audiences isn’t encouraged is unfortunate considering many of us are funded by…

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underwater wifi? rising sea levels threaten physical internet

It seems like you can find wireless internet almost anywhere now, but the backbone of the internet is wired: Infrastructure such as fiber optic cables, data centers, traffic exchanges and hubs keeps us connected. In many coastal cities, however, these critical communication pieces are facing increasing risk from rising seas. A new study shows that thousands of kilometers of cables and hundreds of internet traffic hubs will be inundated by rising sea levels in the next 15 years, putting coastal cities like New York, Miami and Seattle at risk for widespread disruptions.Much of the cable that makes up the physical internet is buried, following existing rights of way such as highways and railroads built along coastlines. “When these networks were first installed around 25 years ago, little thought was given…

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steve not an aurora after all

Earlier this year, scientists published a paper identifying some auroral spectra that had previously been called “Steve” by amateur auroral enthusiasts as a particular type of auroral event known as a Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement, or STEVE. However, using a network of ground-based imagers combined with energetic particle detectors aboard NOAA’s Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellites, scientists have now determined that STEVE is, in fact, not an aurora. They are unsure, though, what causes the sky glow, and suspect it may be caused by an as yet unknown mechanism.Gallardo-Lacourt et al., Geophysical Research Letters, August 2018 ■…

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globe-trotting kelp set new world record

When marine biologist Erasmo Macaya, from University of Concepción in Chile, found a piece of kelp washed up on a beach in Antarctica, he suspected the scrap of seaweed had come a long way.“Kelp does not grow in Antarctica, but we know it can float and can act as a raft, carrying many other intertidal plants and animals with it across oceans,” he said in a statement released with a new study in Nature Climate Change. DNA testing revealed the kelp had traveled more than 20,000 kilometers, in the longest-known marine rafting event ever recorded.Previously, scientists had thought that Antarctica’s flora and fauna were effectively isolated from the rest of the world due to its remote location, but the new study suggests that influxes of new biota are limited more…

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saharan dust a storm killer

Each year between 900 million and 4 billion metric tons of dust from the Sahara Desert in Africa is swept into the atmosphere and blown around the world. In places like Texas, the dust often leads to poor air quality. A new study suggests that desert dust may also suppress the formation of severe storms and hurricanes in the southern United States.Bowen Pan, a graduate student at Texas A&M University, and colleagues used atmospheric computer models to study how Saharan dust moving across the Gulf of Mexico into southern Texas might affect storms generated in the Gulf. They reported in the Journal of Climate that dust-laden air creates temperature inversions that tend to prevent cloud and storm formation while also reducing the amount of sunlight reaching Earth’s surface.NASA satellite imagery…