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EARTH Magazine March 2019

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

While we often spend time on this page musing about interesting features in the current issue, that emphasis isn’t meant to suggest we don’t also love the other sections in the magazine, like the News Notes, which happen to be our readers’ favorite. Each month, the News Notes section touches on new and breaking research that can be thought provoking and can leave you wishing for a deeper dive into the subject at hand. Two articles this month made me ponder the wider implications of the highlighted research. First, EARTH contributor Bethany Augliere explores how researchers have discovered the abiotic genesis of tryptophan in subseafloor rocks at the mid-oceanic ridge. Beyond the certain jokes about the “turkey of the sea,” this research poses fascinating questions about the origin of life and…

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after a disaster, should you gamble on returning? paradise edition

Rumor has it that Paradise, Calif., might have originally been named “Par-O-Dice,” after a saloon that was supposedly there during the gold rush days, when the community first started. Or the origin of the name might come entirely from the town’s self-description as “a heavenly place to live.” Regardless of how it was named, Paradise is now gone. In November 2018, the Camp Fire burned most of Paradise to the ground. Will it be rebuilt? Should it be rebuilt? On some level, the 26,000 residents of Paradise surely knew that a major wildfire would strike at some point; after all, 13 fires have struck within the Camp Fire’s footprint since 1999 alone and 42 fires larger than 300 acres burned in the same area since 1914. Parts of Paradise were even…

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some of earth’s water originated in the solar system’s birth

When Earth first formed, the oceans of water we know today were nowhere in sight. The long-standing consensus about where our planet’s water came from posits that it was not present during Earth’s formation and that it was later brought by chondritic materials like meteorites, asteroids and comets. But new research suggests some also came from the solar nebula — the gas and dust left over from the formation of the sun that created the planets. In a study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, scientists propose, based on isotopic ratios in Earth’s mantle as well as computer modeling, that 1 to 2 percent of Earth’s water originated from hydrogen in the solar nebula. “Our conclusion does not overthrow the currently prevailing theory for the origin of Earth’s water ……

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stronger monsoon drove ancient indus civilization into the hills

Roughly 4,000 years ago, the Indus River Valley was home to the advanced and thriving Harappa culture. But by 1800 B.C., the civilization’s sophisticated cities along the river, which drains into the Arabian Sea on the coast of what is now Pakistan, were abandoned for smaller villages in the Himalayan foothills. A new study suggests that widespread changes in the Indian winter monsoon may have resulted in flooding that forced people to resettle farther from the Indus. A team led by Liviu Giosan of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution collected sediment cores from several sites in the Arabian Sea to study the river’s flooding history. By scanning the samples for plankton DNA and for the abundance of planktonic foraminifera, which are more plentiful in the region in winter, when strong winds stir…

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jump-starting earthquake insurance uptake in california

Many parts of California are at risk for large, damaging earthquakes. Yet only about one in 10 homes in the state is covered by earthquake insurance. Now, a new insurance option offers a means to supplement traditional insurance plans and provides a way for uninsured Californians to obtain at least a modicum of earthquake coverage. The new plan, available from Jumpstart Insurance Solutions Inc., a venture launched in October, relies on U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) data and tools to calculate premiums and payouts. It offers what’s called parametric insurance, which differs from traditional indemnity insurance in that it offers a set payout in the event that a predetermined parameter, or threshold condition, is met. Specifically, Jumpstart provides customers with a flat $10,000 payout — underwritten by Lloyd’s of London — if…

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dinosaur soft tissues preserved as polymers

Since 2005, several samples of ostensibly soft tissue, such as blood vessels and bits of organic bone material, have been gleaned from dinosaur bones. The finds have stirred debate because the notion that intact dinosaur proteins could survive tens of millions of years has proved a tantalizing but difficult pill to swallow for many paleontologists. In a new study, however, researchers have identified a chemical pathway — well known in food science but not seen before in paleontology — that may be the key to long-term preservation of soft-tissue structures. “According to the laws of chemistry and physics, the preservation of dinosaur proteins is completely paradoxical,” says Jasmina Wiemann, a doctoral candidate studying molecular paleobiology at Yale and lead author of the new study in Nature Communications. “Within a few hundred…