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EARTH Magazine December 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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access_time2 мин.
from the editor

Washington, D.C., is a center of power, and — with so much history on obvious display — it’s a center of tourism as well. Believe it or not, it’s also an amazing place to witness and appreciate geology. As a native of the area, I may be biased, but even growing up, I had a sense that the geology of the D.C. area was underappreciated. “Go out West to see geology in action,” has long been a popular refrain among American geologists. Bah! With great field trips over the years run by figures such as the late Jim O’Connor, the longtime University of the District of Columbia professor and “state geologist” for the city, as well as former University of Maryland professor and past National Association of Geoscience Teachers president…

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national geological surveys: the past, present and future

The world’s oldest national geological survey is 183 years old; the youngest is 19. These two, and every other one out there, represent countries with vastly different needs — while some surveys are focused on overarching goals like natural resource sustainability, others are still working to map the fundamental geology of their lands. Yet there’s much that brings them together now and will continue to in the future. Creating national geological surveys was one of the premier scientific endeavors of the 19th century. Systematic geological mapping and investigations of the geologic record under the auspices of such surveys were underpinnings of the emerging science of geology. These activities were also instrumental to the industrial revolution and economic expansion in Europe and North America. Since the creation of the first national survey,…

access_time7 мин.
learning “minecraft” as a forty-something proves the game can be an educational tool for all ages

“Minecraft” is an insanely popular game. By 2018, more than 140 million copies had been sold, making it the second-best-selling video game in history, after “Tetris.” First released in 2009 by the Swedish game developer Mojang, the popularity of the sandbox-type game — so-called because it allows players to build unique structures and environments within different worlds — grew rapidly. In 2014, Mojang was acquired by Microsoft for $2.5 billion. “Minecraft” has lesson-based, interactive and creative elements, making it a useful teaching tool in schools. Because the game is inherently about resource extraction and management, it’s also a natural platform for teaching lessons about energy and the environment. That’s something I know more than a little about: I have been teaching those topics to diverse audiences globally through my online courses,…

access_time3 мин.
antarctic rift was active more recently than thought

Studying Antarctica’s geology is difficult because of the continent’s remote location and extreme weather, and because most of it is buried under kilometers of ice. More than 100 volcanoes hint at the White Continent’s fiery history, however. Scientists have long known that Antarctica was once split into two plates along the West Antarctic Rift system. A new study provides information about when this rift system was last active, and the findings have implications for calculating plate tectonic movements around the planet. To study the tectonic history of the West Antarctic Rift system, Roi Granot, of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, and co-author Jérôme Dyment, of the Earth Physics Institute in Paris, collected marine magnetic geophysical data during two excursions on the French icebreaker L’Astrolabe in 2012 and 2016. The…

access_time1 мин.
marine heatwaves will increase

Like heatwaves on land, marine heatwaves (MHW) — periods when sea-surface temperatures are significantly higher than normal for at least five days — have become far more common, severe and extensive in recent decades and will likely increase in the future. Researchers looking at historic records found that the number of MHW days (a day on which surface waters were warmer than the top one percent of measurements for that location) doubled between 1982 and 2016. They projected that with a global average temperature increase of 1.5, 2 or 3.5 degrees Celsius, the number of MHW days could increase by a factor of 16, 23 or 41, respectively. Such changes would likely push marine organisms “to the limits of their resilience and even beyond, which could cause irreversible changes,” the…

access_time3 мин.
forecasting california’s earthquake hazard

In California, scientists use a model called the Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (UCERF3) to assess earthquake hazards across the state based not on the physics of the state’s faults, but on history: By considering the historic record of earthquakes, including the location and severity of past quakes, UCERF3, the third version of the model, provides a hazard measure. “But those observations are limited, because we only have a few hundred years [of written earthquake records] in California,” says Greg Beroza, a seismologist at Stanford University. “In the long term, we have a small sample of the possible behavior of the system.” This means the resulting hazard assessments, relying on the relatively short historical earthquake record, may not accurately reflect earthquake potential across the state. So, scientists have long been…