Friday, July 31, 2015

In the News: Melting Mummies and Sinking Cities

Fig.1. Washington, D.C. is slowly sinking due to a geological process that started around 20,000 years ago (Credit: Architect of the Capitol)

Between fungi that accompanies natural disasters and the melting field of glacial archaeology, this week featured new weird and wonderful research. Read to learn more about old ingredients for new beer, unconsidered repercussions of climate change, a slowly sinking city, and more:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Fall of a Civilization

Fig.1. Bronze head of a king, most likely Sargon of Akkad. 

Around 4,300 years ago, Sargon of Akkad ruled what was considered to be the world’s first empire. The prosperity of the Akkadian Empire, which relied on the fertile soils between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, collapsed abruptly almost 200 years later. Scientists now hypothesize that Sargon’s empire fell to a dramatic shift in the climate, which dried up Akkadian's rain-dependent agricultural systems. A recent study published in the journal Quaternary Science argues that this Mesopotamian empire was only one of several ancient civilizations affected by sudden climate variability.

Friday, July 24, 2015

In the News: Agriculture and Atomic Bombs

Fig.1. The Trinity Site explosion, 0.016s after the explosion on July 16, 1945. This was the first atomic bomb blast in human history (Credit: Berlyn Brixner)

Soil holds surprising secrets, from records of the first atomic bomb to evidence of how agriculture affected our stride. Read about the legacy of the Trinity Site explosion, feeding a growing population, 10 billion bacteria beneath our feet, and more!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Lessons of Ancient Soils

Fig.1. Rice fields in Vietnam (Credit: Mayur Kakade via United Nations Flickr)

Since the advent of agriculture around 12,000 years ago, soil degradation has plagued farming societies. On average, soil is only about a meter thick, but its nutrients, water, and even structure are vital for healthy plant growth. As humans modified the land for urban or agricultural use, soil became less nutrient-rich and prone to erosion.

Friday, July 17, 2015

In the News: Phones, Freezers, and the Future of Biodiversity

Fig.1. Animals like this Sumatran tiger are in significant danger from poaching.  (Credit: Tim Hisgett via Flickr, 2012)

Preserving the environment requires immediate action on wildlife crimes, plant biodiversity, crop adaptability, and more. Read about how biorepositories around the world are addressing our many needs in a warmer world:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Year(s) Without a Summer

Fig.1. The end of Alaska’s Augustine eruption of 2006, which lasted several months (Credit: Cyrus Read, USGS via Flickr)

In 1816, the Northern Hemisphere experienced the coolest summer on record, triggering crop failures and famine throughout Europe. The “Year Without a Summer” was later attributed to the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815, a volcano in modern day Indonesia that killed an estimated 92,000 people.

Friday, July 10, 2015

In the News: Surveys and Shark Whisperers

Fig.1. Conservation efforts are necessary to keep these animals in the oceans (Credit: Wyland, USFW via Flickr, 2012)

Between shark whisperers and access to a soon to be unprecedented amount of survey data, scientists hope to better their understanding of these elusive creatures. Rather than portraying them as the monsters of “Shark Week,” these studies hope to address ongoing conservation issues that go beyond just sharks and affect the entire ocean:

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Rulers of the Sea

Fig.1. The T. rex died out 66 million years ago, along with other non-avian dinosaurs, leaving ray-finned fishes to dominate in the waters (Credit: A.E. Anderson, AMNH 5027 [left] and Magnus Manske, 2004 [right])

Even though we were excited to see a Tyrannosaurus rex in “Jurassic World,” it is probably best that they stayed in the Cretaceous. Humans and dinosaurs certainly do not mix, but ancient mammals lived side-by-side with the T. rex. That is, until the asteroid killed off all non-avian dinosaurs in the Cretaceous-Paleogene [K/Pg] extinction event, leaving an ecological void for mammals to evolve and ultimately dominate in terrestrial ecosystems. A recent study published in PNAS by paleobiologists at UC San Diego suggests a similar story unfolded with the evolution of fish in the oceans.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

In the News: Lessons in Food and Health

Fig.1. Seeds from the NUAC Farm in Northern Uganda, part of an effort by the US Agency for International Development to aid in a global effort for food security (Credit: USAID via Flickr, 2012)

Collections offer valuable lessons in global health, food security, and biodiversity. Read to learn about mitigating emerging infectious diseases, providing a future for herbaria, and protecting our crops in the coming century:

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Microbes and Middle Schools

Fig.1. Students at Mills Park Middle School studying how dandelions recruit different microbial communities in various soil types (Credit: Laura Cochrane, Mills Park Middle School).

Editor’s Note: For our third installment in the International Year of Soils series, we spoke with Dr. Julia Stevens about her work with soil microbiology and connecting students to science. To learn more about her work with middle school students, click here.

For Julia Stevens, a challenging aspect of teaching microbiology to middle schoolers is the sheer scope of something so small.