Cave formations show link between ice ages and the tilt of Earth’s axis

Paper: Persistent influence of obliquity on ice age terminations since the Middle Pleistocene transition

Featured image: Stalagmites captured by mareke on Pixabay

Authors: Petra Bajo, Russell N. Drysdale, Jon D. Woodhead, John C. Hellstrom, David Hodell, Patrizia Ferretti, Antje H.L. Voelker, Giovanni Zanchetta, Teresa Rodrigues, Eric Wolff, Jonathan Tyler, Silvia Frisia, Christoph Spötl, Anthony E. Fallick

Our planet has been circling and spinning in a wobbly dance around the Sun for billions of years. The exact motions of this dance- governed by Earth’s near-circular orbit (eccentricity), the tilt of its axis, and the orientation of the tilted axis in space (precession) fluctuate predictably. Variations in this planetary dance have changed the amount and distribution of sunlight reaching Earth’s surface through time, and have determined when the planet experienced long periods of cold temperatures and growth of massive ice caps on the continents (ice ages). However, scientists have not been so sure about which planetary motion is the most important for the timing of ice ages. New research uses climate information stored in caves to precisely link these motions to ice ages, showing that axis tilt may be the most important position in the dance when it comes to pulling Earth’s climate out of those frigid times.  

Continue reading “Cave formations show link between ice ages and the tilt of Earth’s axis”

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore: Documenting Historical Tornadoes in Northern Eurasia

Feature image: “Tornado Alley” by Nikolas Noonan on unsplash.com (https://unsplash.com/photos/n_3kdpSkrJo)

Paper: Tornadoes in Northern Eurasia: From the Middle Age to the Information Era
Authors: A. Chernokulsky, M. Kurgansky, I. Mokhov, A. Shikhov, I. Azhigov, E. Selezneva, D. Zakharchenko, B. Antonescu, and T. Kühne

When most people are asked to picture a tornado in their mind, they probably imagine the violent column of swirling wind and debris tearing through an open field in rural Kansas, as depicted in the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. However, while the United States Midwest, so-called “Tornado Alley”, is the most well-known tornado hot-spot in the world, tornadoes touch down on every continent except Antarctica. A recent study by Chernokulsky and his team has established a comprehensive history of tornadoes that have occurred in an area commonly neglected in tornado research: northern Eurasia.

Continue reading “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore: Documenting Historical Tornadoes in Northern Eurasia”

Great Success with Mixed Perennial Grasses for Bioenergy Crops

Paper: Climate Benefits of Increasing Plant Diversity in Perennial Bioenergy Crops
Authors: Yi Yang, Evelyn C. Reilly, Jacob M. Jungers, Jihui Chen, Timothy M. Smith

An Advanced Bioenergy plant.
Source: Ammodramus / CC BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons.

Climate change, primarily caused by fossil-fuel-based CO2 emissions, could trigger disastrous consequences, including extreme weather and mass species extinctions. Bioenergy (a renewable energy derived from plants) can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by replacing fossil fuel with biomass.  Atmospheric carbon is consumed via photosynthesis by bioenergy crops, such as wood, grain crops, and perennial grasses.  Perennial grasses are good candidates for bioenergy crops because they can be directly combusted or converted to ethanol.

Continue reading “Great Success with Mixed Perennial Grasses for Bioenergy Crops”

Thickets and patches: woody plants are changing water availability in dry landscapes

Featured Image: Sparse woody plant encroachment, known as xerification, occurs here in the Chihuahuan Desert north of Coyame, in Chihuahua, Mexico. Source: Ricraider / CC BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons.

Paper: Woody Plant Encroachment has a Larger Impact than Climate Change on Dryland Water Budgets

Authors: A.P. Schreiner-McGraw, E.R. Vivoni, H. Ajami, O.E. Sala, H.L. Throop, and D.P.C. Peters

Almost half of the land on Earth is arid, with little precipitation. Arid lands are home to roughly 20% of the world’s human population, and to much of the world’s livestock as well. Arid lands are changing rapidly, both with respect to land cover and water availability. While the effects of climate change on arid places have attracted a lot of attention, the encroachment of woody plants into grasslands is also rapidly transforming arid landscapes. New research shows that the effects of woody plant encroachment are even more important than climate change for the water budget of arid ecosystems.

Continue reading “Thickets and patches: woody plants are changing water availability in dry landscapes”

Humans most likely drove Madagascar’s megafaunal extinction

Featured image: Deforestation in Madagascar, image credit: Gregoire Dubois, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, on Flickr.

Paper: Relationships between climate change, human environmental impact, and megafaunal extinction inferred from a 4000-year multi-proxy record from a stalagmite from northwestern Madagascar
Authors: L. B. Railsback, L. A. Dupont, F. Liang, G. A. Brook, D. A. Burney, H. Cheng., and R. L. Edwards

Madagascar is so large and ecologically unique that it has been dubbed a continent in its own right. It wasn’t occupied by humans until 3,000 years ago and the island’s megafauna died out comparatively recently. Just 1000 years ago sloth lemurs the size of pandas, 10-foot tall elephant birds, and a puma-like predator called the giant fossa roamed the island.

Continue reading “Humans most likely drove Madagascar’s megafaunal extinction”

Climate records written on the seafloor

Featured image: A perspective view of the seafloor at the East Pacific Rise, 9N. Made with GeoMapApp (www.geomapapp.org, CC-BY), and GMRT topography data (Ryan et al. 2009, CC-BY).

Paper: Do sea level variations influence mid-ocean ridge magma supply? A test using crustal thickness and bathymetry data from the East Pacific Rise
Authors: B. Boulahanis, S. M. Carbotte, P. J. Huybers, M. R. Nedimovic, O. Aghaei, J. P. Canales, and C. H. Langmuir

Many of our records of past sea level come from local measurements from coastal towns logged over decades or centuries, or are estimated from ice or sediment cores spanning the last few thousand years, but new research suggests that much longer records can be found in an unlikely place: imprinted deep underground in the oceanic crust.

Continue reading “Climate records written on the seafloor”

Sediment riding on ice to the rescue of vulnerable salt marshes

Featured image by Jennifer Crowder from Pixabay.

Paper: Enhanced, climate-driven sedimentation on salt marshes
Authors: D.M. FitzGerald, Z.J. Hughes, I.Y. Georgiou, S. Black, A. Novak
Journal: Geophysical Research Letters

Accelerated sea level rise threatens to drown many of the world’s salt marshes, but sediment riding on ice rafts might be coming to the rescue. Continue reading “Sediment riding on ice to the rescue of vulnerable salt marshes”

Do melting glaciers release extra sediment?

Featured image: Pitztal Glacier, Austria by annca on Pixabay

Paper: Increased Subglacial Sediment Discharge in a Warming Climate: Consideration of Ice Dynamics, Glacial Erosion, and Fluvial Sediment Transport
Authors: Ian Delaney and Surendra Adhikari

The world’s glaciers are shrinking, sending great quantities of water downstream in a geologic instant. But new research shows a lesser-known effect of climate warming: a large increase in sediment released from melting glaciers that might rearrange the shape of Earth’s surface. Continue reading “Do melting glaciers release extra sediment?”

How Algae Emissions Could Affect the Weather

Featured image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, Public Domain

Paper: Unprecedented DMSP Concentrations in a Massive Dinoflagellate Bloom in Monterey Bay, CA
Authors: Ronald P. Kiene, Brent Nowinski, Kaitlin Esson, Christina Preston, Roman Marin III, James Birch, Christopher Scholin, John Ryan, and Mary Ann Moran

Tiny marine organisms have been showing up in higher and higher numbers in bodies of water. These organisms also emit sulfur-containing compounds – and if they emit enough sulfur, their emissions could affect the climate. Continue reading “How Algae Emissions Could Affect the Weather”