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Stanford Earth Matters

Science and insights for people who care about Earth, its resources and its environment

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Hummingbird

Nectar research reveals how species coexist

Different species almost always coexist – whether it’s big animals on the plains, bugs in a jungle or yeasts in flower nectar – but how that works is complicated. Now, Stanford researchers have teased apart competing theories of how species live together.

brown algae

How an overlooked process in bacteria could shed light on ancient environments

Geologists assume when they find molecules called sterols in soils or rocks they indicate the presence of plants, animals or fungi in ancient environments. But discovering how some bacteria also produce and modify sterols could change those interpretations.

Mammoth tooth fossil

Influence of early humans on mammal biodiversity occurred earlier than previously thought

Fossil study finds early human activity — not climate shifts — led to the systematic decline of large animals around the globe that predated human migration out of Africa. The findings add to concerns about continued biodiversity loss and the impact on ecosystems.

Belcher ice bridge

Scientists discover first subglacial lakes in Canadian Arctic

Super salty water beneath ice may be analogue for habitat for life on other planets

Mother and baby sperm whales

Stanford researchers learn why aquatic mammals need to be big, but not too big

Examining body sizes of ancient and modern aquatic mammals and their terrestrial counterparts reveals that life in water restricts mammals to a narrow range of body sizes – big enough to stay warm, but not so big they can’t find enough food.

Student snorkeling among coral reefs.

Learning through fieldwork in Palau

Undergraduates study links between human and natural systems in a program that puts them up close with corals. Stanford Earth professor Rob Dunbar is a lead instructor. 

Molten Lava

Puzzle at the center of the Earth

Mysterious patches on the planet’s core that dampen seismic waves could be the result of ancient seawater chemically reacting with iron under extreme conditions.

Rock at water's edge at sunset

First oceans may have been acidic

A model of ion flux in the oceans shows carbon dioxide driving ocean acidity.

Blue sea ice

Poor outlook for biodiversity in Antarctica

A comparison of Antarctic biodiversity and its management with global trends finds that it is more similar to the rest of the world than previously believed. 

Graphic of biology.

Are we in a "Sixth Extinction"?

Stanford Earth professor Jon Payne puts modern extinction in context by comparing them with Earth's five previous mass extinctions.

Great Salt Lake, Utah

Extinct Lakes of the American West

Extinct lake landforms provide clues of climate change over millions of years and inform our understanding of rainfall patterns and water management in the arid American West.

ancient dragonfly fossil

Insects took off when they evolved wings

Now buzzing and whizzing around every continent, insects were mysteriously scarce in the fossil record until 325 million years ago – when they first took flight and, according to a new study, evolutionarily took off.

Man overlooking Meteor Crater in Arizona.

Scientists make first observations of how a meteor-like shock turns silica into glass

Research with SLAC’s X-ray laser simulates what happens when a meteor hits Earth’s crust. The results suggest that scientists studying impact sites have been overestimating the sizes of the meteors that made them.

Giraffes in front of sunset.

Diversity of large animals plays an important role in carbon cycle

With abundant data on plants, large animals and their activity, and carbon soil levels in the Amazon, Stanford research suggests that large animal diversity influences carbon stocks and contributes to climate change mitigation.

Radiated corals of Bikini Atoll may hold insights on cancer

Stanford researchers are exploring how corals that re-colonized Bikini Atoll after nuclear bomb tests 70 years ago have adapted to persistent radiation. Their work is featured in a PBS series.

mosquito

What a warming planet means for mosquito-borne diseases

A new analysis by Stanford researchers reveals that the ideal temperature for the spread of mosquito-born diseases like dengue, chikungunya and Zika is 29 degrees C. This finding helps predict disease outbreaks in a warming world.

Organic carbon can resist breakdown in underground environments

A new study reveals that organic matter whose breakdown would yield only minimal energy for hungry microorganisms preferentially builds up in floodplains, illuminating a new mechanism of carbon sequestration.

asteroid impact illustration

Ancient Colorado earthquake triggered by dino-killing asteroid?

The dino-killing asteroid that crashed into the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico could have generated massive seismic waves that triggered earthquakes as far away as Colorado, in a region where no previous fault existed, according to research by Stanford Earth's Norm Sleep. 

reef shark

Large marine protected areas effectively protect reef sharks

Researchers at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station find that expanded marine protected areas are successful in limiting fishing and increasing reef shark populations.

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