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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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Giant clam

Smaller animals faced surprisingly long odds in ancient oceans, Stanford study finds

New fossil research shows extinction for smaller marine animals across most of the past 485 million years was more common than once believed. Why?

Pine branches

Fungal diversity and the future of forests

Stanford researchers predict that climate change will reduce the diversity of symbiotic fungi that help trees grow.

Night vision

Tracking animals with DNA

Genetic material left behind by animals can provide critical clues to aid conservation and research. New research shows studying DNA in soil samples can be more effective, efficient and affordable than traditional tracking methods, such as camera traps, for assessing biodiversity.

Stars

Fact or fiction? The science of Star Wars

How did those planets form? Could they exist in our universe? Could Star Wars really happen? Stanford Earth experts on planetary formation, processes and habitability discuss the science behind the fictional saga.

Illustration of an exoplanet

Why some planets eat their own skies

A new study suggests a reason why exoplanets rarely grow larger than Neptune: the planet’s magma oceans begin to eat the sky.

Submarine canyon

Global analysis of submarine canyons may shed light on Martian landscapes

On a map, submarine canyons seem identical to land canyons – so much so that researchers surmised they are shaped by the same physical laws. New research reveals distinct differences for the first time.

Pacific Ocean

Archaea hold clues to ancient ocean temperatures

Scientists at Stanford have identified molecules that tough microbes use to survive in warming waters, opening a window more broadly into studying conditions in ancient seas.

Eagle

Stanford researchers discuss changes to Endangered Species Act

America’s signature legislation for saving species faces a major overhaul. Conservation and legal experts examine likely impacts of the new rules and legal options for challenging them.

River between mountains

Why are mountains so high?

Researchers have analyzed mountain ranges worldwide to show that a theory relating erosion and mountain height doesn’t always add up.

Geological formation

Ancient die-off greater than the dinosaur extinction

When significant oxygen entered the atmosphere, ancient life multiplied. But after a few hundred million years, Earth’s oxygen plummeted, resulting in a die-off likely greater than the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Exoplanet

Q&A: Modeling an exoplanet’s atmosphere

New research using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has provided a rare glimpse at the surface of a rocky planet outside our solar system. The planet may be similar to Mercury or Earth’s moon, with little to no atmosphere.

Landscape near water

How the weathering of rocks cooled the Earth

Earth’s climate entered a long phase of cooling 15 million years ago, resulting in an ice age. A team of researchers has now found new indications as to what initiated this cooling and kept it going.

Mouse

In a first, researchers identify reddish coloring in an ancient fossil

X-rays reveal an extinct mouse was dressed in brown to reddish fur on its back and sides and had a tiny white tummy.

Tiger

Conservation clues from scant DNA

The challenges of collecting DNA samples directly from endangered species makes understanding and protecting them harder. A new approach promises cheap, rapid analysis of genetic clues in degraded and left-behind ma

Tree of life

Species evolve ways to backup life's machinery

A new analysis of biological data reveals that every species from bacteria to primates has developed ways to bypass breakdowns in the networks of proteins vital to sustaining life.

Çatalhöyük

Our 2.5-million-year obsession with stuff

When early humans first started using tools to make things, they kicked off a cycle of people depending on objects and the materials needed to make them – with ripple effects for the global climate today.

Grasses

To save native grasslands, study invasive species

The order of arrival determines which invasive grasses predominate, according to a combination of experiments and computational modeling. The results could help in efforts to preserve the native plants that remain.

Baffin Island

Strength in weakness: Fragile DNA regions key to vertebrate evolution

DNA regions susceptible to breakage and loss are genetic hot spots for important evolutionary changes. New research suggests they may have allowed vertebrates to successfully adapt to rapidly changing environmental

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