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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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About Stanford Earth Matters magazine

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.

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.

Student snorkeling among coral reefs.

Learning through fieldwork on Pacific coral reefs

Stanford undergraduates study links between human and natural systems through an interdisciplinary seminar in Palau.

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.

2017

Top 10 Stanford Earth research stories of 2017

From laying the groundwork for a billion-sensor quake network to finding lithium deposits around supervolcanoes, these were our favorite research stories of 2017.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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. 

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.

grass stalks

Bacterial discovery solves 20-year-old molecular paleontology mystery

A fatty molecule once thought to be unique to flowering plants has turned up in bacteria skimmed from the Adriatic Sea and may provide biotech insights.

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.

Karst topography in South China

Oxygen-starved oceans held back life's recovery after the 'Great Dying'

 Analysis of ancient seabed rocks from disparate locations reveal that life did not rebound until anoxia had fully ebbed.

Roman ruins

Volcanic rocks resembling Roman concrete explain record uplift

Research by Tiziana Vanorio finds that fiber-reinforced rocks beneath Italy’s dormant Campi Flegrei supervolcano are similar to a wonder-material used by the ancients to construct enduring structures such as the Pantheon, and may lead to improved building materials.

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