Stanford University
coral reef

Stanford Earth Matters

Abstract swirls with dots

Geological activity can rapidly change deep microbial communities

New research reveals that, rather than being influenced only by environmental conditions, deep subsurface microbial communities can transform because of geological movements. The findings advance our understanding of subsurface microorganisms, which comprise up to half of all living material on the planet.

Soil microbe illustration - external link

How a soil microbe could rev up artificial photosynthesis

Researchers discover that a spot of molecular glue and a timely twist help a bacterial enzyme convert carbon dioxide into carbon compounds 20 times faster than plant enzymes do during photosynthesis. The results stand to accelerate progress toward converting carbon dioxide into a variety of products. (Source: SLAC)

Meteorite external link

‘Fingerprinting’ minerals to better understand how they are affected by meteorite collisions

Researchers mimicked these extreme impacts in the lab and discovered new details about how they transform minerals in Earth’s crust. (Source: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

Orca whale breaching (external link)

'Predation at the largest scale': Understanding orca whales as apex predators

Stanford whale biologist Jeremy Goldbogen discusses recent documentation of orcas teaming up to take down an adult blue whale – “arguably one of the most dramatic and intense predator-prey interactions on the planet.” (Source: Stanford News)

Aerial view of rivers on land without vegetation

A story written in mud

Geologists have long assumed that the evolution of land plants enabled rivers to form snakelike meanders, but a review of recent research overturns that classic theory – and it calls for a reinterpretation of the rock record.

Editor's picks collage

Editor’s picks: Top 10 stories of 2021

Our list includes a mix of favorites, high-impact stories and some of our most read research coverage from a year of uncertainty, adaptation and discovery.

Aerial view of Ile Anglaise reef

Researchers test physics of coral as an indicator of reef health

New research shows that physics measurements of just a small portion of reef can be used to assess the health of an entire reef system. The findings may help scientists grasp how these important ecosystems will respond to a changing climate.

View of east side of Sierra Mountains

Sierra Nevada range should celebrate two birthdays

New research reveals that after its initial formation 100 million years ago, the Sierra Nevada “died” during volcanic eruptions that blasted lava across much of the American West 40 million to 20 million years ago. Then, tens of millions of years later, the Sierra Nevada mountain range as we know it today was “reborn.”

Humpback whales

Researchers find whales eat more than expected

Research on whale feeding highlights how the precipitous decline of large marine mammals has negatively impacted the health and productivity of ocean ecosystems.

Trilobite fossil

Extinction changes rules of body size evolution

A sweeping analysis of marine fossils from most of the past half-billion years shows the usual rules of body size evolution change during mass extinctions and their recoveries. The discovery is an early step toward predicting how evolution will play out on the other side of the current extinction crisis.

Scallops

Why extinctions ran amok in ancient oceans, and why they slowed down

A new Stanford University study shows rising oxygen levels may explain why global extinction rates slowed down over the past 541 million years. Below 40 percent of present atmospheric oxygen, ocean dead zones rapidly expand, and extinctions ramp up.

Butterfly and bee on flower

Plants evolved complexity in two bursts – with a 250-million-year hiatus

A new method for quantifying plant evolution reveals that after the onset of early seed plants, complexity halted for 250 million years until the diversification of flowering plants about 100 million years ago.

Peel River

Longest known continuous record of the Paleozoic discovered in Yukon wilderness

Stanford-led expeditions to a remote area of Yukon, Canada, have uncovered a 120-million-year-long geological record of a time when land plants and complex animals first evolved and ocean oxygen levels began to approach those in the modern world.

Tree roots

Stanford ecologists develop a theory about how plants ‘pay’ their microbes

Combining economics, psychology and studies of fertilizer application, researchers find that plants nearly follow an “equal pay for equal work” rule when giving resources to partner microbes – except when those microbes underperform.

Coral reef fish

Biodiversity loss in warming oceans

A fossil study from Stanford University finds the diversity of life in the world’s oceans declined time and again over the past 145 million years during periods of extreme warming. Temperatures that make it hard for cold-blooded sea creatures to breathe have likely been among the biggest drivers for shifts in the distribution of marine biodiversity.

Covid social distancing

How behaviors complicate epidemic outcomes

A new model of disease spread describes how competing economic and health incentives influence social contact – and vice versa. The result is a complex and dynamic epidemic trajectory.

Hadza moving between camps

Men and women on the move

Research based on the daily movements of people living in a contemporary hunter-gatherer society provides new evidence for links between the gendered division of labor in human societies over the past 2.5 million years and differences in the way men and women think about space.

Lifeless landscape

The science behind extinction

A collection of research and insights from Stanford experts who are deciphering the mysteries and mechanisms of extinction and survival in Earth’s deep past and painting an increasingly detailed picture of life now at the brink.

Penguins on ice

Counting penguins with autonomous drones

A new multi-drone imaging system was put to the test in Antarctica. The task? Documenting a colony of roughly 1 million Adélie penguins.

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