Stanford University
coral reef

Stanford Earth Matters

Get Stanford Earth Matters stories delivered to your inbox each month.

Subscribe

About Stanford Earth Matters

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.

Coenogonium leprieurii tropical lichen

Evolution of symbiosis

DNA data from more than 3,300 species reveals how lichens stayed together, split up, swapped partners and changed form over 250 million years. 

Mixed herd

Evolutionary theory of economic decisions

When survival over generations is the end game, researchers say it makes sense to undervalue long shots that could be profitable and overestimate the likelihood of rare bad outcomes.

Avalanche

Predicting the unpredictable

Researchers combined avalanche physics with ecosystem data to create a computational method for predicting extreme ecological events. The method may also have applications in economics and politics.

Mars Perseverance Rover

Perseverance will seek signs of life on Mars

According to Stanford University Mars experts, NASA’s latest Martian rover will drive a wave of exciting discoveries when it lands on the Red Planet – and possibly alter scientists’ understanding of the blue one it launches from.

Crater impact illustration

A steaming cauldron follows the dinosaurs’ demise

The Chicxulub impact crater that is linked to the extinction of the dinosaurs hosted a hydrothermal system that chemically and mineralogically modified more than 100,000 cubic kilometers of Earth’s crust, according to new research.

Falling beams

How cosmic rays may have shaped life

Physicists propose that the influence of cosmic rays on early life may explain nature’s preference for a uniform “handedness” among biology’s critical molecules.

IconsList of icons used on the sitemaillinkedindouble carrot leftarrow leftdouble carrotplayerinstagramclosecarrotquotefacebooktwitterplusminussearchmenuarrowcloudclock