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Editor's picks: Top 10 Stanford Earth Matters stories of 2019

In a roundup that spans energy, geology, geophysics and Earth systems, here are some of the most interesting, high-impact and popular research stories from 2019.

BY Danielle Torrent Tucker
ClockDecember 12, 2019

Machine learning, satellite data, new imaging techniques and more have brought Stanford researchers to the forefront of critical issues that impact humanity. Along with discoveries about the surprising impacts of climate change, we have witnessed increasingly innovative solutions for curbing emissions, adapting to new environmental conditions and securing the energy future. 

Some of these stories challenged perceptions and assumptions about Earth scientists, while others sought to inform readers about current issues, from the frigid winds of the polar vortex to the latest discoveries about natural hazards. We hope you enjoy reading and sharing these 2019 highlights. The stories were drawn from Stanford Earth Matters online magazine, which aggregates ideas and insights about the future of Earth, its resources and its environment from across Stanford University.

Polar vortex: The science behind the cold

Atmospheric scientist Aditi Sheshadri discusses how the polar vortex works, what drives its behavior and why it seems to bring storms and bitter cold more frequently than in past decades.  

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Climate change has worsened global economic inequality

The gap between the economic output of the world’s richest and poorest countries is 25 percent larger today than it would have been without global warming, according to new research from Stanford University.

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Tracking power plant emissions in real time

Stanford scientists have developed a precise way to measure U.S. power plant emissions 24/7. The new tool will enable grid operators and big electricity consumers to reduce their carbon footprint in real time.

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Vintage film shows Thwaites Glacier ice shelf in Antarctica melting faster than previously observed

Newly available archival film has revealed the eastern ice shelf of Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is melting faster than previous estimates, suggesting the shelf may collapse sooner than expected.

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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.

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How deep-ocean vents fuel massive phytoplankton blooms

A new study suggests vents in the seafloor may affect life near the ocean’s surface and the global carbon cycle more than previously thought. It’s the first to show how iron rising from beneath Earth’s crust stimulates massive phytoplankton blooms.

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When 100% renewable energy doesn't mean zero carbon

As power grids move away from fossil fuels, companies seeking to cut out carbon emissions will have to go beyond commitments to renewable energy – and data could help consumers gauge the most economical ways to meet their targets.

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A counterintuitive climate solution

A seemingly counterintuitive approach – converting one greenhouse gas into another – holds promise for returning the atmosphere to pre-industrial concentrations of methane, a powerful driver of global warming.

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Rice yields plummet and arsenic rises in future climate-soil scenarios

Research combining future climate conditions and arsenic-induced soil stresses predicts rice yields could decline about 40 percent by 2100, a loss that would impact about 2 billion people dependent on the global crop.

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What can machine learning tell us about the solid Earth?

Scientists are training machine learning algorithms to help shed light on earthquake hazards, volcanic eruptions, groundwater flow and longstanding mysteries about what goes on beneath the Earth’s surface.

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Media Contacts

Danielle T. Tucker

School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

dttucker@stanford.edu, 650-497-9541

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