Stanford University
2018

Editor's picks: Top 10 stories of 2018

This year's list includes a mix of favorites, high-impact stories and some of our most-read research coverage from 2018.

BY Josie Garthwaite
ClockDecember 18, 2018

From revelations about what caused Earth's biggest mass extinction to the staggering costs of runaway climate change and hidden messages in burbling lakes of lava, here are 10 stories from 2018 that shed light on our planet's past, present and future – as well as how we're changing it. 

Some seek to answer timely questions, such as whether plastic straw bans really make a difference. Others turn a new page on older ideas – about the signs of an impending earthquake, for example, or the limits on body size in the ocean. 

These are our top 10 picks of the many inspiring, troubling and surprising insights provided by Stanford scientists studying Earth this year. We hope they will fuel a fruitful conversation or two among family and friends as you come together for the holidays.

Interacting Antarctic glaciers may cause faster melt and sea level contributions

Two of the most rapidly changing glaciers in Antarctica, which are leading contributors to sea-level rise, may behave as an interacting system rather than separate entities, according to a new analysis of radar data.

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Stanford scientists eavesdrop on volcanic rumblings to forecast eruptions

Sound waves generated by burbling lakes of lava atop some volcanoes point to greater odds of magmatic outbursts. This finding could provide advance warning to people who live near active volcanoes.

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Why are whales 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.
 

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Climate mitigation could yield trillions in economic benefits

Stanford scientists found that the global economy is likely to benefit from ambitious global warming limits agreed to in the United Nations Paris Agreement.

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Study casts doubt on the predictive value of earthquake foreshocks

Do tiny underground tremors provide clues that a big earthquake is coming? A new study suggests foreshocks are just like other small quakes, not helpful warning signs as previously thought.

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Natural chromium sources threaten California groundwater

Natural sources of the toxic form of chromium appear in wells that provide drinking water to a large population in California, offering a new perspective on California’s groundwater management challenges.

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Measuring crude oil’s carbon footprint

Some oil fields are cleaner than others. But together, they show natural gas management drives more emissions than scientists thought. A new study highlights a path to shrink crude oil's climate impact.

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Do plastic straws really make a difference?

Driven by public pressure, governments and corporations are considering eliminating or phasing out single-use plastics such as straws. Stanford experts discuss the limitations of these bans and the potential for meaningful change.

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Regions increasingly suffer hot, dry conditions at the same time

Odds are rising that warm, dry conditions – the kind that can hurt crop yields, destabilize food prices and exacerbate wildfires – will strike multiple regions at once. A new Stanford study shows just how much the risk is increasing.

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What caused Earth's biggest mass extinction?

Scientists have debated until now what made Earth's oceans so inhospitable to life that some 96 percent of marine species died off at the end of the Permian period. New research shows the "Great Dying" was caused by global warming that left ocean animals unable to breathe.

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Media Contacts

Josie Garthwaite

School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

(650) 497-0947, josieg@stanford.edu

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