Geology

An ancient, deep canyon buried along the Yarlung Tsangpo River in south Tibet, north of the eastern end of the Himalayas, has been discovered by geologists who say this ancient canyon--thousands of feet deep in places--effectively rules out a popular model used to explain how the massive and picturesque gorges of the Himalayas became so steep, so fast. 


Time is relative. What is a long time to humans is nothing to a mountain. Like humans, mountains usually burst on the scene, then they stand tall and finally age wears them down and their sharp features soften and they become grow shorter and rounder.

Not all mountains, though. The Gamburtsev Mountains in the middle of Antarctica look quite young for their age. Though the Gamburtsevs were discovered in the 1950s, they remained unexplored until government budget increases and few things left above ground to explore led scientists to fly ice-penetrating instruments over the mountains 60 years later.


Tectonic plates, which make up the outer layer of the earth, are rigid. It is giant layers of rock, after all. But that is a bit of a simplification. They are not rigid and don't fit together as nicely as we imagine, according to a new paper in Geology by Corné Kreemer, an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and his colleague Richard Gordon of Rice University, which quantifies deformation of the Pacific plate and challenges the central approximation of the plate tectonic paradigm that plates are rigid. 


The "Cambrian explosion," the rapid diversification of animal life in the fossil record 530 million years ago, has by necessity remained the subjective of speculation. We know it happened, but no idea why, we simply know we wouldn't be here without it.


By Simon Redfern, University of Cambridge

How is it that Earth developed an atmosphere that made the development of life possible? A study published in the journal Nature Geoscience links the origins of Earth’s nitrogen-rich atmosphere to the same tectonic forces that drive mountain-building and volcanism on our planet. It goes some way to explaining why, compared to our nearest neighbors, Venus and Mars, Earth’s air is richer in nitrogen.

 Massive amounts of erupting lava have connected with the fall of civilizations, the destruction of supercontinents and dramatic changes in climate and ecosystems. 

Since August 31st, Bárðarbunga volcano in central Iceland has been spewing spectacular amounts of lava. A new paper finds that high mantle temperatures miles beneath the Earth's surface are essential for generating such large amounts of magma - and  Bárðarbunga volcano lies directly above the hottest portion of the North Atlantic mantle plume.



How many continents can you count on one hand? Image: Chones

By Nick Rawlinson, University of Aberdeen

Since December 2004 there have been 18 quakes of 8.0 or greater on the moment magnitude (Mw) scale – a rate more than twice that seen from 1900 to mid-2004.

Some of that difference could be due to unprecedented advances in technological and scientific capacity to detect earthquakes. Like the distance of Babe Ruth's homeruns, anecdotes about past earthquakes have the mist of legend shrouding them, but modern earthquakes have a variety of ways they can be understood - and that helps recalibrate risk for future earthquakes.


A study of Samoan volcano hotspots has found evidence of the planet's early formation still trapped inside the Earth.

Volcanic island chains such as Samoa can contain ancient primordial signatures from the early solar system that have survived for billions of years. To make their determination, the researchers utilized high-precision lead and helium isotope measurements to unravel the chemical composition and geometry of the deep mantle plume feeding Samoa's volcanoes. 

In most cases, volcanoes are located at the point where two tectonic plates meet, and are created when those plates collide or diverge. Hotspot volcanoes, however, are not located at plate boundaries but rather represent the anomalous melting in the interior of the plates.


Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, is a way to extract natural gas from shale rock, by using a modern process to inject a high-pressure water mixture at the rock to release the gas inside. By all accounts it has been an environmental boon, responsible for causing energy emissions from coal to plummet back to early 1980s levels without causing energy prices to rise and harm poor people.