Earth Sciences

Avalanches are the primary hazard for winter back country recreational trekkers and cause numerous deaths and injuries annually. 

These snowy adventures have grown in popularity, leading people to forget that just because you paid a professional guide does not mean there is no risk. A new study in Wilderness and Environmental Medicine explored the risk of avalanche accidents and found a strong correlation with great risk of avalanches; group size. Traveling in groups of four or more people carried a higher relative avalanche risk than for individuals or groups of two.


If you live in one of four major U.S. cities chances are you're letting the benefits of a ubiquitous natural resource go right down the drain instead of using it to cut down your water bill.

Toilet flushing is the biggest use of water in households in the United States and the United Kingdom, accounting for nearly one-third of potable water use. But there is no reason that clean, treated, municipal water needs to be used to flush a toilet -- rainwater could do the job just as well.

A new paper indicates it rains enough in Philadelphia, New York, Seattle and Chicago that if homeowners had a way to collect and store even just the rain falling on their roofs, they could flush their toilets often without having to use a drop of municipal water. 


A new report describes how researchers analyzed a major 2011 Texas wildfire using a scientifically based post-fire data collection approach, a system they believe will lead to improved defensive measures and strategies for significantly reducing structural damage and property loss.


The types of beneficial fungi that associate with tree roots can alter the fate of a patch of tropical forest, boosting plant diversity or, conversely, giving one tree species a distinct advantage over many others, finds a study in Ecology Letters which sought to explain a baffling phenomenon in some tropical forests: Small patches of "monodominant forest," where one species makes up more than 60 percent of the trees, form islands of low diversity in the otherwise highly diverse tropical forest growing all around them.

The new study focused on mountain forests in Panama that harbor hundreds of tree species, but which include small patches dominated by the tree species Oreomunnea mexicana.


Long before the dinosaurs, hefty herbivores called pareiasaurs ruled the Earth. A detailed investigation of all Chinese specimens of these creatures - often described as the 'ugliest fossil reptiles' - has been published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

Pareiasaurs have been reported from South Africa, Europe (Russia, Scotland, Germany), Asia (China), and South America, but it is not known whether there were distinct groups on each of these continents.


Soybean farmers in the United States can choose from a “candy store” of hundreds of varieties of soybean seed—high-yielding seed with proven performance traits for every region and latitude.

Not so in Africa. For a variety of political reasons, soybean farmers either only have access to a few seed varieties with an unimpressive yield potential, or a few high-yielding varieties for which no performance data exists for their latitude and altitude.

That may change, thanks to a new cultural fortitude which resists being controlled by Europe and a new coordinated soybean variety evaluation program to help give African growers more and better seed options.

While there is speculation and numerical estimates about what might happen to Antarctica's nation-sized Ross Ice Shelf in a warming climate,  oceanographers have a good idea of what happened to a 100,000-square-mile section within 1,500 years after the last Ice Age ended. 

The Ross Ice Shelf is a vast floating extension of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, about the size of France,  and the world's largest ice shelf. But it was once much larger, extending farther north and covering the entire Ross Sea.  The present Ross Ice Shelf is about 500 miles wide and several hundred feet thick. Because the ice shelf is already floating, its breakup and melting would not pose a risk of raising global sea level.  


Western elites may embrace a vegetarian lifestyle but impoverished countries would happily trade places with them. Despite claims like it takes a gallon of gas to create a pound of beef being long debunked, activists continue to promote the notion that a vegetarian lifestyle is better for people and the environment.

Residents of Zambia know the organic, vegetarian lifestyle better than anyone in San Francisco environmental groups, and they have had quite enough. Now economists are catching on as well. A cow, a pair of oxen, or a herd of goats for a poor household dramatically improves their quality of life, finds a recent analysis. 


Dramatic videos created by environmental activists shows tap water being set on fire. In some cases, they were clear hoaxes, in others it turned out to be methane unrelated to drilling. Yet regardless, the belief is that natural gas fracturing (fracking), or conventional extraction, can reach drinking water. Scientists disagree, though conceding that anything can happen in the right circumstances, without it being indicative of the process.


Planes flying between Europe and North America will be spending more time in the air due to the effects of climate change, a new study has shown.

By accelerating the jet stream -- a high-altitude wind blowing from west to east across the Atlantic -- climate change will speed up eastbound flights but slow down westbound flights, the study found. The findings could have implications for airlines, passengers, and airports.


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This is a flight time infographic (c) University of Reading. Credit: University of Reading