December 5, 2013 2:07 pm
Roughly 1.1 billion years ago, America tried to rip itself in half.
The Midcontinental Rift System nearly created a continent far different than the one we know today. A nearly 2,000 mile gash in the Earth undercut the Great Lakes. This could have been the seed for a new ocean. The rift began splitting Michigan in two, wrenching Wisconsin and Minnesota apart, and bisecting the Midwestern states. It would have been the source of new earth, as lava pumped up from deep within the planet. As new crust formed in the rift, the eastern and western chunks of North America would have been pushed apart, an ocean filling in the gap.
But, for some reason, the rift failed, says Nature:
It opened a 3,000-kilometre crack in North America and created a basin as big, perhaps, as the Red Sea — then the system shut down. The wound stopped growing and the continent remained intact.
America got to stay as one. But the scar is still there: buried beneath younger layers of boulders and sand, the copper- and nickel-rich rocks, the signs of long-cooled lava—the traces of what could have been.
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December 5, 2013 12:30 pm
Football announcers love describing players as “forces of nature,” but it might actually be the fans who exert the most force. This past Monday, when the Seattle Seahawks faced off against the New Orleans Saints, Seahawks fans actually caused a minor earthquake.
Seahawks fans jumping up and down during Monday night’s 22-yard Michael Bennett fumble return for a touchdown registered about a magnitude 1 or 2 earthquake.
They call the crowd at CentiryLink Field the “12th Man,” but this is the first time that man has caused an earthquake that anybody knows of. People aren’t generally sensitive enough to feel earthquakes that small; seismographs are. (For comparison, a 2.6 magnitude quake in Ireland this week rattled some doors.)
What people are sensitive to, though, is noise. Seattle has long been proud of their stadium and fans ability to be loud. And not only did Seattle fans make the earth shake, they also made each other deaf. Fans apparently set a noise record of 137.6 decibels, according to KIRO-TV.
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November 29, 2013 12:20 pm
The 2013 hurricane season was supposed to be terrible. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted between 13 and 20 named storms, up from 2012 when Isaac and Sandy hit the United States. But the season—which ends tomorrow—has been far more subdued than they thought. In fact, 2013′s hurricane season was the least active since 1982, and not a single hurricane made landfall in the United States.
The higher-than normal activity forecast by NOAA is based on three factors, all of which favor more, rather than fewer, tropical storms. The first is higher-than-normal sea-surface temperatures in the Atlantic, which supplies energy for tropical storms. The second is that hurricane activity has historically waxed and waned in cycles that last between 25 and 40 years. An active cycle began in 1995, which suggests we should expect more storms than average until 2020, at least. Finally, there’s no evidence of an El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean this summer; El Nino’s can strengthen upper-level winds across the tropical North Atlantic, which can tear hurricanes apart before they can gather strength.
But that didn’t happen. No hurricanes made landfall, and only two of the storms that formed in the Atlantic Basin became hurricanes. Andrew Freeman, also at Climate Central, explains why the predicted season didn’t happen:
Meteorologists have cited several reasons for suppressing Atlantic storms this year. Those inhibiting factors include an unusual abundance of dry, dusty air blowing off Africa’s Sahara Desert, an unusually stable atmosphere across the tropical North Atlantic, with broad regions of sinking air and above-average wind shear, which refers to winds blowing in different directions or at different speeds with height.
Of course, the rest of the world didn’t get off the hook quite as easily as we did. Super Typhoon Phailin hit India in September, and Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines recently. But in the United States, the skies have been calmer than anybody predicted.
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November 22, 2013 12:51 pm
In April of this year the Pew Research Center released a report saying that nearly half of Americans were fans of fracking, while the other half either didn’t like it or didn’t have an opinion on the matter. What’s interesting about this is that, according to a new study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, most Americans, when asked, don’t even know what fracking is. Of the 1061 people the Yale project polled, only 9 percent said they knew “a lot” about fracking, 38 percent knew “some” or “a little” about it, while 39 percent people said they’d never heard of it. A super helpful 13 percent of the people didn’t know what they knew.
According to the Yale research, 58 percent of the people didn’t have an opinion on whether fracking is good or bad, while the rest were split down the middle as to whether they liked it or loathed it. Maybe the Pew team caught a particularly well-informed bunch, or maybe people just like to have opinions on things.
So for all the fakers out there, or for the people too shy to say anything, here we offer a (very) brief crash course on fracking, an introductory video by Philipp Dettmer that hits many of the major perks and pitfalls that the technology offers:
If you want to know more, Smithsonian Magazine has written a fair bit about the opportunities…
Thanks to the Gas Boom, America Is Producing More Fuel Than Russia Or Saudi Arabi
Is Shale the Answer to America’s Nuclear Waste Woes?
Where in the World Will the Fracking Boom Visit Next?
Two Companies Want to Frack the Slopes of a Volcano
…and hazards of fracking:
Researchers Find Fracking Might Cause Earthquakes After All
‘Fracking’ for Natural Gas Is Linked With Earthquakes
Oklahoma’s Biggest-Ever Earthquake Was Likely Man-Made
Radioactive Wastewater From Fracking Is Found in a Pennsylvania Stream
Live Closer to a Gas Well, And There’s Likely More Gas in Your Water
November 21, 2013 2:16 pm
In 1958, a young researcher named Charles David Keeling kicked off a project to systematically study the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide. From his monitoring site on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano, Keeling provided observations that showed, for the first time, a steady rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide— the first real warning of modern global warming. But now, says Nature, the project that gave us Keeling’s iconic curve is facing its end as budgets are cut across the board.
Keeling’s project, despite its now-recognized importance, never saw much financial stability. As Smart News has written before, Keeling did a great deal of cobbling funding sources together to keep the data flowing. But, says Ralph Keeling, who took over the project from his father, “Things have never been this dire before.”
Keeling’s project was once funded by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but those funds seem to be running dry.
“NOAA’s budget is getting hammered, and it’s increasingly difficult to fund things like Ralph’s programme,” [NOAA's Jim] Butler says. “All I can do right now is provide moral support to keep it going year by year until we come up with a plan.”
There are, of course, more monitoring stations now tracking the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide than just Keeling’s. But there is more reason than just nostalgia to keep the Mauna Loa observations going. In science, it really does help to have long, reliable, unbroken records. Consistent observations help you sort out if the weird blip or change in pace you’re seeing is a real thing, or if it’s just a quirk in your apparatus. When it comes to carbon dioxide monitoring, there’s no record longer than Keeling’s.
As the world keeping pumping out more carbon dioxide—this year set a new record for carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels—and locking us in to ever-more global warming, these observation programs become more, not less, important.
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