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Hurricane Sandy’s force gaged by seismometers

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Hurricane Sandy hitting the Northeast Coast. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Powerful storm shook the Earth’s crust in a wave of vibrations felt by sensitive land-based instruments

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Scientists using an array of portable land-based seismometers to study how the atmosphere, oceans and solid Earth interact say they were able to detect small seismic waves — microseisms — generated by superstorm Sandy late last year.

When Sandy turned and took aim at New York City and Long Island last October, ocean waves hitting each other and crashing ashore rattled the seafloor and much of the United States, according to University of Utah researchers, who presented their findings last week during the Seismological Society of America’s annual meeting.

The seismometers that detected the storm’s vibrations are part the Earthscope research project that started in California in 2004 and has been leap-frogging eastward to help gain a greater understanding of the Earth’s crust and mantle, similar to how X-rays are used to make CT scans of the human body. To do it accurately, scientists must understand all sources of seismic waves. Continue reading

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Biodiversity: Is Florida a global hotspot for reptile extinction?

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Freshwater turtles, like this specimen in Butrint, Albania, are facing serious threats. Bob Berwyn photo.

Freshwater turtles among the most threatened species

By Summit Voice

A recent far-reaching study of the world’s amphibians and reptiles finds that Florida is hotspot for environmental threats, with one of the highest concentrations of threatened reptiles in the world.

The new report highlights the need to address the global reptile extinction crisis: One in five reptiles is facing extinction from threats like habitat loss, overharvest and climate change.

“Florida is blessed with a rich diversity of lizards, turtles and snakes,” said Collette Adkins Giese, reptile-and-amphibian specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Unfortunately, threats like habitat loss from rapid development are continuing to push many of these rare reptiles to the brink of extinction.”

More than 200 experts from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission collaborated to study a random sample of 1,500 of the world’s reptile species. Globally, one in five reptiles is facing extinction. The study also flagged the rapidly deteriorating plight of freshwater turtles, estimating that 50 percent of these animals are at risk of extinction. Continue reading

Scientists discover ‘living power cables’

A computer simulation of a neural network. Photo courtesy PloS Computational Biology, via Wikipedia.

Science meets science fiction at the bottom of the sea

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — In the popular movie Avatar, the ecology of Pandora is shaped by a living neural network that connects all the living things, and now, a team of international scientists has discovered that the science fiction theme of the movie may not be so farfetched.

The scientists were studying bacteria living in marine sediments when they discovered what they described as a seemingly inexplicable electric current on the sea floor. The new experiments revealed that these currents are mediated by a hitherto unknown type of long, multicellular bacteria that act as living power cables.

“Until we found the cables we imagined something cooperative where electrons were transported through external networks between different bacteria. It was indeed a surprise to realize, that it was all going on inside a single organism,” said Lars Peter Nielsen of the Aarhus Department of Bioscience, and a corresponding author of the Nature paper, published Oct. 24. Continue reading

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