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February '19

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February '19

Here are few handpicked news items for you this month.

🌳 Finally, a world map of all tree species

Nature Ecology and Evolution journal explains how two German researchers gathered data to create a complete world map of trees species to truly understand tree biodiversity. This complete survey was a necessary step before they can dig into questions like: what role do environmental factors like climate play in biodiversity? and how important are historical factors like past ice ages? Most existing knowledge came from scattered local surveys and had many gaps, especially in tropical regions, where biodiversity can be particularly high.

🌘 Space rocks bombarding our planet

Turns out the earth is going through a spike in meteor impacts. It was hard for scientists to measure this though, because active plate tectonics, weather, and erosion smooth over the earth's record of ancient craters. It also means, the data we have on earth is heavily biased toward recent events. But scientists found a great hack – the moon has no such conditions, and it acts as a great poxy for what we’ve experienced as well. Looking at craters on the moon shows that 290 million years ago, the rate of impacts on the moon—and thus, Earth—did increase dramatically, and that onslaught has possibly not yet died down. It’s tough to tell what’s causing this, but future modelling work may help us understand this more.

⛰️ Underground mountain ranges

Data from the second-deepest earthquake on record – a magnitude of 8.2 in Bolivia, shows mountain ranges stretching hundreds of kilometres beneath our feet. They’re located in the transition zone, a relatively-little studied region inside the Earth. The transition zone is a narrow band, found between 410 and 660 km (255 and 410 mi) deep, between the upper and lower mantle. Fun fact: if you visit Gros Morne National park in Newfoundland, Canada you can walk on earths mantle in Table Lands. It was forced up during a plate collision several hundred million years ago. It’s unbelievably cool, and you should definitely check out it.

🏝️ Newest surviving volcanic island

Scientists have landed for the first time on one of the world’s newest islands, and discovered it is covered in a sticky, mysterious mud with vegetation. The island sprang up 3 years ago near Tonga, and is of a few in the last 150 years that has survived more than a few months. It’s still unnamed, but is sometimes referred to as Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai – the names of its neighbouring, established islands. Dan Slayback of NASA was desperate to visit the remote location, because we still have limited knowledge about how and why new islands form. Slayback landed on what had looked like a black-sand beach on satellite, but was actually made up of pea-sized gravel that made walking painful. Vegetation was beginning to take root, with the seeds likely deposited by birds flying overhead and a barn owl has begun to make its home on the young island. Read Slayback's post.

Until next month,


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