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Earth Sciences News

The destructive power of volcanoes was captured by William Morgan in 1840 in a hand-colored lithograph. Ancient volcanic activity could serve as a model for modern-day climate change studies. Image courtesy of the USC Libraries Special Collections.

Ancient volcanoes could be key to predicting the impact of climate change

April 14, 2016

Just over 200 million years ago, long before the demise of the dinosaurs, a cataclysm killed off a significant chunk of the planet’s animal life. The leading theory implicates massive volcanic eruptions, triggered when…

Each solar year isn't exactly 365.25 days long, so it's not quite correct to add a day every four years. When a year is divisible by 100, but not by 400, leap day is skipped.

The perks and trials of having a birthday every four years

February 28, 2016

Most of you probably know that 2016 is a leap year, but did you know that leap day doesn’t occur quite every four years? When a year is divisible by 100, but not by 400, leap day is skipped. For instance, there was…

Robert Douglas pictured at his office on the University Park campus in 1982. Photo courtesy of USC University Archives.

In Memoriam: Robert Douglas, 78

February 10, 2016

Robert Guy Douglas, Professor Emeritus of Earth Sciences, has died. He was 78. Douglas died at home in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., on Jan. 26 after a long battle with cancer. Dean of natural sciences and mathematics at USC…

This Leiopathes coral is estimated to be more than 4,200 years old.

Oceanic fossils suggest current climate models misrepresent El Niño

December 17, 2015

An analysis of fossil corals and mollusk shells from the Pacific Ocean reveals there is no link between the strength of seasonal differences and El Niño, a complex but irregular climate pattern with large impacts on…

Contrasting projections of 21st century precipitation from two of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models. The left panel shows a projection from Japan's Model for Interdisciplinary research on Climate (MIROC) and the right depicts projections from the United States' Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL). The MIROC model projects a drying over the western U.S. during the 21st century, whereas the GFDL model projects wetter conditions. Image courtesy of Lowell Stott.

El Niño and beyond: How to predict climate change

December 10, 2015

In 2014, the Pacific Ocean was primed for a strong El Niño season. Warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific led scientists to believe that conditions would provide…

<em>Eotiaris guadalupensis</em> fossil discovered by Jeffrey Thompson in the Smithsonian collections. Image courtesy of David Bottjer.

Oldest Urchin

November 9, 2015

Researchers have uncovered a sea urchin fossil that pushes back a fork in its family tree by 10 million years, according to a new study. A team from USC Dornsife found the fossil — Eotiaris guadalupensis — in…

James Moffett, professor of biological sciences and earth sciences, served as chief scientific officer for a recent ocean expedition that was the first to find dissolved iron as far as 2,500 miles from its source in hydrothermal vents. Photo by Darrin S. Joy.

Deep Sea Surprise

November 6, 2015

Iron is the single most abundant element on Earth. It’s also one of the most important for living organisms, which use it for myriad biological processes. An expedition in the South East Pacific Ocean may have found the…

Earthquakes and other disasters — both natural and man-made — pose a significant threat to lives and economies around the Pacific Rim. Photo courtesy of Walter D. Mooney/USGS.

Pacific Preparedness

October 23, 2015

Not far from Tokyo’s Imperial Palace, an alarm pierces the air. At a nearby elementary school, hundreds of children drop to the floor, scramble beneath their desks and hold on for dear life. It’s March 9, 2012, two…

NASA scientists recently announced data suggesting that there may be liquid water on Mars. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Shining Light on Mars

October 6, 2015

The red planet made a splash in the media this past week, due to the combined efforts of Ridley Scott’s film The Martian and NASA’s announcement of new evidence for the existence of water flowing on the surface of…

The Hebgen Lake earthquake, magnitude 7.1-7.3, struck southwestern Montana in August 1959, causing significant damage. Photo courtesy of USGS.

Strange Earthquakes

August 31, 2015

It’s not a huge mystery why Los Angeles experiences earthquakes. The city is right along a boundary between two tectonic plates — they shift, we shake. But what about places that aren’t along tectonic plate…