Great Molasses Flood of 1919: Why this deluge of goo was so deadly

 In 1919, a collapsed molasses tank sent a towering wave of the sticky mess through the streets, ensnaring everything from humans to horses to homes. The wreckage of the tank can be seen in the upper-right of the image.

In 1919, a collapsed molasses tank sent a towering wave of the sticky mess through the streets, ensnaring everything from humans to horses to homes. The wreckage of the tank can be seen in the upper-right of the image.  (Boston Public Library)

A bubbling flood of molasses that sent a towering wave of goo down the streets of Boston in 1919, catching everything from horses to humans in its sticky grasp, killing 21 people, injuring 150 more and flattening buildings in its wake. Now, scientists have figured out why the deluge of viscous sweetener was so deadly.

Cool temperatures may have caused the spilled molasses to flow more slowly, complicating attempts to rescue victims and to begin recovery and cleanup, researchers report in a new study.

On Jan. 15, 1919, shortly after 12:40 p.m. local time, a giant storage tank 50 feet tall and 90 feet wide on Boston’s waterfront at the Purity Distilling Co. collapsed in the city’s crowded North End, according to newspapers at the time. It released more than 2.3 million gallons of molasses. [The 10 Weirdest Spills in Nature]

The wave from the flood, which reached about 25 feet tall, oozed at more than 50 feet per second, the researchers of the new study said. It took just moments for the molasses — a standard sweetener at the time — to engulf Boston’s Commercial Street area.

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According to a report from The Boston Post from 1919, “Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage … Here and there struggled a form‍ —‌ whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was … Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings‍ —‌ men and women‍ —‌ suffered likewise.”

How molasses flows

Scientists began investigating the science of this disaster this year, after undergraduate students produced a video about the flood in May. “To gather relevant details about the flood and its aftermath, I’ve read hundreds of pages of historical accounts and contemporary newspaper articles, studied century-old maps of buildings in the area, and even called the National Weather Service to request historic meteorological data,” lead study author Nicole Sharp, a Denver-based aerospace engineer and fluid dynamicist, said in a statement.

The scientists also investigated the properties of blackstrap molasses, focusing on how temperature affected its rate of flow. “The goal is to take our knowledge and understanding of highly viscous spreading flows and apply that to the Boston Molasses Flood,” Sharp said in the statement. [The Mysterious Physics of 7 Everyday Things]

The researchers found that at the time of the collapse, the air temperature would have been around 41 degrees Fahrenheit. The molasses, however, had arrived from the Caribbean to top off the tank only two days before the flood, and was likely a balmy 50 to 68 degrees F when it was first delivered. Boston winter temperatures would have cooled the molasses down, but it would still likely have been a few degrees warmer than the surrounding air, Sharp said.

Once the tank collapsed, the molasses started flowing quickly over the waterfront. The scientists found that temperature could greatly influence molasses’s viscosity, or the degree to which it resists flowing.

“Temperatures dipped just below freezing the night following the accident,” Sharp told Live Science. “Based on our data, it’s possible the viscosity of the molasses increased by a factor of four or more due to that drop in temperature. That does not sound like such a big difference, but the high viscosity of the molasses was a major factor for rescue work.”

For example, “a group of men were trapped in a nearby firehouse when the molasses knocked the building off its foundation and caused the upper floor to collapse atop them,” Sharp said. “Reaching them took hours, and one of the men, George Layhe, grew so exhausted fighting against the molasses hour after hour that he ultimately drowned when he could no longer hold his head up.”

Tank failure

The tank had its share of issues even before the disaster.

“The molasses tank was originally built in December 1915 under the direction of a manager, Arthur Jell, with no technical background,” Sharp said. “The tank leaked throughout its short lifetime, and the response of United States Industrial Alcohol’s management to the comments and complaints about the leakage was to paint the tank brown so that the leaks were less noticeable.”  (United States Industrial Alcohol was the parent company ofthe Purity Distilling Co.)

“As an engineer, one of the things that struck me about the whole affair was the lack of professional ethics involved,” Sharp said. “We engineers have a professional and a moral obligation to ensure that what we design and build is safe. People’s lives and livelihoods are at risk if we fail. The Boston Molasses Flood is a reminder of what can happen when corners are cut and when warnings about a structure’s failing integrity are ignored.”

Sharp hopes to figure out what was going on in the tank prior to its collapse. “Two days before the rupture, warm molasses was pumped into the bottom of a tank of cold molasses,” she said. “Historical accounts say that the tank walls ‘groaned’ after such deliveries, presumably due to the mixing between the warm and cold molasses. That’s a problem I’d like to simulate using computational fluid dynamics, both to try and address the rumbling described by accounts and to have a clearer idea of what temperature the molasses might have been at the time of the disaster.”

The physics of the Boston Molasses Flood are relevant to other accidents that affect the public, including industrial spills or breaking levees. However, the main goal of this work is education.

“Ultimately, I hope that by shedding some light on the physics of a fascinating and surreal historical event, our work can inspire a greater appreciation for fluid dynamics among our students and the public,” Sharp said.

Sharp and her colleagues Jordan Kennedy and Shmuel Rubinstein, both at Harvard University, detailed their findings today (Nov. 21) at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics in Portland, Oregon.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to correct the temperature of the molasses when the disaster happened.

Original article on Live Science.

Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Huge underground ice deposit on Mars is bigger than New Mexico

This vertically exaggerated view shows scalloped depressions in a part of Mars where such textures prompted researchers to check for buried ice, using ground-penetrating radar aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

This vertically exaggerated view shows scalloped depressions in a part of Mars where such textures prompted researchers to check for buried ice, using ground-penetrating radar aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.  (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

A giant deposit of buried ice on Mars contains about as much water as Lake Superior does here on Earth, a new study reports.

The ice layer, which spans a greater area than the state of New Mexico, lies in Mars’ mid-northern latitudes and is covered by just 3 feet to 33 feet of soil. It therefore represents a vast possible resource for future astronauts exploring the Red Planet, study team members said.

“This deposit is probably more accessible than most water ice on Mars, because it is at a relatively low latitude and it lies in a flat, smooth area where landing a spacecraft would be easier than at some of the other areas with buried ice,” co-author Jack Holt, of the University of Texas, Austin, said in a statement. [Photos: The Search for Water on Mars]

The researchers, led by Cassie Stuurman of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas, analyzed observations of Mars’ Utopia Planitia region made by the ground-penetrating Shallow Radar (SHARAD) instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They focused on this area because Utopia Planitia features “scalloped depressions” similar to landscapes in the Canadian Arctic that lie atop buried ice.

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Data gathered by SHARAD during 600 MRO passes over Utopia Planitia revealed the deposit between 39 and 49 degrees north latitude. The layer ranges in thickness from 260 feet to 560 feet  and is made up of 50 to 85 percent water ice, researchers said. (The remainder is dirt and rock.)

That puts the deposit’s water volume roughly on a par with that of Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, which holds 2,900 cubic miles of the wet stuff.

SHARAD is capable of distinguishing between layers of liquid and frozen water, and the instrument’s data indicate that all of the Utopia Planitia water is ice at the moment. That’s bad news for anyone hoping to find evidence of Mars life, because life here on Earth is intimately tied to liquid water.

But there may have been some melting in the past, during times when Mars’ poles were tilted at a different angle, researchers said. The planet has a 25-degree lean at the moment, but this axial tilt varies to about 50 degrees over a 120,000-year cycle.

Indeed, the ice deposit probably formed during a high-tilt era, when snow accumulated at middle Martian latitudes rather than at the poles as it does now, Stuurman said. So further study of the Utopia Planitia ice deposit could also shed light on how the Martian climate has changed over the ages.


“The ice deposits in Utopia Planitia aren’t just an exploration resource, they’re also one of the most accessible climate change records on Mars,” co-author Joe Levy, also of the University of Texas, said in the same statement.

“We don’t understand fully why ice has built up in some areas of the Martian surface and not in others,” Levy added. “Sampling and using this ice with a future mission could help keep astronauts alive, while also helping them unlock the secrets of Martian ice ages.”

The new study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Incredible photos offer first glimpse of uncontacted Amazon tribe

Uncontacted Yanomami yano (communal house) in the Brazilian Amazon, photographed from the air in 2016  (© Guilherme Gnipper Trevisan/Hutukara).

Uncontacted Yanomami yano (communal house) in the Brazilian Amazon, photographed from the air in 2016 (© Guilherme Gnipper Trevisan/Hutukara).

New aerial photos offer the first glimpse of an uncontacted tribe in the Brazilian Amazon that experts warn could be in danger of being wiped out.

The photos reveal a village in northern Brazil’s remote Yanomami indigenous territory that is estimated to be home to around 100 people.

The village, which is close to the Venezuelan border, has a typical Yanomami ‘yano’ – a large communal house for several families that can be seen in the images. Each of the yano’s square sections is home to a different family, where they hang their hammocks, maintain fires and keep food stores, according to tribal advocacy group Survival International.


Survival International warns that the area where the tribe lives is in danger of being over-run by 5,000 illegal gold miners, raising serious fears that they could be wiped out. “Miners have brought diseases like malaria to the region and polluted Yanomami food and water sources with mercury, leading to a serious health crisis,” the group warned, in a press release.

Diseases brought by outsiders such as flu and measles can also be devastating to tribes living in the remote area.

Survival International warns that the Brazilian government agents charged with protecting the Yanomami territory are facing severe budget cuts.

“We know that this uncontacted group is dangerously close to illegal gold miners, and that the small team dedicated to protecting the territory face stringent budget cuts,” Survival Internaional’s Campaigns Director Fiona Watson told, via email. “Without proper protection, exposure to violence or disease could wipe out this highly vulnerable uncontacted people.”


FUNAI, the Brazilian government Indian Affairs department, has not yet responded to a request for comment on this story from

The Yanomani Indigenous territory was created in 1992 in an attempt to protect the group from violence and diseases brought in by outsiders.

The Yanomami have vast botanical knowledge and use about 500 plants for food, medicine and building houses. Tribespeople provide for themselves by hunting, gathering and fishing, as well as cultivating crops such as manioc (cassava or yuca) and bananas, which are grown in large gardens cleared from the forest.

“These extraordinary images are further proof of the existence of still more uncontacted tribes,” said Survival International Director Stephen Corry, in the press release. “They’re not savages but complex and contemporary societies whose rights must be respected.”


Corry added that the groups are perfectly capable of living successfully without the need for outside notions of “progress” and “development.”

Survival International says that uncontacted Yanomami have made clear their desire to be left alone by fleeing from outsiders and avoiding contacted members of the tribe.

Around 22,000 Yanomami live on the Brazilian side of the border with Venezuela, and at least three of the groups have had no contact with outsiders.

“We estimate that there are around 100 uncontacted tribes around the world, the vast majority of which are in South America, in the Amazon,” a Survival International spokesman told

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Pluto could harbor a subterranean icy ocean

The dark blue represents a possible subsurface ocean on Pluto and light blue, frozen crust. (Artwork by Pam Engebretson)

The dark blue represents a possible subsurface ocean on Pluto and light blue, frozen crust. (Artwork by Pam Engebretson)

If you’re planning on visiting Pluto anytime soon, best to bring some warm boots. A frigid, possibly “slushy” subsurface ocean could be lurking under the crust of the dwarf planet, according to a new study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Scientists are interested in a region of Pluto known as Sputnik Planitia, a basin covered with frozen nitrogen that could be anywhere from about two to six miles thick. Because this part of Pluto lines up with Charon, the dwarf planet’s biggest moon, scientists think that an icy ocean below the surface of this area could be producing a gravitational anomaly that explains the orientation between the two celestial bodies. NASA’s New Horizons probe, which whizzed by Pluto in 2015, provided the researchers with data.

Sputnik Planitia is “a big, elliptical hole in the ground, so the extra weight must be hiding somewhere beneath the surface. And an ocean is a natural way to get that,” Francis Nimmo, the study’s first author and a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a statement.


Sputnik Planitia is part of a larger feature on Pluto’s surface is called Tombaugh Regio, which is shaped like a heart.

“Pluto is hard to fathom on so many different levels,” Richard Binzel, a coauthor on the new study and a professor at MIT, said in a statement. “People had considered whether you could get a subsurface layer of water somewhere on Pluto. What’s surprising is that we would have any information from a flyby that would give a compelling argument as to why there might be a subsurface ocean there.”

Binzel pointed out that there’s a very small chance— “less than 5 percent,” he said— that the part of Pluto they focused on had “randomly” aligned with Charon so closely. The best explanation, they posit, is an icy ocean below the crust.


“So we calculated Pluto’s size with its interior heat flow, and found that underneath Sputnik Planitia, at those temperatures and pressures, you could have a zone of water-ice that could be at least viscous,” he said in the statement. “It’s not a liquid, flowing ocean, but maybe slushy.”

Pluto wouldn’t be the only planetary body besides Earth in our solar system that astronomers think could host a subsurface ocean. Saturn’s moon Enceladus is thought to have one, as is Jupiter’s moon Europa. Scientists have detected water jets emitting from Enceladus, and seen evidence of what also might be water jets coming out of Europa. Both places could be good spots to look for life.

Caleb Scharf, the director of astrobiology at Columbia University, said that Pluto is turning out to be anything but dull.

“The evidence is looking pretty convincing that far from being a solid, frozen, boring ball of rock and ice,” Scharf said in an email to, “Pluto may have an internal ‘dark’ ocean, probably laced with stuff like ammonia.”

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Last presidential yacht bought for $0

In this March 3, 1932, file photo, the USS Sequoia is viewed in Washington, DC. An investment group with ties to a wealthy industrialist family in India can take ownership of the former US presidential yacht Sequoia with no payment to its current owner, a Delaware judge ruled Monday, Nov. 14, 2016.

In this March 3, 1932, file photo, the USS Sequoia is viewed in Washington, DC. An investment group with ties to a wealthy industrialist family in India can take ownership of the former US presidential yacht Sequoia with no payment to its current owner, a Delaware judge ruled Monday, Nov. 14, 2016.  (AP Photo/File)

How much would you pay for the presidential yacht on which FDR hosted Winston Churchill, JFK held his last birthday, and Nixon drank a bottle of whiskey before resigning? You probably overbid.

The News Journal reports investment group FE Partners will acquire the USS Sequoia for $0. The 104-foot yacht was built in 1926, according to Reuters.

It was used by presidents for years until Carter sold it for $286,000 at auction in 1977, the Guardian reports. The Sequoia changed hands multiple times before being acquired by lawyer Gary Silversmith in 2000.

He used it for private charters before borrowing multiple millions from FE Partners for repairs in 2012. That kicked off a years-long legal battle between the two parties.

This week, judge Sam Glasscock found Silversmith fell down on his part of the loan agreement to keep “America’s most famous boat” in good condition. “The Sequoia … is sitting on an inadequate cradle on an undersized marine railway in a moribund boatyard … deteriorating and, lately, home to raccoons,” Glasscock writes.

The loan agreement allowed FE Partners to buy the Sequoia back, and after deducting a number of costs—including repairs estimated at potentially more than $4 million—Glasscock ruled “free” to be a fair price.

Silversmith says he’s concerned FE Partners, which is backed by a wealthy Indian family, will move the Sequoia overseas. But the investment group says it plans to restore it “so that future generations of Americans will be able to enjoy the storied past of this magnificent yacht.” (Eva Braun’s things, found in an abandoned bunker, have been sold.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Last US Presidential Yacht Bought for $0

Richard Branson unveils supersonic ‘Baby Boom’ passenger jet with Boom Technology

Boom Technology says its XB-1, nicknamed the “Baby Boom” will be the world’s fastest civil aircraft.

Boom Technology says its XB-1, nicknamed the “Baby Boom” will be the world’s fastest civil aircraft.  (Boom Technology)

Need to get to London in less than four hours?

Virgin mogul Sir Richard Branson is one step to closer to bringing the next generation of Concorde-style jet engines to the masses– or at least travelers who can afford a $5,000 ticket.

On Tuesday, Branson and Denver-based Boom Technology unveiled a new prototype for a supersonic passenger jet that can take passengers from New York to London in just 3.5 hours, reports The Guardian.

“I have long been passionate about aerospace innovation and the development of high-speed commercial flights,” Branson said Tuesday at the prototype’s unveiling ceremony.

“As an innovator in the space, Virgin Galactic’s decision to work with Boom was an easy one. We’re excited to have an option on Boom’s first 10 airframes. Through Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing arm, the Spaceship Company, we will provide engineering and manufacturing services, along with flight test support and operations as part of our shared ambitions.”


Blake Scholl, Boom’s founder and CEO (who happens to be a former pilot and executive) is ready to bring supersonic jet travel back into the mainstream.

Test flights will begin next year in southern California, Scholl said, with plans to launch the first commercial departures in 2023. he also said he’s confident that these flights will be different than the Concorde due to advances in technology and lighter materials. The company plans on fabricating the planes with lightweight carbon fiber composites– which it says makes it a quieter and more fuel efficient jet.

The XB-1, nicknamed the “Baby Boom,” has a cruising speed of Mach 2.2– 1,451 miles per hour– which is 10 percent faster than the  Concorde’s previous speed of Mach 2. It’s also 2.6-times faster than the average commercial airliner.

At $5,000, tickets on the Baby Boom jet would cost “about the same as tickets in business class,” Scholl says.

“I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t want to get there in half the time, rather than have some free champagne,” he said. “It won’t be a bucket-list purchase any more. There is a huge market and the margins are enormous.”


The Baby Boom will have around 50 seats, whereas the Concorde had 92 to 128. Boom says it plans to initially fly from London to New York, San Francisco to Tokyo and Los Angeles to Sydney.

The Concorde, a British-French supersonic jet operated commercially from 1976 to 2003.

Built by the Huns? Ancient stone monuments discovered along Caspian

A massive stone structure, dating back 1,500 years, has been discovered along the Caspian Sea.

A massive stone structure, dating back 1,500 years, has been discovered along the Caspian Sea.  (Photo courtesy Evgeni�� Bogdanov)

A massive, 1,500-year-old stone complex that may have been built by nomad tribes has been discovered near the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea in Kazakhstan.

The complex contains numerous stone structures sprawled over about 300 acres (120 hectares) of land, or more than 200 American football fields, archaeologists reported recently in the journal Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia.

“When the area was examined in detail, several types of stone structures were identified,” archaeologists Andrey Astafiev, of the Mangistaus State Historical and Cultural Reserve; and Evgeniï Bogdanov, of the Russian Academy of Sciences Siberian Department’s Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, wrote in the journal article. The smallest stone structures are only 13 feet by 13 feet, and the biggest are 112 feet by 79 feet. [See Photos of the Massive Stone Structure and Artifacts]

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The structures are “made of stone slabs inserted vertically into the ground,” the archaeologists wrote. Some of the stones, which look a little like those at Stonehenge, have carvings of weapons and creatures etched into them.

One of the most spectacular finds is the remains of a saddle made partly of silver and covered with images of wild boars, deer and “beasts of prey” that may be lions, Astafiev and Bogdanov wrote in their article. The images were etched in relief, sticking out from the silver background.

“The relief decoration was impressed on the front surface,” Astafiev and Bogdanov wrote. The two researchers think ancient artisans designed the images out of leather and glued them onto wooden boards. “Finally, silver plates would have been laid over the shapes and fixed in place,” they said.

Stone-complex discovery

In 2010, a man named F. Akhmadulin (as named in the journal article), from a town called Aktau, was using a metal detector in Altÿnkazgan, which is located on the Mangÿshlak Peninsula, near the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea, when he found parts of a silver saddle and other artifacts. Akhmadulin brought the artifacts to Astafiev who works in Aktau. [7 Bizarre Ancient Cultures That History Forgot]

“Most of the territory consists of sagebrush desert,” Astafiev and Bogdanov wrote. However, Astafiev found that the desert location where Akhmadulin brought him contained the remains of an undiscovered 120-hectare stone complex. Akhmadulin located the artifacts in one of these stone structures.

“Unfortunately, the socioeconomic situation in the region is not one in which it is easy to engage in archaeological research, and it was not until 2014 that the authors of this article were able to excavate certain features within the site,” Astafiev and Bogdanov wrote.

When excavations got underway in 2014, the archaeologists excavated the stone structure where Akhmadulin had found the saddle. They found more saddle parts, along with other artifacts, including two bronze objects that turned out to be the remains of a whip.

Who owned the saddle?

A great deal of work needs to be done to excavate and study the remains of the stone complex, the archaeologists said. “Certain features of the construction and formal details of the [stone] enclosures at Altÿnkazgan allow us to assume that they had been left there by nomad tribes,” Astafiev and Bogdanov wrote.

The design and decorations on the silver saddle indicate that it dates to a time when the Roman Empire was collapsing, and a group called the “Huns” were on the move across Asia and Europe, they said. “The advance of the Huns led various ethnic groups in the Eurasian steppes to move from their previous homelands,” Astafiev and Bogdanov wrote.

The owner of the saddle was likely a person of considerable wealth and power as the archaeologists found symbols called “tamgas” engraved on the silver saddle above the heads of predators, something that can be “an indication of the privileged status of the saddle’s owner.” These signs may also be a link “to the clan to which the owner of the tamga belonged,” Astafiev and Bogdanov wrote.

It’s not exactly clear why the silver saddle was placed in the stone structure, though it may have been created for a ritual purpose or as a burial good, Astafiev and Bogdanov suggested. They found the remains of one skeleton buried beneath the stone structure; however, the skeleton may date to centuries after the silver saddle was deposited there.

Research is ongoing, and Bogdanov said the team plans to publish another paper on research into the silver saddle in 2017.

Bogdanov said the team hopes to make the public aware of the newly found site. “I hope that one day there [will be] a film about the archaeological excavations on the Mangÿshlak, about ancient civilizations and modern inhabitants,” Bogdanov told Live Science.

Original article on Live Science

Woman says she was bitten by large shark in waters off Maui coast

 (Google Street View)

Hawaii officials say a woman is in the hospital after she was bitten by what she called a large shark off Maui.

A spokesman from the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources said the incident Monday occurred in front of a lifeguard stand.


He says lifeguards treated the woman before she was taken to the hospital.

The woman says a shark bit her about 40 yards offshore from Kamaole Beach Park. Authorities have not yet confirmed whether the bite came from a shark or another sea creature.

An official has gone to the hospital to interview the victim.

The woman’s name and condition were immediately available. Maui County posted shark-warning signs along the beach.

Scientific mystery: Beneath Mount St. Helens lies a heart of cold stone

In a June 7, 2015 photo, Mount St. Helens is visible from a trail near Cougar, Wash. The first new hiking trail at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in two decades opened in 2014 and delivered something that had been missing in the Ape Cave area--a view of the volcano.

In a June 7, 2015 photo, Mount St. Helens is visible from a trail near Cougar, Wash. The first new hiking trail at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in two decades opened in 2014 and delivered something that had been missing in the Ape Cave area–a view of the volcano.  (Craig Hill/The News Tribune via AP)

Mount St. Helens already stands out as one of the most active volcanoes in the Cascade Arc and the deadliest in the US, since its 1980 eruption claimed nearly 60 lives.

It’s also an outlier in a literal sense, sitting 30 miles west of the volcanoes that neatly line the Cascade Arc from north to south. Now scientists are reporting in the journal Nature Communications that they’ve discovered another oddity: The volcano appears to be perched atop what Gizmodo calls “a cool wedge of serpentine rock”—dramatically unlike the fiery cauldrons of hot magma beneath other volcanoes.

“We don’t have a good explanation for why that’s the case,” Steve Hansen, a geoscientist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, tells Gizmodo. His team drilled a couple dozen holes, filled them with explosives, and triggered minor earthquakes to watch seismic wave activity beneath Mount St.

Helens, “a bit like a CAT scan,” Hansen says. But their findings leave them with more questions, namely: What’s the volcano’s heat source, if it’s not right below the volcano itself? Hansen surmises that it’s coming from further east, but until his team does more research, it’s what Science News is calling “a cold case.” (Earlier this year, there were dozens of small quakes on the mountain every week.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Beneath Mount St. Helens, a Heart of (Cold) Stone

‘Mud Dragon’ dinosaur unearthed in China

Tongtianlong limosus artist's illustration (Zhou Chuang)

Tongtianlong limosus artist’s illustration (Zhou Chuang)

A new species of bird–like dinosaur was recently discovered at a construction site in Southern China. Dubbed Tongtianlong limosus, the winged creature had died after becoming mired in mud about 66–72 million years ago– hence it’s nickname, the ‘Mud Dragon.’

Before the well–preserved and near–complete skeleton was discovered, it had been damaged by dynamite while workmen were excavating a school near Ganzhou. Luckily, the workers found it before any more damage had been done.

“They very nearly dynamited it into billions of pieces, but thankfully they placed the dynamite just far enough away from the skeleton that most of it survived the blast,” study co–author Dr. Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh told “I wasn’t there when it was found, but they must have realized right away that they had found something important, and it’s great that the fossil was conserved by a museum rather than sold off or auctioned away, where it would have been lost to science forever.”


The skeleton of the two–legged Tongtianlong limosus (translation “muddy dragon on the road to heaven”) was lying on its back with its neck arched and wings outstretched. It also had a crest of bone on its head that researchers believed may have been used to attract mates or intimidate enemies.

Tongtianlong is the sixth species of the oviraptorosaur dinosaur family, a group of feathered dinos known for their sharp beaks and short, toothless heads. Oviraptors were thriving in the 15 million years before the comet that killed the dinosaurs hit Mexico, and Brusatte believes that the most important thing about the new fossil is that it gives us a glimpse of these last surviving dinosaurs.

“They were still diversifying during those last few million years of the Cretaceous, so they are a sign that dinosaurs were still doing really well right up towards the end,” the paleontologist said. “It was these dinosaurs that were undergoing the final wave of diversification before everything changed that day the asteroid hit.”


Despite its wings, the Mud Dragon was flightless so it had to rely on its feet to get away from predators such as the big tyrannosaur Qianzhousaurus, which was the top predator in the area at the time. It also had different feeding habits than a lot of its fellow dinosaurs.

“The Mud Dragon didn’t have teeth, but rather a beak, so it wasn’t a traditional meat eater,” Brusatte explained. “It may have eaten small mammals and lizards, but probably also plants, seeds, nuts, shellfish–all kinds of things. It was a classic omnivore, which is maybe one reason that these dinosaurs were so diverse and successful, because they could eat so many things.”

There’s been a wave of dinosaur finds over the last few years in China, with many new dinosaur discoveries emerging from the country every year. Brusatte said that things don’t look to be slowing down, either.


“Many of these discoveries are not found by professors or academic scientists with PhDs, but by farmers and workmen. This new discovery is a prime example of that. We would never know about it had there not been a building boom in southern China, had these workmen not been on the job that day, or had they not used just the right amount of dynamite to free the skeleton but not destroy it.”

The study can be found in Scientific Reports.