The strange ghost forest that morphed into a beach forest

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The Neskowin Ghost Forest is the remnants of a Sitka spruce forest on the Oregon Coast. (Oregon.gov)

It looked like your average beach, but in 1998 an astonishing discovery was made here when the sand started to vanish due to a storm.

Underneath hundreds of years of sand lay the remains of a huge ancient sitka spruce forest dating back approximately 2000 years. Around 100 of the tree stumps now dot the beach of Neskowin in Oregon, fascinating visitors with their haunting appearance and reminding us that sometimes, all is not what is seems.

Scientists believe an earthquake or tsunami virtually wiped out the forest. Ironically, the stumps were preserved by the same natural event that destroyed most of the forest, preserving them as they remain in their original soil deep below the sand layers.

The trees were believed to have been enormous, stretching up to 195 ft. high.

Before the storm that uncovered the stumps for good, locals did occasionally see a few poking out from the sand — we’re talking once every couple of decades — but they would soon be reburied.

This story originally appeared on news.com.au.

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Giant magma ocean once swirled inside early Earth

As far back as 4.5 billion years ago, a dense magma ocean may have formed at the top of Earth's core.

As far back as 4.5 billion years ago, a dense magma ocean may have formed at the top of Earth’s core. (@sylvain Petitgirard/ Bayreuth University)

An ancient ocean of magma once existed on top of Earth’s core, new experiments suggest.

This research could help explain puzzling findings seen deep within the Earth, researchers said.

Previous calculations suggested a giant ocean of magma, or molten rock, might have existed in the lowermost part of Earth’s mantle layer between the core and crust from very early in our planet’s history, from about 4.5 billion years ago to at least about 2.5 billion years ago. However, scientists had not confirmed these models with experiments. [In Photos: Watery Ocean Hidden Beneath Earth’s Surface]

New X-rays of rocks suggest that remnants of this ancient magma ocean exist deep within the Earth.

The scientists used the most brilliant X-ray beams on Earth, which are generated at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France. The researchers focused on bridgmanite, the most abundant mineral in the deep Earth, where it exist in solidform.

Bridgmanite is made of magnesium, silicon and oxygen atoms ordered into crystalline structures. When this mineral melts, forming what is known as a magnesium-silicate melt, its atoms are arranged in disorderly structures. The scientists reasoned that the amorphous structure of a magnesium-silicate melt could make it denser than bridgmanite, causing the molten rock to sink into the lowermost parts in the mantle right next to the Earth’s core.

The scientists used X-rays to measure the density of amorphous magnesium silicate at extreme pressures equivalent to 135 gigapascals, the kind of pressures found 1,800 miles (2,900 kilometers) below Earth’s surface in the deepest part of the lower mantle. They experimented on magnesium- silicate glass, the room temperature equivalent of a magnesium-silicate melt, squeezing a sample about as thick as a hair between two diamonds, said study lead author Sylvain Petitgirard, a geophysicist at the University of Bayreuth in Germany.

The scientists found that pure amorphous magnesium silicate is nearly as dense as crystalline bridgmanite. It would likely be even denser, however, deep in Earth where iron would chemically combine with the magnesium-silicate melts; the resulting combination would result in a dense magma that could sink to the bottom of the mantle and collect above the Earth’s core.

An ancient magma ocean could have concentrated a number of elements nearthe core, especially radioactive ones such as uranium and thorium, and signs of such an ancient reservoir are seen in rocks from Hawaii, Petitgirard said. Furthermore, seismic waves also reveal dense regions at the base of the Earth’s mantle, as well as potential pockets of magma.

“A basal magma ocean would be an ideal candidate to explain both features,” Petitgirard told Live Science.

Future research can use powerful X-rays to analyze minerals with a greater variety of compositions and learn more about the deep Earth. “There is really a lot of work to do to understand our planet,” Petitgirard said.

The scientists detailed their findings online Nov. 2 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Giant Wyoming crack explained: A landslide brought it down

The large gash that mysteriously appeared in northern central Wyoming. (SNS Outfitters and Guides.)

The large gash that mysteriously appeared in northern central Wyoming. (SNS Outfitters and Guides.) (SNS Outfitters and Guides.)

A gaping crack the length of six football fields that opened up in a matter of one to two weeks in northern Wyoming is likely the product of a landslide, geologists said.

A hunter looking for antelope discovered the jagged gash near Ten Sleep, a town in rural Wyoming by the Bighorn Mountains, on Oct. 1, reported 9NEWS, a local CBS channel in Wyoming. With an estimated size of 750 yards long by 50 yards across, the open fracture wasn’t exactly something the hunter could traverse.

“I was stunned,” Randy Becker, the hunter with SNS Outfitter and Guides who found the crack, told CBS Denver. “The magnitude of this shift in earth is dramatic. It blows you away to see it.” [7 Ways the Earth Changes in the Blink of an Eye]

A landslide is the likeliest explanation for the ragged feature, said Seth Wittke, a geologic manager with the Wyoming State Geological Survey, who said he has seen photos of the zipperlike split, but has yet to visit it in person.

“It sounds like there are some springs in the area, so it could be possible that [the landslide] is groundwater related,” Wittke told Live Science. “A lot of landslides typically are related to some sort of subsurface water, so it’s not really that much of a surprise.”

An engineer from Riverton, Wyoming, had a similar interpretation, said a post onSNS Outfitter and Guides’ Facebook page.

“Apparently, a wet spring lubricated across a cap rock [hard rock layered over weak rock],” SNS Outfitter and Guides wrote in the post. “Then, a small spring on either side caused the bottom to slide out.”

It’s unclear why the landslide happened when it did, but experts dismissed several explanations. Wyoming did have a particularly wet spring, but there’s no evidence the extra rainfall contributed to the landslide, Wittke said.

“Additional water that came into the ground in the spring [season] may have allowed the streams to run a little bit longer into the season than they typically do,” Wittke said. “But there’s no evidence of that — that the streams were flowing more than they typically do this time of year.”

Moreover, the landslide isn’t near any oil drilling or fracking sites, which have been linked to sinkholes andearthquakes, and no earthquakes have been reported nearby that could have caused the landslide, Wittke added.

The geologist said he hopes to visit the giant gash before the snowy season makes travel difficult. But the size of the landslide, characterized as medium to large, isn’t that unique.

“They happen fairly often in the state,” he said. Over the years, “the [Geological] Survey has over 40,000 landslides mapped in the state.”

The crack isn’t near any commercial or residential establishments, but it could pose a danger to curious adventurers, Wittke said. He advised people to stay away from the gash, as the ground may be unstable if it’s still settling, he said.

“If you walk around on the edges of the landslide and they were to catastrophically fail, you would have nowhere to go,” Wittke said. “That’s the danger of it.”

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Stunning NASA image shows the power of tropical cyclone Kate

On Nov. 11, GPM found that intense storms within feeder bands there were dropping rain at a rate of over 80 mm (3.1 inches) per hour. A 3-D cross section by GPM's Radar (DPR Ku Band) through Kate's weak eye shows intense storms swirling around the northern side of the tropical cyclone. (NASA/JAXA/SSAI, Hal Pierce)

On Nov. 11, GPM found that intense storms within feeder bands there were dropping rain at a rate of over 80 mm (3.1 inches) per hour. A 3-D cross section by GPM’s Radar (DPR Ku Band) through Kate’s weak eye shows intense storms swirling around the northern side of the tropical cyclone. (NASA/JAXA/SSAI, Hal Pierce)

NASA has illustrated the power of Kate, the twelfth named tropical cyclone of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season, in this stunning image.

Formed near the southeastern Bahamas on Sunday, Kate re-curved toward the northeast and moved harmlessly over the open waters of the Atlantic. Kate’s intensity peaked on Nov. 11, 2015 with winds of about 74 mph –  making it a category one hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane.

Related: Kate weakens to tropical storm in Atlantic

This image was the result of the GPM (Global Precipitation Measurement) core observatory satellite flying above Kate on Nov. 11, capturing data. Kate’s maximum sustained winds were estimated at about 69 mph at that time, which made it a strong tropical storm. GPM’s Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar was able to slice through Kate’s western side and found that intense storms  were dropping rain at a rate of over 3.1 inches per hour. A 3-D cross section by GPM’s Radar (DPR Ku Band) through Kate’s weak eye showed intense storms swirling around the northern side of the tropical cyclone.

Related: NOAA releases forecast for 2015 hurricane season

GPM is managed by both NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

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Giant Crack in Africa Will Create a New Ocean

Earth may hold more helium than we thought

Earth may hold more helium than we thought

In this photo provided by Mark McBreairty, a balloon cluster carrying Jonathan Trappe lifts off from Caribou, Maine, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Mark McBreairty)

Don’t mourn the loss of your humorously high-pitched voices quite yet. Despite years of warnings from scientists that Earth’s supply of helium is quickly running out, the results of a study announced Wednesday in Prague show there could still be large deposits of the element hidden underground, the Guardian reports.

Helium, as important to the nuclear industry as the birthday party industry, is essential to everything from MRIs to the Large Hadron Collider, according toPhys.org.

But as PhD student Diveena Danabalan explains, “Helium is the second lightest element in nature, it is so light that it leaks away into space.” That makes it a finite resource, and most of the helium we’ve used so far has come as a byproduct of natural gas extraction.

But “no one could really pinpont where the next deposit would appear,” says Danabalan. That problem that led researchers to look at 22 natural gas wells in the United States and Canada.

According to Phys.org, whenever helium was found in those wells, so were neon isotope tracers, a chemical almost always associated with groundwater. “This, we realized, meant that helium has to have been dissolved in groundwater and then transported throughout the US and Canada until it met a geological structure that drew it back out of the water,” Danabalan tells the Guardian.

Knowing how and why helium got into natural gas reservoirs means scientists have a starting point in terms of where to look to find new helium deposits.

Now, they just have to actually find them. (Want to know what we’re wasting our precious helium on? Read about the man who used it fly his chair over Canada.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Earth May Have More Helium Left Than Thought

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Giant pumpkin weighing over 2,000 pounds crushes North American record

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The giant pumpkin clocked in over 2,100 pounds. (YouTube/Associated Press)

It’s the great pumpkin Charlie Brown.

A giant pumpkin weighing 2,145.5 pounds has crushed the North American record at a Wisconsin festival over the weekend. The giant gourd was grown by Gene McMullen, a factory worker from Illinois.

The previous North American record was 2,058 pounds. Despite the major achievement, McMullen remained humble about his prize-winning pumpkin.

“I don’t do anything different than any other growers do,” he told the Associated Press, crediting “dumb luck” to this giant’s success story.

Though world records for giant pumpkins date back to 1900, they didn’t top 1,000 pounds until 1996, according to data from giantpumpkin.com, a site that tracks fun facts like this. The current world record belongs to Beni Meier of Switzerland for his massive 2,323 pound pumpkin from Oct. 2014.

Last year, McMullen’s entry came in at a measly 1,600 pounds.

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Hidden superchain of volcanoes discovered in Australia

 

cosgrove-volcano-track

Scientists recently realized that separate chains of volcanic activity in Australia were actually caused by a single hotsput lurking under the Earth’s lithosphere. The new superchain, called the Cosgrove Volcanic Track, spans 1,240 miles. (Drew Whitehouse, NCI National Facility VizLab)

Scientists have just found the world’s longest chain of volcanoes on a continent, hiding in plain sight.

The newly discovered Australian volcano chain isn’t a complete surprise, though: Geologists have long known of small, separate chains of volcanic activity on the island continent. However, new research reveals a hidden hotspot once churned beneath regions with no signs of surface volcanism, connecting these separate strings of volcanoes into one megachain.

That 1,240-mile-long chain of fire spanned most of eastern Australia, from Hillsborough in the north, where rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef, to the island of Tasmania in the south.

“The track is nearly three times the length of the famous Yellowstone hotspot track on the North American continent,” Rhodri Davies, an earth scientist at Australian National University, said in a statement. [See Amazing Photos of the World’s Wild Volcanoes]

String of volcanoes

Scientists had long known that four separate tracks of past volcanic activity fringed the eastern portion of Australia, with each showing distinctive signs of past volcanic activity, from vast lava fields to fields awash in a volcanic mineral called leucitite that’s dark gray to black in color. Some of these regions were separated by hundreds of miles, leading geologists to think the areas weren’t connected.

But Davies and his colleagues suspected that the Australian volcanism had a common source: a mantle plume that melted the crust as the Australian plate inched northward over millions of years. (Whereas many volcanoes form at the boundaries of tectonic plates, where hot magma seeps up through fissures in the Earth, others form when mantle plumes, or hot jets of magma, at the boundary between the mantle and Earth’s core reach the surface.)

To bolster their hypothesis, Davis and his colleagues used the fraction of radioactive argon isotopes (versions of argon with different atomic weights) to estimate when volcanic activity first appeared in each of these regions. They combined this data with past work showing how the Australian plate had moved over the millennia. From this information, they could estimate where and when volcanism affected certain regions.

The team found that the same hotspot, likely from a mantle plume, was responsible for all of the volcanic activity crossing eastern Australia. The new volcanic chain, which the team dubbed the Cosgrove volcanic track, was formed between 9 million and 33 million years ago. (None of the volcanoes on Australia’s mainland have been active during the recen past.)

However, there are large gaps in volcanic activity on the surface of this track. To understand why, the team modeled the thickness of the lithosphere, the stiff layer that forms the upper mantle and Earth’s crust.

Plate thickness and melt

It turned out that, at certain spots along the Australian tectonic plate, the lithosphere was so thick that the mantle plume couldn’t permeate all the way through to create melting the showed up at Earth’s surface. However, at other points, the lithosphere was just barely thin enough to show the tiniest hints of magma at the surface. One of these spots is a region of northern New South Wales rich in leucitite, which contains high concentrations of potassium, thorium and uranium. Surface volcanism appeared only when the lithosphere was less than 81 miles thick, the researchers reported Sept. 14 in the journal Nature.

The new finds could help scientists model how mantle plumes interact with the continental crust to create volcanism.

“Now that we know there is a direct relationship between the volume and chemical composition of magma and the thickness of the continent, we can go back and interpret the geological record better,” study co-author Ian Campbell, also an earth scientist at Australian National University, said in the statement.

 

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Far below South Dakota, a cave holds pure, promising water

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This 1982 photo provided by The National Park Service shows a park employee sitting on a rock in Calcite Lake at The Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The underground lakes, which were discovered in the 1960s, aren’t home to any animal life but prominent cave microbiologist Hazel Barton has discovered there is bacteria – albeit scant – in the lakes. Barton hopes to decipher how the bacteria survives and answer questions about how it interacted before multicellular organisms came along and perhaps find new sources of antibiotics. (The National Park Service via AP) (The Associated Press)

Hundreds of feet beneath the Black Hills, a team of scientists and researchers snake through dark, narrow and silent corridors of ancient rock to reach their goal: what is thought to be some of the purest water on Earth.

The crew of National Park Service scientists that’s anchored by microbiologist Hazel Barton travels sporadically to the lowest reaches of South Dakota’s Wind Cave National Park to study a series of underground lakes, which were discovered in the 1960s and aren’t home to any animal life or even easily detectable microscopic organisms.

But Barton, from the University of Akron, has discovered there is bacteria — albeit scant — in the lakes. She’s beginning to analyze about six years of data and hopes to decipher how the bacteria survives, answer questions about how it interacted before multicellular organisms came along and perhaps find new sources of antibiotics.

“It has the potential to answer a lot of questions that we have in biology that you can’t answer anywhere else because you have levels of complexity,” she said.

To gather the necessary samples, caving experience is crucial: It takes more than two hours for even the most adept cavers to reach Calcite Lake, the nearest body of water. “It’s certainly not a route for the inexperienced,” according to park service scientist Marc Ohms, who often joins Barton and, by his count, has made over 50 trips.

It’s a quiet affair. Cavers typically hear only their voices, the scraping of feet and some grunting as they squeeze through crevasses — the narrowest is about 7 inches wide — with equipment that’s light enough to carry and durable enough to survive the journey.

Barton, a 44-year-old British transplant, began caving here when she was a graduate student in Colorado, making weekend trips and later getting a tattoo of the cave. She has a reputation as an adventurous caver and has been featured in several film and television documentaries.

During her first excursions, Barton brought only a few liters of lake water back to study its properties. But with the help of a filtration system designed by one of her students, the microbiologist now filters hundreds of liters of cave water, which hosts an unusually low concentration of bacteria.

“So there was 2 billion years of history where bacteria were the top predators and you can’t see that, you can’t visualize those interactions anymore because they don’t exist — well, they do and we can get to them in Wind,” she said.

Because there are so few living things in the lakes’ ecosystem, the organisms have to fight for survival. Thus, the bacteria’s predatory characteristics could help scientists find new antibiotics, Barton said. Having exhausted other routes, they’re turning to exotic environments like big, deep caves for that very reason.

Barton and her fellow cavers are doing so carefully. Because of its pristine nature, cavers and scientists have to take special precautions to make sure they don’t contaminate Wind Cave lakes and surrounding areas: They don’t bring crumble-prone foods, they eat over baggies and they urinate in bottles.

Above ground, the National Park Service has been concerned about development on the land. Several times, officials have objected to proposals from groups wanting to draw more water from the Madison Aquifer — of which the lakes are the top — for fear that the lakes could be permanently drained.

“We just don’t know what we have down here. We just now discovered in the last five years that we have this resource … and we don’t want to see these natural processes eliminated,” said Rod Horrocks, a physical scientist with the park service.

Barton hopes to have her work wrapped up by the end of the year. Already, she’s presented some of her findings to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute, where she said scientists asked her to send samples so that they could determine exactly what organisms are in the lakes.

In the meantime, Wind Cave’s lakes could soon become a hotbed for scientific research — if you can squeeze down there.

“As soon as the word gets out,” she said, “I imagine people are going to be jumping all over the place to try and do research.”

 

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Fossils show how ancient seafloor gave rise to life

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Scientist found mummified microbial life in rocks from a seafloor hydrothermal system that was active more than 100 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous, when the supercontinent Pangaea was breaking apart and the Atlantic Ocean was jus (Illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Inset paleogeographic reconstruction by Ron Blakey, Colorado Plateau Geosystems)

Signs of 125-million-year-old life lurk in rocks drilled from deep under the seafloor near Spain and Portugal, new research finds.

The rocks date to a time when the Earth’s mantle, the viscous layer just below the outer crust, was exposed to seawater. Scientists have long suspected that this mix of deep-Earth rocks and ocean water could have created conditions ripe for life. The new study, published Aug. 31 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals how those chemical reactions might have happened.

“All the ingredients necessary to drive these ecosystems were made entirely from scratch,” study lead author Frieder Klein, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, said in a statement. “Similar systems have likely existed throughout most of Earth’s history to the present day, and possibly exist(ed) on other water-bearing rocky planetary bodies, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa.” [7 Theories on the Origin of Life]

Brewing up some life

The microbial traces discovered by Klein and his colleagues are far from the most ancient life on Earth; the first microbial life dates back to at least 3.5 billion years ago.

But the new study hints at how life could form from a nonliving chemical soup. The rocks were first drilled from 2,264 feet below the seafloor, in 1993.

The rocks represent the ancient seafloor, which was first thrust upward from the mantle during the breakup of the supercontinent Pangaea. The rift that opened the Atlantic Ocean exposed the rocks to seawater for the first time, according to the study. Chemical reactions between the rocks and the water infused the seawater with minerals. The result was a potent mix of hydrogen, methane, dissolved carbon and “electron acceptors,” or chemicals capable of taking up an electron as cells respire, the researchers said. (Iron, oxygen and nitrate are examples of electron acceptors.)

Microbial life flourished in this stew, Klein and his team found. The rocks held organic-rich veins of lipids (fats), proteins and amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) — all chemical signatures of life.

Microbial colonies were living in fractures in the seafloor rock, feeding off the hydrothermal seawater created by the geological rifting process, Klein said. But minerals grew over the cracks, entombing the microbes within.

“The minerals proved to be the ultimate storage containers for these organisms, preserving their lipids and proteins for over 100 million years,” Klein said.

Sea life links

The rocks had been stored at room temperature under nonsterile conditions, so Klein and his team had to penetrate into the drill cores to find untouched, uncontaminated samples.

When the researchers discovered lipids and other organic material, Klein called on the expertise of Florence Schubotz, a lipid expert, from the University of Bremen in Germany. Schubotz did a biochemical analysis of the lipids and discovered that they appear nearly identical to those found at the modern Lost City hydrothermal field, an active area of hydrothermal vents in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

“I was stoked when I saw Dr. Schubotz’s email detailing the analytical results,” Klein said. Such lipids had previously been found only at places where the conditions for life are challenging, he said. Those places include the alkaline vents at Lost City, or at cold seeps where methane and other hydrocarbons leak from the seafloor.

Klein and his team said they hope their findings contribute to a better understanding of how water plus rock can add up to life, even — potentially — on other planets. The researchers plan to search for similar microorganism signatures in other rocks where rifting of the same type may have happened, Klein said.

“In the future, we’ll be trying to learn more about these particular microorganisms and what the environmental conditions were in the mixing zone,” he said.

 

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