EARTH Magazine: Solar Storms Cause Spike in Insurance Claims

On March 13, 1989, a geomagnetic storm spawned by a solar outburst struck Earth, triggering instabilities in the electric-power grid that serves much of eastern Canada and the U.S. The storm led to blackouts for more than 6 million customers and caused tens of millions of dollars in damages and economic losses. More than 25 years later, the possibility of another such catastrophe still looms, and the day-to-day effects of space weather on electrical systems remain difficult to quantify. Now, a new study correlating electrical insurance claims with geomagnetic data suggests that even moderate space weather may play a significant role in destabilizing the power grid.

EARTH Magazine: Santiaguito Volcano's Clockwork Behavior Provides an Exceptional Laboratory

If Earth breathes, Santiaguito Volcano in the Western Highlands of Guatemala could be its mouth. Roughly every half hour, like volcanic clockwork, Santiaguito’s active Caliente lava dome expands, filling with gas from depressurizing magma below. Then it exhales, often explosively, and deflates. Over the course of a day, you could almost keep time by it.

EARTH Magazine: Virtual Water: Tracking the Unseen Water in Goods and Resources

“Virtual water” was coined in 1993 to help explain why long-predicted water wars driven by water and food security had not occurred among the arid nations of the Middle East and North Africa. The virtual water notion refers basically to the total amount of freshwater, either from rainfall or irrigation, used in the production of food commodities, including crops and fodder-fed livestock, or other goods and services — agricultural, industrial or otherwise. Taking root in the late 1990s across a range of disciplines, the concept has since expanded and evolved.

EARTH Magazine: Changing the Landscape: Geoscientists Embrace 3-D Printing

From the delicate geometry of a crystal lattice to the sweeping strata of an anticline, geology is an inherently 3-D discipline. Three-dimensional printing offers the chance to make those structures replicable, communicable and malleable. And it can make objects themselves “open source,” enabling wider access to specimens for students and giving researchers the power to handle and manipulate the natural features they study. Read more about how geoscientists are using 3-D printing to transform their science in the September issue of EARTH Magazine:

EARTH Magazine: Preserving Peru's Petrified Forest

Tucked high in the Andes Mountains of northern Peru is a remarkable fossil locality: a 39-million-year-old petrified forest preserved in nearly pristine condition: stumps, full trees, leaves and all. With its existence unknown to scientists until the early 1990s — and its significance unbeknownst to villagers — this ancient forest hosts the remains of more than 40 types of trees, some still rooted, that flourished in a lowland tropical forest until they were suddenly buried by a volcanic eruption during the Eocene.

EARTH Magazine: Creationism Comes to the County Fair

County fairs are opportunities to bring in those handsome Holsteins competing for Best Bessie, to sample foods that don’t normally belong on sticks and definitely shouldn’t be deep-fried, and to enjoy carnival rides and games with unfavorable odds. They’re also opportunities to get the attention of a lot of people. Just ask the exhibitors who rent space to hawk their wares — everything from kitchen knives to leaf-free gutters. And in some locations, those exhibitors include creationists asking, “Why do thousands of scientists believe Darwin was wrong?”

EARTH Magazine: Rosetta Off to Decipher a Comet's Secrets

“Hello World.” Upon hearing that brief message, scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) and followers around the world sent up a collective cheer. Rosetta — the ESA spacecraft currently on a 10-year mission to orbit and land on a comet — awoke in January after a three-year hibernation, and was ready to get to work.

EARTH Magazine: Staking a Claim: Deep-Sea Mining Nears Fruition

The existence of seafloor sediments containing valuable minerals and metals has been known since the late 19th century, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the earliest attempts to recover mineral wealth from the deep sea were made. Technical challenges, as well as discoveries in the 1970s of more economical and previously unknown terrestrial mineral deposits, shelved the idea until the 1990s. Today, the surging demand for rare minerals, driven largely by their use in modern electronics, along with technological advancements and the discovery of mineral-rich seafloor massive sulfides, has now made the high cost of extraction worthwhile.

EARTH Magazine: The History, Science and Poetry of New England's Stone Walls

When author John-Manuel Andriote returned to his hometown in New England after years away, he noticed something that had been invisible to him while growing up there — the old stone walls tumbling off into the forests. The realization that the crumbling and overgrown walls meant those forests had once been cleared farm lands set Andriote on a years-long journey of discovery that highlights the intersections of geologic and human history.


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