Trinity geologists re-write Earth’s evolutionary history books

The study site landscape is shown with boulders of the paleosol in the foreground. -  Quentin Crowley
The study site landscape is shown with boulders of the paleosol in the foreground. – Quentin Crowley

Geologists from Trinity College Dublin have rewritten the evolutionary history books by finding that oxygen-producing life forms were present on Earth some 3 billion years ago – a full 60 million years earlier than previously thought. These life forms were responsible for adding oxygen (O2) to our atmosphere, which laid the foundations for more complex life to evolve and proliferate.

Working with Professors Joydip Mukhopadhyay and Gautam Ghosh and other colleagues from the Presidency University in Kolkata, India, the geologists found evidence for chemical weathering of rocks leading to soil formation that occurred in the presence of O2. Using the naturally occurring uranium-lead isotope decay system, which is used for age determinations on geological time-scales, the authors deduced that these events took place at least 3.02 billion years ago. The ancient soil (or paleosol) came from the Singhbhum Craton of Odisha, and was named the ‘Keonjhar Paleosol’ after the nearest local town.

The pattern of chemical weathering preserved in the paleosol is compatible with elevated atmospheric O2 levels at that time. Such substantial levels of oxygen could only have been produced by organisms converting light energy and carbon dioxide to O2 and water. This process, known as photosynthesis, is used by millions of different plant and bacteria species today. It was the proliferation of such oxygen-producing species throughout Earth’s evolutionary trajectory that changed the composition of our atmosphere – adding much more O2 – which was as important for the development of ancient multi-cellular life as it is for us today.

Quentin Crowley, Ussher Assistant Professor in Isotope Analysis and the Environment in the School of Natural Sciences at Trinity, is senior author of the journal article that describes this research which has just been published online in the world’s top-ranked Geology journal, Geology. He said: “This is a very exciting finding, which helps to fill a gap in our knowledge about the evolution of the early Earth. This paleosol from India is telling us that there was a short-lived pulse of atmospheric oxygenation and this occurred considerably earlier than previously envisaged.”

The early Earth was very different to what we see today. Our planet’s early atmosphere was rich in methane and carbon dioxide and had only very low levels of O2. The widely accepted model for evolution of the atmosphere states that O2 levels did not appreciably rise until about 2.4 billion years ago. This ‘Great Oxidation Event’ event enriched the atmosphere and oceans with O2, and heralded one of the biggest shifts in evolutionary history.

Micro-organisms were certainly present before 3.0 billion years ago but they were not likely capable of producing O2 by photosynthesis. Up until very recently however, it has been unclear if any oxygenation events occurred prior to the Great Oxidation Event and the argument for an evolutionary capability of photosynthesis has largely been based on the first signs of an oxygen build-up in the atmosphere and oceans.

“It is the rare examples from the rock record that provide glimpses of how rocks weathered,” added Professor Crowley. “The chemical changes which occur during this weathering tell us something about the composition of the atmosphere at that time. Very few of these ‘paleosols’ have been documented from a period of Earth’s history prior to 2.5 billion years ago. The one we worked on is at least 3.02 billion years old, and it shows chemical evidence that weathering took place in an atmosphere with elevated O2 levels.”

There was virtually no atmospheric O2 present 3.4 billion years ago, but recent work from South African paleosols suggested that by about 2.96 billion years ago O2 levels may have begun to increase. Professor Crowley’s finding therefore moves the goalposts back at least 60 million years, which, given humans have only been on the planet for around a tenth of that time, is not an insignificant drop in the evolutionary ocean.

Professor Crowley concluded: “Our research gives further credence to the notion of early and short-lived atmospheric oxygenation.

This particular example is the oldest known example of oxidative weathering from a terrestrial environment, occurring about 600 million years before the Great Oxidation Event that laid the foundations for the evolution of complex life.”

From ‘Finding Nemo’ to minerals — what riches lie in the deep sea?

Left: The first species ever recovered from the deep sea. Center: Rockfish use deep-sea carbonate formations at Hydrate Ridge, US, as a refuge. Right: Deep-sea corals such as the one pictured are a source of jewelery and other riches. -  SERPENT Project/D.O.B. Jones, L. Levin, UK's BIS Department
Left: The first species ever recovered from the deep sea. Center: Rockfish use deep-sea carbonate formations at Hydrate Ridge, US, as a refuge. Right: Deep-sea corals such as the one pictured are a source of jewelery and other riches. – SERPENT Project/D.O.B. Jones, L. Levin, UK’s BIS Department

As fishing and the harvesting of metals, gas and oil have expanded deeper and deeper into the ocean, scientists are drawing attention to the services provided by the deep sea, the world’s largest environment. “This is the time to discuss deep-sea stewardship before exploitation is too much farther underway,” says lead-author Andrew Thurber. In a review published today in Biogeosciences, a journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU), Thurber and colleagues summarise what this habitat provides to humans, and emphasise the need to protect it.

“The deep sea realm is so distant, but affects us in so many ways. That’s where the passion lies: to tell everyone what’s down there and that we still have a lot to explore,” says co-author Jeroen Ingels of Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the UK.

“What we know highlights that it provides much directly to society,” says Thurber, a researcher at the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University in the US. Yet, the deep sea is facing impacts from climate change and, as resources are depleted elsewhere, is being increasingly exploited by humans for food, energy and metals like gold and silver.

“We felt we had to do something,” says Ingels. “We all felt passionate about placing the deep sea in a relevant context and found that there was little out there aimed at explaining what the deep sea does for us to a broad audience that includes scientists, the non-specialists and ultimately the policy makers. There was a gap to be filled. So we said: ‘Let’s just make this happen’.”

In the review of over 200 scientific papers, the international team of researchers points out how vital the deep sea is to support our current way of life. It nurtures fish stocks, serves as a dumping ground for our waste, and is a massive reserve of oil, gas, precious metals and the rare minerals we use in modern electronics, such as cell phones and hybrid-car batteries. Further, hydrothermal vents and other deep-sea environments host life forms, from bacteria to sponges, that are a source of new antibiotics and anti-cancer chemicals. It also has a cultural value, with its strange species and untouched habitats inspiring books and films from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Finding Nemo.

“From jewellery to oil and gas and future potential energy reserves as well as novel pharmaceuticals, deep-sea’s worth should be recognised so that, as we decide how to use it more in the future, we do not inhibit or lose the services that it already provides,” says Thurber.

The deep sea (ocean areas deeper than 200m) represents 98.5% of the volume of our planet that is hospitable to animals. It has received less attention than other environments because it is vast, dark and remote, and much of it is inaccessible to humans. But it has important global functions. In the Biogeosciences review the team shows that deep-sea marine life plays a crucial role in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as well as methane that occasionally leaks from under the seafloor. In doing so, the deep ocean has limited much of the effects of climate change.

This type of process occurs over a vast area and at a slow rate. Thurber gives other examples: manganese nodules, deep-sea sources of nickel, copper, cobalt and rare earth minerals, take centuries or longer to form and are not renewable. Likewise, slow-growing and long-lived species of fish and coral in the deep sea are more susceptible to overfishing. “This means that a different approach needs to be taken as we start harvesting the resources within it.”

By highlighting the importance of the deep sea and identifying the traits that differentiate this environment from others, the researchers hope to provide the tools for effective and sustainable management of this habitat.

“This study is one of the steps in making sure that the benefits of the deep sea are understood by those who are trying to, or beginning to, regulate its resources,” concludes Thurber. “We ultimately hope that it will be a useful tool for policy makers.”

Liquefaction of seabed no longer a mystery

<IMG SRC="/Images/483586609.jpg" WIDTH="350" HEIGHT="222" BORDER="0" ALT="This is a pipeline floatation accident. Taken from the paper by J.S. Damgaard, B.M. Sumer, T.C. Teh, A.C. Palmer, P. Foray and D. Osorio: 'Guidelines for pipeline on-bottom stability on liquefied noncohesive seabeds' Journal of Waterway, Port, Coastal and Ocean Engineering, ASCE, vol. 132, No. 4, pp. 300-309, 2006. With permission from ASCE. – Journal of Waterway, Port, Coastal and Ocean Engineering, ASCE, vol. 132, No. 4, pp. 300-309, 2006. With permission from ASCE.”>
This is a pipeline floatation accident. Taken from the paper by J.S. Damgaard, B.M. Sumer, T.C. Teh, A.C. Palmer, P. Foray and D. Osorio: ‘Guidelines for pipeline on-bottom stability on liquefied noncohesive seabeds’ Journal of Waterway, Port, Coastal and Ocean Engineering, ASCE, vol. 132, No. 4, pp. 300-309, 2006. With permission from ASCE. – Journal of Waterway, Port, Coastal and Ocean Engineering, ASCE, vol. 132, No. 4, pp. 300-309, 2006. With permission from ASCE.

Seabed under large waves during storms may undergo liquefaction, a process in which the seabed sediment becomes liquid. Under this condition, sections of buried pipelines float to the surface of the seabed, heavy marine objects on the seabed such as breakwaters, caissons, sea mines, and pipelines sink and disappear into the seabed. How can this be explained?

Authored by renowned researcher and engineer Dr Mutlu Sumer and published by World Scientific, “Liquefaction Around Marine Structures”, features physics of liquefaction induced by large waves, mathematical modelling, floatation and sinking of marine objects in liquefied sediments. Although the main focus is the wave-induced liquefaction, it also discusses the seabed liquefaction caused by earthquakes. The book also addresses the issue of design of structures (against liquefaction) wherever it deems necessary, and provides guidelines via illustrated examples. Counter measures against seabed liquefaction is also discussed.

Many incidents with catastrophic consequences have occurred in the past due to wave-induced liquefaction of the seabed. There are also failures for which information never entered the public domain. Cost of such incidents is enormous, up to tens or even hundreds of million dollars.

The main cause of such incidents has been the fact that the structures (be it, for example, marine pipelines, or breakwaters, or caisson structures, or sea mines) have not been properly designed against liquefaction, and that has been due to the lack of knowledge, and the non-existence of guidelines for the design.

The present book essentially bridges this gap, for the first time, by collecting the state-of-the-art knowledge and building content, essentially based on the recent research conducted in the past two decades including two European research programs Liquefaction Around Marine Structures (LIMAS) and Scour Around Coastal Structures (SCARCOST) where the author was the Program Leader. The present book and the existing body of literature on earthquake-induced liquefaction (with special reference to marine structures) form a complementary source of information on liquefaction around marine structures, and will be used by consulting firms in the design of structures to ensure that incidents that occurred in the past with catastrophic dimensions can be avoided.

Dr. Mutlu Sumer is a Professor at the Technical University of Denmark, DTU Mekanik, Section for Fluid Mechanics, Coastal and Maritime Engineering. He has published two previous books with World Scientific, “Hydrodynamics Around Cylindrical Structures” and “The Mechanics of Scour in the Marine Environment”.

3D model reveals new information about iconic volcano

The volcano on the Scottish peninsula Ardnamurchan is a popular place for the study of rocks and structures in the core of a volcano. Geology students read about it in text books and geologists have been certain that the Ardnamurchan volcano have three successive magma chambers. However, an international group of researchers, lead from Uppsala University, Sweden, has now showed that the volcano only has one single magma chamber.

The new study is published in Scientific Reports, the new open access journal of the Nature Publishing Group.

The 58 million year old Ardnamurchan volcano is an iconic site for the study of rocks and structures in the core of a volcano, which is why thousands of geology students from all over the world visit Ardnamurchan every year. Since the early days of modern geology the Ardnamurchan volcano is believed to have had three successive magma chambers (or centres) that fed hundreds of thin arcuate basalt intrusions, so-called cone sheets, that are exposed all over the peninsula.

The researchers from the universities of Uppsala (Sweden), Quebec (Canada), Durham and St. Andrews (UK), challenges the 3-centre concept using a 3D model of the subsurface beneath today’s land surface. According to this model, the Ardnamurchan volcano was underlain by a single but elongate magma chamber.

Studying extinct volcanoes is a way for geologists to understand the interior of volcanic edifices and to gain knowledge on the processes that occur within active volcanoes today. It is therefore that the volcanic centres of western Scotland and northeastern Ireland were intensely studied by British geologists in the late 19th and early 20th century. It was in these eroded volcanoes that the foundation for modern volcanology was laid. Ardnamurchan in particular has an iconic status among geologists everywhere in the world. Geology students read about it in text books and visit it during field excursions.

“It came as a bit of a surprise to us that there is still so much to learn from a place that has received so much attention by geologists, in particular since we used the original data collected in 1930 by Richey and Thomas.” said Dr Steffi Burchardt, senior lecturer at Uppsala University.

“Modern software allows visualizing field measurements in 3D and opens up a range of new perspectives. After projecting hundreds of cone sheets in the computer model, we were unable to identify three separate centres. The cone sheets instead appear to originate from a single, large, and elongate magma chamber about 1.5 km below today’s land surface.”

This magma chamber beneath Ardnamurchan was up to 6 km long and has the shape of an elongate saucer.

“These types of magma chambers are known to exist for example within volcanoes in Iceland have have been detected in the North Sea bedrock. Ardnamurchan’s new magma chamber is hence much more realistic considering everything we have learned about Ardnamurchan and other extinct and active volcanoes since the time of Richey and Thomas” said Prof. Valentin Troll, chair in petrology at Uppsala University.

New book looks at hotspots around the world for mega-quakes

This is a high school running track in Taiwan crossed by the Chelungpu fault in an earthquake in September 1999. -  Bob Yeats, Oregon State University.
This is a high school running track in Taiwan crossed by the Chelungpu fault in an earthquake in September 1999. – Bob Yeats, Oregon State University.

At the beginning of 2010, Oregon State University geologist Bob Yeats told a national reporter that Port au Prince, Haiti, was a “time bomb” for a devastating earthquake because of its crowded, poorly constructed buildings and its proximity to the Enriquillo Fault.

One week later, a magnitude 7 earthquake destroyed Port au Prince, killing hundreds of thousands of people and devastating the economy of Haiti.

The clock is ticking on many other earthquake faults throughout the world, Yeats says, and though he did not “predict” the Haiti earthquake, he can point to other places that could face the same fate. He outlines some of these areas in a new book called “Active Faults of the World,” published by Cambridge University Press.

“We are not yet to the point where we can predict earthquakes,” said Yeats, a professor emeritus in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “What we can do is tell you where some of the most dangerous faults lie – and where those coincide with crowded cities, few building codes, and a lack of social services, you have a time bomb.

“Unfortunately, we can’t say if an earthquake will strike today, tomorrow or in a hundred years,” he added. “But in all of these locations it will happen someday – and unless something is done to improve conditions, many thousands of people will die.”

In his book, Yeats notes that the greatest migration in human history is of people moving from rural areas to “megacities” in the developing world. People have flocked to these mega-cities where multi-level housing and businesses are rapidly built, and often poorly constructed and poorly inspected. When many of these locations last had a major earthquake, their population was small and a majority of the people was living in one-story dwellings, limiting the loss of life.

Yeats cites as an example Caracas, Venezuela, which has an earthquake plate-boundary fault north of the city. In 1812, a major quake shook Caracas and other Venezuelan cities and killed an estimated 10,000 people – about 10 percent of the population at that time. Today, the population of Caracas is nearly 3 million, but government decision-makers are “not placing earthquake hazards high on their list of priorities,” Yeats said, despite the presence of knowledgeable local experts.

Another city near the top of Yeats’ list of earthquake dangers is Kabul, Afghanistan, which suffered an enormous earthquake in 1505. Because of recent wars, the buildings in Kabul are in poor shape – either poorly constructed, or damaged from bombs. On a visit to Kabul in 2002, Yeats found many families living in the ruins of these buildings.


“If Kabul has a repeat of the 1505 earthquake,” Yeats said, “it could kill more people than have died in all of Afghanistan’s wars in the last 40 years because of the influx of refugees living in crowded, substandard conditions.”

Tehran, Iran, is another heavily populated city situated near a major fault line. Located at the base of the Alborz mountain range, Tehran has some 11 million people in its urban boundaries, and Yeats said they are vulnerable because of poorly constructed housing in many parts of the city – a result of corruption in building construction and building inspection industries.

Other over-populated cities near fault lines with poor building codes on Yeats’ list include Istanbul, Turkey, now under an earthquake hazard warning after a quake of magnitude 7.4 in 1999; Nairobi, Kenya, close to a 7.3 quake in the 1920s; and Guantánamo, Cuba.

“Guantánamo is a bit like Haiti,” Yeats pointed out. “They have a fault just offshore, and yet they have no clue they are at risk because Cuba has not had any catastrophic earthquakes in its 500-year history. The military prison operated by the United States would also be at risk, but as far as I know, the Americans are not contributing their expertise to help Guantånamo prepare for its future earthquake.”

There are many places around the world likely to experience a major earthquake in the future, Yeats says, but the “risk” to human lives may not be as high because of less crowding and better building codes. He points to the 2011 super-quake in Japan, which reached a magnitude of 9.0, yet did not cause nearly as much destruction as the tsunami it triggered.

“The Japanese,” Yeats said, “lead the world in taking earthquake risk seriously.”

Yeats was one of the first geologists to point to the Pacific Northwest as being at risk for a major earthquake, because of its proximity to the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Since he and other OSU scientists first raised awareness of that risk in the 1980s, there has been gradual acceptance that an earthquake will strike in the future.

“But will this acceptance lead to concrete action, such as approving a bond issue for seismic upgrades to old school buildings?” Yeats said. “Will it lead to strengthening communities on the West Coast against tsunamis?”

The OSU professor emeritus hopes his book leads to more awareness of the hundreds of faults around the world – some well-known, and some not. This is the first time someone has attempted to summarize the totality of earthquake faults, and Yeats used his own research and observations, as well as exhaustive literature reviews.

“Knowing about the faults is the first step,” Yeats said, “but preparing for the risk is what really needs to happen. It is kind of interesting that Japan has done a lot of work preparing for an earthquake in their Home Islands, and then one bigger than they expected hits northern Japan, accompanied by a devastating tsunami, whose effects have been felt as far away as Oregon.”

A similar thing happened northeast of Beijing, China, in 1976, when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck along a fault line that was not thought to be a major threat, killing more than 200,000 people. And it happened again in 2011 at Christchurch, New Zealand, with an earthquake on a minor fault no one knew about in advance – but still the earthquake produced the greatest losses in New Zealand’s history.

“The lesson there is that you never know which one is going to nail you,” Yeats said, “but it pays to be prepared.”

Calming earthquake fears in the Midwest

When people in the Midwest say they fear a big earthquake is going to hit their hometown soon, Northwestern University geologist Seth Stein, the author of the new book “Disaster Deferred: How New Science Is Changing Our View of Earthquake Hazards in the Midwest,” tries to reassure them.

There’s little scientific evidence for this fear, according to Stein, the William Deering Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern.

Apocalyptic predictions of an earthquake in the New Madrid seismic zone persist. In 1990, a widely touted prediction said a big quake would hit the area, and a media circus ensued. The prediction proved false but highlighted the fear and hype surrounding the idea of a big Midwestern earthquake.

As the 200th anniversary of the big earthquakes that occurred in the area of New Madrid, Mo., approaches, talk of catastrophe is rising again.

“It’s said that the 1811 and 1812 earthquakes were the biggest in U.S. history, which isn’t true,” Stein said. “Or that they rang church bells in Boston, which isn’t true. And that another huge earthquake is on the way, which there’s no reason to believe.”

In the 1990s, Stein and other researchers conducted routine measurements of earthquake-related activity in New Madrid, with a high-tech version of the GPS technology used in cars and cell phones. Because big earthquakes had happened here about 500 years apart in the past, they expected to see the ground deforming as it stored up energy for another big earthquake. Instead, they found nothing.

The researchers were amazed. “We put markers in the ground and later measured their positions to an accuracy of a millimeter and found that the ground wasn’t moving — so there’s no sign that a big earthquake is on the way,” he said. “Now we’ve got this whole new way of thinking about earthquakes in the middle of our continent.”

The findings detailed in “Disaster Deferred” (Columbia University Press, October 2010) come from more than 20 years of research about the New Madrid seismic zone. The book describes Stein’s scientific adventures that found no sign that big earthquakes will hit the New Madrid area in the next several hundred or even thousands of years.

Stein spoke with Erin White, broadcast editor at Northwestern, about the book.

Why was it important to write this book?

Widely circulated reports say a huge, disastrous earthquake is coming to the Midwest. You hear terrifying predictions about thousands of dead people, hundreds of billions of dollars of damage and other terrible stuff. These predictions are very vague about when the earthquake is coming but claim it’s soon enough that we have to start expensive preparations now to make buildings as strong as in California, where large earthquakes are much more common.

We, of course, can’t say there will never be another New Madrid earthquake like the ones in 1811 and 1812, but there’s no sign of one coming. The next could be thousands of years or tens of thousands of years in the future.

Talk about your surprise at the findings.

The most exciting surprise for a scientist is when a result comes out opposite what you expect. It shows that the way you’d been thinking has to be changed. It’s like opening a door. In this case, it showed that the faults at New Madrid were acting very differently than we expected — they switch on and off.

Now you have this whole new picture of earthquakes that you didn’t have before.

We now understand a lot more about earthquakes in the middle of continents. Continents have lots of faults spread over a huge area. For short times, some will be active and produce large earthquakes. Geologically, that’s a few thousand years. Then, they’ll be essentially dead — producing at most small earthquakes — for many thousands of years. Eventually, they or another fault will switch on. What we’ve learned is important for understanding the earthquake hazard in the Midwest but also for what it tells us about how earthquakes in continents work.

How do you explain the small earthquakes taking place in the Midwest?

Earthquake physics shows that many of those small earthquakes are aftershocks of the big earthquakes 200 years ago. They don’t show that a big one is coming.

What would you tell someone in the Midwest who’s worried about earthquakes?

Enjoy the New Madrid bicentennial but don’t worry too much about earthquakes. They’re an interesting science question but not a serious danger. Make plans for your community carefully, using your experience that in the Midwest earthquakes aren’t a big problem. Decide between spending billions of dollars making buildings as strong as in California or using a less expensive standard and using the money for other needs. Consider whether more good would come from hiring teachers or putting lots of steel in schools that are very unlikely to be seriously shaken.

Why does “Disaster Deferred” focus on how ideas are changing?

When we try to interest young people in science careers, we shouldn’t present science as cut and dry, just facts. The book talks about the process of doing science and how we try to find out how the world works.

Why are some people disappointed when you say that a big earthquake isn’t on the way?

People like to be a little scared. We like Halloween, we like riding roller coasters, we like horror movies. We like the idea of danger, as long as it’s not too big.

That’s why we respond to the disaster stories that come along every few years. Remember, we had Y2K, and the world was going to end. And then we had swine flu, and the world was going to end. Then we were all supposed to go out and get duct tape and tape up our houses against biological terrorism.

These stories are “disaster chic,” as one news guy said. These disasters generally don’t happen, but they make a good story.

The Story Behind “Disaster Deferred” from Northwestern News on Vimeo.

What hit Earth in 1908 with the force of 3,000 atomic bombs?

Photograph from Kulik's 1927 expedition
Photograph from Kulik’s 1927 expedition

There have been numerous theories proposed about what struck the taiga in central Siberia, causing millions of trees to topple over and many still-standing trees to lose all their branches. Many expeditions have looked for traces of what hit Earth and have not found much. There is no telltale meteor crater, and no clear evidence of a nuclear blast. In fact, at the epicenter, the trees were found to be still standing. Whatever hit Earth did not reach the ground. It exploded in the air above the ground.

In The Tunguska Mystery by Vladimir Rubtsov, the efforts put forth by generations of Russian scientists, technicians, and others are documented. What did they find? Was it a meteorite, as had first been thought? Was it an asteroid? Was it a comet? Some support the idea that this was not a “natural” event at all but one caused by the explosion of an alien spaceship trying to land on Earth. Is there any evidence for this? How did the Russian scientific and world community react to this theory?

The mystery has been very difficult to solve, but it is important – perhaps even urgent – to solve it. We live in a very violent universe, and we are extremely vulnerable to its vagaries. How can we prevent another “Tunguska” if we don’t even know what it was? And next time, the event might not occur in a remote, barely inhabited region of Earth. It may take many thousands of lives and destroy whole cities.

Vladimir Rubtsov was born in 1948 in Kharkov, Ukraine. He received his Ph.D. degree in the philosophy of science from the Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, having defended in 1980 the doctoral thesis “Philosophical and Methodological Aspects of the Problem of Extraterrestrial Civilizations,” the first of its kind in the former USSR. Dr. Rubtsov has authored two monographs and some 120 scientific and popular science articles in the Soviet, post-Soviet and international press.

Earth under global cooling

The Late Eocene Earth -- Hothouse, Icehouse, and Impacts by
Christian Koeberl and Alessandro Montanari (editors). -  Geological Society of America
The Late Eocene Earth — Hothouse, Icehouse, and Impacts by
Christian Koeberl and Alessandro Montanari (editors). – Geological Society of America

Thirty-four-million years ago, Earth changed profoundly. What happened, and how were Earth’s animals, plants, oceans, and climate affected? Focusing on the end of the Eocene epoch and the Eocene-Oligocene transition, a critical but very brief interval in Earth’s history, GSA’s latest Special Paper provides new answers to these questions.

According to the book’s editors, Christian Koeberl of the University of Vienna and Alessandro Montanari of the Observatorio Geologico di Coldigioco in Italy, the end of the Eocene and the Eocene-Oligocene (E-O) transition mark the most profound oceanographic and climatic changes of the past 50 million years of Earth’s history.

Earth experienced global cooling beginning in the middle Eocene, with a sharp temperature drop of about two degrees Celsius in the Late Eocene. This drop was characterized by an increase in marine oxygen isotope values and significant floral and faunal turnovers. The global climate changes are commonly attributed to the expansion of the Antarctic ice cap following its gradual isolation from other continental masses. However, as examined in this volume, multiple extraterrestrial bolide impacts, possibly related to a comet shower that lasted more than two million years, may have played an important role in deteriorating the global climate.

The volume provides an excellent overview of conditions on Earth during the last few million years of the Eocene and around the time of the Eocene-Oligocene boundary. Chapters include an expanded look at Earth across time by Walter Alvarez and colleagues; an updated and enhanced understanding of the Eocene-Oligocene boundary transition using different climate proxies, improved time control, and climate models; integrated stratigraphy of the late Eocene-early Oligocene transition and reevaluation of the Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP); paleoecology and paleoclimate through the critical period of transition from hothouse to icehouse; and Late Eocene impact processes and impact stratigraphy.

First English-language account of scientists’ quest to measure the globe

Full Meridian of Glory: Perilous Adventures in the Competition to Measure the Earth by Paul Murdin is an adventure story of the Paris Meridian and the scientists who worked through revolution, war, rebellion, piracy, fire, shipwreck, blockade, snow, tropical heat, kidnapping, murder and turbulent love affairs to pursue an intellectual problem of mapmaking and science.

Financed by the French government, the Paris Academy of Sciences was put to the task to measure France by defining the line later known as the Paris Meridian. From the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, a multitude of astronomers and geodesists were employed to extend this work to measure the entire Earth. This book is about what they did and why.

Full Meridian of Glory is the first English-language account of this historical material in its entirety. It is the story of the scientists who created the Paris Meridian, and collaborated in alliances and split into warring factions. The book details the personal, national and political conflicts and disputes as they strived for ideals of accuracy, truth and objectivity.

Murdin vividly writes about the adventures of the scientists in France, Spain, Lapland and Ecuador who pursued their quest to measure the globe. They turned a practical problem into a crucial scientific test of one of the most important intellectual problems of their time – Newton’s theory of universal gravitation. Their work affected the course of science and politics, and left its mark on the landscape, the art and the literature of history and of our own age.

Paul Murdin is treasurer of the Royal Astronomical Society and Senior Fellow at Cambridge University.

Full Meridian of Glory is published by Springer, the second-largest publisher of journals in the science, technology, and medicine (STM) sector and the largest publisher of STM books. Springer is part of Springer Science+Business Media, one of the world’s leading suppliers of scientific and specialist literature.