What We’re Reading

Pull up your afghan and make yourself a cup of tea—there’s lots to read this week! Something for everyone this week—weird weather, bird phylogeny, amateur paleontology, dinosaur sex and more (including not one but two stories about microbes!). What’s not to love?

  • Greenland Ice Loss Accelerates 110-Year-Old Record Reveals, Scientific American, December 17, 2015 — A study using direct photographic observation instead of model-based data has recently examined ice loss in Greenland.The record shows that ice sheet loss in Greenland has been underestimated by computer models.  
  • Examination of Earth’s Recent History Key to Predicting Global Temperatures, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, December 18, 2015 — A new study shows that "[e]stimates of future global temperatures based on recent observations must account for the differing characteristics of each important driver of recent climate change." (Hat tip to The Whole Truth.)
  • Climate Chaos Across the Map, The New York Times, December 30, 2015 — News flash: multiple stressors contribute to higher risk and more extreme outcomes. We all know that when we’re tired, stressed out, eating poorly, and skipping our exercise routine, we’re more like to feel crummy, catch whatever is going around, and get well more slowly. Well, it’s the same with Earth’s climate and weather systems-if you combine global warming with an unusually powerful El Nino coinciding with an Arctic Oscillation, you get a whole series of weird and extreme weather events. This article lays out some of the complicated feedback loops involved in this season’s string of newsworthy weather stories.
  • Plus ca change" and the Importance of Going Extinct, Extinct, January 4, 2016 — Derek Turner discusses Peter Sheldon's counterintuitive model for explaining evolutionary stasis on a new group blog devoted to the philosophy of paleontology.
  • Update on the Tree of Birds, The Panda’s Thumb, January 4, 2016 — Emily Thompson takes a look at two recent phylogenies of birds, asking, "what is the difference between these two trees and how they were constructed, and which is more accurate?"
  • Amateur Sleuths on the Dinosaur Trail, The New York Times, January 5, 2016 — What happens when fossils are found on public land? Thousands of fossils, thousands of acres, but the U.S. Forest Service employs just two field paleontologists. The story describes how volunteers have stepped up to excavate these priceless scientific treasures.
  • Behind a Shopping Center in New Jersey, Signs of a Mass Extinction, The New York Times, January 5, 2015 — Kenneth Chang reports on how local schoolchildren (among others) are digging up 66-million-year-old fossils. The site may represent the only known mass grave from the moment of the asteroid impacts that ended the age of the dinosaurs.
  • Poll: 70 Percent Believe in Climate Change, The Hill, January 5, 2016 — A new survey taken before the COP21 meeting in Paris found that 70% of Americans believe the climate is changing, though few (27%) agreed with the scientific consensus that human activity is responsible. There was expectedly a partisan divide, with few Republicans (18%) seeing climate change as a serious issue.
  • Iceman’s Gut Holds Clues to Humans’ Spread Into Europe, National Geographic, January 7, 2016 — Michael Greshko explains how a recent autopsy of a 5,400-year-old mummified human is continuing to offer insights into human evolution. Turns out the iceman not only had lactose intolerance, but he also likely had an inflamed gut—but that’s not even the most interesting part of the results.
  • Dinosaur Foreplay Left Mysterious Grooves on Rocks, Colorado Researcher Realizes, San Jose Mercury News, January 7, 2016 — Despite its horrid title, this little article is fairly interesting, in that it lays out a case about evidence for dinosaur mating behavior. Paired clawed-out depressions that can be the size of bathtubs may be evidence of a mating behavior similar to one used by some bird species, where males will engage in showy nest building like activities to attract and seduce females.
  • Virologists, Start Your Poliovirus Destruction! Virology Blog, January 7, 2016 — Vincent Racaniello writes about the bittersweet possibility of having to destroy his research stock of poliovirus, as the world progresses toward total eradication of the once-ravaging disease.