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Leaf fossils show severe end-Cretaceous plant extinction in southern Argentina

The asteroid impact 66 million years ago that ushered in a mass extinction and ended the dinosaurs also killed off many of the plants that they relied on for food. Fossil leaf assemblages from Patagonia, Argentina, suggest that vegetation in South America suffered great losses but rebounded quickly, according to an international team of researchers.

Understanding agriculture’s impacts on 'the zone where rock meets life'

Tucked into the rolling hills of Stone Valley, Cole Farm seems like a typical central Pennsylvania farm. A gravel driveway slopes down to a steel and wood-plank bridge that spans Shaver’s Creek. The path continues relatively flat, past a murky green retention pond and two barns, to a log farmhouse nestled at the base of a hill. A spring trickles through the wooded swale west of the house. Sloping fields are flush with alfalfa, corn, hay grass, and wheat.

Geoscientists use zircon to trace origin of Earth's continents

Geoscientists have long known that some parts of the continents formed in the Earth’s deep past, but the speed in which land rose above global seas — and the exact shapes that land masses formed — have so far eluded experts.

Life in the Chicxulub Crater Years After It Was Formed

While the seas were still churning from the impact and the seawater temperatures were high due to the hydrothermal activity, life was reestablishing itself inside the crater.

Freeman awarded 2020 Nemmers Prize in Earth Sciences

Katherine Freeman, Evan Pugh University Professor of Geosciences at Penn State, has been awarded the 2020 Nemmers Prize in Earth Sciences. The prize is awarded by Northwestern University and recognizes achievement and work of lasting significance in the field of Earth sciences.

Freeman was selected “for her pioneering and continued contributions to development of the field of compound-specific stable isotope geochemistry and its application to fundamental problems in Earth science." 

Landscape to atomic scales: Researchers apply new approach to pyrite oxidation

Pyrite, or fool’s gold, is a common mineral that reacts quickly with oxygen when exposed to water or air, such as during mining operations, and can lead to acid mine drainage. Little is known, however, about the oxidation of pyrite in unmined rock deep underground.

A new, multi-scale approach to studying pyrite oxidation deep underground suggests that fracturing and erosion at the surface set the pace of oxidation, which, when it occurs slowly, avoids runaway acidity and instead leaves behind iron oxide “fossils.”

Researchers use minerals from ancient soils to reconstruct past climate

When the  Paleocene ended and the Eocene began nearly 56 million years ago, Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide levels ranged between 1,400 and 4,000 parts per million (ppm). These carbon dioxide levels gave rise to sauna-like conditions across the planet, which scientists can now measure using tiny minerals called siderites.

Cold vibrations: Researchers to study the movement of thawing Arctic permafrost

 With rising temperatures in the Arctic, communities in Alaska’s North Slope Borough are seeing the ground beneath their feet melt away. 

“Climate change is thawing the frozen soil,” said Ming Xiao, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Penn State. “The borough spends $100 million a year just for repairs to roads, buildings and pipelines. To build resilient infrastructure in the changing Arctic, we need to understand how the soil behaves as it softens.”

Glimpse deep into Earth's crust finds heat source that may stabilize continents

Rocks from the Rio Grande continental rift have provided a rare snapshot of active geology deep inside Earth’s crust, revealing new evidence for how continents remain stable over billions of years, according to a team of scientists.

“We tend to study rocks that are millions to billions of years old, but in this case we can show what’s happening in the deep crust, nearly 19 miles below the surface of the Earth, in what geologically speaking is the modern day,” said Jacob Cipar, a graduate student in geosciences at Penn State. “And we have linked what’s preserved in these rocks with tectonic processes happening today that may represent an important step in the development of stable continents.”

To boldly go: Penn State launches planetary science consortium

The quest to understand our place in the universe is one of the most enduring scientific pursuits. A new interdisciplinary planetary science initiative will focus efforts at Penn State on exploring and seeking out life in the solar system and far into the cosmos.

The Consortium for Planetary and Exoplanetary Sciences and Technology aims to provide a new approach to studying how planets form, evolve and become habitable, and detecting and potentially exploring these worlds. It brings together researchers from across departments, colleges and Penn State campuses.