Science Briefs

September 8, 2013 

Antarctica ice sheet older than thought

Research by professors at the University of California at Santa Barbara and their colleagues shows that – contrary to the popularly held scientific view – an ice sheet on West Antarctica existed 20 million years earlier than thought.

The findings indicate ice sheets first grew on the West Antarctic subcontinent at the start of a global transition from warm greenhouse conditions to a cool icehouse climate 34 million years ago. Previous computer simulations were unable to produce the amount of ice that geological records suggest existed at that time because neighboring East Antarctica alone could not support it.

Research published in 2009 and 2012 by the same team showed West Antarctica bedrock was much higher in elevation at the time of the global climate transition than it is today: Much of its land was above sea level.

The new research presents compelling evidence that this higher land mass enabled a large ice sheet to be hosted earlier than thought, despite a warmer ocean in the past. The findings were published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. ucsb.edu

Found: Archaeological proof of King Solomon’s mines

New findings from an excavation led this winter by archaeologist Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University prove that copper mines in Israel thought to have been built by the ancient Egyptians in the 13th century BCE actually originated three centuries later, during the reign of the legendary King Solomon.

Based on the radiocarbon dating of material unearthed at a new site in Timna Valley, in Israel’s Aravah Desert, the findings overturn the theory that the mines were operated by the Edomites, a semi-nomadic tribal confederation that according to the Bible warred constantly with Israel.

“The mines are definitely from the period of King Solomon,” Ben-Yosef said. “They may help us understand the local society, which would have been invisible to us otherwise.”

The site was found to hold a massive smelting camp that contained remains of hundreds of furnaces and layers of copper slag, the waste created during the smelting process. aftau.org

Superstorm on Saturn pulls up ices

Once every 30 years or so – roughly one year on Saturn – a monster storm rips across the northern hemisphere of the ringed planet.

In 2010, the most recent and only the sixth giant storm on Saturn observed by humans began stirring. It quickly grew to superstorm proportions, reaching more than 9,300 miles in width and visible to amateur astronomers on Earth as a great white spot dancing across the surface of the planet.

Now, near-infrared spectral measurements taken by NASA’s Cassini orbiter and analysis of near-infrared color signatures is helping scientists flesh out a picture of the composition of the planet’s atmosphere at depths typically obscured by a thick high-altitude haze.

The key finding by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: Cloud particles at the top of the great storm are composed of a mix of three substances: water ice, ammonia ice, and an uncertain third constituent that is possibly ammonium hydrosulfide.

The research appears in the journal Icarus. wisc.edu

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