Recent Earth Science Discoveries

Earth science discoveries tell humans a lot about what’s happening on Earth and what might cause it harm. From climate change to ocean threats and volcanoes, the world of Earth science discoveries never ends. Find out more about recent research in this vital field. Read what issues or topics might be critical to the next decade.

How can we confirm that the Earth is in danger of global climate change. Why can we predict when a volcano might become active again? These and many other areas of research work to develop discoveries with Earth science practices. The findings and Earth science discoveries emerging every day will impact humans like you and me for years to come.

Recent Earth science discoveries point to the growing use of technology to explore the past, present, and future of Earth. As climate change alters the globe’s weather and makeup, Earth science researchers will look to learn more and concoct solutions simultaneously. An increasingly vital field of work, Earth science discoveries are highly influential to human life. 

Modern Earth Science discoveries and areas of study tend to focus on one of the most critical issues of modern society: climate change. However, there are still many advances being made all the time in other areas as well. These include things such as natural disaster studies, understanding land formations like volcanoes or ocean trenches, and advances in technology. For both cases, the following topics are some of the most significant new findings to keep you up to date. Let’s review the most significant results to come from Earth science research in recent years.

Earth Science Discoveries Relating to Climate Change

The tripling of Antarctic Ice Loss Since 2012

The general topic of this new finding in Earth Science is old news, but the confirmed rate is unprecedented. The entire study covers the Antarctic Ice Sheet mass changes from 1992 to 2017 using satellite observations. During this whole period, about 2.7 trillion tons of ice mass melted due to warming oceans and the atmosphere. As you can imagine, this corresponds to an increase in sea level of about 7.6 millimeters. And 3 of those millimeters were from ice loss between 2012 and 2017 alone.

Interestingly though, most ice loss occurs on the west side of Antarctica. The east side has consistently gained mass, albeit much smaller amounts. West Antarctica loses up to 160 billion tons per year, and East Antarctica might gain between 5 and 50 billion tons. But while overall losses grow, so does uncertainty in models. The most uncertain rates of mass growth for East Antarctica are for the most recent years.

Geoscience Discovery of Carbon Transport Methods in Rivers and Oceans

One of the most prominent players in climate change is the water cycle. Water from oceans and rivers interacts with the atmosphere in many ways, including affecting atmospheric CO2 levels. Warmer oceans release CO2, in the same way, soda releases the CO2 bubbles if it’s warm. But oceans also act as carbon sinks which hold CO2 when they are more relaxed, and ocean currents act to redistribute the CO2 and heat globally.

The land also acts as a carbon sink in many ways, and rivers connect it to the ocean sink. A discovery in Earth Science reveals that oceans and rivers may transport 20-100% more carbon than previously estimated. Thus, land sinks must contribute less CO2 than we thought. This process would make them less significant in terms of CO2 emissions than previously thought but emphasizes the importance of water sinks.

Earthquakes Adding Carbon to Oceans

One new finding in Earth Science changes how we see earthquakes in the context of carbon movement between land and oceans. The incredibly powerful and destructive Tohoku earthquake that hit Japan in 2011 provided the unique opportunity to study the phenomenon. It was (and still is) the fourth most powerful earthquake ever recorded, causing all of Japan to move 8 feet east and knocking the entire planet as much as 10 inches off its axis.

2018 study published in early 2019 showed that the subduction zone associated with the quake sucked up about a million tons of organic material during the event. This process is about a fourth of the total amount added to the sea annually from the Himalayas via rivers. This vast quantity suggests a very significant role of earthquakes in the carbon cycle on Earth. However, it remains a mystery what exactly the implications are.

Significant Changes in Sulfur Dioxide Emissions

Ozone monitoring from satellites has confirmed the effectiveness of pollution control put into place in China. For decades, China was the world’s top emitter of sulfur dioxide (SO2), but pollution control measures and policies have changed that. After the implementation of the plans in the early 2000s, China’s emissions reduced by a whopping 75%. But India, on the other hand, increased its emissions by 50% during that period, entirely surpassing China’s emissions.

Coal energy sources are the primary emitters of SO2 and associated pollution and air quality problems. Even with the significant decrease in emissions, related pollution such as haze in cities remains a problem. However, the changes proved previous models wrong, and continued activism in the area will have positive effects over time.

Water Distribution in the Face of Climate Change

We all know that warming temperatures affect ice sheets, glaciers, sea levels, and freshwater across the planet. But Scientists using the GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite are investigating water on land specifically. And they have determined that human activity and climate change trigger a global response in terrestrial water sources resulting in highly uneven earthly water gains, losses, and distribution.

The unevenness is resulting from the different effects of warming temperatures dependent on the region. In northern land regions and tropics, melting ice leads to an increased supply of water. In other areas such as southern North America or the Middle East, temperatures cause sweltering and arid conditions resulting in a freshwater loss. Humans then contribute to the trends through their consumption of the water, as well as helping to further climate change. This event is an area of growing concern for evaluating and predicting changes to water and food security.

Earth Science Discoveries in Other Areas

Early Magnetic Field Model Released

Usually, scientists update the magnetic model every five years. But recent drastic changes in the magnetic field prompted them to make one this year, a year earlier than anticipated. Keeping the magnetic field model updated is essential for navigators all over the world. The military, commercial airlines, rescue operations, and projects around the North pole all rely on the model to guide them.

Magnetic fields are moving more in terms of speed and distance since the ’90s, but in this instance, it lurched more than usual. In 2018 it went over the international dateline and into the Eastern Hemisphere. Changes in the field are primarily the result of the unpredictable flow of the Earth’s core.

But for this particular case, one theory is that there is a jet of liquid iron under Canada, which is weakening the field—figuring out exactly how and why changes occur still an area in need of further exploration by scientists. Studying this area will help us when the ground makes more drastic changes or even reverses, which could be devastating.

Geoscience Discovery of Large Quantities of Water Within Earth’s Mantle

This discovery in Earth Science happened in 2014, but that’s still pretty recent in the whole scheme of things. Mineral ringwoodite experiments show the mantle contains vast quantities of water, as much as, or even more than, the amount on the surface of the planet.

However, the “water” ties up as ions within the crystal structure of the mineral, rather than being actual subterranean liquid oceans. But this doesn’t make it any less significant, or any less “watery.” It raises the possibility that water on the surface of the planet oozed out from this source within the Earth, rather than previous hypotheses that it came from meteor impacts.

The portion of the mantle, which contains the trapped water is the transition zone. This process is the zone between the lower and upper mantle, which interacts with tectonic certain plate subduction. Further research can help us understand the Earth’s water cycle in a new way by incorporating the role of plate tectonics interacting with the transition zone.

Land Subsidence Increasing Flood Risk in San Francisco Bay

Scientists have created a new 100-year flood map of the San Francisco Bay area. The plan led to a new finding in Earth Science that flood maps based solely on rising sea level underestimated flood-prone regions of the Bay by at least 3.7% and up to 90.9%. This result is because the plan considers land subsidence in the projections.

Subsidence itself is the sinking of land due to various causes. It may occur as substances such as water or oil are removed from the underlying layers. Or natural events such as earthquakes, which are common in the area, may move the soil and rock such that it sinks. It is also increasingly common in urban areas where large cities overly and drain reservoirs, causing the entire area to fall.

The subsidence of land occurs at rates of over 10 mm per year in some areas of the Bay area, a significant change that dramatically changes the shape of the property and areas lower than sea level. This study emphasizes that changes to land shape will contribute to future flood risks not only as sea level rises, but also as precipitation events hit areas with significant subsidence.

Geoscience Discoveries Get Us One Step Closer to Predicting Volcano Eruptions

This Earth Science discovery makes strides in an area shrouded with mystery and uncertainty. Volcano eruptions are historically unpredictable, other than some general statistical patterns or seismic activity immediately preceding events. However, scientists in Japan have shown how volcanoes interact with one another in ways that can contribute to prediction models.

The study found that two volcanoes in Japan share a magmatic system under the crust between them. One volcano erupted in 2011, spewing a significant amount of lava. The caldera (the area inside the volcanic crater) of the sister volcano had already been steadily inflating for decades. But after the eruption, its caldera then deflated. Differences in tectonic or volcanic stress could not explain this change in inflation and the relationship to the outbreaks. The scientists interpret as a result of the withdrawal of magma from the shared system during the eruption.

Conclusion

Even if you know little about earth science research, discoveries emerging from the field play a crucial role in our lives. You and I owe a lot to researchers who tell us what practices harm the Earth and what we should do to change our negative impacts. Finding ways to engage with research can be tough, but articles that explain Earth science discoveries can be a great introduction to the field of work.

How can Earth science discoveries play a role in other vital subjects, politics, or economics?

Where do we see the most significant research occurring in Earth science, and why?

What do you believe is the most vital Earth science discovery in the past 20 years?

David A. Smith at Dave4Math

David Smith (Dave) has a B.S. and M.S. in Mathematics and has enjoyed teaching precalculus, calculus, linear algebra, and number theory at both the junior college and university levels for over 20 years. David is the founder and CEO of Dave4Math.

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