New Technique Provides Earthquake Risk for Major Cities Worldwide

By Larry O’Hanlon

Scientists have developed snapshots of the likelihood of major earthquakes occurring in megacities around the world using a new statistical approach for estimating earthquake risk. The work will be presented today, May 22 at the joint meeting of the Japan Geoscience Union and the American Geophysical Union in Chiba, Japan.

A “nowcast” for Tokyo. The red thermometer at right shows how far along the Tokyo region is in its cycle of smaller quakes between quakes of at least 6.5 magnitude. (John Rundle, UC Davis)

Refining the Ocean’s Thermometer

By Becky Oskin

Chronicling Earth’s past temperature swings is a basic part of understanding climate change. One of the best records of past ocean temperatures can be found in the shells of marine creatures called foraminifera.

The foraminiferan Neogloboquadrina dutertrei forms a record of ocean conditions as it builds its shell. Photo by J. Fehrenbacher

Known as “forams” for short, these single-celled plankton build microscopic calcite shells. When forams die, their shells fall to the ocean floor and accumulate in sediments that provide a record of past climate. The surface-feeding plankton are natural thermometers because the chemical makeup of foram shells is linked to the environmental conditions they grow in. For example, the levels of magnesium in foram shells reflect the seawater temperature in which they lived.

Banker Plants Control Rice Pests

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

Rice farmers seeking to protect their crops from pests without high dependency on pesticides may want to consider the sustainable pest management practice known as the “banker plant system.”

Planting a mix of sesame and Leersia sayanuka grass at the edge of rice fields encourages insects that parasitize a rice pest, the Brown plant hopper. (Photo courtesy of Zhongxian Lu)

Planting a mix of sesame and Leersia sayanuka grass at the edge of rice fields encourages insects that parasitize a rice pest, the Brown plant hopper. (Photo courtesy of Zhongxian Lu)

First-of-its-kind research, published in Scientific Reports by a nine-member team including UC Davis agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen, indicated that attracting alternative hosts for parasitoids of rice insect pests can help protect a rice crop. The players: a grass species, a planthopper, and an egg parasitoid.

Clues to Life on Mars in a Polluted California Mine

By Becky Oskin

To find evidence of life on Mars, scientists from UC Davis and the U.S. Geological Survey are chasing clues in Mars-like environments on Earth.

Pollution at the disused Iron Mountain mine near Redding, Calif. turns the soil red and makes the environment Mars-like. Amy Williams, Towson University

The environment at the Iron Mountain mine near Redding, Calif. is similar to Mars. Amy Williams, Towson University

The researchers hope to find rock patterns and textures that are uniquely linked to microscopic life such as bacteria and algae. “It’s challenging to prove that a mineral was made by a living organism,” said lead study author Amy Williams, an assistant professor at Towson University in Towson, Maryland. Williams led the research as a graduate student at UC Davis. Finding similar textures in Mars rocks could bolster confidence that microscopic shapes in Red Planet rocks were formed by living creatures.

Pattern Discovery over Pattern Recognition: A New Way for Computers to See

Jim Crutchfield wants to teach a machine to “see” in a new way, discovering patterns that evolve over time instead of recognizing patterns based on a stored template.

It sounds like an easy task – after all, any animal with basic vision can see a moving object, decide whether it is food or a threat and react accordingly, but what comes easily to a scallop is a challenge for the world’s biggest supercomputers.

Supercomputer

CORI at Lawrence Berkeley Lab is one of the world’s fastest computers. It is named after Gerty Theresa Cori, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. (NERSC/LBL photo)

Bring On The Bats (And Birds And Raptors)

By Katherine Ingram

Spring is in the air in California’s Central Valley. Birds are bathing in puddles that dot the landscape, and bats are swooping in and out of streetlights at dusk. Both groups of wildlife are feasting on bugs emerging after this winter’s epic rains.

Bat

Bats are voracious predators of insects. Photo of Pallid bat by merlintuttle.org

The sight is a pleasant reminder of the abundance of wildlife that lives alongside us, performing tasks that inadvertently aid humans, such as natural pest control, pollination, and seed dispersal.

Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Soil Microbiome

By Lisa Howard

Soil Actually Has a Microbiome

Gut bacteria have been getting a lot of attention lately (yogurt, anyone?) but it turns out the soil in your own back yard is teeming with microbial life. According to Kate Scow, a professor of soil science and microbial ecology at UC Davis, a quarter teaspoon of soil can easily contain a billion bacterial cells. And she estimates there can be 10,000 to 50,000 different taxa of microbes in a single teaspoon. Soil is one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems on the planet, and it is one that is essential for human life through all the functions it provides: the breakdown of organic materials, food production, water purification, greenhouse gas reduction, and pollution cleanup, just to name a few.

New Types of Structures for Cage-Like Clathrates

Compounds Could Be Basis For Devices That Turn Waste Heat Into Electricity

Cage-like compounds called clathrates could be used for harvesting waste heat and turning it into electricity. UC Davis chemists just discovered a whole new class of clathrates, potentially opening new ways to make and apply these materials.

Journal cover image

UC Davis chemists discovered a new class of clathrates that break the four-bond rule. The discovery was featured on the cover of the journal Angewandte Chemie (Wiley)

Honey Bee Genetics Sheds Light on Bee Origins

Where do honey bees come from? A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis and UC Berkeley clears some of the fog around honey bee origins. The work could be useful in breeding bees resistant to disease or pesticides.

A foraging honeybee. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.

A foraging honeybee. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.

UC Davis postdoctoral researcher Julie Cridland is working with Santiago Ramirez, assistant professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, and Neil Tsutsui, professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley, to understand the population structure of honey bees (Apis mellifera) in California. Pollination by honey bees is essential to major California crops, such as almonds. Across the U.S., the value of “pollination services” from bees has been estimated as high as $14 billion.

Looking For Martians At McLaughlin Reserve

By Kathleen Wong

In a universe with billions upon billions of planets, narrowing the search for extraterrestrial life is no mean feat. One approach seeks analogs of otherworldly conditions here on Earth, and characterizes the mineralogy, geochemistry and biology of these areas.

A NASA team is drilling at McLaughlin Natural Reserve. By studying soils and microbes in this area, they hope to learn about similar environments on Mars. (NASA photo)

A NASA team is drilling at McLaughlin Natural Reserve. By studying soils and microbes in this area, they hope to learn about similar environments on Mars. (NASA photo)