Science Links of the Week

A passion for the natural world drives many of our adventures. And when we’re not actually outside, we love delving into the discoveries about the places where we live and travel. Here are some of the best natural history links we’ve found this week.

The swaying Matterhorn: The iconic Matterhorn is familiar to most of us, but what is less known is that it is constantly swaying. This was not a huge surprise to researchers.

“Earth, practically anywhere we measure it, is in motion,” said geologist Bob Anderson.

More unusual is that the top of the Matterhorn sways 14 times more than its base. At the summit, each sway lasts two-and-a-half seconds. The seismic energy of earthquakes and big ocean waves causes the movement.

The connection between the world’s oceans and the inland Matterhorn is “one we didn’t anticipate,” said geoscientist Jeff Moore. Though the peak only sways a few micrometres, if an earthquake passed through the area it could be millimetres or more. This shaking could set off landslides on different parts of the mountain.

New mapping shows light pollution in the North Sea. Blue indicates artificial light 1m below the surface, yellow indicates light 30m below the surface. Photo: JOSHUA STEVENS, T.J. SMYTH ET AL/ELEMENTA: SCIENCE OF THE ANTHROPOCENE 2021


Disturbing light

Light pollution in the sea: Scientists have created the first global atlas of ocean light pollution. Coastal cities and offshore structures create enough light to penetrate deep into coastal waters. The depth of light penetration varies with the season, algal blooms, and sediment from rivers. In some regions, significant levels of light occur up to 50m below the surface.

How might this affect aquatic animals? Researchers are studying copepods, which are sensitive to light. These tiny creatures use cues from the sun and moon for their daily migration from the deep. In the day, they stay in deeper waters to avoid predators, then ascend at night to the shallows, where light can disturb them.

Monkeys goof around for a reason

Monkeys use play to resolve conflict: Howler monkeys often play with each other. They hang upside down and make funny faces and gestures. Scientists tried to decipher the benefits of this behavior. They found that the monkeys played longer as the size of their group increased.

Adults spent more time playing with young monkeys, and females spent more time playing than males. When the monkeys foraged for fruit, the amount of play increased. Fruit is highly prized and often leads to conflict. Scientists believe that playing at this time reduces tension and resolves conflict.

Howler monkey. Photo: Shutterstock



Ancient seafarers built the Mediterranean’s largest sacred pool: On the island of Motya, Italy lies an ancient rectangular basin. Researchers have thought that it was an inner harbor or a dry dock, but one archaeologist disagrees. Lorenzo Nigro believes that the 2,550-year-old structure is the largest known sacred pool from the ancient Mediterranean world.

The pool lies at the centre of a religious site, with three temples nearby. Each temple aligns with the stars and constellations associated with a Phoenician god.

“The pool could not have served as a harbor, as it was not connected to the sea,” Nigro told Science News.  A pedestal in the centre of the pool features the remnants of a sculpted foot and inscriptions to a Phoenician god.

The dangerous lone star tick

Ticks carry potentially deadly virus in the U.S.: Scientists have found the Heartland virus in lone star ticks across six states in the U.S. The virus first turned up in northwest Missouri in 2009. Fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, headache, nausea, diarrhea, and muscle and joint pain can be so severe that many victims wind up in the hospital. They show low white blood cell and platelet counts.

“Heartland is an emerging infectious disease that is not well understood,” said study author Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec. “The lone star ticks are so named because of the white spot in their back. It is the most common tick in Georgia and is found across wooded areas in the southeast, east, and Midwest.”

Paleontologists find a 36-million-year-old Basilosaurus skull in Peru.Photo: REUTERS/Sebastian Castaneda


Skull of ‘marine monster’ points to fearsome ancient predator: Paleontologists in Peru have uncovered the skull of a giant marine predator. They found the 36-miilion-year-old skull in Peru’s Ocucaje Desert, once a prehistoric ocean. The ‘monster’ is a basilosaurus, an ancient ancestor of modern whales and dolphins.

It resembled a 12m-long underwater snake. “It was a marine monster…When searching for food, it surely did a lot of damage,” said paleontologist Rodolfo Salas.