Scientific American recently published a list of their top geology stories of 2014. Earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes featured prominently. I have my own list of Earth science stories I found interesting in 2014. My [entirely subjective, 91% arbitrary] list is less hazard-oriented, more esoteric, and naturally still features a volcanic eruption.
1. Sliding Rocks on Racetrack Playa. People have been trying to figure this out for years. It turns out that the rocks are not really sliding, so much as they are sailing–carried along by “windowpanes” of ice during spring thaw. Here’s the paper in PLoS One. And here is a video.
2. Waves on Titan’s hydrocarbon seas. The surfaces of the methane-rich lakes and seas scattered around Titan’s polar regions have seemed preternaturally smooth. Now, as spring unfurls in Titan’s northern hemisphere, Cassini scientists may have detected 1.5 cm waves on Kraken Mare. Along with a mysterious island.
3. Is the Earth mostly flat (in the context of global denudation)? Back in 2013, Willenbring et al. published an article in Geology that suggested steep slopes contributed less than expected to global denudation rates–with implications for how CO2 drawdown occurs during weathering. There was an initial comment and reply, and in 2014 the discussion grew richer. A follow-up article by Larsen et al. suggested that coarse topographic data bias estimates of slope towards lower values, and that the steepest regions do contribute disproportionately to global denudation.
4. Isostasy, erosion, and topography. Why are the Sierra Nevada mountains high? Braun et al. suggest a counter-intuitive explanation: isostatic rebound may actually cause the densest rocks to attain the highest elevations within a landscape.
5. Holuhraun eruption. Many people’s attention has sort of moved on, but as of today, Holuhraun is still erupting. It is now the largest effusive eruption in Iceland since Laki, and though its mass flux has declined since the beginning of the eruption, in November the flux of magma from Holuhraun was still greater than the flow of water in the Thames River. And you can watch it live on a webcam.