Mar 16, 2009 | 5
The element arsenic, infamous in history as a poison – perhaps claiming the life of Napoleon Bonaparte – is a modern problem as well. The U.S. government lists arsenic as the most common toxin in the natural environment.
But what is poison to humans may be chow for so-called extremophiles, creatures that thrive in harsh environmental conditions unsuitable for nearly all other forms of life, including hot, acidic springs or oceanic thermal vents. Last year, for example, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey found bacteria making a hardy living in Yellowstone National Park by using arsenic to conduct photosynthesis, the chemical process that converts sunlight into usable energy. Mind you, in humans arsenic in large quantities can kill in an hour, and smaller doses can lead to illnesses including cancer and foot growths known as keratoses.
Dec 30, 2008 | 60
Any disaster fiend will tell you that Yellowstone National Park is long overdue for a monster eruption that could leave as much as half the U.S. under a blanket of ash. And there are rumblings the big one could be imminent in the wake of a series of 30-plus mini-earthquakes in the park over the past few days—too weak to be felt by humans for the most part but picked up by the seismometers at the University of Utah.
After all, the geologic record shows that the giant caldera we affectionately call Yellowstone has blown every 600,000 years or so over the past 2 million years. The last big eruption? About 640,000 years ago when the park spit out about 240 cubic miles worth of rock, dirt, magma and other stuff.
But don't panic yet. Although the earthquake swarm continues, according to the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, the volcano alert level remains normal. And a slew of larger earthquakes have occurred throughout the western U.S., Alaska, Puerto Rico and even Pennsylvania in the past week without incident, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
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