By Simon Redfern, University of Cambridge

How is it that Earth developed an atmosphere that made the development of life possible? A study published in the journal Nature Geoscience links the origins of Earth’s nitrogen-rich atmosphere to the same tectonic forces that drive mountain-building and volcanism on our planet. It goes some way to explaining why, compared to our nearest neighbors, Venus and Mars, Earth’s air is richer in nitrogen.

 Massive amounts of erupting lava have connected with the fall of civilizations, the destruction of supercontinents and dramatic changes in climate and ecosystems. 

Since August 31st, Bárðarbunga volcano in central Iceland has been spewing spectacular amounts of lava. A new paper finds that high mantle temperatures miles beneath the Earth's surface are essential for generating such large amounts of magma - and  Bárðarbunga volcano lies directly above the hottest portion of the North Atlantic mantle plume.

How many continents can you count on one hand? Image: Chones

By Nick Rawlinson, University of Aberdeen

Since December 2004 there have been 18 quakes of 8.0 or greater on the moment magnitude (Mw) scale – a rate more than twice that seen from 1900 to mid-2004.

Some of that difference could be due to unprecedented advances in technological and scientific capacity to detect earthquakes. Like the distance of Babe Ruth's homeruns, anecdotes about past earthquakes have the mist of legend shrouding them, but modern earthquakes have a variety of ways they can be understood - and that helps recalibrate risk for future earthquakes.

A study of Samoan volcano hotspots has found evidence of the planet's early formation still trapped inside the Earth.

Volcanic island chains such as Samoa can contain ancient primordial signatures from the early solar system that have survived for billions of years. To make their determination, the researchers utilized high-precision lead and helium isotope measurements to unravel the chemical composition and geometry of the deep mantle plume feeding Samoa's volcanoes. 

In most cases, volcanoes are located at the point where two tectonic plates meet, and are created when those plates collide or diverge. Hotspot volcanoes, however, are not located at plate boundaries but rather represent the anomalous melting in the interior of the plates.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, is a way to extract natural gas from shale rock, by using a modern process to inject a high-pressure water mixture at the rock to release the gas inside. By all accounts it has been an environmental boon, responsible for causing energy emissions from coal to plummet back to early 1980s levels without causing energy prices to rise and harm poor people.

Four urban sections of the San Andreas Fault system in Northern California have stored enough energy to produce major earthquakes, according to a new study of 'fault creep', and three fault sections, near Hayward, Rodgers Creek and Green Valley, are nearing or past their average recurrence interval. 

Phreatic eruption: Mount Ontake. Credit: EPA/Ministry of Land, Infrastructure

By Rebecca Williams, University of Hull

Mount Ontake, Japan’s second-highest volcano, erupted killing at least 31 people on September 27.

Since then, there has been feverish speculation about why tourists were on an active volcano and why the eruption wasn’t predicted.

Planetary geologists have speculated for decades that glaciers might once have crept through Valles Marineris, the 2,000-mile-long chasm that constitutes the Grand Canyon of Mars.

Using satellite images, astronomers have identified features they say might have been carved by past glaciers as they flowed through the canyons but those claims have remained highly controversial and contested. 

Now, a joint team from Bryn Mawr College and the Freie Universitaet Berlin has identified what could be the first mineralogical evidence of past glaciers within the Valles Marineris: a layer of mixed sulfate minerals halfway up the three-mile-high cliffs of Ius Chasma at the western end of the canyon system.

Volcano season. Some think it's the time of the year. Credit: EPA

By Robin Wylie, University College London