Barley – the ideal food for mountain living?

New research in Science Magazine suggests that around 3600 years ago, farmers on the Tibetan Plateau started growing crops on slopes higher up on the Plateau, choosing to grow cold, frost-tolerant barley in favour of more traditional but less hardy crops such as millet.

Surprisingly, the expansion of agriculture on the Plateau seems to have occurred when the Tibetan climate was getting colder, suggesting that the switch to barley made growing crops possible at higher elevations, despite a worsening climate.

Archaeologist Kurt Rademaker calls it “a fascinating example of a cultural strategy to tackle a challenging place,”.

Click here to read more…


Top Ten Trees of the World: No. 7

At number 7 we have Liquidambar orientalis: the Oriental sweet gum – one of my favourite trees of all time!

Native to SW Asia, the name Liquidambar refers to its aromatic gum, previously described as ‘liquid amber’. Orientalis is Latin and means ‘from the East’ (Source: Davis Landscape Architects).

Deciduous, broad-leaved and often found in parks and arboretums in temperate zones (e.g. Kew Gardens, ANU Canberra), Liquidambar is famed for its show-stopping Autumnal display when its palm-shaped leaves turn from green to vibrant shades of orange, scarlet or purple.

Liquidambar produces beautiful round pollen grains covered with large pores – click here to see some photos.

The exterior ‘shell’ (exine) of this and other pollen grains are made of decay-resistant sporopollenin, enabling grains to be preserved for thousands of years in lake sediments, peat bogs and other depositional environments – providing a record of the types of vegetation that grew in the past.




The hidden beauty of pollen revealed

Check out these beautiful pollen sculptures by Jo Golesworthy.

The average pollen grain measures between 20 and 150 microns (1 micron = 1000th of a millimeter) so these super-sized works of art offer a glimpse of a world normally hidden to the naked eye.

The sculptures highlight the unique beauty of pollen. Pollen grains come in many different shapes and sizes; their surfaces are often decorated with complex patterns, holes and indentations.

These unique features are used by pollen analysts (palynologists) to identify fossil pollen grains preserved in ancient soils. Palynologists use this information to reconstruct past environments and climates, deepening our understanding of Earth’s history.



Top Ten Trees of the World: No. 8

Eighth on my list is Pinus Wallichiana: the Himalayan Pine.

A majestic tree growing up to 70 m tall with long, soft blue-green needles and large fresh green cones. It is native to the high mountains and temperate rainforests of China (Southern Tibet, Northwestern Yunnan), Afghanistan, Bhutan, Northern India, Kashmir, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sikkim.

Pine pollen grains are very small, measuring approximately 100 microns in length (1 micron = 0.001 mm). We can see what they look like using a microscope. Pine pollen grains look a bit like Mickey Mouse to me – click here to see if you can work out why!

Click here for an image of Pine pollen taken using a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), a very powerful type of microscope. The image colours have been enhanced to highlight the air sacs on the pollen grain shown in white and the main body of the grain coloured green.


Today is Valentine’s Day – a perfect day to kick off my new blog focusing on my love of earth sciences!

In writing this blog, my aim is to highlight and promote earth sciences research. There’s a lot going on and I’m hoping to convince you to share my enthusiasm.

There will be regular posts on what’s new in earth sciences, looking at the latest research findings and ideas. I have a passion for forests, lakes and fossils, so these are likely to feature heavily in my posts.

They say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, so I hope to connect you with some of the best earth science images from around the world as well as links to some great resources on the web.

Why is my blog called ‘science to the core’? For the answer to that question, keep an eye on my upcoming posts…

To get updates, please click on the ‘Follow’ button on my Homepage…and enjoy!