A week of calamity in landscapes reads! Did microbes cause the largest mass extinction in earth's history? Why is California sinking? What did we learn from the biggest earthquake in America fifty years ago? And, closer to home, how dangerous should a playground be?

How the Biggest Earthquake in U.S. History Changed Science

"There were great horrors, but what many children remember is missing their supper," writes Becky Oskin evocatively on the 50th anniversary of the Alaska earthquake. The 9.2 quake completely devastated parts of Alaska, but it had one upside, at least, for science. With data from the earthquake, the study of plate tectonics began to transform geology. [LiveScience]

The Largest Mass Extinction Ever Was Caused By... Bacteria?

Two hundred and fifty million years ago, a mass extinction wiped out 90% of the species on Earth. Scientists have never definitively fingered a cause, but a new study suggest the role of tiny, methane-belching microbes whose gas went on to cause deadly global warming and ocean acidification. Now you see why we're worried about methane emissions? [Nature]

The Drought is Causing California to Sink

As California siphons off groundwater for its vast agricultural fields, the ground is sinking beneath it. Areas of the San Joaquin are dropping as much as one foot per year, dragging down roads, pipelines, and canals. Frighteningly, this sinking is irreversible.[National Geographic]

The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Playgrounds

Do dangers lurk in a slides, see-saws, and swings? As parents have become more protective of their children, playgrounds have become guardrailed and padded pens. But a new movement is afoot. "In looking for inspiration for the next generation of playgrounds," writes Ruth Graham, "experts are starting to hark back to the messy, anarchic spirit of those earliest playgrounds of Boston." [Boston Globe]

Top image: The entire Turnagain Heights Subdivision in Anchorage, Alaska slumped over after the 1964 earthquake. NOAA