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Article Released Wed-12th-August-2009 17:32 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 Hurricanes: A perfect storm

Summaries of newsworthy papers include Stormy weather in Titan’s tropics, Climatic influence on mountain height and Homosexuality in yeast


This press release is copyright Nature.

VOL.460 NO.7257 DATED 13 AUGUST 2009

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Hurricanes: A perfect storm

Planetary science: Stormy weather in Titan’s tropics

Earth Science: Climatic influence on mountain height

And finally… Homosexuality in yeast

· Mention of papers to be published at the same time with the same embargo

· Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Hurricanes: A perfect storm (pp 880-883)

Hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean peaked in mediaeval times, followed by a subsequent lull, according to the results of a combined reconstruction published in Nature this week. The record, stretching back 1,500 years, shows that the mediaeval peak rivals or even exceeds recent hurricane activity, and points to a ‘perfect storm’ of La Niña-like conditions and relative Atlantic warmth.

Michael Mann and colleagues produce an empirical record of past landfalling hurricane activity by combining information from sedimentary records with statistical models of climate indicators, such as the El Niño/Southern Oscillation, tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures and the North Atlantic Oscillation.

They find the two independent records to be statistically similar — overlapping within their estimated 95% confidence intervals. The records both suggest that recent activity is unusually high, but possibly even higher activity occurred during a mediaeval era of roughly AD 900–1100, followed by a general decrease in activity after about AD 1200. The peak activity is thought to have been caused by La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean and warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic. The new record will allow scientists to draw more robust conclusions about variation in Atlantic hurricane activity over the past 1,500 years and the climate factors underlying these tropical cyclones.

Michael Mann (The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA)
Tel: +1 814 863 4075; E-mail:

[2] Planetary science: Stormy weather in Titan’s tropics (pp 873-875)

Large clouds have been spotted where they were least expected — in the tropical atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan. As described in this week’s Nature, this surprising tropical storm triggered cloud activity thousands of kilometres away, providing a possible explanation for the liquid-carved channels observed near the low-latitude landing site of the Huygens probe.

Models of Titan’s atmosphere have predicted that the convection necessary to produce large clouds and strong rain should be concentrated near the summertime poles, with the equatorial regions being the driest parts of the moon’s surface. It was therefore a surprise when the Huygens probe, descending through Titan’s atmosphere in January 2005, captured images at 10° S latitude of surface features that appeared to have been carved by fluids — presumably liquid methane.

Emily Schaller and colleagues used the Gemini North telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea to track the development of a large cloud system that developed in Titan’s troposphere near 29° S in April 2008. Within a week, significant cloud activity appeared near the south pole and closer to the equator — both apparently triggered by the initial tropical storm. Such triggered outbursts, accompanied by significant precipitation, could explain the presence of fluid-carved features in regions not previously considered capable of supporting atmospheric convection.

Emily Schaller (University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA)
Tel: +1 386 846 4739; E-mail:

[3] Earth Science: Climatic influence on mountain height (pp 884-887)

Mountain height is influenced by glacial erosion on a global scale, a modelling study in this week’s Nature suggests.

David Egholm and colleagues looked at the influence of glacial erosion on the height of mountain ranges across the globe, and found a link between the climate-controlled extent of glaciers and mountain height. The authors propose that differences in the height of mountain ranges reflect to some extent variations in local, long-term climate rather than tectonic forces.

The study suggests that it may not be a coincidence that Earth’s highest mountains exist at low latitudes in the Himalayas, where the snowline altitude is as high as 5 kilometres. And it may help to explain why most mountain ranges in cold regions, such as Canada and Norway, tend to have flattish summit areas of uniform heights.

David Egholm (Aarhus University, Denmark)
Tel: +45 8942 9446; E-mail:

[4] And finally… Homosexuality in yeast (pp 890-893; N&V)

The human pathogen Candida albicans can reproduce by a previously unappreciated route, a Nature paper reveals.

Until recently, the infection-causing yeast was thought to be strictly asexual, but then sexual reproduction was observed between cells of different sexes. Richard Bennett and colleagues now show that, in certain circumstances, sexual reproduction can also occur between cells of the same sex.

This mode of reproduction occurs when a gene encoding a secreted protease enzyme is lacking. The study indicates a role for specialized sexual cycles in the survival and adaptation of disease-causing fungi.

Richard Bennett (Brown University, Providence, RI, USA)
Tel: +1 401 863 6341; E-mail:

Joseph Heitman (Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC, USA) N&V author
Tel: +1 919 684 2824; E-mail:


[5] The Diversity of Type Ia Supernovae from Broken Symmetries (pp 869-872)

[6] Dense Packings of the Platonic and Archimedean Solids (pp 876-879; N&V)


***These papers will be published electronically on Nature's website on 12 August at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern time (which is also when the embargo lifts) as part of our AOP (ahead of print) programme. Although we have included them on this release to avoid multiple mailings they will not appear in print on 13 August, but at a later date. ***

[7] The importance of niches for the maintenance of species diversity
DOI: 10.1038/nature08251

[8] Direct Activation of Protein Kinases by Unanchored Polyubiquitin Chains
DOI: 10.1038/nature08247

[9] The structural basis of tail-anchored membrane protein recognition by Get3
DOI: 10.1038/nature08319


The following list of places refers to the whereabouts of authors on the papers numbered in this release. For example, London: 4 - this means that on paper number four, there will be at least one author affiliated to an institute or company in London. The listing may be for an author's main affiliation, or for a place where they are working temporarily. Please see the PDF of the paper for full details.

Aarhus: 3

Garching: 5


Flagstaff: 2

Pasadena: 2
Santa Barbara: 7
Santa Cruz: 5

Honolulu: 2

Chicago: 9

Bethesda: 9

Amherst: 1
Woods Hole: 1

New Jersey
Princeton: 6

University Park: 1

Rhode Island
Providence: 4

Dallas: 8

Seattle: 7


From North America and Canada
Neda Afsarmanesh, Nature New York
Tel: +1 212 726 9231; E-mail:

Katie McGoldrick, Nature Washington
Tel: +1 202 737 2355; E-mail:

From Japan, Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan
Mika Nakano, Nature Tokyo
Tel: +81 3 3267 8751; E-mail:

From the UK/Europe/other countries not listed above
Jen Middleton, Nature London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4502; E-mail

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