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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Hotter climate could turn sea turtles all female

Hotter climate could turn sea turtles all female | Amazing Science |

Sea turtles are likely to be beneficiaries of a warming climate as hotter incubation conditions trigger a rising share of female hatchlings that could lift natural rates of population growth, new research to be published in Nature Climate Change on Monday shows.

But gains will be temporary if temperatures keep rising and nudge populations towards becoming all female, or exceed levels at which developing embryos die, the study found. ''There'll be a bit of a breathing space … but down the track it'll be serious,'' said Graeme Hays from Deakin University, one of the report's authors.

It has been known for decades that reptile reproduction is highly sensitive to temperature, with the ratio of male to female offspring varying. For species of sea-turtles, the pivotal temperature is an oddly uniform 29 degrees for incubation, beyond which more females emerge from the eggs.

At about 30.5 degrees, populations become fully female. As remaining males die off, ''it will be end of story without human intervention'', Professor Hays said. At higher than 33 degrees, embryos do not survive.

The study focused on a globally important loggerhead turtle rookery on the Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic but its results also apply to species elsewhere, including the Pacific. It found light-coloured sandy beaches already produce 70.1 per cent females, while beaches with darker sands are at 93.5 per cent.

The findings should help steer conservation efforts to make a priority of protecting lighter-coloured sandy beaches or planting more vegetation near dark ones to ameliorate the warming, Professor Hays said. 

Since breeding populations are likely to swell in coming decades, sea turtle adult populations are ''unlikely to be dire in the next 150 years'', the paper said.

Professor Hays said any near-term increase in turtles would be modest compared with past populations. Green turtles in the Caribbean, for instance, are ''a fraction of 1 per cent'' of their original numbers.

Other changes linked to global warming, including effects on food sources, will also likely offset some of the benefits of having more breeding females, he said.

''Rising sea levels resulting in the loss of nesting beaches through erosion could push local turtle populations over the brink unless new suitable nesting beaches are found,'' the paper said.

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IEA: Decarbonising the economy will save $71 trillion by 2050

IEA: Decarbonising the economy will save $71 trillion by 2050 | Amazing Science |

Economic growth can be decoupled from emissions, while natural gas could lose 'low carbon' status by 2025 as renewables boom. Replacing fossil fuels with renewables as the world’s primary source of energy will not only save the planet from dangerous levels of warming – it will also save the global economy US$ 71trillion by 2050.

This is the finding of a report, Energy Technology Perspectives 2014, released today by the International Energy Agency, which looks at the direction of the energy sector over the next 40 years.

The changes needed to keep the world within 2C of warming— a widely agreed target in efforts to tackle climate change – will benefit the global economy, confirms the report, although a “coordinated policy approach” will be required to unlock these savings.

“The USD 44 trillion additional investment needed to decarbonise the energy system in line with the 2DS [2C scenario] by 2050 is more than offset by over USD 115 trillion in fuel savings – resulting in net savings of USD 71 trillion,” its says.

The findings support those who say that it is possible to decouple economic growth from emissions—something the EU has strongly advocated as it has increased its wealth while at the same time remaining on track to reduce its emissions by 20% by 2020. In China, meanwhile, emissions have rocketed in order to sustain economic growth of around 10% a year.

Eli Levine's curator insight, May 13, 2014 12:50 PM

Ah, but unfortunately, we discount the damages.


We'd rather save a penny now and get hit for 2 dollars later than save the dollar now and get hit by a penny later as a result of the difference.


So what?  It means we're in trouble and are going to get ourselves into deeper trouble.


Silly uncorrected species.  Silly uncorrected brains.


Think about it.

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The World's Oldest Underground Fire Has Been Burning For 6,000 Years

The World's Oldest Underground Fire Has Been Burning For 6,000 Years | Amazing Science |

If you've heard of underground coal fires, then you've probably heard of the one raging under the abandoned town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, since 1962. Fifty-two years is a long time—and a lot of coal—but that's barely a blink compared to Burning Mountain in Australia, which has been ablaze for 6,000 years.

Coal seam fires are incredibly common, as it happens, and thousands of them are now burning underground across the world. A coal seam some 700 miles south of Australia's Burning Mountain caught fire a month ago, spewing poisonous gases and prompting intense firefighting efforts. Once an subterranean coal seam fire gets out of hand—as in Centralia, as in Burning Mountain—it's nearly impossible to put out.

At Burning Mountain, also known as Mount Wingen, sulfur-tinged smoke is the only hint of a massive coal seam burning 70 feet under the ground. Heat and toxic gases from the fire have left it rocky and jagged in parts, and the land has caved in.

How the mountain was first set ablaze is a mystery. It could have been a lightning strike, forest fire, spontaneous combustion, or even aboriginal burning practices could even have been the initial spark.

It's with human intervention that coal seam fires have really caught on, so to speak, in the past century. Mining exposes coal to oxygen, and coal, as we know, burns very, very easily. With plenty of fuel and oxygen, a small spark can ignite a blaze that grows to cover miles and miles.

China, with its thousands of small-scale mines, and India, with its crumbling old and large mines, have the most serious underground fire problems. The burning coal releases potentially toxic elements like arsenic, fluorine, and selenium into the air.

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The Chernobyl Arch: Capping The World's Worst Civilian Nuclear Disaster

The Chernobyl Arch: Capping The World's Worst Civilian Nuclear Disaster | Amazing Science |
A 32,000-ton arch that will end up costing $1.5 billion is being built in Chernobyl, Ukraine, to all but eliminate the risk of further contamination at the site of the 1986 nuclear reactor explosion.

If all goes as planned, by 2017 the gigantic arch will be delicately pushed on Teflon pads to cover the ramshackle shelter that was built to entomb the radioactive remains of the reactor that exploded and burned here in April 1986. When its ends are closed, it will be able to contain any radioactive dust should the aging shelter collapse.

By all but eliminating the risk of additional atmospheric contamination, the arch will remove the lingering threat of even a limited reprise of those nightmarish days 28 years ago, when radioactive fallout poisoned the flatlands for miles around and turned villages into ghost towns, filled with the echoes of abandoned lives.

The arch will also allow the final stage of the Chernobyl cleanup to begin — an arduous task to remove the heavily contaminated reactor debris for permanent safe storage. That this job will fall from international hands to those of Ukraine presents new worries, especially as Russia threatens the nation’s borders.

For now, though, the rising arch is a sign of progress.

“It’s an amazing structure,” said Nicolas Caille, project director for Novarka, the consortium of French construction companies that is building it. “You can’t compare it to anything else.”

With nations debating the future of atomic power as one way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and fight climate change, the arch is also a stark reminder that nuclear energy, for all of its benefits, carries enormous risks. When things go wrong, huge challenges follow.

Containment and cleanup push engineering capabilities to their limits, as Japan is also finding out since the meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant three years ago.

The costs are enormous — the Chernobyl arch alone will end up costing about $1.5 billion, financed largely by the United States and about 30 other nations.

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Promising solution: Bioplastic made from shrimp shells

Promising solution: Bioplastic made from shrimp shells | Amazing Science |

or many people, “plastic” is a one-word analog for environmental disaster. It is made from precious petroleum, after all, and once discarded in landfills and oceans, it takes centuries to degrade.

Then came apparent salvation: “bioplastics,” durable substances made from renewable cellulose, a plant-based polysaccharide. But problems remained. For one, the current bioplastics do not fully degrade in the environment. For another, their use is now limited to packaging material or simple containers for food and drink.

Now researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have introduced a new bioplastic isolated from shrimp shells. It’s made from chitosan, a form of chitin — the second-most abundant organic material on Earth.

Chitin, a tough polysaccharide, is the main ingredient in the hardy shells of crustaceans, the armorlike cuticles of insects, and even the flexible wings of butterflies.

The Wyss Institute makes its shrilk from chitin from shrimp shells, most which would otherwise be discarded or used in fertilizer or makeup, and a fibroin protein from silk. Researchers discussed it in a March online study in the journal Macromolecular Materials & Engineering.

Shrilk is cheaply and easily fabricated by a novel method that preserves chitosan’s strong mechanical properties. The researchers said that for the first time, this tough, transparent, and renewable material can be used to make large, 3-D objects with complex shapes using traditional casting or injection-molding techniques. That means objects made from shrilk can be mass-manufactured and will be as robust as items made with the everyday plastics used in toys and cell phones.

“There is an urgent need in many industries for sustainable materials that can be mass produced,” Wyss Director Donald E. Ingber said in March. “Our scalable manufacturing method shows that chitosan, which is readily available and inexpensive, can serve as a viable bioplastic that could potentially be used instead of conventional plastics for numerous industrial applications.” This environmentally safe alternative to plastic could also be used to make trash bags, packaging, and diapers.

Marco Bertolini's curator insight, May 6, 2014 11:28 AM

Des plastiques bio fabriqués à partir de la chitine des crevettes...

satish's curator insight, May 7, 2014 2:03 AM

टिकाऊपण, लवचिकता आणि सक्षमता यामुळे प्लॅस्टिकचा वापर विविध क्षेत्रामध्ये मोठ्या प्रमाणात वाढला आहे. मात्र, त्याच वेळी त्याच्या अविघटनशीलतेमुळे प्लॅस्टिकचे प्रदुषणही वेगाने वाढत आहे. त्यामुळे विघटनशील असे जैवप्लॅस्टिक विकसित करण्यासाठी जगभरामध्ये सातत्याने संशोधन होत आहे. मात्र, सध्या उपलब्ध असलेलेजैव प्लॅस्टिकचा वापर अत्यंत मर्यादीत कारणांसाठी होऊ शकतो. त्यातही खाद्यपदार्थांचे पॅकेजिंग आणि पेयपात्रासाठी सामान्यतः केला जातो. तसेच हे जैव प्लॅस्टिकही अत्यंत कमी वेगाने विघटीत होते. या साऱ्या समस्यावर मात करण्यासाठी हार्वर्ड विद्यापीठातील वायस इन्स्टिट्यूट फॉर बायोलॉजिकल इन्स्पायर्ड येथील संशोधकांनी कोळंबीच्या कवचापासून जैव प्लॅस्टिक वेगळे केले आहे.


प्लॅस्टिकच्या अविघटनशीलतेमुळे होणारे प्रदुषण रोखण्यासाठी हे जैव प्लॅस्टिक अत्यंत उपयुक्त ठरेल.

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Carbon dioxide levels in atmosphere reach terrifying new milestone

Carbon dioxide levels in atmosphere reach terrifying new milestone | Amazing Science |

It’s official: Earth’s atmosphere is now in uncharted territory, at least since human beings evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago. Measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations taken continuously at Mauna Loa in Hawaii since 1958 have shown a steady upward climb related to fossil fuel burning worldwide. The Mauna Loa measurements are considered to be some of the clearest evidence of human impact on the global climate.

Every single daily carbon dioxide measurement in April 2014 was above 400 parts per million. That hasn’t happened in nearly a million years, and perhaps much longer. Climate scientists have proven that the rise in human-produced greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are “extremely likely” to be the dominant cause of global climate change. The likelihood of dangerous impacts—like sea level rise, hotter heat waves, and certain types of extreme weather—increases with each incremental annual rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The data are even more striking when you take the long view (see figure). 

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Study links California drought to global warming

Study links California drought to global warming | Amazing Science |

While researchers have sometimes connected weather extremes to man-made global warming, usually it’s not done in real time. Now a study is asserting a link between climate change and both the intensifying California drought and the polar vortex blamed for a harsh winter that mercifully has just ended in many places.

The new study blames an unusual “dipole,” a combination of a strong Western high pressure ridge and deep Great Lakes low pressure trough. That dipole is linked to a recently found precursor to El Nino, the world-weather changing phenomenon. And that precursor itself seems amplified by a build-up of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, the study says.

It’s like a complex game of weather dominos that starts with cold water off China and ends with a devastating drought and memorable winter in the United States, said study author Simon Wang, a Utah State University climate scientist.

Wang was looking at colder water off China as a precursor to an El Nino. The colder water there triggers westerly winds in the tropical Pacific. Those westerly winds persist for several months and eventually push warmed up water and air to the central Pacific where an El Nino forms, Wang said.

An El Nino is a warming of the central Pacific once every few years, from a combination of wind and waves in the tropics. It shakes up climate around the world, changing rain and temperature patterns. Wang saw the precursors and weather event coming months before federal weather officials issued an official El Nino watch last month.

Then Wang noticed the connection between that precursor — cold water off China, Vietnam and Taiwan — and the recent wild winter. He tracked similar combinations of highs and lows in North America. And he found those combination extremes are getting stronger.

Wang based his study, soon to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, on computer simulations, physics and historical data. It is not as detailed and doesn’t involve numerous computer model simulations as more formal attribution studies. Still, Wang said his is a proper connection.

Wang compared computer simulations with and without gases from the burning of fossil fuels. When he included carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, he got a scenario over the past few decades that mirrored what has happened, including this past weird winter and other worsening dipole conditions. When he took out the greenhouse gases, the increasing extremes actually went down — not what happened in real life.

“We found a good link and the link is becoming stronger and stronger,” Wang said.

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Frozen in time: Three-million-year-old landscape still exists beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet

Frozen in time: Three-million-year-old landscape still exists beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet | Amazing Science |
NSF's mission is to advance the progress of science, a mission accomplished by funding proposals for research and education made by scientists, engineers, and educators from across the country.

Some of the landscape underlying the massive Greenland ice sheet may have been undisturbed for almost 3 million years, ever since the island became completely ice-covered, according to researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Basing their discovery on an analysis of the chemical composition of silts recovered from the bottom of an ice core more than 3,000 meters long, the researchers argue that the find suggests "pre-glacial landscapes can remain preserved for long periods under continental ice sheets."

In the time since the ice sheet formed "the soil has been preserved and only slowly eroded, implying that an ancient landscape underlies 3,000 meters of ice at Summit, Greenland," they conclude.

They add that "these new data are most consistent with [the concept of] a continuous cover of Summit… by ice … with at most brief exposure and minimal surface erosion during the warmest or longest interglacial periods."

They also note that fossils found in northern Greenland indicated there was a green and forested landscape prior to the time that the ice sheet began to form. The new discovery indicates that even during the warmest periods since the ice sheet formed, the center of Greenland remained stable, allowing the landscape to be locked away, unmodified, under ice through millions of years of cyclical warming and cooling.

"Rather than scraping and sculpting the landscape, the ice sheet has been frozen to the ground, like a giant freezer that's preserved an antique landscape", said Paul R. Bierman, of the Department of Geology and Rubenstein School of the Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont and lead author of the paper.

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EPA drastically underestimated methane released at drilling sites, by a factor of over 100-fold

EPA drastically underestimated methane released at drilling sites, by a factor of over 100-fold | Amazing Science |
Drilling operations at several natural gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania released methane into the atmosphere at rates that were 100 to 1,000 times greater than federal regulators had estimated, new research shows.

Using a plane that was specially equipped to measure greenhouse gas emissions in the air, scientists found that drilling activities at seven well pads in the booming Marcellus shale formation emitted 34 grams of methane per second, on average. The EPA has estimated that such drilling releases between 0.04 grams and 0.30 grams of methane per second.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adds to a growing body of research that suggests the EPA is gravely underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The agency is expected to issue its own analysis of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector as early as Tuesday, which will give outside experts a chance to assess how well regulators understand the problem.

Carbon dioxide released by the combustion of fossil fuels is the biggest contributor to climate change, but methane — the chief component of natural gas — is about 20 to 30 times more potent when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere. Methane emissions make up 9% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions and are on track to increase, according to the White House.

The Pennsylvania study was launched in an effort to understand whether the measurements of airborne methane matched up with emissions estimates based on readings taken at ground level, the approach the EPA and state regulators have historically used.

Researchers flew their plane about a kilometer above a 2,800 square kilometer area in southwestern Pennsylvania that included several active natural gas wells. Over a two-day period in June 2012, they detected 2 grams to 14 grams of methane per second per square kilometer over the entire area. The EPA’s estimate for the area is 2.3 grams to 4.6 grams of methane per second per square kilometer.

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Greenland ice cores show industrial record of acid rain falls and success of U.S. Clean Air Act

Greenland ice cores show industrial record of acid rain falls and success of U.S. Clean Air Act | Amazing Science |

The rise and fall of acid rain is a global experiment whose results are preserved in the geologic record. By analyzing samples from the Greenland ice sheet, University of Washington atmospheric scientists found clear evidence of the U.S. Clean Air Act. They also discovered a link between air acidity and how nitrogen is preserved in layers of snow, according to a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Forty-five years ago, acid rain was killing fish and dissolving stone monuments on the East Coast. Air pollution rose beginning with the Industrial Revolution and started to improve when the U.S. Clean Air Act of 1970 required coal power plants and other polluters to scrub sulfur out of their smokestacks.

UW researchers began their study of ice cores interested in smog, not acid rain. They discovered a link between the two forms of pollution in the geologic record.

“How much the nitrate concentrations in ice core records can tell about NOx and the chemistry in the past atmosphere is a longstanding question in the ice-core community,” said lead author Lei Geng, a UW postdoctoral researcher in atmospheric sciences.

Unlike other gases, short-lived NOx can’t be measured directly from air bubbles trapped in ice cores. Within a day or two most of the NOx changes into nitrate, a water-soluble molecule essential to life that gets deposited in soil and snow.

Earlier research by co-author Eric Steig, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences, suggested that comparing amounts of the two stable forms of nitrogen – nitrogen-15 and nitrogen-14 – in nitrate could pinpoint the emission sources of NOx. Ice cores from Greenland and North American lake sediments showed the nitrogen-15 ratio gradually decreasing since 1850, suggesting a corresponding rise in human emissions.

“The isotope records really closely follow the atmospheric acidity trends,” said co-author Becky Alexander, a UW associate professor of atmospheric sciences. “You can really see the effect of the Clean Air Act in 1970, which had the most dramatic impact on emission of acid from coal-fired power plants.”

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Carbon Dioxide Levels Climb Into Uncharted Territory for Humans - Highest since 800,000 Years

Carbon Dioxide Levels Climb Into Uncharted Territory for Humans - Highest since 800,000 Years | Amazing Science |

The amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere has exceeded 402 parts per million (ppm) during the past two days of observations, which is higher than at any time in at least the past 800,000 years, according to readings from monitoring equipment on a mountaintop in Hawaii. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is the most important long-lived greenhouse gas responsible for manmade global warming, and it is building up in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.

Once emitted, a single molecule of carbon dioxide can remain aloft for hundreds of years, which means that the effects of today's industrial activities will be felt for the next several centuries, if not thousands of years. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, such as methane, warm the planet by absorbing and redirecting outgoing solar radiation that would otherwise escape back into space.

In 2013, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide briefly hit 400 ppm for the first time in mid-May, but this year that symbolic threshold has been crossed even earlier. This means it is more likely that the annual peak, which typically occurs in mid-to-late May, will climb further above 400 ppm for the first time.

Although crossing above 400 ppm is largely a symbolic milestone, scientific research indicates that the higher that carbon dioxide concentrations get, the more global temperatures will increase, resulting in a wide range of damaging effects. These impacts will range from global sea level rise to a heightened risk of heat waves, severe droughts and floods, according to a recently released comprehensive assessment of climate science produced by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Modern carbon dioxide monitoring began in 1958 on the peak of Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano, which is more than two miles high. At that time, carbon dioxide concentrations were at just 313 ppm. They have risen rapidly and steadily since then, both at Mauna Loa and at other observatories around the world. The chart documenting this rise is perhaps the most iconic in all of climate science, known as the "Keeling Curve" for Charles David Keeling, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientist who began and maintained the monitoring program.

According to the Keeling Curve website, carbon dioxide concentrations spiked to 402.20 parts per million on April 7, whereas data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed a slightly lower level of 402.11 parts per million on the same day. Both data sets indicate that daily carbon dioxide measurements have been at or above 400 ppm since March 29, and the graph appears on course to stay above 400 ppm throughout the rest of the month and into the next.

Cathryn Wellner's curator insight, April 11, 2014 2:46 PM

For such an intelligent species, we are certainly slow learners. Thanks for this articulation of the issue.

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Architectural design influences which microbes surround us

Architectural design influences which microbes surround us | Amazing Science |

They have us surrounded. Even inside the spaces we build for ourselves — like homes and offices — we are a tiny minority. Invisible bacteria, fungi, and viruses outnumber us by orders of magnitude.

We will always be outnumbered, but we may have a say in which microbes we’re surrounded by, according to a new study that’s one of the first to investigate how building design influences the microbial diversity of indoor spaces. “Design choices at the level of a whole building make a really big impact on the types of invisible organisms that you see in a room,” said microbial ecologist Jessica Green, an author of the new study. The work is part of an emerging body research suggesting that design decisions — from the architect’s blueprint to the choice of ventilation system to the materials picked by the interior designer — help shape the microbes in our midst.

In three recent studies, her team at the University of Oregon dissected the microbial diversity of a single building on campus called Lillis Hall, which houses professor’s offices and classrooms. In one study, they used a modified Shop-Vac to collect 155 dust samples throughout the building. Back in the lab, they extracted bacterial DNA and sequenced a gene called 16S. All bacteria have a copy of this gene, but its sequence differs from one type of bacteria to another, making it a useful ID marker. Classifying fungi and viruses is trickier, but Green hopes to tackle them in future studies.

Restrooms and classrooms, which are visited by many people throughout the day, tended to be dominated by bacteria commonly found on human skin, including Lactobacillus and Staphylococcus. Offices, especially those with windows, tended to have higher levels of soil-dwelling Methylobacterium. Mechanically ventilated offices, on the other hand, had more Deinococcus, which may be better suited to the hot dry air pumped out by the heating system in these rooms, Green says.

In addition to dust, Green and her team have also examined air samples and surfaces in Lillis Hall. In another recent study they found that rooms with a natural ventilation system that brings in outside air at night have microbial profiles more similar to outside air, compared to rooms with mechanical ventilation system that was turned off at night to save money. “What we found is if you have this really expensive mechanical ventilation system and you turn it off at night, you’re leaving this bag of microbes that people are immersed in when they come back in the morning,” Green said.

The interactions between building design, microbial diversity, and health might be stronger in other types of buildings — such as hospitals. Green is part of a consortium studying how microbial communities develop in two newly constructed hospitals, one in Chicago and one in Germany.

But she thinks those interactions will turn out to exist in other types of buildings too. She notes that scientists are only just beginning to discover how the microbiome, the collection of microbes that live inside our guts, can impact our health by interacting with everything from the immune system to the brain. And where do those microbes come from? ”We pick them up from the built environment,” Green said. For a species that spends nearly 90% of its time indoors, that’s something to think about.

Eli Levine's curator insight, April 6, 2014 7:11 PM

Makes a lot of sense.


Imagine if we factored this into our architectural designs, as well as a host of other factors which influence our well being, health and survival.


Think about it.


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Chernobyl's Trees Won't Decay, Increasing the Risk of Nuclear Forest Fire

Chernobyl's Trees Won't Decay, Increasing the Risk of Nuclear Forest Fire | Amazing Science |
How a new sort of wildfire threatens the Zone of Alienation and far beyond.

As if the Ukraine didn’t have enough to worry about these days with Russia invading Crimea, recent scientific research points to the very real threat of a nuclear forest fire. Great heavy metal band name aside, the forests around Chernobyl—the nuclear power plant that exploded 28 years ago—are not decaying properly and should it all catch fire, radioactive material would spread beyond Chernobyl’s Zone of Alienation, the off-limits 1000 square-miles around the decommissioned facility located 68 miles north of Kiev.

This Zone of Alienation has given environmental scientists much to study, withinsects choosing to not live there and the birds that do live there developing abnormalities like deformed beaks, odd tail feather lengths, and smaller brains. The trees too, have been shady.

Scientists who have been studying the environment inside the Zone of Alienation since 1991 noticed something about these trees, specifically what they described as “a significant accumulation of litter over time” in a study published recently in Oecologia. And by “significant,” they mean the trees are not decomposing and their leaves are just sitting there on the ground, not decomposing either. This is especially so in the Red Forest, an area of woodland around Chernobyl named thusly because the trees turned a ginger color and died due to the worst radiation poisoning in the area. In an interview with Smithsonian magazine, lead author of the study and biologist at the University of South Carolina Timothy Mousseau called all this non-decayed organic matter “striking, given that in the forests where I live, a fallen tree is mostly sawdust after a decade of lying on the ground.”

The reason for this lack of decay around Chernobyl is that microbes, bacteria, fungi, worms, insects, and other living organisms known as decomposers (because they feed on dead organisms) are just not there and not doing their jobs. Mousseau and his team discovered this after leaving 600 bags of leaves around Chernobyl in 2007. When they collected the bags in 2008, they found that the bags filled with leaves placed in areas with no radiation had decomposed by 70 to 90 percent, but the leaves in areas with radiation? They only decomposed about 40 percent. “There is growing concern that there could be a catastrophic fire in the coming years,” Mousseau told Smithsonian.

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The last places on Earth… almost without life

The last places on Earth… almost without life | Amazing Science |

Weird and wonderful creatures thrive in the planet’s most hostile places, but there are a few spots too harsh for even the hardiest.

In the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, it looks as if nothing could ever survive. It is one of the driest places in the world, and some sections of the Mars-like expanse can go 50 years without feeling a drop of rain. As poet Alonso de Ercilla put it in 1569: “Towards Atacama, near the deserted coast, you see a land without men, where there is not a bird, not a beast, nor a tree, nor any vegetation.”

Yet Atacama is not devoid of life. Microorganisms called endoliths have found a way to cling on, by hiding themselves inside the pores of rocks, where there’s just enough water to survive. “They support a whole community of organisms that eat the byproducts of their metabolism,” says Jocelyne DiRuggiero, a microbiologist at Johns Hopkins University. “And they’re all just sitting right there in the rocks – it’s quite fascinating.”

Life, it seems, has an incredible knack for finding ways to persist. Indeed, microorganisms have been around for nearly four billion years, giving them ample time to adapt to some of the most extreme conditions in the natural world. But are there places left on Earth so harsh that they are rendered sterile?

Heat is a good starting point for answering this question. The record for heat tolerance is currently held by a group of organisms called hyperthermophile methanogens, which thrive around the edges of hydrothermal vents in the deep sea. Some of these organisms can grow at temperatures of up to 122C (252F). 

Most researchers believe that around 150C (302F) is the theoretical cut-off point for life, however. At that temperature proteins fall apart and chemical reactions cannot occur – a quirk of the biochemistry that life on Earth (so far as we know) abides by. This means that microorganisms can thrive around hydrothermal vents, but not directly within them, where temperatures can reach up to 464C (867F). The same is true for the interior of an active volcano on land. “I really think temperature is the most hostile parameter,” says Helena Santos, a microbial physiologist at the New University of Lisbon and president of the International Society for Extremophiles. When things get hot enough, she says, “It’s impossible – everything is destroyed.”

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West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse is under way

West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse is under way | Amazing Science |

University of Washington researchers used detailed topography maps and computer modeling to show that the collapse appears to have already begun. The fast-moving Thwaites Glacier will likely disappear in a matter of centuries, researchers say, raising sea level by nearly 2 feet. That glacier also acts as a linchpin on the rest of the ice sheet, which contains enough ice to cause another 10 to 13 feet (3 to 4 meters) of global sea level rise. The study is published May 16 in Science

“There’s been a lot of speculation about the stability of marine ice sheets, and many scientists suspected that this kind of behavior is under way,” said lead author Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory. “This study provides a more quantitative idea of the rates at which the collapse could take place.”

The good news is that while the word “collapse” implies a sudden change, the fastest scenario is 200 years, and the longest is more than 1,000 years. The bad news is that such a collapse may be inevitable.

“Previously, when we saw thinning we didn’t necessarily know whether the glacier could slow down later, spontaneously or through some feedback,” Joughin said. “In our model simulations it looks like all the feedbacks tend to point toward it actually accelerating over time; there’s no real stabilizing mechanism we can see.”

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Rising CO2 levels significantly reduce nutrients in major food crops

Rising CO2 levels significantly reduce nutrients in major food crops | Amazing Science |

Rising levels of CO2 around the world will significantly impact the nutrient content of crops according to a new study. Experiments show levels of zinc, iron and protein are likely to be reduced by up to 10% in wheat and rice by 2050.

The scientists say this could have health implications for billions of people, especially in the developing world. The report has been published in the journal Nature.

Researchers have struggled over the past two decades to design large scale field trials to accurately model the impacts of increased CO2 levels on the nutritional makeup of crops. Now an international team has put together a global analysis based on experiments in Japan, Australia and the US. They've grown 41 different varieties of grains and legumes in open fields, with levels of carbon dioxide expected in the middle of this century.

"It is possibly the most significant health threat that has been documented for climate change," said lead author Dr Samuel Myers from the Harvard School of Public Health. "We found significant reductions in iron, zinc and protein in rice and wheat, and we found significant reductions in iron and zinc in soybeans and field peas as well," he said.

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Backing Up the World's Food Supply: 400 Million Seeds from 800,000 Plant Species on Arctic Ice

Backing Up the World's Food Supply: 400 Million Seeds from 800,000 Plant Species on Arctic Ice | Amazing Science |

In March 2008, on a remote Norwegian island in the Arctic Circle, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, or “doomsday vault,” took its first deposits. The vault’s builders had spent some $7 million and 12 months blasting a tunnel and three chambers into the mountainside’s hard permafrost. To be stored within? Treasure.

The doomsday vault keeps the world’s agricultural heritage in deep freeze. Six years on, and after a recent deposit of 20,000 species, the vault now houses over 800,000 plant species, and with an average 500 seeds per sample, some 400 million seeds.

That may sound like a lot, but the doomsday vault was designed to store more. A lot more. At full capacity, in drawers lining the walls of its three chambers, the vault can fit 4.5 million species and some 2.25 billion seeds.

Think of the doomsday vault as the external hard drive backing up the genetic data of the world’s plant-based food. Or, if you prefer, a modern day Noah’s Ark for wheat, corn, rice—the world’s agricultural species in all their diversity.

In addition to civilization ending disasters—nuclear war, asteroid or comet strike, biblical floods, zombies—the world’s 1,400 genebanks and their precious seed stores are susceptible to war, poor management, and natural disasters.

The doomsday vault is said to be impervious to nuclear war or asteroid strike, and its location on a remote island in a rich, stable European country adds security. But perhaps the vault’s greatest attribute is the arctic cold chilling its chambers of seeds.

Under power, the inner sanctum is kept at -18 degrees Celsius. Even lacking power, the seeds would remain viable for years. The permafrost acts as a natural freezer, maintaining a temperature below freezing.

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Tour the Vegetation on Our Planet (provided by NASA/NOAA)

Although 75% of the planet is a relatively unchanging ocean of blue, the remaining 25% of Earth's surface is a dynamic green. Data from the NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP satellite is able to detect these subtle differences in greenness. The resources on this page highlight our ever-changing planet, using highly detailed vegetation index data from the satellite, developed by scientists at NOAA. The darkest green areas are the lushest in vegetation, while the pale colors are sparse in vegetation cover either due to snow, drought, rock, or urban areas. Satellite data from April 2012 to April 2013 was used to generate these animations and images.

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How Much Garbage is On the Ocean Floors? Marine Litter Distribution and Density Mapped

How Much Garbage is On the Ocean Floors? Marine Litter Distribution and Density Mapped | Amazing Science |

Anthropogenic litter is present in all marine habitats, from beaches to the most remote points in the oceans. On the seafloor, marine litter, particularly plastic, can accumulate in high densities with deleterious consequences for its inhabitants. Yet, because of the high cost involved with sampling the seafloor, no large-scale assessment of distribution patterns was available to date. A recent study presents data on litter distribution and density collected during 588 video and trawl surveys across 32 sites in European waters. The researchers found litter to be present in the deepest areas and at locations as remote from land as the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The highest litter density occurs in submarine canyons, whilst the lowest density can be found on continental shelves and on ocean ridges. Plastic was the most prevalent litter item found on the seafloor. Litter from fishing activities (derelict fishing lines and nets) was particularly common on seamounts, banks, mounds and ocean ridges. These results highlight the extent of the problem and the need for action to prevent increasing accumulation of litter in marine environments.

With an estimated 6.4 million tonnes of litter entering the oceans each year [1], the adverse impacts of litter on the marine environment are not negligible. Besides the unquestionable aesthetic issue, litter can be mistaken for food items and be ingested by a wide variety of marine organisms [3][8]. Entanglement in derelict fishing gear is also a serious threat, particularly for mammals [9][11], turtles [12] and birds [13] but also for benthic biota such as corals [14][15]. High mortality of fish through “ghost fishing” is another consequence of derelict fishing gear in the marine environment [16]. Moreover, floating litter facilitates the transfer of non-native marine species (e.g. bryozoans, barnacles) to new habitats [17][18]. Barnes et al. [19] estimated that the dispersal of alien species through marine litter more than doubles the rate of natural dispersal processes, especially during an era of global change.

Although the type of litter found in the world's oceans is highly diverse, plastics are by far the most abundant material recorded [20][22]. Because of their persistence and hydrophobic nature, their impact on marine ecosystems is of great concern. Plastics are a source of toxic chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins that can be lethal to marine fauna [23]. Furthermore, the degradation of plastics generates microplastics which, when ingested by organisms, can deliver contaminants across trophic levels [24][27].

Litter type, composition and density vary greatly among locations and litter has been found in all marine habitats, from surface water convergence in the pelagic realm (fronts) down to the deep sea where litter degradation is a much slower process [21]. The spatial distribution and accumulation of litter in the ocean is influenced by hydrography, geomorphological factors [21],[28], prevailing winds and anthropogenic activities [29]. Hotspots of litter accumulation include shores close to populated areas, particularly beaches [30], but also submarine canyons, where litter originating from land accumulates in large quantities [28][31].

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Greenland’s icecap - once thought stable - is losing stability due to melting at an accelerating pace

Greenland’s icecap - once thought stable - is losing stability due to melting at an accelerating pace | Amazing Science |

The Greenland ice sheet is the largest terrestrial ice mass in the Northern hemisphere. A recent study in Nature Climate Change by Shfaqat Khan from the Technical University of Denmark and colleagues indicates that the ice sheet could be melting faster than previously thought. This would mean Greenland’s contribution to sea level rise has been under-estimated (once again!), and oceanographers may need to think again about their projections.

The scientists used more than 30 years of surface elevation measurements of the entire ice sheet to discover that overall loss is accelerating. Previous studies had identified melting of glaciers in the island’s south-east and north-west, but the assumption had been that the ice sheet to the north-east was stable.

The report says: “It was stable, at least until about 2003. Then higher air temperatures set up the process of so-called dynamic thinning. Ice sheets melt every Arctic summer, under the impact of extended sunshine, but the slush on the glaciers tends to freeze again with the return of the cold and the dark, and since under historic conditions glaciers move at the proverbial glacial pace, the loss of ice is normally very slow.”

The new research by the Danish-led team considers changes linked to the 600 kilometer-long Zachariae ice stream in the north-east, using satellite measurements. It has retreated by some 20 kilometers in the last DECADE, whereas Sermeq Kujalleq has retreated about 35 kms in 150 years. The Zachariae stream drains around one-sixth of the Greenland ice sheet, and because warmer summers have meant significantly less sea ice in recent years, icebergs have more easily broken off and floated away, which means that the ice stream can move faster. “North-east Greenland is very cold. It used to be considered the last stable part of the Greenland ice sheet,” said one of the team, Michael Bevis of Ohio State University in the US, in an interview with the Climate News Network.

The scientists used a GPS network to calculate the loss of ice. Glacial ice presses down on the bedrock below it: when the ice melts, the bedrock rises in response to the drop in pressure, and sophisticated satellite measurements help scientists put a figure on the loss of ice. They calculate that between April 2003 and April 2012, the region was losing ice at the rate of 10 billion tons a year.

Eli Levine's curator insight, April 24, 2014 2:10 PM

There she, very slowly, goes.


Well humanity, this environment which we evolved into was fun.  Will we survive this new one we've produced through our economic and social activity?

I don't know.


But what I do know, is that the old normal is gone, thanks largely to the conservatives who wanted to preserve the old normal.


A silly brain type at best, who can't accept reality for what it actually is, and thus, leads us all into misery, pain and destruction as a result of their willful and unacknowledged unwillful ignorance.


Think about it.

Elijah Startin's curator insight, July 15, 2014 10:27 PM

This report shows that the icecaps are melting due to the earth's climate getting warmer. This means that as the ice melts the sea levels rise.

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Study Shows: 99.9% Likelyhood That Humans Have Caused Global Warming

Study Shows: 99.9% Likelyhood That Humans Have Caused Global Warming | Amazing Science |
A new analysis found the carbon-dioxide from burning fossil fuels has the greatest impact on our climate, which means we caused climate change – it’s not a natural phenomenon.

McGill University physics professor, Shaun Lovejoy crunched numbers and applied a statistical methodology, to determine the probability that global warming is NOT a natural phenomenon.

He did this because one of the most heated debates revolves around whether or not global warming is something we can counter, because if it’s a natural process, there may be nothing we can do.

The debate is fierce in the United States, where politicians, scientists, and big oil and gas companies fight for their own specific interests.

Big oil companies in the United States have released their own findings onclimate change, and not surprisingly, their research says global warming is a natural process, which occurs over time.

Numerous American politicians with a track record of backing oil companies, have used these studies to defend the oil and gas industry. They argue against any policies that negatively impacts that industry. Some have even gone as far as denying global warming entirely.

American scientists for the most part agree that global warming exists, but depending on who’s paying for the research, have differing views as to whether it is the natural warming of our planet, or if our burning of fossil fuels are to blame.

“This study will be a blow to any remaining climate change deniers,” Lovejoy says. “Their two most convincing arguments – that the warming is natural in origin and that the computer models are wrong – are either directly contracted by this analysis, or simply do not apply to it.”

Lovejoy’s study uses “multi-proxy climate reconstructions” which is a scientific method of taking historical temperature data, along with natural markers left by climatic events over time, such as tree rings, ice core samples and lake sediments, to map out our climate over a very long time period.

Lovejoy’s analysis found the carbon-dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels to be the greatest impact on our climate, which means we caused climate change – it’s not a natural phenomenon.

ctoler geo 152's curator insight, July 9, 2014 12:22 AM

more insight to Global Warming.

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What is the optimal size of a power grid?

What is the optimal size of a power grid? | Amazing Science |

David Newman, a physicist at the University of Alaska, believes that smaller grids would reduce the likelihood of severe outages, such as the 2003 Northeast blackout that cut power to 50 million people in the United States and Canada for up to two days.

Newman and co-authors make their case in the journal Chaos. North America has three power grids that transmit electricity from hundreds of power plants to millions of consumers. Each grid is huge, because the more power plants and power lines in a grid, the better it can even out local variations in the supply and demand or respond if some part of the grid goes down.

But large grids are vulnerable to the rare but significant possibility of a grid-wide blackout like the one in 2003, when overloaded transmission lines hit unpruned foliage in Ohio, combined with a software bug a power-plant alarm system.

“The problem is that grids run close to the edge of their capacity because of economic pressures. Electric companies want to maximize profits, so they don’t invest in more equipment than they need,” Newman said.

In their new paper, the researchers ask whether the grid has an optimal size, one large enough to share power efficiently but small enough to prevent enormous blackouts.

The team based its analysis on the Western United States grid, which has more than 16,000 nodes. Nodes include generators, substations, and transformers, which convert high-voltage electricity into low-voltage power for homes and business.

The model started by comparing one 1,000-bus grid with ten 100-bus networks. It then assessed how well the grids shared electricity in response to virtual outages.

“We found that for the best tradeoff between providing backup power and blackout risk, the optimal size was 500 to 700 nodes,” Newman said.

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Study uncovers that most seafood imported to the US is caught or trafficked illegally

Study uncovers that most seafood imported to the US is caught or trafficked illegally | Amazing Science |
As some of the world's top seafood consumers, Americans funnel billions of dollars a year to a shady network of exploitative fish launderers.

Illegal and unreported catches represented 20–32% by weight of wild-caught seafood imported to the USA in 2011, as determined from robust estimates, including uncertainty, of illegal and unreported fishing activities in the source countries. These illegal imports are valued at between $1.3 and $2.1 billion, out of a total of $16.5 billion for the 2.3 million tonnes of edible seafood imports, including farmed products. This trade represents between 4% and 16% of the value of the global illegal fish catch and reveals the unintentional role of the USA, one of the largest seafood markets in the world, in funding the profits of illegal fishing. Supply chain case studies are presented for tuna, wild shrimp and Chinese re-processed Russian pollock, salmon and crab imported to the USA. To address this critical issue of unintended financing of illegal fishing, possible remedies from industry practices and government policies may include improved chain of custody and traceability controls and an amendment to the USA Lacey Act.

Researchers scoured nearly 200 papers, reports, and data sets and interviewed experts and officials worldwide for information on a handful of popular seafood varieties. They were attempting to do the impossible: Track the global trade from fisheries to American dinner plates. They extrapolated their findings from those fisheries to assess the nation’s total illicit seafood diet. What they found was a web of tangled supply chains, unscrupulous middlemen, illegal fishing fleets, enslaved and indentured workers, and naive buyers.

“A significant amount of fish is imported to the USA by first passing through one or more intermediary countries for post-harvest processing,” they write in the paper, published online Saturday in the journal Marine Policy. “These additional steps introduce additional challenges to traceability and allow for the mixing of legally- and illegally-sourced fish, where illegal fish may be essentially ‘laundered.’”

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NASA's global warming factsheet

NASA's global warming factsheet | Amazing Science |
Global warming is happening now, and scientists are confident that greenhouse gases are responsible. To understand what this means for humanity, it is necessary to understand what global warming is, how scientists know it's happening, and how they predict future climate.

Once the world’s fourth largest lake, the mighty Aral Sea is now in it’s death throws. Starved of it’s lifeblood of the waters of the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya rivers, the sea has been shrinking for the last 40 years.

  1. Are the ozone hole and global warming related?
  2. What can we do about global warming?
  3. What if global warming isn’t as severe as predicted?
  4. Why is global warming a problem?
  5. Has the Sun been more active in recent decades, and could it be responsible for some global warming?
  6. If Earth has warmed and cooled throughout history, what makes scientists think that humans are causing global warming now?
  7. How do scientists know that Mauna Loa’s volcanic emissions don’t affect the carbon dioxide data collected there?
  8. Do satellite observations of atmospheric temperatures agree with surface-based observations and model predictions?
  9. What does NASA have to do with global warming?
  10. Are there natural processes that can amplify or limit global warming?
  11. If we immediately stopped emitting greenhouses gases, would global warming stop?
  12. If we stabilized greenhouse gas emissions at today’s rates, would global warming stop?
Eli Levine's curator insight, April 8, 2014 8:10 AM

It is an idiot who believes that humanity does not impact their own home through their activity.  It is also pretty stupid to select financial, material wealth over health, well being and sustainability, from a biological and sociological point of view.


Yet this is precisely what humanity has chosen to do.


At least, the sections of humanity who make decisions as to what happens in our world.  The rest of us are merely guilty of complacency and lack of access to real power (which is proactively enforced by those who currently hold defacto power in our world; the same people who are responsible for making the policy regimen that is causing global warming and greenhouse gas emissions to increase, remain the same or insignificantly decrease).


There's a reason how we're all going to die.  Looks like humanity is just going to be one brief little spark in the geological and cosmological history of our planet and universe.


A shame, since we have so much potential, if it weren't for those diseased brains sitting in places of power, consequence and authority.


Think about it.

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We are close to eating bait fish and jelly fish as big fish numbers in oceans plummet

We are close to eating bait fish and jelly fish as big fish numbers in oceans plummet | Amazing Science |

"When you're young, you look at the world and think what you see has been that way for a long time. When you're 5, everything feels "normal." When things change in your lifetime, you may regret what has changed, but for your children, born 30 years later into a more diminished world, what they see at 5 becomes their new "normal," and so, over time, "normal" is constantly being redefined to mean "less." And people who don't believe that the past was so different from the present might have what could be called "change blindness blindness." Because these changes happen slowly, over a human lifetime, they never startle. They just tiptoe silently along, helping us all adjust to a smaller, shrunken world."

Since 1950, one in four of the world’s fisheries has collapsed due to overfishing. 77 percent of the world's marine fish stocks are fully exploited, over-exploited, depleted or slowly recovering. The cod fishery off Newfoundland, Canada collapsed in 1992, leading to the loss of some 40,000 jobs in the industry. Twenty years later, the fishery has yet to recover.

Scientists estimate that 90% of the world’s large fish have been removed from our oceans, including many tuna, sharks, halibut, grouper, and other top level predators which help maintain an ecological balance. Of the 3.5 million fishing vessels worldwide, only 1.7 percent are classified as large-scale, industrial vessels, yet these vessels take almost 60 percent of the global fish catch.

Tuna purse seine vessels using Fish Aggregating Devices entangle and kill a million sharks a year in the Indian Ocean alone. Every year, the world's fishing fleet receives roughly $30 billion in government subsidies. Most of the subsidies are given to the large-scale, industrial sector of the fishing industry.

Industrial fishing fleets kill and discard about 27 million tons of fish on average each year. That means that one-quarter of the annual marine fish catch is thrown overboard dead. For every kilo of shrimp landed, over 10 kilos of tropical marine life is caught and dies.

Bottom trawling, a fishing method which involves dragging giant nets and chains across the seafloor, damages fragile corals and sponges which provide habitat for fish and creates scars on the ocean bottom which can even be visible from space.

Globally more than US$20 billion is lost to pirate fishing each year, much of which involves European or Asian vessels. The United Nations estimates that Somalia loses US $300 million a year to the pirates; Guinea loses US $100 million.

The Patagonian toothfish (often sold as Chilean sea bass) fisheries around Crozet, Prince Edward and Marion Islands were fished to commercial extinction in just two years.

Commercial fishing boats also kill tens of thousands of albatrosses and hundreds of thousands of other seabirds, mostly by longline fishing.  Considering that albatrosses can live 50+ years, and take over 5 years to reach breeding age, this is an unsustainable loss of a truly impressive species.

Eli Levine's curator insight, April 6, 2014 1:05 PM

Indeed, there are likely to be big consequences for this mass die off that we haven't even begun to realize.


Animals have an effect on the environment, very much like us.  They play a role in sustaining and shaping the environment.  When we kill off a species, we break a piece of the delicate web of the environment in which we evolved and adapted to, such that our lives could be put at risk as a result of the extinction or die off of a species.  It's the tiny changes which have the largest impact on our world, yet we are having a tremendously large impact on the world for the sake of economic activity and money that, ideally, should come second or third to our collective health.  Goodness knows what this is going to yield for us as we wipe out top predators and prey alike, whose natural cycles of birth and death lead to the sustenance of .the environment in which we evolved and adapted into.


Why do we care about money, if we're not able  to spend it in our lifetime?  Why do we care about it if its accumulation leads to our death on the individual and collective levels?


Think about it.


Because this could very well be the final curtain for humanity, because of humanity.  And yet, will anyone listen or care to listen about these things?

Silly maladjusted and dysfunctional brains.


Think about it.