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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Troubling new research says global warming will cut wheat yields

Troubling new research says global warming will cut wheat yields | Amazing Science |

Observant aliens visiting Earth and studying its civilizations would probably be pretty obsessed with wheat. They couldn’t fail to note how staggeringly many people we feed with the crop on this planet. “Wheat is one of the main staple crops in the world and provides 20% of daily protein and calories,” notes the Wheat Initiative, a project launched by G20 agricultural ministers. “With a world population of 9 billion in 2050, wheat demand is expected to increase by 60%. To meet the demand, annual wheat yield increases must grow from the current level of below 1% to at least 1.6%.” That’s why the punchline of a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is pretty troubling. A warming climate, it suggests, could drive wheat yields in the opposite direction – down — in the United States and, possibly, elsewhere.

“The net effect of warming on yields is negative,” write Jesse Tack of the agricultural economics department of Mississippi State University and two colleagues, “even after accounting for the benefits of reduced exposure to freezing temperatures.” That’s no small matter, the study notes, in that wheat is “the largest source of vegetable protein in low-income countries.”

The study compared results from nearly 30 years of winter wheat trials across Kansas — a state that produced $2.8 billion worth of wheat crop in 2013 — with data on weather and precipitation. Winter wheat grows from September to May and faces two major temperature-related threats during this cycle — extreme winter cold, and extreme spring heat. Global warming ought to cut down on the freezing temperatures, but also amp up really hot ones. The study found, however, that on balance, the effect is more negative than positive, with a roughly 15 percent decline in wheat yields under a 2 degrees Celsius warming scenario, rising to around 40 percent with 4 degrees (C) of warming.

As for whether the Kansas-based research can easily be extrapolated to other regions where wheat is grown around the world, that depends highly on the local climate, says lead author Tack. So long as warming creates a situation in which temperatures in a given place more frequently reach 34 degrees Celsius (or 92.3 degrees Fahrenheit) during the growing season, then it could be bad for wheat, based on his study. “The tipping point is 34 degrees Celsius,” says Tack. “In terms of the estimated warming impacts, it’s largely going to be a matter of whether the new climate has increased exposure over 34 degrees.”

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Rare African plant (Pandanus candelabrum) signals diamonds beneath the soil

Rare African plant (Pandanus candelabrum) signals diamonds beneath the soil | Amazing Science |

There’s diamond under them thar plants. A geologist has discovered a thorny, palmlike plant in Liberia that seems to grow only on top of kimberlite pipes—columns of volcanic rock hundreds of meters across that extend deep into Earth, left by ancient eruptions that exhumed diamonds from the mantle. If the plant is as choosy as it seems to be, diamond hunters in West Africa will have a simple, powerful way of finding diamond-rich deposits. Prospectors are going to “jump on it like crazy,” says Steven Shirey, a geologist specializing in diamond research at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C.

Miners have long known that particular plants can signal ore-bearing rocks. For example,Lychnis alpina, a small pink-flowering plant in Scandinavia, and Haumaniastrum katangense, a white-flowered shrub in central Africa, are both associated with copper. That’s because the plants are especially tolerant to copper that has eroded into soils from the mother lodes.

But the new plant, identified as Pandanus candelabrum, is the first indicator species for diamond-bearing kimberlite, says Stephen Haggerty, a researcher at Florida International University in Miami and the chief exploration officer of Youssef Diamond Mining Company, which owns mining concessions in Liberia. Haggerty suspects that the plant has adapted to kimberlite soils, which are rich in magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. “It sounds like a very good fertilizer, which it is,” says Haggerty, who has published the discovery in the June-July issue of Economic Geology.

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Weather could be controlled using lasers

Weather could be controlled using lasers | Amazing Science |
Scientists are attempting to control the weather by using lasers to create clouds, induce rain and even trigger lightning.

Professor Jean-Pierre Wolf and Dr Jerome Kasparian, both biophotonics experts at the University of Geneva, have now organised a conference at the WMO next month in an attempt to find ways of speeding up research on the topic. They said: “Ultra-short lasers launched into the atmosphere have emerged as a promising prospective tool for weather modulation and climate studies.

“Such prospects include lightning control and laser-assisted condensation.”

There is a long history of attempts by scientists to control the weather, including using techniques such as cloud seeding.

This involves spraying small particles and chemicals into the air to induce water vapour to condense into clouds.

In the 1960s the United States experimented with using silver iodide in an attempt to weaken hurricanes before they made landfall. The USSR was also claimed to have flown cloud seeding missions in an attempt to create rain clouds to protect Moscow from radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

More recently the Russian Air force has also been reported to have used bags of cement to seed clouds.

Before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the Chinese authorities used aircraft and rockets to release chemicals into the atmosphere.

Other countries have been reported to be experimenting with cloud seeding to prevent flooding or smog.

However, Professor Wolf, Dr Kasparian and their colleagues believe that lasers could provide an easier and more controllable method of changing the weather. They began studying lasers for their use as a way of monitoring changes in the air and detecting aerosols high in the atmosphere.

Experiments using varying pulses of near infra-red laser light and ultraviolet lasers have, however, shown that they cause water to condense. They have subsequently found the lasers induce tiny ice crystals to form, which are a crucial step in the formation of clouds and eventual rainfall.

In new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Professor Wolf said the laser beams create plasma channels in the air that caused ice to form.

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This cement alternative absorbs CO2 like a sponge

This cement alternative absorbs CO2 like a sponge | Amazing Science |
Cement has been called the foundation of modern civilization, the stuff of highways, bridges, sidewalks and buildings of all sizes. But its production comes with a huge carbon footprint. Environmental chemist David Stone was seeking a way to keep iron from rusting when he stumbled upon a possible substitute that requires significantly less energy. Special correspondent Kathleen McCleery reports.
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Global Warming: Western Canada going to lose 70 percent of its glaciers by 2100

Global Warming: Western Canada going to lose 70 percent of its glaciers by 2100 | Amazing Science |

Seventy per cent of glacier ice in British Columbia and Alberta could disappear by the end of the 21st century, creating major problems for local ecosystems, power supplies, and water quality, according to a new study by UBC researchers. The study found that while warming temperatures are threatening glaciers in Western Canada, not all glaciers are retreating at the same rate. The Rocky Mountains, in the drier interior, could lose up to 90 per cent of its glaciers. The wetter coastal mountains in northwestern B.C. are only expected to lose about half of their glacier volume.

“Most of our ice holdouts at the end of the century will be in the northwest corner of the province,” said Garry Clarke, professor emeritus in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences. “Soon our mountains could look like those in Colorado or California and you don’t see much ice in those landscapes.”

For the study, researchers used observational data, computer models and climate simulations to forecast the fate of individual glaciers.

There are over 17,000 glaciers in B.C. and Alberta and they play an important role in energy production through hydroelectric power. The glaciers also contribute to the water supply, agriculture and tourism. Clarke says while these issues are a concern, increased precipitation due to climate change could help compensate for glacier loss. The greatest impact, he suspects, will be on freshwater ecosystems. During the late summer, glacier melt provides cool, plentiful water to many of the region’s headwaters.

“These glaciers act as a thermostat for freshwater ecosystems,” said Clarke. “Once the glaciers are gone, the streams will be a lot warmer and this will hugely change fresh water habitat. We could see some unpleasant surprises in terms of salmon productivity.”
Aleena Reyes's curator insight, April 8, 7:49 PM

I hope Canadians care about environmental issues more than Americans do. Americans tend to have an "out of sight, out of mind" attitude towards issues we deem are far away even though Canada is our neighbor. The glaciers will have a huge impact on the ecosystem and energy power once they melt. I fear that it is too late to help ourselves with these.

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Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.

Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S. | Amazing Science |
Droughts appear to be intensifying over much of the West and Southwest as a result of global warming. Over the past decade, droughts in some regions have rivaled the epic dry spells of the 1930s and 1950s. About 37 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least a moderate drought as of March 31, 2015.

Things have been particularly bad in California, which has just imposed its first mandatory water restrictions, the latest in a series of drastic measures to reduce water consumption. California farmers, without water from reservoirs in the Central Valley, are left to choose which of their crops to water. Parts of Texas, Oklahoma and surrounding states are also suffering from drought conditions.

The relationship between the climate and droughts is complicated. Parts of the country are becoming wetter: East of the Mississippi, rainfall has been rising. But global warming also appears to be causing moisture to evaporate faster in places that were already dry. Researchers believe drought conditions in these places are likely to intensify in coming years.

There has been little relief for some places since the summer of 2012. At the recent peak last May, about 40 percent of the country was abnormally dry or in at least a moderate drought.

The patterns above come from the Drought Monitor, which has data going back to 2000. A different measure, the Palmer Index, goes back more than a hundred years. It does lag the Drought Monitor data by more than a month, so it’s less useful for measuring what’s happening right now. But the Palmer Index shows how unusual the current period is. A 10-year average of Palmer values has been increasing for most of the last 20 years, which is to say that the country is in the midst of one of its most sustained periods of increasing drought on record.
LEONARDO WILD's curator insight, April 5, 9:03 AM

Climate change is all about the "Pendulum Effect," where the extremes is what matters, not so much the median or average. The average may fluctuate some, but the real problem comes when the weather goes haywire. Too much water can be as destructive as too little water, and this doesn't only happen in time but in space as well, where regions get too much of one and too little of the other. We'll see strips of drought and strips of wetness, strips of cold and strips of heat, like bands across regions and across the planet.

Michele Lally's curator insight, April 5, 6:05 PM

I would appreciate and will participate in step-by-step efforts individuals should actively do to help publish and ameliorate this crisis.

Julie Nordskog Andrews's curator insight, May 20, 11:40 AM

Drought map. Find this!

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Plastics with additives meant to promote biodegradation don’t decompose any faster than those without them

Plastics with additives meant to promote biodegradation don’t decompose any faster than those without them | Amazing Science |

Plastics, such as the low-density polyethylene (LDPE) used to make bags and the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) found in water bottles, can remain intact for years in a landfill. So some plastics manufacturers include additives designed to help the long polymers in the plastics disintegrate faster. Transition-metal salts called oxo-degradable additives catalyze the oxidation of the polymer chains in the presence of oxygen and ultraviolet light or heat. Other types of additives claim to increase biodegradation through different mechanisms.

Some manufacturers assert that once polymer chains are fragmented in this way, microbes can then eat them. But previous studies have cast doubt on this claim: For example, many oxo-degradable plastics do not pass a common composting certification test known as ASTM-D6400, which requires 60% of the material to be converted into carbon dioxide in 180 days. Researchers Susan Selke and Rafael Auras of the School of Packaging at Michigan State University wanted to design a rigorous field study to determine whether the materials perform as promised.

So they and their colleagues prepared films of an LDPE blend used to make bread, supermarket and trash bags, and PET sheets, like those used to make plastic water bottles, with three different additives supplied by their manufacturers. These were an oxo-degradable additive made by Symphony; a non-oxo-degradable one made by Ecologic; and Wells Plastics’ Reverte, which was originally described by the manufacturer as a combination of the two types of additives. The researchers exposed the oxo-degradable plastics to UV light at 0.80 W/m2 for about six days, the equivalent of about two months of outdoor exposure in Miami. They then treated all of the samples to mimic disposal of such plastics in a compost pile, a landfill, and soil.

By measuring the carbon dioxide and methane that evolved from the plastics in closed containers simulating composting and landfilling, the researchers could determine whether microbes had digested the materials. After about six months of composting and a year and a half of landfill-like conditions, samples that included plastics with additives did not produce significantly more methane and CO2 than the samples of plastics without them. At the end of the experiment, the team checked that microbes in the landfill simulation were still alive: When the researchers fed the microbes starch, the microbes produced gases as expected. After three years of soil burial, the plastic samples with additives did not show any greater physical degradation than samples without them.

Auras says, “We saw no evidence that these additives promote significant biodegradation in these tested environments.”

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Solar could meet California energy demand three to five times over around existing infrastructure

Solar could meet California energy demand three to five times over around existing infrastructure | Amazing Science |

Carnegie Science researchers have found that the amount of energy that could be generated from solar equipment constructed on and around existing infrastructure in California would exceed the state’s demand by up to five times.

“Integrating solar facilities into the urban and suburban environment causes the least amount of land-cover change and the lowest environmental impact,” according to Carnegie’s Rebecca R. Hernandez (now at University of California Berkley).

The team found that just over 8 percent of all of the terrestrial surfaces in California have been developed by humans, from cities and buildings to park spaces. Residential and commercial rooftops present plenty of opportunity for power generation through small- and utility-scale solar power installations, the team said. Other compatible opportunities are available in open urban spaces such as parks.

California has about 6.7 million acres (27, 286 square kilometers) of land that is compatible for photovoltaic solar construction and about 1.6 million acres (6,274 square kilometers) compatible for concentrating solar power. There is also an additional 13.8 million acres (55,733 square kilometers) that is potentially compatible for photovoltaic solar energy development with minimal environmental impact and 6.7 million acres (27,215 square kilometers) also potentially compatible for concentrating solar power development.

“Because of the value of locating solar power-generating operations near roads and existing transmission lines, our tool identifies potentially compatible sites that are not remote, showing that installations do not necessarily have to be located in deserts,” Hernandez said.

This study, published by Nature Climate Change, included two kinds of solar technologies: photovoltaics, which use semiconductors and are similar to the solar panels found in consumer electronics, and concentrating solar power, which uses enormous curved mirrors to focus the sun’s rays.

A mix of both options would be possible, the researchers suggest. They found that small- and utility-scale solar power could generate up to 15,000 terawatt-hours of energy per year using photovoltaic technology and 6,000 terawatt-hours of energy per year using concentrating solar power technology.

“As California works to meet requirements that 33 percent of retail electricity be provided by renewable sources by 2020 and that greenhouse-gas emissions be 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, our research can help policymakers, developers, and energy stakeholders make informed decisions,” said Chris Field, director of Carnegie’s Department of Global Ecology. “Furthermore, our findings have implications for other states and countries with similarly precious environmental resources and infrastructural constraints.”

Lauren Quincy's curator insight, March 20, 12:05 AM

Unit 4: Political Organization of Space 


This article is about California working on policies to create solar facilities integrated into urban and suburban environments. Doing this would have little environmental footprint and could create as much as 5 times more energy needed for the state. This transition to solar energy could help cut emissions by 80% by 2050. Studies include two kinds of solar technologies. Photovoltaics, which use semiconductors and are similar to the solar panels found in consumer electronics, and concentrating solar power, which uses enormous curved mirrors to focus the sun’s rays. Using these, California can use solar energy to provide environmentally friendly energy. 

This relates to unit 4 because it deals with political policies and their environmental footprint. The government is working toward creating a solution to help reduce green house gasses and lesses the environmental footprint. They are working to employ many solar panels in urban and suburban areas near roads and existing transmission lines. 

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Food in Fukushima is Safe, but Fear Remains

Food in Fukushima is Safe, but Fear Remains | Amazing Science |

Sae Ochi is the director of internal medicine at Soma Central Hospital, just 30 miles from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant that melted down after a tsunami in 2011. Part of her job is to monitor local radiation exposure levels. She has screened thousands of people, and only a few showed levels high enough for her most sensitive instruments to detect.

She eats locally grown food sold at the supermarket and even the occasional wild berry, which probably does contain a bit of radiation. “When I go hiking, I will eat a berry or two, because it’s only a tiny amount and it looks so delicious,” Ochi says. But then she adds a caveat: “That’s because I have no children.” If Ochi were a parent, she says, she wouldn’t do it—even though she knows local radiation levels are negligible. “All mothers,” she says, “try to take zero risks.”

Researchers have accumulated and analyzed reams of data about food from Fukushima and the Pacific Ocean. A protective system stopped even potentially contaminated food from getting to the public. Extensive decontamination, monitoring, and regulations have made food from around Fukushima perfectly safe. Yet fear persists.

Between 2011 and 2014, an ambitious government program checked the radiation levels of nearly every kind of food produced in Fukushima. The program sampled milk at dairy centers once every two weeks, and tested fruits, vegetables, and tea leaves at their farms of origin, three days before they were scheduled to ship. In total, the program took nearly 900,000 samples. “When I saw this number, I was stunned,” says Georg Steinhauser, a chemist at Colorado State University. “This hasn’t been done in the history of mankind.” Steinhauser was the first researcher to dive into the mounds of data to try to figure out how radiation levels changed over time. His team focused on one leading indicator: cesium 137, one of the longest-lived radioactive byproducts of a meltdown. They dug into nearly 140,000 samples from the first year of the monitoring program.

For the vast majority of the samples, radiation levels were below Japan’s limits, the strictest in the world. The government’s standards limited radiation levels in food to just one-sixth the levels permissible in food imported to Europe, for example—and to just 1/100,000 the levels produced by naturally occurring radioactive isotopes in a human being. Steinhauser’s team found that just a year after the Fukushima meltdown, radiation in only 3.3 percent of the food exceeded Japan’s limits. The numbers rose to 4.0 percent in the second year, but eventually dropped to 0.6 percent by the end of August 2014. The food, it appears, is getting safer over time. Virtually no item above Japan’s limit—no piece of fruit, meat, or anything else—got into any supermarket.

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Current bird flu in China could become ‘pandemic’ threat to humans, researchers say

Current bird flu in China could become ‘pandemic’ threat to humans, researchers say | Amazing Science |

The virus causing a second wave of bird flu across China has mutated frequently and "should be considered as a major candidate to emerge as a pandemic strain in humans," researchers reported Wednesday.

While it is much too early to predict whether that might happen, one of the scientists said in an interview, there is cause for alarm because the H7N9 virus jumps to humans more quickly than its predecessors and previously has been found in mammals.

"This virus is more dangerous," said Yi Guan of the University of Hong Kong, one of the authors of a research letter published online Wednesday in the journal Nature.

It's not clear why the outbreak, which began in late 2013, has re-emerged after fading. But by September 2014, it had infected 318 people and killed more than 100 of them, twice as many as the first wave, the scientists reported. Many people suffer severe pneumonia if infected by this flu, which also has spread to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Canada, according to the World Health Organization.

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The Rise and Fall of the World's Nuclear Arsenal Over 70 Years

The Rise and Fall of the World's Nuclear Arsenal Over 70 Years | Amazing Science |

Since 1987, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been counting up each country's nuclear arsenal in its Nuclear Notebook, peeling back the veil of secrecy that often surrounds these numbers. The Bulletin has now gone and made its Nuclear Notebook into a neat interactive graphic.

There are nine nuclear states: the U.S., Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. The 70 years worth of data isn't necessarily surprising, but it really drives home how the world's nuclear arsenal is completely dominated by the U.S. and Russia. The other countries barely register as a blip. The full interactive graphic lets you sift through the data country by country and year by year. Check it out at the Bulletin's website.

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Strong Link Between California Drought & Climate Change Revealed Today

Strong Link Between California Drought & Climate Change Revealed Today | Amazing Science |

Rain and snow have graced the West recently, causing many residents to breathe a sigh of relief about possible easing of the severe drought conditions that have worsened there over the past three-plus years. Complacency about drought and climate change is not warranted, say Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh and his research team from Stanford.

In “Anthropogenic warming has increased drought risk in California,” an article just published online today by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Diffenbaugh and colleagues reveal proof of a somewhat counterintuitive hypothesis: higher temperatures, not necessarily precipitation shortages, drive the phenomenon of drought.

Diffenbaugh heads the Climate and Earth System Dynamics research group in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences at Stanford, where he’s an associate professor and a senior fellow in the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. He was behind last September’s conclusions that climate change is occurring 10 times faster now than at any time in the past 65 million years. He has also said that at its current pace, climate change will involve a 5- to 6-degree Celsius rise by 2100.

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The Siberian crater saga is more widespread — and scarier — than anyone thought

The Siberian crater saga is more widespread — and scarier — than anyone thought | Amazing Science |

At the end of last summer came news of a bizarre occurrence no one could explain. It was a massive crater that just one day showed up. Early estimates placed it at nearly 100 feet in diameter, nestled deep in Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula, a place called “the ends of the Earth.”

The mystery deepened. The Siberian crater wasn’t alone. There were two more, ratcheting up the tension in a drama that hit its climax as a probable explanation surfaced. Global warming had thawed the permafrost, which had caused methane trapped inside the icy ground to explode. “Gas pressure increased until it was high enough to push away the overlaying layers in a powerful injection, forming the crater,” one German scientist said at the time.

Now, however, researchers fear there are more craters than anyone knew — and the repercussions could be huge. Russian scientists have now spotted a total of seven craters, five of which are in the Yamal Peninsula. Two of those holes have since turned into lakes. And one giant crater is rimmed by a ring of at least 20 mini-craters, the Siberian Times reported. Dozens more Siberian craters are likely still out there, said Moscow scientist Vasily Bogoyavlensky of the Oil and Gas Research Institute, calling for an “urgent” investigation.

He fears that if temperatures continue to rise — and they were five degrees higher than average in 2012 and 2013 — more craters will emerge in an area awash in gas fields vital to the national economy. “It is important not to scare people, but to understand that it is a very serious problem and we must research this,” he told the Siberian Times. “… We must research this phenomenon urgently, to prevent possible disasters.”

One potential disaster relates to the explosions themselves. No one has been hurt in any of the blasts, but given the size of some of the craters, it’s fair to say the methane bursts are huge. Researchers are nervous about even studying them. Who knows when a methane geyser will shoot off again?

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Extinctions to accelerate as planet warms

Extinctions to accelerate as planet warms | Amazing Science |

One in six species on the planet will face extinction due to the effects of climate change, according to a US study. And Australia, New Zealand and South America will face an even higher rate of species extinction due to the number of endemic species.

The study published recently in Science shows the rate of biodiversity loss isn't just increasing with the changing climate it's accelerating. Author Associate Professor Mark Urban, from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut, says at a two degree Celsius rise in temperature compared to the pre-industrial era, global extinction risk would rise from 2.8 per cent to 5.2 per cent. However he says most experts now agree this temperature increase projection is under-estimated.

If humans follow our current, business- as-usual trajectory a temperature rise of 4.3 degrees Celsius is now predicted, says Urban. This would lead to the loss of one in six species. For the study Urban compared the results of 131 different biodiversity studies.

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Horribly bleak study sees ‘empty landscape’ as large herbivores vanish at startling rate

Horribly bleak study sees ‘empty landscape’ as large herbivores vanish at startling rate | Amazing Science |

They never ate anybody — but now, some of planet Earth’s innocent vegetarians face end times. Large herbivores — elephants, hippos, rhinos and gorillas among them — are vanishing from the globe at a startling rate, with some 60 percent threatened with extinction, a team of scientists reports. The situation is so dire, according to a new study, that it threatens an “empty landscape” in some ecosystems “across much of the planet Earth.” The authors were clear: This is a big problem — and it’s a problem with us, not them.

“Growing human populations, unsustainable hunting, high densities of livestock, and habitat loss have devastating consequences for large, long-lived, slow-breeding, and, therefore, vulnerable herbivore species,” reads “Collapse of the world’s largest herbivores” in Science Advances, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As if humanity’s bottomless appetite for land and meat weren’t enough, organized crime and the endless hunt for body parts from elephants and rhinos is also a major factor in Africa and southern Asia, the study said. Between 2002 and 2011 alone, the number of forest elephants in central Africa declined by 62 percent. Some 100,000 African elephants were poached between 2010 and 2012. And the western black rhinoceros in Africa was declared extinct in 2011.

“This slaughter is driven by the high retail price of rhinoceros horn, which exceeds, per unit weight, that of gold, diamonds, or cocaine,” according to the study. This slaughter and its consequences are not modest, the article said. In fact, the rate of decline is such that “ever-larger swaths of the world will soon lack many of the vital ecological services these animals provide, resulting in enormous ecological and social costs.”

Herbivores, it turns out, don’t just idle about munching on various green things. They play a vital role as “ecosystem engineers,” the paper said — expanding grasslands for plant species, dispersing seeds in manure, and, in the ultimate sacrifice, providing food for predators.

Diane Johnson's curator insight, May 6, 7:35 AM

Connections to ESS human impact

Lorraine Chaffer's curator insight, June 1, 2:04 AM

Australian curriculum

The human causes and effects of landscape degradation (ACHGK051)

GeoWorld 8

Chapter 1: Distinctive landform features: values and protection

Chapter 2: Diversity of landscapes

Chapter 5: Humans value, change and protect landscapes

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3-D human skin map shows relationship between skin, chemicals, microbes and environment

3-D human skin map shows relationship between skin, chemicals, microbes and environment | Amazing Science |

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences used information collected from hundreds of skin swabs to produce three-dimensional maps of molecular and microbial variations across the body. These maps provide a baseline for future studies of the interplay between the molecules that make up our skin, the microbes that live on us, our personal hygiene routines and other environmental factors. The study, published March 30 by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may help further our understanding of the skin's role in human health and disease.

"This is the first study of its kind to characterize the surface distribution of skin molecules and pair that data withmicrobial diversity," said senior author Pieter Dorrestein, PhD, professor of pharmacology in the UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy. "Previous studies were limited to select areas of the skin, rather than the whole body, and examined skin chemistry and microbial populations separately."

To sample human skin nearly in its entirety, Dorrestein and team swabbed 400 different body sites of two healthy adult volunteers, one male and one female, who had not bathed, shampooed or moisturized for three days. They used a technique called mass spectrometry to determine the molecular and chemical composition of the samples. They also sequenced microbial DNA in the samples to identify the bacterial species present and map their locations across the body. The team then used MATLAB software to construct 3D models that illustrated the data for each sampling spot.

Despite the three-day moratorium on personal hygiene products, the most abundant molecular features in the skin swabs still came from hygiene and beauty products, such as sunscreen. According to the researchers, this finding suggests that 3D skin maps may be able to detect both current and past behaviors and environmental exposures. The study also demonstrates that human skin is not just made up of molecules derived from human or bacterial cells. Rather, the external environment, such as plastics found in clothing, diet, hygiene and beauty products, also contribute to the skin's chemical composition.

The maps now allow these factors to be taken into account and correlated with local microbial communities.
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Record sea-surface temperatures in Pacific point to record warmth in 2015 and 2016

Record sea-surface temperatures in Pacific point to record warmth in 2015 and 2016 | Amazing Science |
Sea temperatures around Australia are posting "amazing" records that climate specialists say signal global records set in 2014 may be broken this year and next.

March sea-surface temperatures in the Coral Sea region off Queensland broke the previous high by 0.12 degrees – a big jump for oceans that are typically more thermally stable than land. Temperatures for the entire Australian ocean region also set new highs for the month, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

For the Coral Sea region – which includes the entire Great Barrier Reef and stretches from Cape York almost as far south as Brisbane – sea-surface temperatures from January to March were 0.73 degrees above average at 29.16 degrees, making it the warmest three-month period on record, the bureau said. The unusual warmth off Australia comes as the Pacific Ocean remains primed for an El Nino event, as the bureau reported last month.

If such an event occurs, the underlying warming from climate change will get a further boost from natural variability, making 2014's ranking as the hottest year on records going back to the 1880s likely to be short-lived, according to Andy Pitman, head of climate research at the University of NSW. "If we do get an intense El Nino, it will blitz the records," Professor Pitman said. "The climate is on a performance-enhancing drug and that drug is carbon dioxide."

A warm 2015 is very likely, particularly given the El Nino-like conditions in the Pacific, which will provide a significant backdrop to climate change negotiations for a new international treaty in Paris late this year, Professor Pitman said. "If governments turn up in Paris after a series of major climate events, the foundation of their discussions...would be somewhat different than if they turned up in a period of benign climate," he said.

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Fukushima radiation has reached North American shores

Fukushima radiation has reached North American shores | Amazing Science |

Seaborne radiation from Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster has reached North America. Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution detected small amounts of cesium-134 and cesium-137 in a sample of seawater taken in February from a dock on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

It's the first time radioactivity from the March 2011 triple meltdown has been identified on West Coast shores. Woods Hole chemical oceanographer Ken Buesseler emphasized that the radiation is at very low levels that aren't expected to harm human health or the environment.

"Even if the levels were twice as high, you could still swim in the ocean for six hours every day for a year and receive a dose more than a thousand times less than a single dental X-ray," Buesseler said. "While that's not zero, that's a very low risk."

Massive amounts of contaminated water were released from the crippled nuclear plant following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami. More radiation was released to the air, then fell to the sea. Frustrated by the absence of monitoring by U.S. federal agencies, Buesseler last year launched a crowd-funded, citizen-science seawater sampling project.

He's tracked the radiation plume across 5,000 miles of the Pacific Ocean, using highly sensitive, expensive equipment at his Cape Cod, Massachusetts, laboratory. There, he analyzes samples sent to him by West Coast volunteers and scientists aboard research cruises. In October, he reported that a sample taken about 745 miles west of Vancouver, British Columbia, tested positive for cesium-134, the so-called fingerprint of Fukushima because it can only have come from that plant. It also showed higher-than-background levels of cesium-137, another Fukushima isotope that already is present in the world's oceans because of nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Detection of Pathogens and Novel Viruses Carried by New York City Rats

Detection of Pathogens and Novel Viruses Carried by New York City Rats | Amazing Science |

No one was under the illusion that New York’s rats were clean creatures, but a study published this week in mBio found dozens of viruses that have never been described by science, some of which may be potentially harmful to humans. “While a subset of the agents we identified are known to cause disease in humans, many more are novel viruses whose zoonotic potential cannot be inferred from available data,” Cadhla Firth, the lead researcher of the team from Columbia University, wrote. “It is therefore possible that human infection with some of the agents identified here may already be occurring, and the risk of future zoonotic transmission should not be disregarded.”

Beyond that, the researchers found many, many pathogens that are well known and are very bad for people, pets, and sometimes even zebras. So, in an attempt to scare the bejesus out of everyone, I quickly analyzed the 32 species of clinically important microbes that were identified. 

Noah Harris's comment, September 3, 9:27 PM
like not trying to piggyback off of James but i completely agree with him but i would like to know how are they useful in big city's cause if we really dont need them and if we dont then why do we keep them
Breanna Daniels's comment, September 23, 5:50 PM
I honestly think that this is really bad. If the rats carry germs then it could kill a lot of people. It could spread and you never know if it could turn into a pandemic. I honestly think if we keep the streets clean it would make the world a whole lot better. Not saying it would kill all of the diseases but it would help preveNY Some Of Them. It would make it cleaner
Breanna Daniels's comment, September 23, 5:50 PM
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Amazon’s carbon uptake declines as trees die faster

Amazon’s carbon uptake declines as trees die faster | Amazing Science |

The most extensive land-based study of the Amazon to date reveals it is losing its capacity to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

The results of this monumental 30-year survey of the South American rainforest, which involved an international team of almost 100 researchers, are published in the journal Nature.

Over recent decades the Amazon forest has acted as a vast ‘carbon sink’ – absorbing more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases – helping to put a brake on the rate of climate change. But a new analysis of forest dynamics shows a huge surge in the rate of trees dying across the Amazon.

Lead author Dr Roel Brienen, from the School of Geography at the University of Leeds, said: “Tree mortality rates have increased by more than a third since the mid-1980s, and this is affecting the Amazon’s capacity to store carbon.”

Dr Ted Feldpausch, co-author and researcher in Geography at the University of Exeter, said, “We measured an increase in growth rates, with this increase representing a rise in the capacity of forests to accumulate carbon in trees. However, over time, the growth rate increases that we have observed for Amazonian forests over the last few decades have begun to level off. The results raise many questions about environmental drivers of this change.”

Initially, an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – a key ingredient for photosynthesis – led to a growth spurt for the Amazon’s trees, the researchers say. But the extra carbon appears to have had unexpected consequences.

Study co-author Professor Oliver Phillips, from the University of Leeds said: “With time, the growth stimulation feeds through the system, causing trees to live faster, and so die younger.” Recent droughts and unusually high temperatures in the Amazon may also be playing a role. Although the study finds that tree mortality increases began well before an intense drought in 2005, it also shows that drought has killed millions of additional trees. 

The Nature paper shows how the Amazon’s carbon sink has declined as tree death accelerated.  From a peak of two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year in the 1990s, the net uptake by the forest has weakened by a half, and is now, for the first time, being overtaken by fossil fuel emissions in Latin America.

Dr Brienen said: “Regardless of the causes behind the increase in tree mortality, this study shows that predictions of a continuing increase of carbon storage in tropical forests may be too optimistic.

“Climate change models that include vegetation responses assume that as long as carbon dioxide levels keep increasing, then the Amazon will continue to accumulate carbon. Our study shows that this may not be the case and that tree mortality processes are critical in this system.”

The study involved almost 100 scientists, many working for decades across eight countries in South America. The work was coordinated by RAINFOR, a unique research network dedicated to monitoring the Amazonian forests.

andrew desrochers's curator insight, May 5, 3:01 PM

due to the deforestation of the amazon forests,  carbon dioxide from factories and cars is accumulating. How can this overload of global warming causing co2 be stopped by the native peoples?


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Humans Killed Nearly 3 Million Whales In The Past Century, Study Shows

Whalers killed at least 2.8 million whales in the 20th century, worldwide, according to a new study. The figures are much higher than prior estimates and, for the first time, include accurate whaling numbers from the former Soviet Union.

Humans have been hunting whales for centuries, felling the 20-ton behemoths for their oil, blubber, bones and meat. But scientists believe that 20th century whaling wiped out 90 percent of all blue whales, and decimated countless other whale populations. Some species, such as the minke whale, appear to have recovered; others, like humpback and blue whales, remain close to extinction.

“Ultimately whaling was not a sustainable industry,” says Robert C. Rocha, educator at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts and coauthor on the paper. Even as whale populations plummeted, Rocha says, whalers continued to kill with impunity, blind to even the economic consequences of their overhunting. “It’s a good lesson in how not to run a business.”

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Arctic sea ice closes in on record low for the winter

Arctic sea ice closes in on record low for the winter | Amazing Science |

In another sign of how swiftly global warming is reshaping the Arctic, it is likely that scientists will declare a record low annual maximum sea ice extent as early as Thursday. This means that the sea ice cover, which has been in a steep decline in recent decades, built up to a record low level this winter.

The winter sea ice extent maximum usually occurs in March, but based on a recent decline in sea ice since the start of the month, as well as ocean temperatures in areas that currently lack sea ice cover, scientists are likely to declare that the maximum actually occurred on or about February 25.

"Previous years have seen a surge in Arctic ice extent during March (e.g., in 2012, 2014). However, if the current pattern of below-average extent continues, Arctic sea ice extent may set a new lowest winter maximum," the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, which tracks sea and land ice, stated on its website on March 4.

new study published in the journal Cryosphere found that Arctic sea ice has thinned out more significantly than previously reported, suggesting that the odds favor more record low summer melt seasons. The study, published in early March, found a 65% decline in sea ice thickness between 1975 and 2012.

"That's a more important factor than the total extent," Stroeve said. Global warming has set off a positive feedback loop in the Arctic by melting sea ice via milder air and water temperatures, which exposes darker ocean waters to solar radiation, thereby allowing it to absorb more heat and then melt more sea ice.

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NOAA Announces Arrival Of El Niño, 2015 Poised To Beat 2014 For Hottest Year Ever Recorded

NOAA Announces Arrival Of El Niño, 2015 Poised To Beat 2014 For Hottest Year Ever Recorded | Amazing Science |

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced that the long-awaited El Niño has arrived. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center says we now have “borderline, weak El Niño conditions,” and there is a “50-60% chance that El Niño conditions will continue” through the summer.

An El Niño is “characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific,” as NOAA has explained. That contrasts with the unusually cold temps in the Equatorial Pacific during a La Niña. Both are associated with extreme weather around the globe (though a weak El Niño like this will tend to have a muted effect). El Niños tend to set the record for the hottest years, since the regional warming adds to the underlying global warming trend. La Niña years tend to be below the global warming trend line.

If even a weak El Niño does persist through summer, 2015 will almost certainly top 2014 as the hottest year on record. But there is a good chance it will do so in any case (unless a La Niña forms). After all, 2014 was the hottest year on record even though there was no official El Niño during the year. It’s just hard to stop the march of human-caused global warming — without actually sharply cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Significantly, because 1998 was an unusually strong “super El Niño,” and because we haven’t had an El Niño since 2010, it appeared for a while (to some) as if global warming had slowed — if you cherry-picked a relatively recent start year (and ignored the rapid warming in the oceans, where 90 percent of human-caused planetary warming goes). In fact, however, several recent studies confirmed that planetary warming continues apace everywhere you look.

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Greenhouse Effect: Here’s why gas really costs Americans $6.25 a gallon

Greenhouse Effect: Here’s why gas really costs Americans $6.25 a gallon | Amazing Science |

It’s almost April 15, and you may be worrying about how much taxes will hurt this year. But a new study published today suggests there’s a whole world of economic losses in the air around us that few of us know anything about.

The study, published in the journal Climatic Change, is the first to pull together a proper accounting of the hidden costs of greenhouse gas emissions. It shows the true (and much higher) cost that we pay in dollars at the pump and light switch—or in human lives at the emergency room.

Drew Shindell, a professor at Duke University, has attempted to play CPA to our industrialized emitting world. He has tabulated what he calls “climate damages” for a whole range of greenhouse gases like CO2, aerosols, and methane—and more persistent ones like nitrous oxides.
If these damages are added in like the gas tax, a gallon of regular in the United States would really cost $6.25. The price of diesel would be a whopping $7.72 a gallon.

Shindell also estimated the yearly damages from power plants in the U.S. Using coal costs us the most, with climate damages adding an almost 30 cents per kilowatt hour to the current price of 10 cents we now pay. The gas-fired power price rises to 17 cents from 7 cents per kilowatt hour.

For the average homeowner who uses natural gas, your real bill after climate damages is double. And for those of us who get their electricity from coal-fired power plants, our energy bills are really four times what we see in our monthly statements.

Shindell calculates the total yearly emissions price tag—between transportation, electricity, and industrial combustion—at between $330-970 billion. That wide spread depends on the choice of a discount rate, which reflects the relative value of money over the years and decades of climate change to come.

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Air pollution in India reduces life expectancy of over half of India's population by more than 3 years

Air pollution in India reduces life expectancy of over half of India's population by more than 3 years | Amazing Science |

India’s air pollution, ranked among the world’s worst, is reducing the life expectancy of over half of the country’s population by more than three years, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Chicago, Harvard and Yale wrote in this month’s Economic & Political Weekly that more than 660 million Indians live in areas where fine-particulate matter pollution exceeds levels considered safe by Indian standards. If India reverses this trend to meet standards, those 660 million people would gain about 3.2 years onto their lives—saving a total of 2.1 billion life-years.

“India’s focus is necessarily on growth. However for too long, the conventional definition of growth has ignored the health consequences of air pollution,” said Michael Greenstone, an author of the study and director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. “This study demonstrates that air pollution retards growth by causing people to die prematurely. Other studies have also shown that air pollution reduces productivity at work, increases the incidence of sick days and raises health care expenses that could be devoted to other goods.”

The new figures come after World Health Organization estimates showed 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world were in India, including the worst-ranked city, Delhi. India has the highest rate of death caused by chronic respiratory diseases anywhere in the world.

Rohini Pande, a study co-author and director of Evidence for Policy Design at the Harvard Kennedy School, said, “The loss of more than two billion life years is a substantial price to pay for air pollution. It is in India’s power to change this in cost-effective ways that allow hundreds of millions of its citizens to live longer, healthier and more productive lives. Reforms of the current form of regulation would allow for health improvements that lead to increased growth.”

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