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Better use of world’s existing cropland could feed 3 billion more people, study shows

Better use of world’s existing cropland could feed 3 billion more people, study shows | Amazing Science |

Research reveals large increases in population expected in the next three decades need not result in widespread hunger.

The world’s existing cropland could feed at least 3 billion extra people if it were used more efficiently, a new study has found, showing that the large increases in population expected in the next three decades need not result in widespread hunger.

More than half of the fertiliser currently poured on to crops in many countries is wasted, according to the study. About 60% of the nitrogen applied to crops worldwide is not needed, as well as about half of the phosphorus, an element whose readily available sources are dwindling.

Cutting waste even by modest amounts would also feed millions, the authors found: between one-third and a half of the viable crops and food produced from them around the world are wasted, in the developing world usually because of a lack of infrastructure such as refrigerated transport, and in the rich world because of wasteful habits.

The study, published in the peer-review journal Science and led by scientists at the University of Minnesota in the US, suggested that a focus on staple crops such as wheat and rice in key countries, including China, India, the US, Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan and Europe, would pay off in terms of producing more food for the world’s growing population. Most forecasts are that the world will number more than 9 billion people by 2050, up from about 7 billion people today.

Looking after water could also yield vast dividends, the report found: if the water used for irrigation was pinpointed more efficiently to where it is needed, then much more could be grown, but currently much of it is sprayed uselessly over crops. Between 8% and 15% of the water currently used could be saved, the study suggested.

But the research also found that at least 4 billion people could be fed with the crops we currently devote to fattening livestock, fuelling the argument that the over-reliance on meat in the west and among the growing middle classes in the developing world is an increasing problem when it comes to feeding the world.

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A study says heat-related deaths in Europe could reach 200,000 a year with a 3.5˚C temperature rise

A study says heat-related deaths in Europe could reach 200,000 a year with a 3.5˚C temperature rise | Amazing Science |

The costliest impact of climate change in Europe this century is likely to be on human health – and in particular heat-related deaths – according to a new economic assessment by the EU Joint Research Centre, the European Commission’s in-house science service.

The study looks at the impact of a 3.5˚C rise in global average temperature from pre-industrial levels – an increase expected if no concerted international action is taken. The official target is to limit the rise to 2˚C by cutting greenhouse gasses.

Heat-related deaths in Europe could reach 200,000 a year with a 3.5˚C temperature rise, according to the study. The economic cost of premature mortality caused by global warming is estimated at €120bn a year. This exceeds the impact on coastal infrastructure (€42bn) and agriculture (€18bn).

The total cost to Europe of unrestrained global warming is put at €200bn a year, though the JRC researchers warn that this figure considerably underestimates the dangers.
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Global Warming: Failing To Control Earth’s CO2

Global Warming: Failing To Control Earth’s CO2 | Amazing Science |

The whole world gathered in Copenhagen recently for the XV COP for Climatic Changes. On the agenda was how to cope with the rise in CO2 emissions, which, in addition to ocean acidification, could elevate the ocean level as much as 60 cm by the end of the century.

This will jeopardize those living on islands and along shorelines – it’s estimated 100 million people may be menaced. In fact, humans are pumping 7 Gt of COin the atmosphere yearly. The level of COin the atmosphere today is around 370 ppm – according to specialists, it needs to remain below 420 ppm through the end of this century to keep global warming below 2oC. Most solutions to reduce this trend are not short-term ones. An integrated approach to carbon abatement in the automotive sector could reduce global passenger vehicle greenhouse emissions by 2.2 Gt by 2030, much of it using proven technologies. Sugarcane-based ethanol produced in Brazil on 8 million Ha can be substantially increased, but that must be done without harming the environment. The ethanol produced from 200 million tons of corn in the US will help reduce greenhouse emission by car. Together both countries supply today only a fraction of what will be needed to replace the automotive fossil fuel in years to come.

This means abatement will not come from first-generation biofuels alone, but from a combination of second generation biofuel, traffic flow shifts and a mix of several other technologies. Carbon capture and storage can handle a few million metric tons of CO2 /year, while 6 billion metric tons of coal are burned each year, producing 18 billion tons of CO2.

Brazil hopes to revert deforestation in the Amazon that in the last decades claimed an area larger than Germany, according to the National Institute of Air Space – INPE. To accomplish this, the National Plan of Climatic Changes in Brazil was presented in Copenhagen, and it included efforts to achieve reforestation by 2020. This is a costly and long-term effort.

But deforestation is not a problem of the tropical forest alone. The vegetation of other ecosystem have been drastically reduced. There is just 7% of the original vegetation of Mata Atlântica left. The “Cerrado” is being destroyed at a rate of 0.5% a year. Inadequate use of this biome, for ethanol production, for instance, could destroy the 17% remaining of the Cerrado.

So what can be done if the level of CO2 cannot be kept under control? Geo-engineering proposes simulated volcanic eruptions to reduce the planet temperature and the level of ocean rise, based uponobservations made after Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption in June 1991. The eruption injected 10 Tg S in the stratosphere which caused detectable short-term cooling of the planet. One simulated injection of SO2 as an aerosol precursor equivalent to the Mount Pinatubo eruption every two years would cool the planet and consequently keep the sea level rise below 20 cm for centuries ahead, although the (relatively less deadly) ocean acidification due to CO would persist.

I attended several discussions on this subject where most people accepted this fate, like lambs to the slaughterhouse. I proposed a strategy to desalinize sea water for irrigation or as a source of potable water where water is needed most: arid regions of developing countries. If the ocean level rises at a rate of 6 mm/year and since oceans occupy 360 x 106 million Km2, the amount of water to be desalinized is 2.16 x 1012 m3. Considering that there is at least 10% of arid regions in the planet, this amount of water corresponds to only 14 mm of rain falling in 15 million square km2.

So the amount of desalinized water from ocean rise alone may be insufficient to irrigate adequately large areas. Desalinized water could also be stored in reservoirs and underground aquifers. Potable water is scarce in many regions of the world, particularly in the Sub Sahara. Lack of good quality potable water threatens today the lives of 1.1 billion, according to UNEP worldwide, due to infections resulting from unclean drinking water. Throughout most of the world, the most common contamination of raw water sources is from human sewage and in particular human faecal pathogens and parasites. In 2006,waterborne diseases were estimated to cause 1.8 million deaths each year, while about 1.1 billion people lacked proper drinking water. Thus, it is clear that people in the developing world need to have access to good quality water in sufficient quantity, be able to purify water and distribute it.

Most desalination plants yield around 107  m3 of desalinized water annually, in recent years. Alternative technologies may be needed to allow for desalination of 2.16 x 1012 m3/year, the equivalent to 6mm of ocean rise/year. A project alone that desalinizes water from the Red Sea in Jordan has the capacity to produce 850 million m3 of desalinated water/year. That’s 10 times the yields of the recent past and the cost will be more than $10 billion but will benefit Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Under the leadership of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation of Jordan, the project may need to gather funds of close to $40 billion for its complete implementation; this is achievable if additional bidders come aboard.

The project will stand as a symbol of peace and cooperation in the Middle East. One project alone yielding 8.5 times 10 to the eight means 10,000 projects of this magnitude are needed. Ted Levin from the Natural Resources Defense Council says that more than 12,000 desalination plants already supply fresh water in 120 nations, mostly in The Middle East and Caribbean. The market for desalination according to analysts will grow substantially over the next decades.

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Dramatic decline of Caribbean coral reefs: Most corals may disappear within the next 20 years

Dramatic decline of Caribbean coral reefs: Most corals may disappear within the next 20 years | Amazing Science |

With only about one-sixth of the original coral cover left, most Caribbean coral reefs may disappear in the next 20 years, primarily due to the loss of grazers in the region, according to the latest report by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The report, Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012, is the most detailed and comprehensive study of its kind published to date – the result of the work of 90 experts over the course of three years. It contains the analysis of more than 35,000 surveys conducted at 90 Caribbean locations since 1970, including studies of corals, seaweeds, grazing sea urchins and fish.

The results show that the Caribbean corals have declined by more than 50% since the 1970s. But according to the authors, restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies, such as protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution, could help the reefs recover and make them more resilient to future climate change impacts.

“The rate at which the Caribbean corals have been declining is truly alarming,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “But this study brings some very encouraging news: the fate of Caribbean corals is not beyond our control and there are some very concrete steps that we can take to help them recover.”

Climate change has long been thought to be the main culprit in coral degradation. While it does pose a serious threat by making oceans more acidic and causing coral bleaching, the report shows that the loss of parrotfish and sea urchin – the area’s two main grazers – has, in fact, been the key driver of coral decline in the region. An unidentified disease led to a mass mortality of the sea urchin in 1983 and extreme fishing throughout the 20th century has brought the parrotfish population to the brink of extinction in some regions. The loss of these species breaks the delicate balance of coral ecosystems and allows algae, on which they feed, to smother the reefs.

Peter Phillips's curator insight, July 2, 6:27 PM

Scientists have identified the loss of grazers (parrot fish and sea urchins) as the main reason behind the decline in reef health in the Caribbean. The disruption to the reef ecosystem is now understood to be more important than climate change and ocean acidification to the resilience of coral reefs. Overfishing and a disease which affected sea urchins lead to algal growth which smothers coral. 

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Acid oceans threaten creatures that supply half the world's oxygen

Acid oceans threaten creatures that supply half the world's oxygen | Amazing Science |
Ocean acidification is turning phytoplankton toxic. Bad news for the many species - us, included - that rely on them as a principal source of food and oxygen.

What happens when phytoplankton, the (mostly) single-celled organisms that constitute the very foundation of the marine food web, turn toxic? Their toxins often concentrate in the shellfish and many other marine species (from zooplankton to baleen whales) that feed on phytoplankton. Recent trailblazing research by a team of scientists aboard the RV Melville shows that ocean acidification will dangerously alter these microscopic plants, which nourish a menagerie of sea creatures and produce up to 60 percent of the earth's oxygen.

The researchers worked in carbon saturated waters off the West Coast, a living laboratory to study the effects of chemical changes in the ocean brought on by increased atmospheric carbon dioxide. A team of scientists from NOAA's Fisheries Science Center and Pacific Marine Environmental Lab, along with teams from universities in Maine, Hawaii and Canada focused on the unique "upwelled" zones of California, Oregon and Washington. In these zones, strong winds encourage mixing, which pushes deep, centuries-old CO2 to the ocean surface. Their findings could reveal what oceans of the future will look like. The picture is not rosy.

Scientists already know that ocean acidification, the term used to describe seas soured by high concentrations of carbon, causes problems for organisms that make shells. “What we don't know is the exact effects ocean acidification will have on marine phytoplankton communities,” says Dr. Bill Cochlan, the biological oceanographer from San Francisco State University oceanographer who was the project’s lead investigator. “Our hypothesis is that ocean acidification will affect the quantity and quality of certain metabolities within the phytoplankton, specifically lipids and essential fatty acids.”

M. Philip Oliver's curator insight, June 24, 5:41 PM

Thanks Dr. Stefan

Scott Baker's curator insight, June 25, 10:00 AM

will fertilization help?

Diane Johnson's curator insight, June 25, 12:12 PM

Understanding systems and interdependence is just so critical!

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The parched planet: Nearly 800 million people lack access to safe drinking water and 2.5 Billion have no proper sanitation

The parched planet: Nearly 800 million people lack access to safe drinking water and 2.5 Billion have no proper sanitation | Amazing Science |
Researchers are exploring unconventional sources of fresh water to quench the globe's growing thirst.

In an effort to combat his country's long-standing water crisis, Iran's president took to Twitter last year. “We need plan to save water in agriculture, prevent excessive tap water use, protect underground sources of water and prevent illegal drilling,” Hassan Rouhani tweeted in November.

Iran is far from alone. From the southwest United States to southern Spain and northern China, water shortages threaten many parts of the world. Nearly 800 million people lack access to safe drinking water and 2.5 billion have no proper sanitation.

The situation will probably get worse in coming decades. The world's population is expected to swell from 7 billion today to more than 9 billion by 2050, even as climate change robs precipitation from many parched parts of the planet. If the world warms by just 2 °C above the present level by the end of the century, which scientists believe is exceedingly likely, up to one-fifth of the global population could suffer severe shortages of fresh water.

“Even without global environmental change, feeding 9 billion people by 2050 will require an additional 2,000–3,000 cubic kilometres of fresh water in agriculture — more than the total global use of water in irrigation,” says Johan Rockström, a specialist on water resources at Stockholm University and director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. “This equates to nothing less than a new agricultural revolution. Novel approaches, such as water-harvesting practices, are absolutely critical in the future.”

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Beijing 106˚F: Earth Has Its Warmest May on Record Globally, Spring Could Be Warmest

Beijing 106˚F: Earth Has Its Warmest May on Record Globally, Spring Could Be Warmest | Amazing Science |
May was the warmest such month on record for the globe, according to preliminary data from Japan and NASA, with a noteworthy heat wave across Asia.

Two of the leading centers that track global surface temperatures have reported their data for May, and they both found it to be the warmest such month on record for the planet. NASA found that May had an average global temperature that was 1.38 degrees Fahrenheit above average, which would make it the warmest such month, coming out far ahead of May 2012. The Japanese Meteorological Agency's separate analysis also found both May and the meteorological spring months of March through May to be the warmest on record.

These results are preliminary, with the data from both agencies subject to revision. NASAposted a note on its surface-temperature data website Tuesday that said "missing data" from China has not yet arrived, and that their data is not "directly comparable" to previous records.

Later this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will release their global numbers, which typically closely match the other centers, but sometimes differ slightly in rankings. According to the World Meteorological Agency, all but one of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred in the 21st century.

May featured several noteworthy heat waves. Searing heat gripped a large part of Asia during the middle to end of the month, with all-time monthly record-high temperatures hitting Japan, China and Mongolia. According to Weather Underground, Beijing "shattered" its May monthly record with a reading of 106 degrees Fahrenheit on May 30, beating the previous record by six degrees, and came close to its all-time high temperature record for any month.

Studies show that heat waves are already becoming more intense and long-lasting globally, as average temperatures warm in response to increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the air.

Warmer than average temperatures also predominated during May across Australia, Europe and the western U.S.

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Food for Africa: Genetically-engineered carotene-enriched 'super' banana to face first human trial

Food for Africa: Genetically-engineered carotene-enriched 'super' banana to face first human trial | Amazing Science |

A super-enriched banana genetically engineered to improve the lives of millions of people in Africa will soon have its first human trial, which will test its effect on vitamin A levels, Australian researchers said Monday.

The project plans to have the special banana varieties -- enriched with alpha and beta carotene which the body converts to vitamin A -- growing in Uganda by 2020.

The bananas are now being sent to the United States, and it is expected that the six-week trial measuring how well they lift vitamin A levels in humans will begin soon.

"Good science can make a massive difference here by enriching staple crops such as Ugandan bananas with pro-vitamin A and providing poor and subsistence-farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food," said project leader Professor James Dale.

The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) project, backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, hopes to see conclusive results by year end.

"We know our science will work," Professor Dale said.

"We made all the constructs, the genes that went into bananas, and put them into bananas here at QUT."

Dale said the Highland or East African cooking banana was a staple food in East Africa, but had low levels of micro-nutrients, particularly pro-vitamin A and iron.

"The consequences of vitamin A deficiency are dire with 650,000-700,000 children world-wide dying ... each year and at least another 300,000 going blind," he said.

Researchers decided that enriching the staple food was the best way to help ease the problem.

While the modified banana looks the same on the outside, inside the flesh is more orange than a cream color, but Dale said he did not expect this to be a problem.

He said once the genetically modified bananas were approved for commercial cultivation in Uganda, the same technology could potentially be expanded to crops in other countries -- including Rwanda, parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Tanzania.

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Nature provides $145 trillion annually in benefits, 150% of global GDP

Nature provides $145 trillion annually in benefits, 150% of global GDP | Amazing Science |
A new study added up all the world’s ecosystem services – from carbon storage and crop pollination, to recreation and flood mitigation – and found, every year, nature provides $145 trillion in benefits. It also indicates that land use changes, most of which has been caused by humans, may be reducing these benefits by trillions of dollars every year.

To put this into perspective, the cumulative gross domestic product (GDP) of all nations as calculated by the World Bank was $97 trillion in 2012, with the U.S. topping the list at $16 trillion.

The study was compiled by a team of scientists from various universities around the world. They estimated the value of the world’s ecosystem services by assessing both their direct and indirect benefits to human welfare. 

“Nature is not just a pretty place,” lead author Robert Costanza, from The Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy, told Business Insider Australia. “Nature is a large and important part of the real economy which adds to human well-being.” 

The team specifically looked at 10 biomes, including coral reefs, tropical forests, grasslands, and both inland and coastal wetlands. They compared data collected over 15 years, and found that land use changes have caused big shifts in many biomes and, consequently, their value to humans. Marine ecosystems showed the biggest reductions in value, which the authors attribute largely to losses of coral reefs. Terrestrial ecosystems such as tropical forests and wetlands also showed significant reductions, due primarily to deforestation and draining. 

“Our estimates show that global land use changes between 1997 and 2011 have resulted in a loss of ecosystem services of between $4.3 and $20.2 trillion [per year], and we believe that these estimates are conservative,” the study states.

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Supercomputer show, for the first time, that climate change will cause more intense summer storms

Supercomputer show, for the first time, that climate change will cause more intense summer storms | Amazing Science |

Extreme summer rainfall may become more frequent in the UK due to climate change, according to new research led by the Met Office in collaboration with Newcastle University.

The new study, from the joint Met Office and  NERC funded  CONVEX project, uses a state-of-the-art climate model providing the first evidence that hourly summer rainfall rates could increase.

While summers are expected to become drier overall by 2100, intense rainfall indicative of serious flash flooding could become several times more frequent.

The results from the study, published in Nature Climate Change, are the first step towards building a more complete picture of how UK rainfall may change as our climate warms.

Dr Lizzie Kendon, lead author of the research at the Met Office, said: "Until now, climate models haven't been able to simulate how extreme hourly rainfall might change in future. The very high resolution model used in this study allows us to examine these changes for the first time.

"It shows heavier summer downpours in the future, with almost five times more events exceeding 28mm in one hour in the future than in the current climate - changes we might expect theoretically as the world warms. However, we need to be careful as the result is only based on one model - so we need to wait for other centres to run similarly detailed simulations to see whether their results support these findings."

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Tokelau: An Island 100% Powered By Solar Energy

Tokelau: An Island 100% Powered By Solar Energy | Amazing Science |

Tokelau (population: 1,500) is an island nation in the South Pacific, made up of three atolls whose highest point is only five meters above sea level. Even though the New Zealand protectorate’s contribution to climate change is miniscule, it faces grave threats to its very existence. In 2011, at the Durban Climate conference, Foua Toloa, the head of Tokelau, said the island would be using 100 percent renewable energy by 2012. By October of that year residents accomplished their goal, becoming the first country in the world to produce 100 percent of its electricity from the sun.

Prior to 2012, Tokelau’s residents relied on three diesel-driven power stations, burning 200 liters per day at a cost of nearly $800,000 per year. Tokelauans only had electricity 15 to 18 hours per day. They now have three solar photovoltaic systems, one on each atoll. The 4,032 solar panels (with a capacity of around one megawatt), 392 inverters, and 1,344 batteries provide 150 percent of their current electricity demand, allowing the Tokelauans to eventually expand their electricity use. In overcast weather, the generators run on local coconut oil, providing power while recharging the battery bank. The only fossil fuels used in Tokelau now are for the island nation’s three cars.

Maria Isabel Ramos's curator insight, June 1, 6:11 PM

Com o albedo de Castelo Branco podíamos estar como Tokelau.

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Extreme summer: MIT study finds that springtime ozone levels are good predictors of summertime temperatures

Extreme summer: MIT study finds that springtime ozone levels are good predictors of summertime temperatures | Amazing Science |

MIT study finds that springtime ozone levels are good predictors of summertime temperatures. The link between springtime ozone and summertime temperatures is particularly strong for the present period, while ozone is still in a recovery phase. When the researchers examined this link from a period before the ozone hole had begun to form, they observed a much weaker correlation.

The implication, Bandoro says, is that as ozone levels likely rise in the coming decades, these parts of the Southern Hemisphere will probably experience systematically hotter summers. 

“We can expect that these types of summers are going to be more frequent as the ozone hole recovers in coming decades,” Bandoro says. “When the ozone hole is deep, it essentially holds back climate change from showing its face, and Australia is just starting to feel this effect in the summertime in years with shallower ozone holes.”

David Karoly, a professor of earth sciences at the University of Melbourne, says the MIT group has shown, for the first time, a strong relationship between the severity of summer temperatures in Australia and the strength of the ozone hole the previous spring. The results, he says, point to a long-term warming trend in the Southern Hemisphere.

“As the ozone hole recovers this century, the masking effects of ozone depletion causing reduced summer warming over the Southern Hemisphere will disappear,” says Karoly, who did not participate in the study. “Then there will be an acceleration of the summer warming trends over Australia and South Africa, as the ozone hole recovers and the masking influence disappears.”

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NOAA: 350th month in a row of above global temperatures

NOAA: 350th month in a row of above global temperatures | Amazing Science |

This past April tied 2010 for the hottest April on record according to a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The record heat has the globe on track for its sixth-warmest year to-date and marks the 350th month in a row of above average global temperatures.

Data released from NOAA on Tuesday show that the global average temperature was 1.39°F above the 20th-century average for April. The Upper Midwest and Northeast were some of the only cooler-than-normal spots on the planet, continuing a pattern that’s been true for much of the winter. Parts of eastern Russia experienced record heat for the month, with temperatures up to 9°F above normal. Eastern Australia and temperatures across parts of the ocean also experienced record warmth.

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NASA's Orbital Debris Quarterly Archives Reveal a History of Garbage in Space

NASA's Orbital Debris Quarterly Archives Reveal a History of Garbage in Space | Amazing Science |

Space isn't empty, and near-Earth orbit is downright crowded. Every month, some junk burns up during re-entry as ever more is introduced into orbit. Poking around NASA's Orbital Debris Quarterly archives reveals the story of space junk from deliberate to accidental, and all of it hazardous.

Prior to June 1961, the entire population of artificial objects in near-Earth orbit was just over 50 objects, all spacecraft and rocket bodies. Then the Ablestar launch vehicle deployed its payload, the Transit 4A satellite, and exploded just over an hour later. The explosion created nearly 300 debris fragments, over two-thirds of which were still in orbit in 2002. After that, space just got messier.

Anti-satellite testing caused a whole lot of mess as the Soviet Union and the United States took turns proving they could blow up their own satellites. Between 1968 and 1982, the former Soviet Union conducted 20 tests, creating somewhere over 700 catalogue debris fragments, 301 of which are still in orbit. In 1985, the United States tested its own system, producing a whiff of debris, none of which remains in orbit. Realizing that all these explosions were producing a terrific mess, by collective international agreement, no one conducted any more tests of anti-satellite systems that produced debris. This agreement held for 20 years.

In the late '80s and early '90s, a whole lot of people did a whole lot of talking, eventually agreeing to voluntarily reduce the amount of junk they were producing. It worked for a while, reducing the growth rate of new debris cluttering up near-Earth space from a fairly steep climb in 1968 through 1988 to a far flatter climb from 1992 to 2006.

A few years later was a far more spectacular explosion. In June 1996, an abandoned upper stage rocket "broke up," the orbital debris euphemism for "suddenly exploded." The abrupt fragmentation of the rocket stage produced 700 pieces of distinct debris. The stage was the Pegasus Hydrazine Auxiliary Propulsion System (HAPS) from the STEP II mission that had launched 2 years previously. The event produced an order of magnitude more debris than models suggested it should have, forcing NASA to rethink what they did with abandoned craft. Eventually they figured out that the explosion was enhanced by excess fuel, leading to a procedure change where spent stages perform a propellant depletion maneuver to both reduce fuel and to place objects in a decaying orbit where they will (hopefully) burn up on re-entering the Earth's atmosphere within five years.

Most tracked events are nowhere near that exuberant. The next month, the French CERISE spacecraft was pinged by a fragment of an Ariane 1 launch vehicle that had exploded a decade earlier. No new debris was created, the spacecraft recovered, and everything kept on whizzing about the planet.

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How wet is Earth's soil? NASA's Aquarius Returns Global Maps of Soil Moisture

How wet is Earth's soil? NASA's Aquarius Returns Global Maps of Soil Moisture | Amazing Science |

Soil moisture, the water contained within soil particles, is an important player in Earth's water cycle. It is essential for plant life and influences weather and climate. Satellite readings of soil moisture will help scientists better understand the climate system and have potential for a wide range of applications, from advancing climate models, weather forecasts, drought monitoring and flood prediction to informing water management decisions and aiding in predictions of agricultural productivity.

Launched June 10, 2011, aboard the Argentinian spacecraft Aquarius/Satélite de Aplicaciones Científicas (SAC)-D, Aquarius was built to study the salt content of ocean surface waters. The new soil wetness measurements were not in the mission's primary science objectives, but a NASA-funded team led by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers has developed a method to retrieve soil moisture data from the instrument's microwave radiometer.

The Aquarius measurements are considerably coarser in spatial resolution than the measurements from the upcoming NASASoil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission, which was specifically designed to provide the highest quality soil moisture measurements available, including a spatial resolution 10 times that offered by Aquarius.

Soils naturally radiate microwaves and the Aquarius sensor can detect the microwave signal from the top 2 inches (5 centimeters) of the land, a signal that subtly varies with changes in the wetness of the soil. Aquarius takes eight days to complete each worldwide survey of soil moisture, although with gaps in mountainous or vegetated terrain where the microwave signal becomes difficult to interpret.

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Ninety-nine percent of the ocean's plastic is missing

Ninety-nine percent of the ocean's plastic is missing | Amazing Science |

Millions of tons. That’s how much plastic should be floating in the world’s oceans, given our ubiquitous use of the stuff. But a new study finds that 99% of this plastic is missing. One disturbing possibility: Fish are eating it.

If that’s the case, “there is potential for this plastic to enter the global ocean food web,” says Carlos Duarte, an oceanographer at the University of Western Australia, Crawley. “And we are part of this food web.”

Humans produce almost 300 million tons of plastic each year. Most of this ends up in landfills or waste pits, but a 1970s National Academy of Sciences study estimated that 0.1% of all plastic washes into the oceans from land, carried by rivers, floods, or storms, or dumped by maritime vessels. Some of this material becomes trapped in Arctic ice and some, landing on beaches, can even turn into rocks made of plastic. But the vast majority should still be floating out there in the sea, trapped in midocean gyres—large eddies in the center of oceans, like theGreat Pacific Garbage Patch.

To figure out how much refuse is floating in those garbage patches, four ships of the Malaspina expedition, a global research project studying the oceans, fished for plastic across all five major ocean gyres in 2010 and 2011. After months of trailing fine mesh nets around the world, the vessels came up light—by a lot. Instead of the millions of tons scientists had expected, the researchers calculated the global load of ocean plastic to be about only 40,000 tons at the most, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We can’t account for 99% of the plastic that we have in the ocean,” says Duarte, the team’s leader.

He suspects that a lot of the missing plastic has been eaten by marine animals. When plastic is floating out on the open ocean, waves and radiation from the sun can fragment it into smaller and smaller particles, until it gets so small it begins to look like fish food—especially to small lanternfish, a widespread small marine fish known to ingest plastic.

“Yes, animals are eating it,” says oceanographer Peter Davison of the Farallon Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research in Petaluma, California, who was not involved in the study. “That much is indisputable.”

But, he says, it’s hard to know at this time what the biological consequences are. Toxic ocean pollutants like DDT, PCBs, or mercury cling to the surface of plastics, causing them to “suck up all the pollutants in the water and concentrate them.” When animals eat the plastic, that poison could be going into the fish and traveling up the food chain to market species like tuna or swordfish. Or, Davison says, toxins in the fish “may dissolve back into the water … or for all we know they’re puking [the plastic] or pooping it out, and there’s no long-term damage. We just don’t know.”

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's comment, July 8, 3:55 AM
Much of the missing plastics is converted into micro plastics and some of it is consumed by wildlife
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Rate of deforestation in Indonesia overtakes Brazil

Rate of deforestation in Indonesia overtakes Brazil | Amazing Science |

Indonesia lost 840,000 hectares of forest in 2012 compared to 460,000 hectares in Brazil, despite its forest being a quarter the size of the Amazon rainforest.

Indonesia has greatly under-reported how much primary rainforest it is cutting down, according to the government's former head of forestry data gathering.

UN and official government figures have maintained that the country with the third biggest stretch of tropical forest after the Amazon and Congo was losing 310,00 hectares of all its forest a year between 2000 and 2005, increasing to 690,000 hectares annually from 2006 to 2010.

Exact rates of Indonesian deforestation have varied with different figures quoted by researchers and government, but a new study, which claims to be the most comprehensive yet, suggests that nearly twice as much primary forest is being cut down as in Brazil, the historical global leader.

Belinda Arunarwati Margono, who was in charge of data gathering at Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry for seven years and is now on secondment at South Dakota university, calculates that nearly 1m extra hectares of primary forest may have been felled in the last 12 years than was recorded officially.

In the paper in the journal Nature Climate Change published on Sunday, Margano says primary forest losses totalled 6.02m hectates between 2000 and 2012, increasing by around 47,600 hectares a year over this time. Because previous estimates of forest loss have included the clearing of pulp plantations and oil palm estates the real loss of primary forest has until now been obscured.

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Sad statistics: 25 Alarming Global Warming Facts

Sad statistics: 25 Alarming Global Warming Facts | Amazing Science |

Global warming is among the most alarming environmental issues that the world faces today. This phenomenon does not simply involve the significant rise in the earth’s temperature but a lot more. The adverse effects of global warming have become more and more apparent since the dawn of the 20th century, with more hurricanes and tropical storms causing massive destruction in different areas around the world, more animal species losing their habitats and becoming extinct, and more people dying because of too much heat. Here are 25 alarming global warming statistics.

Marc Kneepkens's curator insight, June 20, 8:12 PM

Alarming numbers.

Jim Doyle's curator insight, June 23, 8:51 AM

Sad statistics: 25 Alarming Global Warming Facts

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Elon Musk plans to build largest solar panel production plant in the world and send people to Mars within ten years

Elon Musk plans to build largest solar panel production plant in the world and send people to Mars within ten years | Amazing Science |

Elon Musk, chairman of SolarCity, America’s largest solar power provider, announced Tuesday with other SolarCity executives that the company plans to acquire Silevo, a solar panel technology and manufacturing company whose modules have “demonstrated a unique combination of high energy output and low cost.

“Our intent is to combine what we believe is fundamentally the best photovoltaic technology with massive economies of scale to achieve a breakthrough in the cost of solar power.”

The announcement caused solar-panel stocks to skyrocket, and SolarCity shares “finished the day up over 17.5%,”said Forbes.

Musk said the company is in discussions with the state of New York to build the initial manufacturing plant, continuing a relationship developed by the Silevo team. “At a targeted capacity greater than 1 GW within the next two years, it will be one of the single largest solar panel production plants in the world. This will be followed in subsequent years by one or more significantly larger plants at an order of magnitude greater annual production capacity.

“SolarCity was founded to accelerate mass adoption of sustainable energy. The sun, that highly convenient and free fusion reactor in the sky, radiates more energy to the Earth in a few hours than the entire human population consumes from all sources in a year.

“This means that solar panels, paired with batteries to enable power at night, can produce several orders of magnitude more electricity than is consumed by the entirety of human civilization. A cogent assessment of sustainable energy potential from various sources is described well in this Sandia paper.

“Even if the solar industry were only to generate 40 percent of the world’s electricity with photovoltaics by 2040, that would mean installing more than 400 GW of solar capacity per year for the next 25 years.

“We absolutely believe that solar power can and will become the world’s predominant source of energy within our lifetimes, but there are obviously a lot of panels that have to be manufactured and installed in order for that to happen. The plans we are announcing today, while substantial compared to current industry, are small in that context.”

Meanwhile, in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday, Musk said that he thinks “the first people could be taken to Mars in 10 to 12 years … but the thing that matters long term is to have a self-sustaining city on Mars, to make life multiplanetary.”

Russ Roberts's curator insight, June 18, 6:17 PM

Bravo to Mr. Elon Musk for pushing the envelope  on solar power.  Although I find his ideas intriguing, I tend to disagree with the concept of massive solar farms.  PV systems should be close to the user, where placement can reduce transmission costs and lessen the need for the power grid.  Solar is only part of the answer to our addiction to imported oil.  Solar needs to be supplemented with other renewable energy sources, such as hydro power (water) and wind.  Mr. Musk makes some excellent points, which should be explored furthers.  Aloha de Russ (KH6JRM).

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California's White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) Population was Highly Underestimated in the Past

California's White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) Population was Highly Underestimated in the Past | Amazing Science |

White sharks are highly migratory and segregate by sex, age and size. Unlike marine mammals, they neither surface to breathe nor frequent haul-out sites, hindering generation of abundance data required to estimate population size. A recent tag-recapture study used photographic identifications of white sharks at two aggregation sites to estimate abundance in “central California” at 219 mature and sub-adult individuals. They concluded this represented approximately one-half of the total abundance of mature and sub-adult sharks in the entire eastern North Pacific Ocean (ENP). This low estimate generated great concern within the conservation community, prompting petitions for governmental endangered species designations.

A group of biologists now critically examined that study and found violations of model assumptions that, when considered in total, lead to population underestimates. They also used a Bayesian mixture model to demonstrate that the inclusion of transient sharks, characteristic of white shark aggregation sites, would substantially increase abundance estimates for the adults and sub-adults in the surveyed sub-population. Using a dataset obtained from the same sampling locations and widely accepted demographic methodology, their analysis indicated a minimum all-life stages population size of >2000 individuals in the California subpopulation is required to account for the number and size range of individual sharks observed at the two sampled sites. Even accounting for methodological and conceptual biases, an extrapolation of these data to estimate the white shark population size throughout the ENP seemed to be inappropriate.

In summary, the true ENP white shark population size is likely several-fold greater as the original published estimate excluded non-aggregating sharks and those that independently aggregate at other important ENP sites. Accurately estimating the central California and ENP white shark population size requires methodologies that account for biases introduced by sampling a limited number of sites and that account for all life history stages across the species' range of habitats.

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Rising global temperatures could increase the amount of carbon dioxide naturally released by the world's oceans

Rising global temperatures could increase the amount of carbon dioxide naturally released by the world's oceans | Amazing Science |

Fresh insight into how the oceans can affect CO2 levels in the atmosphere shows that rising temperatures can indirectly increase the amount of the greenhouse gas emitted by the oceans.

Scientists studied a 26,000-year-old sediment core taken from the Gulf of California to find out how the ocean's ability to take up atmospheric CO2 has changed over time.

They tracked the abundance of the key elements silicon and iron in the fossils of tiny marine organisms, known as plankton, in the sediment core. Plankton absorb CO2 from the atmosphere at the ocean surface, and can lock away vast quantities of carbon.

Researchers found that those periods when silicon was least abundant in ocean waters corresponded with relatively warm climates, low levels of atmospheric iron, and reduced CO2 uptake by the oceans' plankton. Scientists had suspected that iron might have a role in enabling plankton to absorb CO2. However, this latest study shows that a lack of iron at the ocean surface can limit the effect of other key elements in helping plankton take up carbon.

This effect is magnified in the southern ocean and equatorial Pacific and coastal areas, which are known to play a crucial role in influencing levels of CO2 in the global atmosphere.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh say their findings are the first to pinpoint the complex link between iron and other key marine elements involved in regulating atmospheric CO2 by the oceans. Their findings were verified with a global calculation for all oceans. The study, published in Nature Geoscience, was supported by Scottish Alliance for Geoscience Environment Society and the Natural Environment Research Council.

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A fuel cell for home? A miniature power station for home use is based on a solid fuel cell

A fuel cell for home? A miniature power station for home use is based on a solid fuel cell | Amazing Science |
It converts chemical energy directly into electrical energy. Still, there hadn’t been a market breakthrough for the fuel cell. The systems were too complex. Now, Fraunhofer and Vaillant have developed a simple device for home use.

Together with the heater manufacturer Vaillant, the IKTS has developed a compact, safe and sturdy fuel cell system that generates electricity and heat in private households from natural gas. The researchers were particularly responsible for the construction of the prototype, the design of the overall system, the design of the ceramic components and the development of the reformer and the afterburner. The devices are currently being tested in private households in the Callux practice test ( 

They are as compact as classical gas heaters that only produce heat. Moreover, they can comfortably be mounted on the wall and easily be maintained. With an output of one kilowatt, they cover the average current consumption for a four-person household. The Federal Ministry of Transport and digital infrastructure BMVI is promoting Callux. Currently, in the European demonstration project ene.field (, about 150 further units are being installed in several European countries. In addition, Vaillant started the production of a small-scale series in early 2014. Parallel to the practical test, the two partners are already working on new models. „Now, it’s all about decreasing production costs and increasing the lifetime of the equipment,“ says Jahn. 

The principle of the fuel cell has been known for over 175 years. So far, however, there has not been a market breakthrough. The main reason was the invention of the electric generator. It knocked the more complex fuel cell out of the running. Only in the 1960s was the technology put into practice by NASA in some Apollo moon missions. In the late 1990s, there were other projects in the automotive industry, which have so far not been able to prevail. The reasons are that the fuel cell is too complex, too expensive, and too unreliable. „In our project with Vaillant, we have made great strides to bring the technology close to the market. Vaillant is already producing a small-scale series, which is sold in funded projects to customers,“ says Jahn. „For the market breakthrough, the costs still have to be decreased significantly.“ 

The miniature power station for home use is based on a solid fuel cell (SOFC). SOFCs operate at a much higher temperature in comparison to competing approaches, such as the proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC), which is used in cars, for example. While PEMFCs only reach 80 degrees, SOFCs can reach up to 850 degrees. „This allows the SOFCs to be built much more simply and cheaply,“ says Jahn. 

The electrolyte of an SOFC only transfers oxygen ions, not electrons. Otherwise, there would be a short circuit. „Ceramic is particularly well suited as a material for the electrolyte. It has the desired conductivity and can also endure high temperatures,“ says Jahn. As a result, even without the use of precious metals, all reactions proceed smoothly, which is necessary for the direct conversion of chemical energy into electrical energy: If the fuel cell heater is connected to the gas network, a reformer initially converts the natural gas into a hydrogen-rich gas. This then reacts in the stack with the oxygen of the air in a noiseless „cold combustion“, producing power and heat.

Marc Kneepkens's curator insight, June 4, 12:27 PM

Nice progress.

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Google’s self-driving car prototype: no steering wheel, brake, or accelerator

Google’s self-driving car prototype: no steering wheel, brake, or accelerator | Amazing Science |

Google is exploring what fully self-driving vehicles would look like without a steering wheel, accelerator pedal, or brake pedal. “Our software and sensors do all the work,” says the company.

The early prototypes have sensors that remove blind spots, and can detect objects out to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions, which is especially helpful on busy streets with lots of intersections. They’ve capped the speed of these first vehicles at 25 mph.

On the inside, they’ll have two seats (with seatbelts), a space for passengers’ belongings, buttons to start and stop, and a screen that shows the route — and that’s about it.

Google is planning to build about a hundred prototype vehicles, and later this summer, Google’s safety drivers will start testing early versions of these vehicles that have manual controls. A small pilot program is planning in California in the next couple of years.

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Species disappearing at least 1,000 times faster than they did before humans arrived

Species disappearing at least 1,000 times faster than they did before humans arrived | Amazing Science |

A new study looks at past and present rates of extinction and finds a lower rate in the past than scientists had thought. Species are now disappearing from Earth about 10 times faster than biologists had believed, said study lead author noted biologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University. Species of plants and animals are becoming extinct at least 1,000 times faster than they did before humans arrived on the scene, and the world is on the brink of a sixth great extinction, the new study says.

"We are on the verge of the sixth extinction," Pimm said from research at the Dry Tortugas. "Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions."

The work, published Thursday by the journal Science, was hailed as a landmark study by outside experts.

Numerous factors are combining to make species disappear much faster than before, said Pimm and co-author Clinton Jenkins of the Institute of Ecological Research in Brazil. But the No. 1 issue is habitat loss. Species are finding no place to live as more places are built up and altered by humans. Add to that invasive species crowding out native species, climate change affecting where species can survive, and overfishing, Pimm said.

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Carbon dioxide levels throughout northern hemisphere hit 400 ppm for the first time in human history

Carbon dioxide levels throughout northern hemisphere hit 400 ppm for the first time in human history | Amazing Science |

The 400 ppm level in the atmosphere, up 40 percent since wide use of fossil fuels began with the Industrial Revolution, is rapidly spreading southwards. First recorded in 2012 in the Arctic, it has since become the norm for the Arctic spring.

The WMO expects the global annual average carbon dioxide concentration to be above 400 ppm in 2015 or 2016. Rising concentrations of the heat-trapping gas raise risks of more heatwaves, droughts and rising sea levels.

"Time is running out," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement. "This should serve as yet another wake-up call about the constantly rising levels of greenhouse gases which are driving climate change. If we are to preserve our planet for future generations, we need urgent action to curb new emissions of these heat-trapping gases."

Almost 200 governments have agreed to work out a deal by the end of 2015 to slow climate change as part of efforts to limit the average temperature increase to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

Temperatures have already risen about 0.8C (1.4F). In April, the U.N.'s panel of climate experts said that greenhouse gas concentrations, led by carbon dioxide, would have to be kept below 450 ppm to give a good chance of achieving the 2C goal.

The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is seasonal, since plants absorb more in the summer months, causing a peak in the spring. The northern hemisphere, with more human-related sources of the gas, has a more pronounced seasonal cycle.

Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. It is emitted by fossil-fueled vehicles and coal-fired factories and power plants as well as by natural activities such as breathing.

During the last 800,000 years, the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide fluctuated between 180 ppm and 280 ppm, and has probably not been above 400 ppm for millions of years, scientists say.

AckerbauHalle's curator insight, May 27, 4:46 PM

haben wir in dem Trubel der letzten Tage fasst vergessen.