Science & Technology
27 Sep 2012:
Are Warmer than Any Time in 1,800 years
Summer temperatures on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the High Arctic are now higher than during any time over the last 1,800 years
, including a period of higher temperatures in the northern hemisphere known as the Medieval Warm Period
, according to a new study. In an analysis of algae buried in deep lake sediments, a team of scientists calculated that summer temperatures in Svalbard since 1987 have been 2 to 2.5 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 4.5 degrees F) warmer than during the Medieval Warm Period, which lasted from roughly 950 to 1250 AD. The Medieval Warm Period is often cited by climate change skeptics as proof that the planet has experienced periods of high temperatures in recent centuries unrelated to the burning of fossil fuels. The algae, which make more unsaturated fats in colder periods and more saturated fats in warmer periods, reveal critical clues about past climates. Scientists were able to date the lake specimens by analyzing grains of glass emitted by a series of well-known Icelandic volcanoes that left unique chemical time markers. The study is published in the journal Geology
27 Sep 2012:
Unusual Series of Quakes
Indicate Tectonic Breakup in Indian Ocean
Two massive earthquakes in April in the Indian Ocean and an unusual series of aftershocks may signal the formation of a new tectonic plate boundary within Earth’s surface
. Reporting in the journal Nature
Click to enlarge
Keith Koper/University of Utah
Fault activity in the Indian Ocean.
scientists say that an analysis of the two April 11 earthquakes — one of magnitude 8.6 and the other of magnitude 8.2 — shows that they were not typical quakes that occur when one plate slides under another or two plates slip horizontally along a fault line. Instead, the earthquakes, caused by breaks along four faults in the Indian Ocean and accompanied by an unusually large number of aftershocks, indicate that the Indo-Australian tectonic plate may be breaking up. “It’s the clearest example of newly formed plate boundaries,” said Matthias Delescluse, a geophysicist at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. The researchers said that the massive and deadly 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, as well as another earthquake in 2005, may also have been related to the April quakes and the breakup of the Indo-Australian plate.
Interview: Using the Internet
To Identify Millions of New Species
Each year, about 18,000 new species of plants and animals are discovered and described by science — a number considered woefully inadequate by entomologist and taxonomist Quentin Wheeler. Along
Thomas Geissmann/Fauna & Flora International
Snub-nosed monkey, identified in 2010
with a group of high-profile colleagues, Wheeler, the founding director of the International Institute for Species Exploration
at Arizona State University, is calling for an intensive international effort to discover
the estimated 8 to 10 million species that remain unknown. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Wheeler says the time has never been more critical to carry out such a project, considering the rapid rate of biodiversity loss. But he notes that the tools now available to identify all the world’s species are impressive, most importantly the advent of what he calls “cybertaxonomy,” which harnesses the power of the Internet to take three-dimensional pictures of specimens and place millions of pages of taxonomic information online. “Unless we know what species exist,” says Wheeler, “we are at a huge disadvantage to monitor changes in biodiversity.” Read the interview
26 Sep 2012:
Approved for California Roadways
California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a law that will allow self-driving vehicles on the state’s public roadways
by next year. While fully automated vehicle technology may be years away, the California law establishes safety and performance regulations for testing these cars next year — provided that the driver is ready to take control of the vehicle if needed. Several companies, including Google, are developing self-driving cars
that utilize a series of sensors — including GPS, cameras, lasers, and radar — as well as data from other vehicles to learn what is around the vehicle and guide its navigation. Developers say the innovative technology has the potential to improve safety, reduce congestion, and improve fuel efficiency. “We’re looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow’s reality,” said Brown, who drove to the signing ceremony at Google’s Mountain View headquarters in the passenger seat of a vehicle that steered itself.
14 Sep 2012:
New Monkey Species
Identified in Remote Region of Congo
A team of scientists has identified a new species of monkey
in a remote area in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a discovery that researchers say confirms the remote African region as a biodiversity hotbed. After
encountering one of the monkeys in captivity in a village, the researchers observed the animal, known locally as the “lesula,” in the wild and, after conducting DNA tests, confirmed that it is a unique species. Scientists say the new species has a naked face and muzzle
, a blond chin, a reddish lower back and tail, and a “brilliant blue” patch of skin in the buttocks and scrotum area. The monkey, which researchers named Cercopithecus lomamiensis
, is just the second new species of African monkey identified in the past 28 years. Researchers believe it was likely not identified by scientists earlier because of the remoteness of its 6,500-square-mile range. “If we’re finding new species of primates, then who knows how many new species of small mammals or lizards or insects, just to name a few, might be out there,” said Eric Sargis, a professor at Yale University and one of the co-authors of the study. The findings are published in the journal PLoS ONE
Interview: On the Trail of
South Florida’s Python Invaders
Just three decades after the invasive Burmese python became established in southern Florida, scientists believe there may now be tens of thousands of these
Robert Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images
giant snakes living across an 8,000-square-kilometer area. And python expert Michael Dorcas says they have decimated once-common native species across the region, including deer, bobcats, and raccoons. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Dorcas explains how these pythons became such a problem in South Florida, why their range could expand significantly, and why it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of them. “You can go out and you can find pythons, but you can’t go out and find all
the pythons — in any
area,” says Dorcas. “They’re very secretive animals. And when you have a landscape that is very vast and inaccessible, it makes it very difficult to find these snakes.” Read the interview
10 Sep 2012:
Wind Resources Could Meet
Global Energy Demands, Study Says
The earth contains enough wind energy to meet all of humanity’s power needs
if future technologies are able to tap into high-altitude winds, a new study says. Using models to quantify wind energy potential, researchers at
the Carnegie Institution for Science and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory calculated that more than 400 terrawatts of power could be extracted from the planet’s surface winds — which could be accessed with land- and ocean-based turbines — and more than 1,800 terrawatts could be generated by high-altitude winds using technologies that combine turbines and kites. Currently human civilization uses about 18 terrawatts of power. The researchers’ calculations, described in the journal Nature Climate Change
, are based on geophysical limits, and do not take into account technical or economic limitations. The study said the effects of extracting enough wind power to meet current global demand would be minimal as long as turbines are scattered worldwide.
07 Sep 2012:
LED Bulbs Widening Gap
In Energy Efficiency, Report Says
While today’s light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are slightly better for the environment than compact fluorescent lamps, the energy efficiency gap will widen over the next five years
as the technology and manufacturing methods of LEDs improve, according to a new report. In an analysis of the impacts of the light technologies in 15 categories — including the energy and resources required to manufacture, operate, and dispose of the bulbs — researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that CFLs caused slightly more environmental harm than existing LED technologies in all but one of the areas studied. The one exception, they said, was hazardous waste generation because existing LEDs utilize a component, called a heat sink, which requires mining, refining, and processing of the aluminum. Improved efficiencies in emerging LED technologies, however, will reduce the amount of heat produced and, in turn, the size of heat sink required. As a result, they say, LED bulbs are expected by 2017 to have 50 percent less environmental impact than today’s bulbs and 70 percent less than existing CFLs.
06 Sep 2012:
Destruction of Tropical Forests
Reduces Regional Rainfall, Study Says
A new study has found that destruction of the world’s tropical forests may significantly reduce regional rainfall across large regions
, a phenomenon researchers say could have devastating effects for people living in and around the Amazon and Congo basins. Using satellite observations of rainfall and vegetation, as well as atmospheric wind flow patterns, researchers from the University of Leeds and the NERC Center for Ecology & Hydrology found that across 60 percent of the Amazon and Congo rainforests, air passing over extensive forest areas produces twice as much rain as air passing over areas with little vegetation. According to their findings, published in the journal Nature
, this effect in some cases can increase rainfall thousands of miles away. After combining these findings with projected deforestation rates and current trends, the researchers calculated that tropical forest loss could reduce rainfall across the Amazon basin during the wet season by 12 percent by 2050, and 21 percent during the dry season.
31 Aug 2012:
Method Uses DNA Technology
To Track Marine Life From Water Samples
Danish scientists say they have developed a process to detect the presence of fish and whales in local waters through the DNA analysis of water samples
, an innovation that will help researchers more safely monitor biodiversity in the world’s oceans. Using sophisticated DNA sequencing technology, researchers from the University of Copenhagen say they were able to detect DNA from 15 different fish species from a half-liter sample of seawater. According to Philip Francis Thomsen, one of the authors of the study published in the journal PLoS ONE
, tests of the water revealed the presence of small and large fish — including common species and species rarely or never recorded by conventional monitoring — in the waters off Denmark. “Cod, herring, eel, plaice, pilchard and many more have all left a DNA trace in the seawater,” he said. The researchers say the use of DNA technology may offer a less invasive way of monitoring marine populations than traditional methods, such as the use of trawls and pots. In addition, such DNA tests could be conducted almost anywhere and on any species, unlike typical monitoring methods that focus mostly on commercial fish species.
31 Aug 2012:
EU Ban on Incandescent
Bulbs Goes into Effect on September 1
The incandescent light bulb, in use for more than a century, will be officially banned across the European Union on September 1.
Over the past three years, the
EU has been phasing out 60-watt and 100-watt incandescent bulbs, and on Saturday retailers will no longer be allowed to sell 40-watt and 25-watt bulbs. Incandescent bulbs will be replaced with compact fluorescent lights, halogen bulbs, and LED, or light-emitting diode, lights. The move is expected to save 39 terawatt-hours of electricity across the EU annually by 2020. Some consumers have complained about the quality and expense of the new light bulbs, but lighting industry executives say that prices are coming down steadily and the quality of light from the new bulbs is good. “The phase-out has ben very smooth,” said Peter Hunt, joint chief executive of the UK’s Lighting Industry association. “Concerns about poor performance of replacement bulbs have been proved wrong.”
30 Aug 2012:
Falls Sharply in Past Eight Years
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by 77 percent from 2004 to 2011, but carbon emissions did not drop as steeply
because of complex processes revealed during on-the-ground studies, scientists say. While analysis of satellite images showed the three-quarters drop in deforestation, researchers said that several factors — including the slow decay of roots and the later burning of wood biomass — meant that carbon emissions from deforestation fell by 57 percent during the same period, according to a study published in the journal Global Change Biology
. Another reason for the 20-percent lag in carbon emissions reductions is that logging in recent years has been moving into denser Amazon forests, so even the reduced amount of deforestation is leading to higher carbon emissions, researchers said. U.S. scientists praised their Brazilian colleagues for the sophisticated new techniques used to tease out the differences between reduced deforestation and lagging emissions reductions. “That’s where you’d like the rest of the world to be, where Brazil is,” said Richard Houghton of the Woods Hole Research Center.
23 Aug 2012:
U.S. Solar Panel Maker to
Build Solar Farms in Energy-Hungry India
First Solar Inc., the U.S.-based solar panel manufacturer, plans to expand its role in the global energy industry by developing solar power farms in India
, where an emerging industrial sector is looking to
First Solar Inc.
shore up energy security in the aftermath of record blackouts. The company aims to secure 20 percent of India’s photovoltaic sales by expanding beyond its role as a solar panel supplier and building large solar arrays, Sujoy Ghosh, First Solar’s new India head, told Bloomberg News. According to Ghosh, First Solar will sell electricity at below-market prices directly to private businessess looking to lock in their own power supplies in the event of electricity shortfalls. India, which last month endured blackouts that left half the nation’s 1.2 billion people without power, has a 30-gigawatt backup power market comprised of factories and businesses that currently switch to diesel generators when power fails.
22 Aug 2012:
Solar Shingles Made from
Common Metals Offer Cheaper Energy Option
U.S. scientists say that emerging photovoltaic technologies will enable the production of solar shingles made from abundantly available elements
rather than rare-earth metals, an innovation that would make solar
energy cheaper and more sustainable. Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, a team of researchers described advances in solar cells made with abundant metals, such as copper and zinc. While the market already offers solar shingles that convert the sun’s energy into electricity, producers typically must use elements that are scarce and expensive, such as indium and gallium. According to Harry A. Atwater, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology, recent tests suggest that materials like zinc phosphide and copper oxide could be capable of producing electricity at prices competitive with coal-fired power plants within two decades. With China accounting for more than 90 percent of the world’s rare-earth supplies, companies and nations are racing to find new sources of rare earth minerals, which are used in everything from solar panels to smart phones.
21 Aug 2012:
Cloud Brightening Scheme
Should Be Tested Over Oceans, Scientists Say
An international group of scientists has urged a small-scale experiment to test the viability of creating human-made clouds
as a way to counter the effects of global warming. Writing in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society
, the scientists say
there should at least be a scientific debate over the possibilities of so-called cloud brightening, a process that involves sending particles, in this case sea water, into the atmosphere to create clouds that would, theoretically, reflect a greater amount of sunlight back into space. While ethical and political questions remain about such geoengineering schemes, that is no reason to not test the technology, said Rob Wood, a University of Washington physicist and one of the paper’s authors. In the paper, the scientists suggest a small-scale test in which salt water is sprayed from a ship or barge followed by airborne measurements of the physical and chemical characteristics of the resulting clouds.
20 Aug 2012:
Process Turns Starbucks’ Waste
Into Ingredients for Consumer Products
A team of scientists is working with the Starbucks coffee chain to develop a bio-refinery process that would convert the company’s discarded coffee grounds and day-old bakery goods into a key ingredient for making plastics and other products. The process, which will be described at a meeting of the American Chemical Society
, builds on existing technology that converts corn, sugar cane, and other plant-based products into the ingredients for biofuels and other consumer products. According to researchers, the process involves blending the bakery waste with a mixture of fungi that breaks down carbohydrates in the food into simple sugars. They are ultimately converted into succinic acid, a material that can be used to make a range of products, including plastics, detergents, and medicines. While most experts say using crops for such purposes would not be sustainable, targeting food waste is an attractive alternative, said Carol S. K. Lin, of the City University of Hong Kong, who was leader of the research team.
17 Aug 2012:
Triage System for Plant Species
Devised Based on Geographic Range
With an increasing number of plant species worldwide facing growing threats, from climate change to invasive species, a team of U.S. scientists has developed a process to more rapidly evaluate those plants facing the greatest risks of extinction
. Writing in the journal
Biodiversity and Conservation
, the scientists from the New York Botanical Garden describe a triage method to identify at-risk species based on data from plant research collections and geographic information systems (GIS) technology. According to the scientists, the standard conservation assessment process, developed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) — which uses a rigorous process to classify species as “extinct,” “least concern,” “endangered,” and “critically endangered” — is limited because it requires large amounts of data that simply do not exist for most species. While there are 300,000 known plant species, they say, only 15,000 species have been evaluated under the IUCN process. As an alternative, they propose a simpler process that classifies species as either “at risk” or “not at risk” based on the key criterion of the size of its geographical range.
14 Aug 2012:
Radiation from Fukushima
Caused Butterfly Mutations, Study Says
Radioactive materials emitted during the Fukushima disaster caused physical mutations and genetic damage to butterfly populations living near the nuclear plant, a
University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa
new study says. In a series of tests, Japanese scientists found that butterflies collected from the Fukushima area about two months after the 2011 accident were more likely to have leg, antennae, and wing shape mutations
than those found elsewhere. According to their findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports
, butterflies found in areas with higher levels of radiation developed much smaller wings and eye irregularities. After breeding these butterflies in a laboratory, researchers found the next generation had numerous abnormalities not seen in the previous generation, including malformed antennae. And adult butterflies collected near Fukushima six months after the initial tests were more than twice as likely to have mutations than those found soon after the accident.
09 Aug 2012:
New Atmospheric Compound
Tied to Human Health and Climate Change
An international team of researchers says it has discovered a new atmospheric compound
that reacts with sulfur dioxide to form sulfuric acid, which produces acid rain, has negative respiratory effects on humans, and causes increased cloud formation. Reporting in Nature
, the scientists from the U.S., Finland, and Germany identified the new compound as a type of carbonyl oxide, formed by the reaction of ozone with natural and manmade hydrocarbons, known as alkenes. When the carbonyl oxide compounds react with sulfur dioxide — which is primarily produced by coal and other fossil fuel combustion at power plants — large amounts of sulfuric acid are produced. The scientists say it is the first time that this complex new interaction of atmospheric compounds has been documented. Sulfuric acid creates acid rain that is harmful to terrestrial and aquatic life, and airborne sulfuric acid particles play the main role in the formation of clouds, an increase of which could help cool the planet. Smaller sulfuric acid particles near the planet’s surface have been shown to cause human respiratory ailments.
08 Aug 2012:
Aging, Diseased Trees
A Large Source of Methane, Study Says
Aging and diseased trees emit significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere
, a phenomenon that may be contributing to global climate change, a new study says. In samples collected from a forest in northeastern Connecticut, researchers at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies found that some trees emitted methane — a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide — at levels up to 80,000 times greater than ambient air levels. According to their findings, the emissions rate from the forest site may be the equivalent of burning 40 gallons of gasoline per hectare of forest per year, offsetting about 18 percent of the forest’s carbon sequestration capacity. “Because the conditions thought to be driving this process are common throughout the world’s forests, we believe we have found a globally significant new source of this potent greenhouse gas,” said Kristofer Covey, a Yale researcher and lead author of the study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters
. The researchers found that trees producing methane were commonly older — 80 to 100 years old — and diseased with fungal infections that promote increased methane production.
07 Aug 2012:
New Bird Species Discovered
In Cloud Forest of Eastern Andes
A team of researchers says it has identified a new bird species
, a barbet marked by its colorful scarlet breast and black mask, in the eastern Andes of Peru. The bird, which scientists named the Sira barbet (Capito fitzpatricki
), was discovered during a 2008 expedition,
led by recent Cornell University graduates, to a remote ridge in the Cerros del Sira range. Although scientists recognized that the bird was closely related to the scarlet-banded barbet, subsequent genetic tests confirmed that it is a distinct species within the barbet family, distinguishable by the differences in color on its flanks, lower back and thighs, and its dark scarlet breast band. The researchers believe the bird may only be found in a 30-kilometer region of montane cloud forest within the range, located on an outlying ridge of the Andes. The scientific name, Capito fitzpatricki
, was selected to honor John W. Fitzpatrick, a former executive director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who named seven bird species in Peru during the 1970s and 1980s. The bird is described in the July 2012 issue of The Auk
, a publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union.
06 Aug 2012:
Rise in Extreme Heat Events
Linked to Climate Change, Study Says
A new NASA study has found that extreme heat events are far more likely to occur than five decades ago, a phenomenon that researchers link to climate change. In an analysis of long-term statistical trends
, a team of researchers led by James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies describes how “extremely hot” summers — defined as abnormally high mean summer temperatures that affected less than 1 percent of the planet’s land area between 1951 and 1980 — have become far more routine in the last three decades. According to their analysis, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, about 10 percent of land areas in the Northern Hemisphere have experienced such temperatures since 2006. And while the chances of experiencing extreme heat events from the 1950s to the 1980s were less than 1 in 300, the odds now are closer to 1 in 10. “This is not some scientific theory,” Hansen told the Associated Press
. “We are now experiencing scientific fact.” The shifting trend, he said, was behind last year’s Texas drought and the 2010 Russian heat wave. This summer, Hansen said, is also shaping up to fit into the new “extreme” category.
27 Jul 2012:
Powerful Storms Linked to
Depletion of Ozone Layer, Study Says
A new study warns that a surge in powerful storms, perhaps linked to a warming climate, could be causing a depletion of the planet’s protective ozone layer
. Writing in the journal Science
, Harvard researchers explain that water vapor inserted into the normally dry stratosphere by strong thunderstorms is triggering chemical reactions with now-banned chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs, essentially creating ozone-destroying conditions identical to those occurring over the Antarctic, high southern latitudes, and parts of the Arctic. That, in turn, could lead to an increase in UV radiation reaching the earth’s surface, posing a higher risk of skin cancer for humans as well as potentially harmful conditions for some plants and crops. Lead author James G. Anderson said more research is necessary, including direct measurements of the effects of water vapor on ozone chemistry. But he said that given recent research linking climate change to an increase in extreme weather events, these findings could portend increased ozone loss in years to come. “It’s the union between ozone loss and climate change that is really at the heart of this,” Anderson told the New York Times
. “Now, they’re intimately connected.”
26 Jul 2012:
Pulling Carbon From Air
Should Be Pursued Despite Costs, Study Says
Columbia University scientists say that technologies to extract carbon dioxide from the air will likely become a critical part of any strategy to stabilize the global climate and should not be abandoned because of high costs
. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, the researchers from the university’s Earth Institute argue that the use of technologies to remove emissions at the source — such as at coal-powered plants — will not go far enough because they don’t address the transportation sector, which accounts for up to half of global CO2 emissions. In addition, the scientists say that the shift to renewable energy sources will likely not occur fast enough. Technologies that remove CO2 from the atmosphere on a large scale — such as forests of artificial trees or the use of absorbent liquids that extract CO2
— could help avert potentially dangerous warming. While the costs will likely be high at first, the paper said, they will come down as the technologies are more widely deployed. “The field of carbon sequestration as a community is too timid when it comes to new ideas,” said Klaus Lackner, lead author of the paper.
Maya Lin’s Memorial to
a Vanishing Natural World
The woman who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is now focused on the mass extinction of
Photo by Walter Smith
species, a threat she is highlighting on a dynamic interactive Web site. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Maya Lin talks about the origins of her What is Missing? project, the media techniques she and her collaborators are using to draw attention to the biodiversity crisis, and the actions that give her hope we can reverse the tide of nature’s destruction. “I am going to try to wake you up to things that are missing that you are not even aware are disappearing,” Lin said. Read the interview and listen to an audio podcast
25 Jul 2012:
U.S. Identifies Zones for
Solar Development on Public Lands
The Obama administration has identified 17 sites on public lands
across six Southwestern states that officials say are most suitable for utility-scale solar projects. In a report, federal officials vowed to expedite applications
for solar projects on these sites — located in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah — which were targeted because of access to existing or planned transmission lines, minimal resource conflicts, existing development incentives, and solar potential. The sites,covering a total of 285,000 acres, have the potential to produce nearly 5,900 megawatts of energy, enough to power 1.8 million homes, according to the U.S. Interior Department. While the government also created a process for quicker approval of “well-sited projects” on another 19 million acres outside these zones, the plan excluded more than 78 million acres of public land from solar development.
25 Jul 2012:
Entire Greenland Ice Sheet
Experiences Significant Surface Melting
New NASA satellite images show that the surface of virtually the entire ice sheet covering Greenland experienced melting in mid-July
, a phenomenon not
seen in three decades of satellite observations. Temperatures rose so high that ice on the Greenland’s highest peak, Summit Station, turned to slush, NASA said. Until the severe melting earlier this month, the greatest extent of surface melting observed by satellites over the past three decades covered about 55 percent of the ice sheet; on July 12, 97 percent of the ice sheet experienced surface melting. Ice cores from Greenland show that such melting events have occurred roughly every 150 years, but Greenland’s ice sheet has been experiencing rapid melting in the past decade and if another major melting event occurred within the next 10 years it could disrupt the stability of the ice sheet
, said Thomas Mote, a climatologist at the University of Georgia. “When we see melt in places that we haven’t seen before, at least in a long period of time, it makes you sit up and ask what’s happening,” NASA scientist Waleed Abdalati told the BBC
24 Jul 2012:
Evolution of Polar Bear
Followed Changes in Climate, Study Says
An analysis of sequenced polar bear genomes provides new insights into how climate change and interbreeding with brown bears led to the evolution of the modern-day polar bear
. In an analysis of the nuclear genomes of 28
Photo courtesy of Andrew Derocher
brown, black, and polar bears, an international team of researchers found evidence that polar bear populations fluctuated with climate shifts over the last million years, with populations increasing during cooler periods and declining during periods of warmer temperatures. Their findings also suggest that during periods of glacial retreat, polar bears came into greater contact with brown bears as their ranges overlapped. “Maybe we’re seeing a hint that in really warm times, polar bears changed their life style and came into contact, and indeed interbred, with brown bears,” said Stephan Schuster, a scientist at Pennsylvania State University and co-lead author of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. While earlier research indicated that polar bears have only existed for about 600,000 years, the new research suggests that the polar bear may have evolved into a distinct species 4 to 5 million years ago.
19 Jul 2012:
Shows Ability to Trap CO2 in Ocean
An eight-year German research effort has shown that under the right conditions seeding the ocean with iron can trigger phytoplankton blooms that suck carbon out of the air and trap it deep in the ocean,
a potentially important breakthrough in the nascent field of climate geoengineering. Reporting in the journal Nature
, scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research said that adding 14 tons of iron sulfate to the Southern Ocean near Antarctica resulted in a significant phytoplankton bloom extending more than 300 feet deep. That bloom consisted of large masses of algae, mainly composed of diatoms, which absorbed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. More than 50 percent of the carbon-rich algae then sunk to a depth of more than 3,000 feet, where it is likely to be trapped for centuries. The German research team conducted the iron-seeding experiment in 2004 and then spent eight years analyzing the data. Previous iron-seeding experiments have had difficulty tracking the path of CO2 pulled out of the atmosphere because of swirling currents and other complications. But the Wegener team said its experiment had succeeded because scientists found a 40-mile-wide column of water that was isolated from other ocean currents.
19 Jul 2012:
`Great Green Fleet’ Trial
Launched by U.S. Navy in the Pacific
The U.S. Navy this week held military exercises in the Pacific Ocean that used an expensive blend of biofuels and conventional fuels to power 71 aircraft and three warships,
part of an ongoing effort by the Navy to develop alternative fuels for its global operations. The so-called “Great Green Fleet” initiative is a top priority of Navy Secretary Ray Maybus, who contends that the U.S. military must eventually free itself from dependence on fossil fuels “because unpredictable and increasingly volatile oil prices could have a direct impact on readiness.” But numerous critics, including U.S. Senator John McCain, criticize Maybus’ initiative as unnecessary and costly, noting that the 50-50 biofuel/conventional fuel blend costs $26 a gallon — more than six times the cost of conventional fuels. A Defense Department study said that the military will spend $2 billion more annually if it continues to pursue its biofuels experiments. About 90 percent of the biofuels was rendered from cooking oil waste and the remaining 10 percent was refined from algae. Maybus, speaking aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, contended that the rising costs of oil and breakthroughs in biofuel production will eventually narrow the price gap between conventional and alternative fuels.