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Complete Archive (organized by chapter for each book)
New World View
Climate Change
Life and Climate
Losing Biodiversity
Energy Flow
Ecosystem Change
Population Growth
Energy Use
A Changing Cosmos
ABCs of Digital Earth Watch Software

Latest News and Updates

2017-10-16. LIGO Detects Fierce Collision of Neutron Stars for the First Time.

posted by Alan Gould   [ updated ]

By Dennis Overbye, The New York Times. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 9. Excerpt: Astronomers announced on Monday that they had seen and heard a pair of dead stars collide, giving them their first glimpse of the violent process by which most of the gold and silver in the universe was created. The collision, known as a kilonova, rattled the galaxy in which it happened 130 million light-years from here in the southern constellation of Hydra, and sent fireworks across the universe. On Aug. 17, the event set off sensors in space and on Earth, .... Such explosions, astronomers have long suspected, produced many of the heavier elements in the universe, including precious metals like gold, silver and uranium. ...a pair of neutron stars, the shrunken dense cores of stars that have exploded and died, collided at nearly the speed of light. These stars are masses as great as the sun packed into a region the size of Manhattan brimming with magnetic and gravitational fields. ...“It’s the greatest fireworks show in the universe,” said David Reitze of the California Institute of Technology and the executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO. Daniel Holz, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago and a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, a larger group that studies gravitational waves, said, “I can’t think of a similar situation in the field of science in my lifetime, where a single event provides so many staggering insights about our universe.” The key to the discovery was the detection of gravitational waves, emanating like ripples in a pond vibrating the cosmic fabric, from the distant galaxy. It was a century ago that Albert Einstein predicted that space and time could shake like a bowl of jelly when massive things like black holes moved around. But such waves were finally confirmed only in 2016, when LIGO recorded the sound of two giant black holes colliding, causing a sensation that eventually led this month to a Nobel Prize ...For the researchers, this is in some ways an even bigger bonanza than the original discovery. This is the first time they have discovered anything that regular astronomers could see and study.... See also Quanta Magazine: Neutron-Star Collision Shakes Space-Time and Lights Up the Sky by Ana Kova.

2017-10-14. Australia Debates: Does a Warming Planet Really Need More Coal?

posted by Alan Gould

By Jacqueline Williams, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 9. Excerpt: ...In a desolate corner of northeastern Australia, about 100 miles from the nearest town, a grassy stretch of prime grazing land sits above a vein of coal so rich and deep that it could be mined for decades. The Australian government is considering a proposal to build one of the world’s largest coal mines in this remote locale, known as the Galilee Basin, where acacia and eucalyptus trees grow wild between scattered creeks. An Indian conglomerate, the Adani Group, has asked for a taxpayer-financed loan of as much as $800 million to make the enormous project viable, promising to create thousands of jobs in return. But the plan has met intense opposition in Australia and abroad, focusing attention on a question with global resonance: Given the threat of climate change and the slowing global demand for coal, does the world really need another giant mine, especially at the public’s expense? ....

2017-10-12. Genes for Skin Color Rebut Dated Notions of Race, Researchers Say.

posted Oct 13, 2017, 5:22 AM by Alan Gould   [ updated Oct 13, 2017, 5:22 AM ]

By Carl Zimmer, The New York Times. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 4. Excerpt: For centuries, skin color has held powerful social meaning — a defining characteristic of race, and a starting point for racism. “If you ask somebody on the street, ‘What are the main differences between races?,’ they’re going to say skin color,” said Sarah A. Tishkoff, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania. On Thursday, Dr. Tishkoff and her colleagues showed this to be a profound error. In the journal Science, the researchers published the first large-scale study of the genetics of skin color in Africans. The researchers pinpointed eight genetic variants in four narrow regions of the human genome that strongly influence pigmentation — some making skin darker, and others making it lighter. These genes are shared across the globe, it turns out; one of them, for example, lightens skin in both Europeans and hunter-gatherers in Botswana. The gene variants were present in humanity’s distant ancestors, even before our species evolved in Africa 300,000 years ago. The widespread distribution of these genes and their persistence over millenniums show that the old color lines are essentially meaningless, the scientists said. The research “dispels a biological concept of race,” Dr. Tishkoff said....

2017-10-10. A Surprise From the Supervolcano Under Yellowstone.

posted Oct 13, 2017, 5:20 AM by Alan Gould

By Shannon Hall, The New York Times. For GSS Energy Flow chapter 2. Excerpt: Beneath Yellowstone National Park lies a supervolcano, a behemoth far more powerful than your average volcano. It has the ability to expel more than 1,000 cubic kilometers of rock and ash at once — 2,500 times more material than erupted from Mount St. Helens in 1980, which killed 57 people. That could blanket most of the United States in a thick layer of ash and even plunge the Earth into a volcanic winter. Yellowstone’s last supereruption occurred 631,000 years ago. And it’s not the planet’s only buried supervolcano. Scientists suspect that a supereruption scars the planet every 100,000 years, causing many to ask when we can next expect such an explosive planet-changing event. To answer that question, scientists are seeking lessons from Yellowstone’s past. And the results have been surprising. They show that the forces that drive these rare and violent events can move much more rapidly than volcanologists previously anticipated. The early evidence, presented at a recent volcanology conference, shows that Yellowstone’s most recent supereruption was sparked when new magma moved into the system only decades before the eruption. Previous estimates assumed that the geological process that led to the event took millenniums to occur....

2017-10-02. G.M. and Ford Lay Out Plans to Expand Electric Models.

posted Oct 4, 2017, 2:53 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Oct 4, 2017, 2:57 PM ]

By Bill Vlasic and Neal E. Boudette, The New York Times. For GSS Energy Use chapter 9. Excerpt: DETROIT — China has said it will eventually ban gasoline-powered cars. California may be moving in the same direction. That pressure has set off a scramble by the world’s car companies to embrace electric vehicles. On Monday, General Motors, America’s largest automaker, ... announced plans for 20 new all-electric models by 2023, including two within the next 18 months. ...after the G.M. news emerged, Ford let loose with its own announcement, saying it would add 13 electrified models over the next several years, with a five-year investment of $4.5 billion. “General Motors believes in an all-electric future,” said Mark L. Reuss, G.M.’s global product chief. “Although that future won’t happen overnight, G.M. is committed to driving increased usage and acceptance of electric vehicles.” is regulatory pressure that is revving up the electric push, with officials in China, Europe and the United States ratcheting up emissions standards and setting or discussing deadlines that could eliminate gasoline-powered cars within a generation. The announcements by G.M. and Ford follow pledges by the German automakers Volkswagen and Daimler to build hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles in the coming years, and the decision by Volvo, the Chinese-owned Swedish luxury brand, to convert its entire lineup to either electric cars or hybrid vehicles that are powered by both batteries and gas. The accelerated pace of development also reflects the symbiotic relationship between battery-powered cars and another technological frontier; auto companies are tying their electric-car plans to lofty goals of building fleets of autonomous vehicles for ride-hailing services. The automakers believe they can solve the problem of achieving — as G.M.’s chief executive, Mary T. Barra, has begun stressing — a world with “zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion.” ...By 2020, Ford plans to produce an electric car that can go 300 miles before needing to recharge....

2017-09-27. U.S. Climate Change Policy: Made in California.

posted Sep 29, 2017, 6:56 PM by Alan Gould

By Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 9. Excerpt: SACRAMENTO — The Trump administration may appear to control climate policy in Washington, but the nation’s most dynamic environmental regulator is here in California. Mary D. Nichols, California’s electric-car-driving, hoodie-wearing, 72-year-old air quality regulator, is pressing ahead with a far-reaching agenda of environmental and climate actions. She says she will not let the Trump administration stand in her way. ...For now, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the E.P.A., has said that he will not seek to revoke the federal waiver that allows California to set auto emissions standards — an action that would likely propel the issue to court. Automakers, similarly, have not publicly asked for such a move. ...For much of the 20th century, swaths of Southern California were hit with smog outbreaks that turned the skies so dark that locals once mistook a particularly intense episode for a solar eclipse. Crops wilted; school events were canceled; Hollywood studios shut down their outdoor shoots. The state moved quickly to regulate the obvious sources, like factory smoke stacks, steel mills and coal power plants. Yet the acrid smog persisted. “You couldn’t see the mountains around L.A. on smoggy days,” said John R. Balmes, a physician, air pollution expert and a member of CARB’s board, who has lived in the region for almost four decades. “People’s eyes would burn. They’d have headaches. They’d have problems breathing.” It took Arie J. Haagen-Smit, a Dutch biochemist at the California Institute of Technology, to link the smog to auto emissions....

2017-09-25. A key Antarctic glacier just lost a huge piece of ice — the latest sign of its worrying retreat.

posted Sep 29, 2017, 6:22 AM by Alan Gould

By Chris Mooney, The Washington Post. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: An enormous Antarctic glacier has given up an iceberg over 100 square miles in size, the second time in two years it has lost such a large piece in a process that has scientists wondering whether its behavior is changing for the worse. The Pine Island Glacier is one of the largest in West Antarctica, ...which loses an extraordinary 45 billion tons of ice to the ocean each year — equivalent to 1 millimeter of global sea level rise every eight years — is 25 miles wide where its floating front touches the sea, and rests on the seafloor in waters more than a half-mile deep. The single glacier alone contains 1.7 feet of potential global sea level rise and is thought to be in a process of unstable, ongoing retreat. ...on Saturday, Stef Lhermitte, a satellite observation specialist at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, posted a satellite image  showing that Pine Island had “calved,” or broken off a piece of ice about 103 square miles in area. (For comparison, Manhattan is 22.83 square miles in size.)....

2017-09-22. Scientists Closing in on the Dawn of Plate Tectonics.

posted Sep 26, 2017, 12:51 PM by Alan Gould

By Shannon Hall, Scientific American. For GSS Energy Flow chapter 2. Excerpt: Geologists think early Earth may have looked much like Iceland—where jet-black lava fields extend as far as the eye can see, inky mountainsides rise steeply above the clouds and stark black-sand beaches outline the land. But over time the world gradually became less bleak. Today Earth also harbors light-colored rocks, like the granite that composes Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. But scientists remain uncertain as to when the world started to transition from the one that looked like Iceland to that which we know today. A new study published Thursday in Science suggests the shift transpired more than 3.5 billion years ago. Not only does the finding tell scientists the color of the world’s early beaches, it might help them understand when tectonic plates—the interlocking slabs of crust that fit together like puzzle pieces far beneath our feet—started to wake up and shuffle around. That is because the lighter-colored rocks, known as felsic rocks, are actually dark, or mafic, rocks “reincarnated.” In short, felsic rocks form when mafic ones are pushed deep inside Earth—possibly when one tectonic plate slips under another in a process called subduction. Given that light-colored felsic rocks were abundant billions of years ago, plate tectonics had likely already kicked into action....

2017-09-25. Pandas Are No Longer Endangered. But Their Habitat Is in Trouble.

posted Sep 26, 2017, 12:46 PM by Alan Gould

By Douglas Quenqua, The New York Times. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 1 and Ecosystem Change chapter 6. Excerpt: One year after giant pandas graduated from endangered to “vulnerable,” a welcome designation after 28 years, Chinese scientists have sobering news: The animal’s natural habitat in China is in serious danger. In a study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution on Monday, researchers report that suitable panda habitats have significantly and steadily declined since 1990, the year the International Union for the Conservation of Nature first classified the animals as endangered. That could make any gain in China’s wild panda population a short-lived conservation victory. Logging, human encroachment, road construction and agriculture have conspired to divide panda habitats into tiny sections, a process known as fragmentation, the study said....

2017-09-22. We Charted Arctic Sea Ice for Nearly Every Day Since 1979. You’ll See a Trend.

posted Sep 26, 2017, 12:41 PM by Alan Gould

By Nadja Popovich, Henry Fountain, Adam Pearce, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: Arctic sea ice has been in steep decline since the late 1970s, when satellite images were first used to study the region. NASA says that the extent of ice covering Arctic waters has fallen by 13 percent per decade. The 10 lowest ice minimums — measured each September, after the summer thaw — have all been recorded since 2007. Scientists say the disappearance of sea ice is largely a result of climate change, with the Arctic warming at a faster rate than any other region....

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