Staying Up To Date

Get the latest science, research, and policy news relating to the Global Systems Science books:

Subscribe to RSS feed Subscribe to this page with RSS. (What is RSS?)
Join GSS mailing list Join the GSS mailing list—send a message to GSS staff). List receives a weekly digest of the Staying-Up-To-Date articles, as well as occasional GSS news.
Complete Archive (organized by chapter)
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

2016-07-28. How Irrigation in Asia Affects Rainfall in Africa.

posted by Alan Gould

By Sarah Stanley, EoS Earth and Space News, AGU. For GSS Energy Flow chapter 9, Life and Climate chapter 12, and Population Growth chapter 5. Excerpt: Agricultural irrigation is so widespread that it accounts for about 4% of the total evapotranspiration of water from Earth’s surface. Scientists have known for some time that water vapor from irrigation affects regional and global climates. Now, for the first time, researchers have shown that irrigation in one region can directly affect the climate of another region thousands of kilometers away. De Vrese et al. used the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology’s Earth System Model to simulate the fate and impact of water used for irrigation in South Asia from 1979 to 1999. In the simulations, early spring winds carried water vapor from irrigation in South Asia across the Arabian Sea and into East Africa, increasing humidity there. By late spring, when irrigation in the Middle East, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan is in full swing, wind transported water vapor into Africa, increasing humidity as far west as Nigeria. ...The simulations show that water vapor transport from South Asian irrigation increases springtime rainfall in Africa by up to 1 millimeter per day. Increased rainfall and cloud cover may cool the surface by up to 0.5 kelvin. In the arid parts of East Africa, as much as 40% of the total yearly rainfall may be attributed to irrigation in Asia....

2016-07-28. Forbidden planets: Understanding alien worlds once thought impossible.

posted by Alan Gould

By Daniel Clery, Science. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: ...The planet hunt accelerated with the launch of NASA’s Kepler spacecraft in 2009, and the 2500 worlds it has discovered added statistical heft to the study of exoplanets—and yet more confusion. Kepler found that the most common type of planet in the galaxy is something between the size of Earth and Neptune—a “super-Earth,” which has no parallel in our solar system and was thought to be almost impossible to make.  ...Other planetary systems looked nothing like our orderly solar system, challenging the well-worn theories that had been developed to explain it. ...The traditional model of how stars and their planets form dates back to the 18th century, when scientists proposed that a slowly rotating cloud of dust and gas could collapse under its own gravity. ...This scenario naturally produces a planetary system just like our own: small, rocky planets with thin atmospheres close to the star, a Jupiter-like gas giant just beyond the snowline, and the other giants getting progressively smaller at greater distances because they move more slowly through their orbits and take longer to hoover up material. ...But the discovery of hot Jupiters suggested something was seriously amiss with the theory. ...Theorists have come up with two possible mechanisms for shuffling the planetary deck. The first, known as migration, requires there to be plenty of material left in the disk after the giant planet has formed. ...If the past is anything to go by, modelers will have to keep on their toes. “Nature is smarter than our theories,” Rafikov says.

2016-07-27. Solar plane's arrival highlights UAE's clean-energy push.

posted by Alan Gould

By Adam Schreck, Associated Press. For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt: United Arab Emirates...OPEC's fourth biggest oil producer...has emerged as an unlikely champion of clean energy. One way is by backing the Solar Impulse 2 solar plane, which ended its groundbreaking round-the-world flight on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi. ...Dubai, the country's cosmopolitan commercial hub, last month picked an Emirati-Spanish consortium to develop the third phase of what is slated to become the world's biggest solar park. The winning bid for the 800-megawatt phase of the project came in at an industrywide record low cost of 2.99 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour. ...Dubai aims to generate a quarter of its power from clean-energy sources by 2030 and 75 percent by 2050. It is even looking into the feasibility of tapping geothermal energy, possibly for use in the energy-intensive desalination process the UAE uses to satisfy much of its water needs. ...Masdar is probably best known as the developer of Masdar City, a clean-energy showcase community being built near Abu Dhabi's main airport. ...It also houses the global headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency, a 144-member organization founded in 2009. Its member countries include Israel, which sends delegates to the group's meetings and hopes to open an office in the Emirates even though the countries have no formal diplomatic relations....

2016-07-25. Round-the-world flight completed by solar aircraft.

posted Jul 26, 2016, 11:29 AM by Alan Gould

By Associated Press. For GSS Energy Use chapter 9. Excerpt: ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The world’s first round-the-world flight to be powered solely by the sun’s energy made history Tuesday as it landed in Abu Dhabi, where it first took off on an epic 25,000-mile journey that began more than a year ago. Since its March 2015 takeoff, the Swiss-engineered Solar Impulse 2 has made 16 stops across the world — including at Moffett Field in Mountain View — without using a drop of fuel to demonstrate that using the plane’s clean technologies can reduce the world’s energy consumption, save natural resources and improve quality of life. ...The aircraft is powered by 17,248 solar cells that transfer energy to four electrical motors that power the plane’s propellers. It runs on four lithium polymer batteries at night. The plane’s wingspan stretches 236 feet to catch the sun’s energy. At around 5,070 pounds, the plane weighs about as much as a minivan or midsize truck. An empty Boeing 747, in comparison, weighs 400,000 pounds...

2016-07-20. NASA’s Hubble Telescope Makes First Atmospheric Study of Earth-Sized Exoplanets.

posted Jul 24, 2016, 10:16 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Jul 24, 2016, 10:16 PM ]

NASA RELEASE 16-076. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 8. Excerpt: Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have conducted the first search for atmospheres around temperate, Earth-sized planets beyond our solar system and found indications that increase the chances of habitability on two exoplanets. ...the exoplanets TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c, approximately 40 light-years away, are unlikely to have puffy, hydrogen-dominated atmospheres usually found on gaseous worlds. ...The planets orbit a red dwarf star at least 500 million years old, in the constellation of Aquarius. They were discovered in late 2015 through a series of observations by the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST), a Belgian robotic telescope located at ESA’s (European Space Agency’s) La Silla Observatory in Chile. TRAPPIST-1b completes a circuit around its red dwarf star in 1.5 days and TRAPPIST-1c in 2.4 days. The planets are between 20 and 100 times closer to their star than the Earth is to the sun. Because their star is so much fainter than our sun, researchers think that at least one of the planets, TRAPPIST-1c, may be within the star’s habitable zone, where moderate temperatures could allow for liquid water to pool. On May 4, astronomers took advantage of a rare simultaneous transit, when both planets crossed the face of their star within minutes of each other, to measure starlight as it filtered through any existing atmosphere. This double-transit, which occurs only every two years, provided a combined signal that offered simultaneous indicators of the atmospheric characters of the planets. ...Observations from future telescopes, including NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, will help determine the full composition of these atmospheres and hunt for potential biosignatures, such as carbon dioxide and ozone, in addition to water vapor and methane. Webb also will analyze a planet’s temperature and surface pressure – key factors in assessing its habitability. ...The results of the study appear in the July 20 issue of the journal Nature....

2016-07-19. Chemists create vitamin-powered battery.

posted Jul 24, 2016, 10:14 PM by Alan Gould

By Naomi Lubick, Science. For GSS Energy Use chapter 9. Excerpt: Vitamins may be good for ...powering batteries. In the latest version of an organic flow battery—which uses carbon-based organic compounds instead of metal ions to carry charges—scientists have introduced a molecule similar to the core of vitamin B2 to carry energy. Like other flow batteries, this one stores energy in two liquids and generates an electrical current as the liquids flow past each other, trading electrons across a membrane. Because the liquids can be housed in large tanks, these batteries have the potential to store days’ worth of energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar....

2016-07-18. Spring tides trigger tremors deep on California’s San Andreas fault.

posted Jul 24, 2016, 10:13 PM by Alan Gould

By Eric Hand, Science. For GSS Energy Flow chapter 2. Excerpt: ...Below the town of Parkfield, California, hundreds of thousands of slow microearthquakes called tremors go off routinely where Earth’s brittle crust gets weaker and softer. Now, scientists have shown that these tremors are triggered by the rhythmic pulsing of the tides: not just the twice-daily tides that occur as the moon revolves around Earth, but also the twice-monthly spring tides that occur when the sun and moon align and pull strongly on the planet. The finding gives scientists a new window into a deeper part of the San Andreas fault, and new insight into how stress builds up on small patches of the fault until they snap. seismometers got more sensitive and were laid down in more places, scientists started to identify tremors in the lower crust. In these deeper regions, faults are weaker, and that means that tides can play a more important role. In 2012, scientists spotted deep tremors on the San Andreas fault below Parkfield that were tidally triggered, at the twice-a-day tidal peaks associated with the lunar day. In the new study, Van der Elst and his team found that bursts of tremors were also triggered during waxing of the twice-monthly spring tides, when the moon is aligned with the sun. Using a catalog of 4 million tremors that occurred between 2008 and 2015, they pinpointed the location and timing of the tremors in relation to the tides, they report today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  ...The tremors can’t predict the next “big one,” but in the long term, they could help scientists understand how big ones are set off....

2016-07-19. Global Temperatures Are on Course for Another Record This Year.

posted Jul 21, 2016, 2:46 PM by Alan Gould

By Henry Fountain, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 4. Excerpt: ...NASA scientists announced on Tuesday that global temperatures so far this year were much higher than in the first half of 2015. Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, said that while the first six months of 2015 made it the hottest half-year ever recorded, “2016 really has blown that out of the water.” He said calculations showed there was a 99 percent probability that the full year would be hotter than 2015. Dr. Schmidt said the world was now “dancing” with the temperature targets set last year in the Paris climate treaty for nations to limit climate change. He attributed part of the rise in temperatures this year to El Niño, in which warming waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean pump a lot of heat into the atmosphere....

2016-07-19. A note from the GSS Director.

posted Jul 21, 2016, 2:44 PM by Alan Gould

The article of 2016-07-19, How Renewable Energy Is Blowing Climate Change Efforts Off Course, by Eduardo Porter, The New York times calls attention to the vital problem of electrical energy storage needed for renewable energy systems to succeed in replacing our currently unsustainable systems. In my  opinion, the problem of electrical energy storage has reached a tipping point and really needs be solved as soon as possible.  I see two routes to solution, not at all mutually exclusive:
  1. Actions by power companies to install electrical energy storage systems such as large battery farms, hydro-storage systems, or other as yet untapped advanced technologies (huge flywheels?). 
  2. Radically advancing the incentives for local domestic small-scale electrical storage systems such as home, business, and industrial battery energy storage systems. Such systems allow home owners to store energy during peak renewable times to power their homes during the times that renewable power is not operating.

2016-07-19. How Renewable Energy Is Blowing Climate Change Efforts Off Course.

posted Jul 21, 2016, 2:33 PM by Alan Gould

By Eduardo Porter, The New York Times. For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt: ...Germany, Europe’s champion for renewable energy, ...eliminated an open-ended subsidy for solar and wind power and put a ceiling on additional renewable capacity. Germany may also drop a timetable to end coal-fired generation, which still accounts for over 40 percent of its electricity, according to a report leaked from the country’s environment ministry. Instead, the government will pay billions to keep coal generators in reserve, to provide emergency power at times when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. ...Renewable sources are producing temporary power gluts from Australia to California, driving out other energy sources that are still necessary to maintain a stable supply of power. In Southern Australia, where wind supplies more than a quarter of the region’s power, the spiking prices of electricity when the wind wasn’t blowing full-bore pushed the state government to ask the power company Engie to switch back on a gas-fired plant that had been shut down. But in what may be the most worrisome development in the combat against climate change, renewables are helping to push nuclear power, the main source of zero-carbon electricity in the United States, into bankruptcy. ...The economics of nuclear energy are mostly to blame. It just cannot compete with cheap natural gas.  ...Displacing nuclear energy clearly makes the battle against climate change more difficult.... 0

1-10 of 818