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Complete Archive (organized by chapter)
New World View
Climate Change
Life and Climate
Ozone
Losing Biodiversity
Energy Flow
Ecosystem Change
Population Growth
Energy Use
A Changing Cosmos
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Latest News and Updates

2014-07-08. Blueprint for Taming the Climate Crisis.

posted by Angela Miller

For GSS Life and Climate chapter 13. Excerpt: Here’s what your future will look like if we are to have a shot at preventing devastating climate change. Within about 15 years every new car sold in the United States will be electric. In fact, by midcentury more than half of the American economy will run on electricity. Up to 60 percent of power might come from nuclear sources. And coal’s footprint will shrink drastically, perhaps even disappear from the power supply. It offers a sobering conclusion. We might be able to pull it off. But it will take an overhaul of the way we use energy, and a huge investment in the development and deployment of new energy technologies. Significantly, it calls for an entirely different approach to international diplomacy on the issue of how to combat climate change. “This will require a heroic cooperative effort,” ...The teams, one in each of the 15 countries, looked at what would be necessary to keep the atmosphere from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius, 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above the preindustrial average of the late 19th century, a target that most of the world committed to at the climate summit meeting in Copenhagen five years ago. To do so, CO2 emissions from industry and energy use would have to fall to at most 1.6 tons a year for every person on the planet by midcentury... The decarbonization paths rely on aggressive assumptions about our ability to deploy new technologies on a commercial scale economically. For instance, carbon capture and storage is supposed to be available starting in about 10 years. Second-generation biofuels are assumed to come into play by 2020. Hydrogen fuel cells and power storage technology are deployed starting around 2030. ...Big challenges remain. Any 40-year forecast must be taken with some skepticism. Technologies that seem feasible and economic today might turn out not to be. And it bears repeating that though the teams contend they can get to 1.6 tons per person, they have not yet. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/09/business/blueprints-for-taming-the-climate-crisis.html?ref=science&_r=0. By Eduardo Porter, New York Times. 

2014-07-02. NASA Launches New Carbon-Sensing Mission to Monitor Earth’s Breathing.

posted Jul 2, 2014, 12:25 PM by Alan Gould

For GSS Climate Change chapter 5. Excerpt: NASA successfully launched its first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide at 2:56 a.m. PDT.... The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) ... soon will begin a minimum two-year mission to locate Earth’s sources of and storage places for atmospheric carbon dioxide, the leading human-produced greenhouse gas responsible for warming our world and a critical component of the planet’s carbon cycle. ...OCO-2 will ... produce the most detailed picture to date of natural sources of carbon dioxide, as well as their "sinks" -- places on Earth’s surface where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. The observatory will study how these sources and sinks are distributed around the globe and how they change over time. ...Carbon dioxide sinks are at the heart of a longstanding scientific puzzle that has made it difficult for scientists to accurately predict how carbon dioxide levels will change in the future and how those changing concentrations will affect Earth's climate. ...OCO-2 science operations will begin about 45 days after launch. ...The observatory will uniformly sample the atmosphere above Earth's land and waters, collecting more than 100,000 precise individual measurements of carbon dioxide over Earth's entire sunlit hemisphere every day.  ...OCO-2 also will measure a phenomenon called solar-induced fluorescence, an indicator of plant growth and health. As plants photosynthesize and take up carbon dioxide, they fluoresce and give off a tiny amount of light that is invisible to the naked eye. Because more photosynthesis translates into more fluorescence, fluorescence data from OCO-2 will help shed new light on the uptake of carbon dioxide by plants....  http://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/july/nasa-launches-new-carbon-sensing-mission-to-monitor-earth-s-breathing/#.U7RbQ6iPpr4. By NASA RELEASE 14-182.

2014-07-01. A Solar Show With Mixed Reviews.

posted Jul 2, 2014, 12:04 PM by Alan Gould

For GSS Energy Flow chapter 4. Excerpt: ...the maximum — the peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle, when the sun erupts with solar flares and energetic bursts of electrons and protons — may have already passed. As solar maximums go, this has been a tepid one, particularly when measured against some predictions that it would be ferocious; it has been called a “minimax.” But neither does it rival a quiet period in the second half of the 1600s that coincided with the onset of the Little Ice Age, a prolonged chill in Europe. ...“I think the general consensus is that we’ve passed the peak,” said C. Alex Young, a solar astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. But he added that some of the biggest solar storms in history occurred on the downward side of the solar cycle, and even a weak cycle can generate ferocious outbursts. “I think the expectation right now is we might see another burst of this activity five or six months from now,” Dr. Young said. “We might still have some big events.”... http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/01/science/a-solar-show-with-mixed-reviews.html. By Kenneth Chang, The New York Times.

2014-07. The Antarctic ozone hole: An update.

posted Jul 2, 2014, 11:55 AM by Alan Gould

For GSS Ozone chapter 9. Excerpt: In the 30 years since the ozone hole was discovered, our understanding of the polar atmosphere has become much more complete. The worldwide response to the discovery was fast, but the recovery is slow. ...Although anthropogenic CFCs are emitted mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, they are well mixed throughout the troposphere over the course of a couple of years, and air that enters the stratosphere in the tropics carries with it tropospheric levels of CFCs. ...Although the Arctic and Antarctic are similar in some ways, ozone columns below 180 DU, routine in the Antarctic, have never been observed in the Arctic. Chlorine levels are similar in both hemispheres, but winter and spring temperatures in the Antarctic are much colder than in the Arctic. ...The Northern Hemisphere’s large mountain ranges and its broad contrasts between land and sea temperatures result in a weaker polar vortex, warmer temperatures, and stronger Brewer–Dobson circulation. That stronger circulation leads to greater transport of ozone to the Arctic lower stratosphere and naturally higher ozone; year-to-year variability is also greater than in the Southern Hemisphere.... http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/article/67/7/10.1063/PT.3.2449. By Anne R. Douglass, Paul A. Newman and Susan Solomon, Physics Today.

2014-07. Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK.

posted Jul 2, 2014, 11:43 AM by Alan Gould

 For GSS Climate Change chapter 3. Excerpt of Abstract: The production of animal-based foods is associated with higher greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than plant-based foods. The objective of this study was to estimate the difference in dietary GHG emissions between self-selected meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. ...The diets of 2,041 vegans, 15,751 vegetarians, 8,123 fish-eaters and 29,589 meat-eaters aged 20–79 were assessed using a validated food frequency questionnaire. ...GHG emissions in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents per day (kgCO2e/day) were 7.19 (7.16, 7.22) for high meat-eaters ( > = 100 g/d), 5.63 (5.61, 5.65) for medium meat-eaters (50-99 g/d), 4.67 (4.65, 4.70) for low meat-eaters ( < 50 g/d), 3.91 (3.88, 3.94) for fish-eaters, 3.81 (3.79, 3.83) for vegetarians and 2.89 (2.83, 2.94) for vegans. In conclusion, dietary GHG emissions in self-selected meat-eaters are approximately twice as high as those in vegans. It is likely that reductions in meat consumption would lead to reductions in dietary GHG emissions. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-014-1169-1. By Peter Scarborough, et al.

2014-06-24. Bipartisan Report Tallies High Toll on Economy From Global Warming.

posted Jun 24, 2014, 11:35 AM by Alan Gould

For GSS Climate Change chapter 9. Excerpt: More than a million homes and businesses along the nation’s coasts could flood repeatedly before ultimately being destroyed. Entire states in the Southeast and the Corn Belt may lose much of their agriculture as farming shifts northward in a warming world. Heat and humidity will probably grow so intense that spending time outside will become physically dangerous, throwing industries like construction and tourism into turmoil. That is a picture of what may happen to the United States economy in a world of unchecked global warming, according to a major new report released Tuesday by a coalition of senior political and economic figures from the left, right and center, including three Treasury secretaries stretching back to the Nixon administration. ...The former Treasury secretaries — including Henry M. Paulson Jr., a Republican who served under President George W. Bush, and Robert E. Rubin, a Democrat in the Clinton administration — promised to help sound the alarm. All endorse putting a price on greenhouse gases, most likely by taxing emissions. ...“I have come to believe that climate change is the existential issue of our age,” Mr. Rubin said. “I believe that investors should insist that companies disclose their risks, including the value of assets that could be stranded.” He was referring to warnings that assets worth trillions of dollars are at risk of being stranded, or rendered obsolete, including vast coal and oil deposits that will most likely have to be left in the ground if dangerous levels of global warming are to be prevented.... http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/24/science/report-tallies-toll-on-economy-from-global-warming.html. By Justin Gillis, The New York Times.

2014-06-18. Global Coal Usage Reaches 44 Year High.

posted Jun 21, 2014, 8:51 PM by Alan Gould

For GSS Energy Use chapter 3. Excerpt:  Earlier this week, BP issued its annual "Statistical Review of World Energy" report. According to the report, coal was the fastest-growing fossil fuel worldwide last year, and "coal's share of global primary energy consumption reached 30.1 percent, the highest since 1970". Despite a decrease in coal usage by North America and Europe over the past several years (due in large part to cheaper natural gas), global coal consumption has risen to new highs, driven by the growing and power-hungry markets of China and India. And, as might be expected, worldwide carbon emissions grew again last year, by another 2.1 percent. Despite increasing urgency from the scientific community to reduce carbon emissions to head off climate disaster, and the small but growing use of renewable energy sources, coal appears to be the fuel of choice at the moment, and predictions are that its usage will continue to rise. [32 photos]....  http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2014/06/global-coal-usage-reaches-44-year-high/100760/. By Alan Taylor, The Atlantic.

2014-06-19. Buying Into Solar Power, No Roof Access Needed.

posted Jun 21, 2014, 8:39 PM by Alan Gould

For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt: ...David Polstein ...was unable to get a solar system to reduce his utility bill, he said, because his roof is too small and shady to make it worthwhile. Now, that could be changing. Mr. Polstein is considering joining a so-called community solar garden that is under development in his part of the state, one of many similar new arrangements now available in Massachusetts. Through the approach — largely pioneered in Colorado and spreading across the country — customers buy into a solar array constructed elsewhere and receive credit on their electricity bills for the power their panels produce. ...Massachusetts passed its law enabling community renewable energy projects in 2008 and saw at least one town solar garden begin operating in Brewster in 2012. Now, Clean Energy Collective, a leading developer, is building systems that are due to start producing power in Massachusetts by the end of this month. The company has teamed with Next Step Living of Boston, a home energy-efficiency company, which is selling the product to consumers across Massachusetts. Several other places, including California, Minnesota and Washington, D.C., have laws to establish their programs, ...In New York, ...a bill is working its way through the State Legislature.... http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/20/business/energy-environment/buying-into-solar-power-no-roof-access-needed.html. By Diane Cardwell, The New York Times.

2014-06-16. The Earth’s Hidden Ocean.

posted Jun 21, 2014, 8:28 PM by Alan Gould

For GSS Energy Flow chapter 3. Excerpt: An analysis of seismic waves passing through the deep earth appears to confirm what laboratory experiments have suggested was possible: that an ocean of water is tied up in the mantle, 400 miles below the surface. Any voyager to the center of the earth could leave the wet suit behind, however. The water is not liquid, but rather bound in minerals that exist at the extreme pressures found at such depths. ...“It’s a new view of the structure of this part of the earth,” said Brandon Schmandt, a geophysicist at the University of New Mexico and an author of a recent paper in the journal Science describing the research. The work also adds credence to the idea that the earth’s water accumulated in the interior during the planet’s formation, rather than arriving later through the bombardment of icy comets. In this view, water bound up in minerals in the mantle, the 1,800-mile-thick layer between the thin crust and the hot metallic core, degassed over time and reached the surface. The scientists studied a part of the mantle called the transition zone, from about 300 to 440 miles deep. The ability of this zone to contain water — and apparently to retain a lot of it — “may have something to do with stabilizing or buffering the size of the oceans,” said Steven D. Jacobsen, a mineralogist at Northwestern University and another author of the paper. “It may be fortunate that the earth’s interior can act like a sponge.” ...it’s not as if there are huge chambers of magma hundreds of miles below the surface, Dr. Jacobsen said. The melting occurs on the boundaries of the mineral grains. “You end up having a mushy rock,” he said. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/17/science/the-earths-hidden-ocean.html. By Henry Fountain.

2014-06-16. A Faster Way to Find the Origin of Malaria.

posted Jun 21, 2014, 8:20 PM by Alan Gould

For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 4. Excerpt: By using a DNA “bar code” of 23 short snips from the genes of parasites that cause malaria, scientists can now often quickly determine where they originated, British researchers report. The information could be useful in fighting local outbreaks, which may be caused by parasites from other parts of the world. And it should be possible to make a test kit that will get that information from a spot of dried blood in two hours — far less time than is needed to sequence a whole genome. For the study, published on Friday in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine analyzed the DNA of more than 700 malaria-causing parasites from all over the world. For Plasmodium falciparum — the most dangerous species — they found 23 consistent mutations that let them tell, with 92 percent accuracy, whether a strain was from West Africa, East Africa, Southeast Asia, South America or the South Pacific. They still hope to find markers that distinguish strains from Central America, the Caribbean, southern Africa and the Indian subcontinent.... http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/17/health/a-faster-way-to-find-the-origin-of-malaria.html. By Donald G. McNeil Jr, The New York Times.

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