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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
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Latest News and Updates:

2018-03-20. Sudan, the Last Male Northern White Rhino, Dies in Kenya.

posted Mar 20, 2018, 11:21 AM by Alan Gould

By Rachel Nuwer, The New York Times. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 1. Excerpt: The last male northern white rhinoceros died on Monday at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya following a series of infections and other health problems. At 45, Sudan was an elderly rhino, and his death was not unexpected. Hunted to near-extinction, just two northern white rhinos now remain: Najin, Sudan’s daughter, and Fatu, his granddaughter, both at the conservancy. ...“This is a creature that didn’t fail in evolution,” said Thomas Hildebrandt, head of reproduction management at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and one of the project’s leaders. “It’s in this situation because of us.” Northern white rhinos, a subspecies of the more populous southern white rhinos, once roamed the grasslands of east and central Africa. In 1960, there were approximately 2,000. ...War, habitat loss and poaching for rhino horn have decimated populations, and by 2008 researchers could no longer locate northern white rhinos in the wild. But a number of the animals — including Sudan, who was captured in 1975 — remained at zoos around the world. “Sudan is an extreme symbol of human disregard for nature,” said Jan Stejskal, director of international projects at the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic, where Sudan spent most of his life. “He survived extinction of his kind in the wild only thanks to living in a zoo.” ...scientists also plan to use frozen cell cultures from 12 northern white rhinos, including Sudan, stored at the San Diego Zoo to create stem cells, which in theory might be coaxed into becoming egg and sperm and united to create an embryo....

2018-03-20. Canada’s Outdoor Rinks Are Melting. So Is a Way of Life.

posted Mar 20, 2018, 11:18 AM by Alan Gould

By John Schwartz, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: WATERLOO, Ontario — Jack Williams and his sister, Cara, sat in their kitchen watching their backyard rink melt. ...A rink like the Williamses’ used to offer good skating in this part of Canada from early December into March. But on this late February afternoon, the temperature outside was 55 degrees and rain had fallen steadily all day. ...Mr. Williams is finding it hard to maintain the ice in a warming world. “There’s a huge difference between when I grew up and was skating outside, and the last five years of skating out here,” he said. ...Climate change is warming the Northern Hemisphere rapidly, largely because of the greenhouse gases that humans have put into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial age. ...Mr. McLeman, with Colin Robertson, both associate professors of geography at Wilfrid Laurier, created Rink Watch, a citizen science project that has enlisted more than 1,500 backyard rink owners like Mr. Williams — about 80 percent of them in Canada — to report skating conditions on a daily basis. ...Climate change does not mean the immediate end of cold weather, as recent nor’easters have shown, but it is putting a squeeze on outdoor skating, a deep part of this country’s cultural identity. Irregular freezing weather is not enough for a good outdoor rink; consistency is key. At least five days of hard freezing, 14 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, is essential to start a rink, Mr. McLeman said. And 23 degrees or lower is required from then on to maintain a good surface. “Any warmer than that and the rink is no longer skateable,” he said. “And that’s sort of on the horizon for us in the second half of the 21st century,” with warmer temperatures and more frequent thaws shrinking the season for outdoor skating. “Is anyone going to put in the effort for just a few, or just a couple, of weeks?”...

2018-03-13. Should Some Species Be Allowed to Die Out?

posted Mar 15, 2018, 10:21 AM by Alan Gould   [ updated Mar 15, 2018, 10:24 AM ]

By Jennifer Kahn, The New York Times. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 3. Excerpt: ...Under the rules of the Endangered Species Act, once a species is discovered to be at risk of extinction, government agencies are required by law to take steps to save it. For years, critics have challenged that mandate, arguing that it undercuts the ability to weigh a species’ value or to consider the economic impact of its preservation — for instance, the cost of prohibiting logging in a valuable tract of forest. ...there are currently six bills pending in Congress, all aimed at overhauling (some would say gutting) the Endangered Species Act. ...One arguably legitimate criticism of the Endangered Species Act is that trying to save every creature is both unrealistic and inefficient. Because the act requires that we help all species at risk of extinction, the argument goes, agencies end up spending vital resources on less-important species, rather than concentrating on the most critical ones. Assigning value to species is a nearly impossible undertaking, because it involves a bewildering number of variables, including ecological importance, utility (coral reefs can act as breakwaters during coastal storms), the species’ place in our heritage, even its beauty or symbolism. Conservation has no formula for weighting these factors, either alone or in combination, and it’s hard to imagine one that people could agree on. How do we decide whether the wolf or the snow leopard is more valuable? In response, some conservation groups have argued that we should put our efforts toward saving the most genetically diverse species, with the goal of increasing our long-term ecological resiliency. ...Others have suggested prioritizing “functional diversity”: the preservation of key species, like predators and pollinators, whose presence can radically affect an ecosystem....

2018-03-12. After a Volcano’s Ancient Supereruption, Humanity May Have Thrived.

posted Mar 15, 2018, 10:16 AM by Alan Gould

By Shannon Hall, The New York Times. For GSS Energy Flow chapter 2 and Life and Climate chapter 11. Excerpt: About 74,000 years ago, a supervolcano at the site of present-day Lake Toba on the Indonesian island of Sumatra rocked our world. But while it was the largest volcanic eruption of the last two million years, a new study published Monday in Nature suggests that humans not only survived the event — they thrived. The study counters previous hypotheses, which suggested that the behemoth was so disastrous it caused the human species to teeter on the brink of extinction. ... Climate models suggest that temperatures may have plummeted by as much as 30 degrees Fahrenheit. And in such a cold world, plants may have ceased growing, glaciers may have advanced, sea-levels may have dropped and rainfall may have slowed. Then in 1998, Stanley Ambrose, an anthropologist, linked the proposed disaster to genetic evidence that suggested a population bottleneck had occurred around the same time. He was certain that the Toba supereruption had caused the human population to decline to some 10,000 people — a close call for our ancestors. ...The latest study, however, suggests that those theories are incorrect, Dr. Petraglia said. “We’re not seeing all the drama.”....

2018-03-12. Hotter, Drier, Hungrier: How Global Warming Punishes the World’s Poorest.

posted Mar 15, 2018, 10:13 AM by Alan Gould   [ updated Mar 15, 2018, 10:18 AM ]

By Somini Sengupta, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: KAKUMA, Kenya — These barren plains of sand and stone have always known lean times: times when the rivers run dry and the cows wither day by day, until their bones are scattered under the acacia trees. But the lean times have always been followed by normal times, when it rains enough to rebuild herds, repay debts, give milk to the children and eat meat a few times each week. ...Times are changing, though. Northern Kenya ...has become measurably drier and hotter, and scientists are finding the fingerprints of global warming. According to recent research, the region dried faster in the 20th century than at any time over the last 2,000 years. Four severe droughts have walloped the area in the last two decades, a rapid succession that has pushed millions of the world’s poorest to the edge of survival. Amid this new normal, a people long hounded by poverty and strife has found itself on the frontline of a new crisis: climate change. More than 650,000 children under age 5 across vast stretches of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are severely malnourished. The risk of famine stalks people in all three countries; at least 12 million people rely on food aid, according to the United Nations....

2018-03-09. The E.P.A. Chief Wanted a Climate Science Debate. Trump’s Chief of Staff Stopped Him.

posted Mar 15, 2018, 10:07 AM by Alan Gould

By Lisa Friedman and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 7. Excerpt: John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, has killed an effort by the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to stage public debates challenging climate change science, according to three people familiar with the deliberations, thwarting a plan that had intrigued President Trump even as it set off alarm bells among his top advisers. The idea of publicly critiquing climate change on the national stage has been a notable theme for Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the E.P.A. For nearly a year he has championed the notion of holding military-style exercises known as red team, blue team debates, possibly to be broadcast live, to question the validity of climate change. Mr. Pruitt has spoken personally with Mr. Trump about the idea, and the president expressed enthusiasm for it, according to people familiar with the conversations....

2018-03-09. Jupiter’s chaotic storms have roots deep beneath its surface.

posted Mar 11, 2018, 1:57 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Mar 11, 2018, 2:01 PM ]

By Paul Voosen, Science. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: The gaseous veil of Jupiter’s surface has long cast a pall over scientists’ quest to understand the giant planet’s depths. In particular, researchers have debated whether the bands of east-west winds ...extend deeper into the planet, or are merely superficial. Now, a series of papers from NASA’s Juno spacecraft, published today in Nature, has revealed that the roots of Jupiter’s winds indeed run deep. ...Juno’s scientists discovered an asymmetry in Jupiter’s north-south gravitational field that reflected shifting masses driven by rising winds from 3000 kilometers deep within the planet. These flows of hydrogen and helium, the team shows, are driven up by energy lost from the planet’s deeper interior, which rotates like a solid because of crushing high pressures.... See also Scientific American article:

2018-03-08. As countries crank up the AC, emissions of potent greenhouse gases are likely to skyrocket.

posted Mar 11, 2018, 1:54 PM by Alan Gould

By April Reese, Science. For GSS Climate Change chapter 3. Excerpt: In the summer of 2016, temperatures in Phalodi, an old caravan town on a dry plain in northwestern India, reached a blistering 51°C—a record high during a heat wave that claimed more than 1600 lives across the country. Wider access to air conditioning (AC) could have prevented many deaths—but only 8% of India's 249 million households have AC.... As the nation's economy booms, that figure could rise to 50% by 2050, he said. And that presents a dilemma: As India expands access to a life-saving technology, it must comply with international mandates—the most recent imposed just last fall—to eliminate coolants that harm stratospheric ozone or warm the atmosphere. "Growing populations and economic development are exponentially increasing the demand for refrigeration and air conditioning," says Helena Molin Valdés, head of the United Nations's (UN's) Climate & Clean Air Coalition Secretariat in Paris. "If we continue down this path," she says, "we will put great pressure on the climate system." But a slow start to ridding appliances of the most damaging compounds, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), suggests that the pressure will continue to build. HFCs are now "the fastest-growing [source of greenhouse gas] emissions in every country on Earth," Molin Valdés says....

2018-03-08. Why does evolution sometimes repeat itself? Spider-eating spiders may hold the answer.

posted Mar 11, 2018, 1:51 PM by Alan Gould

By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 3. Excerpt: Discovering something for the second time might sound like a letdown. Not for ecologists in Hawaii, who have found that spider-eating spiders on four islands there independently evolved the same colors: gold, black, and white. This rare example of parallel evolution, which has also been seen in one other Hawaiian spider, could help clarify one of biology’s biggest mysteries: how and when evolution repeats itself....

2018-03-08. Fleet of sailboat drones could monitor climate change’s effect on oceans.

posted Mar 11, 2018, 1:48 PM by Alan Gould

By Paul Voosen, Science. For GSS Energy Flow chapter 8 and Climate Change chapter 9. Excerpt: Two 7-meter-long sailboats are set to return next month to California, after nearly 8 months tacking across the Pacific Ocean. ...No captains will be at their helms. That is not because of a mutiny. These sailboats, outfitted with sensors to probe the ocean, are semiautonomous drones, developed by Saildrone, a marine tech startup based in Alameda, California, in close collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Washington, D.C. The voyage is the longest test for the drones and also the first science test in the Pacific—an important step in showing that they could replace an aging and expensive array of buoys that are the main way scientists sniff out signs of climate-disrupting El Niño events....

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