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

2015-04-17. How the wolf became the dog.

posted by Alan Gould   [ updated ]

By David Grimm, Science (AAAS). For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 3. Excerpt:  ...Most experts now think dogs domesticated themselves. Early humans left piles of discarded carcasses at the edges of their campsites—a veritable feast, the thinking goes, for wolves that dared get close to people. Those wolves survived longer and produced more pups—a process that, generation by generation, yielded ever-bolder animals, until finally a wolf was eating out of a person's hand. Once our ancestors realized the utility of these animals, they initiated a second, more active phase of domestication, breeding early canines to be better hunters, herders, and guardians. ...A comparison of thousands of ancient dog and wolf skeletons, for example, has revealed flattening of the dorsal tips of ancient dog vertebrae, suggesting that the animals hauled heavy packs on their backs. The team has also spotted missing pairs of molars near the rear of the jaw in ancient dogs, which may indicate that the animals wore some sort of bridle to pull carts. These services, in addition to dogs' hunting prowess, may have proved critical for human survival, potentially allowing modern humans to outcompete our Neandertal rivals and even eventually settle down and become farmers. ...a study in this week's issue of Science helps explains how man and dog took the next step to become best friends. Takefumi Kikusui, an animal behaviorist at Azabu University in Sagamihara, Japan, and his colleagues have found that when dogs and humans gaze into each other's eyes, both experience a rise in oxytocin—a hormone that has been linked to trust and maternal bonding. The same rise in oxytocin occurs when human mothers and infants stare at each other, suggesting that early dogs may have hijacked this response to better bond with their new human family.... - see also How dogs stole our hearts and Solving the mystery of dog domestication.

2015-Spring. Reverse Cycle: Inspired by Leaves, a New Invention Turns Sunlight and Water into Fuel.

posted by Alan Gould

By Chelsea Leu, California Magazine. For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt: For the past ten years, Peidong Yang..., a professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Chemistry, researches artificial photosynthesis, a process that mimics a leaf’s ability to convert sun, water, and carbon dioxide into fuel. But in his case, the fuel isn’t glucose—it’s gasoline. Last winter, Yang and his colleagues took a major step forward in achieving that goal. Their invention looks more like a small patch of moss than a leaf: It’s a papery green disk slightly bigger than a quarter. Yang and his colleagues describe it as a nanowire mesh made up of a network of nanometers-thick semiconductor wires that use the sun’s energy to break the chemical bonds in water. Dip one of these circles into a sunlit beaker of water, and hydrogen and oxygen come bubbling out. Yang hopes these circles will one day use carbon dioxide emitted by automobiles and water from the atmosphere to create fuels such as methane, methanol, and butanol. The result would be a fuel system that’s both carbon neutral and self-sustaining—a vast improvement on our current system, which involves digging carbon out of the earth in the form of oil, coal, or gas, and releasing it as exhaust into the atmosphere, where it contributes to climate change.  ...when asked if he’s proud of the work his lab has accomplished, Yang demurs. “We’re making progress,” he says. “But we’re not there yet.”...

2015-02-27. Climate Change: Evidence and Causes.

posted Apr 17, 2015, 9:15 AM by Alan Gould

U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society (United Kingdom). For GSS Climate Change chapter 7. Excerpt: The leadership of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the U.K.’s Royal Society convened a UK-US team of leading climate scientists to produce this brief, readable reference document for decision makers, policy makers, educators, and other individuals seeking authoritative information on the some of the questions that continue to be asked. The publication makes clear what is well-established and where understanding is still developing. It echoes and builds upon the long history of climate-related work from both national academies, as well as on the newest climate-change assessment from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It touches on current areas of active debate and ongoing research, such as the link between ocean heat content and the rate of warming....

2015-04-07. USGCRP Climate & Health Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP).

posted Apr 16, 2015, 5:28 PM by Alan Gould

For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways. The draft report, The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment (available for download for public comment only between April 7 and June 8, 2015. ), was developed by USGCRP’s Interagency Group on Climate Change and Human Health as part of the sustained National Climate Assessment and as called for under the President’s Climate Action Plan. This assessment report is intended to present a comprehensive, evidence-based, and, where possible, quantitative estimation of observed and projected public health impacts related to climate change in the United States. Once finalized (expected early 2016), the report will provide needed context for understanding Americans’ changing health risks. ...The public comment period is open until 12 pm ET on June 8, 2015....

Carbon cycle activities and games:

posted Apr 11, 2015, 9:00 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Apr 11, 2015, 9:01 PM ]

2015-04-07. Yale Climate Opinion Maps.

posted Apr 7, 2015, 4:15 PM by Alan Gould

Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. For GSS Climate Change chapter 7. Excerpt: Public Opinion Estimates, United States, 2014, on these statements: Global warming is happening; Global warming is caused mostly by human activities; Most scientists think global warming is happening; Worried about global warming; Global warming is already harming people in the US; Global warming will harm me personally; Global warming will harm people in the US; Global warming will harm people in developing countries; Global warming will harm future generations; Fund research into renewable energy sources; Set strict CO2 limits on existing coal-fired power plants; Require utilities to produce 20% electricity from renewable sources; A carbon tax if refunded to every American household. Charts are granular at national, state, congressional district, and county levels....

2015-04-05. The Snake That’s Eating Florida.

posted Apr 7, 2015, 8:53 AM by Alan Gould

By Clyde Haberman, The New York Times. For GSS Ecosystem Change chapter 6. Excerpt: [video: Pets Gone Wild] ...In South Florida, wildlife officials have struggled for years with tens of thousands of the creatures: specifically, a species known as the Burmese python, an interloper from Southeast Asia that has taken up what looks like permanent residence in Everglades National Park and other areas of the state. ...At full maturity, a Burmese python routinely reaches lengths of 12 feet or more. Twenty-footers weighing 250 pounds are not unheard-of. The pythons are prodigious breeders, with voracious appetites to match. They are believed to have eaten their way through the Everglades, bringing about startling changes in the ecosystem. Some mammals native to those marshes, like foxes and rabbits, seem to have disappeared, researchers say. Other species — among them raccoons, deer, opossums and bobcats — are close to being wiped out. Pythons that migrated from the mainland to Key Largo have put indigenous wood rats in mortal peril. ...One issue with Burmese pythons is that people cavalierly bought them when they were maybe a foot long. In short order, those little fellows grew to eight feet, 12 feet, 16 feet. Talk about buyer’s remorse. Unable to deal with these giants, owners often dumped them wherever seemed feasible....

2015-04-06. The Lowest of the Snow.

posted Apr 6, 2015, 2:54 PM by Alan Gould

By Clara Chaisson, onEarth, NRDC. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: California’s ... snowmelt normally meets about 30 percent of the state’s annual water needs. But not a normal year. Ongoing drought has driven statewide snowpack down to just five percent of the historical average for the date of April 1—obliterating the previous record low of 25 percent. Worse yet, increasing low water levels may be the “new normal.” The downtrend becomes clear in ...NASA satellite imagery. [Satellite images interactive] of the Central Valley in March 2010 and March 2015 is basically like using a snow eraser....

2015-03-23. Shrinking habitats have adverse effects on world ecosystems--and ultimately people.

posted Mar 26, 2015, 3:42 AM by Alan Gould

NSF. For GSS Ecosystem Change chapter 6. Excerpt: An extensive study of global habitat fragmentation--the division of habitats into smaller and more isolated patches--points to major trouble for the world's ecosystems. The study shows that 70 percent of existing forest lands are within a half-mile of forest edges, where encroaching urban, suburban and agricultural influences can cause harmful effects such as losses of plant and animal species. ..."The results are stark," said Doug Levey, program director in NSF's Division of Environmental Biology and a co-author of the paper. "No matter the place, habitat or species, habitat fragmentation has large effects, which grow worse over time." ..."It's no secret that the world's forests are shrinking, so we asked about the effects of this habitat loss and fragmentation on the remaining forests," said Nick Haddad, a biologist at North Carolina State University and corresponding author of the paper. "The results were astounding," he said. "Nearly 20 percent of the world's remaining forests are the distance of a football field--or about 100 meters--away from forest edges. Seventy percent of forest lands are within a half-mile of forest edges. That means almost no forests can really be considered wilderness." ..."The initial effects were unsurprising," Haddad said. "But I was blown away by the fact that these negative effects became even more negative with time. Some results showed a 50 percent or higher decline in plant and animal species over an average of just 20 years. ...Haddad points to some possible ways of mitigating the effects of fragmentation: conserving and maintaining larger areas of habitat; using landscape corridors, or connected fragments that are effective in maintaining higher biodiversity and better ecosystem function; increasing agricultural efficiency; and focusing on urban design efficiencies. "Ultimately, habitat fragmentation has harmful effects that will also hurt people," said Haddad. "This study is a wake-up call to how much we're affecting ecosystems--including areas we think we're conserving."...

2015-03-23. No Need to Run in Hawaii: The Lava Is Coming, but Very Slowly.

posted Mar 26, 2015, 3:33 AM by Alan Gould

By Diane Cardwell, The New York Times. For GSS Energy Flow chapter 2. Excerpt: PAHOA, Hawaii — If a disaster movie played out in slow motion, it might look a bit like the Puna District on the Big Island of Hawaii. As a mass of smoldering black lava has inched since June toward the town of Pahoa, the commercial center of this isolated stretch of Puna, there has been no need for residents to run screaming from a flaming river rumbling down the mountain. ...“We’ve kind of been living day by day,” said Jeff Hunt, 55, a surfboard shaper with a shop along the main drag. “You just really don’t know how to act.” The Kilauea volcano is 35 miles away, and its magma has emerged routinely since 1983. Most of the time, when the lava exits the earth with enough force to creep far downhill, it heads south toward the ocean, following a course that is largely no longer inhabited. Starting last June 27, however, new fissures pushed the molten rock northeast, straight for this town of about 950. ...“The good news is that you have plenty of time to evacuate, so you’re not going to die,” [Mark Kimura, a researcher affiliated with the University of Hawaii at Hilo] said. The bad news? No one can predict when or if the lava will hit the town, he said. “The worst is, even geologists don’t know the answer.”...

1-10 of 568