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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
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Latest News and Updates

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.”...

2015-03-23. Amazon Forest Becoming Less of a Climate Change Safety Net.

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

By Justin Gillis, the New York Times. For GSS A New World View chapter 5. Excerpt: The ability of the Amazon forest to soak up excess carbon dioxide is weakening over time, researchers reported last week. That finding suggests that limiting climate change could be more difficult than expected. For decades, Earth’s forests and seas have been soaking up roughly half of the carbon pollution that people are pumping into the atmosphere. That has limited the planetary warming that would otherwise result from those emissions. ...In a vast study spanning 30 years and covering 189,000 trees distributed across 321 plots in the Amazon basin, researchers led by a group at the University of Leeds, in Britain, reported that the uptake of carbon dioxide in the Amazon peaked in the 1990s, at about 2 billion tons a year, and has since fallen by half. ...“Forests are doing us a huge favor, but we can’t rely on them to solve the carbon problem,” Dr. Phillips said. “Instead, deeper cuts in emissions will be required to stabilize our climate.”...

2015-03-11. New material captures carbon at half the energy cost.

posted Mar 18, 2015, 11:14 AM by Alan Gould

By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley News Center. For GSS Energy Use chapter 4. Excerpt: UC Berkeley chemists have made a major leap forward in carbon-capture technology with a material that can efficiently remove carbon from the ambient air of a submarine as readily as from the polluted emissions of a coal-fired power plant. The material then releases the carbon dioxide at lower temperatures than current carbon-capture materials, potentially cutting by half or more the energy currently consumed in the process. The released CO2 can then be injected underground, a technique called sequestering, or, in the case of a submarine, expelled into the sea....

2015-03-12. Warming Arctic may be causing heat waves elsewhere in world.

posted Mar 14, 2015, 8:16 AM by Alan Gould

By Carolyn Gramling, Science. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: Global warming is increasing temperatures twice as fast in the Arctic as elsewhere on the planet. Some scientists have suggested that this so-called Arctic amplification can alter circulation patterns that affect weather in the United States, Europe, and Asia, potentially helping cause the powerful winter storms and deep freezes that have blasted the midlatitudes over the past decade. A new study suggests Arctic warming could ultimately pack a summertime punch, too, possibly contributing to extreme events such as the deadly 2010 Russian heat wave. Melting sea ice in the Arctic has left vast expanses of dark open water available to absorb the sun’s energy. In the late autumn and early winter, when sea ice is at a minimum and temperatures begin to cool, the ocean releases that extra heat and moisture back into the atmosphere. Those fluxes help drive a positive feedback effect, further intensifying warming in the region. One result of this Arctic amplification is that there’s less of a temperature difference between the Arctic and the lower latitudes. Some scientists have suggested that the lower temperature gradient is weakening the winds that circle the globe, particularly the polar jet stream. In the wintertime, the idea goes, a weaker, wavier jet stream could promote more and longer bouts of frigid air reaching farther south, leading to extreme snowfalls such as those that struck the eastern United States in the past few years. ...The jet stream is weaker in summertime, too—and it “has been weakening over the last 36 years....

2015-03-12. Huge ocean confirmed underneath solar system’s largest moon.

posted Mar 14, 2015, 8:05 AM by Alan Gould

By Eric Hand, Science. For GSS A Changing Climate chapter 7. Excerpt: The solar system’s largest moon, Ganymede, in orbit around Jupiter, harbors an underground ocean containing more water than all the oceans on Earth. observations by the Hubble Space Telescope, published online today in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, remove any remaining doubt. Ganymede now joins Jupiter’s Europa and two moons of Saturn, Titan and Enceladus, as moons with subsurface oceans—and good places to look for life. ...The Hubble study suggests that the ocean can be no deeper than 330 kilometers below the surface....

2015-03-09. Farmers Put Down the Plow for More Productive Soil.

posted Mar 10, 2015, 9:22 AM by Alan Gould

Erica Goode, The New York Times. For GSS Loosing Biodiversity chapter 5. Excerpt: ...Gabe Brown ... a balding North Dakota farmer ... is talking about farming, specifically soil-conservation farming, a movement that promotes leaving fields untilled, “green manures” and other soil-enhancing methods with an almost evangelistic fervor. Such farming methods, which mimic the biology of virgin land, can revive degenerated earth, minimize erosion, encourage plant growth and increase farmers’ profits, their proponents say. And by using them, Mr. Brown told more than 250 farmers and ranchers who gathered at the hotel for the first Southern Soil Health Conference, he has produced crops that thrive on his 5,000-acre farm outside of Bismarck, N.D., even during droughts or flooding. He no longer needs to use nitrogen fertilizer or fungicide, he said, and he produces yields that are above the county average with less labor and lower costs. “Nature can heal if we give her the chance,” Mr. Brown said.....

2015-03-07. Despite Protections, Miami Port Project Smothers Coral Reef in Silt.

posted Mar 10, 2015, 9:16 AM by Alan Gould

By Lizette Alvarez, The New York Times. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 7. Excerpt: MIAMI — The government divers who plunged into the bay near the Port of Miami surfaced with bad news again and again: Large numbers of corals were either dead or dying, suffocated by sediment. The source of the sediment, environmentalists say, is a $205 million dredging project, scheduled to end in July and intended to expand a shipping channel to make room for a new generation of supersize cargo ships....

2015-03-05. Astronomers Watch a Supernova and See Reruns.

posted Mar 8, 2015, 2:29 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Mar 8, 2015, 2:30 PM ]

By Dennis Overbye, The New York Times. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 6. Excerpt: ...astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope say they have been watching the same star blow itself to smithereens in a supernova explosion over and over again, thanks to a trick of Einsteinian optics. The star exploded more than nine billion years ago on the other side of the universe, too far for even the Hubble to see without special help from the cosmos. ...light rays from the star have been bent and magnified by the gravity of an intervening cluster of galaxies so that multiple images of it appear. Four of them are arranged in a tight formation known as an Einstein Cross surrounding one of the galaxies in the cluster.  ...This is the first time astronomers have been able to see the same explosion over and over again, and its unique properties may help them better understand not only the nature of these spectacular phenomena but also cosmological mysteries like dark matter and how fast the universe is expanding.... “I was sort of astounded,” said Patrick Kelly of the University of California, Berkeley, who discovered the supernova images in data recorded by the space telescope in November ...lead author of a report describing the supernova published on Thursday in the journal Science. ...Robert Kirshner, a supernova expert at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who was not involved in the work, said: “We’ve seen gravitational lenses before, and we’ve seen supernovae before. We’ve even seen lensed supernovae before. But this multiple image is what we have all been hoping to see.”....

2015-03-06. NASA Spacecraft Becomes First to Orbit a Dwarf Planet.

posted Mar 8, 2015, 2:20 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Mar 10, 2015, 9:06 AM by Alan Gould ]

NASA RELEASE 15-034. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: NASA's Dawn spacecraft has become the first mission to achieve orbit around a dwarf planet. The spacecraft was approximately 38,000 miles (61,000 kilometers) from Ceres when it was captured by the dwarf planet’s gravity at about 4:39 a.m. PST (7:39 a.m. EST) Friday. ..."Since its discovery in 1801, Ceres was known as a planet, then an asteroid and later a dwarf planet," said Marc Rayman, Dawn chief engineer and mission director at JPL. "Now, after a journey of 3.1 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) and 7.5 years, Dawn calls Ceres, home.".... See also New York Times photos.

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