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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
ABCs of Digital Earth Watch Software

Latest News and Updates

2014-04-13. A molecular approach to solar power.

posted Apr 18, 2014, 4:29 PM by Angela Miller

For GSS Energy Use chapter 8. Excerpt: It’s an obvious truism, but one that may soon be outdated: The problem with solar power is that sometimes the sun doesn’t shine. Now a team at MIT and Harvard University has come up with an ingenious workaround — a material that can absorb the sun’s heat and store that energy in chemical form, ready to be released again on demand. This solution is no solar-energy panacea: While it could produce electricity, it would be inefficient at doing so. But for applications where heat is the desired output — whether for heating buildings, cooking, or powering heat-based industrial processes — this could provide an opportunity for the expansion of solar power into new realms. ...Unlike fuels that are burned, this system uses material that can be continually reused. It produces no emissions and nothing gets consumed...The adoption of carbon nanotubes to increase materials’ energy storage density is “clever,”...the resulting increase in energy storage density “is surprising and remarkable.” “This result provides additional motivation for researchers to design more and better photochromic compounds and composite materials that optimize the storage of solar energy in chemical bonds,” Kanai says... By David L. Chandle, MIT News Office.

2014-04-17. First Earth-Size Planet in 'Habitable Zone'.

posted Apr 18, 2014, 3:49 PM by Angela Miller   [ updated Apr 18, 2014, 3:51 PM ]

For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 8. Excerpt: Using NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered the first Earth-size planet orbiting a star in the "habitable zone" -- the range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. The discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that planets the size of Earth exist in the habitable zone of stars other than our sun. While planets have previously been found in the habitable zone, they are all at least 40 percent larger in size than Earth and understanding their makeup is challenging. Kepler-186f is more reminiscent of Earth. "The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth," said Paul Hertz, NASA's Astrophysics Division director at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "Future NASA missions, like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the James Webb Space Telescope, will discover the nearest rocky exoplanets and determine their composition and atmospheric conditions, continuing humankind's quest to find truly Earth-like worlds." By NASA Kepler mission. See NASA RELEASE 14-111. See also:

2014-04-10. NASA's Hubble Extends Stellar Tape Measure 10 Times Farther Into Space.

posted Apr 10, 2014, 1:58 PM by Alan Gould

For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 4. Excerpt: ...astronomers now can precisely measure the distance of stars up to 10,000 light-years away -- 10 times farther than previously possible...employing a technique called spatial scanning, which dramatically improves Hubble's accuracy for making angular measurements. The technique, when applied to the age-old method for gauging distances called astronomical parallax, extends Hubble's tape measure 10 times farther into space. ...Parallax, a trigonometric technique, is the most reliable method for making astronomical distance measurements, and a practice long employed by land surveyors here on Earth. The diameter of Earth's orbit is the base of a triangle and the star is the apex where the triangle's sides meet. The lengths of the sides are calculated by accurately measuring the three angles of the resulting triangle. ...This new long-range precision was proven when scientists successfully used Hubble to measure the distance of a special class of bright stars called Cepheid variables, approximately 7,500 light-years away in the northern constellation Auriga. The technique worked so well, they are now using Hubble to measure the distances of other far-flung Cepheids. Such measurements will be used to provide firmer footing for the so-called cosmic "distance ladder." This ladder's "bottom rung" is built on measurements to Cepheid variable stars that, because of their known brightness, have been used for more than a century to gauge the size of the observable universe. They are the first step in calibrating far more distant extra-galactic milepost markers such as Type Ia supernovae. ...To make a distance measurement, two exposures of the target Cepheid star were taken six months apart, when Earth was on opposite sides of the sun. A very subtle shift in the star's position was measured to an accuracy of 1/1,000 the width of a single image pixel in Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3, which has 16.8 megapixels total.  A third exposure was taken after another six months to allow for the team to subtract the effects of the subtle space motion of stars, with additional exposures used to remove other sources of error. ...visit:  By NASA RELEASE 14-104.

2014-04-06. World Running Out Of Time To Stop Global Warming, UN Report Says.

posted Apr 8, 2014, 8:40 AM by Alan Gould

For GSS Climate Change chapter 4. Excerpt: OSLO, April 6 (Reuters) - World powers are running out of time to slash their use of high-polluting fossil fuels ... a draft U.N. study ...says nations will have to impose drastic curbs on their still rising greenhouse gas emissions to keep a promise made by almost 200 countries in 2010 to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius ...over pre-industrial times. ...The draft, seen by Reuters, outlines ways to cut emissions and boost low-carbon energy, which includes renewables such as wind, hydro- and solar power, nuclear power and "clean" fossil fuels, whose carbon emissions are captured and buried. ...Saskatchewan Power in Canada will open a $1.35 billion coal-fired electricity generating plant this year that will extract a million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year from its exhaust gases - the first carbon capture and storage plant of its type. Reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the group meeting in Berlin, will help governments, which aim to agree a deal to slow climate change at a Paris summit in December 2015. Few nations have outlined plans consistent with staying below 2 degrees C. ...The IPCC draft report is the third and final study in a U.N. series about climate change, updating findings from 2007, after the Japan report about the impacts and one in September in Sweden about climate science.  By Alister Doyle, Huffington Post.

2014-03-31. Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability -- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).

posted Mar 31, 2014, 2:39 PM by Alan Gould For GSS Climate Change chapter 4.  The Summary for Policymakers of the Working Group II contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report was approved, and the full report accepted, by the IPCC on 30 March 2014.  The Summary for Policymakers of the Working Group I ( contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report was approved, and the full report accepted, by the IPCC on 27 September 2013. Articles about this: Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst Is Yet to Come, by Justin Gillis -; Calculated Risk, by Melissa Mahony, OnEarth, NRDC -

2014-03-29. The Artificial Leaf Is Here. Again.

posted Mar 30, 2014, 1:43 PM by Alan Gould

For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt: ...Daniel Nocera...Harvard chemist has pioneered the artificial leaf, an invention that generates energy...based on photosynthesis. ...A vessel of water is exposed to light. A silicon strip coated in catalysts breaks down the water molecule such that on one side oxygen bubbles up, and, on the other, hydrogen, which can be used as a fuel.  ...The leaf and its technology have been replicated many times, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of Wisconsin and Free University Berlin... the issue isn’t the invention at all — it’s how to use it. “If I give you a canister of hydrogen that we got from the artificial leaf, you can’t use it right away,” Mr. Nocera said. ...Discovering a brilliant way to efficiently generate hydrogen is hard enough. Then there’s ... getting consumers accustomed to what’s needed for it to work, such as fuel cells — which convert hydrogen into usable electricity. ...You have to change an entire infrastructure.... If we had fuel cells in your house and your car, then everybody would be trying to implement the artificial leaf right now.” The other obstacle is the marketplace. Only a few years ago, he said, “the magic number was $3 ‘gas gallon equivalent.’ ” ...Even as he closed in on that number, the old fossil-fuel industry pulled the rug out from under him with a surge in cheap natural-gas extraction, driven by hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Seemingly overnight, the magic number became “a buck fifty,”.... Jack Hitt, New York Times.

2014-03-27. Custom Chromo: First Yeast Chromosome Built From Scratch.

posted Mar 29, 2014, 11:22 AM by Alan Gould

For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 4. Excerpt: ...Using the labor of dozens of undergraduate students, scientists have built a customized yeast chromosome from scratch. It's a milestone in the rapidly growing field of synthetic biology, where organisms can be tailored for industrial use. In this case, the near-term goal is to understand the genetics of yeast, and eventually the genetics of us. This was quite an undertaking. Yeast have about 6,000 genes packed in 16 tidy bundles called chromosomes. Each chromosome is an enormous molecule of DNA packed in proteins. ...[Jef] Boeke and his colleagues put together a class, called Build-A-Genome, and got undergraduates at Hopkins to do the painstaking labor of constructing long strings of DNA. These would eventually become segments of their yeast chromosome. ...To make the chromosome useful for research, they've deleted some parts of the DNA that they believe are not essential, "and then we add a number of bells and whistles to the chromosome, that we think will make for a more interesting version that we can play evolutionary games with in the laboratory," Boeke says. ...Of course, this deep manipulation of DNA also raises ethical questions — about everything from patenting life-forms, to the potential misuse of biotechnology for weapons or other nefarious purposes. So part of the class involved an ethics discussion, led by Debra Mathews, a bioethicist at Johns Hopkins.... Richard Harris, NPR.

2014-03-24. Carp(e) Diem: Kentucky Sends Invasive Fish To China.

posted Mar 29, 2014, 11:19 AM by Alan Gould

For GSS Ecosystem Change chapter 6. Excerpt: ...The invasive Asian carp has now been found in 12 states and in the Great Lakes watershed, gobbling up native fish, jumping aggressively into boats and reproducing like crazy. Researchers have tried various ways to slow the spread of the fish as it prowls other waterways. ...So now a processing plant in Kentucky is trying the latest method of Asian carp disposal: sending them to China. ...Angie Wu ships them to her native country — China — where they are a prized food. "There are a lot [of carp] in China but most of them are farmed ... not very clean as here," she says. Wu has shipped more than a half-million pounds of processed carp to China. ...Asian carp hasn't caught on in U.S. restaurants, but that hasn't stopped Kentucky from trying to teach people how to prepare it. ...The state has also hosted tastings to show people that when you fry Asian carp in cornmeal, it's not that different from catfish. longtime fishermen and distributor, Ronnie Hopkins...says it is possible to make a living on Asian carp, but it's not easy. He says native fish sell for about 60 cents a pound — the abundant carp go for just 10 cents a pound ... and that's if he can find a local buyer. "I wish the state would get more involved and maybe use it as product in our schools. We're buying from other countries and other states right now when we've got an abundance of fish we could use," says Hopkins.... Whitney Jones, NPR.

2014-03-24. Fish Embryos Exposed to Oil From BP Spill Develop Deformities, a Study Finds.

posted Mar 29, 2014, 11:17 AM by Alan Gould

For GSS Energy Use chapter 3. Excerpt: ...Embryos of tuna and amberjack that were exposed to crude oil collected from the Deepwater Horizon spill developed heart and other deformities that would probably kill some of the developing fish and shorten the lives of others, a new study by a team of marine scientists reported on Monday. Their findings, published in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will figure in the final assessment of damages for the disaster that will be borne by BP, which operated the oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico when the disaster occurred. An explosion and fire nearly four years ago spewed roughly 4.1 million barrels of oil into the gulf; another 800,000 barrels were contained before it could escape into the water. Remnants of the spill continue to wash up.... Michael Wines, The New York Times.  

2014-03-20. Limits on Ivory Sales, Meant to Protect Elephants, Set Off Wide Concerns.

posted Mar 29, 2014, 11:15 AM by Alan Gould

For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 8. Excerpt: ...New federal rules aimed at blocking the sale of ivory to protect endangered elephants are causing an uproar among musicians, antiques dealers, gun collectors and thousands of others whose ability to sell, repair or travel with legally acquired ivory objects will soon be prohibited featuring ivory pegs and bridges, ...chess sets with antique ivory pieces ...ivory inlay from ...commemorative handguns and rifles ...piano with ivory keys.... “The U.S. market is contributing to the crisis now threatening the African elephant,” the Fish and Wildlife Service director, Daniel M. Ashe, told Congress last month.  ...An unusual assortment of trade groups opposes the regulations, including the National Association of Music Makers, the Art and Antiques Dealers League of America and the National Rifle Association.  ...At the hearing, some critics questioned whether criminalizing the civilian ivory market would be as effective as helping African countries protect elephants and punish poachers. But federal officials said the reduction in demand will invariably put a dent in poaching efforts.... Tom Mashberg, New York Times.

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