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2018-12-13. One Fifth of Los Angeles’s CO2 Rises from Lawns and Golf Courses.

posted by Alan Gould

By Katherine Kornei, Eos/AGU. [https://eos.org/articles/one-fifth-of-los-angeless-co2-rises-from-lawns-and-golf-courses] For GSS Climate Change chapter 5. Excerpt: Measurements of carbon-14 show that roughly 20% of carbon dioxide emissions in the Los Angeles Basin are likely due to the decay of plants in managed landscapes....  

2018-12-12. Arctic Undergoing Most Unprecedented Transition in Human History.

posted by Alan Gould

By Randy Showstack, Eos/AGU. [https://eos.org/articles/arctic-undergoing-most-unprecedented-transition-in-human-history] For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: The Arctic continues to undergo dramatic change due to atmospheric and ocean warming, and the region “is no longer returning to the extensively frozen region of recent past decades,” according to the 2018 Arctic Report Card issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2018 on Tuesday. ...Here are some of the main findings in the report: In 2018, surface air temperatures in the Arctic continued to warm at more than twice the rate relative to the rest of the globe. The year 2018 was the second warmest year on record in the Arctic ...second only to 2016. ...Arctic sea ice cover, which reached a winter maximum value extent of 14.48 million square kilometers on 17 March 2018, was the second lowest maximum extent in the 39-year record, following 2017. ...Older sea ice, which tends to be thicker and more resilient to changes in atmospheric and oceanic heat content compared to younger and thinner ice, declined by 95% between March 1985 and March 2018. ...The warming Arctic Ocean may be experiencing an increase in the extent and magnitude of toxic harmful algal blooms, which poses threats to human and ecosystem health. ...The abundance of migratory herds of caribou and wild reindeer in circum-Arctic tundra areas has declined 56% in the past 2 decades, dropping from 4.7 million to 2.1 million animals. Five herds in the Alaska-Canada region have declined by more than 90% and show no sign of recovery....  

2018-12-12. Power from peat—more polluting than coal—is on its way out in Ireland.

posted by Alan Gould

By Emily Toner, Science Magazine. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/12/power-peat-more-polluting-coal-its-way-out-ireland] For GSS Energy Use chapter 3. Excerpt: ...the Corneveagh Bog in central Ireland ...has been drained and stripped of its moss and heather to reveal the rich, black soil beneath: peat. ...A long mound of peat, stripped and dried earlier in the season, is covered in plastic, waiting to be piled into rail cars and taken to a nearby power plant. There, the carbon-rich soil will be burned to generate electricity. But not for much longer, says Barry O'Loughlin, an ecologist employed by Bord na Móna, a state-owned peat harvesting and energy company based in Newbridge that owns Corneveagh Bog. Bord na Móna, which means "Peat Board," will soon retire dozens of bogs like Corneveagh from energy production. Its team of four ecologists will rehabilitate many of them by blocking drains, soaking the ground, and reestablishing plant life, O'Loughlin says as his boots crunch through the frosty soil. ...In Ireland, peat has been used for centuries to warm homes and fire whiskey distilleries. ...Peat power peaked in the 1960s, providing 40% of Ireland's electricity. But peat is particularly polluting. Burning it for electricity emits more carbon dioxide than coal, and nearly twice as much as natural gas. In 2016, peat generated nearly 8% of Ireland's electricity, but was responsible for 20% of that sector's carbon emissions. ...Behind the phaseout is Ireland's promise to the European Union to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in 2020, compared with 2005 levels. ...Up to 430 jobs will be lost....  

2018-12-12. Martian methane—spotted in 2004—has mysteriously vanished.

posted by Alan Gould

By Paul Voosen, Science Magazine. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/12/martian-methane-spotted-2004-has-mysteriously-vanished] For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: Scientists first detected traces of [methane]—a critical indicator of life on Earth—in the planet’s atmosphere decades ago. But today, researchers reported that a European satellite hasn’t spotted a single trace of methane. The finding, if it holds up, could complicate scientific dreams that martian microbes might be spewing the gas in the planet’s subsurface. ...scientists suspect that hundreds of tons of organic carbon pour into the martian atmosphere each year from solar system dust, reacting with solar radiation to form methane, say John Moores, a planetary scientist at York University in Toronto, Canada. “Where is all that carbon going?”....

2018-12-08. Seeking Clues to Longevity in Lonesome George’s Genes.

posted by Alan Gould

By Steph Yin, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/08/science/lonesome-george-tortoise.html] For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 4, Population Growth chapter 3. Excerpt: The giant tortoise lived for more than a century, carrying genes linked to a robust immune system, efficient DNA repair and resistance to cancer. When Lonesome George, the only survivor of the Pinta Island tortoises of the Galápagos, died in 2012, the news landed with a blow. Rationally, people had time to prepare for the reality that George would one day fade away, and with him, an entire lineage. He had lived for a century or more, a common life expectancy for giant tortoises, and all attempts to mate him during his last few decades were unsuccessful. But emotionally, it’s hard to brace oneself for the realization that something that was once there is finally, completely gone. It’s the kind of stuff that makes you ponder life, our fleeting stint in the universe and the unrelenting, forward march of time.m Similar feelings drive longevity research. Recently, a team of scientists turned to George for help in this search, mining his genetic code for clues to his long life span. In a paper published Monday in Nature Ecology & Evolution, the researchers reported preliminary findings of gene variants in George linked with a robust immune system, efficient DNA repair and resistance to cancer. The study also sets the stage for understanding giant tortoises’ evolutionary past, which might help to conserve them in the future....

2018-12-07. The Planet Has Seen Sudden Warming Before. It Wiped Out Almost Everything.

posted by Alan Gould

By Carl Zimmer, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/07/science/climate-change-mass-extinction.html] For GSS Life and Climate chapter 8. Excerpt: In some ways, the planet's worst mass extinction — 250 million years ago, at the end of the Permian Period — may parallel climate change today. ... Some 252 million years ago, Earth almost died. In the oceans, 96 percent of all species became extinct. It’s harder to determine how many terrestrial species vanished, but the loss was comparable. This mass extinction, at the end of the Permian Period, was the worst in the planet’s history, and it happened over a few thousand years at most — the blink of a geological eye. On Thursday, a team of scientists offered a detailed accounting of how marine life was wiped out during the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. Global warming robbed the oceans of oxygen, they say, putting many species under so much stress that they died off. And we may be repeating the process, the scientists warn. If so, then climate change is “solidly in the category of a catastrophic extinction event,” said Curtis Deutsch, an earth scientist at the University of Washington and co-author of the new study, published in the journal Science....

2019-01-01. New Horizons flyby of Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule (2014 MU69).

posted Dec 5, 2018, 12:19 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Dec 5, 2018, 12:19 PM ]

NASA. [http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/] New Horizons is the superb spacecraft mounted with instruments that gave us all those rich, rich images and data in its flyby of Pluto in July of 2015.  Soon those exquisite instruments can be focused on yet another world in our Solar System, this time a Kuiper Belt object! Ultima is 100 times smaller than Pluto, but was Likely formed 4.5 or 4.6 billion years ago, 4 billion miles from the Sun. It's been at near absolute zero temperature ever since, so it's likely the best sample of the ancient solar nebula ever studied. Will Ultima turn out to be a collection smaller bodies? Will it have an atmosphere? Will it have rings? Will it have moons? Any of that could be possible, and soon we'll know the answers to these questions. Get ready to wish New Year to New Horizons.

2018-12-04. Megapixels: Watch NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft zoom in on its asteroid target.

posted Dec 5, 2018, 12:12 PM by Alan Gould

By Jillian Mock, Popular Science. [https://www.popsci.com/megapixels-nasa-asteroid-bennu] For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: On Monday, a NASA spacecraft reached the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, kicking off a research mission that could help us unlock secrets of the early solar system and, hopefully, the start of life on Earth. The spacecraft, named OSIRIS-REx (because Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue), has been beaming pictures of its approach to the asteroid all the way, allowing us to get a really close look for the first time. ...After a two year journey traveling to reach the asteroid’s orbit between Earth and Mars, the spacecraft is now less than 12 miles from Bennu. Following a few initial passes to get a sense of spin, mass, and shape, OSIRIS-REx will drop in close enough to start orbiting the asteroid in its weak field of gravity. If this happens as planned in January 2019, Bennu will become the smallest object NASA has ever orbited. ...OSIRIS-REx will spend another two years with its celestial dancing partner. While circling Bennu, which is about as wide as the Empire State Building is tall, the spacecraft will snap photos of the asteroid while 3-D mapping its surface and measuring temperature, rock mineral content, and x-rays emissions. OSIRIS-REx won’t ever land on its rocky target. But in July 2020, it will also reach out a mechanical arm and tap the asteroid’s surface to take a physical sample of whatever it finds there. The spacecraft will send this sample back to Earth, which, if successful, will be the first specimen collected from an asteroid and returned to our planet.... See also New York Times article [https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/03/science/osiris-rex-bennu-asteroid-arrival.html]

2018-12-02. Betting on a new way to make concrete that doesn’t pollute.

posted Dec 5, 2018, 12:08 PM by Alan Gould

By Stanley Reed, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/02/climate/betting-on-a-new-way-to-make-concrete-that-doesnt-pollute.html] For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt: ...a team from a company called Solidia Technologies ...based in Piscataway, N. J. [is] visiting England to test a new technology that the company hopes will dramatically reshape the manufacturing of concrete. Solidia says it can make this ubiquitous building material cheaper and at the same time reduce carbon dioxide emissions by essentially turning them into stone. Solidia’s big bet is that by tweaking the chemistry of cement, the key ingredient in these blocks and other concrete products, it can profit from helping to clean up an industry that is not only one of the largest on the planet but also one of the dirtiest. Cement plants are major league emitters of carbon dioxide, which is blamed for climate change. ...Because of the high heat and large amounts of energy needed as well as the chemical processes involved, making conventional or Portland cement — a process which requires high temperature kilns — produces as much as 7 percent of total global CO2 emissions. On a ton for ton basis, cement plants spew more carbon dioxide than any other manufacturing process, according to the International Energy Agency. ...Solidia claims it can reduce as much as 70 percent of that pollution by using different chemical formulas and smarter procedures to make cement. Ordinarily, for instance, concrete is cured or hardened in a reaction using water and steam. Solidia uses carbon dioxide instead. ... Carbon dioxide, collected from the flues of industrial plants, is pumped in from a nearby tank in amounts regulated by a system using sensors and computer software. Through a chemical reaction the CO2 is incorporated in synthetic limestone instead of being released into the atmosphere. The Solidia blocks are ready for use in 24 hours — a big potential advantage over ordinary pavers, which require a couple of weeks to harden.... 

2018-11-30. Why are these Costa Rican monkeys turning yellow?

posted Dec 1, 2018, 12:57 PM by Alan Gould

By Helen Santoro, Science Magazine. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/11/why-are-these-costa-rican-monkeys-turning-yellow] For GSS Ecosystem Change chapter 7. Excerpt: Chameleons and squid can change their colors, but monkeys cannot—until humans get involved. Researchers have spotted typically black mantled howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata) in Costa Rica starting to sport distinct yellow patches on their tails and legs, the first evidence of a rapid change in the pigmentation of primate fur. To figure out what was going on, scientists analyzed the fur of one of these color-changing monkeys. Mantled howler monkeys typically have a type of melanin—the pigment that colors hair and skin cells—called eumelanin that is black, gray, or dark brown. In the yellow hairs, the researchers noticed the melanin had changed to a sulfur-containing type called pheomelanin, seen in animals with yellow, red, or orange tones. The researchers believe the animals are ingesting the sulfur when they eat leaves on the trees surrounding pineapple, banana, and African palm oil farms that have been sprayed with pesticides. This sulfur may be mixing with the hair’s pigment structure and changing its overall composition, scientists suggest. In recent years, farms in Costa Rica have used a greater number of these pesticides....  

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