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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

2014-10-14. Earth’s magnetic field could flip within a human lifetime.

posted Oct 15, 2014, 1:21 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Oct 17, 2014, 2:58 PM by Angela Miller ]

For GSS Energy Flow chapter 3. Excerpt: ...Earth’s magnetic field has flipped – though not overnight – many times throughout the planet’s history. Its dipole magnetic field, like that of a bar magnet, remains about the same intensity for thousands to millions of years, but for incompletely known reasons it occasionally weakens and, presumably over a few thousand years, reverses direction. ...Now, a new study by a team of scientists from Italy, France, Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley, demonstrates that the last magnetic reversal 786,000 years ago actually happened very quickly, in less than 100 years – roughly a human lifetime. ...Courtney Sprain... and Paul Renne, director of the Berkeley Geochronology Center and a UC Berkeley professor-in- residence of earth and planetary science, are coauthors of the study, which will be published in the November issue of Geophysical Journal International and is now available online. [] ...The discovery comes as new evidence indicates that the intensity of Earth’s magnetic field is decreasing 10 times faster than normal, leading some geophysicists to predict a reversal within a few thousand years. Though a magnetic reversal is a major planet-wide event driven by convection in Earth’s iron core, there are no documented catastrophes associated with past reversals, despite much searching in the geologic and biologic record. Today, however, such a reversal could potentially wreak havoc with our electrical grid, generating currents that might take it down. And since Earth’s magnetic field protects life from energetic particles from the sun and cosmic rays, both of which can cause genetic mutations, a weakening or temporary loss of the field before a permanent reversal could increase cancer rates.... By Robert Sanders, Media Relations UC BERKELEY. *.

2014-10-13. A Threat Is Seen in Pumas’ Isolation.

posted Oct 14, 2014, 3:33 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Oct 14, 2014, 3:40 PM ]

For GSS Ecosystem Change chapter 6 and Losing Biodiversity chapter 4. Excerpt: The isolating effects of human development are causing a sharp decline in genetic diversity among mountain lions in Southern California, a new study says. Researchers from the University of California, Davis, collected DNA samples from more than 350 mountain lions throughout California and found that animals separated by little more than a highway have far less genetic material in common than they did just 80 years ago, suggesting that there is far less interbreeding among populations. Pumas in the Santa Ana Mountains — effectively fenced in by Interstate 15 to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west and Los Angeles to the north — displayed lower genetic diversity  ...So severe is their isolation that the Santa Ana pumas have more in common genetically with lions 400 miles to the north than their neighbors in the Santa Monica Mountains. ... “Genetically diverse populations are better able to handle whatever nature or humans throw at them, like climate change or disease,” said Dr. Ernest, a geneticist now at the University of Wyoming. “If mountain lions lose that genetic diversity, they lose that resilience.”.... By Douglas Quenqua, The New York Times.

2014-10-13. Pentagon Signals Security Risks of Climate Change.

posted Oct 14, 2014, 9:28 AM by Alan Gould

For GSS Climate Change chapter 9. Excerpt: The Pentagon on Monday released a report asserting decisively that climate change poses an immediate threat to national security, with increased risks from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages. It also predicted rising demand for military disaster responses as extreme weather creates more global humanitarian crises. The report lays out a road map to show how the military will adapt to rising sea levels, more violent storms and widespread droughts. ...Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking Monday at a meeting of defense ministers in Peru, highlighted the report’s findings and the global security threats of climate change. ...“The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere,” Mr. Hagel said. “Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration.”  Climate change negotiators from around the world will meet in Peru in December to draft that deal. Mr. Hagel’s speech on Monday appeared intended to build support for that effort. ...In 1997, Mr. Hagel, then a Republican senator from Nebraska, played a crucial role in blocking the United States from taking part in the world’s first climate change treaty. He wrote, with Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, a resolution ensuring that the Senate would never ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which required the world’s largest economies to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions. Today, Mr. Hagel’s efforts to lay the groundwork for a new global climate deal signal a remarkable shift.... By Coral Davenport, The New York Times.

2014-10-10. Satellite sees hot spot of methane in US Southwest.

posted Oct 11, 2014, 2:32 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Oct 11, 2014, 2:35 PM ]

For GSS Climate Change chapter 3 and Energy Use chapter 3. Excerpt: A surprising hot spot of the potent global-warming gas methane hovers over part of the southwestern U.S., according to satellite data. ...The higher level of methane is not a local safety or a health issue for residents, but factors in overall global warming. It is likely leakage from pumping methane out of coal mines. ...Within that hot spot, a European satellite found atmospheric methane concentrations equivalent to emissions of about 1.3 million pounds a year.  ...The amount of methane in the Four Corners — an area covering about 2,500 square miles — would trap more heat in the atmosphere than all the carbon dioxide produced yearly in Sweden. That's because methane is 86 times more potent for trapping heat in the short-term than carbon dioxide.... By Seth Borenstein, Associated Press Science Writer. See also NASA RELEASE 14-280 -

2014-10-10. What's going on with Antarctic sea ice?

posted Oct 11, 2014, 2:12 PM by Alan Gould

For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: ...The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) announced this week that the sea ice surrounding Antarctica reached its maximum extent ...also set a record for the highest extent of sea ice around the continent since satellite measurements began in the late 1970s. ...uptick in Antarctic sea ice is still only a fraction (about a third) of the rapid loss of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. ...This enigma has puzzled scientists, and it’s an active area of research; ...while the overall climate is warming, it’s a complicated system: The warming climate is also changing weather patterns. Multiple studies have been looking into how these changes might affect sea ice extent: for example, changes in prevailing wind patterns or in the magnitude of ocean waves, both of which can herd the ice toward or away from the coast.... By Carolyn Gramling, Science AAAS.

2014-10-07. Invention of Blue LEDs Wins Physics Nobel.

posted Oct 7, 2014, 4:51 PM by Angela Miller   [ updated Oct 14, 2014, 9:51 AM by Alan Gould ]

For GSS Energy Use chapter 7. Excerpt: [T]he first blue LEDs in the early 1990s  ...enabled a new generation of bright, energy-efficient white lamps, as well as colour LED screens. ...Nobel Prizes were established to recognise developments that delivered "the greatest benefit to mankind". ...Although red and green LEDs had been around for many years, blue LEDs were a long-standing challenge for scientists in both academia and industry. Without them, the three colours could not be mixed to produce the white light we now see in LED-based computer and TV screens. Furthermore, the high-energy blue light could be used to excite phosphorus and directly produce white light - the basis of the next generation of light bulb. ...White LED lamps...use much less energy than both incandescent and fluorescent lamps. That improvement arises because LEDs convert electricity directly into photons of light, instead of the wasteful mixture of heat and light generated inside traditional, incandescent bulbs. ...Commenting on the news, the president of the Institute of Physics, Dr Frances Saunders, emphasised that energy-efficient lamps form an important part of the effort to help slow carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. "With 20% of the world's electricity used for lighting, it's been calculated that optimal use of LED lighting could reduce this to 4%," she said. ...LED lamps have the potential to help more than 1.5 billion people around the world who do not have access to electricity grids - because they are efficient enough to run on cheap, local solar power. ..."It pleases me greatly, because this is good science but it's also useful science. It's making a huge difference to energy savings."... By Jonathan Webb, BBC News.  See also

2014-10-01. Satellite images show Aral Sea basin 'completely dried'.

posted Oct 4, 2014, 4:55 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Oct 4, 2014, 4:59 PM ]

For GSS Ecosystem Change chapter 1. Excerpt: ...Images from the US space agency’s Terra satellite released last week show that the eastern basin of the Central Asian inland sea – which stretched across Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and was once the fourth largest in the world – was totally parched in August. Images taken in 2000 show an extensive body of water covering the same area. “This is the first time the eastern basin has completely dried in modern times,” Philip Micklin, a geographer emeritus from Western Michigan University told Nasa. “And it is likely the first time it has completely dried in 600 years, since Medieval desiccation associated with diversion of Amu Darya to the Caspian Sea.” In the 1950s, two of the region’s major rivers – the Amu Darya and and the Syr Darya – were diverted by the Soviet government to provide irrigation for cotton production in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, starving the Aral. ...A lack of rain and snow on the Pamir Mountains has contributed to the particularly low water levels this summer, said Micklin. ...More than 60 million people live around the Aral Sea basin. The lack of water has devastated the region’s fishing industry, leaving ship graveyards as well as large areas of salted sand, which is easily kicked up by winds and contributes to health problems.... By Enjoli Liston, The Guardian. See also NASA Earth Observatory page World of Change: Shrinking Aral Sea.

2014-10-03. Clashing Visions of Conservation Shake Brazil’s Presidential Vote.

posted Oct 4, 2014, 1:39 PM by Alan Gould

For GSS A New World View chapter 5. Excerpt: From the podium at the United Nations to declarations on the campaign trail, President Dilma Rousseff is celebrating Brazil’s protection of the Amazon. But satellite data released last month shows that Brazil’s annual deforestation rate in the Amazon has climbed again after years of declines, rising 29 percent, leaving her vulnerable to attacks in this nation’s acrimonious presidential race. ...When the security forces here find new signs of illegal deforestation, they often act swiftly, arresting and fining those responsible. They destroy encampments and equipment, setting fire to tractors and logging trucks. Such methods helped lower annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by about 70 percent since 2000. ...But land speculators are adapting. Investigators say that some have assembled a web of informants tracking the movements of the environmental police. At times, small revolts have also erupted, as when dozens of people in a nearby settlement cornered the environmental police at their hotel in May. Then there are tactics like deploying arsonist crews at times of heavy cloud cover or light rains, when detecting fires under the forest canopy by satellite is thought to be harder.  ...“This is the Wild West of environmental crimes,” he said. “We are waging an endless war.” ...Though almost 20 percent of the Brazilian Amazon has been cleared since the 1960s and ’70s, Ms. Teixeira said that Brazil could serve as an anti-deforestation example for the developing world. “I would love for the forests of Indonesia or the Congo River Basin to have the same levels of protection we have forged,” she added. Still, Brazil’s deforestation rate could climb for a second consecutive year, after the 29 percent increase from 2012 to 2013. Preliminary data from a satellite-based system showed a 9 percent increase in deforestation alerts, the National Institute for Space Research said in September.... By Simon Romero, The New York Times.

2014-10-01. 35,000 walrus come ashore in northwest Alaska.

posted Oct 1, 2014, 3:36 PM by Alan Gould

For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpts: ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Pacific walrus that can't find sea ice for resting in Arctic waters are coming ashore in record numbers on a beach in northwest Alaska. An estimated 35,000 walrus were photographed Saturday about 5 miles north of Point Lay, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. ...The enormous gathering was spotted during NOAA's annual arctic marine mammal aerial survey, spokeswoman Julie Speegle said by email. ...The gathering of walrus on shore is a phenomenon that has accompanied the loss of summer sea ice as the climate has warmed. ...Unlike seals, walrus cannot swim indefinitely and must rest. They use their tusks to "haul out," or pull themselves onto ice or rocks. ..."It's another remarkable sign of the dramatic environmental conditions changing as the result of sea ice loss," said Margaret Williams, managing director of the group's Arctic program, by phone from Washington, D.C. "The walruses are telling us what the polar bears have told us and what many indigenous people have told us in the high Arctic, and that is that the Arctic environment is changing extremely rapidly and it is time for the rest of the world to take notice and also to take action to address the root causes of climate change." This summer, the sea ice's annual low point was the sixth smallest since satellite monitoring began in 1979.... By Dan Joling, Associated Press.

2014-09-29. Scientists Trace Extreme Heat in Australia to Climate Change.

posted Sep 30, 2014, 11:38 AM by Alan Gould

For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: The savage heat waves that struck Australia last year were almost certainly a direct consequence of greenhouse gases released by human activity, researchers said Monday. It is perhaps the most definitive statement climate scientists have made tying a specific weather event to global warming. Five groups of researchers, using distinct methods, analyzed the heat that baked Australia for much of 2013 and continued into 2014, briefly shutting down the Australian Open tennis tournament in January when the temperature climbed to 111 degrees Fahrenheit...... By Justin Gillis, The New York Times.

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