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

2014-12-14. Waters Warm, and Cod Catch Ebbs in Maine.

posted Dec 16, 2014, 12:12 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Dec 16, 2014, 12:15 PM ]

By Michael Wines and Jess Bidgood, The New York Times. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 7 & Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt:  In the vast gulf that arcs from Massachusetts’s shores to Canada’s Bay of Fundy, cod was once king. It paid for fishermen’s boats, fed their families and put their children through college. In one halcyon year in the mid-1980s, the codfish catch reached 25,000 tons. Today, the cod population has collapsed. ...The Gulf of Maine’s waters are warming — faster than almost any ocean waters on earth, scientists say — and fish are voting with their fins for cooler places to live. That is upending an ecosystem and the fishing industry that depends on it. ...In decades past, the gulf had warmed on average by about one degree every 21 years. In the last decade, the average has been one degree every two years. “What we’re experiencing is a warming that very few ocean ecosystems have ever experienced,” said Andrew J. Pershing, the chief scientific officer for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute here.  ...the latest warming is not unprecedented. Weather records document a steady, if slow warming of the region’s waters since the 1850s, and a 50- to-70-year climatic cycle set off unusual ocean warming in the 1950s. A similar cycle is believed to be heating up the northwest Atlantic today. But scientists say those cyclical effects are now being turbocharged by human-caused climate change....

2014-12-14. A Climate Accord Based on Global Peer Pressure.

posted Dec 16, 2014, 11:58 AM by Alan Gould   [ updated Dec 16, 2014, 12:02 PM ]

By Coral Davenport, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 9. Excerpt: LIMA, Peru officials from nearly 200 nations agreed to the first deal committing every country in the world to reducing the fossil fuel emissions that cause global warming. In its structure, the deal represents a breakthrough in the two-decade effort to forge a significant global pact to fight climate change. The Lima Accord, as it is known, is the first time that all nations — rich and poor — have agreed to cut back on the burning oil, gas and coal. ...The strength of the accord — the fact that it includes pledges by every country to put forward a plan to reduce emissions at home — is also its greatest weakness. In order to get every country to agree to the deal, including the United States, the world’s largest historic carbon polluter, the Lima Accord does not include legally binding requirements that countries cut their emissions by any particular amount. ...each nation will agree to enact domestic laws to reduce carbon emissions and put forth a plan by March 31 laying out how much each one will cut after 2020 and what domestic policies it will pass to achieve the cuts.  ...Observers are also closely watching Russia, the world’s fifth-largest polluter, for its response to the plan. President Vladimir V. Putin has publicly scoffed at the science of human-caused climate change and shown a willingness to defy international opinion. But this week in Lima, Russian delegates said that Moscow is at work on an emissions reduction plan.... See also "3.6 Degrees of Uncertainty" by Justin Gillis, The New York Times.

2014-12-08. NASA’s Curiosity Rover Finds Clues to How Water Helped Shape Martian Landscape.

posted Dec 13, 2014, 11:17 AM by Alan Gould

For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 8.  NASA RELEASE 14-326. - Excerpt: Observations by NASA’s Curiosity Rover indicate Mars' Mount Sharp was built by sediments deposited in a large lake bed over tens of millions of years.mThis interpretation of Curiosity’s finds in Gale Crater suggests ancient Mars maintained a climate that could have produced long-lasting lakes at many locations on the Red Planet. "If our hypothesis for Mount Sharp holds up, it challenges the notion that warm and wet conditions were transient, local, or only underground on Mars,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “A more radical explanation is that Mars' ancient, thicker atmosphere raised temperatures above freezing globally, but so far we don't know how the atmosphere did that." ..."We are making headway in solving the mystery of Mount Sharp," said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. "Where there's now a mountain, there may have once been a series of lakes." ..."The great thing about a lake that occurs repeatedly, over and over, is that each time it comes back it is another experiment to tell you how the environment works," Grotzinger said. "As Curiosity climbs higher on Mount Sharp, we will have a series of experiments to show patterns in how the atmosphere and the water and the sediments interact. We may see how the chemistry changed in the lakes over time. See also: article in Science byEric Hand

2014-12-10. Comet Data Clears Up Debate on Earth’s Water.

posted Dec 11, 2014, 3:05 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Dec 13, 2014, 11:35 AM ]

By Kenneth Chang, The New York Times. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: One of the first scientific findings to emerge from close-up study of a comet has all but settled a question that planetary scientists have debated for decades. The new finding, from the European Space Agency’s mission to the little duck-shaped comet called 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, appears to eliminate the possibility that the water in Earth’s oceans came from melted comets. Water vapor streaming off the comet contains a higher fraction of “heavy hydrogen” than the water on Earth does, scientists reported on Wednesday. “That now probably rules out” comets as the primary source of terrestrial water, said Kathrin Altwegg, a scientist at the University of Bern in Switzerland and the principal investigator for the Rosetta instrument that made the measurements. With comets unlikely, most astronomers now think Earth’s water came from asteroids. ...The new findings, published in the journal Science, came after Rosetta arrived at Comet 67P in August, close enough for the instrument to begin detailed analysis of the molecules coming off the comet.  ...Earth may have been wet from almost the beginning.... See also: 2014 Dec 11 Science article.

2014-12-04. Antarctic ice shelf being eaten away by sea.

posted Dec 7, 2014, 9:33 AM by Alan Gould

By Carolyn Gramling, Science. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: This year, scientists reported alarming news about the huge continental ice sheet covering the western portion of Antarctica: It's headed for collapse, due to rapid melting of some of its buttressing ice shelves. When it does, global sea levels will rise by several meters. It has long been suspected that warm ocean waters at the base of those floating ice shelves are responsible for hurrying things along. But with scant data from the waters around Antarctica, that has been difficult to prove. Now, a new study that pieces together 40 years’ worth of data collected in multiple regions around Antarctica suggests that scientists have found the smoking gun: Warming waters are indeed sneaking up under the floating ice in the regions of fastest melting.... *.

2014-12-04. Dwindling African tribe may have been most populous group on planet.

posted Dec 7, 2014, 9:26 AM by Alan Gould

By Ann Gibbons, Science. For GSS Life and Climate chapter 1. Excerpt: The famous Kalahari Bushmen of southern Africa have long been in decline. For more than a century, the people, who speak Khoisan languages, have been pushed off their land by farmers and brutalized by colonialists. Yet for tens of thousands of years, the Khoisan’s ancestors were members of “the largest population” on the planet, according to a new study. ...The Khoisan have long stood apart from other groups within Africa. They look distinct, speak in “click” languages, and have also maintained the greatest genetic diversity known among human populations. ...the 100,000 Khoisan speakers in Africa today are far outnumbered by other groups, such as the 45 million Bantu speakers and their 180 million descendants who now speak Swahili and other languages.  ...In the new study, published online today in Nature Communications, biochemist Stephan Schuster of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and colleagues sequenced the complete genomes of five Khoisan hunter-gatherers from Namibia and compared them with the DNA from 1462 genomes of people from around the world.  ...population sizes for the ancestors of the Khoisan, as well as for Europeans, Asians, and another African group, the Yoruba... declined ... between 120,000 and 30,000 years ago. ...The researchers uncovered declines in population in all four groups, likely tied into periods of dry climate in Africa. But the Khoisan suffered the least, perhaps because their huge ancestral population was buffered from droughts that winnowed other groups, such as the Yoruba and the African ancestors of Europeans and Asians, because the Khoisan lived farther south in Africa where rainfall actually increased. The Khoisan then began a more drastic decline in the past 20,000 years or so, with a major blow when the Bantu farmers spread through Africa 4000 years ago. “This shows us how much climate can influence populations,” says genomicist Webb Miller of Pennsylvania State University, University Park, a co-author.... *.

2014-12-01. Ability to consume alcohol may have shaped primate evolution.

posted Dec 7, 2014, 9:11 AM by Alan Gould

By Sarah C. P. Williams, Science. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 3. Excerpt: ...desire to consume alcohol, as well as your body’s ability to break down the ethanol that makes you tipsy, dates back about 10 million years, researchers have discovered. The new finding not only helps shed light on the behavior of our primate ancestors, but also might explain why alcoholism—or even the craving for a single drink—exists in the first place. ...the human ability to metabolize ethanol—allowing people to consume moderate amounts of alcohol without getting sick—relies on a set of proteins including the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme ADH4. ...Matthew Carrigan, a biologist at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida, and colleagues sequenced ADH4 proteins from 19 modern primates and then worked backward to determine the sequence of the protein at different points in primate history. ...the most ancient forms of ADH4—found in primates as far back as 50 million years ago—only broke down small amounts of ethanol very slowly. But about 10 million years ago, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a common ancestor of humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas evolved a version of the protein that was 40 times more efficient at ethanol metabolism. “Around this same time, the Earth cooled off, food sources changed, and this primate ancestor started to explore life on the ground,” Carrigan says. And this new way of life meant that, for the first time, primates started eating not only fruit picked from trees, but also the fallen fruits below. And fallen fruits, when they’re exposed to bacteria in the environment that convert sugars to alcohols, will begin to accumulate ethanol. “If you were the ancestor without this new mutation in ADH4, the ethanol would quickly build up in your blood and you’d get inebriated much faster,” Carrigan says. “You’d be a cheap date.” This easy inebriation, he says, would have been a disadvantage to the monkeys without the mutation, making them more easily get sick—or drunk—off fruit, enough so that they couldn’t defend their territory and seek out food. Primates with the new mutation could get more food, his group hypothesizes, and the gene was selected for in the human and chimpanzee lineage....

2014-11-23. Good News on Energy.

posted Dec 5, 2014, 11:59 PM by Alan Gould

By Ralph Cavanagh, The New York Times. For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt: When the world’s two largest polluters join in establishing new goals for reducing emissions of climate-disrupting gases, criticism and skepticism are predictable. ...Critics warned of a “war on coal,” regulatory overreach and the surrender of American interests to Chinese duplicity. Skeptics wondered whether the goals were even feasible. In fact, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than one-quarter over the next decade, as the United States has agreed to do, is simply another step in a transition to cleaner energy that has been underway for decades. ...A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, where I work, found that total energy use in the United States peaked in 2007 and has trended downward since. ...We also found that economic growth decisively outpaced any increases in energy use over recent decades, as America found smarter ways to use energy (like the LED, which uses one-fifth as much electricity as Edison’s original light bulb). Improvements in energy efficiency over the last 40 years have done more to meet growth in America’s energy needs than the combined contributions of oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear power. Without energy productivity improvements, America’s energy needs would have tripled since 1970, according to a report by the Bipartisan Policy Center. Actual growth was only one-fifth of that. Energy efficiency has emerged as the largest and cheapest alternative to burning fossil fuels to generate electricity. ...oil consumption by vehicles, homes and businesses is down more than 12 percent from its 2005 peak, despite a slight increase in 2013. ...By last year, wind was providing more than 4 percent of America’s electricity generation. ...More than one-eighth of our electricity supply is now in the “renewable” category, which is growing faster than any other..... *.

2014-11-18. A Road Test of Alternative Fuel Visions.

posted Nov 29, 2014, 7:55 AM by Alan Gould   [ updated Nov 29, 2014, 7:58 AM ]

By Kenneth Chang. For GSS Energy Use chapter 9. By Kenneth Chang, The New York Times. Excerpt: Hydrogen Cars Join Electric Models in Showrooms.  ...General Motors, Honda, Toyota, Daimler and Hyundai, ...After many years and billions of dollars of research and development, hydrogen cars are headed to the showrooms. Hyundai has been leasing the hydrogen-powered Tucson sport utility, which it describes as the world’s first mass-produced fuel cell car, since June, for a $2,999 down payment, and $499 a month. (That includes the hydrogen. A lease on a gas-powered Tucson is about half as much.) This week, Toyota is introducing a sedan called Mirai, which means “future” in Japanese. ...The Mirai will go on sale in California this year for $57,500 — cheaper than the Tesla Model S. ...Battery electric cars and fuel cell cars are, at their cores, both electric cars with the inherent advantages of electric motors — jack rabbit acceleration, near silence and zero tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases. The difference is where the electricity comes from. ...Instead of storing their charge in batteries, the fuel cells in hydrogen cars are miniature power plants, generating a flow of electricity in the chemical reaction of combining hydrogen and oxygen into water. The oxygen comes from the air; the hydrogen, compressed at 10,000 pounds per square inch, is stored in tanks. The exhaust from the tailpipe? Water that is clean enough to drink. ...A kilogram of hydrogen contains as much chemical energy as a gallon of gasoline, but fuel cells are more efficient than internal combustion engines, so fuel-cell cars like the Mirai have a 300-mile range, comparable to present-day gasoline cars. Filling up at a hydrogen pump takes about the same few minutes as filling a tank of gas, instead of hours plugged in to an outlet.  ...A fleet of 119 fuel cell-powered Chevrolet Equinoxes that General Motors introduced as a demonstration project in 2007 has covered more than three million miles, with the odometers on some of the vehicles passing 120,000 miles. ...In an interview with MIT Technology Review in 2009, Dr. Chu said fuel cell cars needed “four miracles,” including an economical, renewable source of hydrogen. Most hydrogen today comes from stripping hydrogen atoms off natural gas molecules. That produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct and undercuts the goal of reducing greenhouse gases. Solar-powered electrolyzers to split water into hydrogen and oxygen would eliminate greenhouse gases but would be more expensive.  ...A hydrogen station in Fountain Valley, about 45 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, is in front of a wastewater treatment plant, because the hydrogen comes from human waste. After bacteria digest what has been flushed down toilets to produce a mix of carbon dioxide and methane, the gases are cleaned up and fed to a different type of fuel cell that produces electricity, heat and hydrogen, and the hydrogen is piped to the pump. That demonstration project, producing about 200 pounds of hydrogen a day, helps fulfill California’s mandate that a third of the hydrogen for cars come from renewable sources....

2014-11-17. A Year In The Life Of Earth's CO2.

posted Nov 25, 2014, 4:57 PM by Alan Gould

NASA Goddard Media Studios. For GSS Climate Change chapter 5. Excerpt: An ultra-high-resolution NASA computer model has given scientists a stunning new look at how carbon dioxide in the atmosphere travels around the globe. Plumes of carbon dioxide in the simulation swirl and shift as winds disperse the greenhouse gas away from its sources. The simulation also illustrates differences in carbon dioxide levels in the northern and southern hemispheres and distinct swings in global carbon dioxide concentrations as the growth cycle of plants and trees changes with the seasons.... - Press Release: - For detailed views of various parts of the world, visit:

1-10 of 522