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Complete Archive (organized by chapter for each book)
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:

2018-10-16. We’re Covering Heritage Sites Threatened by Climate Change. The List Just Got Longer.

posted Oct 18, 2018, 5:42 PM by Alan Gould

By Kendra Pierre-Louis, The New York Times. [] For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: ...some of the most important ancient sites in the Mediterranean region — the Greek city of Ephesus, Istanbul’s historic districts, Venice’s canals — might not survive the era of climate change. Those places joined a list of others that we’ve covered extensively here at The Times. Our series on cultural heritage has looked at the Cedars of Lebanon, the Stone Age villages of Scotland and the statues of Easter Island, all of which are threatened by climate change. In the case of Scotland and Easter Island, the menace is from rising seas. Many civilizations of the past, much like many present-day cities, were centered on coastal areas. As sea levels rise — both because warmer water takes up more space than cooler water, and because of melting glaciers — these heritage sites face sharply increased risks from both coastal erosion and flooding....

2018-10-15. Solar power could electrify sub-Saharan Africa.

posted Oct 18, 2018, 5:37 PM by Alan Gould

By Public Affairs, UC Berkeley. [] For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt: Solar energy could be the key to providing low-cost, highly reliable energy to the roughly 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who currently live without power, says new UC Berkeley research published today in Nature Energy. ...The research team analyzed 10 years of solar data from NASA to calculate the cheapest ways to build stand-alone solar energy systems. At current costs, they found that most regions in Sub-Saharan Africa can get 95 percent reliable power — meaning customers can use electricity from some combination of solar panels and batteries 95 percent of the time — for roughly 40 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Though this price is still higher than the price of energy from a grid, their model indicates that with future declines in the costs of decentralized systems, these prices may become competitive with the grid in many parts of the continent in less than a decade....

2018-10-15. Rescuing Sea Turtles From Fishermen’s Nets.

posted Oct 18, 2018, 5:35 PM by Alan Gould

By Amy Yee, The New York Times. [] For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 7. Excerpt: WATAMU, Kenya — The young hawksbill turtle was accidentally caught in a net in the Indian Ocean off Kenya’s coast. ...The hawksbill, critically endangered in this region, was a mere seven pounds; adults can weigh up to 160 pounds. X-rays showed that the reptile’s intestinal tract was clogged with plastic. Hogaar, as Local Ocean named her, floated and couldn’t dive. Gas had built up in her innards after she had eaten small pieces of plastic mistaken for food such as jellyfish. Local Ocean staff members placed Hogaar in a rehab pool and gave her laxatives. She passed feces laced with shreds of packaging and had little appetite. After more than four months at Local Ocean, Hogaar died. A necropsy revealed her gut was also full of sharp shards of white, blue and pink plastic and tangles of blue and gray string. Turtles are reptiles that have existed for at least 110 million years and survived the mass extinction that killed off dinosaurs. But today, sea turtles worldwide are threatened with extinction. And it’s estimated that only one of 1,000 turtle eggs laid survive to adulthood. ...Because some turtles presumably die in the ocean, there is no reliable estimate of how many are harmed by plastics. But there is no doubt plastic pollution is growing; three-quarters of marine litter is now composed of plastic and tons of plastic waste get dumped into the ocean every year, according to a 2017 report from the United Nations Environment Assembly....

2018-10-15. Heat and Drought Could Threaten World Beer Supply.

posted Oct 18, 2018, 5:31 PM by Alan Gould

By James Gorman, The New York Times. [] For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: If horrific hurricanes and a new, scarier-than-ever United Nations report don’t change attitudes on climate change, perhaps a new report on barley will. A small international team of scientists considered what the effect of climate change would be for this crop in the next 80 years, and they are raising an alarm they hope will pierce the din of political posturing. They are predicting a beer shortage....

2018-10-08. Key climate panel, citing impending crisis, urges crash effort to reduce emissions.

posted Oct 13, 2018, 2:41 PM by Alan Gould

By Dennis Normile, Science Magazine. [] For GSS Climate Change chapter 9. Excerpt: The United Nations’s climate panel has moved the goal posts for limiting climate change, setting the world a staggering challenge. A report released yesterday [] in Incheon, South Korea, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says allowing the planet to warm by more than 1.5°C could have dire consequences, and that a speedy transformation of the world’s energy systems is needed to avoid breaching that limit, which is notably tighter than the target of 2°C cited in the Paris agreement of 2015. “Net [carbon dioxide] emissions at the global scale must reach zero by 2050,” said Valérie Masson-Delmotte, a climate scientist at France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission in Paris and a key participant in drafting the report. ...There is no time for delay, the report warns, a consensus drawn from thousands of scientific studies. The world has already warmed by about 1°C since preindustrial times, two-thirds of the way toward the new target. ...Among other measures, the IPCC says, coal needs to be all but eliminated as a source of electricity, renewable power must be greatly expanded, and “negative-emissions” strategies that suck carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere need to be adopted on a large scale, particularly if emissions reductions are delayed. Under pressure from island nations at risk from sea-level rise, the United Nations agreed during the Paris negotiations to ask the IPCC to investigate the impact of 1.5°C of global warming. ..It warns that overshooting 1.5°C will be disastrous. For example, with 1.5°C of warming, sea levels are projected to rise 26 to 77 centimeters by 2100; going to 2°C adds another 10 centimeters, which would affect an additional 10 million people living in coastal regions. ...Coral reefs are projected to decline 70% to 90% at 1.5°C, but at 2°C, 99% of reefs would be ravaged.... See also Science Magazine article New climate report actually understates threat, some researchers argue and New York Times articles Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040, The Climate Outlook Is Dire. So, What’s Next? and New U.N. Climate Report Says Put a High Price on Carbon.

2018-10-03. Japanese spacecraft drops a third rover on asteroid Ryugu.

posted Oct 6, 2018, 5:36 AM by Alan D. GOULD

By Dennis Normile, Science Magazine. [] For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: After successfully dropping two small hopping rovers on the surface of asteroid Ryugu last month, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 today deployed another probe with a suite of instruments that will do some serious science. Hayabusa2, which arrived at Ryugu in June after a 3.5-year journey, descended to 51 meters above the asteroid and released the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT). Twenty minutes later, the asteroid’s gravity had pulled the 10-kilogram probe, 30 by 30 by 20 centimeters in size, to the surface. ...MASCOT, jointly developed by the German Aerospace Center and the French National Centre for Space Studies, carries a camera, instruments to measure day-to-night thermal changes and check for magnetism, and an infrared spectral microscope to study the mineral composition and look for any evidence the asteroid once hosted water or organic molecules. MASCOT will collect data in one location, then hop to a second for another round of observations. About 16 hours after deployment, MASCOT’s batteries will run down and the observation phase of the mission will be over. Hayabusa2 itself is likely to make the first of three touchdowns on the asteroid to collect samples later this month. It will start its journey back to Earth in late 2019.

2018-10-03. First moon outside the solar system could be as big as Neptune.

posted Oct 6, 2018, 5:32 AM by Alan D. GOULD

By Joshua Sokol, Science Magazine. [] For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 8. Excerpt: With help from the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers say they have found compelling evidence for the first known moon outside the solar system. ...this first reported “exomoon” is also strange: a Neptune-size megamoon, some 8000 light-years away, that looms over a giant planet, twice as large in the sky as Earth’s moon. ...Most theoretical models of planet formation struggle to produce such a hefty satellite. However, searches are biased toward the largest moons that might be out there, because bigger things are easier to detect. ...The first hints for the exomoon came from archival data from the Kepler probe, a NASA planet-hunting spacecraft, which looks for dips in brightness caused by unseen planets transiting in front of their suns. Alex Teachey and David Kipping, both of Columbia University, found that three dips, attributed to the planet Kepler-1625b, might actually be caused by a planet and a moon. ...They hoped Hubble, trained on another transit in October 2017, would clinch the case. ...the team stands by its decision to publish its qualified probably-maybe discovery. “Science can’t operate by teams such as ourselves refusing to publish our results and hiding behind closed doors,” Kipping says in an online outreach video posted concurrently with the paper. “If refuted, then we have lost nothing, and the search goes on.”... See also NASA Release, Scientific American article Astronomers Tiptoe Closer to Confirming First Exomoon, and AGU/Eos article (with artist renderings by Dan Durda), Large Exomoon Likely Orbits a Faraway World.

2018-10-01. Yurok tribe revives ancestral lands by restoring salmon runs, protecting wildlife.

posted Oct 2, 2018, 9:01 AM by Alan Gould

By Peter Fimrite, San Francisco Chronicle. [] For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 7. Excerpt: ...The 92-mile South Fork is the longest un-dammed stream in California and a primary tributary of the Klamath River, which used to froth yearly with spring-run chinook, a staple of the Yurok diet for thousands of years until European settlers arrived in North America, logged the forests and built dams that nearly wiped them out. The project, on this wild and scenic stretch of the Trinity, is outside the Yurok reservation, which stretches 44 miles from the mouth of the Klamath, but the two rivers converge at the edge of Yurok land and together support the largest salmon run in California outside of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta system. ...More than 12,000 spring-run chinook once migrated annually up the South Fork of the Trinity, .... Then, in 1964, a catastrophic storm and flood caused mud slides on the surrounding hills and filled the river with vast quantities of sediment. The dirt was loose because loggers had clear-cut the surrounding forests in the 1950s and early 1960s, leaving nothing to hold the steep ridges next to the river in place. Silt poured into the river, choking off the salmon spawning grounds and filling up the cold pools salmon need to survive. Fishery biologists said water diversions and pollution from illegal marijuana farms have made the situation worse. Last summer, only 12 chinook were seen in the river, and the year before only 15 fish were counted by surveyors. The spring salmon run as a whole is less than 1 percent of its former size....

2018-09-28. Cosmic conundrum: The disks of gas and dust that supposedly form planets don’t seem to have the goods.

posted Sep 29, 2018, 9:21 PM by Alan Gould

By Adam Mann, Science Magazine. [] For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: Astronomers have a problem on their hands: How can you make planets if you don’t have enough of the building blocks? A new study finds that protoplanetary disks—the envelopes of dust and gas around young stars that give rise to planets—seem to contain orders of magnitude too little material to produce the planets. “This work is telling us that we really have to rethink our planetary formation theories,” says astronomer Gijs Mulders of the University of Chicago in Illinois, who was not involved in the research. ...The brightness of radio waves emitted by dust in the disk can be used to give a reasonable estimate of its overall mass. ...In the new study, astronomers led by Carlo Manara of the European Southern Observatory in Munich, Germany, used [Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA)] to compare the masses of protoplanetary disks around young stars between 1 million and 3 million years old to the masses of confirmed exoplanets and exoplanetary systems around older stars of equivalent size. The disk masses were often much less than the total exoplanet mass—sometimes 10 or 100 times lower, the team will report in an upcoming paper in Astronomy & Astrophysics. ...a great deal of mass, perhaps as much as 10 times what’s been observed, could be hidden in the form of pebbles, which are slightly too big to show up in such investigations....

2018-09-27. Long-banned toxin may wipe out many killer whales.

posted Sep 29, 2018, 9:19 PM by Alan Gould

By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine. [] For GSS Ecosystem Change chapter 7. Excerpt: of the more dangerous industrial pollutants of the last century is wreaking havoc on killer whale populations worldwide. ...polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) may be slowly wiping out some groups of these iconic marine well... seals and sharks. “It’s sobering to be made aware of the potential long-term effects of chemicals that were introduced into the environment over 80 years ago,” says Steven Bursian, an environmental toxicologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing who was not involved with the work. ...PCBs were first discovered in coal tar in the late 1800s.... They form thick liquids that proved useful as hydraulic fluids, lubricating oils, paint and concrete stabilizers, and nonflammable insulation in electrical transformers. ...Companies produced more than a million tons of PCBs before scientists linked them to cancer and immune system, reproductive, and endocrine related health problems in both people and animals. The major user and producer, the United States, banned their production in 1978, and a global ban finally went into effect in 2004. For a while, PCB concentrations in the environment dropped precipitously. ...But these pollutants don’t break down easily. They are still leaking into the environment from landfills, river-bottom sediments, and other places they were dumped. Consumed by microbes, they enter the food chain and eventually they build up in fat and blubber of animals, especially top predators such as killer whales, which prey on other predators such as seals or fish that themselves have stored PCBs....

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