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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

2015-05-14. NASA Study Shows Antarctica’s Larsen B Ice Shelf Nearing Its Final Act.

posted May 16, 2015, 12:10 PM by Alan Gould

NASA Release 15-092. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: A new NASA study finds the last remaining section of Antarctica's Larsen B Ice Shelf, which partially collapsed in 2002, is quickly weakening and likely to disintegrate completely before the end of the decade. A team led by Ala Khazendar of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, found the remnant of the Larsen B Ice Shelf is flowing faster, becoming increasingly fragmented and developing large cracks. ..."These are warning signs that the remnant is disintegrating," Khazendar said. "...This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone." ...Ice shelves are the gatekeepers for glaciers flowing from Antarctica toward the ocean. Without them, glacial ice enters the ocean faster and accelerates the pace of global sea level rise. This study, the first to look comprehensively at the health of the Larsen B remnant and the glaciers that flow into it, has been published online in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters. ...NASA research has found that the last section of Antarctica's Larsen B Ice Shelf is likely to disintegrate before the end of the decade....

2015-05-15. In Brazil, cattle industry begins to help fight deforestation.

posted May 16, 2015, 8:40 AM by Alan Gould

By Allie Wilkinson, Science. For GSS A New World View chapter 5. Excerpt: Cattle ranching has been the primary driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, as huge swaths of rainforest are cleared to make way for agriculture. But “zero-deforestation agreements” signed by some of Brazil’s big beef industry players appear to be helping reduce the destruction, a new study concludes. “We’re showing that these commitments can [produce] meaningful change on the ground,” says land use researcher Holly Gibbs of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, a lead author of the study, published online this week in Conservation Letters. ...The herd expanded 200% between 1993 and 2013, researchers estimate, reaching a total of nearly 60 million individuals. During that time, an area of forest the size of Italy was cleared.  ...the federal prosecutor began suing ranchers that had illegally cleared forest and threatened to sue retailers in an effort to persuade them to boycott slaughterhouses associated with forest-clearing ranches. In response, Brazil’s three largest meatpacking companies (JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva) signed an agreement with the government, stating they would stop purchasing directly from ranches that cleared more forest than legally permitted. A few months later, the trio of firms signed a more stringent agreement with Greenpeace, known as the G4 agreement, under which they committed to buy only from direct suppliers that reduced deforestation to zero.  ...Within months, nearly 60% of the suppliers had registered, and compliance reached 96% by 2013. ...By 2013, “recent deforestation” had occurred on just 4% of the ranches supplying cows to the slaughterhouses, down from 36% of ranches in 2009....

2015-05-05. Ice cores show 200-year climate lag.

posted May 6, 2015, 6:32 PM by Alan Gould

By Stephanie McClellan, BBC News. For GSS Life and Climate chapter 10, Climate Change chapter 4. Excerpt: Scientists have found a 200-year lag time between past climate events at the poles. The most detailed Antarctic ice core provides the first clear comparison with Greenland records, revealing a link between northern and southern hemisphere climate change. ...abrupt and large temperature changes first occurred in Greenland, with the effect delayed about 200 years in the Antarctic. The study appears in Nature journal. ...In the 1990s, scientists took ice cores from Greenland that revealed very abrupt and large swings in temperature approximately 20,000 to 60,000 years ago. But it wasn't clear how this influenced global climate change. The 3,405 metre-long ice core, taken from the centre of West Antarctica, is the longest high resolution ice core. Researchers documented 18 abrupt climate events. "This record has annual resolution, meaning we can see information about every year going back 30,000 years, and close to that resolution all the way back to 68,000 years ago," explains Eric Steig, professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, who co-wrote the paper.... 0

2015-05-03. Halley's Eclipse: a coup for Newtonian prediction and the selling of science.

posted May 5, 2015, 9:04 PM by Alan Gould

By Rebekah Higgit, The Guardian. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 3. Excerpt: 300 years ago, on the 3rd of May 1715, a rare solar eclipse occurred over England. It was an opportunity too good to miss for those promoting new astronomical theories – and their own careers. In 1715, 300 years ago today, a total solar eclipse was visible across a broad band of England. It was the first to be predicted on the basis of the Newtonian theory of universal gravitation, its path mapped clearly and advertised widely in advance. Visible in locations such as London and Cambridge, both astronomical experts and the public were able to see the phenomena and be impressed by the predictive power of the new astronomy. Wikipedia will tell you that this is known as Halley’s Eclipse, after Edmond Halley, who produced accurate predictions of its timing and an easily-read map of the eclipse’s path. Halley did not live to see the confirmation of his predictions of a returning comet – a 1759 triumph for the Newtonian system – but he was able to enjoy his 1715 calculations, which were within 4 minutes, and to improve on them with a corrected map (above). He observed the eclipse from the Royal Society’s building in Crane Court on a morning with a sky of “perfect serene azure blew”....

2015-04-28. Ozone Hole to Remain Large During Cold Years.

posted May 2, 2015, 7:53 PM by Alan Gould

By Eric Betz, EOS Earth and Space Science News. For GSS Ozone chapter 9. Excerpt: Despite the Montreal Protocol's success, it will take years of observations to be sure that regulations are allowing the ozone hole to recover. ...In 1987, the nations of the world negotiated the Montreal Protocol to stop the harmful emissions of CFCs. The hole quit growing by the mid-1990s, but recovery of the protective shield has been slow because many ozone-depleting substances can last in the atmosphere for 50 and even 100 years. Scientists project that the hole will not vanish until around 2070. However, conclusively tying the international regulations to ozone recovery is not straightforward. While CFCs are no longer emitted, scientists calculate that the slow destruction of CFCs already in the atmosphere causes chlorine to decline each year by roughly 20 parts per trillion (ppt), or about 0.5%. However, Earth-orbiting satellites indicate that the natural variability of chlorine levels over Antarctica is up to 10 times larger than the expected annual decline. ...According to Strahan et al., it will take a decade of chlorine declines to be certain the Montreal Protocol has caused the ozone hole to shrink. Low temperatures in the Antarctic stratosphere currently play the largest role in determining the size of the ozone hole. In 2006, the combination of very low temperatures and high chlorine levels produced the largest ozone hole ever. By 2040, the authors expect that chlorine levels will have fallen enough that the ozone hole will be smaller than it is today even during a very cold year. The authors say it is unlikely any future ozone hole will grow to 2006 levels....

2015-05-01. Cleveland Indians Have Home-Field Advantage on Recycling.

posted May 2, 2015, 7:37 PM by Alan Gould

By Diane Cardwell, The New York Times. For GSS Ecosystem Change chapter 7. Excerpt: Cleveland Indians game at Progressive Field, as players warmed up on the jewel-green field, it was business as usual in the garage behind left field for C. L. Gholston, a dishwasher. He had wheeled down gray bins full of kitchen scraps — pineapple and melon rinds, carrot shavings and tomato ends — that were all part of the mix he fed into a contraption he calls the energy machine. Built by InSinkErator, the garbage disposal maker, the machine grinds all types of food waste, including skin, fat, flesh and bone, into a slurry that is later transformed into energy and fertilizer at a plant operated by the renewable energy company Quasar. As governments and industry seek to reduce emissions of methane — a more powerful heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide — by limiting the amount of organic waste in landfills, large food processors are looking for new ways to get rid of their leftovers. Food waste, an estimated 34 million tons a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent figures, is the largest component of landfills, which are responsible for roughly 18 percent of the nation’s methane emissions....

2015-04-29. California Governor Orders New Target for Emissions Cuts.

posted May 1, 2015, 4:42 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated May 1, 2015, 4:46 PM ]

By Adam Nagourney, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 9. Excerpt:  ...Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order Wednesday sharply speeding up this state’s already ambitious program aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, saying it was critical to address “an ever-growing threat” posed by global warming to the state’s economy and well-being. The order, announced early Wednesday morning, was intended as a jolt to a landmark 2006 environmental law requiring an 80 percent cut in greenhouse gas reductions by 2050, compared with 1990. Under Mr. Brown’s order, the state would have to get halfway there — a 40 percent reduction — by 2030. ...Under the law put into place by Mr. Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state was required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 on the way to reach the 2050 target; California is already well on its way to meeting the 2020 goal, and may exceed it, officials said Thursday. ...California’s target reflects those set by other governments — including the European Union — ahead of the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris this year.... See also

2015-05-01. Hacking Our Diet.

posted May 1, 2015, 4:21 PM by Alan Gould

onEarth magazine of NRDC. For GSS Ecosystem Change chapter 7. Excerpt: The American way of eating is bad for our health—and the planet's. Let's reboot. Around the middle of the last century, everything changed about the way Americans eat. Drugs, chemicals, and machinery transformed thousands of years of agriculture in just a few short decades, with world-shaping results. We can produce way more, yes—but we’re using more land, more fuel, more pesticides, and more drugs to do it, with a deleterious impact on our water, wildlife, public health, and climate. ...significant change is on the menu, driven by social, cultural, and, particularly, technological innovations in how we produce, package, ship, and store our food....

2015-04-27. Study: Global warming has dramatically upped the odds of extreme heat events.

posted May 1, 2015, 4:06 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated May 1, 2015, 4:36 PM ]

By Chris Mooney, The Washington Post. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: ...scientists have...explained that while global warming doesn’t “cause” any single event, it can make them more likely to occur.... Indeed, published papers have shown that a warming climate had indeed increased the odds of a number of individual extreme events, including the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Russian heat wave and the 2013 Australian summer heat. a new study in Nature Climate Change, Erich Fischer and Reto Knutti, of the science-focused Swiss university ETH Zurich, perform an analysis not for any individual event but rather for all daily heat and precipitation extremes of a “moderate” magnitude occurring over land in our current climate. And they find, strikingly, that 18 percent of today’s moderate precipitation extremes, and 75 percent of moderate heat extremes, were made more likely to occur by global warming. ...a “moderate” extreme was defined as an event that would only occur 1 out of 1,000 days in a climate that has not been tweaked by global warming. ...This does not mean that these extreme events are “caused” by climate change; rather, it means they were made more likely to occur in a statistical sense....  See also New York Times "New Study Links Weather Extremes to Global Warming" by Justin Gillis.

2015-04-23. Two huge magma chambers spied beneath Yellowstone National Park.

posted Apr 25, 2015, 5:25 PM by Alan Gould

By Eric Hand, Science (AAAS). For GSS Energy Flow chapter 2. Excerpt: Underneath the bubbling geysers and hot springs of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming sits a volcanic hot spot that has driven some of the largest eruptions on Earth. Geoscientists have now completely imaged the subterranean plumbing system and have found not just one, but two magma chambers underneath the giant volcano. “The main new thing is we unveil a deeper and bigger magma reservoir in the lower crust,” says study author Hsin-Hua Huang, a seismologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Scientists had already known about a plume, which brings molten rock up from deep in the mantle to a region about 60 kilometers below the surface. And they had also imaged a shallow magma chamber about 10 kilometers below the surface, containing about 10,000 cubic kilometers of molten material. But now they have found a deeper one, 4.5 times larger, that sits between 20 and 50 kilometers below the surface. ...The last major eruption was 640,000 years ago, and today the threat of earthquakes is far more likely. But the deeper chamber does mean that the shallow chamber can be replenished again and again. “Knowing that you have this additional reservoir tells you you could have a much bigger volume erupt over a relatively short time scale,” says co-author Victor Tsai, a geophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.  ...Huang says that with rough dimensions now in hand for all the major magma bodies, modelers can try to understand how magma moved around in past eruptions—and why the chambers sit where they are....

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