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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

2017-04-19. A New Exoplanet May Be Most Promising Yet in Search for Life.

posted Apr 21, 2017, 9:26 AM by Alan Gould   [ updated Apr 21, 2017, 9:31 AM ]

By Dennis Overbye, The New York Times. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 8. Excerpt: A prime planet listing has just appeared on the cosmic real estate market, possibly the most promising place yet to search for signs of life beyond the solar system, the astronomers who discovered it say. It is a rocky orb about one and a half times the size of Earth, about 40 light years from here. It circles a dwarf star known as LHS 1140 every 25 days, an orbit that puts it in the “Goldilocks” zone where temperatures are conducive to liquid water and perhaps life as we know it. It is close enough that astronomers are hopeful that with the next generation of big telescopes, they will be able to probe its atmosphere for signs of water or other evidence of suitability for life. “This planet is really close to us: If we shrank the Milky Way to the size of the United States, LHS 1140 and the sun would fit inside Central Park,” David Charbonneau, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in an email. His colleague Jason Dittmann, who led the discovery team and is lead author of a paper published on Wednesday in Nature, said in a statement,“This is the most exciting exoplanet I’ve seen in the last decade.” The planet was discovered by the MEarth-South survey at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, an array of small telescopes that looks for the dips in starlight when planets pass in front of nearby stars....

2017-04-19. How a Warming Planet Drives Human Migration.

posted Apr 21, 2017, 9:22 AM by Alan Gould

By Jessica Benko, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: Climate displacement is becoming one of the world’s most powerful — and destabilizing — geopolitical forces. Climate change is not equally felt across the globe, and neither are its longer term consequences. This map overlays human turmoil — represented here by United Nations data on nearly 64 million “persons of concern,” whose numbers have tripled since 2005 — with climate turmoil, represented by data from NASA’s Common Sense Climate Index. The correlation is striking. Climate change is a threat multiplier: It contributes to economic and political instability and also worsens the effects. It propels sudden-onset disasters like floods and storms and slow-onset disasters like drought and desertification; those disasters contribute to failed crops, famine and overcrowded urban centers; those crises inflame political unrest and worsen the impacts of war, which leads to even more displacement. There is no internationally recognized legal definition for “environmental migrants” or “climate refugees,” so there is no formal reckoning of how many have left their homes because climate change has made their lives or livelihoods untenable. In a 2010 Gallup World Poll, though, about 12 percent of respondents — representing a total of 500 million adults — said severe environmental problems would require them to move within the next five years....

2017-04-18. When Rising Seas Transform Risk Into Certainty.

posted Apr 21, 2017, 9:18 AM by Alan Gould

By Brooke Jarvis, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: ...Spend a few days talking about floods and real estate in Norfolk, and you’ll quickly learn the importance of even tiny inclines. Locals know where, on what appears to the uninitiated to be a flat street, to park their cars to keep them from flooding past the axles when the wind pushes the tide up. Landscapers build what are essentially decorative earthen dikes around houses. ...In the coming decades, these fine distinctions will mean little, as the risk of flooding becomes the certainty of it. The operative measurement for rising waters in Norfolk is not inches but feet — as many as six of them by the end of the century, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, though estimates vary. City planners are forthright that they’re preparing for a future in which parts of the city do not survive. “We absolutely cannot protect 200 miles of coastline,” George Homewood, Norfolk’s planning director, says. “We have to pick those areas we should armor, and the places where we’re going to let the water be.”...

2017-04-17. Climate Change Reroutes a Yukon River in a Geological Instant.

posted Apr 21, 2017, 9:14 AM by Alan Gould

By John Schwartz, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: In the blink of a geological eye, climate change has helped reverse the flow of water melting from a glacier in Canada’s Yukon, a hijacking that scientists call “river piracy.” This engaging term refers to one river capturing and diverting the flow of another. It occurred last spring at the Kaskawulsh Glacier, one of Canada’s largest, with a suddenness that startled scientists. A process that would ordinarily take thousands of years — or more — happened in just a few months in 2016. Much of the meltwater from the glacier normally flows to the north into the Bering Sea via the Slims and Yukon Rivers. A rapidly retreating and thinning glacier — accelerated by global warming — caused the water to redirect to the south, and into the Pacific Ocean. Last year’s unusually warm spring produced melting waters that cut a canyon through the ice, diverting more water into the Alsek River, which flows to the south and on into Pacific, robbing the headwaters to the north. The scientists concluded that the river theft “is likely to be permanent.” The impacts of climate change, like sea level rise or the shrinkage of a major glacier, are generally measured over decades, not months as in this case. “It’s not something you could see if you were just standing on the beach for a couple of months,” Professor Shugar said....

2016-12-12. ALMA Finds Compelling Evidence for Pair of Infant Planets around Young Star.

posted Apr 21, 2017, 9:09 AM by Alan Gould

By National Radio Astronomy Observatory. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: Astronomers now know that our galaxy is teeming with planets, from rocky worlds roughly the size of Earth to gas giants bigger than Jupiter. Nearly every one of these exoplanets has been discovered in orbit around a mature star with a fully evolved planetary system. New observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) contain compelling evidence that two newborn planets, each about the size of Saturn, are in orbit around a young star known as HD 163296. These planets, which are not yet fully formed, revealed themselves by the dual imprint they left in both the dust and the gas portions of the star’s protoplanetary disk. [see image]...

2017-04-06. Asteroid to Fly Safely Past Earth on April 19.

posted Apr 17, 2017, 11:19 AM by Alan Gould

By Jet Propulsion Laboratory News. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 1. Excerpt:  A relatively large near-Earth asteroid discovered nearly three years ago will fly safely past Earth on April 19 at a distance of about 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers), or about 4.6 times the distance from Earth to the moon. Although there is no possibility for the asteroid to collide with our planet, this will be a very close approach for an asteroid of this size. The asteroid, known as 2014 JO25, was discovered in May 2014 by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona -- a project of NASA's NEO Observations Program in collaboration with the University of Arizona. (An NEO is a near-Earth object). Contemporary measurements by NASA's NEOWISE mission indicate that the asteroid is roughly 2,000 feet (650 meters) in size, and that its surface is about twice as reflective as that of the moon. ...Small asteroids pass within this distance of Earth several times each week, but this upcoming close approach is the closest by any known asteroid of this size, or larger, since asteroid Toutatis , a 3.1-mile (five-kilometer) asteroid, which approached within about four lunar distances in September 2004. The next known encounter of an asteroid of comparable size will occur in 2027 when the half-mile-wide (800-meter-wide) asteroid 1999 AN10 will fly by at one lunar distance, about 236,000 miles (380,000 kilometers). ...The encounter on April 19 is the closest this asteroid has come to Earth for at least the last 400 years and will be its closest approach for at least the next 500 years....  See also and

2017-04-14. Germany Strikes Offshore Wind Deals, Subsidy Not Included.

posted Apr 16, 2017, 6:37 PM by Alan Gould

By Stanley Reed, The New York Times. For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt: LONDON — European governments have spent large sums of money in recent years subsidizing giant offshore wind projects in hopes of creating a clean source of energy that could eventually pay for itself. Now that moment may be here — and a lot sooner than expected. On Thursday, the Danish company Dong Energy, the largest offshore wind developer, won the right to build two large wind projects in the German North Sea with no government subsidies — a highly symbolic first for the industry. The company will receive the revenues from the electricity generated by the wind farms.  ...In a news release, Dong cited several factors that underpinned its bids. By the time the projects are completed in 2024, the company said, it expects turbine makers to offer a new generation of machines almost double the size of the largest current models. In recent years, turbine makers like General Electric in the United States, Vestas in Denmark and Siemens in Germany have produced larger and more powerful machines up to 600 feet high. That means more power can be produced by fewer windmills, reducing costs. ...Dong also said that the new sites offered very high average wind speeds and that it can combine the operations with others in the area, further lowering costs. In addition, Dong assumes that electricity prices will rise from current levels, about 40 euros per megawatt-hour. ...The biggest uncertainty may be future electricity prices. Dong, without disclosing precise figures, says it expects power prices to rise in Europe as nuclear and coal-fired power plants are retired, increasing demand for new sources. Analysts, though, say that fast-growing renewable energy sources like wind and solar may bring electricity prices down. ...A small wind farm off Rhode Island began generating power last year — a first for the United States — and Dong is working on projects off the country’s east coast....

2017-04-13. Rare peregrine falcons claim UC Berkeley’s Campanile as temporary home.

posted Apr 16, 2017, 6:34 PM by Alan Gould

By Andrea Platten, The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 6. Excerpt: ...At UC Berkeley, there are two new subjects for a quick game of “I spy” — a pair of rare peregrine falcons perched atop the Campanile. ...Peregrine falcons are the fastest known animal on Earth — they can reach 242 mph in a dive — and exclusively eat other birds, according to Glenn Stewart, director of the UC Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group and an expert on peregrine falcons. ...The species can be found on every continent except Antarctica. In California’s large cities, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, they have adapted to the built urban environment, trading cliffs for clock towers and other tall man-made structures. There are only 50 to 60 pairs in the Bay Area, Stewart estimated. It’s unclear whether the pair perched on the Campanile have laid eggs there, but peregrines have a poor track record of nesting on the tower during mating season. ...PG&E has set up a livestream to monitor peregrine falcons that visit its 77 Beale St. headquarters in downtown San Francisco. Last year, three eggs hatched atop the skyscraper — Talon, Grace and Flash, whose names were suggested by a Los Gatos kindergarten class — with a little help from Stewart. But nesting on towers poses a whole new risk to the falcons. In young peregrines’ natural habitats, cliffs provide multiple opportunities for the fledglings to land — on trees, bushes or built-in shelves. Skyscrapers are more sleek and angular, so chicks often plunge hundreds of feet to their deaths when they attempt to fly, Bell said. “Their first flight is often their last flight,” he said. “You need human intervention at that point to pick it up and put it back in the nest.” ...Currently, there are an estimated 300 pairs of peregrine falcons statewide — a historic high in California. But almost 50 years ago, they were nearly extinct. The usage of the pesticide DDT after World War II poisoned the falcons and thinned their eggshells.... A statewide survey found only two pairs in 1970, and the Eastern peregrine falcon temporarily went extinct east of the Mississippi River. ...The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later removed the peregrine falcon from its endangered species list in 1999....

2017-04-13. What Led to the Largest Volcanic Eruption in Human History?

posted Apr 16, 2017, 6:31 PM by Alan Gould

By Sarah Witman, Earth & Space Science News (AGU). For GSS Energy Flow chapter 2. Excerpt: A mineral-dating project at the Toba caldera in Indonesia sheds light on the science of supereruptions. In the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra lies the Toba caldera, a massive crater formed by what scientists think is the largest volcanic eruption ever experienced by humanity. The eruption, called the Youngest Toba Tuff supereruption, took place about 74,000 years ago. By dating zircon, a diamond-like gemstone, and other minerals in the area such as quartz, Reid and Vazquez have pieced together clues about the activity of magma below the surface prior to the supereruption. ...Because zircon does not gain or lose uranium or lead even at magmatic temperatures, zircon typically contains high uranium and low lead levels, and scientists may use the ratio of these two elements in the zircon to determine the age of the sample. ...The team’s findings are significant for modern-day humans, given that aerosols and ash that erupted from Youngest Toba Tuff are thought to have entered the atmosphere, causing global cooling and the near extinction of the human race. A supereruption of equal or greater magnitude today could therefore have similarly drastic consequences. By better understanding the conditions that led up to the Youngest Toba Tuff supereruption, scientists can help paint a clearer picture of the future. (..., 2017)

2017-04-14. Eating ecosystems.

posted Apr 13, 2017, 11:10 PM by Alan Gould

By Justin S. Brashares, Kaitlyn M. Gaynor, Science. For GSS Ecosystem Change chapter 7 and Losing Biodiversity chapter 8. Excerpt: The hunting and trade of tropical wildlife is a multibillion dollar enterprise that provides food and livelihoods to millions but is also the single greatest threat to the persistence of our planet's larger mammals and birds (1). Hunting not only directly affects harvested wildlife but also reshapes entire ecosystems and, in some cases, human societies (1–3). It can change food web interactions, enable disease transmission to humans, and even fund militias (3). Yet, the impacts of wildlife harvest have been difficult to measure because of the largely unregulated and remote nature of hunting and its co-occurrence with other anthropogenic disturbances. On page 180 of this issue, Benítez-López et al. (4) present a broadscale, synthetic effort to quantify the effects of hunting on birds and mammals throughout the tropics....

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