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Complete Archive (organized by chapter)
New World View
Climate Change
Life and Climate
Ozone
Losing Biodiversity
Energy Flow
Ecosystem Change
Population Growth
Energy Use
A Changing Cosmos
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Latest News and Updates

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.... http://news.sciencemag.org/earth/2015/04/two-huge-magma-chambers-spied-beneath-yellowstone-national-park

2015-04-23. Oil and gas operations could trigger large earthquakes.

posted Apr 24, 2015, 8:06 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Apr 25, 2015, 5:20 PM ]

By Eric Hand, Science (AAAS). For GSS Energy Flow chapter 2 and Energy Use chapter 3. Excerpt: The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has taken its first stab at quantifying the hazard from earthquakes associated with oil and gas development. The assessment, released in a preliminary report today, identifies 17 areas in eight states with elevated seismic hazard. And geologists now say that such induced earthquakes could potentially be large, up to magnitude 7, which is big enough to cause buildings to collapse and widespread damage. The new bull’s-eyes on the map, regions such as central Oklahoma, have short-term hazards that are comparable to the those in traditional earthquake states, like California, says Mark Petersen, chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project in Golden, Colorado. “These earthquakes are occurring at a higher rate than ever before and pose a much greater threat to people living nearby,” he says. ...Geoscientists have known for decades that the injection of fluid can increase pressures within the pores of deep rock formations, pushing faults that are already critically stressed by forces in Earth’s crust past the snapping point. But the phenomenon has been brought to the fore by an extraordinary rise in small earthquakes across parts of the central United States. That surge has coincided in time and place with the boom in unconventional oil and gas extraction such as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in which high-pressure fluid is injected into the ground to break up the underlying rock and release trapped gas or oil. In most cases, the earthquakes are not due to fracking itself, which is usually completed in hours or days. Rather, the culprit is typically wastewater disposal, where high volumes of water extracted in oil and gas operations is reinjected into deep basement rocks, where the bigger and more dangerous faults lie.... http://news.sciencemag.org/earth/2015/04/oil-and-gas-operations-could-trigger-large-earthquakes
See also http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/us/us-maps-areas-of-increased-earthquakes-from-human-activity.html

2015-04-18. Solar Power Battle Puts Hawaii at Forefront of Worldwide Changes.

posted Apr 19, 2015, 6:42 PM by Alan Gould

By Diane Cardwell, The New York Times. For GSS Energy Use chapter 5. Excerpt: HONOLULU ...Rooftop systems now sit atop roughly 12 percent of Hawaii’s homes, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, by far the highest proportion in the nation. ...Other states and countries, including California, Arizona, Japan and Germany, are struggling to adapt to the growing popularity of making electricity at home, which puts new pressures on old infrastructure like circuits and power lines and cuts into electric company revenue. As a result, many utilities are trying desperately to stem the rise of solar, either by reducing incentives, adding steep fees or effectively pushing home solar companies out of the market. In response, those solar companies are fighting back through regulators, lawmakers and the courts. ...In solar-rich areas of California and Arizona, as well as in Hawaii, all that solar-generated electricity flowing out of houses and into a power grid designed to carry it in the other direction has caused unanticipated voltage fluctuations that can overload circuits, burn lines and lead to brownouts or blackouts. ...In Hawaii, the current battle began in 2013, when Hawaiian Electric started barring installations of residential solar systems in certain areas. ...The utility wants to cut roughly in half the amount it pays customers for solar electricity they send back to the grid. But after a study showed that with some upgrades the system could handle much more solar than the company had assumed, the state’s public utilities commission ordered the utility to begin installations or prove why it could not. ...Hawaiian Electric is ...upgrading its circuits and meters to better regulate the flow of electricity. Rooftop solar makes far more power than any other single source, said Colton Ching, vice president for energy delivery at Hawaiian Electric, but the utility can neither control nor predict the output. “At every different moment, we have to make sure that the amount of power we generate is equal to the amount of energy being used, and if we don’t keep that balance things go unstable,” he said, pointing to the illuminated graphs and diagrams tracking energy production from wind and solar farms, as well as coal-fueled generators in the utility’s main control room. But the rooftop systems are “essentially invisible to us,” he said, “because they sit behind a customer’s meter and we don’t have a means to directly measure them.” ...Customers are increasingly asking about the batteries ...in along with the solar panels, allowing them to store the power they generate during the day for use at night. It is more expensive, but it breaks consumer reliance on the utility’s network of power lines.... http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/business/energy-environment/solar-power-battle-puts-hawaii-at-forefront-of-worldwide-changes.html

2015-04-17. How the wolf became the dog.

posted Apr 18, 2015, 9:14 AM by Alan Gould   [ updated Apr 18, 2015, 9:19 AM ]

By David Grimm, Science (AAAS). For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 3. Excerpt:  ...Most experts now think dogs domesticated themselves. Early humans left piles of discarded carcasses at the edges of their campsites—a veritable feast, the thinking goes, for wolves that dared get close to people. Those wolves survived longer and produced more pups—a process that, generation by generation, yielded ever-bolder animals, until finally a wolf was eating out of a person's hand. Once our ancestors realized the utility of these animals, they initiated a second, more active phase of domestication, breeding early canines to be better hunters, herders, and guardians. ...A comparison of thousands of ancient dog and wolf skeletons, for example, has revealed flattening of the dorsal tips of ancient dog vertebrae, suggesting that the animals hauled heavy packs on their backs. The team has also spotted missing pairs of molars near the rear of the jaw in ancient dogs, which may indicate that the animals wore some sort of bridle to pull carts. These services, in addition to dogs' hunting prowess, may have proved critical for human survival, potentially allowing modern humans to outcompete our Neandertal rivals and even eventually settle down and become farmers. ...a study in this week's issue of Science helps explains how man and dog took the next step to become best friends. Takefumi Kikusui, an animal behaviorist at Azabu University in Sagamihara, Japan, and his colleagues have found that when dogs and humans gaze into each other's eyes, both experience a rise in oxytocin—a hormone that has been linked to trust and maternal bonding. The same rise in oxytocin occurs when human mothers and infants stare at each other, suggesting that early dogs may have hijacked this response to better bond with their new human family.... http://news.sciencemag.org/plants-animals/2015/04/how-wolf-became-dog - see also How dogs stole our hearts and Solving the mystery of dog domestication.

2015-Spring. Reverse Cycle: Inspired by Leaves, a New Invention Turns Sunlight and Water into Fuel.

posted Apr 17, 2015, 10:54 AM by Alan Gould

By Chelsea Leu, California Magazine. For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt: For the past ten years, Peidong Yang..., a professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Chemistry, researches artificial photosynthesis, a process that mimics a leaf’s ability to convert sun, water, and carbon dioxide into fuel. But in his case, the fuel isn’t glucose—it’s gasoline. Last winter, Yang and his colleagues took a major step forward in achieving that goal. Their invention looks more like a small patch of moss than a leaf: It’s a papery green disk slightly bigger than a quarter. Yang and his colleagues describe it as a nanowire mesh made up of a network of nanometers-thick semiconductor wires that use the sun’s energy to break the chemical bonds in water. Dip one of these circles into a sunlit beaker of water, and hydrogen and oxygen come bubbling out. Yang hopes these circles will one day use carbon dioxide emitted by automobiles and water from the atmosphere to create fuels such as methane, methanol, and butanol. The result would be a fuel system that’s both carbon neutral and self-sustaining—a vast improvement on our current system, which involves digging carbon out of the earth in the form of oil, coal, or gas, and releasing it as exhaust into the atmosphere, where it contributes to climate change.  ...when asked if he’s proud of the work his lab has accomplished, Yang demurs. “We’re making progress,” he says. “But we’re not there yet.”... http://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/spring-2015-dropouts-and-drop-ins/reverse-cycle-inspired-leaves-new-invention

2015-02-27. Climate Change: Evidence and Causes.

posted Apr 17, 2015, 9:15 AM by Alan Gould

U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society (United Kingdom). For GSS Climate Change chapter 7. Excerpt: The leadership of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the U.K.’s Royal Society convened a UK-US team of leading climate scientists to produce this brief, readable reference document for decision makers, policy makers, educators, and other individuals seeking authoritative information on the some of the questions that continue to be asked. The publication makes clear what is well-established and where understanding is still developing. It echoes and builds upon the long history of climate-related work from both national academies, as well as on the newest climate-change assessment from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It touches on current areas of active debate and ongoing research, such as the link between ocean heat content and the rate of warming....  http://nas-sites.org/americasclimatechoices/events/a-discussion-on-climate-change-evidence-and-causes/

2015-04-07. USGCRP Climate & Health Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP).

posted Apr 16, 2015, 5:28 PM by Alan Gould

For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways. The draft report, The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment (available for download for public comment only between April 7 and June 8, 2015. ), was developed by USGCRP’s Interagency Group on Climate Change and Human Health as part of the sustained National Climate Assessment and as called for under the President’s Climate Action Plan. This assessment report is intended to present a comprehensive, evidence-based, and, where possible, quantitative estimation of observed and projected public health impacts related to climate change in the United States. Once finalized (expected early 2016), the report will provide needed context for understanding Americans’ changing health risks. ...The public comment period is open until 12 pm ET on June 8, 2015....  http://www.globalchange.gov/health-assessment.

Carbon cycle activities and games:

posted Apr 11, 2015, 9:00 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Apr 11, 2015, 9:01 PM ]

2015-04-07. Yale Climate Opinion Maps.

posted Apr 7, 2015, 4:15 PM by Alan Gould

Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. For GSS Climate Change chapter 7. Excerpt: Public Opinion Estimates, United States, 2014, on these statements: Global warming is happening; Global warming is caused mostly by human activities; Most scientists think global warming is happening; Worried about global warming; Global warming is already harming people in the US; Global warming will harm me personally; Global warming will harm people in the US; Global warming will harm people in developing countries; Global warming will harm future generations; Fund research into renewable energy sources; Set strict CO2 limits on existing coal-fired power plants; Require utilities to produce 20% electricity from renewable sources; A carbon tax if refunded to every American household. Charts are granular at national, state, congressional district, and county levels....  http://environment.yale.edu/poe/v2014.

2015-04-05. The Snake That’s Eating Florida.

posted Apr 7, 2015, 8:53 AM by Alan Gould

By Clyde Haberman, The New York Times. For GSS Ecosystem Change chapter 6. Excerpt: [video: Pets Gone Wild] ...In South Florida, wildlife officials have struggled for years with tens of thousands of the creatures: specifically, a species known as the Burmese python, an interloper from Southeast Asia that has taken up what looks like permanent residence in Everglades National Park and other areas of the state. ...At full maturity, a Burmese python routinely reaches lengths of 12 feet or more. Twenty-footers weighing 250 pounds are not unheard-of. The pythons are prodigious breeders, with voracious appetites to match. They are believed to have eaten their way through the Everglades, bringing about startling changes in the ecosystem. Some mammals native to those marshes, like foxes and rabbits, seem to have disappeared, researchers say. Other species — among them raccoons, deer, opossums and bobcats — are close to being wiped out. Pythons that migrated from the mainland to Key Largo have put indigenous wood rats in mortal peril. ...One issue with Burmese pythons is that people cavalierly bought them when they were maybe a foot long. In short order, those little fellows grew to eight feet, 12 feet, 16 feet. Talk about buyer’s remorse. Unable to deal with these giants, owners often dumped them wherever seemed feasible....  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/06/us/the-burmese-python-snake-thats-eating-florida.html

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