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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
ABCs of Digital Earth Watch Software

Latest News and Updates

2015-01-13. Asteroid to Fly By Earth Safely on January 26.

posted Jan 26, 2015, 9:28 PM by Alan Gould

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 1. Excerpt:  An asteroid, designated 2004 BL86, will safely pass about three times the distance of Earth to the moon on January 26. ...astronomers estimate that the asteroid is about a third of a mile (0.5 kilometers) in size. The flyby of 2004 BL86 will be the closest by any known space rock this large until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past Earth in 2027. At the time of its closest approach on January 26, the asteroid will be approximately 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Earth. "Monday, January 26 will be the closest asteroid 2004 BL86 will get to Earth for at least the next 200 years," said Don Yeomans, who is retiring as manager of NASA's Near Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, after 16 years in the position. "And while it poses no threat to Earth for the foreseeable future, it's a relatively close approach by a relatively large asteroid, so it provides us a unique opportunity to observe and learn more." ...NASA's Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico will attempt to acquire science data and radar-generated images of the asteroid during the days surrounding its closest approach to Earth....

See also:

2015-01-22. Ten new Rosetta images that reveal comet 67P in all its glory.

posted Jan 24, 2015, 10:55 PM by Alan Gould

By Eric Hand, Science. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt:  In August 2014, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft arrived at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Once in orbit, it swooped as low as 10 kilometers to get unprecedented data from the comet (and to drop off its short-lived Philae lander). Today, Science is publishing a suite of new papers detailing some of the mission’s first findings, .... Active pits... Erosion from cliff faces... boulders on unstable slopes... jetting...fissure...comet vomit...windlike features....

2015-01-15. BP faces largest oil pollution penalty in U.S. history as final phase of trial begins.

posted Jan 23, 2015, 9:37 AM by Alan Gould

Jennifer Larino, The New York Times. For GSS Energy Use chapter 4. Excerpt: Dozens of lawyers will return to a New Orleans federal courtroom Tuesday (Jan. 20) to begin the final leg of arguments over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill -- its cause, its impact, and, ultimately, its price tag in pollution fines. ...BP faces the largest oil pollution penalty in U.S. history, resulting from one of the most complex cases the federal court system has seen. ...The civil trial over the oil spill will come to a close nearly five years after the April 20, 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 men and set off an 87-day oil gusher into the Gulf. ...Together, the rulings expose BP to up to $13.7 billion in fines, the maximum penalty under federal law....

2015-01-22. Senate Rejects Human Role in Climate Change.

posted Jan 23, 2015, 9:31 AM by Alan Gould

By Coral Davenport, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 9. Excerpt: The Senate on Thursday again voted to reject two measures related to the Keystone XL pipeline that declared that humans are a cause of climate change — the second set of votes on the issue in two days. ...On Thursday, the Senate voted 56 to 42 not to take up an amendment offered by Senator Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont, that declared that climate change is real, is caused by humans and wreaks devastation. ...Senators voted 54 to 46 not to take up an amendment offered by Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, that also declared human-caused climate change to be real and devastating, and urged the government to support research on technologies that would capture carbon emissions from fossil fuels. A third, Republican-sponsored amendment, which was rejected 51 to 46, ...called on the Senate to nullify a climate change agreement in November between the United States and China in which both nations pledged to reduce their carbon emissions....

2015-01-16. NASA, NOAA Find 2014 Warmest Year in Modern Record.

posted Jan 16, 2015, 8:22 PM by Alan Gould

NASA RELEASE 15-010. For GSS Climate Change chapter 4. Excerpt: The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists. The 10 warmest years in the instrumental record, with the exception of 1998, have now occurred since 2000. ...Since 1880, Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), a trend that is largely driven by the increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the planet’s atmosphere. The majority of that warming has occurred in the past three decades. ...scientists still expect to see year-to-year fluctuations in average global temperature caused by phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña. These phenomena warm or cool the tropical Pacific and are thought to have played a role in the flattening of the long-term warming trend over the past 15 years. However, 2014’s record warmth occurred during an El Niño-neutral year....

2015-01-15. Tiny plant fossils offer window into Earth's landscape millions of years ago.

posted Jan 16, 2015, 1:05 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Jan 16, 2015, 1:06 PM ]

NSF Press Release 15-003. For GSS Life and Climate chapter 8. Excerpt: Minuscule, fossilized pieces of plants tell a detailed story of what Earth looked like 50 million years ago. Researchers have discovered a way of determining density of trees, shrubs and bushes in locations over time--based on clues in the cells of plant fossils preserved in rocks and soil. Tree density directly affects precipitation, erosion, animal behavior and a host of other factors in the natural world. Quantifying vegetation structure throughout time could shed light on how Earth's ecosystems have changed over millions of years. ..."The new methodology provides a high-resolution lens for viewing the structure of ecosystems over the deep history of our planet," says Alan Tessier, acting director of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research along with NSF's Division of Earth Sciences. "This capability will advance the field of paleoecology and greatly improve our understanding of how future climate change will reshape ecosystems." ..."Using this method, we can finally quantify in detail how Earth's plant and animal communities have responded to climate change over millions of years, vital for forecasting how ecosystems will change under predicted future climate scenarios."....

2015-01-15. Planetary dashboard shows “Great Acceleration” in human activity since 1950.

posted Jan 16, 2015, 12:52 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Jan 16, 2015, 1:06 PM ]

Global Change, International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. For GSS Population Growth chapter 4. A decade on, IGBP in collaboration with the Stockholm Resilience Centre has reassessed and updated the Great Acceleration indicators, first published in the IGBP synthesis, Global Change and the Earth System in 2004....

2015-01-08. The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C.

posted Jan 16, 2015, 12:09 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Jan 16, 2015, 1:02 PM by Angela Miller ]

By Christophe McGlade & Paul Ekins, Nature. For GSS Energy Use chapter 3 and Climate Change, chapter 10. Excerpt: Policy makers have generally agreed that the average global temperature rise caused by greenhouse gas emissions should not exceed 2 °C above the average global temperature of pre-industrial times. It has been estimated that to have at least a 50 per cent chance of keeping warming below 2 °C throughout the twenty-first century, the cumulative carbon emissions between 2011 and 2050 need to be limited to around 1,100 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (Gt CO2). However, the greenhouse gas emissions contained in present estimates of global fossil fuel reserves are around three times higher than this, and so the unabated use of all current fossil fuel reserves is incompatible with a warming limit of 2 °C. ...Our results suggest that, globally, a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80 per cent of current coal reserves should remain unused from 2010 to 2050 in order to meet the target of 2 °C. ...Our results show that policy makers’ instincts to exploit rapidly and completely their territorial fossil fuels are, in aggregate, inconsistent with their commitments to this temperature limit. Implementation of this policy commitment would also render unnecessary continued substantial expenditure on fossil fuel exploration, because any new discoveries could not lead to increased aggregate production.... See also National Geographic article: Climate Mission Impossible: Scientists Say Fossil Fuels Must Go Untapped

2015-01-15. Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says.

posted Jan 16, 2015, 11:37 AM by Alan Gould   [ updated Jan 16, 2015, 1:07 PM ]

By Carl Zimmer, The New York Times. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 7. Excerpt: A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them. “We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science. ...Dr. Pinsky, Dr. McCauley and their colleagues sought a clearer picture of the oceans’ health by pulling together data from an enormous range of sources, from discoveries in the fossil record to statistics on modern container shipping, fish catches and seabed mining. While many of the findings already existed, they had never been juxtaposed in such a way. ...Coral reefs, for example, have declined by 40 percent worldwide, partly as a result of climate-change-driven warming. ...“If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy,” Dr. Pinsky said. “In effect, that’s what we’re doing to the oceans.” ...Mining operations, too, are poised to transform the ocean. Contracts for seabed mining now cover 460,000 square miles underwater, the researchers found, up from zero in 2000. Seabed mining has the potential to tear up unique ecosystems and introduce pollution into the deep sea. ...Dr. McCauley and his colleagues argue that limiting the industrialization of the oceans to some regions could allow threatened species to recover in other ones. ...Ultimately, Dr. Palumbi warned, slowing extinctions in the oceans will mean cutting back on carbon emissions, not just adapting to them. “If by the end of the century we’re not off the business-as-usual curve we are now, I honestly feel there’s not much hope for normal ecosystems in the ocean,” he said....

2015-01-06. So Many Earth-Like Planets, So Few Telescopes.

posted Jan 8, 2015, 1:50 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Jan 9, 2015, 3:45 PM by Angela Miller ]

By Dennis Overbye, The New York Times. Front page story. For A Changing Cosmos chapter 8. Excerpts: Astronomers announced on Tuesday that they had found eight new planets orbiting their stars at distances compatible with liquid water, bringing the total number of potentially habitable planets in the just-right “Goldilocks” zone to a dozen or two, depending on how the habitable zone of a star is defined. NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, now in its fifth year of seeking out the shadows of planets circling other stars, has spotted hundreds, and more and more of these other worlds look a lot like Earth — rocky balls only slightly larger than our own home, that with the right doses of starlight and water could turn out to be veritable gardens of microbial Eden. ...Reviewing the history of exoplanets, Debra Fischer, a Yale astronomer, recalled that the first discovery of a planet orbiting another normal star, a Jupiter-like giant, was 20 years ago. Before that, she said, astronomers worried that “maybe the ‘Star Trek’ picture of the universe was not right, and there is no life anywhere else.” Dr. Fischer called the progress in the last two decades “incredibly moving.” And yet we still do not have a clue that we are not alone. “We can count as many as we like,” said Sara Seager, a planet theorist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was not involved in the new work, “but until we can observe the atmospheres and assess their greenhouse gas power, we don’t really know what the surface temperatures are like.”

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