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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:

2018-08-19. Green-minded Greek isle about to go fully off the grid.

posted by Alan Gould   [ updated ]

By Iliana Mier, San Francisco Chronicle. [] For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt: TILOS, Greece — When the blades of its 800-kilowatt wind turbine start turning, the small Greek island of Tilos will become the first in the Mediterranean to run exclusively on wind and solar power. The sea horse-shaped Greek island between Rhodes and Kos has a winter population of 400. But that swells to as many as 3,000 people in the summer, putting an impossible strain on its dilapidated power supply. This summer, technicians are conducting the final tests on a renewable replacement system that will be fully rolled out later this year. It will allow Tilos to run exclusively on high-tech batteries recharged by a wind turbine and a solar park. ...“The innovation of this program and its funding lies in the batteries — the energy storage — that’s what’s innovative,” project manager Spyros Aliferis said. “The energy produced by the wind turbines and the photovoltaics will be stored in batteries, so that this energy can be used for the grid when there is demand.” ...“For many years now, Tilos has plotted a course that is dedicated to protecting the environment,” she said. “We are seeking visitors — tourists actually — people who will visit our island who love the environment and want to protect it and nature as it was given to us.”...

2018-08-11. Burying ‘One Child’ Limits, China Pushes Women to Have More Babies.

posted Aug 18, 2018, 10:18 PM by Alan D. GOULD

By Steven Lee Myers and Olivia Mitchell Ryan, The New York Times. [] For GSS Population Growth chapter 6. Excerpt: BEIJING — For decades, China harshly restricted the number of babies that women could have. Now it is encouraging them to have more. It is not going well. Almost three years after easing its “one child” policy and allowing couples to have two children, the government has begun to acknowledge that its efforts to raise the country’s birthrate are faltering because parents are deciding against having more children. Officials are now scrambling to devise ways to stimulate a baby boom, worried that a looming demographic crisis could imperil economic growth — and undercut the ruling Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping. It is a startling reversal for the party, which only a short time ago imposed punishing fines on most couples who had more than one child and compelled hundreds of millions of Chinese women to have abortions or undergo sterilization operations. The new campaign has raised fear that China may go from one invasive extreme to another in getting women to have more children. Some provinces are already tightening access to abortion or making it more difficult to get divorced.“To put it bluntly, the birth of a baby is not only a matter of the family itself, but also a state affair,” the official newspaper People’s Daily said in an editorial this week, prompting widespread criticism and debate online....

2018-08-06. Mojave birds crashed over last century due to climate change.

posted Aug 18, 2018, 10:15 PM by Alan D. GOULD

By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley News. [] For GSS Climate Change chapter 8, Losing Biodiversity chapter 1, and Ecosystem Change chapter 4. Excerpt: Bird communities in the Mojave Desert straddling the California/Nevada border have collapsed over the past 100 years, most likely because of lower rainfall due to climate change, according to a new University of California, Berkeley, study. A three-year survey of the area, which is larger than the state of New York, concludes that 30 percent, or 39 of the 135 bird species that were there 100 years ago, are less common and less widespread today. The 61 sites surveyed lost, on average, 43 percent of the species that were there a century ago. “Deserts are harsh environments, and while some species might have adaptations that allow them to persist in a desert spot, they are also at their physiological limits,” said Kelly Iknayan, who conducted the survey for her doctoral thesis at UC Berkeley. “California deserts have already experienced quite a bit of drying and warming because of climate change, and this might be enough to push birds over the edge. It seems like we are losing part of the desert ecosystem.” ...The loss of bird species has happened even though much of the Mojave Desert is protected national park or preserve, including Death Valley National Park, one of the nation’s largest. “This is a shot across the bow of our nation’s national jewels, telling us that climate change is already having an adverse impact even in our largest national parks and wilderness areas, and that we have got to reduce dependence on fossil fuels by smartly employing green energy,” said Steven Beissinger, senior author of the study and a UC Berkeley professor of environmental science, policy and management....

2018-08-13. The Scientist Who Scrambled Darwin’s Tree of Life.

posted Aug 17, 2018, 5:17 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Aug 17, 2018, 5:18 PM ]

By David Quammen, The New York Times. []. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 3. Excerpt: On Nov. 3, 1977, a new scientific revolution was heralded to the world — but it came cryptically, in slightly confused form. ...a man named Carl R. Woese, a microbiologist at the University of Illinois in Urbana, .... The article, by a veteran Times reporter named Richard D. Lyons, began: Scientists studying the evolution of primitive organisms reported today the existence of a separate form of life that is hard to find in nature. They described it as a “third kingdom” of living material, composed of ancestral cells that abhor oxygen, digest carbon dioxide and produce methane. This “separate form of life” would become known as the archaea, reflecting the impression that these organisms were primitive, primordial, especially old. They were single-celled creatures, simple in structure, with no cell nucleus. Through a microscope, they looked like bacteria, and they had been mistaken for bacteria by all earlier microbiologists. They lived in extreme environments, at least some of them — hot springs, salty lakes, sewage — and some had unusual metabolic habits, such as metabolizing without oxygen and, as the Times account said, producing methane. But these archaea, these whatevers, were drastically unlike bacteria if you looked at their DNA, which is what ...that the history of life could be drawn as a tree.... ...the prevailing tree of 1977, the orthodox image of life’s history, was wrong. It showed two major limbs arising from the trunk. According to what Woese had just announced to the world, it ought to show three.... [See also Science Friday "How A Humble Microbe Shook The Evolutionary Tree"]

2018-08-11. Parker Solar Probe Launches on NASA Voyage to ‘Touch the Sun’.

posted Aug 17, 2018, 5:12 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Aug 17, 2018, 5:16 PM ]

By Kenneth Chang, The New York Times. [] For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: Atop three columns of flame at 3:31 a.m. Eastern time, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe [] lifted toward space on Sunday. The launch was the second attempt to carry the spacecraft, which NASA touts will “touch the sun” one day, into orbit after a scrub early on Saturday. The probe — which will study the sun’s outer atmosphere as well as the stream of particles known as solar wind — was carried on top of a Delta IV Heavy rocket built and operated by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. It is one of the most powerful rockets currently available. ...The spacecraft will eventually pass within 4 million miles of the sun’s surface, close enough to skim through the star’s outer atmosphere. ...At its closest approach, the outside of the spacecraft will reach 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, or about the melting temperature of steel. But an 8-foot-wide carbon composite shield will absorb the intense heat and keep the spacecraft and its instruments cool. The foam in the shield is so fluffy — 97 percent empty space — that it adds only 160 pounds of weight. ...In total, the spacecraft will complete 24 orbits, and the mission is to end in 2025. During its later orbits, the strong pull of the sun’s gravity will accelerate the probe to 430,000 miles per hour, which will be the fastest human-made object ever....

2018-08-10. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Is Named for Him. 60 Years Ago, No One Believed His Ideas About the Sun.

posted Aug 17, 2018, 5:08 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Aug 17, 2018, 5:13 PM ]

By Kenneth Chang,The New York Times. []. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: CHICAGO — It was 1958. Sputnik had launched only a year earlier.... But the beach ball-size spacecraft had no instruments to measure anything in space. ...It certainly looked like the vast expanses between planets were empty. And that is what most scientists believed. But not Eugene N. Parker, then a 31-year-old, no-name professor at the University of Chicago. In a foundational paper published in The Astrophysical Journal, Dr. Parker described how charged particles streamed continuously from the sun, like the flow of water spreading outward from a circular fountain. Almost no one believed him. “The prevailing view among some people was that space was absolutely clean, nothing in it, total vacuum,” Dr. Parker recalled during an interview at his home. ...The scientists who had reviewed the paper rejected his idea as ludicrous. Dr. Parker appealed to the journal’s editor, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, a prominent astrophysicist also at Chicago, arguing that the reviewers had not pointed out any errors, just that they did not like the premise. Dr. Chandrasekhar overruled the reviewers. ...Four years later, Dr. Parker was vindicated when Mariner 2, a NASA spacecraft en route to Venus, measured energetic particles streaming through interplanetary space — exactly what Dr. Parker had predicted. Scientists now call that stream of particles the solar wind. ...Sixty years after Dr. Parker’s paper, NASA is about to launch a spacecraft that is to dive into outer wisps of the sun’s atmosphere and gather information about how our star generates the solar wind.... 

2018-08-08. Massive drought or myth? Scientists spar over an ancient climate event behind our new geological age.

posted Aug 11, 2018, 9:20 PM by Alan Gould

By Paul Voosen, Science Magazine. For GSS Life and Climate chapter 10. Excerpt: Last month, the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), the bureaucracy that governs geological time, declared we are living in a new geological age. No, it's not the Anthropocene, the much-debated proposal for a geological division defined by human impact on Earth. The new age anointed by ICS is called the Meghalayan, based on signs in the rock record of a global drought that began about 4200 years ago. It is one of three newly named subdivisions of the Holocene, the geological epoch that began 11,700 years ago with the retreat of ice age glaciers. And the name will now filter its way into textbooks....

2018-08-08. Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Impact Made Huge Dead Zones in Oceans.

posted Aug 11, 2018, 9:15 PM by Alan Gould

By Lucas Joel, Eos/AGU. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 1, Life and Climate chapter 9, Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: About 66 million years ago, an asteroid roughly 10 kilometers wide hit Earth in what is today the Gulf of Mexico. It brought annihilation: All the dinosaurs except for the birds went extinct; forests around the planet vanished temporarily, killing off all bird species that lived in trees; dust and other aerosols blocked the Sun, and global temperatures took a nosedive. The world plunged into a state analogous to nuclear winter. Another fallout effect of the impact, according to new work, was a depletion of oxygen in the oceans triggered by rapid global warming following the impact and nuclear winter. Such anoxia, the researchers behind the work report, devastated marine life. What’s more, this episode of anoxia may have parallels to the rapid global warming and resulting ocean anoxia being wrought by human-driven climate change today. “The global warming following the impact is one of the most rapid warmings in Earth’s history,” said Johan Vellekoop, a geologist at KU Leuven in Belgium who led the new research. “It’s on a human timescale.” He described that the postimpact warming happened over the course of only a few hundred to a few thousand years....

2018-08-07. Yale Climate Opinion Maps 2018.

posted Aug 11, 2018, 9:12 PM by Alan Gould

By Jennifer Marlon, Peter Howe, Matto Mildenberger, Anthony Leiserowitz and Xinran Wang, Yale Program on Climate Change Education. For GSS Climate Change chapter 10. Excerpt: Interactive maps show how Americans’ climate change beliefs, risk perceptions, and policy support vary at the state, congressional district, metro area, and county levels....

2018-08-06. Designing the Death of a Plastic.

posted Aug 11, 2018, 9:09 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Aug 11, 2018, 9:10 PM ]

 By Xiaozhi Lim, The New York Times. For GSS Ecosystem Change chapter 7. Excerpt: Decades ago, synthetic polymers became popular because they were cheap and durable. Now, scientists are creating material that self-destructs or breaks down for reuse on command....

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