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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:

2018-06-18. Underwater: Rising Seas, Chronic Floods, and the Implications for US Coastal Real Estate (2018).

posted Jun 18, 2018, 11:33 AM by Alan Gould

By Union of Concerned Scientists. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: ... hundreds of US coastal communities will soon face chronic, disruptive flooding that directly affects people's homes, lives, and properties. Yet property values in most coastal real estate markets do not currently reflect this risk. And most homeowners, communities, and investors are not aware of the financial losses they may soon face. This analysis looks at what's at risk for US coastal real estate from sea level rise—and the challenges and choices we face now and in the decades to come....

2018-06-15. In the Philippines, Dynamite Fishing Decimates Entire Ocean Food Chains.

posted Jun 18, 2018, 11:29 AM by Alan Gould

By Aurora Almendral, The New York Times. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 7. Excerpt: BOHOL, Philippines — Nothing beats dynamite fishing for sheer efficiency. A fisherman in this scattering of islands in the central Philippines balanced on a narrow outrigger boat and launched a bottle bomb into the sea with the ease of a quarterback. It exploded in a violent burst, rocking the bottom of our boat and filling the air with an acrid smell. Fish bobbed onto the surface, dead or gasping their last breaths. Under the water, coral shattered into rubble. The blast ruptured the internal organs of reef fish, fractured their spines or tore at their flesh with coral shrapnel. From microscopic plankton to sea horses, anemones and sharks, little survives inside the 30- to 100-foot radius of an explosion. With 10,500 square miles of coral reef, the Philippines is a global center for marine biodiversity, which the country has struggled to protect in the face of human activity and institutional inaction. But as the effects of climate change on oceans become more acute, stopping dynamite and other illegal fishing has taken on a new urgency. ...Dynamite fishing destroys both the food chain and the corals where the fish nest and grow. ...

2018-06-13. Antarctica Is Melting Three Times as Fast as a Decade Ago.

posted Jun 18, 2018, 11:24 AM by Alan Gould

By Kendra Pierre-Louis, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: Between 60 and 90 percent of the world’s fresh water is frozen in the ice sheets of Antarctica, a continent roughly the size of the United States and Mexico combined. If all that ice melted, it would be enough to raise the world’s sea levels by roughly 200 feet. While that won’t happen overnight, Antarctica is indeed melting, and a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature shows that the melting is speeding up. ...The rate at which Antarctica is losing ice has tripled since 2007, according to the latest available data. The continent is now melting so fast, scientists say, that it will contribute six inches (15 centimeters) to sea-level rise by 2100. ...“Around Brooklyn you get flooding once a year or so, but if you raise sea level by 15 centimeters then that’s going to happen 20 times a year,” said Andrew Shepherd, a professor of earth observation at the University of Leeds and the lead author of the study....

2018-06-09. Pope Tells Oil Executives to Act on Climate: ‘There Is No Time to Lose’.

posted Jun 18, 2018, 11:18 AM by Alan Gould

By Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 9. Excerpt: ROME — Three years ago, Pope Francis issued a sweeping letter that highlighted the global crisis posed by climate change and called for swift action to save the environment and the planet. On Saturday, the pope gathered money managers and titans of the world’s biggest oil companies during a closed-door conference at the Vatican and asked them if they had gotten the message. “There is no time to lose,” Francis told them on Saturday. Pressure has been building on oil and gas companies to transition to less polluting forms of energy, with the threat of fossil-fuel divestment sometimes used as a stick. The pope said oil and gas companies had made commendable progress and were “developing more careful approaches to the assessment of climate risk and adjusting their business practices accordingly.” But those actions were not enough....

2018-06-07. NASA rover hits organic pay dirt on Mars.

posted Jun 10, 2018, 3:25 AM by Alan Gould

By Paul Voosen, Science Magazine. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: In its quest to find molecules that could point to life on Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover has struck a gusher. Since Curiosity landed in 2012, it has sifted samples of soil and ground-up rock for signs of organic molecules—the complex carbon chains that on Earth form the building blocks of life. Past detections have been so faint that they could be just contamination. Now, samples taken from two different drill sites on an ancient lakebed have yielded complex organic macromolecules that look strikingly similar to the goopy fossilized building blocks of oil and gas on Earth. At a few dozen parts per million, the detected levels are 100 times higher than previous finds. Although the team cannot yet say whether these molecules stem from life or a more mundane geological process, they demonstrate that organics can be preserved for billions of years in the harsh martian surface environment, says Jennifer Eigenbrode, a biogeochemist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who led a study in this week’s Science. "We're in a really good position to move forward looking for signs of life." ...Because ultraviolet radiation and oxidizing compounds in the martian soil would destroy any compounds exposed at the surface, Curiosity's scientists used a robotic drill to penetrate several centimeters into the mudstone. They delivered the fresh grit to an oven inside the rover's belly....

2018-06-07. Ancient Earth froze over in a geologic instant.

posted Jun 10, 2018, 3:22 AM by Alan Gould

By Lucas Joel, Science Magazine. For GSS Life and Climate chapter 8. Excerpt: Earth’s ice is melting at a rapid clip today. But some scientists think that during several ancient episodes, the planet plunged into a deep freeze known as “Snowball Earth,” when ice sheets grew to cover almost the entire planet. However, the number of these episodes, their extent, and just how fast Earth turned into an ice cube have long been a mystery. Now, analysis of a newly discovered rock sequence in Ethiopia supports a Snowball Earth event some 717 million years ago and suggests it took place in mere thousands of years—the geologic equivalent of a cold snap. The new work, grounded in Earth’s rock record, means the Snowball Earth hypothesis is “hanging in there, big time,” says Carol Dehler, a geologist at Utah State University in Logan, who was not involved in the research. ...Maclennan and colleagues ventured to the small town of Samre, Ethiopia, where they came across a type of rock—which they later dated to roughly 717 million years old—that could have only formed through glacial activity. These rocks, called diamictites, are made of huge boulders transported great distances by glaciers. Buried just below those glacial rocks were older layers of carbonate rocks. As the ancient supercontinent Rodinia was breaking apart, these rocks formed in shallow waters with the aid of microbial marine organisms—a sign that the same location was warm just a bit earlier in time, Maclennan explains. Together, these layers suggest the ancient climate quickly shifted from tropical paradise to frozen wasteland, Maclennan and colleagues report this month in Geology....

2018-06-06. Hurricanes Are Lingering Longer. That Makes Them More Dangerous.

posted Jun 7, 2018, 6:52 AM by Alan Gould

By Kendra Pierre-Louis, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8 and Energy Flow chapter 7. Excerpt: With wind speeds that can top 180 miles per hour, hurricanes are not usually thought of as slow. Yet tropical cyclones, which include hurricanes, have grown more sluggish since the mid-20th century, researchers say. That may mean bad news for people residing in their path. A study published Wednesday in the journal Nature focuses on what is known as translation speed, which measures how quickly a storm is moving over an area, say, from Miami to the Florida Panhandle. Between 1949 and 2016, tropical cyclone translation speeds declined 10 percent worldwide, the study says. The storms, in effect, are sticking around places for a longer period of time. Lingering hurricanes can be a problem, as Texans learned last year when Hurricane Harvey stalled over the state, causing devastating flooding and billions of dollars of damage. The storm dropped more than 30 inches of rain in two days and nearly 50 inches over four days in some places. A report released this month by Harris County, which includes Houston, found that Harvey’s rainfall exceeded every known flooding event in American history since 1899. The really, really high rainfall totals were because the storm moved so slowly,” said Deanna Hence, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign....

2018-06-05. How the Ice Age Shaped New York.

posted Jun 7, 2018, 6:48 AM by Alan Gould

By William J. Broad, The New York Times. For GSS Life and Climate chapter 10. Excerpt: At the start of the last ice age, 2.6 million years ago, a sheet of frozen water formed atop North America that kept expanding and thickening until it reached a maximum depth of roughly two miles. At its southern edge, the vast body deposited tons of rocky debris — from sand and pebbles to boulders the size of school buses. Then, some 18,000 years ago, the planet began to warm and the gargantuan sheet of ice began to melt and retreat. Today, the southernmost edge of that frozen expanse is marked by a line of rubble that extends across the northern United States for thousands of miles. The largest deposits form what geologists call a terminal moraine. The intermittent ridge runs from Puget Sound to the Missouri River to Montauk Point on Long Island, forming the prominence that supports its old lighthouse. The ancient sheet of ice also left its mark on a very modern phenomenon: New York City. The ice over Manhattan would have buried even the tallest skyscraper and was so heavy that it depressed the underlying bedrock. As it melted, giant boulders embedded deep within its flanks landed throughout what became the city. Many are still visible in Central Park, unlikely obelisks scored by time. But the island was the last hurrah, and the mammoth sheet of ice ended immediately to the south, in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island....

2018-06-04. Whale’s Death in Thailand Points to Global Scourge: Plastic in Oceans.

posted Jun 7, 2018, 6:45 AM by Alan Gould

By Mike Ives, The New York Times. For Ecosystem Change chapter 7 and Losing Biodiversity chapter 7. Excerpt: HONG KONG — Hundreds of turtles, dolphins and whales become stranded every year on Thailand’s beaches after plastic impedes their mobility or clogs their insides. Some are lifeless on arrival, biologists say, and their deaths barely register with the public. But the survival of a pilot whale that washed ashore in southern Thailand last week, in critical condition and with a belly full of black plastic bags, became a cause célèbre for ordinary people. And its death a few days later was a vivid reminder of a staggering global problem: plastics in the oceans and seas. ...After the whale’s death on Friday, a necropsy showed that it had washed ashore in the southern province of Songkhla with nearly 18 pounds of plastic in its stomach. Veterinarians had tried to save its life all week, to no avail. ...Of the roughly 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics produced worldwide since the 1950s, about 6.3 billion have been thrown away, according to a 2017 study in the journal Science Advances. The study said that if current production and waste-management trends continued, about 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste would be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050. A need for packaging is the main driver of plastics consumption globally, and the study’s authors said that packaging made up 54 percent of the nonfiber plastic thrown away in 2015. estimated eight million metric tons of plastic waste made its way into the world’s oceans each year — equivalent to “five plastic grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world,” the study’s lead author, Jenna Jambeck, told The New York Times....

2018-06-01. This saltwater trout evolved to live in freshwater—in just 100 years.

posted Jun 2, 2018, 9:25 PM by Alan Gould

By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 3. Excerpt: Although we tend to think of evolution as happening over thousands, if not millions, of years, critical changes can take little more than a century. That’s what happened with a group of steelhead trout transplanted from the salty seas of California to the fresh waters of Lake Michigan for game fishermen in the 1890s. A new study shows that the fish, which typically live part of their lives in the ocean like salmon, developed key genetic differences that allowed it to live wholly in freshwater—in little more than 100 years. The discovery shows how quickly organisms can adapt to a new lifestyle—if they have some of the right genes to start with, says Michael Blouin, a geneticist at Oregon State University in Corvallis. “The work is a nice example” of how evolution can happen “over very short time periods.” ...So how did the genes change so quickly from one version to another? Intriguingly, there was no sign that steelhead had interbred with rainbow trout to get the genes they needed to thrive. They also didn’t have to mutate, Christie explains. Instead, there were likely a few steelhead among the first batch of transplants that already had the right versions of these genes—they simply survived and reproduced much more successfully than their peers. Eventually, the less well-adapted steelhead disappeared....

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