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2019-01-31. Ocean heat waves like the Pacific’s deadly ‘Blob’ could become the new normal.

posted Feb 4, 2019, 3:05 PM by Alan Gould

By Warren Cornwall, Science Magazine. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/01/ocean-heat-waves-pacific-s-deadly-blob-could-become-new-normal] For GSS Climate Change chapter 8 and Losing Biodiversity chapter 7. Excerpt: When marine biologist Steve Barbeaux first saw the data in late 2017, he thought it was the result of a computer glitch. How else could more than 100 million Pacific cod suddenly vanish from the waters off of southern Alaska?mWithin hours, however, Barbeaux's colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Seattle, Washington, had confirmed the numbers. No glitch. The data, collected by research trawlers, indicated cod numbers had plunged by 70% in 2 years, essentially erasing a fishery worth $100 million annually. There was no evidence that the fish had simply moved elsewhere. And as the vast scale of the disappearance became clear, a prime suspect emerged: "The Blob." In late 2013, a huge patch of unusually warm ocean water, roughly one-third the size of the contiguous United States, formed in the Gulf of Alaska and began to spread. ...By the summer of 2015, The Blob had more than doubled in size, stretching across more than 4 million square kilometers of ocean, from Mexico's Baja California Peninsula to Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Water temperatures reached 2.5°C above normal in many places....  

2019-01-30. Exploding demand for cashmere wool is ruining Mongolia’s grasslands.

posted Feb 4, 2019, 3:03 PM by Alan Gould

By Kathleen McLaughlin, Science Magazine. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/01/exploding-demand-cashmere-wool-ruining-mongolia-s-grasslands 0] For GSS Ecosystem Change chapter 6. Excerpt: ...Essential to the identity and economy of Mongolia—more than half of the country's 3 million people live there—the grasslands are under increasing threat from overgrazing and climate change. Multiple studies over the past decade have shown that the once lush Mongolian steppe, an expanse twice the size of Texas that is one of the world's largest remaining grasslands, is slowly turning into a desert. An estimated 70% of all the grazing lands in the country are considered degraded to some degree. But a consortium of researchers is hoping data from space could help herders on the ground lighten their impact. ...From 1940 to 2014, annual mean temperatures here have increased by 2.07°C, more than double the global average. Ten of the warmest years on record have occurred since 1997, while rainfall has decreased and seasonal weather patterns have shifted. This has exacerbated soil erosion, which has begun to alter the vegetation, a trend that projections show will intensify in the first half of the 21st century. Meanwhile, development, especially mining, has exponentially increased water usage. Twelve percent of rivers and 21% of lakes have dried up entirely. An increasing number of people, vehicles, and heavy equipment put additional stress on the land. But one factor stands out: overgrazing, which, according to a 2013 study by researchers at Oregon State University in Corvallis, has caused 80% of the recent decline in vegetation on the grasslands....  

2019-01-28. Apollo May Have Found an Earth Meteorite on the Moon.

posted Feb 4, 2019, 2:59 PM by Alan Gould

By Kimberly M. S. Cartier, Eos/AGU. [https://eos.org/articles/apollo-may-have-found-an-earth-meteorite-on-the-moon] For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: The meteorite may have been blasted off of Earth during an impact, mixed with lunar rocks, and brought back to Earth 4 billion years later by astronauts. A rock sample brought back by Apollo 14 may contain the first evidence of Earth material on the Moon. New analysis of zircon grains in one lunar sample suggests that the zircon formed under conditions typical in Earth’s crust and not on the Moon. ...“I expect there could be a bit of controversy because this is the first of its kind,” [Jeremy] Bellucci said. “Hopefully,” he said, “it inspires a search for more Earth materials and further analyses on these samples.”...

2019-01-25. Earth’s Devastating Power, Seen by Satellite.

posted Feb 4, 2019, 2:56 PM by Alan Gould

By Kimberly M. S. Cartier, Eos/AGU. [https://eos.org/features/earths-devastating-power-seen-by-satellite] For GSS Energy Flow chapter 2, 7. Excerpt: Hurricanes, volcanoes, droughts, floods, fires, tsunamis: Satellites capture some of Earth’s most destructive forces. Earth-orbiting satellites can inspire awe of the beauty of our planet and provide breathtaking vantage points from which scientists can study its complicated dynamics. Satellites are cataloging Earth’s changing ice coverage, measuring water content inside leaves, monitoring air pollution, and tracking illegal fishing operations to protect marine ecosystems. These satellites are also a key resource for people who study natural disasters and those who respond to them. Governments and disaster relief agencies use satellite images and data to pinpoint areas that are at risk, track the progress of ongoing disasters, and monitor the impact on affected regions. Scientists use these data to study rare phenomena caused by intense conditions, refine models to predict future events, and inform policies that seek to minimize damage and save lives. These six images of recent natural disasters, all taken by Earth-orbiting satellites, demonstrate our planet’s raw power and show how satellite images and data can detect and monitor catastrophes around the world.... [Images are a "must see"] 

2019-01-29. China’s Coal Plants Haven’t Cut Methane Emissions as Required, Study Finds.

posted Jan 30, 2019, 8:15 PM by Alan Gould

By Somini Sengupta, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/29/climate/china-coal-climate-change.html] For GSS Energy Use chapter 3 and Climate Change chapter 3. Excerpt: China...has continued to produce more methane emissions from its coal mines despite its pledge to curb the planet-warming pollutant, according to new research. In a paper published Tuesday in Nature Communications [https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-07891-7], researchers concluded that China had failed to meet its own government regulations requiring coal mines to rapidly reduce methane emissions, at least in the five years after 2010, when the regulations were passed. It matters because coal is the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel, and China is, by far, the largest producer in the world. Coal accounts for 40 percent of electricity generation globally and an even higher share in China, which has abundant coal resources and more than four million workers employed in the coal sector. Scientists and policymakers agree that the world will have to quit coal to have any hope of averting catastrophic climate change. How quickly China can do that, therefore, is crucial. The Chinese government in 2010 required the state-run coal sector to reduce methane emissions by putting the gas to use — coal methane emissions can be used for power generation, for instance — or by capturing methane from mines and flaring it, which is still polluting, but not as much as releasing the gas into the atmosphere, according to the researchers. It required that 6.2 million tons of methane produced from coal mining be put to use by 2015. An examination of satellite data collected between 2010 and 2015 painted a different picture. Not only were the reductions not made, but Chinese methane emissions actually increased by 1.2 million tons per year during the five-year period. “Our study indicates that, at least in terms of methane emissions, China’s government is talking the talk but has not been able to walk the walk,” Scot Miller, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who led the research team, said in a statement.The study highlighted the difficulties China faces in reducing greenhouse gas emissions....  

2019-01-29. Seeking Superpowers in the Axolotl Genome.

posted Jan 30, 2019, 8:12 PM by Alan Gould

By Steph Yin, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/29/science/axolotl-dna-genome-sequence.html] For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 4. Excerpt: The smiling salamanders can regrow most of their body parts, so researchers are building improved maps of their DNA. ...Threatened by habitat degradation and imported fish, they can only be found in the canals of Lake Xochimilco, in the far south of Mexico City. Captive axolotls, however, are thriving in labs around the world. In a paper published Thursday in Genome Research, a team of researchers has reported the most complete assembly of DNA yet for the striking amphibians. Their work paves the way for advances in human regenerative medicine....  

2019-01-29. U.S. Midwest Freezes, Australia Burns: This Is the Age of Weather Extremes.

posted Jan 30, 2019, 8:05 PM by Alan Gould

By Somini Sengupta, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/29/climate/global-warming-extreme-weather.html] For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: In Chicago, officials warned about the risk of almost instant frostbite on what could be the city’s coldest day ever. Warming centers opened around the Midwest. And schools and universities closed throughout the region as rare polar winds streamed down from the Arctic. At the same time, on the other side of the planet, wildfires raged in Australia’s record-breaking heat. Soaring air-conditioner use overloaded electrical grids and caused widespread power failures. The authorities slowed and canceled trams to save power. Labor leaders called for laws that would require businesses to close when temperatures reached hazardous levels: nearly 116 degrees Fahrenheit, or 47 Celsius, as was the case last week in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia.  ...“When something happens — whether it’s a cold snap, a wildfire, a hurricane, any of those things — we need to think beyond what we have seen in the past and assume there’s a high probability that it will be worse than anything we’ve ever seen,” said Crystal A. Kolden, an associate professor at the University of Idaho, who specializes in wildfires and who is currently working in Tasmania during one of the state’s worst fire seasons. Consider these recent examples: Heat records were toppled from Norway to Algeria last year. In parts of Australia, a drought has gone on so long that a child in kindergarten will hardly have seen rain in her lifetime. And California saw its most ruinous wildfires ever in 2018, triggering a bankruptcy filing this week by the state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric. ...As for the extremely low temperatures this week in parts of the United States, they stand in sharp contrast to the trend toward warmer winters. They may also be a result of warming, strangely enough. Emerging research suggests that a warming Arctic is causing changes in the jet stream and pushing polar air down to latitudes that are unaccustomed to them and often unprepared. Hence this week’s atypical chill over large swaths of the Northeast and Midwest....  

2019-01-25. How Long Is a Day on Saturn?

posted Jan 30, 2019, 7:56 PM by Alan Gould

By Nadia Drake, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/25/science/saturn-day-length.html] For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: For decades, it was a nagging mystery — how long does a day last on Saturn? Earth pirouettes around its axis once every 24 hours or so, while Jupiter spins comparatively briskly, once in roughly 9.8 Earth-hours. And then there is Venus, a perplexingly sluggish spinner that takes 243 Earth-days to complete a full rotation. With Saturn, it turns out the answer rippled in plain view, in the planet’s lustrous rings. After reading small, spiraling waves in those bands, sculpted by oscillations from Saturn’s gravity, scientists reported this month in the Astrophysical Journal that one Saturnian day is a mere 10 hours, 33 minutes and 38 seconds long, measured in Earth time. ...Saturn has been stubbornly secretive about its days. Its buttery clouds don’t bear helpful markings that scientists might use to track the planet’s rotation, and they can't easily use its nearly vertical magnetic axis — as they have for Jupiter's more off-kilter alignment — to gather clues about the planet's interior. ... Not until the Cassini spacecraft swooped, flipped and twirled through the Saturn system did scientists realize that the answer was outside the planet itself, etched into its icy rings. As Saturn spins, its internal vibrations inscribe telltale signatures in its rings; studying those markings is now termed “kronoseismology,” from kronos, the Greek name for Saturn, and seismo, for quakes and vibrations....  

2019-01-24. How Does Your State Make Electricity?

posted Jan 28, 2019, 11:09 PM by Alan Gould

By Nadja Popovich, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/12/24/climate/how-electricity-generation-changed-in-your-state.html] For GSS Energy Use chapter 4. Excerpt: America isn’t making electricity the way it did two decades ago: Natural gas has edged out coal as the country’s leading generation source ...and renewables like wind and solar have made small yet speedy gains. But, each state has its own story. ...Overall, fossil fuels still dominate electricity generation in the United States. But the shift from coal to natural gas has helped to lower carbon dioxide emissions and other pollution. Last year, coal was the main source of electricity generation for 18 states, down from 32 states in 2001....  [has diagrams of energy mix for each state]

2019-01-24. VIDEO: Inventor Inspired By Childhood Memories Of Fungus.

posted Jan 28, 2019, 11:07 PM by Alan Gould

By NPR, from the Joe's Big Idea series Changing The World, One Invention At A Time. [https://www.npr.org/2019/01/24/687374834/video-inventor-inspired-by-childhood-memories-of-fungus] For GSS Ecosystem Change chapter 7. Excerpt: In 2007, mechanical engineer Eben Bayer and a friend invented a new kind of packaging material. What makes the stuff unusual is that it's fully recyclable: It's made from organic material..., held together by mycelium, the threadlike structures made by a fungus, such as a mushroom....  

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