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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
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Latest News and Updates

2016-06-28. NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Will Soon Be in Jupiter’s Grip.

posted Jun 28, 2016, 9:02 AM by Alan Gould

By Kenneth Chang, New York Times. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: After traveling for five years and nearly 1.8 billion miles, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will announce its arrival at Jupiter with the simplest of radio signals: a three-second beep. ...Juno’s mission is to explore the enigmas beneath the cloud tops of Jupiter. How far down does the Big Red Spot storm that has swirled for centuries extend? What is inside the solar system’s largest planet? ...“One of the primary goals of Juno is to learn the recipe for solar systems,” said Scott Bolton, a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio who is the principal investigator for the $1.1 billion mission. “How do you make the solar system? How do you make the planets in our solar system?”...  See also  video

2016-06-26. In vitro fertilization may save coral reefs.

posted Jun 27, 2016, 11:00 PM by Alan Gould

By David Perlman, San Francisco Chronicle. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 7 and Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: Marine biologists at the California Academy of Sciences have joined a new international effort to rescue endangered coral reefs from the consequences of widespread human destruction and a warming climate. Teams of research divers from the academy will set off this summer on expeditions to the Caribbean and Mexico, where they will seed two of the region’s major reefs with millions of coral larvae born from the organisms’ sperm and egg cells. ...corals are actually colonies of tiny animals that build their limestone homes from the sea, and derive their colors from the algae that live inside them. Their lives are increasingly threatened by global plagues like expanding human development, ocean pollution, and the twin signals of global climate change: rising temperatures and increasing ocean acidification. ...The expedition is scheduled for August because the corals spawn only about once a year, releasing their sex cells into the water by the millions, Shepherd explained. The event, he said, occurs only in August at night and only within a few days after a full moon....

2016-06-21. PG&E to close Diablo Canyon.

posted Jun 22, 2016, 9:18 AM by Alan Gould

By David R. Baker, San Francisco Chronicle. For GSS Energy Use chapter 4. Excerpt: Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced Tuesday it will close California’s last nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon, in 2025, ending atomic energy’s more than a half-century history in the state. The move will shutter a plant whose construction on a seaside cliff surrounded by earthquake faults helped create the antinuclear movement. And yet, some conservationists have fought to keep Diablo Canyon open, arguing California needed its output of greenhouse gas-free electricity to not exacerbate global warming. ... PG&E CEO Tony Earley told The Chronicle that as the company looked into California’s energy needs for the coming decades, it didn’t see a place for Diablo Canyon. ...competition from power plants burning cheap natural gas has driven several older nuclear plants out of business. ...PG&E’s Earley, ...the former chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute lobbying group, he is a longtime believer in nuclear power. But he says PG&E can find enough affordable renewable power and energy storage solutions to replace Diablo Canyon without significantly raising rates. ... Newsom ...“The idea that the economics — from PG&E’s perspective — work for renewables is a pretty profound moment in energy policy,” [Lt. Gov. Gavin] Newsom said. “We’ve been asserting it for decades. And here you have a major utility acknowledging a low-carbon, green future.”...

2016-06-20. As Wind Power Lifts Wyoming’s Fortunes, Coal Miners Are Left in the Dust.

posted Jun 21, 2016, 9:16 PM by Alan Gould

By Coral Davenport, The New York Times. For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt: ...In Wyoming, the country’s biggest coal-producing state, the energy landscape is transforming along with the nation’s, but in a state of 584,000 people, that change is happening at hyperspeed. ...The new positions and financial opportunities offered by wind and other new-energy industries are not replacing all the jobs going up in coal smoke. ...The thousands of coal workers who will probably lose their jobs do not necessarily have the technical skills to operate wind farms. In any case, new wind jobs will number in the hundreds, not the thousands. ...Today, about 66 percent of the electricity in the United States is produced by coal and natural gas, and just 7 percent is produced by renewable sources such as wind and solar. But market forces and government regulations are rapidly changing that picture. ...“There’s enough wind in Wyoming to power the entire country,” said Michael Goggin, the senior director of research at the American Wind Energy Association....

2016-06-09. Climate change could trigger tropical evacuations, researchers advise.

posted Jun 21, 2016, 9:09 PM by Alan Gould

By  Kathleen Maclay, UC Berkeley News. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: Global warming by just 2 degrees Celsius is likely to force some tropical plant, animal and human populations to relocate hundreds of miles from their current homes this century, according to research published today in the journal Scientific Reports []. Solomon Hsiang, Chancellor’s Associate Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and Adam Sobel, a professor of applied physics and math at Columbia University, foresee dramatic population declines in Mexico, Central America, Africa, India and other tropical locales if ecosystems or humans move due to climate change. In their analysis, the pair used a model to demonstrate how climate dynamics in the tropics can dramatically magnify the consequences of climate change as it is experienced on the ground. This means even small climate changes can have dramatic impacts....

2016-06-02. Universe expanding faster than expected.

posted Jun 21, 2016, 9:06 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Jun 21, 2016, 9:23 PM by Alan Gould ]

By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley News. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapters 4 and 9. Excerpt: Astronomers have obtained the most precise measurement yet of how fast the universe is expanding, and it doesn’t agree with predictions based on other data and our current understanding of the physics of the cosmos. The discrepancy — the universe is now expanding 9 percent faster than expected — means either that measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation are wrong, or that some unknown physical phenomenon is speeding up the expansion of space, the astronomers say. ...By measuring about 2,400 Cepheid stars in 19 nearby galaxies and comparing the apparent brightness of both types of stars, the researchers accurately determined the true brightness of the Type Ia supernovae. They then used this calibration to calculate distances to roughly 300 Type Ia supernovae in far-flung galaxies. “We needed both the nearby Cepheid distances for galaxies hosting Type Ia supernovae and the distances to the 300 more-distant Type Ia supernovae to determine the Hubble constant,” Filippenko said. “The paper focuses on the 19 galaxies and getting their distances really, really well, with small uncertainties, and thoroughly understanding those uncertainties.”... 0

2016-06-17. Rising temperatures and humans were a deadly combo for ancient South American megafauna.

posted Jun 18, 2016, 7:46 PM by Alan Gould

By Lizzie Wade, Science. For GSS Life and Climate chapter 12. Excerpt: If you’re fossil hunting in Patagonia you might find some weird creatures: giant jaguars, 3-meter-tall sloths, and bears 10 times the size of grizzlies. The southern part of South America was once crawling with these great beasts, collectively known as megafauna. But around 12,000 years ago, they suddenly disappeared from Patagonia and many other parts of the Americas. What caused the mass extinction? A new study suggests it was a one-two punch: rapid climate warming and humans. ...Alan Cooper, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia, radiocarbon dated nearly 100 fossils from Patagonia and sequenced their mitochondrial DNA, genes found in the power plants of cells and passed down only from the mother. When he lined up their ages with global climate records, he noticed a pattern: Many species of megafauna seemed to disappear during a period of extreme warming around 12,300 years ago, Cooper and his team write today in Science Advances. ...Patagonia warmed by about 2°C over 1000 years, and the effects were devastating: All but one of the species Cooper studied went extinct. ...Last year, Cooper spotted a similar pattern in North America, with megafauna going extinct during ancient warming events (which occurred at slightly different times in the Northern Hemisphere). The existence of complementary data from the two continents “is as close as you’re going to get to a replicated experiment,” he says....

2016-06-14. Australian Rodent Is First Mammal Made Extinct by Human-Driven Climate Change, Scientists Say.

posted Jun 18, 2016, 4:55 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Jun 18, 2016, 4:56 PM ]

By Michelle Innis, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8 and Losing Biodiversity chapter 8. Excerpt: SYDNEY, Australia — Australian researchers say rising sea levels have wiped out a rodent that lived on a tiny outcrop in the Great Barrier Reef, in what they say is the first documented extinction of a mammal species due to human-caused climate change. ...The long-tailed, whiskered creature, called the Bramble Cay melomys, was considered the only mammal endemic to the Great Barrier Reef. “The key factor responsible for the death of the Bramble Cay melomys is almost certainly high tides and surging seawater, which has traveled inland across the island,” Luke Leung, a scientist from the University of Queensland who was an author of a report on the species’ apparent disappearance, said by telephone. “The seawater has destroyed the animal’s habitat and food source. This is the first documented extinction of a mammal because of climate change,” he said. ...Accounts of the melomys’s presence on Bramble Cay date to 1845, when European sailors encountered what they described as large rats (and tried to kill them with bows and arrows). Researchers found hundreds of the creatures on the island during the 1970s. But within a few decades, their numbers had fallen drastically, with just 10 melomys captured during a 2002 survey and 12 in 2004. None at all were caught during a 2011 survey, but that expedition was cut short for fear of damaging green-turtle nests....

2016-05-27. The Battery Builder.

posted Jun 15, 2016, 9:42 PM by Alan Gould

By Robert F. Service, Science. For GSS Energy Use chapter 9. Excerpt: Yi Cui, a materials scientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, is trying to take lithium-ion batteries to the next level. ...Cui—and his startup, Amprius—are marrying battery chemistry with nanotechnology. He is building intricately structured battery electrodes that can soak up and release charge-carrying ions in greater quantities, and faster, than standard electrodes can, without producing troublesome side reactions. The nanoscale architectures he is exploring have already led to phone batteries that store 10% more energy than the best conventional lithium-ion batteries on the market, and better ones are in the works. If the technologies live up to their promise, Amprius could one day supply car batteries able to store up to 10 times more energy than today's top performers....

2016-06-10. Underground injections turn carbon dioxide to stone.

posted Jun 15, 2016, 3:53 PM by Alan Gould

By Eli Kintisch, Science. For GSS Energy Use chapter 4 and Climate Change chapter 10. Excerpt: Researchers working in Iceland say they have discovered a new way to trap the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) deep underground: by changing it into rock. Results published this week in Science show that injecting CO2 into volcanic rocks triggers a reaction that rapidly forms new carbonate minerals—potentially locking up the gas forever. The technique has to clear some high hurdles to become commercially viable. ...unlike sandstone, the basalt contains metals that react with CO2, forming carbonate minerals such as calcite—a process known as carbonation. But they thought the process might take many years. To find out, they launched the CarbFix experiment 25 kilometers east of Reykjavik, intending to dose Iceland’s abundant underground basalt with CO2 that bubbles from cooling magma underground and is collected at a nearby geothermal power plant. In 2012, the researchers injected 220 tons of CO2—spiked with heavy carbon for monitoring—into layers of basalt between 400 and 800 meters below the surface. ...What happened next startled the team. After about a year and a half, the pump inside a monitoring well kept breaking down. Frustrated, engineers hauled up the pump and found that it was coated with white and green scale. Tests identified it as calcite, bearing the heavy carbon tracer that marked it as a product of carbonation. Measurements of dissolved carbon in the groundwater suggested that more than 95% of the injected carbon had already been converted into calcite and other minerals. ...

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