GSS Blog 2014–2019

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Recent GSS Updates: 2021 ♦ 2020

About the GSS Blog 2014–2019

posted Dec 30, 2020, 9:48 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Apr 23, 2021, 12:03 PM ]

GSS Staying-Up-To-Date pages from 2014–2019 were in the format of a Google Blog for which entries are still preserved chapter by chapter in each GSS book's Staying-Up-To-Date pages.

2020-01-13. 2019 Was a Record Year for Ocean Temperatures, Data Show.

posted Jan 15, 2020, 4:06 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Jan 15, 2020, 4:07 PM ]

By Kendra Pierre-Louis, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/13/climate/ocean-temperatures-climate-change.html] For GSS Climate Change chapter 4. Excerpt: Last year was the warmest year on record for the world’s oceans, part of a long-term warming trend, according to a study released Monday [https://doi.org/10.1007/s00376-020-9283-7]. “If you look at the ocean heat content, 2019 is by far the hottest, 2018 is second, 2017 is third, 2015 is fourth, and then 2016 is fifth,” said Kevin E. Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and an author on the study. ...Since the middle of last century, the oceans have absorbed roughly 93 percent of the excess heat caused by greenhouse gases from human activities such as burning coal for electricity. That has shielded the land from some of the worst effects of rising emissions. “Ocean heat content is, in many ways, our best measure of the effect of climate change on the earth,” said Zeke Hausfather, the director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute in California, who was not involved in this study....

2020-01-11. The Merchants of Thirst.

posted Jan 15, 2020, 4:01 PM by Alan Gould

By Peter Schwartzstein, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/11/business/drought-increasing-worldwide.html] For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: In Kathmandu, as in much of South Asia and parts of the Middle East, South America and sub-Saharan Africa, these men and their tanker trucks sometimes prevent entire cities from running dry. Without them, millions of households wouldn’t have sufficient water to cook, clean or wash. Or perhaps any at all. And without them, an already deteriorating infrastructure might break down completely, as the tanker men know well. ...Yet there’s another side to them, too, one that is less pleasant and sometimes outright nasty. Tankers frequently deliver poor quality water, which can sicken. They usually charge much more than the state, devastating to the poor. ...But the tanker industry might also be an early illustration of how parts of the private sector stand to profit from a warming and fast-urbanizing world. The urban population of South Asia alone is projected to almost triple to 1.2 billion by 2050, and as infrastructure decays and cities continue to sprawl into areas that aren’t served at all, tankers are well-placed to absorb some of the shortfall. Up to 1.9 billion city dwellers might experience seasonal water shortages by midcentury, according to the World Bank.... 

2020-01-10. A teenager discovered a new planet on the third day of his NASA internship.

posted Jan 15, 2020, 3:57 PM by Alan Gould

By Lateshia Beachum, The Washington Post. [https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/01/10/teenager-discovered-new-planet-third-day-his-nasa-internship/] For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 8. Excerpt: Most people sit through countless orientations on the first few days of their job, but one teen discovered a planet — on his third day. Wolf Cukier, 17, of Scarsdale, N.Y., had wrapped up his junior year of high school when he headed off to intern in the summer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., where he discovered a planet orbiting two stars. The planet, now known as TOI 1338 b, is nearly seven times as large as Earth and has two stars — one that’s about 10 percent more massive than our sun and another only a third of the sun’s mass and less bright, according to NASA [https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/nasa-s-tess-mission-uncovers-its-1st-world-with-two-stars]. ...Cukier had a framework of what to look for based on his exploration of the Planet Hunters TESS citizen science project [https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/nora-dot-eisner/planet-hunters-tess], which allows people to comb through TESS data and categorize star systems, he said....

2020-01-09. Trove of New Bird Species Found on Remote Indonesian Islands.

posted Jan 15, 2020, 3:55 PM by Alan Gould

By Karen Weintraub, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/09/science/birds-new-species-indonesia.html] For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 1. Excerpt: Researchers found 10 new species and subspecies of songbirds off the coast of Sulawesi, with distinct songs and genetics from known birds.... 

2019-01-09. Just a Fainting Spell? Or Is Betelgeuse About to Blow?

posted Jan 15, 2020, 3:51 PM by Alan Gould

By Dennis Overbye, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/09/science/astronomy-supernova-betelgeuse.html] For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 6. Excerpt: Is Betelgeuse about to blow? Probably not, but astronomers are having fun thinking about it. Over the last three months, the star, which marks the armpit of Orion the hunter, has mysteriously dimmed to less than half its normal brightness, markedly altering one of the great sights of the winter sky. At the beginning of January the star was fainter than ever before observed, according to Edward Guinan of Villanova University, who has been compiling data on Betelgeuse. In its “fainting” spell, Dr. Guinan said, the star has dropped from seventh to twenty-first on the list of brightest stars in the sky. ...All this has raised the issue of Betelgeuse’s mortality, and its cosmic endgame. ...That will be quite a show. Betelgeuse is only 700 light years from Earth, far enough to not kill us when it goes, but close enough to impress; the supernova would be as bright as a full moon in our sky. ...“My money all along has been that Betelgeuse is going through a somewhat extreme, but otherwise normal quasi-periodic change in brightness,” said J. Craig Wheeler, a supernova expert at the University of Texas in Austin.... See also Waiting for Betelgeuse to Explode [https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/01/09/science/betelgeuse-supernova-fading.html

2020-01-08. How many of our comets come from alien solar systems?

posted Jan 15, 2020, 3:46 PM by Alan Gould

By Eva Frederick, Science Magazine. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/01/how-many-our-comets-come-alien-solar-systems] For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: Comets are generally thought to originate in our Solar System, made up of the leftover gas and rocks thrown out as the planets formed. The recent arrival of two interstellar objects—a rock named ‘Oumuamua and a flashy comet called Borisov—have challenged that assumption. Tom Hands, an astrophysicist at the University of Zurich’s Institute for Computational Science and his co-author Walter Dehnen at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich used mathematical models to estimate just how many long-period comets—those that take 200 years or longer to circle the Sun—could be interstellar visitors. ...We estimated from the study that there should be 100,000 ‘Oumuamua-style small rocks and 100 Borisov-style comets in the Solar System. Making far more conservative estimates for how long these objects would survive in the Solar System [shorter than 10 million years], we would expect 20,000 ‘Oumuamuas or 20 comets. The majority of these things would have highly eccentric orbits with periods of a few hundred thousand years, meaning they spend the vast majority of their time far, far out beyond the orbit of Pluto.... 

2020-01-08. Taking a cue from plants, new chemical approach converts carbon dioxide to valuable fuel.

posted Jan 15, 2020, 3:41 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Jan 15, 2020, 4:34 PM ]

By Robert F. Service, Science Magazine. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/01/taking-cue-plants-new-chemical-approach-converts-carbon-dioxide-valuable-fuel] For GSS Energy Use chapter 10 and Climate Change chapter 10. Excerpt: Researchers have long sought to imitate photosynthesis, harnessing the energy of the Sun to generate chemical fuels. Now, a team has come closer to this goal than ever before. The researchers developed a new copper- and iron-based catalyst that uses light to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) to methane, the primary component of natural gas. If the new catalyst can be improved further, it could help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. ...Now, Mi and his colleagues have come up with a recipe.... They started with the same GaN nanowires grown on top of a commercially available silicon wafer. They then used a standard technique called electrodeposition to add tiny 5- to 10-nanometer-wide particles consisting of a mix of copper and iron. Under light and in the presence of CO2 and water, the setup converts 51% of the energy in light into methane, and works at a fast clip. ...In contrast to many other fuel-generating light absorbers and catalysts, all the components of the current approach are cheap, abundant, and already used in industry. Sargent notes that the next steps will likely be to improve both the efficiency and rate of methane production, both of which would be needed to make the current system practical. If that happens, the new approach could offer society a way to use sunlight to make a fuel that can be used long after the Sun goes down.... 

2020-01-03. Integrating Input to Forge Ahead in Geothermal Research.

posted Jan 15, 2020, 3:34 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Jan 15, 2020, 3:36 PM ]

By Robert Rozansky and Alexis McKittrick, Eos/AGU. [https://eos.org/opinions/integrating-input-to-forge-ahead-in-geothermal-research] For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt: we describe a methodological approach to combining qualitative input from the geothermal research community with technical information and data. The result of this approach is a road map to overcoming barriers facing this important field of research. Geothermal energy accounts for merely 0.4% of U.S. electricity production today, but the country has vast, untapped geothermal energy resources—if only we can access them. The U.S. Geological Survey has found that unconventional geothermal sources could produce as much as 500 gigawatts of electricity [https://www.usgs.gov/energy-and-minerals/energy-resources-program/science/geothermal?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects] —roughly half of U.S. electric power generating capacity [https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/electricity/electricity-in-the-us-generation-capacity-and-sales.php]. These sources have sufficient heat but insufficient fluid permeability to enable extraction of this heat [U.S. Geological Survey, 2008; https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2008/3082/].... 

2020-01-06. Earthquake Strikes Puerto Rico, Toppling a Well-Known Natural Wonder.

posted Jan 8, 2020, 11:52 PM by Alan Gould

By Alejandra Rosa and Patricia Mazzei, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/06/us/puerto-rico-earthquake.html] For GSS Energy Flow chapter 2. Excerpt: ...The strong earthquake and persistent aftershocks that rattled Puerto Rico on Monday damaged vulnerable homes, destroyed a photogenic rock formation and terrified residents scarred by recent hurricanes about the prospect of another devastating disaster. The quake, which struck at 6:32 a.m. local time, according to the United States Geological Survey, was the strongest to be felt in the coastal towns west of the city of Ponce that have been trembling for more than a week. ...Puerto Rico lies near the border of the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates. “We’re just as likely to have earthquakes as a place like California, Japan, New Zealand, Alaska,” Dr. Vanacore said.... 

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