Updated: 49 min 54 sec ago
Plankton in the Earth's oceans received a huge boost when microorganisms capable of creating soluble nitrogen 'fertilizer' directly from the atmosphere diversified and spread throughout the open ocean. This event occurred at around 800 million years ago and it changed forever how carbon was cycled in the ocean.
HOMELAND security is a strange beast. Governments will happily spend billions of dollars fighting foreign wars and making the lives of travellers miserable with layer upon layer of security at airports. Yet, as Britain’s farmers have recently discovered, those same governments will also happily skimp on basic flood defence. What, it is worth considering, might be done if military-sized budgets were to be deployed against natural, as well as human threats?If an odd couple of trillion dollars were hanging around in some Treasury official’s back pocket, Mark Jacobson of Stanford University has a suggestion about how to spend them. He would use them to build a specially designed wind farm off the coast of Louisiana, to protect New Orleans and its neighbours from hurricanes. Katrina, after all, killed 1,833 people. That is more than 60% of the number who died in the attacks of September 11th 2001. More trillions would bring more defence; all along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, if required.Dr Jacobson’s calculations, which he describes in Nature Climate Change, depend on a clear understanding of how hurricanes work. Turbines would steal energy from them, of course, which would make them somewhat less destructive. But that would not be enough to have a big effect. However, by extracting this energy from the winds in a storm’s leading edge, serried rows of...
THE National Academies of Science (NAS) and the Royal Society—the elite scientific fellowships of Britain and America, respectively—released today a rather handy “Frequently Asked Questions” resource on climate change. It seems designed to act as a sort of counterbalance to op-ed pieces like this one by Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, which take aim at “those scientists who pretend to know exactly what [carbon-dioxide emissions] will cause in 20, 30 or 50 years.”The scientists of Mr Krauthammer’s scorn don’t actually exist: No one pretends to such precision. But no matter, Mr Krauthammer’s real complaint is more general. His target is anyone who believes that “science is settled”—a belief he tries to ascribe to Barack Obama. “There is nothing more anti-scientific,” he says, “than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to challenge.”This sounds good in a Popperian way; but it is not really true. While science is more unsettled than some feel comfortable admitting, it nevertheless depends on some things being settled irrevocably. The earth has a crust, a mantle and a core. Plants photosynthesise. Air is made of molecules. All these things were once not known and are now accepted as fundamental. And it was in among such fundamentals that the president put climate change when he said during his state-of-the-union speech that “The debate is ...
More basics from the leading science academies on what we know and don’t know about greenhouse gases and global warming.
Scientists have made an important step in order to better understand the relationships between vegetation and climate. So-called extremely low-volatility organic compounds, which are produced by plants, could be detected for the first time during field and laboratory experiments in Finland and Germany. These organic species contribute to the formation of aerosol that can affect climate and air quality, they report.
Scientists have produced a synthetic air reference standard which can be used to accurately measure levels of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. This will greatly help scientists contribute to our understanding of climate change.
The Arctic is home to a growing number of whales and ships, and to populations of sub-Arctic whales that are expanding their territory into newly ice-free Arctic waters. A three-year survey of whales in the Bering Strait reveals that many species of whales are using the narrow waterway, while shipping and commercial traffic also increase.
Science and health news from the past week, including a mass extinction 252 million years ago, vaccines and pizzas that don’t spoil and clues to a cat’s signature coat.
The United Kingdom urgently needs a green economic strategy to move towards low-carbon prosperity, resource security and environmental quality, says a new report. The report identifies innovation, infrastructure and information as the key areas in which policies are needed to support a green economy, in addition to arguing for environmental fiscal reform and specific policies at UK and EU level to support resource efficiency.
I drive a hybrid car and set my thermostat at 80°F in the Washington, DC, summer. I use public transportation to commute to my office, located in a building given “platinum” design status by the U.S. Green Building Council. The electric meter on my house runs backward most months of the year, thanks to a large installation of solar panels. I am committed to doing my part to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and minimize global warming. At the same time, I believe it is time to move forward on the Keystone XL pipeline to transport crude oil from the tar sands deposits of Alberta, Canada, and from the Williston Basin in Montana and North Dakota to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Author: Marcia McNutt
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Scientists are not as secular as people think
TO GREENS, men like John Shimkus—the chairman of a congressional body that oversees work to curb air, soil and water pollution—represent a special sort of bogeyman. Mr Shimkus, a Republican from rural Illinois, is not just staunchly pro-industry, anti-regulation and sceptical of claims that man’s activities menace the planet. He also brings his Bible to work. At a hearing on greenhouse gases, he opened it and quoted God’s words to Noah after the Flood. “Never again will I destroy all living creatures,” God promised. This, said Mr Shimkus, was “infallible” proof that neither man’s actions nor rising flood waters will destroy the Earth. So let’s not worry too much about global warming.
Folk like Mr Shimkus feed a perception that American religion and science are doomed to be in conflict, with unhappy consequences for public policy. ...
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Is polar warming to blame for America’s and Britain’s bad winter weather?
CLIMATE change is supposed to unfold slowly, over decades. But that is not true up in the great white north, as those attending this year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science were reminded in the session on climate change in the Arctic. Temperatures there are 2°C higher than their long-term average (around twice the increase in the rest of the world), and the upper layers of parts of the Arctic Ocean are hotter than they have been for at least 2,000 years. Summer sea ice has been vanishing faster than even the gloomiest researchers thought likely, with some now predicting the first completely ice-free summer as soon as the 2020s.
The Arctic is not, though, isolated from the rest of the ...
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Knee-deep in floodwater, Britain’s politicians rekindle an argument about global warming
EVEN as brown Thames water slopped around the sitting rooms of southern England this week, ruining treasured sideboards and carpets, a political shower began. It concerned the only question many British politicians could think of to justify their rush, in shiny new wellies, to the floodwater: whether global warming had caused the disaster and where they stood on this in relation to their rivals.
Diffidently, David Cameron, the prime minister, said he “suspected” there could be a link—which suggested more than the difficulty of pinning bad weather on climatic change. His Conservative Party is as sceptical about the anthropogenic cause of warming as it is about its leader; indeed, the two are connected. Mr Cameron once sought, mostly unsuccessfully, to soften his party’s image with a green ...
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The oceans and climate change
When cold water meets hot air
THE rise in greenhouse-gas emissions means oceans are playing a bigger role in regulating the climate. In parts of the Pacific Ocean, huge upwellings from the bottom bring cold water from the depths and push warm surface water down. According to a new study in Nature Climate Change by Matthew England of the University of New South Wales and others, higher air temperatures are strengthening east-west trade winds at equatorial latitudes in the Pacific and speeding up this vast churn, sequestering heat that would otherwise have warmed the Earth’s surface. This, they say, explains much of the recent slowdown in the rise of surface temperatures that has puzzled climate scientists since it began in 1998.
The slowdown is clearly good news. But it may not last. Oceans also absorb carbon dioxide, which dissolves in sea water. They are the world’s biggest carbon sink. But there are limits to their absorptive capacity. A study in Nature by ...
CLIMATE change is supposed to unfold slowly, over decades. But that is not true up in the great white north, as those attending this year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science were reminded in the session on climate change in the Arctic. Temperatures there are 2°C higher than their long-term average (around twice the increase in the rest of the world), and the upper layers of parts of the Arctic Ocean are hotter than they have been for at least 2,000 years. Summer sea ice has been vanishing faster than even the gloomiest researchers thought likely, with some now predicting the first completely ice-free summer as soon as the 2020s.The Arctic is not, though, isolated from the rest of the world; rapid changes there could have knock-on effects elsewhere. Whether or not that is happening was a question addressed by Jennifer Francis, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers University. It is a topical subject. Along with much of the rest of America, Chicago endured a fierce and prolonged cold snap in January, in which temperatures fell to -27°C, the lowest since 1884. Meanwhile, Brits at the conference were fleeing a country that had been...
Scientists use measurements from airborne lasers to gauge changes in the height of trees in the forest. Tree height tells them things like how much carbon is being stored. But what accounts for height changes over time -- vertical growth or overtopping by a taller tree? A new statistical model helps researchers figure out what's really happening on the ground.
Pollution with stratospheric reachScientists link coal, oil, and biomass to a layer of sulfates high above AsiaScientists link coal, oil, and biomass to a layer of sulfates high above AsiaNo
Factories line the shores of the lower Yangtze River in China. Although large amounts of sulfate aerosols are emitted by China and India, a layer of sulfur pollution that forms high above Asia each summer may include emissions from more distant sources. (©UCAR. Photo by Willliam Bradford.)
February 19, 2014 | Sulfur pollution from human activities is likely the cause of a large layer of sulfate particles, or aerosols, that form over Asia during the summer months, researchers have found. But it’s not just pollution from Asia that’s responsible.
While taking in the scenery during long road trips, passengers also may be taking in potentially harmful ultrafine particles that come into the car through outdoor air vents. Closing the vents reduces ultrafine particles, but causes exhaled carbon dioxide to build up. Now, scientists report that installing a newly developed high-efficiency cabin air filter could reduce ultrafine particle exposure by 93 percent and keep carbon dioxide levels low.
A political science professor offers a critique of those focusing on climate denial.
Researchers are working in the development of hydrocarbons early detection devices for rivers in order to prevent contamination that could seriously affect the environment. The new devices use ultraviolet LED as light source that detects contaminant substances thanks to a fluorescence method. This can result in many benefits compared to the current systems due to the development of faster, robust and affordable detection systems. These new devices will be useful for the search of potential dangerous substances present in continental waters.