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Sprites form at plasma irregularities in the lower ionosphere

May 7, 2014 9:46 am | News | Comments

Sprites are an optical phenomenon that occur above thunderstorms, about 37 to 56 miles above the Earth. Atmospheric sprites have been known for nearly a century, but their origins were a mystery. Now, a team of researchers has evidence that sprites form at plasma irregularities and may be useful in remote sensing of the lower ionosphere.

Ozone levels drop 20% with switch from ethanol to gasoline

April 29, 2014 9:35 am | by Megan Fellman, Northwestern Univ. | News | Comments

A Northwestern Univ. study by an economist and a chemist reports that when fuel prices drove residents of São Paulo, Brazil, to mostly switch from ethanol to gasoline in their flexible-fuel vehicles, local ozone levels dropped 20%. At the same time, nitric oxide and carbon monoxide concentrations tended to go up.

How to count methane emissions

April 28, 2014 7:29 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In formulating policies to address greenhouse gas emissions, or evaluating the potential impact of different energy technologies on global climate change, one of the thorniest issues is how to account for the very distinctive characteristics of various different gases. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, as well as a significant byproduct of using natural gas. But a direct comparison between methane and carbon dioxide is complicated.

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Astronomers spot most Earth-like planet yet

April 17, 2014 2:56 pm | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Detected by NASA's orbiting Kepler telescope, a newly found planet is the most Earth-like planet yet detected. Astronomers say the distant, rocky world is similar in size to our own and exists in the Goldilocks zone where it's not too hot and not too cold for life. The find, announced Thursday, excited planet hunters who have been scouring the Milky Way galaxy for years for potentially habitable places outside our solar system.

Astronomers: ‘Tilt-a-worlds’ could harbor life

April 15, 2014 3:17 pm | by Peter Kelley, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

A fluctuating tilt in a planet’s orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by a team of astronomers. In fact, sometimes it helps because such “tilt-a-worlds,” as astronomers sometimes call them, are less likely than fixed-spin planets to freeze over, as heat from their host star is more evenly distributed.

An Arctic ozone hole? Not quite

April 15, 2014 11:06 am | by Audrey Resutek, MIT | News | Comments

Since the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole, scientists, policymakers and the public have wondered whether we might someday see a similarly extreme depletion of ozone over the Arctic. But a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology study finds some cause for optimism: Ozone levels in the Arctic haven’t yet sunk to the extreme lows seen in Antarctica, because international efforts to limit ozone-depleting chemicals have been successful.

A few “problem wells” source of greenhouse gas

April 15, 2014 7:48 am | by Elizabeth K. Gardner, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

High levels of the greenhouse gas methane were found above shale gas wells at a production point not thought to be an important emissions source, according to a study jointly led by Purdue and Cornell universities. The findings could have implications for the evaluation of the environmental impacts from natural gas production.

Greenland ice cores show industrial record of acid rain

April 11, 2014 11:29 am | by Hannah Hickey, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

The rise and fall of acid rain is a global experiment whose results are preserved in the geologic record. By analyzing samples from the Greenland ice sheet, Univ. of Washington atmospheric scientists found clear evidence of the U.S. Clean Air Act. They also discovered a link between air acidity and how nitrogen is preserved in layers of snow.

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Artificial cooling tricky topic for climate panel

April 10, 2014 5:19 pm | by Karl Ritter, Associated Press | News | Comments

The U.N.'s expert panel on climate change is under pressure this week as it considers whether geoengineering should be part of the tool-kit that governments use to keep global warming in check. Drafts leaked before the conference only mentioned one of the proposed options, removing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it underground. But some countries support solar radiation management as well.  

Landscape “transition zones” may influence where tornadoes strike

April 7, 2014 5:53 pm | News | Comments

An examination of more than 60 years of Indiana tornado climatology data from the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center has shown that a majority of tornado touchdowns occurred near areas where dramatically different landscapes meet, such as where a city fades into farmland or a forest meets a plain. According to researchers, forecasters may need to pay closer attention to these "transition zones" to understand tornado risks.

U.S. clean-air efforts stay on target

March 28, 2014 11:28 am | News | Comments

National efforts in the last decade to clear the air of dangerous particulate matter have been so successful that most urban areas have already attained the next benchmark, according to new research by Rice Univ. Atmospheric researchers at Rice studied the state implementation plans from 23 regions mandated by the EPA to reduce particulate matter (PM) smaller than 2.5 um (PM 2.5) to less than 15 micrograms per cubic meter by 2009.

Lessons offered by emerging carbon trading markets

March 21, 2014 10:31 am | News | Comments

Although markets for trading carbon emission credits to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have stalled in U.S. federal policy-making, carbon markets are emerging at the state level within the U.S. and around the world, teaching us more about what does and doesn't work.

New hypothesis explains why Earth is continually capable of supporting life

March 19, 2014 2:25 pm | News | Comments

An international research team has documented evidence suggesting that part of the reason that the Earth has become neither sweltering like Venus nor frigid like Mars lies with a built-in atmospheric carbon dioxide regulator. Basically, ”fresh” rock exposed by uplift also emits carbon through a chemical weathering process, which replenishes the atmospheric carbon dioxide.

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New airborne GPS technology for weather conditions takes flight

March 19, 2014 9:19 am | News | Comments

In 2010, researchers demonstrated for the first time that atmospheric information could be captured by an airborne GPS device. Now, a new technique led by a researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography stands to improve weather models and hurricane forecasting by detecting precise conditions in the atmosphere through a new GPS system. A first-time demonstration using this system has captured key meteorological data from aircraft.

New data confirms: Sea ice being lost at a rate of five days per decade

March 5, 2014 9:55 am | News | Comments

According to new research, the ice-free season across the Arctic is getting longer by five days per decade. New analysis of satellite data shows the Arctic Ocean absorbing ever more of the sun’s energy in summer, leading to an ever later appearance of sea ice in the autumn. In some regions, autumn freeze-up is occurring up to 11 days per decade later than it used to.

Dimer molecules aid study of exoplanet pressure, hunt for life

March 4, 2014 4:07 pm | by Peter Kelley, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

Astronomers at the Univ. of Washington have developed a new method of gauging the atmospheric pressure of exoplanets, or worlds beyond the solar system, by looking for a certain type of molecule. And if there is life out in space, scientists may one day use this same technique to detect its biosignature, the telltale chemical signs of its presence, in the atmosphere of an alien world.

Methane leaks from palm oil wastewater are a climate concern

February 27, 2014 2:17 pm | News | Comments

In recent years, palm oil production has come under fire from environmentalists concerned about the deforestation of land in the tropics to make way for new palm plantations. Now there is a new reason to be concerned about palm oil’s environmental impact, according to researchers at the Univ. of Colorado Boulder.

Study: New gas-phase compounds form organic particle ingredients

February 27, 2014 10:51 am | News | Comments

So-called extremely low-volatility organic compounds, which are produced by plants, have been detected for the first time during field and laboratory experiments in Finland and Germany. The results may help to explain discrepancies between observations and theories about how volatile organic compounds produced by vegetation are converted into atmospheric aerosol. This in turn should improve existing climate models.

Scientists study how marine bacteria release cloud-making compound

February 19, 2014 2:30 pm | by Alan Flurry, Univ. of Georgia | News | Comments

Univ. of Georgia (UGA) marine scientists are uncovering the mechanisms that regulate the natural production of an anti-greenhouse gas. A new $2 million National Science Foundation grant will allow the UGA-led research group to further document how genes in ocean microbes transform sulfur into clouds in the Earth's atmosphere.

Study indicates improvements needed in handling methane emissions

February 19, 2014 7:23 am | News | Comments

A new study led by the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis says that the total impact of switching to natural gas depends heavily on leakage of methane during the natural gas life cycle, and suggests that more can be done to reduce methane emissions and to improve measurement tools which help inform policy choices.

Researchers warn against abrupt stop to geoengineering method

February 18, 2014 11:03 am | News | Comments

As a range of climate change mitigation scenarios are discussed, Univ. of Washington researchers have found that the injection of sulfate particles into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight and curb the effects of global warming could pose a severe threat if not maintained indefinitely and supported by strict reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Study: Arctic getting darker, making Earth warmer

February 18, 2014 8:39 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

The Arctic isn't nearly as bright and white as it used to be because of more ice melting in the ocean, and that's turning out to be a global problem, a new study says. With more dark, open water in the summer, less of the sun's heat is reflected back into space. So the entire Earth is absorbing much more heat than expected.

Satellite video shows movement of major U.S. winter storm

February 12, 2014 5:28 pm | by Rob Gutro, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

A new NASA video shows three days of movement, beginning Feb. 10, of a massive winter storm that stretches from the southern U.S. to the northeast. Compiled using NOAA's GOES satellite imagery, the sequence shows snow cover and cloud movements over a true-color image of land and ocean created by data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer aboard NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites.

Is natural gas a solution to mitigating climate change?

February 11, 2014 8:18 am | by Cynthia Eller, California Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Methane, a key greenhouse gas, has more than doubled in volume in Earth's atmosphere since 1750. Its increase is believed to be a leading contributor to climate change. But where is the methane coming from? Research by a California Institute of Technology atmospheric chemist suggests that losses of natural gas—our "cleanest" fossil fuel—into the atmosphere may be a larger source than previously recognized.

Key photosynthetic substance present on Earth before atmospheric oxygen

February 7, 2014 11:19 am | News | Comments

A team of researchers led by Virginia Tech and Univ. of California, Berkeley, scientists has discovered that a regulatory process that turns on photosynthesis in plants at daybreak likely developed on Earth in ancient, methane-producing microbes 2.5 billion years ago, long before oxygen became available. The research opens new scientific areas in the fields of evolutionary biology and microbiology.

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