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The lingering clouds

November 26, 2013 8:14 am | News | Comments

A new study reveals how pollution causes thunderstorms to leave behind larger, deeper, longer lasting clouds. Appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the results solve a long-standing debate and reveal how pollution plays into climate warming. The work can also provide a gauge for the accuracy of weather and climate models.

A possible cause of the end-Permian mass extinction: Lemon juice?

November 25, 2013 11:05 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Rain as acidic as undiluted lemon juice may have played a part in killing off plants and organisms around the world during the most severe mass extinction in Earth’s history. About 252 million years ago, the end of the Permian period brought about a worldwide collapse known as the Great Dying, during which a vast majority of species went extinct. The cause of such a massive extinction is a matter of scientific debate.

Even if emissions stop, carbon dioxide could warm Earth for centuries

November 25, 2013 8:29 am | by Morgan Kelly, Princeton Univ. | News | Comments

According to recent Princeton Univ.-led research that simulated an emissions-free Earth, the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere could continue to warm our planet for hundreds of years, even if emission came to a sudden halt. The study suggests that it might take a lot less carbon than previously thought to reach the global temperature scientists deem unsafe.

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Pre-industrial rise in methane gas had natural and anthropogenic causes

November 22, 2013 9:15 am | News | Comments

For years scientists have intensely argued over whether increases of potent methane gas concentrations in the atmosphere, from about 5,000 years ago to the start of the industrial revolution, were triggered by natural causes or human activities. A new study suggests the increase in methane likely was caused by both.

Scientists brave Old Man Winter to dig out secrets of lake-effect snows

November 19, 2013 7:15 am | News | Comments

Rare anywhere, thundersnow is sometimes heard during the lake-effect snowstorms of the Great Lakes. The interaction of clouds and ice pellets inside these storms generates a charge, with lightning and thunder the result. But how to catch thundersnow in action? Doppler-on-Wheels, a system used for other types of storms, will try to find them this winter.

Japan dials back climate change emissions target

November 15, 2013 11:22 am | by Associated Press | News | Comments

Activists taking part in U.N. climate talks say Japan's decision to drastically scale back its target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions will hurt the battle against global warming. The new target approved by the Japanese Cabinet calls for reducing emissions by 3.8% from their 2005 level by 2020.

Scientists find precipitation, global warming link

November 12, 2013 10:41 am | News | Comments

The rain in Spain may lie mainly on the plain, but the location and intensity of that rain is changing not only in Spain but around the globe. A new study by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists shows that observed changes in global (ocean and land) precipitation are directly affected by human activities and cannot be explained by natural variability alone.

Meteorologists spy clue to heat waves weeks away

October 29, 2013 1:51 pm | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

The best prediction meteorologists can accomplish for heat waves is about 10 days. An earlier warning would help cities prepare for the heat wave, arrange to open up cooling centers and check on the elderly. Recent work using statistical data and computer simulations may have revealed a way to predict some killer heat waves up to three weeks in advance.

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Gold nanoparticles give an edge in recycling carbon dioxide

October 25, 2013 8:00 am | News | Comments

By tuning gold nanoparticles to just the right size, researchers from Brown Univ. have developed a catalyst that selectively converts carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide, an active carbon molecule that can be used to make alternative fuels and commodity chemicals.

How important are plants on Earth?

October 17, 2013 8:43 am | News | Comments

Enhanced growth of Earth's leafy greens during the 20th century has significantly slowed the planet's transition to being red-hot, according to the first study to specify the extent to which plants have prevented climate change since pre-industrial times. Researchers based at Princeton Univ. found that land ecosystems have kept the planet cooler by absorbing billions of tons of carbon, especially during the past 60 years.

Study: Climate change will wreak havoc on oceans by 2100

October 17, 2013 8:14 am | News | Comments

A new study looking at the impacts of climate change on the world’s ocean systems concludes that by the year 2100, about 98% of the oceans will be affected by acidification, warming temperatures, low oxygen or lack of biological productivity. These biogeochemical changes triggered by greenhouse gas emissions will not only affect marine habitats and organisms, but will often co-occur in areas that are heavily used by humans.

Without plants, Earth would cook under billions of tons of additional carbon

October 16, 2013 2:19 pm | by Morgan Kelly, Princeton Univ. | News | Comments

Enhanced growth of Earth's leafy greens during the 20th century has significantly slowed the planet's transition to being red-hot, according to the first study to specify the extent to which plants have prevented climate change since pre-industrial times. Researchers have found that land ecosystems have kept the planet cooler by absorbing billions of tons of carbon, especially during the past 60 years.

A clearer look at Martian clouds

October 8, 2013 8:30 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

At first glance, Mars’ clouds might be mistaken for those on Earth. Given what scientists know about the Red Planet’s atmosphere, these clouds likely consist of either carbon dioxide or water-based ice crystals. But it’s difficult to know the precise conditions that give rise to such clouds without sampling directly from a Martian cloud. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have now done the next-best thing.

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Global electric circuit model to help scientists understand electricity in the air

October 4, 2013 11:35 am | News | Comments

Electrical currents born from thunderstorms are able to flow through the atmosphere and around the globe, causing a detectable electrification of the air even in places with no thunderstorm activity. But a good understanding of atmospheric conductivity has eluded scientists. Now, a research team in Colorado has developed a global electric circuit model by adding an additional layer to a climate model.

Cassini detects plastic ingredient on Saturn moon

October 1, 2013 1:05 pm | News | Comments

The Cassini spacecraft has found small amounts of propylene, a chemical used to make storage containers and other products, in the atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon Titan. The spacecraft’s composite infrared spectrometer located the chemical in Titan’s stratosphere.

El Niño cycle has a big effect on a major greenhouse gas

September 27, 2013 7:34 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Scientists in Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Global Change Science have developed a highly detailed model that simulates levels of nitrous oxide emissions in different regions and ecosystems of the world. Based on local soil temperature and moisture content, some of the simulations were able to reproduce actual nitrous oxide measurements. From their simulations, the researchers discovered a surprising pattern.

China’s synthetic natural gas plants will have heavy environmental toll

September 26, 2013 9:01 am | News | Comments

Coal-powered synthetic natural gas plants being planned in China would produce seven times more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional natural gas plants, and use up to 100 times the water as shale gas production, according to a new study by Duke Univ. researchers. These environmental costs have been largely neglected in the drive to meet the nation’s growing energy needs, the researchers say.

A unique look into the Sun’s chromosphere

September 25, 2013 12:54 pm | News | Comments

Three months after the flight of the balloon-borne solar observatory Sunrise, scientists in Germany now present unique insights into the central layer of the Sun’s atmosphere, the chromosphere. The Sunrise data provide the first high-resolution images of this region, lying between the Sun’s visible surface and the corona, in ultraviolet light.

What 95% certainty of warming means to scientists

September 24, 2013 1:44 pm | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Top scientists from a variety of fields say they are about as certain that global warming is a real, man-made threat as they are that cigarettes kill. They'll even put a number on how certain they are about climate change. But that number isn't 100%. It's 95%. And for some non-scientists, that's just not good enough.

NASA rover finds no hint of methane in Mars air

September 20, 2013 12:55 pm | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

NASA's Curiosity rover hasn't discovered any signs of methane in the atmosphere of Mars, a finding that does not bode well for the possibility that microbes capable of producing the gas could be living below the planet's surface, scientists said Thursday. On Earth, most of the gas is a byproduct of life, spewed when animals digest or plants decay.

Human activity affects vertical structure of atmospheric temperature

September 18, 2013 7:45 am | News | Comments

Human influences have directly impacted the latitude/altitude pattern of atmospheric temperature. That is the conclusion of a new report by scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and six other scientific institutions. The research compares multiple satellite records of atmospheric temperature change with results from a large, multimodel archive of simulations.

Solar boat reaches Paris after crossing Atlantic

September 12, 2013 7:53 am | by Greg Keller, Associated Press | News | Comments

The world's largest solar-powered boat has docked on the banks of the Seine River, its final port of call after a three-month voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to study how the Gulf Stream and climate change could influence each other. Starting from Miami, Univ. of Geneva scientists sailed across the Atlantic, taking water and air measurements that should allow them to better understand the interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere.

How soot forced the end of the Little Ice Age

September 4, 2013 8:49 am | News | Comments

Coal soot shrank the Alpine glaciers in mid-19th-century Europe, according to new findings that show how black carbon alone, even without warmer temperatures, can affect ice and snow cover. The research provides insights into when the so-called Little Ice Age ended and why European glaciers began to retreat decades before global temperatures rose.

Sandy's “freaky” path may be less likely in future

September 3, 2013 8:17 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Global warming may further lessen the likelihood of the freak atmospheric steering currents that last year shoved Superstorm Sandy due west into New Jersey, a new study says. But the study's authors said the once-in-700-years path was only one factor in the $50 billion storm. They say other variables such as sea level rise and stronger storms will worsen with global warming and outweigh changes in steering currents predicted by models.

Around the world in four days: Tracking Chelyabinsk meteor plume

August 15, 2013 12:50 pm | by Kathryn Hansen, NASA's Earth Science News Team | News | Comments

A meteor weighing 10,000 metric tons exploded 14 miles above Chelyabinsk, Russia, on Feb. 15, 2013. Unlike similar past events, this time scientists had the sensitive instruments on the Suomi NPP satellite to deliver unprecedented data and help them track and study the meteor plume for months.

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