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The Lead

Saving seeds the right way can save the world’s plants

July 30, 2014 11:50 am | News | Comments

For decades, strategic seed collections that help preserve biodiversity have been guided by simple models that offer a one-size-fits-all approach for how many seeds to gather. A new study, however, has found that more careful tailoring of seed collections to specific species and situations is critical to preserving plant diversity. A new approach called simulation-based planning was used to recommend how seeds are saved and reintroduced.

Climate change research goes to the extremes

July 30, 2014 11:50 am | by Angela Herring, Northeastern Univ. | News | Comments

By now, most sci­en­tists agree that the tem­per­a...

Huge waves measured for first time in Arctic Ocean

July 30, 2014 8:03 am | by Hannah Hickey, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

As the climate warms and sea ice retreats, the North is changing. An ice-covered expanse now has...

NIST corrosion lab tests suggest need for underground gas tank retrofits

July 30, 2014 7:40 am | by Laura Ost, NIST | News | Comments

A hidden hazard lurks beneath many of the roughly 156,000 gas stations across the U.S. The...

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Lead pollution beat explorers to South Pole, persists today

July 29, 2014 9:25 am | by Justin Broglio, Desert Research Institute | News | Comments

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first man to reach the South Pole in December 1911. More than 100 years later, an international team of scientists that includes a NASA researcher has proven that air pollution from industrial activities arrived to the planet’s southern pole long before any human.

Not in my backyard: U.S. sending dirty coal abroad

July 28, 2014 10:48 am | by Dina Cappiello, Associated Press | News | Comments

As the Obama administration weans the U.S. off dirty fuels blamed for global warming, energy companies have been sending more of America's unwanted energy leftovers to other parts of the world where they could create even more pollution. This fossil fuel trade threatens to undermine the president's strategy for reducing the gases blamed for climate change and also reveals a side effect of countries acting alone on a global problem.

U.S. plans wide seismic testing of sea floor

July 28, 2014 10:45 am | by Wayne Parry, Associated Press | News | Comments

The U.S. Geological Survey plans this summer and next to map the outer limits of the continental shelf, and also study underwater landslides that would help predict where and when tsunamis might occur. But environmentalists say it could cause the same type of marine life damage they fought unsuccessfully to prevent this month off the coast of New Jersey.

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Climate change, air pollution will combine to curb food supplies

July 28, 2014 9:18 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Many studies have shown the potential for global climate change to cut food supplies. But these studies have, for the most part, ignored the interactions between increasing temperature and air pollution. A new study shows that these interactions can be quite significant, suggesting that policymakers need to take both warming and air pollution into account in addressing food security.

Biologist warns of early stages of Earth’s sixth mass extinction event

July 25, 2014 6:54 am | by Bjorn Carey, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Stanford Univ. biology Prof. Rodolfo Dirzo and his colleagues are warning that "defaunation" could have harmful downstream effects on human health. The planet's current biodiversity, the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error, is the highest in the history of life. But, Dirzo says, this may be reaching a tipping point.

Junk DNA not as worthless as once thought

July 24, 2014 9:50 am | News | Comments

Around 75% of the supposed functionless DNA in the human genome is transcribed into so-called non-coding RNAs, and little is known about their function. Now, researchers have demonstrated that the production of non-coding RNAs is precisely regulated. They suspect that non-coding RNAs might play a role in regulating cellular processes or in the modified immune response following exposure to environmental toxicants.

Urban heat’s effect on the environment

July 24, 2014 9:36 am | by Matt Shipman, News Services, North Carolina State Univ. | News | Comments

New research from North Carolina State Univ. shows that urban “heat islands” are slowly killing red maples in the southeastern U.S. One factor is that researchers have found warmer temperatures increase the number of young produced by the gloomy scale insect—a significant tree pest—by 300%, which in turn leads to 200 times more adult gloomy scales on urban trees.

Study: Forward osmosis desalination not energy efficient

July 24, 2014 7:37 am | by Alissa Mallinson | MIT Dept. of Mechanical Engineering | News | Comments

In a recent study published in the Journal of Membrane Science, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology team reported that, contrary to popular support, forward osmosis desalination of seawater is significantly less energy efficient, compared to reverse osmosis. In forward osmosis, water is drawn from the seawater into a concentrated salt solution, known as a draw solution.

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World breaks monthly heat record two times in a row

July 23, 2014 8:54 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

The globe is on a hot streak, setting a heat record in June. That's after the world broke a record in May. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced this week that last month's average global temperature was 61.2 degrees, which is 1.3 degrees higher than the 20th century average. It beat 2010's old record by one-twentieth of a degree.

The geography of the global electronic waste burden

July 23, 2014 8:42 am | News | Comments

As local and national governments struggle to deal with ever-growing piles of electronic waste (e-waste), scientists are now refining the picture of just how much there is and where it really ends up. Published in Environmental Science & Technology, their study found that nearly a quarter of e-waste that developed countries discard floods into just seven developing countries.

Study: Global warming “pause” reflects natural fluctuation

July 22, 2014 9:06 am | News | Comments

According to recent research from McGill Univ., statistical analysis of average global temperatures between 1998 and 2013 shows that the slowdown in global warming during this period is consistent with natural variations in temperature. The study concludes that a natural cooling fluctuation during this period largely masked the warming effects of a continued increase in man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Research shows oceans vital for alien life

July 21, 2014 9:01 am | News | Comments

Until now, computer simulations of habitable climates on Earth-like planets have focused on their atmospheres. Mathematicians and earth sciences experts in the U.K. have recently taken the next step, creating a computer-simulated pattern of ocean circulation on a hypothetical ocean-covered Earth-like planet. They hope to learn how different planetary rotation rates would impact heat transport with the presence of oceans taken into account.

Scientists enlist big data to guide conservation efforts

July 18, 2014 12:37 pm | by Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley | News | Comments

“Big data” has yet to make a mark on conservation efforts to preserve the planet’s biodiversity. But that may soon change with a new model developed by Univ. of California, Berkeley, biologist Brent Mishler and his colleagues in Australia. This effort  leverages the growing mass of data to take into account not only the number of species throughout an area, but also the variation among species and their geographic rarity, or endemism.

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Mats made from shrimp chitin attract uranium like a magnet

July 18, 2014 11:16 am | News | Comments

A Univ. of Alabama start-up company, 525 Solutions, has received about $1.5 million from the federal government to refine an invention to extract uranium from the ocean for use as fuel. It is an adsorbent, biodegradable material made from the compound chitin, which is found in crustaceans and insects. The researchers have developed transparent sheets, or mats, comprised of tiny chitin fibers, which pull uranium from the water.

66-yard crater appears in far northern Siberia

July 18, 2014 8:47 am | News | Comments

Russian scientists say they believe a 66-yard wide crater discovered recently in far northern Siberia could be the result of changing temperatures in the region. Andrei Plekhanov, a senior researcher at the Scientific Research Center of the Arctic who visited the crater this week, the crater was mostly likely the result of a "build-up of excessive pressure" underground due to rising temperatures.

Dispersant from Deepwater Horizon spill found to persist in the environment

July 16, 2014 12:51 pm | News | Comments

In an attempt to prevent vast quantities of oil from fouling beaches and marshes after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP applied 1.84 million gallons of chemical dispersant. The dispersant was thought to rapidly degrade in the environment, but a new study has found that the DOSS dispersant compound remains associated with oil and can persist in the environment for up to four years.

Urban heat is not a myth

July 10, 2014 8:40 am | by Kevin Dennehy , Yale Univ. | News | Comments

A new Yale Univ.-led study quantifies for the first time the primary causes of the “urban heat island” (UHI) effect, a common phenomenon that makes the world’s urban areas significantly warmer than the surrounding countryside and may increase health risks for city residents.

Figuring out methane’s role in the climate puzzle

July 10, 2014 8:30 am | News | Comments

The U.S. may be on the verge of an economy driven by methane, the primary component of natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal and is undergoing a production boom. It has poised the country as a top fuel producer globally, but recent research is casting serious doubts over just how climate friendly it is, according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN).

Ironing out details of the carbon cycle

July 7, 2014 10:02 am | by Steven Powell, Univ. of South Carolina | News | Comments

Iron is present in tiny concentrations in seawater, on the order of a few billionths of a gram in a liter. However, its availability in seawater can have a profound effect on phytoplankton growth and, consequently, the Earth's carbon cycle. In recent research, an assessment was made of the various sources of dissolved iron in the north Atlantic Ocean and surprising discoveries were made about their origins.

Study: Kudzu can release soil carbon, accelerate global warming

July 2, 2014 9:49 am | News | Comments

Scientists are shedding new light on how invasion by exotic plant species affects the ability of soil to store greenhouse gases. New research shows that invasive plants can accelerate the greenhouse effect by releasing carbon stored in soil into the atmosphere. Since soil stores more carbon than both the atmosphere and terrestrial vegetation combined, agricultural land management could dramatically affect carbon storage.

Separating finely mixed oil and water

July 1, 2014 11:51 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Whenever there is a major spill of oil into water, the two tend to mix into a suspension of tiny droplets, called an emulsion, that is extremely hard to separate and can cause severe damage to ecosystems. A new membrane developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers can separate even these highly mixed fine oil-spill residues.

Study: Plastic debris widespread on ocean surface

July 1, 2014 11:03 am | News | Comments

Plastic junk is floating widely on the world's oceans, but there's less of it than expected, a study says. A newly published study drew on results from an around-the-world cruise by a research ship that towed a mesh net at 141 sites, as well as other studies. Researchers estimated the total amount of floating plastic debris in open ocean at 7,000 to 35,000 tons.

Silver in the washing machine

June 30, 2014 8:35 am | News | Comments

The antibacterial properties of silver-coated textiles are popular in the fields of sport and medicine. A team in Switzerland has now investigated how different silver coatings behave in the washing machine, and they have discovered something important: textiles with nano-coatings release fewer nano-particles into the washing water than those with normal coatings.

A win-win-win solution: Biofuel, climate and biodiversity

June 25, 2014 10:44 pm | News | Comments

Fossil fuel emissions release billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year. In Brazil, the demand for alternative energy sources has led to an increase in biofuel crops. New research demonstrates the high carbon costs of converting intact Brazilian savanna compared to the carbon gains obtained from converting underutilized pastureland for biofuel crops.

Fracking flowback could pollute groundwater with heavy metals

June 25, 2014 2:53 pm | by Melissa Osgood, Cornell Univ. | News | Comments

The chemical makeup of wastewater generated by “hydrofracking” could cause the release of tiny particles in soils that often strongly bind heavy metals and pollutants, exacerbating the environmental risks during accidental spills, Cornell Univ. researchers have found.

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