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The Lead

NIST “combs” atmosphere to measure greenhouse gases

October 30, 2014 8:36 am | by Laura Ost, NIST | News | Comments

By remotely "combing" the atmosphere with a custom laser-based instrument, researchers from NIST, in collaboration with researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have developed a new technique that can accurately measure—over a sizeable distance—amounts of several of the major "greenhouse" gases implicated in climate change.

Scientists rank thousands of substances according to potential exposure level

October 29, 2014 1:09 pm | News | Comments

An overwhelming number of chemicals from household and industrial products are in the...

Nanoparticle safety: The quest for the gold standard

October 29, 2014 9:53 am | News | Comments

Researching the safety of nanoparticles is all the rage. Thousands of scientists worldwide are...

Where did the Deepwater Horizon oil go?

October 28, 2014 11:23 am | News | Comments

Where's the remaining oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico? The...

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How we get the nitrogen we need

October 28, 2014 8:42 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Nitrogen is an essential component of all living systems, playing important roles in everything from proteins and nucleic acids to vitamins. It is the most abundant element in Earth's atmosphere and is literally all around us, but in its gaseous state, N2, it is inert and useless to most organisms.

A look back in time at key events in plant evolution

October 28, 2014 8:27 am | by Jim Erickson, University of Michigan | News | Comments

Scientists from North America, Europe and China published a paper that reveals important details about key transitions in the evolution of plant life on our planet. From strange and exotic algae, trees and flowers growing deep in steamy rainforests to the grains and vegetables we eat and the ornamental plants adorning our homes, all plant life on Earth shares over a billion years of history.

Shifting to higher octane

October 28, 2014 7:57 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

If the majority of light-duty vehicles in the U.S. ran on higher-octane gasoline, the automotive industry as a whole would reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 35 million tons per year, saving up to $6 billion in fuel costs, according to a new analysis by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers.

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NASA identifies ice cloud above cruising altitude on Titan

October 27, 2014 9:34 am | News | Comments

Scientists have identified an unexpected high-altitude methane ice cloud on Saturn's moon Titan that is similar to exotic clouds found far above Earth's poles. Now, eight years after spotting this mysterious bit of atmospheric fluff, NASA's Cassini spacecraft, researchers have determined that it contains methane ice, which produces a much denser cloud than the ethane ice previously identified there.

Physicists find toxic halogens in Li-ion batteries

October 24, 2014 12:08 pm | by Brian McNeill, Virginia Commonwealth Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth Univ. have discovered that most of the electrolytes used in lithium-ion batteries are superhalogens, and that the vast majority of these electrolytes contain toxic halogens. At the same time, the researchers also found that the electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries could be replaced with halogen-free electrolytes that are both nontoxic and environmentally friendly.

Global boom in hydropower expected this decade

October 24, 2014 10:50 am | News | Comments

An unprecedented boom in hydropower dam construction is underway, primarily in developing countries and emerging economies. While this is expected to double the global hydropower electricity production, it could reduce the number of remaining large free-flowing rivers by 20% and pose a threat to freshwater biodiversity. A new database has been developed in Denmark to support decision making on sustainable modes of electricity production.

New insights on carbonic acid in water

October 23, 2014 8:42 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Though it garners few headlines, carbonic acid, the hydrated form of carbon dioxide, is critical to both the health of the atmosphere and the human body. However, because it exists for only a fraction of a second before changing into a mix of hydrogen and bicarbonate ions, carbonic acid has remained an enigma. A new study has yielded new information about carbonic acid with important implications for geological and biological concerns.

Some scientists share better than others

October 22, 2014 2:31 pm | News | Comments

While astronomers and geneticists embrace the concept, the culture of ecology still has a ways to go. Research by Michigan State Univ., published in the current issue of Bioscience, explores the paradox that although ecologists share findings via scientific journals, they do not share the data on which the studies are built.

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Getting the salt out

October 21, 2014 7:54 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The boom in oil and gas produced through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is seen as a boon for meeting U.S. energy needs. But one byproduct of the process is millions of gallons of water that’s much saltier than seawater, after leaching salts from rocks deep below the surface. Now researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in Saudi Arabia say they have found an economical solution for removing the salt from this water.

Study: Odors, chemicals above health standards caused by “green building” plumbing

October 20, 2014 11:27 am | by Emil Venere, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

Several types of plastic pipes in eco-friendly green buildings in the U.S. have been found to leach chemicals into drinking water that can cause odors and sometimes exist at levels that may exceed health standards. Purdue Univ. engineering professor Andrew Whelton will detail these findings during the 2014 U.S. Green Building Council’s Greenbuild International Conference & Exposition on Oct. 24 in New Orleans.

Solutions in Search of Problems: Spectroscopy Takes Flight

October 20, 2014 10:07 am | by Yvette Mattley, PhD, Senior Applications Specialist and Rob Morris, Marketing Operations Manager, Ocean Optics | Ocean Optics | Articles | Comments

Spectral sensing is so pervasive that most take it for granted. Even miniature spectrometers have been embraced by late adopters. Yet, spectroscopy has moved beyond routine laboratory and test measurements to take on ever-more sophisticated applications. In this article we explore how familiar spectral sensing technologies—and new ways to exploit them—are today addressing a wider range of measurement problems than ever.

R&D 100 Award Video: Calcium Loop for Carbon Capture

October 20, 2014 9:07 am | by Lindsay Hock, Managing Editor | Videos | Comments

Carbon capture and sequestration isn’t only suitable for new power plants, but more essential in retrofitting existing ones. Because of this retrofitting nature, carbon capture and sequestration is regarded by the International Energy Agency as the single technology most capable of carbon dioxide reduction in the world and could account for more than 20% of global carbon dioxide abatement by 2050.

The Jefferson Project at Lake George unveils state-of-the-art data visualization laboratory

October 17, 2014 11:47 am | Videos | Comments

A partnership between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM, and the FUND for Lake George has developed preliminary models of key natural processes within the watershed. A network of 12 sensor platforms including vertical profilers and tributary monitoring stations are now being deployed in Lake George and its tributaries, providing an unprecedented amount of data for researchers that will be interpreted at a new visualization laboratory.

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Scientists discover carbonate rocks are unrecognized methane sink

October 17, 2014 9:25 am | by Mark Floyd, Oregon State Univ. | News | Comments

Since the first undersea methane seep was discovered 30 years ago, scientists have meticulously analyzed and measured how microbes in the seafloor sediments consume the greenhouse gas methane as part of understanding how the Earth works. The sediment-based microbes form an important methane “sink,” preventing much of the chemical from reaching the atmosphere and contributing to greenhouse gas accumulation.

Rivers flow differently over gravel beds, study finds

October 16, 2014 11:00 am | by Liz Ahlberg, Univ. of Illinois | News | Comments

River beds, where flowing water meets silt, sand and gravel, are critical ecological zones. Yet how water flows in a river with a gravel bed is very different from the traditional model of a sandy river bed, according to a new study that compares their fluid dynamics. The findings establish new parameters for river modeling that better represent reality, with implications for field researchers and water resource managers.

Getting to know super-Earths

October 16, 2014 10:56 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

The findings of NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft suggest that the most common exoplanets are those that are just a bit larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune. These so-called super-Earths, which do not exist in our own solar system, have attracted the attention of astronomers, who have been trying to determine the composition of the closest of these planets. However, an unexpected barrier is blocking their progress.

Global natural gas boom alone won’t slow climate change

October 16, 2014 9:14 am | by Mary Beckman, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory | News | Comments

A new analysis of global energy use, economics and the climate shows that without new climate policies, expanding the current bounty of inexpensive natural gas alone would not slow the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions worldwide over the long term, according to a study. Because natural gas emits half the carbon dioxide of coal, many people hoped the recent natural gas boom could help slow climate change.

Rock-dwelling microbes remove methane from deep sea

October 14, 2014 1:26 pm | by Ker Than, Caltech | News | Comments

Methane-breathing microbes that inhabit rocky mounds on the seafloor could be preventing large volumes of the potent greenhouse gas from entering the oceans and reaching the atmosphere, according to a new study. The rock-dwelling microbes represent a previously unrecognized biological sink for methane and as a result could reshape scientists' understanding of where this greenhouse gas is being consumed in subseafloor habitats.

With their mark on Earth, humans may name era, too

October 14, 2014 11:57 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Though most non-experts don't realize it, science calls the past 12,000 years the Holocene, Greek for "entirely recent." But the way humans and their industries are altering the planet, especially its climate, has caused an increasing number of scientists to use the word Anthropocene to better describe when and where we are.

Satellite sees hot spot of methane in U.S. Southwest

October 10, 2014 9:14 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

A surprising hot spot of the potent global-warming gas methane hovers over part of the southwestern U.S., according to satellite data. That result hints that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies considerably underestimate leaks of methane, also called natural gas. While methane isn't the most plentiful heat-trapping gas, scientists worry about its increasing amounts and have had difficulties tracking emissions.

Automated imaging system looks underground to improve crops

October 10, 2014 8:22 am | by John Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Plant scientists are working to improve important food crops to meet the food needs of a growing world population. However, boosting crop output will require improving more than what can be seen of these plants above the ground. Root systems are essential to gathering water and nutrients, but understanding what’s happening in these unseen parts of the plants has until now depended mostly on lab studies and subjective field measurements.

Researchers pump up oil accumulation in plant leaves

October 8, 2014 9:20 am | by Karen McNulty Walsh, Brookhaven National Laboratory | News | Comments

Increasing the oil content of plant biomass could help fulfill the nation's increasing demand for renewable energy feedstocks. But many of the details of how plant leaves make and break down oils have remained a mystery. Now a series of detailed genetic studies conducted at Brookhaven National Laboratory reveals previously unknown biochemical details about those metabolic pathways.

Atmospheric chemistry hinges on better physics model

October 6, 2014 11:44 am | News | Comments

An improved theoretical model of photoabsorption of nitrous oxide, developed by scientists in Malaysia, could shed light on the atmospheric chemistry of ozone depletion. The new theoretical work unveils, through improvements in established calculation approaches, the actual dynamic of stratospheric catalytic ozone destruction.

Argonne researchers create more accurate model for greenhouse gases from peatlands

October 6, 2014 8:50 am | by Louise Lerner, Argonne National Laboratory | News | Comments

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have created a new model to more accurately describe the greenhouse gases likely to be released from Arctic peatlands as they warm. Their findings, based on modeling how oxygen filters through soil, suggest that previous models probably underestimated methane emissions and overrepresented carbon dioxide emissions from these regions.

Ocean warming in Southern Hemisphere underestimated

October 6, 2014 8:45 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboraotry | News | Comments

Using satellite observations and a large suite of climate models, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists have found that long-term ocean warming in the upper 700 m of Southern Hemisphere oceans has likely been underestimated.

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