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New research links tornado strength, frequency to climate change

August 7, 2014 9:24 am | by Kathleen Haughney, Florida State Univ. | News | Comments

A Florida State Univ. geography professor has shown that climate change may be playing a key role in the strength and frequency of tornadoes hitting the United States. though tornadoes are forming fewer days per year, they are forming at a greater density and strength than ever before. Instead of one or two forming on a given day in an area, there might be three or four occurring.

Ohio water crisis: Threat isn't going away soon

August 6, 2014 10:06 am | by John Seewer, Associated Press | News | Comments

The threat of toxins contaminating water supplies along western Lake Erie is far from over even after Toledo, Ohio, declared its water safe again. That's because the algae leaving behind the dangerous toxins each summer aren't supposed to peak until September. The chances of another water emergency over the next few months will depend on the winds, rains and temperatures that dictate how large the algae grow and where algae blooms end up.

Scientists uncover combustion mechanism to better predict warming by wildfires

August 5, 2014 11:02 am | by Nancy Ambrosiano, Los Alamos National Laboratory | News | Comments

Scientists have uncovered key attributes of so-called “brown carbon” from wildfires, airborne atmospheric particles that may have influenced current climate models that failed to take the material’s warming effects into account. The work was described by a collaborative team of researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Carnegie Mellon Univ. and the Univ. of Montana in Nature Geosciences.

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Study of aerosols stands to improve climate models

August 4, 2014 9:12 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Aerosols, tiny particles in the atmosphere, play a significant role in Earth's climate, scattering and absorbing incoming sunlight and affecting the formation and properties of clouds. Currently, the effect that these aerosols have on clouds represents the largest uncertainty among all influences on climate change.

Classic Lewis Carroll character inspires new ecological model

July 30, 2014 4:55 pm | by Claire Sturgeon, Univ. of Illinois | News | Comments

Inspired by the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s "Through the Looking Glass", collaborators from Illinois and Singapore improved a 35-year-old ecology model to better understand how species evolve. The new model, called a mean field model for competition, incorporates the “Red Queen Effect,” which suggests that organisms must constantly increase fitness in order to compete with other ever-evolving organisms in an ever-changing environment.

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 tem­per­a­ture of the planet is rising and that the increase is due to human activ­i­ties. But the jury still out regarding the vari­ability of that increase. Researchers using “big data” computational tools have recently taken a systematic approach to answering this question and their results point to both higher global temperatures and increasing variability among those temperature extremes.

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 a season of increasingly open water that is predicted to extend across the whole Arctic Ocean before the middle of this century. Storms thus have the potential to create Arctic swell. A Univ. of Washington researcher made the first study of waves in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, and detected house-sized waves during a September 2012 storm.

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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 hazard is corrosion in parts of underground gas storage tanks. In recent years, field inspectors in nine states have reported many rapidly corroding gas storage tank components such as sump pumps.

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.

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.

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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.

Highest-precision measurement made of water on an exoplanet

July 24, 2014 10:02 am | News | Comments

The discovery of water vapor in the atmospheres of three exoplanets includes the most precise measurement of any chemical in a planet outside the solar system, and has major implications for planet formation and the search for water on Earth-like habitable exoplanets in future. These results show just how challenging it could be to detect water on Earth-like exoplanets in our search for potential life elsewhere.

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.

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.

New method for extracting radioactive elements from air, water

July 21, 2014 8:21 am | by Univ. of Liverpool Univ. News | News | Comments

Scientists have successfully tested a material that can extract atoms of rare or dangerous elements such as radon from the air. Gases such as radon, xenon and krypton all occur naturally in the air but in minute quantities—typically less than one part per million. As a result they are expensive to extract for use in industries such as lighting or medicine and, in the case of radon, the gas can accumulate in buildings.

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.

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.

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