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Researchers learn how populations collapse

June 5, 2012 5:47 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In the early 1990s, overfishing led to the collapse of one of the most bountiful cod fisheries in the world, off the coast of Newfoundland. Twenty years later, the cod population still has not recovered. To explain this kind of collapse, ecologists have long theorized that populations suffering a decline in environmental conditions appear stable until they reach a tipping point where the population plummets. Recovery from such collapses is nearly impossible. Now a study has offered the first experimental validation of this theory.

Nuclear, coal-fired electrical plants vulnerable to climate change

June 4, 2012 7:03 am | News | Comments

Warmer water and reduced river flows in the United States and Europe in recent years have led to reduced production, or temporary shutdown, of several thermoelectric power plants. A study by European and University of Washington scientists projects that in the next 50 years warmer water and low flows will lead to more such power disruptions.

Nanoparticles seek, destroy groundwater toxins

June 4, 2012 4:25 am | News | Comments

Iron nanoparticles encapsulated in a rust-preventing polymer coating could hold potential for cleaning up groundwater contaminated with toxic chemicals, a leading water expert from the University of New South Wales says.

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Study: Martian methane emerges from meteorites, not life

May 31, 2012 1:47 pm | News | Comments

On Earth, methane is produced predominantly by biological processes. So when scientists discovered methane in Mars’ atmosphere nine years ago, it raised an exciting possibility for some. Some researchers in Europe now believe they have found the cause of this previously undetermined methane source, and it has to do with radiation.

Study suggests super-eruptions may have a short fuse

May 31, 2012 7:59 am | News | Comments

More than 100 times the size of the volcanic explosion at Mount St. Helens, super-eruptions have been theorized to take place at giant pools of magma that form a couple of miles below the surface and simmer for up to 200,000 before exploding. But new research seems to show that these pools might exist for as little as a few hundred years before erupting.

Scientist: Evolution debate will soon be history

May 30, 2012 2:37 pm | by Frank Eltman, Associated Press | News | Comments

Sometime in the next 15 to 30 years, says Kenyan-born paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, scientific discoveries will have accelerated to the point that "even the skeptics can accept” that evolution is the answer. A professor at Stony Brook University on Long Island, he recently spent several weeks in New York promoting the Turkana Basin Institute in Kenya.

Study finds emissions from cookstoves vary with use

May 30, 2012 10:05 am | News | Comments

The smoke rising from a cookstove fills the air with the tantalizing aroma of dinner—and a cloud of pollutants and particles that threaten both health and the environment. How families in developing countries use their cookstoves has a big effect on emissions from those stoves, and laboratory emission tests don't accurately reflect real-world operations, according to a study by University of Illinois researchers.

Nuisance seaweed found to produce compounds with biomedical potential

May 25, 2012 6:31 am | News | Comments

A seaweed considered a threat to the healthy growth of coral reefs in Hawaii may possess the ability to produce substances that could one day treat human diseases, a new study led by scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego has revealed.

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Forensics link crystal growth to volcano seismicity

May 25, 2012 6:08 am | News | Comments

Using forensic-style chemical analysis, scientists in the U.K. and Germany have directly linked seismic observations of the deadly 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption to crystal growth within the magma chamber, the large underground pool of liquid rock beneath the volcano. Building direct links between observations at the surface and processes occurring underground has been an ongoing problem for volcanologists.

Seagrasses can store as much carbon as forests

May 22, 2012 12:45 pm | News | Comments

The first global analysis of carbon stored in seagrasses has revealed a surprising figure. While a typical terrestrial forest stores about 30,000 metric tons of carbon per square kilometer, most of which is in the form of wood, coastal seagrasses can account for 83,000 metric tons of carbon per square kilometer. Their global impact is significant as well.

Research focused on underground solution to greenhouse gas challenges

May 18, 2012 4:44 am | News | Comments

While many are focusing on atmospheric solutions to reduce greenhouse gases, some researchers are setting their sights on the ground—deep underground. Li Li, an assistant professor of energy and mineral engineering at Penn State University, is investigating geologic carbon sequestration as a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Coffee buzz: Study finds java drinkers live longer

May 17, 2012 4:52 am | by Marilynn Marchione, AP Chief Medical Writer | News | Comments

It doesn’t matter if it’s regular or decaf, a big new study find that coffee drinkers are a little more likely to live longer. The results from the largest study ever done on the issue, comes after years of waffling research on coffee and health, even some fear that java might raise the risk of heart disease.

Why volcanoes could be a girl’s best friend

May 17, 2012 4:35 am | News | Comments

Scientists in the U.K. have discovered a previously unrecognized volcanic process called “fluidized spray granulation”, which can occur during kimberlite eruptions to produce well-rounded particles containing mantle, most notably diamonds. This physical process is remarkable similar to the gas injection and spraying process used to form smooth coatings on chocolates.

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Internal atomic structure reveals key to pollution-fighting bacteria

May 16, 2012 11:54 am | News | Comments

Some remarkable types of bacteria have proven themselves capable of "consuming" toxic pollutants, organically diminishing environmental impact in a process called bioremediation. Enzymes within these bacteria can effectively alter the molecular structure of dangerous chemicals, but the underlying mechanisms and keys to future advances often remain unknown. Now, scientists Brookhaven National Laboratory have revealed a possible explanation for the superior function of one pollution-degrading enzyme.

Doctors, soldiers work together to remove naval mines

May 16, 2012 6:27 am | News | Comments

Starting this week, U.S. Navy divers will be part of a multinational effort near Estonia to help clear the Baltic Sea of underwater mines left over from as long ago as the First and Second World Wars. At the same time, physicians are studying these divers and how gas molecules form in humans who experience long periods deep underwater.

Could paint particles cool the planet?

May 15, 2012 8:47 am | News | Comments

A former U.K. government advisor and chemical engineer recently published an article that discussed how dispersing sub-micrometer light-scattering particles into the upper atmosphere could help to combat climate change. Author Peter Davidson says the effect would replicate the cooling that occurred after the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo.

Climate scientists discover new weak point of the Antarctic ice sheet

May 15, 2012 6:37 am | News | Comments

According to predictions made by climate researchers with the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf fringing the Weddell Sea in Antarctica may start to melt rapidly in this century and no longer act as a barrier for ice streams draining the Antarctic Ice Sheet. They claim this finding refutes previous assumptions that climate change would not affect the Weddell Sea.

Microbe that can handle ionic liquids

May 15, 2012 3:28 am | News | Comments

Researchers at the Joint BioEnergy Institute have identified a tropical rainforest microbe that can endure relatively high concentrations of an ionic liquid used to dissolve cellulosic biomass for the production of advanced biofuels. They've also determined how the microbe accomplishes this, a discovery that holds broad implications beyond biofuels.

Discovery of plant proteins may boost agricultural yields, biofuel production

May 14, 2012 5:16 am | News | Comments

Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Iowa State University discovered a family of plant proteins that play a role in the production of seed oils, substances important for animal and human nutrition, biorenewable chemicals, and biofuels.

Floating robots use GPS-enabled smartphones to track water flow

May 10, 2012 4:26 am | News | Comments

A fleet of 100 floating robots took a trip down the Sacramento River in a field test organized by engineers at the University of California, Berkeley. The smartphone-equipped floating robots demonstrated the next generation of water monitoring technology, promising to transform the way government agencies monitor one of the state's most precious resources.

Support for climate change action drops

May 9, 2012 10:22 am | by Rob Jordan, Stanford University | News | Comments

Americans' support for government action on global warming remains high but has dropped during the past two years, according to a new survey by Stanford University researchers in collaboration with Ipsos Public Affairs. Political rhetoric and cooler-than-average weather appear to have influenced the shift, but economics doesn't appear to have played a role.

Researchers: Ocean garbage gyre impacting ea life

May 9, 2012 5:27 am | News | Comments

An increase in plastic debris floating in a zone between Hawaii and California is changing the environment of at least one marine critter, scientists recently reported. Over the past four decades, the amount of broken-down plastic has grown significantly in a region dubbed the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." Most of the plastic pieces are the size of a fingernail.

New research brings satellite measurements, global climate models closer

May 8, 2012 4:23 am | News | Comments

One popular climate record that shows a slower atmospheric warming trend than other studies contains a data calibration problem, and when the problem is corrected the results fall in line with other records and climate models, according to a new University of Washington study.

More precise look at cradle-to-grave greenhouse gas emissions for energy technology

May 7, 2012 10:19 am | News | Comments

A new approach to assessing greenhouse gas emissions from coal, wind, solar, and other energy technologies paints a much more precise picture of cradle-to-grave emissions and should help sharpen decisions on what new energy projects to build.

Researchers use stalagmites to study past climate change

May 3, 2012 11:23 am | News | Comments

Existing historical climate records are typically biased to the high latitudes, where polar ice and ocean sediments lock in the atmosphere’s past. Yet a main driver of climate variability today is El Niño, which is a completely tropical phenomenon. Scientists at the California Institute of Technology believe they have found the ice core of the tropics, however.

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