For four decades, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals from nearby manufacturing plants flowed into New Bedford Harbor, creating one of the EPA’s largest Superfund cleanup sites. It’s also the site of an evolutionary puzzle: small Atlantic killifish are not only tolerating the toxic conditions in the harbor, they seem to be thriving there. In a new paper, researchers may have an explanation for their genetic resistance to PCBs.
Methane, a key greenhouse gas, has more than doubled in volume in Earth's atmosphere since 1750. Its increase is believed to be a leading contributor to climate change. But where is the methane coming from? Research by a California Institute of Technology atmospheric chemist suggests that losses of natural gas—our "cleanest" fossil fuel—into the atmosphere may be a larger source than previously recognized.
A team of researchers led by Virginia Tech and Univ. of California, Berkeley, scientists has discovered that a regulatory process that turns on photosynthesis in plants at daybreak likely developed on Earth in ancient, methane-producing microbes 2.5 billion years ago, long before oxygen became available. The research opens new scientific areas in the fields of evolutionary biology and microbiology.
For the past eight years, scientists have been puzzled by why some satellite data seemed to show the Amazon rain forest "greening-up" during the region's dry season from June to October. The green-up indicated productive, thriving vegetation in spite of limited rainfall. Now, a new NASA study shows that the appearance of canopy greening is not caused by a biophysical change in Amazon forests, but instead a quirk of satellite imaging.
A team of scientists last year presented evidence of a correlation between the migration patterns of ocean salmon and the Earth’s magnetic field, suggesting it may help explain how the fish can navigate across thousands of miles of water to find their river of origin. This week, scientists confirmed the connection between salmon and the magnetic field following a series of experiments.
The release of volatile organic compounds from Earth’s forests and smoke from wildfires 3 million years ago had a far greater impact on global warming than ancient atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, a new Yale Univ. study finds. The research provides evidence that dynamic atmospheric chemistry played an important role in past warm climates, underscoring the complexity of climate change and the relevance of natural components.
Climate researchers in the U.K. have made the world's temperature records available via Google Earth. The new format allows users to scroll around the world, zoom in on 6,000 weather stations, and view monthly, seasonal and annual temperature data more easily than ever before. Users can drill down to see some 20,000 graphs—some of which show temperature records dating back to 1850.
A team of engineers from the Univ. of California, Los Angeles has developed a smartphone attachment and application to test water for the presence of mercury, a toxic heavy metal. The new platform could significantly reduce the time and cost of the testing, and it could be particularly useful in regions with limited technological resources.
The latest observations of Jakobshavn Glacier show that Greenland’s largest glacier is moving ice from land into the ocean at a speed that appears to be the fastest ever recorded. Researchers from the Univ. of Washington and the German Space Agency measured the speed of the glacier in 2012 and 2013.
Traditionally, ecologists are trained by studying and taking samples from the field in places like forests, grasslands, wetlands or water and measuring things in the laboratory. But big data is changing the field of ecology. The shift is dramatic enough to warrant the creation of an entirely new field: macrosystems ecology.
Water resource management efforts have given rise to several computer models dealing with hydrology, public policy, chemistry and more. Jonathan Goodall, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Univ. of Virginia, is working to design an integrated computer modeling system that will seamlessly connect all the different models, enabling everyone involved in the water resources field to see the big picture.
A new catalytic converter developed in the U.K. could cut fuel consumption and manufacturing costs significantly. Tests suggest that the new prototype, which uses up to 80% less rare metal than a conventional converter, could reduce fuel consumption in a standard vehicle by up to 3%. Metals such as platinum now account for 60 to 70% of the cost of the component.
Insects may thrive in the warmer average temperatures predicted by climate models but are threatened by greater temperature variation also anticipated in many areas around the globe, a Yale Univ.-led study predicts. Scientists have tested the impact of temperature on 38 species of insects. The team coupled that data with historic climate data and climate projections for 2050 to 2059 in order to assess effects of temperature variability.
In the Earth Surface Dynamics Lab at the California Institute of Technology the behavior of rivers is modeled through the use of artificial rivers—flumes—through which water can be pumped at varying rates over a variety of carefully graded sediments while drag force and acceleration are measured. The largest flume is a 12-m tilting version that can model many river conditions.
When a high-altitude aircraft flew over the icy Arctic Ocean and the snow-covered terrain of Greenland in April 2012, it was the first polar test of a new laser-based technology to measure the height of Earth from space. Aboard that aircraft flew the Multiple Altimeter Beam Experimental Lidar, or MABEL, which can resolve elevation change to as little as the width of a pencil.
After a three-year overhaul and major upgrade, the United States' deepest-diving research submersible, Alvin, has been cleared to return to work exploring the ocean's depths. The sub has been out of service since December 2010, undergoing a major upgrade, including the replacement of its personnel sphere with a newly fabricated, larger, more capable hull.
More than 2,800 commercially available applications are now based on nanoparticles, but this influx of nanotechnology is not without risks, say researchers at Missouri Univ. of Science and Technology. They have been systematically studying the effects of transition metal oxide nanoparticles on human lung cells and have found that the nanoparticles’ toxicity to the cells increased as they moved right on the periodic table.
Scientists at the Univ. of Liverpool have shown that deep sea fault zones could transport much larger amounts of water from the Earth’s oceans to the upper mantle than previously thought. They have estimated that over the age of the Earth, the Japan subduction zone alone could transport the equivalent of up to three and a half times the water of all the Earth’s oceans to its mantle.
Soil scientists at Abertay Univ. are using 3-D printing technology to find out, for the very first time, exactly what is going on in the world beneath our feet. In the same way that ecologists study the interactions of living organisms above ground, Prof.Wilfred Otten and researchers at the university’s SIMBIOS Centre are taking advantage of the new technology to do the same below ground.
Rice Univ. scientists have created a highly sensitive portable sensor to test the air for the most damaging greenhouse gases. The device uses a thumbnail-sized quantum cascade laser (QCL) as well as tuning forks that cost no more than a dime to detect very small amounts of nitrous oxide and methane.
Chinese air pollution blowing across the Pacific Ocean is often caused by the manufacturing of goods for export to the U.S. and Europe, according to a new study that is the first to quantify how much of the pollution reaching the American West Coast is from the production in China of cellphones, televisions and other consumer items imported here and elsewhere. The blowback causes an extra day per year of ozone smog in Los Angeles.
A carbon nanotube (CNT) sponge capable of soaking up water contaminants more than three times more efficiently than previous efforts has been presented in a new study. The CNT sponges, uniquely doped with sulfur, also demonstrated a high capacity to absorb oil, potentially opening up the possibility of using the material in industrial accidents and oil spill cleanups.
Scientists studying grasslands in Oklahoma have discovered that an increase of 2 C in the air temperature above the soil creates significant changes to the microbial ecosystem underground. Compared to a control group with no warming, plants in the warmer plots grew faster and higher, which put more carbon into the soil. The microbial ecosystem responded by altering its DNA to enhance the ability to handle the excess carbon.
Computer scientists at Trinity College Dublin and IBM Dublin have made a significant advance that will allow companies to reduce associated greenhouse gas emissions, drive down costs and minimize network delays depending on their wishes. The scientists have dubbed their new system “Stratus”. Using mathematical algorithms, Stratus effectively balances the load between different computer servers located across the globe.
Energy-related carbon dioxide pollution grew by 2% last year after declining several years in a row, a government report says. The increase was largely due to a small boost in coal consumption by the electric power industry, according to the study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.