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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.

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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.

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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.

Study: Surfactants do not harm the environment

October 3, 2014 11:03 am | by Janne Hansen, Aarhus Univ. | News | Comments

You can brush your teeth, and wash yourself and your clothes with a clear conscience. The most common soaps, shampoos and detergents actually pose a minimal risk to the environment. This is the conclusion of a comprehensive survey that covers more than 250 scientific studies over several decades.

Making oxygen before life

October 3, 2014 9:17 am | News | Comments

Over the past 40 years, researchers have thought that there must have been a small amount of oxygen in the atmosphere of early Earth to help give rise to plant life. But oxygen reacts aggressively with other compounds and disappears without a continuous source, so where did this abiotic, or “non-life”, oxygen come from? Chemists in California have now shown how ultraviolet light can split carbon dioxide to form oxygen in one step.

New map uncovers thousands of unseen seamounts on ocean floor

October 3, 2014 9:12 am | News | Comments

Scientists have created a new map of the world's seafloor, offering a more vivid picture of the structures that make up the deepest, least-explored parts of the ocean. The feat was accomplished by accessing two untapped streams of satellite data, which has allowed thousands of previously uncharted mountains rising from the seafloor, called seamounts, to be revealed on the map, along with new clues about the formation of the continents.

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Rating the planet’s oceans

October 2, 2014 8:30 am | News | Comments

The most comprehensive assessment conducted by the Ocean Health Index rates the Earth’s oceans at 67 out of 100 in overall health. In addition, for the first time, the report assessed the Antarctic and the 15 ocean regions beyond national jurisdiction (high-seas areas). Together with the 220 exclusive economic zones (EEZs) measured in 2012 and 2013, the index now measures all of the oceans on planet Earth.

Study: Nanoparticles accumulate quickly in wetland sediment

October 2, 2014 8:14 am | by Ken Kingery, Duke Univ. | News | Comments

A Duke Univ. team has found that nanoparticles called single-walled carbon nanotubes accumulate quickly in the bottom sediments of an experimental wetland setting, an action they say could indirectly damage the aquatic food chain. According to the research, the risk to humans ingesting the particles through drinking water is slight, but aquatic food chains might be harmed by molecules "piggybacking" on the carbon nanoparticles.

Swimming sea-monkeys reveal how zooplankton may help drive ocean circulation

October 1, 2014 9:17 am | by Marcus Woo, Caltech | Videos | Comments

Brine shrimp, which are sold as pets known as sea-monkeys, are tiny—only about half an inch long each. With about 10 small leaf-like fins that flap about, they look as if they could hardly make waves. But get billions of similarly tiny organisms together and they can move oceans.

Join the best of the best in innovation

October 1, 2014 8:57 am | by Lindsay Hock, Managing Editor | News | Comments

The 52nd annual R&D 100 Awards event will present a series of panel discussions featuring today’s top technological minds revealing their secrets for innovation. Draw inspiration from these leading experts as they discuss technology-driven strategies for transforming your ideas into excellence.

Adding natural uncertainty improves mathematical models

September 30, 2014 1:11 pm | News | Comments

Mathematicians from Brown Univ. have introduced a new element of uncertainty into an equation used to describe the behavior of fluid flows. Ironically, allowing uncertainty into a mathematical equation that models fluid flows makes the equation much more capable of correctly reflecting the natural world, including the formation, strength, and position of air masses and fronts in the atmosphere.

California drought linked to climate change

September 30, 2014 9:42 am | by Ker Than, Stanford Univ. | Videos | Comments

The atmospheric conditions associated with the unprecedented drought currently afflicting California are "very likely" linked to human-caused climate change, according to Stanford Univ. scientists. The team used a combination of computer simulations and statistical techniques to show that a persistent region of high atmospheric pressure hovering over the Pacific Ocean was likely to form from modern greenhouse gas concentrations.

Glaciers in the Grand Canyon of Mars?

September 30, 2014 8:56 am | News | Comments

For decades, planetary geologists have speculated that glaciers might once have crept through Valles Marineris, the 2000-mile-long chasm that constitutes the Grand Canyon of Mars. A research team has now identified what could be the first mineralogical evidence of past glaciers within the Valles Marineris: a layer of mixed sulfate minerals halfway up three-mile-high cliffs in the canyon system.

Wildlife populations plummet for 3,000 species

September 30, 2014 8:19 am | by John Heilprin, Associated Press | News | Comments

About 3,000 species of wildlife around the world have seen their numbers plummet far worse than previously thought, according to a new study by one of the world's biggest environmental groups. The Switzerland-based WWF says improved methods of measuring populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles explain the huge difference from the 28% decline between 1970 and 2008 that the group reported in 2012.

NASA finds clear skies and water vapor on exoplanet

September 26, 2014 8:42 am | News | Comments

Astronomers using data from NASA's space telescopes Hubble, Spitzer, and Kepler have discovered clear skies and steamy water vapor on a gaseous planet outside our solar system. The planet is about the size of Neptune, making it the smallest planet from which molecules of any kind have been detected.

Technology tracks tiniest pollutants in real time

September 26, 2014 8:23 am | by Brett Israel, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Researchers may soon have a better idea of how tiny particles of pollution are formed in the atmosphere. These particles, called aerosols, are hazardous to human health and contribute to climate change, but researchers know little about how their properties are shaped by chemical reactions in the atmosphere. Unraveling this chemistry could someday lead to more effective policies to protect human health and the Earth’s climate.

The water in your bottle might be older than the sun

September 26, 2014 8:13 am | by Nicole Casal Moore, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

Up to half of the water on Earth is likely older than the solar system itself, Univ. of Michigan astronomers theorize. The researchers' work helps to settle a debate about just how far back in galactic history our planet and our solar system's water formed. Were the molecules in comet ices and terrestrial oceans born with the system itself—in the planet-forming disk of dust and gas that circled the young sun 4.6 billion years ago?

Building the framework for the future of biofuels

September 25, 2014 9:47 am | by Joe Kullman, Arizona State Univ. | News | Comments

For more than five years, Amy Landis, an engineering professor at Arizona State Univ.,  has led research that is revealing the potential rewards of developing large-scale biofuels production, as well as the potential drawbacks we would face in the effort. According to Landis, lands damaged by industrial waste or other pollutants could be restored sufficiently to support agriculture for growing bioenergy crops.

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