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New catalytic converter could cut fuel consumption, car manufacturing costs

January 29, 2014 10:27 am | News | Comments

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.

Temperature swings may be bigger threat to life than increased warmth

January 29, 2014 8:02 am | News | Comments

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.

Charting the slopes of sediment transport

January 29, 2014 7:48 am | by Cynthia Eller, California Institute of Technology | News | Comments

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.

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New NASA laser technology reveals how ice measures up

January 29, 2014 7:41 am | by Kate Ramsayer, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

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.

Deep-diving sub Alvin cleared to return to service

January 28, 2014 11:44 am | News | Comments

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.

Lungs may suffer when certain elements go nano

January 28, 2014 11:40 am | by Linda Fulps, Missouri Science & Technology | News | Comments

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.

Is there an ocean beneath our feet?

January 27, 2014 9:42 am | News | Comments

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.

3-D printed soil reveals the world beneath our feet

January 27, 2014 8:21 am | by Kirsty Cameron, Abertay Univ. | Videos | Comments

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.

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Compact device has sensitive nose for greenhouse gas

January 22, 2014 7:46 am | News | Comments

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.

Made in China for us: Air pollution as well as exports

January 20, 2014 7:19 pm | News | Comments

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.

Carbon nanotube sponge shows improved water cleanup

January 17, 2014 8:29 am | News | Comments

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.

Soil microbes alter DNA in response to warming

January 16, 2014 2:47 pm | News | Comments

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.

Cloud computing system can reduce carbon emissions

January 15, 2014 10:12 am | News | Comments

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.

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U.S. carbon pollution up in 2013

January 14, 2014 11:40 am | by Matthew Daly, Associated Press | News | Comments

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.

There’s more to biofuel production than yield

January 14, 2014 8:00 am | News | Comments

When it comes to biofuels, corn leads the all-important category of biomass yield. However, focusing solely on yield comes at a high price, scientists say. In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers show that looking at the big picture allows other biofuel crops, such as native perennial grasses, to score higher as viable alternatives.

High levels of molecular chlorine found in Arctic atmosphere

January 13, 2014 4:09 pm | News | Comments

Scientists studying the atmosphere above Barrow, Alaska, have discovered unprecedented levels of molecular chlorine in the air, a new study reports. Molecular chlorine, from sea salt released by melting sea ice, reacts with sunlight to produce chlorine atoms. These chlorine atoms are highly reactive and can oxidize many constituents of the atmosphere including methane and elemental mercury.

Ahoy! First ocean vesicles spotted

January 10, 2014 10:35 am | by Denise Brehm, Civil and Environmental Engineering MIT | News | Comments

Marine cyanobacteria are primary engines of Earth’s biogeochemical and nutrient cycles. They nourish other organisms through the provision of oxygen and with their own body mass. Now, scientists have discovered another dimension of the outsized role played by these tiny cells: The cyanobacteria continually produce and release vesicles, spherical packages containing nutrients that can serve as food parcels for marine organisms.

Scientists: Americans are becoming weather wimps

January 10, 2014 8:58 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

As the world warms, the United States is getting fewer bitter cold spells like the one that gripped much of the nation this week. So when a deep freeze strikes, scientists say, it seems more unprecedented than it really is.

Acid mine drainage reduces radioactivity in fracking waste

January 9, 2014 11:34 am | News | Comments

Much of the naturally occurring radioactivity in fracking wastewater might be removed by blending it with another wastewater from acid mine drainage, according to a Duke Univ.-led study. Blending fracking wastewater with acid mine drainage also could help reduce the depletion of local freshwater resources by giving drillers a source of usable recycled water for the hydraulic fracturing process.

Scientists to study Pacific Ocean’s “global chimney”

January 8, 2014 11:42 am | News | Comments

Although few people live in the Western tropical Pacific Ocean region, the remote waters there affect billions of people by shaping climate and air chemistry worldwide. Next week, scientists will head to the region to better understand its influence on the atmosphere—including how that influence may change in coming decades if storms over the Pacific become more powerful with rising global temperatures.

The ocean’s hidden waves show their power

January 8, 2014 7:52 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Their effect on the surface of the ocean is negligible, producing a rise of just inches that is virtually imperceptible on a turbulent sea. But internal waves, which are hidden entirely within the ocean, can tower hundreds of feet, with profound effects on the Earth’s climate and on ocean ecosystems.

Suburban sprawl cancels carbon-footprint savings of dense urban cores

January 6, 2014 4:56 pm | by Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley | News | Comments

According to a new study by Univ. of California, Berkeley researchers, population-dense cities contribute less greenhouse-gas emissions per person than other areas of the country, but these cities’ extensive suburbs essentially wipe out the climate benefits. Suburbs account for about 50% of all household emissions in the United States.

New compounds discovered that are hundreds of times more mutagenic

January 6, 2014 12:28 pm | News | Comments

Researchers at Oregon State Univ. have discovered novel compounds produced by certain types of chemical reactions, such as those found in grilling meat, that are hundreds of times more mutagenic than their parent compounds which are known carcinogens. These compounds were not previously known to exist, and raise additional concerns about the health impacts of heavily polluted urban air or dietary exposure.

Supereruptions triggered by melt buoyancy

January 6, 2014 9:02 am | by Simone Ulmer, ETH Zurich | News | Comments

By effectively “exploding” instead of erupting, supervolcanos release tremendous energy. Because none are currently “live”, how supervolcanos become active has remained a mystery. Geologists have now demonstrated that the pressure generated through the difference in density between magma and the surrounding rock alone can be sufficient to cause one of these geological giants to erupt.

U.S. opens door to new herbicide-resistant seeds

January 3, 2014 11:38 am | by M.L. Johnson, Associated Press | News | Comments

The U.S. Department of Agriculture opened the door Friday to commercial sales of corn and soybean seeds genetically engineered to resist the weed killer 2,4-D, which is best known as an ingredient in the Vietnam War-era herbicide Agent Orange. The U.S. military stopped using Agent Orange in 1971, and it has not been produced since the 1970s.

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