Tag: climate change

Wind, Solar Farms Could Make It Rain In Sahara

You already know that using solar and wind power can influence the climate by reducing our dependence on heat-trapping fossil fuels. Now scientists say these renewable forms of energy can change the climate more directly – and do it in ways that might surprise you.

If wind turbines and solar panels were deployed across the Sahara, more rain would fall and more plants would grow in the massive African desert, according to research published in Friday’s edition of the journal Science.

Renewable energy can have multiple benefits for climate and sustainable development,” wrote a team led by researchers from the University of Maryland Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science.

To figure this out, the researchers imagined three scenarios for the Sahara and Sahel, a semiarid region immediately to the south.

In one, the area is studded with wind turbines that stand more than 300 feet high. In another, solar panels cover 20 percent of the land.

The third case combines wind and solar farms – a setup that would produce about 82 terawatts of electricity per year.

Once their hypothetical energy farms were built, the researchers fed the details into a sophisticated computer program that simulates Earth’s dynamic climate.

Then the program made predictions about how the farms would change the environment.




In the case of wind farms, the giant turbines would cause warmer air from above to mix with cooler air below, bringing more heat close to the surface.

Air temperatures near the ground would increase by nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

In addition, the turbines would interrupt the smoothness of the desert surface. Winds blowing through the area would move more slowly.

That, combined with the added heat, would change the atmospheric conditions over the Sahara and bring more moisture to the area.

Average rainfall would increase by up to 0.25 of a millimeter per day – about double what it would have been otherwise, according to the study.

The additional water would fuel plant growth, and those extra plants would reduce the amount of sunlight that’s reflected off the desert surface.

From there, it’s a positive feedback loop, the researchers explained: The reduced reflectivity (or surface albedo) enhances precipitation, which fuels plant growth, which reduces albedo, and so on.

The story is a little different for solar farms.

Instead of slowing the wind or causing hot and cool air to mix, the main effect of solar panels is to reduce albedo. That would increase average daily precipitation by about 0.13 of a millimeter in the Sahara and 0.59 of a millimeter in the Sahel.

Map showing potential precipitation changes in the Sahara if large-scale wind farms and solar farms are installed.

The additional water would induce more plant growth, further reducing albedo and allowing the cycle to continue.

These changes were predicted to increase the maximum temperature by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit, the researchers reported.

If wind and solar farms were combined, these effects would be “enhanced,” they said. Average daily precipitation would increase to 0.59 of a millimeter. That’s nearly 1.5 times higher than the Sahara would be in its natural state.

But the rain wouldn’t be spread evenly everywhere. The computer simulations predicted that parts of the Sahel could get as much as nearly 20 inches of additional precipitation per year.

All that extra water could have “major ecological, environmental, and societal impacts,” Li and his colleagues wrote.

Average temperature also would rise, by nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Changes like these wouldn’t necessarily happen everywhere solar farms are built, the researchers cautioned. In the Sahara, the key is that today’s typical solar panels would increase the surface albedo. But if the landscape were different, that might not be true.

Ditto if the solar panels were more efficient, that could cause temperatures to fall instead of rise. Without added heat, rainfall wouldn’t increase. It might even decrease, the researchers noted.

These are all factors to consider when building a wind or solar farm, they wrote. If placed just so, these power plants could generate more rain and plants in addition to more clean energy.

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Research Finds That Climate Change Making Food Crops Less Nutritious

wheat

Rising carbon dioxide emissions are set to make the world’s staple food crops less nutritious, according to new scientific research, worsening the serious ill health already suffered by billions of malnourished people.

The surprise consequence of fossil fuel burning is linked directly to the rise in CO2 levels which, unlike some of the predicted impacts of climate change, are undisputed.




The field trials of wheat, rice, maize and soybeans showed that higher CO2 levels significantly reduced the levels of the essential nutrients iron and zinc, as well as cutting protein levels.

“We found rising levels of CO2 are affecting human nutrition by reducing levels of very important nutrients in very important food crops.

From a health viewpoint, iron and zinc are hugely important,” said Prof Samuel Myers, an environmental health expert at Harvard University, Boston, and lead author of the study.

crop

Myers said 2 billion people already suffer iron and zinc deficiencies around the world. This causes serious harm, in particular to developing babies and pregnant women, and currently causes the loss of 63m years of life annually.

Fundamentally the concern is that there is already an enormous public health problem and rising CO2 in the atmosphere will exacerbate that problem further.

While wheat, rice, maize and soybeans are relatively low in iron and zinc, in poorer societies where meat is rarely eaten they are a major source of the nutrients.

About 2.4bn people currently get at least 60% of their zinc and iron from these staples and it is over 75% in Bangladesh, Iraq and Algeria.

crop

Wheat grown in high CO2 levels had 9% less zinc and 5% less iron, as well as 6% less protein, while rice had 3% less iron, 5% less iron and 8% less protein.

Maize saw similar falls while soybeans lost similar levels of zinc and iron but, being a legume not a grass, did not see lower protein.

The precise biological mechanism that causes nutrient levels to fall is not well understood as yet.

But Professor Brian Thomas, a plant develoment expert at the University of Warwick and not involved in the research said: “The work is convincing and consistent with what we do know about the plant physiology.

crop

The impact on human health resulting from the drop in the level of protein is less clear than for the zinc and iron loss.

Myers said the resulting increase in carbohydrate in the crops could increase the rate of metabolic syndrome, the diabetes, heart disease and stroke that currently afflicts many in developed countries due to high levels of obesity.

But Myers said obesity is not necessary for the risk of metabolic syndrome to rise. “It is something to do with the switch of foods itself.

crop

Myers said simply eating more staple foods to meet zinc and iron requirements was not realistic when food production already must double by 2050 to meet the demand of rising populations.

Some of the varieties used in the research performed better than others, raising the prospect of breeding strains that are less vulnerable to rising CO2.

But the researchers noted: “Such breeding programmes will not be a panacea for many reasons including the affordability of improved seeds and the numerous criteria used by farmers in making planting decisions that include taste, tradition, marketability, growing requirements and yield.

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Scientists Are Farming Coral For Human Bones

It’s hard to say “coral molars” repeatedly without tripping over your tongue, but having teeth — and other bones — made from coral is becoming increasingly plausible.

It sounds crazy, but sea coral has actually been used in bone grafting for years as an alternative to using bone from cadavers or synthetic materials, which can introduce disease or infection.

Now, recent business successes and medical research suggests that coral bone grafting could become more mainstream.

First, some history: Back in 1988, Eugene White and h

Please is nephew Rodney White first noticed coral’s similarities to bones when diving in the South Pacific.

They went on to discover that sea coral naturally possesses the similar porous structure and calcium carbonate of human bones.




Over the years, researchers have developed coral as a bone grafting material by taking calcium carbonate from the exoskeleton of sea coral and converting it into a mineral called coralline hydroxyapatite.

Because the coral’s patterns matched the tissue in human bones, the coral could provide a platform for bones to grow.

But sometimes the coral didn’t biodegrade; it sort of stayed in the body, creating problems for the patient, including re-fracturing or turning into a source for bacteria growth.

Then, last year, Zhidao Xia, a lead researcher in coral bone grafting, and fellow researchers at Swansea University published a study in the journal Biomedical Materials, saying they had found a way to make coral more compatible with human bone.

Using their technique, 16 patients with bone defects healed four months after coral graft surgeries; two years later, the coral had naturally left the patients’ bodies.

Although coral bone grafting is still very much a “fringe thing,” according to Dr. Ruth Gates, a lead marine researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, coral reefs are definitely developing a reputation as 21st-century medicine cabinets.

According to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, corals can be used to treat cancer, arthritis, bacterial infections and even Alzheimer’s disease.

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The American Museum Of Natural History Goes Digital

The display is referred to as the “meta-message.”

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is one of New York’s most famous institutions.

Founded 145 years ago, moviegoers may recognize it as the setting of “Night at the Museum” and its sequels.




While the dinosaurs don’t actually come alive there, the museum has recently embraced digital technology to breathe new life into its attractions, which includes a plan to construct a $325 million science center close to Central Park in New York City.

Curators hope the interactivity of the exhibit will help visitors get a grasp on the data.

Using technology permeates every aspect of what we do,” AMNH president Ellen Futter said.

Ellen Futter has been at the helm of the museum for over two decades. When she took over in the early ’90s, she recognized a lot needed to be done. However, there was one project in particular that needed urgent attention.

The hall also features a new exhibit about mantle convection.

You know, when I first got there, I was worried about getting the museum air-conditioned,” Futter said.

Since then, the museum has not only added air conditioning, but Wi-Fi throughout all the buildings, in addition to 21st century technology to million year-old artifacts.

It’s also attracted a lot more people, with crowds swelling from 3 million to 5 million per year.

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The Weirdest Weather Events of 2018 So Far

 

We’ve already seen our share of winter storms, severe weather, cold outbreaks, flooding and droughts so far in 2018. But there are some weather events every year that are downright strange, and this year is no exception.

The events we consider strange are weather phenomena happening repeatedly in one place, in a place where you wouldn’t think they would occur or during an unusual time of year.

Some are phenomena you may not find in a Weather 101 textbook.




Freezing Rain in Florida

Just after New Year’s Day, Winter Storm Grayson blanketed Tallahassee, Florida, with its first measurable snow since 1989, and the first January such occurrence, there, in records dating to 1885.

That’s eye-catching enough.  What was even more bizarre was seeing an ice accumulation map involving the Sunshine State.

Up to a quarter inch of ice accumulation was measured in Lake City, and light icing on elevated surfaces was reported as far south as Levy County.

A Horseshoe Cloud

A horseshoe cloud was captured over Battle Mountain, Nevada on Mar. 8, 2018.

While the nor’easter parade was hammering the East Coast, a bizarre cloud was captured in video over Nevada in early March.

As meteorologist Jonathan Belles explained, this rare horseshoe vortex is fleeting, lasting only minutes, when a relatively flat cloud moves over a column of rising air, which also gives the cloud some spin.

A State Record Hailstone

The hailstone that was saved from a March 19, 2018, hailstorm near Cullman, Alabama, later to be found to set a state record.

Alabama’s notorious history of severe weather, particularly tornadoes, is well documented.  On March 19, however, it was a hailstone that captured meteorologists’ attention.

One softball-size hailstone near Cullman, Alabama, was found to set a new state record, more than 5 inches in diameter.

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Giant Panda Is One Step Further Away From Extinction

The giant panda, commonly a symbol for conservation, is no longer considered an endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

In an update to their Red List of Threatened Species on Sunday, which assesses a species’ conservation status, the IUCN reported the giant panda population has improved enough for the endangered species label to be downgraded to “vulnerable.”

A nationwide census in 2014 found 1,864 giant pandas in the wild in China, excluding cubs — an increase from 1,596 in 2004, according to the IUCN.




Including cubs, the current population count is approaching 2,060, the organization said. The report credits forest protection and reforestation measures in China for increasing the available habitat for the species.

The decision to downlist the giant panda to ‘vulnerable’ is a positive sign confirming that the Chinese government’s efforts to conserve this species are effective,” the IUCN noted in its assessment.

The giant panda was once widespread throughout southern China, and is revered in the country’s culture.

The IUCN’s first assessment of the species in 1965 listed the giant panda as “very rare but believed to be stable or increasing.

The species has been the focus of an intensive, high-profile conservation campaign to recover an endangered species since the 1970s, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) — which has used the panda in its logo since 1961.

For over fifty years, the giant panda has been the globe’s most beloved conservation icon as well as the symbol of WWF,” Marco Lambertini, director general of the WWF, said.

Knowing that the panda is now a step further from extinction is an exciting moment for everyone committed to conserving the world’s wildlife and their habitats.

Decades of conservation efforts have included the banning of giant panda poaching — their hides were considered a commodity — as well as the creation of the panda reserve system, increasing available habitats.

There are now 67 reserves in China protecting nearly 5,400 square miles (14,000 square kilometers) of habitat and 67 percent of the panda population, reported CNN.

The recovery of the panda shows that when science, political will and engagement of local communities come together, we can save wildlife and also improve biodiversity,” Lambertini said in the statement.

The Chinese government’s partnerships with the international organization have also spread conservation and breeding efforts. In June, a healthy male cub was born in a Belgian zoo.

The captive population is not taken into consideration by IUCN for the Red List, which is specific to species in the wild.

However, the captive population being bred for recovery and reintroduction are part of the overall conservation picture, according to Joe Walston, Vice President of Conservation Field Programs for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The giant panda is not completely in the clear, however the IUCN warned that climate change and decreasing bamboo availability could reverse the gains made in the past few decades.

More than one-third of the panda’s bamboo habitat could disappear in the next 80 years, according to the IUCN.

It is a real concern, and this is emblematic of what species are facing globally with regard to climate change,” Walston told Live Science of the threat to habitat and food supply.

The most important thing we can do at the moment is to be able to grow the extent and range of that habitat and by doing that you allow pandas to move across landscapes.

Wildlife as a whole can adapt to short-term changes and season extremes, Walston said, but they need to space to move and adapt.

As such, conservation efforts continue and the giant panda will continue to be considered “a conservation-dependent species for the foreseeable future,” the IUCN’s report concluded.

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How Do Aliens Solve Climate Change?

The universe does many things. It makes galaxies, comets, black holes, neutron stars, and a whole mess more.

We’ve lately discovered that it makes a great deal of planets, but it’s not clear whether it regularly makes energy-hungry civilizations, nor is it clear whether such civilizations inevitably drive their planets into climate change.

There’s lots of hope riding on our talk about building a sustainable civilization on Earth. But how do we know that’s even possible? Does anyone across the cosmos ever make it?

Remarkably, science has now advanced to point where we can take a first step at answering this question.

I know this because my colleagues and I have just published a first study mapping out possible histories of alien planets, the civilizations they grow, and the climate change that follows.

Our team was made up of astronomers, an earth scientist, and an urban ecologist.




It was only half-jokingly that we thought of our study as a “theoretical archaeology of exo-civilizations.” “Exo-civilizations” are what people really mean when they talk about aliens.

Astronomers refer to the new worlds they’ve discovered as “exoplanets.”

They’re now gearing up to use the James Webb Space Telescope and other instruments to search for life by looking for signs of “exo-biospheres” on those exoplanets.

So if we have exoplanets and exo-biospheres, it’s time to switch out the snicker-inducing word “aliens” for the real focus of our concerns: exo-civilizations.

Of course, we have no direct evidence relating to any exo-civilizations or their histories. What we do have, however, are the laws of planets. Our robot emissaries have already visited most of the worlds in the solar system.

We’ve set up weather stations on Mars, watched the runaway greenhouse effect on Venus, and seen rain cascade across methane lakes on Titan.

From these worlds we learned the generic physics and chemistry that make up what’s called climate.

We can use these laws to predict the global response of any planet to something like an asteroid impact or perhaps the emergence of an energy-hungry industrial civilization.

Science fiction has given us enduring images of alien races. Not surprisingly, most of them look a lot like us but with different kinds of foreheads or ears, or a different number of fingers on their hands.

In developing our first cut at a science of exo-civilizations, my collaborators and I weren’t interested in what aliens might look like or what kind of sex they have.

To do our job we had to avoid the specifics of both their individual biology and their sociology because science provides us little to work with on those fronts. There was, however, one place where biology was up to the task.

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How Aliens We’ve Never Met Could Help Humanity Escape Self-Destruction

Humans have had such a dramatic impact on Earth that some scientists say we’ve kickstarted a new geological era known as the Anthropocene.

A fascinating new paper theorizes that alien civilizations could do the same thing, reshaping their homeworlds in predictable and potentially detectable ways.

The authors are proposing a new classification scheme that measures the degree to which planets been modified by intelligent hosts.

Whenever a distant exoplanet is discovered, astronomers categorize it according to its most obvious physical features and orbital characteristics.

Examples include hot-Jupiters, Earth-like terrestrial planets, and brown dwarfs.

With ongoing advances in telescope technology, the day is coming when astronomers will be able to expand on these simple characterizations, classifying a planet according to other features, including atmospheric or chemical composition.

But as a new study led by University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank points out, we may eventually be able to place exoplanets within an astrobiological context, too.




In addition to taking the usual physical measures into account, Frank and his colleagues are proposing that astronomers take the influence of a hypothetical planet’s biosphere into account—including the impacts of an advanced extraterrestrial civilization.

Frank’s hypothetical planets, ranked from Class I through to Class V, range from dead, rocky worlds through to planets in which a host intelligence has solved the problems caused by its own existence, like excessive use of resources and climate change.

Moreover, as Frank explained, this paper presents more than just a planetary classification scheme—it’s a potential roadmap to an environmentally viable future.

If we discover signs of an advanced alien civilization—and that’s a big if—we may learn a thing or two about how we might be able to survive into the far future.

Indeed, we’re at a critical juncture in our history, one in which we’re crafting the planet according to our will—and so far, we’re not doing a very good job of it.

There’s ongoing debate as to whether or not our planet has crossed into the Anthropocene epoch, a new geologic chapter in which we’ve become the primary driver of planetary change.

Some scientists point to the fact that half of the planet’s land surface has been claimed for human use, or that Earth’s biogeochemical cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus have been radically altered on account of agriculture and fertilizer use, as evidence that we have.

While the technical debate over what constitutes evidence of a geologic shift continues, it’s clear humanity is altering Earth in some rather profound ways.

So much so, says Frank, that we need to place our planet, and the Anthropocene itself, within an astrobiological context. What’s happening here on Earth, says Frank, is likely happening elsewhere in the Galaxy.

Though we may be inclined to think that our situation is somehow special or unique, we have no good reason to believe that’s really the case.

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Impacts Of Genetically Modified Animals On The Ecosystem And Human Activities

The genetic modification of animals to obtain transgenic animals started in 1980. The first transgenic animals were mice, which are still the most frequently used transgenic species.

About 20 transgenic species have been obtained and they are more or less currently used. Various methods are being implemented to transfer foreign genes to the different species.

Transgenic animals are mostly used for basic research to study gene and biological functions. Transgenics may also be the source of organs and cells for humans as well as of medicaments.

The impact of transgenesis to improve animals for food and feed production is still non-existent but is expected to become a reality in the coming months.

Humans domesticated some animal species to obtain food, acquire strength for various activities and as companions.




Breeding likely contributed to revealing to humans the mechanisms of reproduction, including their own.

Long ago, humans probably made a distinction between themselves and animals, while recognizing their resemblance to animals.

More recently, humans have considered combining the biological properties of some animals with their own. They imagined the creation of chimeras from human and bull or goat.

They described and represented these chimeric organisms but could not produce them.

Genetic selection has thus become more efficient but is still totally dependent on natural and spontaneous random mutations.

In order to enlarge the choice of plants and animals for selection, humans started to use mutagenic chemical compounds.

The mutagens were applied to micro-organisms, then to plants and animals. The mutations were then much more frequent, but still totally random and unknown.

A selection makes the emergence of new lines of interest possible. More than 3000 plant varieties have thus been obtained and validated and are being used as food.

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It Seems Someone Is Producing A Banned Ozone-Depleting Chemical Again

The Montreal Protocol—a 1987 international agreement to end production of ozone-destroying chemicals like freon—seems miraculous compared to the long struggle to achieve meaningful action on climate change.

Even more astonishing is that the agreement has worked. Those chemicals (known as CFCs) take a long time to flush out of the atmosphere, but monitoring has shown that the flushing is proceeding largely according to plan.

That keeps the hole in the ozone layer on track to shrink over the coming decades. However, a new study shows that someone has been cheating in the last few years.

A group of researchers led by Stephen Montzka of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had been tracking the progress of CFCs and noticed something off with CFC-11.

This chemical has been used as a refrigerant, solvent, and propellant for aerosol spray cans, as well as in the production of styrofoam. As with the other CFCs, nations agreed to end production of CFC-11 entirely.

While there may still be some older machines leaking CFC-11, these sources should gradually disappear over time, allowing the decline of its atmospheric concentration to accelerate.




Hiding the decline?

Instead of an accelerating decline, CFC-11 showed a steady drop of 2.1 parts-per-trillion each year between 2002 and 2012.

Since then, its decline has actually slowed. Between 2015 and 2017, CFC-11 dropped at only 1.0 part-per-trillion per year.

There are a few possible explanations to sort through. The most important one is natural variations in the transport of emitted CFCs into the stratosphere, which depends on weather patterns.

But some of them can be eliminated quickly. A sudden uptick in the demolition of old buildings with CFC-11 refrigerants in their HVAC systems doesn’t seem to plausibly fit the data, for example.

Careful analysis of the data and some modeling can help us choose among the remaining explanations.

First off, the concentration of these gases has always been a little higher in the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern Hemisphere, because most of the sources are in the north.

Over the last few years, the difference between the two hemispheres has increased a bit. Similar gases haven’t done that, which points to increased emissions from the Northern Hemisphere rather than just a change in the winds.

Second, measurements from atop Mauna Loa in Hawaii show correlations between CFC-11 concentrations and a few other gases known to come from industrial emissions.

That means CFC-11 isn’t the only human pollutant seeing an uptick over the same time span.

A new source

At the height of use in the 1980s, humans released 350,000 tons of CFC-11 each year—a number that dropped to 54,000 tons per year in the early 2000s.

An additional 6,500 to 13,000 tons released each year in Eastern Asia would be enough to change the declining trend in just the way we’ve observed.

An increase that large seems to require renewed production of CFC-11—violating the Montreal Protocol.

Seeing as nations are required to track CFC production and report accurate numbers to the United Nations group that oversees the Montreal agreement, this is going to be a contentious conclusion.

The researchers chose their words carefully, and the network of measurements isn’t complete enough to point the finger at a specific nation.

Still, the list of suspects is short, and some nation needs to find and snuff out the illicit industrial activity within its borders in order to hold up its end of the Montreal Protocol.

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