Tag: Environment

The Mystery Of Blue Diamonds And Where They Come From Finally Solved

They are the world’s most expensive diamonds, with some stones valued at £100 million.

But until now nobody has known how rare blue diamonds are made or where they come from.

Now scientists have discovered that they are formed 400 miles down in the Earth, around four times as deep as clear diamonds, where the element boron combines with carbon in such extreme pressure and heat that it crystallizes into the world’s most precious stone.

And because boron is mostly found on the Earth’s surface, scientists believe that it must have travelled down into the mantle when tectonic plates slipped beneath each other.

Eventually volcanic action brought the diamonds up closer to the surface.




The study, published in the journal Nature, suggests blue diamonds are even rarer than first thought.

We now know that the finest gem-quality diamonds come from the farthest down in our planet.”  said Steven Shirey, of the Carnegie Institution of Science.

Blue diamonds have always held a special intrigue. The world’s most famous jewel, the Hope Diamond, which was once owned by Louis XIV, Marie-Antoninette, and George IV was said to be cursed with many of its owners and their families coming to a sticky – and often headless – end.

The postman who delivered the Hope Diamond to its current location in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC had his leg crushed in a lorry accident shortly after and then his house burned down.

But the value and rarity of blue diamonds makes them difficult to study and researchers at the Carnegie Institution have spent two years tracking down and studying 46 blue diamonds from collections around the world.

And they were looking for the rarest of blue diamonds, those which include tiny mineral traces called inclusions which hint at their origins.

These so-called type IIb diamonds are tremendously valuable, making them hard to get access to for scientific research purposes,” said lead author Evan Smith of the Gemological Institute of America, adding,

“And it is very rare to find one that contains inclusions, which are tiny mineral crystals trapped inside the diamond.”

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These Sustainable Wool Shoes Are Casual, Comfortable And Cool

Tim Brown was vice captain of the Wellington Phoenix soccer team in New Zealand nearly a decade ago when he began thinking about a second act after his sports career.

He was interested in design, particularly footwear. And being a Kiwi he also had a particular fondness for wool (New Zealand is home to some 27 million sheep).

Why had such a renewable and biodegradable textile never been used to make footwear, Brown wondered?

The idea of wool shoes might sound strange, not to mention hot and scratchy. But Brown believed he was onto something, and his passion eventually attracted a likeminded partner, Silicon Valley engineer Joey Zwillinger.

Their vision has since turned into a formidable natural shoe brand called Allbirds that’s not only disrupting the footwear industry with its comfortable, all-natural wool shoes, but is putting sustainable fashion on the map in a big way.




Remarkable second act

The road to success wasn’t without some sharp curves. Brown retired from soccer in 2012 and enrolled in business school.

He remained intrigued by the idea of using eco-friendly wool to make shoes, impressed by its natural ability to resist water, minimize odors and regulate temperature. As he claims in the video below, “It’s the world’s most miraculous fiber.

After researching ways to make his footwear, Brown launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2014 to begin production.

Orders were so strong that he had to shut down the crowdfunding campaign until he could figure out how to meet the high demand.

About that time, Brown’s wife introduced him to a college friend in Northern California whose husband, Zwillinger, was struggling to market renewable algae oil as a replacement for petroleum.

Brown immediately bonded with Zwillinger over a home-cooked meal and a shared entrepreneurial interest in green products. The two decided to team up and launched Allbirds in 2016.

Washable insoles also are formed from merino wool fabric, and soles are green polyurethane made from castor bean oil. The idea was to create something not only sustainable but breathable, durable, comfortable and all-purpose.

If you were going to design one sneaker and only one, what would it look like? We focused on this idea of a singular solution,” Brown notes in this New York Times article. “The right amount of nothing.

Allbirds are made for men and women and come in several catchy colors like moss and mint. They’re also designed to be worn without socks.

The company originally offered two styles: sneaker-like Wool Runners and slipper-like Wool Loungers. All cost $95.

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The Amazing Bodies Of Dolphins

Breathing

Dolphins have a number of extraordinary features so that they can thrive in their watery world.

The most obvious thing that dolphins need is air. They glide through the water so effortlessly, surfacing every few minutes to take a breath. Dolphins can dive to 200 m (600 ft).

Marine mammals take more air with each breath than other mammals, and they exchange more of the air in their lungs with each breath.

Their red blood cells can hold more oxygen and they have a much higher tolerance for carbon dioxide than we do. During each breath they exchange 80% of the air in their lungs, while humans only exchange 17%.

Even so, given the size of their lungs, they should run out of oxygen and drown before they can get that deep! How do they do it?




When diving, they cut off blood circulation to their skin digestive system and extremities, leaving only the heart, brain and tail muscles working. However, even these measures give insufficient time to plummet to those depths.

Dolphins and other marine mammals don’t get the bends (nitrogen narcosis) when they plummet to the depths of the ocean.

In human lungs, air remains all throughout the lungs and gas exchange continues in the alvoli, allowing nitrogen to be forced into the blood.

The alvoli of doplhins collapse at 3 atm of pressure, forcing the air back into the bronchioles where gas exchange does not take place.

How do dolphins (and whales) sleep without drowning?

Marine mammals have two basic methods of sleeping: they either rest quietly in the water, or sleep while swimming slowly next to another animal.

Dolphins also enter a deeper form of sleep at night where they become like a log floating on the water. When a baby dolphin is born it does not have enough body fat to float easily.

The baby stays afloat by being towed in its mother’s slipstream or wake even when it is sleeping. This means that the mother cannot stop swimming for the first several weeks of her baby’s life!

To avoid drowning, it is crucial that cetaceans retain control of their blowhole and recognize when it is at the surface. When sleeping, dolphins shut down half of their brain and one eye.

The other half stays awake at a lower level of alertness. The semi-conscious side watches for predators, obstacles, and signals when to rise to the surface for a breath of air.

After 2 hours, things are reversed, the active side goes to sleep and the rested side looks after vital functions. Amazing!

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Bacteria-Powered Solar Cell Can Produce Electricity On Cloudy Days

A concept diagram shows the anode of the solar cell, comprised of biogenic material made of lycopene-producing bacteria (the orange orbs) that are coated with titania nanoparticles.

Scientists, including one of Indian origin, have discovered a low-cost and sustainable way to build a solar cell using bacteria, that can harvest energy from light even under overcast skies.

The cell, developed by researchers from University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada, generated a current stronger than any previously recorded from such a device, and worked as efficiently in dim light as in bright light.

With further development, these solar cells – called “biogenic” because they are made of living organisms – could become as efficient as the synthetic cells used in conventional solar panels.

These hybrid materials that we are developing can be manufactured economically and sustainably, and, with sufficient optimisation, could perform at comparable efficiencies as conventional solar cells,” said Vikramaditya Yadav, a professor at UBC.

Solar cells are the building blocks of solar panels. They do the work of converting light into electrical current.




Previous efforts to build biogenic solar cells have focused on extracting the natural dye that bacteria use for photosynthesis. It is a costly and complex process that involves toxic solvents and can cause the dye to degrade.

The UBC team left the dye in the bacteria. They genetically engineered E coli to produce large amounts of lycopene – a dye that gives tomatoes their red-orange colour and is particularly effective at harvesting light for conversion to energy.

The researchers coated the bacteria with a mineral that could act as a semiconductor, and applied the mixture to a glass surface.

With the coated glass acting as an anode at one end of their cell, they generated a current density of 0.686 milli amperes per square centimetre – an improvement on the 0.362 achieved by others in the field.

The micrograph shows how the cells look under a scanning electron microscope.

We recorded the highest current density for a biogenic solar cell,” said Yadav.

The cost savings are difficult to estimate, but Yadav believes the process reduces the cost of dye production to about one-tenth of what it would be otherwise.

The holy grail would be finding a process that doesn’t kill the bacteria, so they can produce dye indefinitely, said Yadav.

There are other potential applications for these biogenic materials in mining, deep-sea exploration and other low-light environments.

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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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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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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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Behind The Hype Of ‘Lab-Grown’ Meat

Some folks have big plans for your future. They want you—a burger-eatin’, chicken-finger-dippin’ American—to buy their burgers and nuggets grown from stem cells.

One day, meat eaters and vegans might even share their hypothetical burger. That burger will be delicious, environmentally friendly, and be indistinguishable from a regular burger.

And they assure you the meat will be real meat, just not ground from slaughtered animals.

That future is on the minds of a cadre of Silicon Valley startup founders and at least one nonprofit in the world of cultured meat.

Some are sure it will heal the environmental woes caused by American agriculture while protecting the welfare of farm animals.




But these future foods’ promises are hypothetical, with many claims based on a futurist optimism in line with Silicon Valley’s startup culture.

Cultured meat is still in its research and development phase and must overcome massive hurdles before hitting market.

A consumer-ready product does not yet exist and its progress is heavily shrouded by intellectual property claims and sensationalist press. Today, cultured meat is a lot of hype and no consumer product.

The truth is that only a few successful prototypes have yet been shown to the public, including a NASA-funded goldfish-based protein in the early 2000s, and a steak grown from frog cells in 2003 for an art exhibit.

More have come recently: Mark Post unveiled a $330,000 cultured burger in 2013, startup Memphis Meats has produced cultured meatballs and poultry last and this year, and Hampton Creek plans to have a product reveal dinner by the end of the year.

Because many in the cultured meat industry see this meat as cruelty-free, animal rights groups have become more vocal about cultured meat in its recent past.

For now, we know that the meat is made by growing animal-derived cells in the lab and harvesting the meat after a month or so.

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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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Some Species Of Plants Are Sleeping To Cope With Climate Change

Buttercups are dormancy-prone plants.

Not all species flee rising temperatures.

As the mercury has inched upward across western North America over the last 40 years, many plant species have moved downhill, toward—not away from—warmer climates, according to the results of a new study.

The finding adds to growing evidence that temperature isn’t the only factor influencing how Earth’s life will respond to climate change.

Like animals, plants require specific environmental conditions—such as the right temperature, moisture, and light levels—in order to thrive.

Even small changes in environmental parameters can affect the reproduction and survival of a species.

As global temperatures rise, both animal and plant populations are projected to gradually shift toward northern latitudes and upward to higher elevations where temperatures are cooler in order to stay within their ideal range of environmental conditions.




In an effort to understand how plants may cope with changing climates, researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle, compiled geographic coordinate data for the locations of nearly 300 plant species within seven topographically distinct regions across western North America.

Ranging from the western Sierra Nevada mountain range in Nevada to the eastern Rocky Mountain Foothills of northern Canada, spanning the last 40 years.

They then compared these findings with changing climate conditions, such as temperature, rain, and snowfall. The study is the most extensive of its kind to date.

The results of the analysis were unexpected. More than 60% of plants shifted their distributions downward, toward warmer, lower elevations—despite significant climate warming across the regions under study, the team reported online on 24 July in Global Change Biology.

Even more striking, all plants within a region—regardless of species—moved in the same direction.

A Pogonia japonica flower. Pogonias are dormancy-prone plants.

A closer look revealed that the downhill movement of plants was likely driven by the changes in precipitation that accompanied warming temperatures.

Those regions that experienced less rain and snow at high elevations were those with plants shifting toward lower elevations with wetter climates.

Less snow in winter translates into less water in summer, resulting in water-stressed plants and downward shifts,” Harsch says.

Although plant populations are shifting downward toward greater water availability, they will also have to contend with an increasingly warming climate.

It’s a double-edged sword,” Harsch states, “as temperatures rise, water needs will also increase.”

A bee pollinating.

Although previous, smaller studies have also noted downhill movements in relation to water availability, others report uphill movements in relation to temperature, suggesting the direction of species movements is dependent on local environmental conditions as well as the types of species present.

These studies highlight the importance of understanding the complexities not only of future climate change but the climatological requirements of individual species,” says Anne Kelly, a plant ecologist at the Catalina Island Conservancy in Avalon, California, who was not involved in the work.

Future climate changes are projected to intensify precipitation patterns in western North America, leading to more pronounced shifts in plant distributions and potential subsequent effects on the wildlife that depend on them for food and habitat.

How we decide where to allocate limited resources such as money and manpower to conserve species in the face of long-term global warming is a primary concern right now,” Harsch notes.

“We can’t monitor all species everywhere, but, by identifying the factors responsible for environmental changes, we can begin to predict effects and prioritize conservation management choices.”

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