Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Global warming could slash crop yields 46 percent

As if we didn't already have enough trouble feeding all the people in the world, a recent study shows global warming could reduce crop yields 30 to 46 percent. (New Scientist) That's even if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2050, which isn't going to happen.

But isn't warm weather good for plants? To a point. But the more time the temperature is above 84 degrees, the lower crop yields are.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gov Study: Swine flu to kill 90,000 this year

Swine flu is a joke, right? In the past? Not really, says a study by the President's Council of Advisors on Science. According to the group, half of the US population may get swine flu, 1.8 million would end up in the hospital (300,000 in critical care) and 90,000 are expected to die. (Washington Post)

Still not impressed? Typically, the conventional flu kills 30,000 to 40,000 and accounts for just 200,000 hospitalizations.

"This is going to be fairly serious… it's going to stress every aspect of our health system," said the Council chairman.

New analysis doubles the size of 'mega black hole'

Researchers believe galaxy M87's "monstrous central black hole" is twice as big as originally estimated. (New Scientist) The new analysis, run through a supercomputer by an American-German team, accounts for dark matter and places that black hole at a mass of 6.4 billion suns.

Not impressed? Consider this. M87 is 55 million light years away. If you could see black holes in the night sky, M87's central black hole would appear to be the same size as the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Wow.

Study: Fat people have smaller brains

A UCLA study shows "brain regions key to cognition are smaller in older people who are obese" and "people with higher body mass indexes had smaller brains on average." (New Scientist)

Why? No one knows. One theory is that, in overweight people blood circulation is poor, leading to less blood and oxygen reaching the brain. Another theory is that smaller brains are the cause, not the result of obesity. According to one expert, "brain atrophy in the frontal and temporal lobes, which also control eating behavior and metabolism, could cause weight gain."

So what? Well, a smaller brain isn't better than a big one, so that's another good reason to control your weight. And researchers believe a shrinking brain sets you up for dementia later in life.

Sad. NASA moon mission in jeopardy.

This is a bummer. NASA's mission to the moon looks like it's about to get cut, because there's not enough money. (Nightly News) Not that Pound360 was all that excited about NASA's plan to go to the moon. But Pound360 was excited about the high-tech jobs, potential for killer innovations that could be applied to everyday life and inspiration that the moon mission provided.

Also, consider what this says about the United States. "It's about what you value and if America is going to continue to be a forward-looking, pioneering nation or not," says former NASA administrator Michael Griffin. Another expert said, "this is not a case study of excellence in national leadership." What's supposed to happen is, "we set goals, and then provide the funding to achieve them."

In warming forests, 'Weird things, unprecedented things are happening'

Forests around the world are starting to fall apart as the globe warms and wild fires, pests (pine beetles, Siberian moth) spiral out of control. (AP) British Columbia (that's in Canada, yes) has already lost 35 million acres (an area twice the size of Ireland) to pine beetles. And up in Siberia, eight of the last 10 summers have been "extreme wildfire seasons."

So what? Well, if you don't care for their natural beauty, you should be able to admire the ability of global forests to capture CO2, and regulate the levels of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

'Upwards lightning'? Scientists capture it on film.

Sounds bizarre. Sounds like something you'd hear about on late-night, conspiracy-talk AM radio, but "scientists have photographed 'upwards lightning', a rarely-seen phenomenon where electricity from storms flows into the upper atmosphere." (BBC) The upwards variety can be as strong as conventional downward lighting and send lightning bolts up to 40 miles high.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Seems like a mild summer, but ocean temps hit record high

In Los Angeles, where Pound360 is headquartered, it seems like a pretty mild summer. In fact, it seems like it's been a mild, wet year across the country. So global warming is a hoax and we can go back to feeling great about driving SUVs, drinking out of Styrofoam cups?

Not yet.

"July was the hottest the world's oceans have been in almost 130 years of record-keeping." (
AP) That's a really bad sign. Since the oceans take longer to heat up, "breaking heat records in water is more ominous as a sign of global warming than breaking temperature marks on land."

Warmer oceans threaten the ice caps (temps are up 10 degrees in the Arctic), coral reefs (which you may not care about now,
but you may care about if you get pancreatic cancer) and may spark more powerful hurricanes.

2009 has been such a quiet hurricane season, right? Yes, but hurricanes need more than warm water to get started, they require "specific air conditions" as well. And this year's El Nino has pushed the jet stream southward, disrupting hurricane formation.

Ancients responsible for "serious damage" along coasts

Yesterday, we learned that ancient people may have kicked off global warming with the advent of agriculture. Now there's evidence early man did some "serious damage" to costal ecosystems" tens-of-thousands of years ago with "fairly simple technology." (New York Times)

For example, research indicates early man wiped out otter populations around the Channel Islands (off Los Angeles), which led to a spike in urchin, which took out underwater kelp forests.

So what? It's important to know what costal ecosystems were like before man came in and messed everything up so we know, for example, what to shoot for with preservation efforts. If not, "efforts to preserve or restore important habitats may fail."

Music downloading is greener, but not by much

A study by Carnegie Mellon University finds downloading music is "superior from an energy and CO2 perspective" than buying from a brick-and-mortar or online store. (earth2tech)

You probably already knew that. Seems like common sense, right? But the difference is pretty slim. For example, if you walk to a brick-and-mortar store and pick up a CD, it's equal from an energy, CO2 perspective. And if you download a large album (say, around 260MB), it's the same as buying a CD from a website and having it shipped to you.

New Scientist asks, "where does white skin come from?"

The popular answer is, light skin developed so humans could produce more vitamin D (dark skin blocks the suns rays that prompt vitamin D production). (New Scientist) Seems to make sense. But some scientists disagree. Their ideas? One, white skin is (for some reason) more resistant to frost bite, so it may have developed to help people adapt to colder Northern temps. Another, "highly controversial," idea is that "once sensitive light skin was no longer hazardous, as in Africa, it was selected for sexual attractiveness."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Govt. Study: Dangerous mercury levels found in 100 pct of fish

A government study finds mercury concentrations "exceeding levels set by the EPA for the protection of people" in "every one of hundreds of fish sampled from 291 freshwater streams." (Reuters)

That's pretty scary. And depressing.

More than two-thirds of fish had mercury levels exceeding the "level of concern" for fish-eating mammals.

The main sources of mercury pollution are coal plants.

US Life Expectancy climbs to 78

The life expectancy for children American children born in 2007 is 78 years, a new high. (ABC) That’s up from 76.5 years in 1997. Women can expect to live to 80, men 75.

Heart disease and cancer are still the leading killers, responsible for 48.5 percent of all deaths.

In 2007, 2,423,995 people died in the United States, down 2,269 from the year before.

Controversial study says ancient people started global warming

Researchers at the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County have a controversial idea: "Ancient man may have started global warming through massive deforestation and burning that could have permanently altered the Earth's climate." (CNN)

All the slashing and burning over the ages, since people started farming, would have "spewed enormous amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and warmed the planet."

Of course, the theory isn't without opponents. "There are actually studies showing if you cut down forests for farmland, you actually cool the planet, because of the glare from the cleared land," says one critic.

Snack foods have 'surprisingly large' doses of antioxidants

Looking to add antioxidants to your diet? A new study finds "snack foods like popcorn and many popular breakfast cereals" have a "surprisingly large" amount of antioxidants. ( How much? These foods are on par with fruit. According to one expert, "whole grain products have comparable antioxidants per gram to fruits and vegetables."

Antioxidants. So what? These things are believed to keep free radicals in check. "Free radicals are chemicals that have the potential to cause damage to cells and tissues in the body."

NASA's planet-hunter probe turns in early surprise

Just launched in March, NASA's planet-hunting Kepler probe has already surprised scientists in its first 10 days of gathering data. (Wired) Gazing at a planet that scientists thought was a "hot Jupiter," Kepler tells us it actually isn't spinning (it has a "dark" side) and may have an atmosphere full of "exotic chemicals" like titanium oxide. The planet, HAT-P-7b, has a hot spot that's 1,300 degrees warmer than the coolest spot. "There is no comparable planet around our star."

According to one scientist, "this exquisite data is just the tip of the iceberg." One, Kepler is ushering a new age of more rapid, accurate and detailed exoplanet discovery. Two, Keplers ultimate goal is to find small, rocky planets in the "habitable zone" around alien stars, "Earth-like" planets that may be home to life.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Building block of life found in comet

This is pretty big news, people. For the first time, "scientists have identified one of the fundamental chemical buildings blocks of life in a comet." (BBC) Specifically, scientists found "Glycine" (an amino acid) in material captured by NASA's Stardust probe from Comet Wild-2 in 2004.

Not only does this help explain how life may have started on Earth, but it also "strengthens the argument that life in the Universe may be common."

90 pct of money has cocaine on it

A study by the American Chemical Society finds 90 percent of paper currency has traces of cocaine on it. (LA Times) That's up from 67 percent two years ago. Must be the economy.

In big cities like Boston, Miami and LA, the number was closer to 100 percent. However, the US was highest among countries in the survey (which included Canada, Brazil, Japan and China).

In Japan, just 12 percent of bills showed traces.

Anything to worry about? Not really. "The cocaine detected on the bills was usually a minute amount, presenting no direct health threat."

Obesity accounts for 10 pct of health spending ($147 bil)

Obesity accounts for 10 pct of health spending ($147 bil)One reason health care costs may be skyrocketing is because people in the US are getting fatter. Obesity-related diseases cost the US $147 billion per year now, or 10 percent of all US medical spending. ( It was just 6.5 percent 10 years ago.

About 26 percent of Americans are obese now.

The Urban Institute recently suggested borrowing "policy strategies from the Tobacco Wars",
like taxing fattening foods, to bring down obesity.

Pictures of cake 'strengthens resolve to eat healthy'

A Netherlands study finds images of chocolate cake prompts people to eat more healthily. (New Scientist) How? Why? "Sticking pictures of tempting foods on the fridge door may help to bring weight-watching goals to mind."

Funny, all those candy, burger and potato chip commercials on TV, billboards and bus benches don't seem to be keeping America's waste-line in check.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Underwater Amazon" may hold cure for cancer

Researchers exploring what's believed to be the "largest concentration of deep water corals on earth" believe one native species may hold the cure for some cancers. (NBC Nightly News) The 23,000 stretch of deep water coral, off the coast of Florida has yielded 10 new species to date, including a "glass sponge." Extract from the sponge has been shown to cure cancer.

This is another reason you need to care about preserving natural habitat, biodiversity. Unless you're a fan of cancer wiping people out.

Also, a race is on to preserve the coral before fisherman come in and shred it…

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Rising CO2 levels threaten wheat quality

You sometimes hear people talk about the benefits of global warming, rising CO2 levels. One is that plants, crops grow faster. That's true, but a new study shows wheat grown in high concentrations of CO2 produce less protein. (New Scientst) But wait, it gets worse. The fast-growing wheat also has eight percent less iron and a14 percent increase in lead. Yummy.

And in case you were a farmer expecting to sell more as CO2 levels went up, "wheat grown under high-carbon conditions was worth less money, with smaller grains that are harder to sell for good prices and different dough properties due to the changed protein composition."

What caused mega-spike in Columbia River salmon count?

Last week, the single-day record for salmon passing thorough the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River was broken. By a lot. (Spokesman-Review) The previous record of 14,432 (set in 2001) was beaten Wednesday by a jaw-dropping 28,314, then smashed again on Thursday with 34,054. Why? There was a record-setting heat wave a few weeks back that biologists think prompted the surge.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Earth's oceans may have been created by 'comet swarm'

One of Pound360's favorite mysteries is how the Earth ended up with so much water. A recent study by the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark suggests tens of thousands of comets, which pummeled the earth in a giant swarm 3.85 billion years ago, are to thank.

This is the second recent study to suggest the oceans were created during the mysterious "Late Heavy Bombardment" (LHB) which sprayed the Earth and Moon with loads of meteors, comets or something about 3.85 billion years ago. Earlier this year,
an Imperial College London study said it was meteors during the LHB.

So was it comets or meteors? The Denmark study says comets due to iridium levels in Greenland rocks that date back to the time of the LHB. Iridium levels there are low, suggesting there weren't many asteroids back then. Asteroid impact craters typically have iridium levels around 18,000 parts per trillion, while comet craters only show 180 parts per trillion (that's because their mostly water and ice).

Sunday, August 09, 2009

City council race packed with global warming skeptics

In Spokane, WA eight of the twelve candidates running for city council won't acknowledge that humans are responsible for global warming. (Spokesman Review) Funny, 97 percent of scientists say they are. So where are these candidates getting their info from? That three percent of scientists, Pound360 supposes. Whatever, this is lunacy. How are we supposed to do anything about global warming (which the Pentagon acknowledges is a threat to national security) or rising levels of CO2 (which the EPA says is a danger to public health and welfare) if we can't agree on the cause?

Redheads are more sensitive to pain

"Researchers believe redheads are more sensitive to pain because of a mutation in a gene that affects hair color." (NY Times) This means they need more anesthesia when undergoing medical procedures, and sometimes, local anesthesia doesn't work. This may help explain why redheads are "twice as likely to avoid going to the dentist as people with other hair colors."

Where are the hurricanes of 2009?

El Nino conditions are making for a mild 2009 hurricane season. Forecasters were expecting about 12 storms this year, but so far there have been none. (National Geographic)

But before you get too comfortable, check this out. In 1992, an El Nino year, one of the most powerful hurricanes in recorded history (Andrew) slammed into the US coast. El Nino conditions "suppress hurricane formation in traditional spawning grounds… but powerful hurricanes can form elsewhere."

Pentagon: Global warming a threat to national security

Global warming is set to "pose profound strategic challenges to the United States," possibly prompting "military intervention to deal with the effect of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics." (NY Times)

There are a few ways the military would be affected. Melting polar ice caps will lead to a new shipping lane to defend. Seaside military installations will be at risk of rising sea levels, severe storms. And of course, the military could be called in to support areas ravaged by severe weather.

Interesting, the NY Times write-up uses "climate change" in the headline and opening paragraphs, but eventually says "global warming" around paragraph four.

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About Me

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.