Thursday, October 22, 2009

Coral reef ‘on the brink of collapse,’ could cost us billions

Another report says the Earth’s coral reefs are “on the brink of collapse.” (New Scientist) This time it’s a European commission called “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity.” (The National Science Foundation reported a similar conclusion previously.)

So what? You don’t scuba dive, you don’t care about coral reefs. Well, global coral reefs save us $172 billion, every year, in economic output. Every year. How? “By attracting tourists, protecting commercial fish species and protecting coasts from storm surges.” One hundred and seventy-two billion dollars. Every year.

Discovery of 32 planets announced

Astronomers working a Chilean telescope announced 32 new exoplanets (planets outside our solar system). (CNN) The telescope is outfitted with an instrument called HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher), which detects the slight “wobble” in stars that can betray the presence of an orbiting planet. How good is HARPS? It’s detected 75 of the 400 confirmed exoplanet and 24 of the 28 super-Earths (large rocky planets… most exoplanets are believed to be gas giants like Jupiter, Saturn).

Appalachians may have triggered mass extinction

Are the Appalachian mountains responsible for the second-largest mass extinction in history? That’s the case says a team of Indiana University researchers. (New Scientist) After the mountain range stopped growing, the resulting increase in weathering would have caused a plunge in atmospheric CO2, leading to a rapid cooling of the planet. “For most species the temperature change was too sudden for them to adapt.”

Mystery disease wiping out African Crocs

The crocodile population has crashed from 1,000 to 400 in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, and experts don’t know why. (Scientific American) One thing the dead crocs have in common is hardened fat deposits in their tails, lots of it, so much they’re unable to hunt. Researchers are finding similar hardening in the park’s fish, too.

Is the culprit something natural? Microorganisms (dinoflagellates or cyanobacteria) may be, for some reason, “releasing toxins similar to those that cause red tides in marine environments.”

Or is it something unnatural? Upstream from the park, there are “hundreds of coal mining operations… where crocodiles have disappeared almost completely.” There’s a dam, too, which may be slowing the flow of water in the crocs habitat enough for toxins to build up.

Jupiter moon may have ocean with enough oxygen to support life

Astronomers have suspected Europa (a moon of Jupiter) had an ocean sloshing beneath its icy surface, and early studies suggested that ocean wouldn’t have much oxygen. But a new University of Tucson study projects Europa’s oceans “about 100 times more oxygen than previous models indicated.” (Wired) So what? That’s enough oxygen to support 3 million tons of fish.

More drastic measures needed to save endangered species

Recently, we learned current CO2 targets are inadequate to save our coastlines (the way we know and love them), now it seems conservation targets are too low to save endangered species. (New Scientist) According to a University of Adelaide study, “minimum viable population size (MVP) -- where a species has a 90 per cent chance of surviving the next 100 years -- comes in at thousands rather than hundreds of individuals.”

Alien snakes threaten endangered US wildlife, people

People that lost (or let go) their exotic pet snakes (like Burmese and African pythons) have created a serious problem in Florida. The invasive, alien species (which grow up to 20 feet long and 200 pounds) have been caught devouring endangered species and people (a two-year-old kid was killed earlier this year by a python). (Wired)

There are nine species of giant, exotic snake on the loose. Five of them have been classified as a high risk to US ecosystems, according to a USGS study. Don’t care? You don’t live in Florida? Okay, well, “a few species could potentially spread throughout many of the southern states.” Still don’t care? You live in the city? Fine, well, “the hardy animals tolerate urban and suburban environments quite well.”

Monday, October 12, 2009

Asteroid with water ice on the surface may be first

Asteroids are rocks. Comets are ice cubes. Right? Maybe not entirely. “Two independent teams have found what may be the first direct evidence of water ice on the surface of an asteroid.” (New Scientist) The discovery may help explain how Earth ended up with so much water, and ultimately life. Some suggest an awesome hail of comets, billions of years ago. Others experts say geologic processes may have played a key role. Now asteroids? Pound360 is betting on a combination of all three.

Madagascar’s remarkable biodiversity threatened by gangs

On the island nation of Madagascar, 80 percent of the plants and animals can’t be found anywhere else on Earth. Remarkable. Precious. But political unrest has led to the slaughter of endangered species, the logging of rare trees by “logging gangs and bushmeat hunters… pushing some to the brink of extinction.” (New Scientist)

‘Otherwise distinguished’ physicist say Large Hadron Collider on a suicide mission

This is pretty nuts. You know the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), right? Please do. It’s a pretty big deal. Mainly the LHC is designed to detect the theorized Higgs boson particle, which among other things could explain why gravity works. But get this, “a pair of otherwise distinguished physicists” suggests the Higgs “might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather.” That’s pretty nuts. Read more at the New York Times.

Asteroids discovered with comet-like tails

Scientists have detected asteroids with comet-like tails, but they can’t explain why. (New Scientist) The asteroids were too far away for spectral analysis when discovered (back in 2006), but astronomers believe what they’re seeing are water-bearing asteroids. So what? Well, there are no confirmed asteroids with water ice, so that would be a first. Pretty cool.

Recent research
supports the idea of icy asteroids.

Vegetarian spider the first of its kind

So there are 40,000 spider species known to science. A new discovery suggest one of those is a vegetarian. Kind of. Scientists observing the Bagheera kiplingi spider in southeastern Mexico and northwest Costa Rica found the creature lives primarily on the nutrient-rich buds of acacia plants, and the occasional ant larvae (so it’s not really a vegetarian). (National Geographic)

Controversial theory says third of dinosaurs never existed

A pair of scientists think we’ve over-counted the number of dinosaur species since we didn’t know enough about how they developed through life. (National Geographic) For example, scientists may have been counting infants, juveniles and adults of the same species as separate species since they seemed so different.

“Like birds and some other living animals, the juveniles went through dramatic physical changes during adulthood,” say paleontologists Mark Goodwin (University of California) and Jack Horner (Montana State University).

CO2 targets inadequate to save coastlines

Generally speaking, governments are aiming for atmospheric CO2 levels of 450ppm, but that isn't low enough to preserve the environment we know and love, according to a new, more precise study of CO2 levels over the past 20 million years. (BBC) Looking at the historical record, the last time CO2 levels lingered around 450ppm, sea levels were 80-130 feet higher and temperatures were 5-11 degrees warmer.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Here's how much carbon 'green roofs' can scrub

Not only do green roofs look cool (that's where you put grass, moss or whatever on your roof), but every square yard of green roof scrubs about half-a-pound of carbon out of the atmosphere each year. (New Scientist) Doesn't sound like much. But if the entire city of Detroit converted to green roofs, the resulting carbon offset would be equal to pulling 10,000 SUVs and trucks off the road each year.

Loss of big predators causing ‘major economic and ecological disruptions’

Oh, humans. You think you’re so brilliant, powerful when you wipe out big, nasty predators like sharks, wolves and lions. But check this out, genius. By wiping out big predators, research shows a surge in smaller “mesopredators” that are causing “major economic and ecological disruptions.” (ScienceDaily)

Like what? Killing off wolves is good for ranchers and frightened campers, but it’s really good for coyote populations, once kept in check by them big, scary wolves. Controling the coyotes has been “hugely expensive”, with a price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Bummer.

In the ocean, wiping out sharks has led to a surge in the ray population, “which in turn caused the collapse of a bay scallop fishery and both ecological and economic losses.”

Oldest hominid fossil shows link between life in trees, walking upright

Originally discovered in 1992, researchers have confirmed the fossil known as “Ardipithecus ramidus” is our oldest ancestor (compared to Australopithecus afarensis, or Lucy, which is 3.2 million years old). (NY Times) “Ardi” was actually discovered just 140 miles from where Lucy turned up.

Is Ardi the missing link between monkeys and people? No. Genetic studies suggest that creature lived six million years ago. What Ardi shows (through her pelvis, teeth, etc) is the transition of hominids from life in the trees to walking upright (Lucy is fully adapted to walking upright).

Pound360 Archive

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.