Coral bleaching may be over-estimated

Problems with how scientists communicate with the media and in how reefs' health is assessed have created a skewed public understanding of coral bleaching, according to a new study. Coral bleaching is a widespread phenomenon in which corals lose their vivid colours. It's a major concern to conservationists, as it can be triggered by rapid environmental change and sometimes presages the death of whole reefs, along with the complex ecosystems they support. But the researchers suggest we need to take a more complex view of the matter - bleaching isn't always a bad thing. 'We go out to Indonesia twice a year, and in spring when the waters are warmest the reefs are always bleached,' says Dr David Suggett, a marine biologist at the University of Essex's Coral Reef Research Unit and co-author of the paper, published in Global Change Biology.

The Biggest Natural Disasters of 2010

The natural forces of the planet were in full swing this year, with some spectacular and devastating consequences. From the massive Haiti earthquake to a bevy of explosive volcano eruptions, 2010 saw its share of natural disasters across the planet. Here are some of the headline-grabbing natural disasters that OurAmazingPlanet and its sister sites covered in 2010.

Wheat Poised to Weather Climate Change

With climate change predicted to alter precipitation and raise temperatures in North American grain-growing regions by 3 to 4 degrees Celsius (about 5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, crops in the future will face dramatically different growing conditions than they do today. But a new study shows that over the last century and a half, North American wheat crops spread into regions with even wider temperature and precipitation differences than will arise over the next century. This analysis suggests it will be possible to adapt to new wheat-growing conditions.

Why Didn’t Obama Mention Landmark Science Legislation?

Just before Christmas, President Barack Obama celebrated a string of last-minute legislative accomplishments on tax cuts, gays in the military, the nuclear arms pact, the 9/11 responder bill, and food safety. But 2 weeks after saying that competition on innovation from overseas made this "our generation's Sputnik moment," the White House barely mentioned that key science legislation, the America COMPETES Act, which passed Congress last week amidst the flurry of lame-duck activity.

Northeast US digs out after blizzard

New Yorkers faced the task of clearing huge snowdrifts and thousands of stranded travelers looked forward to boarding flights on Tuesday after a blizzard slammed the U.S. Northeast the day after Christmas. New York City and surrounding areas were hit hardest by the storm, which swept up the Atlantic Coast on Sunday night and through the Monday morning commute, burying cities in knee-deep snow and unleashing winds of up to 59 mph. Treacherous road conditions caused by ice and wind were blamed for at least a dozen traffic deaths in several states. Financial markets operated normally on Monday but trading volumes were thinned by the storm, which also kept shoppers away from the malls on the day after Christmas, one of the busiest shopping times of the year.

New legislation places US at forefront of shark conservation

Last week the US Senate passed the Shark Conservation Act, which bolsters the prohibition of shark-finning in US waters and puts the US at the forefront of shark conservation.

The Economist Speculates on the Future of Vertical Farming

A recent Economist article asks the question of vertical farming, "Does it really stack up?" In theory, it's a win-win-win concept for the environment, feeding growing urban populations locally, and increasing space for agriculture without more land use. But the reality is that vertical farming is costly energy-wise due to the need for artificial lighting and insufficient space for renewable energy installations on skyscrapers. While many designs exist, no large scale vertical farm has been built yet. However, Will Allen's Growing Power did receive approval this year from the Milwaukee city planning commission to build a five story greenhouse, perhaps marking a step toward the fruition of the first vertical farm.

Caltech Reactor a Breakthrough for Sustainable Business

From wind turbines to solar photovoltaic cells, sustainable business ventures have produced a plethora of well-tested methods for converting renewable energy into electricity. Though much remains to be done when it comes to actually replacing coal and other fossil fuel-based electricity with a clean energy grid, there is little doubt that the technology to do so exists. A far greater challenge has been finding a truly renewable and sustainable energy source capable of replacing the petroleum-based liquid fuels used to power motor vehicles and aircraft. But scientists at the California Institute of Technology may finally be closing in on a solution.

Blizzard of 2010 hits NE US

A winter blizzard moved across the northeastern United States on Monday, disrupting air and rail travel and forcing motorists to deal with blowing snow and icy roads at the end of the busy Christmas weekend. The storm, the first widespread blizzard of the season, unleashed powerful winds as it moved northward up the coast, dumping up to 18 inches of sideways-blowing snow on some areas, with more expected ahead of the morning commute. With many Americans returning home after one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, the U.S. National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings from Maine to New Jersey with winter storm warnings in effect for nearly the entire East Coast.

Walgreens Goes Geothermal in Chicago

Walgreens (NYSE: WAG) announced the opening of a store in suburban Chicago that uses geothermal heating and cooling. The drugstore chain said it is the first in the industry to use the technology in a retail store. The location, in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Ill., is expected to reduce its energy usage by about 46 percent as a result of the geothermal system. Last year, The Village of Oak Park passed an ordinance requiring any retailer that wants to build a commercial property within its village limits to investigate geothermal energy.