Ancient farming method may help conserve savannahs

A fire-free farming method practiced by early inhabitants of the Amazonian savannahs could help inform efforts to conserve and rehabilitate these important ecosystems around the world, a study has found.

Ontario Lacus

A new study analyzing data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft suggests that the lake, known as Ontario Lacus, behaves most similarly to what we call a salt pan on Earth. A salt pan is formed where liquid pools were. A salt pan would be a lake or a pond if it were located in a climate where the rate of evaporation were not faster than the rate of water precipitation, i.e., if it were not in a desert. If the water is unable to drain into the ground, it remains on the surface until it evaporates, leaving behind whatever minerals were dissolved. A group led by Thomas Cornet of the Université de Nantes, France, a Cassini associate, found evidence for long-standing channels etched into the lake bed within the southern boundary of the depression. This suggests that Ontario Lacus, previously thought to be completely filled with liquid hydrocarbons, could actually be a depression that drains and refills from below, exposing liquid areas ringed by materials like saturated sand or mudflats.

Ocean Methane

Methane can be released to the atmosphere from a variety of natural and and made sources. The fragile and rapidly changing Arctic region is home to large reservoirs of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. As Earth's climate warms, the methane, frozen in reservoirs stored in Arctic tundra soils or marine sediments, is vulnerable to being released into the atmosphere, where it can add to global warming. Now a multi-institutional study by Eric Kort of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., has uncovered a surprising and potentially important new source of Arctic methane: the ocean itself.

The Price is Right for Wind Power

Generating wind energy is more than twice as cheap as solar photovoltaic (PV) energy production, a study of alternative energy in six developing countries has found. The findings, published in Nature Climate Change last week (15 April), could help inform global debates on financing initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries.

McGreen, the Greening of McDonald’s

Can McDonald's and "Best of Green" be in the same sentence? At first it sounds like the mockumentary sequel to Best in Show. After all, those big golden arches are not only easy to see from the road, they are still to critics a figurative symbol of a dubious food supply, sprawl and our disposable society. The company is slow to change, too. Not only does it take a new item forever to appear on the menu, but ideas to make the company a more sustainable company are slow to catch on even if they are still just a dream. But McDonald's is changing. More of its locations are actually pleasant and even edgy, have wifi and are not the drab plastic prisons in which you spent your 1980s teenage years. On other fronts some catching up is still in order, as with its hazardous attempts at social media campaigns that have left its marketers’ faces as red as those strawberry sundaes.

Drinking Soda Increases the Risk of Stroke

Some of the most heavily marketed drinks around the world are sodas, ranging from your average cola to flavored colas to fruity colas. Their sweet sugary taste is irresistible for some, adding to their addictive quality. Unfortunately, sodas are perhaps the most unhealthy drink, besides alcohol. With the rise of obesity and diabetes around the world, sodas are taking a lot of blame. A new study from Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute and Harvard University has found that sodas also contribute to the risk of stroke. This also includes low-calorie soda.

Metal Oxides

A semiconductor is a material with electrical conductivity intermediate in magnitude between that of a conductor and an insulator. Semiconductor materials are the foundation of modern electronics, including radio, computers, telephones, and many other devices. Such devices include transistors and digital and analog integrated circuits. Transition metal oxides also fill this category of materials. But these materials are also relatively rare and expensive. Harnessing the energy of sunlight can be as simple as tuning the optical and electronic properties of metal oxides at the atomic level by making an artificial crystal or super-lattice sandwich, says a Binghamton University researcher in a new study published in the journal Physical Review B which uses more ordinary and commonly available metals.

Global Warming in a Nutshell

Occasionally it's good to step back from the details of global warming science and offer non-technical visitors a "Global Warming 101" perspective, sort of like The Big Picture, but starting from the very beginning and touching on many aspects of this broad topic.

Car emissions claim more UK lives than road accidents, study finds

Emissions from cars, lorries, planes and power stations causes 13,000 premature deaths in the UK each year, according to a new study by MIT researchers. The research team analyzed data from 2005, the most recent year for which information is available. They found that among the various sources of emissions in the country, car and truck exhaust was the single greatest contributor to premature death, affecting some 3,300 people per year. By comparison, the researchers note, fewer than 3,000 Britons died in road accidents in 2005.

Are straw bales the future of sustainable building?

Straw bale is a low impact, low carbon building material making strides towards mainstream acceptance. So is it about time we took notice? As designers and homeowners look for imaginative ways to help reduce their carbon footprint in the campaign against climate change, straw bale could become a new tool in the building industry's armoury.