Month: June 2012

  • Longest Day in the North…Shortest in the South

    As most people on Earth celebrate the Summer Solstice yesterday by enjoying a few extra minutes of sunlight, our fellow global brethren in the South celebrated their shortest day of the year. Typically the solstice is on June 21st, but 2012 was a leap year so it is one day before. For those poor unfortunate souls studying the ice in Antarctica, June 20th was the absolute darkest day of the year. However, if you were to ask the team of British researchers working for the British Antarctic Survey, it was not such a gloomy day. For them and other nationalities at the south pole, it was holiday, started a hundred years ago by Captain Robert Falcon Scott. It was Midwinter’s Day, and revelers celebrated the fact that from this point on, the nights will only be getting shorter.

  • Bonobos Join Chimps as Closest Human Relatives

    Chimpanzees now have to share the distinction of being our closest living relative in the animal kingdom. An international team of researchers has sequenced the genome of the bonobo for the first time, confirming that it shares the same percentage of its DNA with us as chimps do. The team also found some small but tantalizing differences in the genomes of the three species—differences that may explain how bonobos and chimpanzees don’t look or act like us even though we share about 99% of our DNA.

  • Can Making Rum be Sustainable? Serrallés thinks so!

    Rum production produces rather nasty wastewater which needs to be disposed of some how. The Serrallés Rum Distillery in Ponce, Puerto Rico produces DonQ, its main brand of rum, which is the most popular rum in Puerto Rico. It is one of the largest rum distilleries in the Caribbean with an annual output capacity of 15 million proof gallons. The company has spent a decade and $16 million on a new filtration system. Serrallés used to dump its wastewater into nearby fields, but during rainy season the waste would run off and the distillery would have to shut down when flooding starting which cost the company $200,000 a year. A Fast Company article claims that Serrallés has turned the “$75 million distillery into one of the cleanest in the world.”

  • Very Fine Particulates

    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just proposed updates to its national air quality standards for harmful fine particle pollution, including soot (known as PM2.5). These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and have been potentially linked to a wide range of serious health effects, including premature death, heart attacks, and strokes, as well as acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma among children. A federal court ruling required EPA to update the standard based on best available science. The current proposal, which meets that requirement, builds on steps already taken by the EPA to slash dangerous pollution in communities across the country. Thanks to these steps, 99 percent of U.S. counties are projected to meet the proposed standard without any additional action.

  • Rabid Vampire Bats

    Vampire bats are bats whose food source is blood, a dietary trait called hematophagy. The very concept because of how humans perceive blood sucking varmints creates an image of horror. Only 0.5% of bats carry rabies. However, of the few cases of rabies reported in the United States every year, most are caused by bat bites. However, no vampire bat species are known to live in the United States. The highest occurrence of rabies in vampire bats occurs in the large populations found in South America. A new study of rabies in vampire bats in Peru has found that culling bats—a common rabies control strategy—does not reduce rates of rabies exposure in bat colonies, and may even be counterproductive. The findings may eventually help public health and agriculture officials in Peru develop more effective methods for preventing rabies infections in humans and livestock, according to a team of scientists from the United States and Peru led by Daniel Streicker, a postdoctoral associate at the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology.

  • Ancient Leaf Wax Tells the Story of Plant Life in Antarctica

    The Southern Continent is so cold, that no substantial plant life can possibly survive, but this was not always so. A university-led study with participation from the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), has found evidence showing that ancient Antarctica was much warmer and wetter than previously believed. Sediment core samples were drilled beneath the Ross Ice Shelf, where they found remnants of plant leaf wax from 15 to 20 million years ago. From these remnants, the scientists could calculate that Antarctic temperatures used to be 20 degrees warmer than today and precipitation was higher. This glimpse into Antarctica’s ancient past will help give clues as to what to expect in a warmer future.

  • Findings and Solutions in the Living Planet Report 2012

    The WWF’s Living Planet Report (LPR) is the world’s leading science-based analysis on the health of the Earth and the impact of human activity. The ninth biennial publication released in May, reviews the cumulative pressures humans are putting on the planet and the consequent decline in the health of the forests, rivers and oceans. Its key finding is that humanity’s demands are exceeding the planet’s capacity to sustain us.

  • Studying Soil to Predict the Future of Earth’s Atmosphere

    When it comes to understanding climate change, it’s all about the dirt. A new study by researchers at BYU, Duke and the USDA finds that soil plays an important role in controlling the planet’s atmospheric future.

  • CO2 Plus Energy Equals Organic Chemicals

    Liquid Light, a New Jersey startup company, claims to be able to turn carbon dioxide into fuels and industrial chemicals. The innovative technology behind the process is simple: Take CO2 and mix it in a water-filled chamber with an electrode and a catalyst. The ensuing chemical reaction converts CO2 into a new organic molecule, methanol, which can be used as a fuel, an industrial solvent or a starting material for the manufacture of other chemicals. What is most promising about this technology is that it maybe way to use Carbon Dioxide that might be otherwise emitted to the air or be sequestered in the ground or ocean

  • Hot Streak Continues: May 2012 Second Warmest on Record

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, has released its State of the Climate Global Analysis for May 2012. This analysis looks at weather recordings from monitoring points all around the world. Temperatures from the last month were compared to baseline levels which is the average taken from 1961-1990. For most of the planet, both over land and over sea, southern and northern hemisphere, temperatures were higher. In fact, they were the 2nd highest of all time, just below the all-time record set in 2010.