The impact of global warming on snow pack

The impacts of a warming planet are widespread and diverse. The amount of snow the American west receives each year is a significant factor in how much water is available for agricultural irrigation and human consumption. A new report projects that by the middle of this century there will be an average 56 percent drop in the amount of water stored in peak snowpack in the McKenzie River watershed of the Oregon Cascade Range - and that similar impacts may be found on low-elevation maritime snow packs around the world. The findings by scientists at Oregon State University, which are based on a projected 3.6 degree Fahrenheit temperature increase, highlight the special risks facing many low-elevation, mountainous regions where snow often falls near the freezing point. In such areas, changing from snow to rain only requires a very modest rise in temperature.

Mussel Strength: Byssus Threads May Hold the Key to Better Glues and Biomedical Interfaces

With a name like 'mussel' one would expect that these bivalves must have one strong muscle to help them attach to rocks in order to prevent the risk of being torn by crashing waves and currents. But what helps these mussels stay attached to their home base is actually a collection of fine filaments known as byssus threads. And the secret to the strength of these byssus threads has now been unraveled by MIT research scientist Zhao Qin and professor of civil and environmental engineering Markus Buehler. Researchers found that the byssus threads are composed of a well-designed combination of soft, stretchy material on one end and much stiffer material on the other. Both materials, despite their different mechanical properties, are made of a protein closely related to collagen, a main constituent of skin, bone, cartilage and tendons.

Tar-sands Infractions in Canada Get Swept Under the Rug

A report released yesterday finds that enforcement of environmental infractions by companies in the Alberta oil sands are 17 times lower than similar infractions reported to the United State's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) The report, authored by the environmental nonprofit Global Forest Watch, looked at more than 15 years of data on recorded environmental mishaps by oil sand's companies, tracking the follow-up actions taken and the final verdict on fines.

Oil palm genome mapped, could boost yields, reduce pressure on rainforests

A team of Malaysian and American researchers have mapped the genome of the oil palm, the oilseed that is widely used as a cooking oil and in cosmetics, cleaning products, and processed foods. The genome sequencing, which was published today in the journal Nature, identified the gene responsible for regulating the crop's oil yield. The results could be used to boost palm oil yields, thus potentially reducing the need to clear wildlife-rich rainforests and carbon-dense peat swamps for plantations. The gene, dubbed the "Shell gene", controls "how the thickness of its shell correlates to fruit size and oil yield," according to Rajinder Singh, first author of the paper and a scientist at the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), a government agency.

EV charging stations becoming more common

As the race to the mass market continues it seems as though the thoughts of electric vehicle drivers are now turning towards charging stations in their area. If you read the motoring press you will see much focus upon battery journey capacity when in reality there are now more charging stations than ever before, with recharging times now falling dramatically, a 30 minutes recharge while you shop could be all it takes to get you home. It will be interesting to see as and when the EV industry moves on to promote charging stations more aggressively to the wider public. Initially there were concerns about electric vehicle technology, this then switched to battery technology and while it would be wrong to say these two issues have been resolved conclusively there is no doubt that great progress has been made.

Computer model gives early warning of crop failure

An international team of researchers has developed a computer model to predict global crop failures several months before harvest. Since 2008, widespread drought in crop-exporting regions has resulted in large increases in food prices on global commodity markets. With climatic extremes also expected to become more common, being able to predict global crop failures could help developing nations that are reliant on food imports — making them more resilient to spikes in food prices.

Long-term health of Congo forests threatened by human activity

Unsustainable hunting of forest elephants, gorillas, forest antelopes, and other seed-dispersers could have long-term impacts on the health and resilience of Congo Basin rainforests, warns a study published today in a special issue of the journal Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B. Conducting a review of more than 160 papers and reports on trends in wildlife populations, hunting, and land use in the Congo Basin, a team of researchers from Oxford University, the University of Queensland, the University of Stirling, and the Wildlife Conservation Society conclude that unless effective management plans are put into place, hunting pressure in the region is likely to increase, with knock-on ecological effects.

What does planet Earth look like from Saturn?

Photographs of our planet taken from orbit are spectacular. The ones that the Apollo astronauts took from lunar orbit are amazing. Did you ever wonder what Earth looks like from as far away as Saturn? Would it be visibly blue? This question has been answered by the cameras on NASA's Cassini spacecraft which captured this rare look at Earth and its moon from Saturn orbit on July 19, 2013. Taken while performing a large wide-angle mosaic of the entire Saturn ring system, narrow-angle camera images were deliberately inserted into the sequence in order to image Earth and its moon. This is the second time that Cassini has imaged Earth from within Saturn's shadow, and only the third time ever that our planet has been imaged from the outer solar system. Earth is the blue point of light on the left; the moon is fainter, white, and on the right. Both are seen here through the faint, diffuse E ring of Saturn. Earth was brighter than the estimated brightness used to calculate the narrow-angle camera exposure times. Hence, information derived from the wide-angle camera images was used to process this color composite.

Did Earthquake damage Iranian Nuclear Power Plant?

Arab Gulf states have raised concerns about the safety of an Iranian nuclear power station built in an earthquake-prone coastal area. The concerns about the Bushehr plant, which officially opened in 2011, were raised during a meeting of the 35-nation board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, last month (3-7 June). The reactor lies on the north-east coast of the Arabian Gulf. Any leak of radioactive material could therefore affect coastal regions of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman's Musandam Peninsula.

Should GM Lose Sleep Over Tesla?

Should GM fret at the thought of Tesla? The Big 3 automakers had sneered at electric vehicles (EVs) for years, but a slow shift is underway. Ford has its plug-ins with the Fusion Energi and C-MAX Energi; Chrysler, thanks to Fiat, has a little toe in the EV waters with the 500e on California roads; and GM touts the Volt and Spark EV.