LED Bulb Challenge ending soon!

The most inefficient light bulbs may now be off the market, in response to new federal standards, but nearly 70% of light bulb sockets in the U.S. still contain an inefficient bulb. Retailers across the country are stepping up to help change that, as part of the Energy Star LED Bulb Challenge.

Latest species discovery: the littlest crayfish from down under

Hidden in one of Australia's most developed and fastest growing areas lives one of the world's smallest freshwater crayfish species. Robert B. McCormack the Team Leader for the Australian Crayfish Project described the new species belonging to the genus Gramastacus, after 8 years of research in the swamps and creeks of coastal New South Wales, Australia. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Why Are Scientists Genetically Modifying Trees?

The Lorax may speak for the trees, but even he might want to stop to listen to researchers' new plans to genetically alter trees. What may outwardly seem like disconcerting news just might change how paper is made for the better. The engineered trees would allow manufacturers to create paper significantly easier. Moreover, it's not just the paper industry that benefits from this change – the effects would be advantageous to the entire planet.

Desert absorption helps curtail CO2 levels

Researchers led by a Washington State University biologist have found that arid areas, among the biggest ecosystems on the planet, take up an unexpectedly large amount of carbon as levels of carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere. The findings give scientists a better handle on the earth's carbon budget – how much carbon remains in the atmosphere as CO2, contributing to global warming, and how much gets stored in the land or ocean in other carbon-containing forms.

How the Zebra got its Stripes

Why zebras have black and white stripes is a question that has intrigued scientists and spectators for centuries. Evolutionary theories include a form of camouflage, a mechanism of heat management, and disrupting predatory attack by confusing carnivores. In order to better understand the black and white stripe evolution, a research team led by the University of California, Davis, has now examined this riddle systematically, and what they found is that biting flies, including horseflies and tsetse flies, play a major role as the evolutionary driver for zebra stripes. The team mapped the geographic distributions of the seven different species of zebras, horses and asses, and of their subspecies, noting the thickness, locations, and intensity of their stripes on several parts of their bodies. Their next step was to compare these animals' geographic ranges with different variables, including woodland areas, ranges of large predators, temperature, and the geographic distribution of glossinid (tsetse flies) and tabanid (horseflies) biting flies. They then examined where the striped animals and these variables overlapped.

Nutritional quality of food crops decreases as CO2 levels rise

A field test has demonstrated for the first time that elevated levels of carbon dioxide restrict plants' ability to transform nitrate into proteins, indicating that the nutritional quality of food crops is at risk as climate change intensifies.

Badger Culls in England Will Not Expand

This is great news for most of the badger population of England. Plans to roll out the controversial badger cull pilots nationwide across England have been dropped by the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, after an independent report found the shoots were not effective or humane. The pilot programs were run in Gloucestershire and Somerset in an effort to stop the spread of Bovine Tuberculosis among cattle, and the environment department's original plan was to announce up to 10 new cull areas each year.

The Melting Arctic

As the Eastern US ends what seems to have been the most severe winter in memory, it is hard to remember that the global climate is still warming. A severe winter in a region doesn't mean that the entire hemisphere had an extreme winter. And it really doesn't imply much about long term trends. A key indicator of long term trends is the length of the Arctic melt season. A new study by researchers from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA shows that the length of the melt season for Arctic sea ice is growing by several days each decade. An earlier start to the melt season is allowing the Arctic Ocean to absorb enough additional solar radiation in some places to melt as much as four feet of the Arctic ice cap’s thickness. "The Arctic is warming and this is causing the melt season to last longer," said Julienne Stroeve, a senior scientist at NSIDC, Boulder and lead author of the new study, which has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. "The lengthening of the melt season is allowing for more of the sun’s energy to get stored in the ocean and increase ice melt during the summer, overall weakening the sea ice cover."

Smog alerts for Europe

The UK news media has been buzzing with reports of air pollution alerts associated, at least in part, with the long-range transport of dust from the Sahara. Colleagues from Africa have asked why we in the UK are worried about the health effects of a relatively rare occurrence of this long-range dust all the way across Europe, when African countries experience dust storms of much higher intensity almost daily at some times of year.

European Union Gets 23.4% of Electricity From Renewables

According to official statistics from Eurobserv’ER, 23.4 percent of the electricity in the European Union came from renewable energy sources in 2012. The total output for 2012 has been estimated at 763.5 TW. This represents an important increase from 2011, when these energy sources brought "only" 20.4 percent of total electricity.