Record Radiation in South America

Astrobiologists from the United States and Germany recorded the highest known level of solar UV radiation to reach Earth's surface. This was around 10 years ago. On December 29, 2003, the UV Index (UVI) peaked, reaching the blistering number of 43.3 over the Andes Mountains in Bolivia. To put this in context, a beachgoer in the United States would expect a UVI of 8 or 9 on a summer day. Even with an 8 or a 9, one may not escape the day without sunburn. Nonetheless, it has taken scientists 10 years to detail a report of this data while taking into account all of the variables and anomalies monitored from an international network of dosimeters – or Eldonets (European Light Dosimeter Network) – that measure UV radiation worldwide. This system is comprised of more than 100 stations across 5 continents to account for variation in the atmosphere above each station.

The Amazon: A Savannah before a Forest

The Amazon is the largest tropical forest on the planet, covering about 6.5 million square kilometers, although much has been lost (around 18-20 percent) in recent decades. The great forest also, very likely, contains the highest biodiversity of species on land; for example a single hectare in Yasuni National Park contains more tree species than all of the U.S. and Canada combined. Yet new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) finds that quite recently—just 500 years ago—a significant portion of the southern Amazon was not the tall-canopied forest it is today, but savannah.

2014 Natural Disaster Damage and Death Toll Well Below Average

Extreme weather events and other natural disasters claimed the lives of more than 2,700 people and caused around US $42 billion in damage worldwide in the first half of 2014, but this was well below the first half of last year and a 10-year average, according to new research from reinsurer Munich Re. However, the briefing report warns that towards the end of the year the natural climate phenomenon El Niño may impact regions differently in terms of the number and intensity of weather extremes.

New Study Quantifies Causes of the “Urban Heat Island” Effect

A new Yale-led study quantifies for the first time the primary causes of the "urban heat island" (UHI) effect, a common phenomenon that makes the world's urban areas significantly warmer than surrounding countryside and may increase health risks for city residents. In an analysis of 65 cities across North America, researchers found that variation in how efficiently urban areas release heat back into the lower atmosphere — through the process of convection — is the dominant factor in the daytime UHI effect. This finding challenges a long-held belief that the phenomenon is driven principally by diminished evaporative cooling through the loss of vegetation.

Our newest Astronauts are fruit flies!

Becoming an Astronaut is a big deal! Men and women selected to go into space are very carefully chosen. They go through rigorous medical evaluations to make sure they are healthy and that their bodies can withstand the forces of liftoff and re-entry. And they go through months and months of training to prepare them for their first space flight. Now NASA is sending untested, untrained astronauts into space. Of course, they are not human, they are fruit flies! Fruit flies are bug eyed and spindly, they love rotten bananas, and, following orders from their pin-sized brains, they can lay hundreds of eggs every day. We have a lot in common. Genetically speaking, people and fruit flies are surprisingly alike, explains biologist Sharmila Bhattacharya of NASA's Ames Research Center. "About 77% of known human disease genes have a recognizable match in the genetic code of fruit flies, and 50% of fly protein sequences have mammalian analogues."

Cell Phone Conservation

Some of the world's most endangered forests may soon benefit from better protection, thanks to discarded treasures from the consumer society - mobile phones. A Californian technology startup, Rainforest Connection (RFCx), has developed a tool - made from recycled smartphones - that it says will pilot new ways to monitor and stop illegal logging and animal poaching throughout Africa's equatorial forests. RFCx has formed a partnership with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), an international scientific charity that works for the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. The two organisations are planning to install the anti-deforestation, anti-poaching technology in Cameroon this year.

Why is the US Throwing Away $1 Billion Worth of Fish Every Year?

You've probably already seen the grim news about overfishing: scientists predict that world food fisheries could collapse by 2050, if current trends continue. That's because 3/4 of the world's fish stocks are being harvested faster than they can reproduce; 80 percent are already fully exploited or in decline; and in addition 90 percent of all large predatory fish are already gone. But the picture gets worse: every year, the U.S. fishing industry throws about 2 billion pounds worth of fish back into the water. A report released last month by Oceana estimates that this amounts to an annual loss of one billion dollars.

How Warming Antarctic Climate Affects Marine Life

A long-term study of the links between climate and marine life along the rapidly warming West Antarctic Peninsula reveals how changes in physical factors such as wind speed and sea-ice cover send ripples up the food chain, with impacts on everything from single-celled algae to penguins.

Condors vs. the NRA

Recently scientists from the Zoological Society of London and Yale University assessed the world's 9,993 bird species according to their evolutionary distinctiveness and global extinction risk. At number three on the list is the Critically Endangered California condor (Gymnogyps cali­fornianus) - weighing as much as 25 pounds, standing over four foot tall, with a wingspan of almost 10 feet, it is the largest land bird in North America.

For some birds, family matters.

Extraordinary co-operation by sociable weavers, which work together to build the largest nests in the world, is motivated by family ties, say scientists. New research, published in Ecology Letters, says the birds, which are found throughout southern Africa, are more likely to maintain the communal part of the nest if they have relatives living nearby.