Today's Extra Second Explained

The day will officially be a bit longer than usual on Tuesday, June 30, 2015, because an extra second, or "leap" second, will be added. "Earth's rotation is gradually slowing down a bit, so leap seconds are a way to account for that," said Daniel MacMillan of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Strictly speaking, a day lasts 86,400 seconds. That is the case, according to the time standard that people use in their daily lives - Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC. UTC is "atomic time" - the duration of one second is based on extremely predictable electromagnetic transitions in atoms of cesium. These transitions are so reliable that the cesium clock is accurate to one second in 1,400,000 years.

Can pollution be good for trees?

Trees that can tolerate soil pollution are also better at defending themselves against pests and pathogens. "It looks like the very act of tolerating chemical pollution may give trees an advantage from biological invasion", says Dr Frederic E. Pitre of the University of Montreal and one of the researchers behind the discovery. 

How Rainwater Could Save Rupees

Rainwater could save people in India a bucket of money, according to a new study by scientists looking at NASA satellite data. The study, partially funded by NASA’s Precipitation Measurement Missions, found that collecting rainwater for vegetable irrigation could reduce water bills, increase caloric intake and even provide a second source of income for people in India.

What California can learn for Israel on solving serious water shortages

California is still counting up the damage from the 2014 drought, which resulted in more than $200 million in losses in the dairy and livestock industry and a staggering $810 million in crop production. And analysts are predicting this year to be even worse.But many will admit that if there is any country on earth that knows how to trump a three-year (and counting) drought cycle and convert a wasteland to oasis, it’s Israel. For thousands of years, populations have been wresting a livelihood from the desert of what is now Israel, refining the techniques that would one day result in an agricultural paradise.

Study examines overall carbon cost of fuel from Canadian oil sands

Gasoline and diesel fuel extracted and refined from Canadian oil sands will release about 20 percent more carbon into the atmosphere over the oil’s lifetime than fuel from conventional crude sources in the Unied States, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory; the University of California, Davis; and Stanford University.The researchers used a life-cycle, or “well-to-wheels,” approach, gathering publicly available data on 27 large Canadian oil sands production facilities. The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found the additional carbon impact of Canadian oil sands was largely related to the energy required for extraction and refining.

California's Isla Rasa being abandoned by seabirds

Isla Rasa, in the Gulf of California, is renowned for its massive aggregations of nesting seabirds. Over 95 percent of the world populations of Elegant Terns and Heerman's Gulls concentrate unfailingly every year on this tiny island to nest. Ever since the phenomenon was described by L. W. Walker in 1953 the island has been a magnet for tourists, naturalists, filmmakers, and seabird researchers.During some years in the last two decades, however, the seabirds have arrived to the island in April, as they usually do, but leave soon after without nesting. The first event was the 1998 "El Niño," when oceanic productivity collapsed all along the eastern Pacific coast from Chile to California. But then colony desertion happened again in 2003, and since then it has recurred with increasing frequency in 2009, 2010, 2014, and 2015. Researchers and conservationists were asking themselves where are the birds going when they leave their ancestral nesting ground, and what is causing the abandonment of their historic nesting site.

Beware the Giant Toxic Algae Bloom

Humans and animals on the west coast should take care when near the water. One of the largest algae blooms of all time is producing dangerous toxins which now stretch from California to Alaska. The neurotoxin being released by the bloom is called domoic acid, and it can cause a series of problems for any mammal that comes into contact with it.

Beijing growing explosively, impacting weather and climate

A new study by scientists using data from NASA's QuikScat satellite has demonstrated a novel technique to quantify urban growth based on observed changes in physical infrastructure. The researchers used the technique to study the rapid urban growth in Beijing, China, finding that its physical area quadrupled between 2000 and 2009. A team led by Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, and Son Nghiem of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, used data from QuikScat to measure the extent of infrastructure changes, such as new buildings and roads, in China's capital. They then quantified how urban growth has changed Beijing's wind patterns and pollution, using a computer model of climate and air quality developed by Jacobson. 

Nepal deals with climate change

On 25 April, Nepal was hit by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. But as well as quakes, the country is also vulnerable to climate change, a combination that makes it harder to build resilience and risk preparedness. As mean temperatures rise in South Asia, the monsoon season has changed, leading to more-erratic rainfall and increasing the risk of floods and landslides that can claim lives and wreck food production. 

Using Invasive Species to Defeat Another Invasive Species

The forests of Denver, Colo., are currently under attack by an invasive insect species from Asia. So what is the scientists’ plan to stop this assault on trees? They’re going with the controversial move of introducing a second invasive species to destroy the first one. If it sounds like that children’s song about the old lady who swallowed the spider to catch the fly, that’s because it basically is. Unleashing a second non-native species might help to eradicate the first species, but it can also unleash a series of other consequences. Previous experiments in this invasive species vs. invasive species tactic have worked out with various degrees of success, as these four examples will show.