Why are diesel cars so popular in Europe?

An estimated annual 'tax gap' subsidy of some €16 billion for diesel over petrol has made Europe the world's largest market for diesel cars - but the Volkswagen scandal has put the national tax schemes supporting this industry at risk.“There is no reason to keep subsidising this sector," Carlos Calvo, policy analyst at Transport & Environment, told EurActiv on Monday (26 October). The efficiency of petrol-fuelled cars has improved significantly in recent years, while the diesel industry has reduced its nitrogen-oxide emissions only very slowly.

Declines in marine, large animals disrupt Earth's nutrient cycle

A new study reveals that in the past large land animals, whales, seabirds and fish played a vital role in recycling nutrients from the ocean depths, spreading them far and wide across the globe and taking them deep inland. However, the paper says massive declines in their populations coupled with the extinction of most of Earth's large mammals have disrupted this efficient system of recycling important nutrients, particularly phosphorous. The researchers calculate that the ability of whales and terrestrial megafauna to transport nutrients around the globe has been reduced to just 6% of their global capacity before mass extinctions and population declines. 

Oceans need more protected areas

Despite global efforts to increase the area of the ocean that is protected, only four per cent of it lies within marine protected areas (MPAs), according to a University of British Columbia study.UBC Institute for Ocean and Fisheries researchers found that major swaths of the ocean must still be protected to reach even the most basic global targets.In 2010, representatives from nearly 200 countries met in Nagoya, Japan, and adopted the United Nations' Aichi Targets, in a bid to stem the rapid loss of biodiversity. The countries committed to protecting at least 10 per cent of the ocean by 2020.

Disease-carrying ticks hitchhike into US on migratory birds

Researchers who examined thousands of migratory birds arriving in the United States from Central and South America have determined that three percent carry ticks species not normally present in the United States. Some of the birds, they say, carry disease-causing Ricksettia ticks.

Waterfalls are more threatened than you might think

More than 100 years ago today, a 63-year-old Michigan schoolteacher took the first ride ever down Niagara Falls in a barrel. Annie Edson Taylor may have survived, but the future will tell if the waterfalls available for such (now-illegal) escapades will. Here are a few threats to waterfalls we can’t ignore if we want to preserve these natural wonders.1. DroughtLast year, Yosemite Falls went dry for five months. While the falls have always been ephemeral, meaning they flow seasonally, California’s severe drought had stopped them two months earlier than usual in June until December rains started them again a month late. In The Atlantic, outdoorsman and author Michael Lanza wondered if the world’s sixth-highest falls would actually disappear, with climate change leading to less and less snowfall. Snowpack in the Cascade Range has already decreased 15 to 30 percent in the past 70 years.

Want to know how healthy the air quality is today in your area? There's an app for that!

Yareli Sanchez lives in Los Angeles and jogs regularly, but she never used to know if the day’s air quality was bad until after she had already set out for a run — her chest would tighten and it would become hard to breathe. She knew poor air quality triggered her asthma, but she didn’t have a convenient way to check the day’s pollution levels.For the past few months, instead of using trial-and-error, she’s checked UCLA’s new AirForU app, which uses GPS data to give her local air quality ratings. The app is useful for anyone in the U.S. who sees a hazy skyline and wonders how safe it is to breathe outside air.“I depend on the AirForU app now, and I use it every time I plan on running,” said Sanchez, who helped test it before its launch. “The app is really convenient for helping me manage my asthma and minimize my exposure to pollution.”

Artificial lung to help study air pollution effects

Air pollution is one of the leading causes of lung cancer and respiratory diseases, responsible for one in eight global deaths, according to the World Health Organisation.However, researchers will soon be able to develop new treatments for such diseases with a life-sized, artificial human lung created at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel. It is the first diagnostic tool for understanding in real time how tiny particles move and behave in the deepest part of the human lungs, the alveolar tissue. 

Was the Bronze Age plague really spread by flies?

When the plague swept through Europe in 1665, no one could figure out how the devastating disease spread. But after a tailor in the small village of Eyam in central England died that September, people eventually put two and two together. He had received a parcel of cloth infested with fleas just 4 days before dying of bubonic plague. Within a month, five other villagers had succumbed, and the local vicar convinced the town to voluntarily put itself under quarantine. It eventually became clear that it was fleas, probably on rats, that spread the plague so far and so quickly.But now it appears that the plague did not always infect fleas—and the disease may not have always spread so rapidly or been as devastating. A new study of ancient DNA from the teeth of 101 Bronze Age skeletons has found that seven people living 2800 to 5000 years ago in Europe and Asia were infected with Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes the plague. 

Newly discovered large asteroid will make flyby on Halloween

A large near-Earth asteroid named 2015 TB145, discovered on October 10 by the University of Hawaiʻi’s Pan-STARRS1 Telescope atop Haleakala, Maui, will pass close to Earth on October 31. The asteroid has a diameter of approximately 400 meters (1,300 feet), and will pass within approximately 480,000 km (300,000 miles) of Earth.  There is no possibility of this object impacting Earth.The asteroid is already being studied by telescopes across the planet, and soon will be targeted by radar observations that will look for details as small as 2 meters (6.5 feet) on its surface. The radar observations will directly measure its size and shape, and determine whether the object has any satellites.

NASA Spots the 'Great Pumpkin'; Get ready to see a Halloween Asteroid!

NASA scientists are tracking the upcoming Halloween flyby of asteroid 2015 TB145 with several optical observatories and the radar capabilities of the agency's Deep Space Network at Goldstone, California. The asteroid will fly past Earth at a safe distance slightly farther than the moon's orbit on Oct. 31 at 10:05 a.m. PDT (1:05 p.m. EDT). Scientists are treating the flyby of the estimated 1,300-foot-wide (400-meter) asteroid as a science target of opportunity, allowing instruments on "spacecraft Earth" to scan it during the close pass.Asteroid 2015 TB145 was discovered on Oct. 10, 2015, by the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS-1 (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) on Haleakala, Maui, part of the NASA-funded Near-Earth Object Observation (NEOO) Program. According to the catalog of near-Earth objects (NEOs) kept by the Minor Planet Center, this is the closest currently known approach by an object this large until asteroid 1999 AN10, at about 2,600 feet (800 meters) in size, approaches at about 1 lunar distance (238,000 miles from Earth) in August 2027.