Bicycle ownership going downhill

Bicycle ownership around the world is declining amid rising wealth levels and increased use of motorised vehicles in developing countries, a study has found.Four out of ten households on the planet own a bike, according to a paper based on surveys from 150 countries between 1989 and 2012. But the growing popularity and affordability of motorised transport, such as cars and scooters, “have disfavoured bicycle use”, the researchers say.China in particular experienced a collapse in bike ownership rates since 1992, when 97 per cent of households had bikes. However, this dropped to 63 per cent by 2009, the study shows, with ownership rates in most other countries either flat or decreasing.In Togo, bike ownership has remained stable at around 34 per cent of households between 1998 and 2010, but in Paraguay ownership rates dropped from 57 per cent of households in 1996 to 39 per cent in 2002, the paper states.These trends could be expected as the number of motor vehicles per person has increased over the past decade at a rate “never seen before in human history”, in particular in China, India and parts of Africa, says Marc Shotten, a transport specialist at the World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facility in the United States.

Smart water management could help produce much more food

Improved agricultural water management could halve the global food gap by 2050 and buffer some of the harmful climate change effects on crop yields. For the first time, scientists investigated systematically the worldwide potential to produce more food with the same amount of water by optimizing rain use and irrigation. They found the potential has previously been underestimated. Investing in crop water management could substantially reduce hunger while at the same time making up for population growth. However, putting the findings into practice would require specific local solutions, which remains a challenge.

The differences between organic and non-organic milk and meat

A new study has shown that both organic milk and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced products. Analysing data from around the world, the team led by Newcastle University, reviewed 196 papers on milk and 67 papers on meat and found clear differences between organic and conventional milk and meat, especially in terms of fatty acid composition, and the concentrations of certain essential minerals and antioxidants.

What is your dog's IQ?

Researchers in Scotland are attempting to come up with an easy, fast and reliable canine IQ test. This comes after an initial study showed that much like in humans, intelligence in dogs varies considerably. Similarly to human IQ tests, the canine IQ test used spatial patterns and problem solving to determine an underlying intelligence. To administer the test as fairly as possible the researchers recruited 68 border collies raised on farms in Scotland. They also tested to make sure the dogs had a similar upbringing. They then set about constructing a series of detour and choice-based tests. To ensure a fair ranking, all the testers wore the same outfit and presented a similar demeanor to all the dogs.

Rocks have growth rings too and they can help us learn about past climates

Scientists have found a new way to tease out signals about Earth's climatic past from soil deposits on gravel and pebbles, adding an unprecedented level of detail to the existing paleoclimate record and revealing a time in North America's past when summers were wetter than normal.A research team led by soil scientists at the University of California, Berkeley obtained data about precipitation and temperature in North America spanning the past 120,000 years, which covers glacial and interglacial periods during the Pleistocene Epoch. They did this at thousand-year resolutions -- a blink of an eye in geologic terms -- through a microanalysis of the carbonate deposits that formed growth rings around rocks, some measuring just 3 millimeters thick.

Bad air quality is deadly

New research shows that more than 5.5 million people die prematurely every year due to household and outdoor air pollution. More than half of deaths occur in two of the world's fastest growing economies, China and India.Power plants, industrial manufacturing, vehicle exhaust and burning coal and wood all release small particles into the air that are dangerous to a person's health. New research, presented today at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), found that despite efforts to limit future emissions, the number of premature deaths linked to air pollution will climb over the next two decades unless more aggressive targets are set."Air pollution is the fourth highest risk factor for death globally and by far the leading environmental risk factor for disease," said Michael Brauer, a professor at the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health in Vancouver, Canada. "Reducing air pollution is an incredibly efficient way to improve the health of a population."

Land surfaces are storing more water slowing sea level rise

New measurements from a NASA satellite have allowed researchers to identify and quantify, for the first time, how climate-driven increases of liquid water storage on land have affected the rate of sea level rise.A new study by scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, and the University of California, Irvine, shows that while ice sheets and glaciers continue to melt, changes in weather and climate over the past decade have caused Earth's continents to soak up and store an extra 3.2 trillion tons of water in soils, lakes and underground aquifers, temporarily slowing the rate of sea level rise by about 20 percent.The water gains over land were spread globally, but taken together they equal the volume of Lake Huron, the world's seventh largest lake. The study is published in the Feb. 12 issue of the journal Science.

Carbon dioxide stored underground can find multiple ways to escape

When carbon dioxide is stored underground in a process known as geological sequestration, it can find multiple escape pathways due to chemical reactions between carbon dioxide, water, rocks and cement from abandoned wells, according to Penn State researchers.

Sandia National Laboratories improves modeling of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets

The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will make a dominant contribution to 21st century sea-level rise if current climate trends continue. However, predicting the expected loss of ice sheet mass is difficult due to the complexity of modeling ice sheet behavior.To better understand this loss, a team of Sandia National Laboratories researchers has been improving the reliability and efficiency of computational models that describe ice sheet behavior and dynamics. The team includes researchers Irina Demeshko, Mike Eldred, John Jakeman, Mauro Perego, Andy Salinger, Irina Tezaur and Ray Tuminaro.

Will you take part in this year's Great Backyard Bird Count?

This weekend bird enthusiasts from around the world will become citizen scientists for a few days during the 19th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, which is happening this year February 12-15.During this four-day event, which is organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada, people will be headed outdoors to count their local birds in the name of science.