Scientists unlock 'green' energy from garden grass

Garden grass could become a source of cheap and clean renewable energy, scientists have claimed.A team of UK researchers, including experts from Cardiff University's Cardiff Catalysis Institute, have shown that significant amounts of hydrogen can be unlocked from fescue grass with the help of sunlight and a cheap catalyst.It is the first time that this method has been demonstrated and could potentially lead to a sustainable way of producing hydrogen, which has enormous potential in the renewable energy industry due to its high energy content and the fact that it does not release toxic or greenhouse gases when it is burnt.Co-author of the study Professor Michael Bowker, from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute, said: "This really is a green source of energy.

Oceans may be large, overlooked source of hydrogen gas

Serpentinized rocks formed near fast-spreading tectonic plates under Earth's seafloor could be a large and previously overlooked source of free hydrogen gas, a new study finds. The finding could have far-ranging implications since scientists believe hydrogen might be the fuel source responsible for triggering life on Earth. And, if it were found in large enough quantities, hydrogen could be used as a clean-burning substitute for fossil fuels today.The finding could have far-ranging implications since scientists believe H2 might be the fuel source responsible for triggering life on Earth. And, if it were found in large enough quantities, some experts speculate that it could be used as a clean-burning substitute for fossil fuels today because it gives off high amounts of energy when burned but emits only water, not carbon.Recent discoveries of free hydrogen gas, which was once thought to be very rare, have been made near slow-spreading tectonic plates deep beneath Earth's continents and under the sea.

Putting the sloth in sloths

Although most of the terrestrial world is covered in trees, there are precious few vertebrates that make the canopy their home and subsist solely on a diet of leaves.Tree sloths are among the most emblematic tree-dwelling mammals. However, they are best known for their pokey demeanor rather than the fact that they spend the majority of their lives in trees munching leaves. But the slow motion lifestyle of tree sloths, according to a new study, is the direct result of the animal’s adaption to its arboreal niche.“Among vertebrates, this is the rarest of lifestyles,” says Jonathan Pauli, a University of Wisconsin—Madison professor of forest and wildlife ecology and the senior author of a report to appear in the August 2016 edition of the American Naturalist. “When you picture animals that live off plant leaves, they are almost all big — things like moose, elk and deer. What’s super interesting about arboreal folivores is that they can’t be big.”

'Perfect storm' brought sea louse epidemic to BC salmon

High ocean temperatures and poor timing of parasite management likely led to an epidemic of sea lice in 2015 throughout salmon farms in British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Strait, a University of Toronto-led study has found.The sea lice spread to migrating juvenile wild salmon, resulting in the highest numbers of sea lice observed on wild salmon in a decade.In spring of 2015, a team of U of T ecologists led by postdoctoral researchers Andrew Bateman and Stephanie Peacock found that more than 70 per cent of fish the team sampled in the Strait's Broughton Archipelago had at least one sea louse: the highest prevalence of such parasites since 2005."It was sort of a perfect storm of environmental conditions and mismanagement of treatment," says Peacock, a postdoctoral fellow in the U of T's Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology when the research was conducted. "A lot of people talk about how sea lice are natural, but in farms, you have these parasites in larger numbers. Juvenile wild salmon are then exposed as they migrate past these areas."

Birds on top of the world, with nowhere to go

Climate change could make much of the Arctic unsuitable for millions of migratory birds that travel north to breed each year, according to a new international study published today inGlobal Change Biology.The University of Queensland School of Biological Sciences' researcher Hannah Wauchope said that suitable breeding conditions for Arctic shorebirds could collapse by 2070."This means that countries throughout the world will have fewer migratory birds reaching their shores," Ms Wauchope said.Arctic breeding shorebirds undertake some of the longest known migratory journeys in the animal kingdom, with many travelling more than 20,000 kilometres per year to escape the northern winter.The bar-tailed godwit flies from Alaska to New Zealand in a single flight of 12,000 kilometres without landing.The study predicts that, in a warming world, migratory birds will become increasingly restricted to small islands in the Arctic Ocean as they retreat north.

Quantifying Tree Loss in Sierra National Forest

Mass tree die-offs are sparking worries of fire in California’s Sierra Nevada range. An outbreak of bark beetles, along with persistent drought in the state, have caused many evergreen trees to wither and die.The damage spread rapidly through the mountains in the fall of 2015 after favorable spring conditions (warm and dry) led to a surge in beetle populations, according to Zach Tane, a remote sensing analyst with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The beetles burrow under a tree’s bark and lay their eggs. Once they penetrate the tree’s armor (the bark), they begin to gnaw into its living tissue, the phloem.“Needles don’t turn red the next day. It’s a slow process of the tree dying, and it has to do with life cycle of bark beetle and how long needles can persist in a green state,” said Tane. “As the population of beetles grows, they can overwhelm the natural defenses of a tree. There’s a tipping point—that’s what happened in Colorado and probably what’s happening here.”

Which island holds the greatest concentration of mammals?

In this scary time of global species extinctions and loss of biodiversity below “safe” levels, The Field Museum recently announced some good news: Luzon Island, an island the size of the Indiana in the Philippines, holds the greatest concentration of mammals. The pressing question now is will we be able to protect this rich biodiversity in time?

NASA science flights target melting Arctic Sea ice

This summer, with sea ice across the Arctic Ocean shrinking to below-average levels, a NASA airborne survey of polar ice just completed its first flights. Its target: aquamarine pools of melt water on the ice surface that may be accelerating the overall sea ice retreat.NASA's Operation IceBridge completed the first research flight of its new 2016 Arctic summer campaign on July 13. The science flights, which continue through July 25, are collecting data on sea ice in a year following a record-warm winter in the Arctic.The summer flights will map the extent, frequency and depth of melt ponds, the pools of melt water that form on sea ice during spring and summer. Recent studies have found that the formation of melt ponds early in the summer is a good predictor of the sea ice yearly minimum extent in September: if there are more ponds on the ice earlier in the melt season, they reduce the ability of sea ice to reflect solar radiation, which leads to more melt.

2016 climate trends continue to break records

Two key climate change indicators -- global surface temperatures and Arctic sea ice extent -- have broken numerous records through the first half of 2016, according to NASA analyses of ground-based observations and satellite data.Each of the first six months of 2016 set a record as the warmest respective month globally in the modern temperature record, which dates to 1880, according to scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. The six-month period from January to June was also the planet's warmest half-year on record, with an average temperature 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the late nineteenth century.Five of the first six months of 2016 also set records for the smallest respective monthly Arctic sea ice extent since consistent satellite records began in 1979, according to analyses developed by scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland. The one exception, March, recorded the second smallest extent for that month.

Using urban pigeons to monitor lead pollution

Tom Lehrer sang about poisoning them, but those pigeons in the park might be a good way to detect lead and other toxic compounds in cities. A new study of pigeons in New York City shows that levels of lead in the birds track with neighborhoods where children show high levels of lead exposure."Pigeons breathe the same air, walk the same sidewalks, and often eat the same food as we do. What if we could use them to monitor possible dangers to our health in the environment, like lead pollution?" said Rebecca Calisi, now an assistant professor in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior at the University of California, Davis, who conducted the study with undergraduate student Fayme Cai while at Barnard College, Columbia University. The work is published July 18 in the journal Chemosphere.Decades after it was banned from paint and gasoline, lead pollution remains a significant concern. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene carries out routine screening of children in areas of the city identified as hot spots for lead contamination.