Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum had similarities to current warming

The rate at which carbon emissions warmed Earth’s climate almost 56 million years ago resembles modern, human-caused global warming much more than previously believed, but involved two pulses of carbon to the atmosphere, University of Utah researchers and their colleagues found.The findings mean the so-called Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum, or PETM, can provide clues to the future of modern climate change. The good news: Earth and most species survived. The bad news: It took millennia to recover from the episode, when temperatures rose by 5 to 8 degrees Celsius (9 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit).

Road Salt Increases Urban Stream Contamination

Average chloride concentrations often exceed toxic levels in many northern United States streams due to the use of salt to deice winter pavement, and the frequency of these occurrences nearly doubled in two decades. Chloride levels increased substantially in 84 percent of urban streams analyzed, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study that began as early as 1960 at some sites and ended as late as 2011. Levels were highest during the winter, but increased during all seasons over time at the northern sites, including near Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois; Denver, Colorado; and other metropolitan areas. The report was published today in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

Update on Climate Change talks in Lima, Peru

In the early hours of Sunday morning, bleary-eyed dealmakers from nearly 200 countries and the European Union set a framework for an agreement that would take an unprecedented approach to slowing climate change. Critically, however, they also delayed a host of decisions until next year, which could make reaching a landmark pact even more difficult.With a large rally in New York to complement it, the United Nations held a Climate Summit in September. Tara explains what the gathering was really all about.

An app to save 400 million animals

Brazilian biologist Alex Bager has been leading a crusade to raise awareness of a major but neglected threat to biodiversity in his country.Every year over 475 million animals die in Brazil as victims of roadkill, according to an estimate by Centro Brasileiro de Ecologia de Estradas (the Brazilian Centre for the Study of Road Ecology) or CBEE, an initiative funded and coordinated by Bager. This means 15 animals are run down every second on Brazilian roads and highways."The numbers are really scary and we need people to know about them," Bager said.To register cases of roadkill throughout the country, Bager came up with the idea of an app, now used by thousands of citizen scientists. And a national day of action in November saw hundreds of volunteers participate in events to highlight the impact of roadkill on biodiversity. 

Asphalt Mounds Found Off West African Coast

Scientists have discovered a large area of the deep seabed strewn with mounds of asphalt off the coast of Angola, hosting rich animal life. This is the first such discovery in the Atlantic proper or in the Southern Hemisphere, and the first time the creatures living around them have been studied in detail. It arises from a long-term collaboration between energy company BP and scientists at NERC's National Oceanography Centre (NOC).

WWF: Climate Change talks disappointing

The WWF issued the following statement from Samantha Smith, Leader of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative at the close of the UN climate talks in Lima, Peru: “Against the backdrop of extreme weather in the Philippines and potentially the hottest year ever recorded, governments at the UN climate talks in Lima opted for a half-baked plan to cut emissions. “Governments crucially failed to agree on specific plans to cut emissions before 2020 that would have laid the groundwork for ending the fossil fuel era and accelerated the move toward renewable energy and increased energy efficiency. 

Solar power shines brightly in the UK

Solar power has a sunny future - even without any major breakthroughs, writes Ralph Gottschalg. There are huge gains to be made simply by getting smarter and using existing technologies more effectively. A new report shows that - given political support - solar PV could be competitive in the UK by 2020.PV can achieve the costs required to survive - without subsidies, and without any step change in technology. All it needs is the political will. 

New insight from MIT on what killed off the dinosaurs

Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid more than five miles wide smashed into the Earth at 70,000 miles per hour, instantly vaporizing upon impact. The strike obliterated most terrestrial life, including the dinosaurs, in a geological instant: Heavy dust blocked out the sun, setting off a cataclysmic chain of events from the bottom of the food chain to the top, killing off more than three-quarters of Earth’s species — or so the popular theory goes.But now scientists at MIT and elsewhere have found evidence that a major volcanic eruption began just before the impact, possibly also playing a role in the extinction.

How birds hear without ears

Unlike mammals, birds have no external ears. The outer ears of mammals play an important function in that they help the animal identify sounds coming from different elevations. But birds are also able to perceive whether the source of a sound is above them, below them, or at the same level. Now a research team from Technische Universität München (TUM) has discovered how birds are able to localize these sounds, namely by utilizing their entire head. Their findings were published recently in the PLOS ONE journal.

Pollution May Cause Problems for Pollinators

While unpleasant car exhaust makes us wrinkle our noses, such human-made fumes may pose serious problems to insects searching for nectar. Researchers recently revealed that background odors make finding flowers difficult for pollinators. The study, published in Science, measured how hawk moths (Manduca sexta) pick out the sacred datura flower scent (Datura wrightii) amidst all the other smells that waft through the environment. Datura’s brilliant 15-centimeter trumpets leap from dark, heart-shaped leaves, sending smelly signals into the arid sky of the southwestern deserts where they grow.