We need to use Nitrogen fertilizers more efficiently

The global population is expected to increase by two to three billion people by 2050, a projection raising serious concerns about sustainable development, biodiversity and food security, but new research led by Princeton University shows that more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizers may address both environmental issues and crop production.Today, more than half of the world's population is nourished by food grown with fertilizers containing synthetic nitrogen, which is needed to produce high crop yields. Plants take the nitrogen they need to grow, and the excess is left in the ground, water and air. This results in significant emissions of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse and ozone-depleting gas, and other forms of nitrogen pollution, including chemical over-enrichment of lakes and rivers and contamination of drinking water. 

New battery can store 10 times the energy of the next best device

Industrial-scale batteries, known as flow batteries, could one day usher in widespread use of renewable energy—but only if the devices can store large amounts of energy cheaply and feed it to the grid when the sun isn’t shining and the winds are calm. That’s something conventional flow batteries can’t do. Now, researchers report that they’ve created a novel type of flow battery that uses lithium ion technology—the sort used to power laptops—to store about 10 times as much energy as the most common flow batteries on the market. With a few improvements, the new batteries could make a major impact on the way we store and deliver energy.

Why the Paris Climate Summit pledges are so important

More than 190 countries are meeting in Paris next week to create a durable framework for addressing climate change and to implement a process to reduce greenhouse gases over time. A key part of this agreement would be the pledges made by individual countries to reduce their emissions.A study published in Science today shows that if implemented and followed by measures of equal or greater ambition, the Paris pledges have the potential to reduce the probability of the highest levels of warming, and increase the probability of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.In the lead up to the Paris meetings, countries have announced the contributions that they are willing to make to combat global climate change, based on their own national circumstances. These Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs, take many different forms and extend through 2025 or 2030.

Earth's first ecosystems were more complex than previously thought

Computer simulations have allowed scientists to work out how a puzzling 555-million-year-old organism with no known modern relatives fed, revealing that some of the first large, complex organisms on Earth formed ecosystems that were much more complex than previously thought.The international team of researchers from Canada, the UK and the USA, including Dr Imran Rahman from the University of Bristol, studied fossils of an extinct organism called Tribrachidium, which lived in the oceans some 555 million years ago.  Using a computer modelling approach called computational fluid dynamics, they were able to show that Tribrachidium fed by collecting particles suspended in water.  This is called suspension feeding and it had not previously been documented in organisms from this period of time.

Rapid plankton growth seen as indicator of carbon dioxide loading in oceans

A microscopic marine alga is thriving in the North Atlantic to an extent that defies scientific predictions, suggesting swift environmental change as a result of increased carbon dioxide in the ocean, a study led a by Johns Hopkins University scientist has found.What these findings mean remains to be seen, as does whether the rapid growth in the tiny plankton's population is good or bad news for the planet.Published today in the journal Science, the study details a tenfold increase in the abundance of single-cell coccolithophores between 1965 and 2010, and a particularly sharp spike since the late 1990s in the population of these pale-shelled floating phytoplankton.

New DOW weedkiller issues

Dow AgroSciences, which sells seeds and pesticides to farmers, made contradictory claims to different parts of the U.S. government about its latest herbicide. The Environmental Protection Agency just found out, and now wants to cancel Dow's legal right to sell the product.The herbicide, which the company calls Enlist Duo, is a mixture of two chemicals that farmers have used separately for many years: glyphosate (also known as Roundup) and 2,4-D. It's Dow's answer to the growing problem of weeds that are resistant to glyphosate, which has become the weed-killing weapon of choice for farmers across the country.The new formulation is intended to work hand-in-hand with a new generation of corn and soybean seeds that are genetically engineered to tolerate sprays of both herbicides.

NASA finds answer to why Mars' atmosphere doesn't have more carbon

Mars is blanketed by a thin, mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere -- one that is far too thin to keep water from freezing or quickly evaporating. However, geological evidence has led scientists to conclude that ancient Mars was once a warmer, wetter place than it is today. To produce a more temperate climate, several researchers have suggested that the planet was once shrouded in a much thicker carbon dioxide atmosphere. For decades that left the question, "Where did all the carbon go?"The solar wind stripped away much of Mars' ancient atmosphere and is still removing tons of it every day. But scientists have been puzzled by why they haven't found more carbon -- in the form of carbonate -- captured into Martian rocks. They have also sought to explain the ratio of heavier and lighter carbons in the modern Martian atmosphere.

These 10 Endangered Species are Running Out of Room to Roam

It’s never been easier for us to get where we want to go, but our growing transportation systems mixed with development are taking a serious toll on wildlife, from tiny amphibians to large mammals, and pushing some who are already in danger of disappearing even closer to the brink.A new report from the Endangered Species Coalition, No Room to Roam: 10 American Species in Need of Connectivity and Corridor, focuses on imperiled species who need just what the title says: room to roam.

Something not to worry about, the Earth's magnetic field flipping

The intensity of Earth’s geomagnetic field has been dropping for the past 200 years, at a rate that some scientists suspect may cause the field to bottom out in 2,000 years, temporarily leaving the planet unprotected against damaging charged particles from the sun. This drop in intensity is associated with periodic geomagnetic field reversals, in which the Earth’s North and South magnetic poles flip polarity, and it could last for several thousand years before returning to a stable, shielding intensity.With a weakened geomagnetic field, increased solar radiation might damage electronics — from individual pacemakers to entire power grids — and could induce genetic mutations. A reversal may also affect the navigation of animals that use Earth’s magnetic field as an internal compass.

Bioart: An Introduction

Joe Davis is an artist who works not only with paints or pastels, but also with genes and bacteria. In 1986, he collaborated with geneticist Dan Boyd to encode a symbol for life and femininity into an E. coli bacterium. The piece, called Microvenus, was the first artwork to use the tools and techniques of molecular biology. Since then, bioart has become one of several contemporary art forms (including reclamation art and nanoart) that apply scientific methods and technology to explore living systems as artistic subjects. A review of the field, published November 23, can be found in Trends in Biotechnology.Bioart ranges from bacterial manipulation to glowing rabbits, cellular sculptures, and--in the case of Australian-British artist Nina Sellars--documentation of an ear prosthetic that was implanted onto fellow artist Stelarc's arm. In the pursuit of creating art, practitioners have generated tools and techniques that have aided researchers, while sometimes crossing into controversy, such as by releasing invasive species into the environment, blurring the lines between art and modern biology, raising philosophical, societal, and environmental issues that challenge scientific thinking.