On Christmas day the British Antarctic Survey announced that it is pulling out of the race to drill into the pristine waters of an underwater lake in Antarctica, but Russia and the United States are hot on their heels to explore similar subglacial waters.
These underground bodies of water are sealed below two miles of glacial ice and, in some cases, have existed unperturbed for tens of millions of years. Researchers from the three nations aim to drill into these hidden lakes in hopes of finding brand new forms of microbial life. The adaptations of these resilient organisms to
harsh conditions may shed light on the evolution of life on Earth, and potentially other planets, too.
Yesterday NASA released images from its most recently launched Earth-orbiting satellite, the Suomi NPP. The images it captures demonstrate both the beauty and the benefit that can be gleaned from visions of Earth at night.
The Suomi NPP satellite is significantly more light sensitive than its predecessors. So sensitive, in fact, it can detect the light from a single ship at sea. To put that in numbers: Suomi’s spatial resolution is six times better than the devices that came before it, and the lighting levels show up with 250 times better resolution. And it also has an infrared sensor, which lets it track weather patterns even at night.
NASA’s first geosynchronous satellite.
The build-up of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere is predicted to have a number of effects here on Earth: record high temperatures, unprecedented droughts, and stronger than normal storms. But the effects may also extend to what’s far, far above us. Hydrogeologist Scott K. Johnson writes at Ars Technica that the “non-intuitive” consequences of climate change will be significant, including, potentially, screwing with the paths of satellites circling the Earth. Here’s how:
The sun sets behind the Kukulkan pyramid in Chichen Itza, Mexico, where
the last stone monuments were carved prior to the collapse of the Maya civilization.
Archaeologists have long suspected that climate change may have caused droughts that brought the agriculture-based Maya civilization to its knees. A new study published in Science last week bolsters this theory with new physical evidence, showing that ancient droughts correspond with political upheaval as recorded in stone carvings.
Scientists generally figure out what long-ago climates looked like by measuring oxygen isotopes in sediment samples. These isotopes are variations on the oxygen atom that have eight, nine, or ten neutrons, depending on the amount of water present when the sediment was deposited. A sediment layer’s ratio of heavy versus light oxygen isotopes can tell scientists when the layer was formed and what the climate was like at that time. Researchers in past studies have relied on sediment cores from lakes or oceans, but the researchers in this study used a stalagmite from a cave near the ancient Maya city of Uxbenká, in present-day Belize.
Here in New York City, and all along the US’s eastern seaboard, we had an epic Monday night. Here are photos and videos from the trenches and links to our picks of science reporting answering your questions about superstorm Sandy.
(1) A monster storm surge submerged Lower Manhattan, Red Hook in Brooklyn, and just about anywhere else within 9 feet of sea level.
Ars Technica‘s Casey Johnston looks into new research and reports that by 2200, 9 feet above current sea level will be the new normal, thanks to climate change.
(2) What I thought was a lightning storm turned out to be a transformer blowing.
The Mayan rain god Chac
Droughts do far worse than brown our lawns—the water shortages and crop damage they mete out, and the fires fed by dry conditions, have effects that last long after rain returns. These events may even have civilization-destroying powers: although doubts remain, many researchers consider drought one of the leading contributors to the collapse of the Maya. And a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters finds that by cutting down forests, Mayans may have directly contributed to the droughts that brought about the downfall of their society.
Like modern civilizations, Mayans felled trees in order to harvest the raw material and clear land for cities and crops. Researchers modeled how this deforestation affected local climate conditions with computer simulations. Cleared land absorbs less solar energy, which means it releases less moisture to contribute to rainfall. By comparing untampered or regrown forest to reconstructions of the tree cover during Mayan occupation, researchers found that razed land could have reduced annual rainfall by 5 to 15 percent. This means that of the estimated drought during the height of Mayan civilization, 60 percent of the rainfall decrease was likely due to deforestation.
Even ignoring the wildfires and drought this season, the sweltering heat itself is proclaiming this an intense summer. And unusually hot summers are becoming not so unusual, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers averaged the summer and winter temperatures for multiple locations across the globe during the years from 1951 to 1980, establishing a baseline for each season. Then they measured how much the temperature varied from this average over the years. They found an increasing number of anomalies in the past 30 years. We no longer have equal odds of the summer temperatures being unusually hot, or unusually cool. Instead, as the researchers phrase it, we are dealing with loaded dice: we are now much more likely to have a hot summer than an average or cool one. And hot temperatures have become both more frequent and more intense. In the time period from which the researchers drew their average, less than one percent of land on Earth suffered from extreme hotter-than-usual temperatures (more than three standard deviations above the average) at any one time. Now, these temperature hotspots cover 10 percent of the land.
Have you noticed that it’s been hotter than usual lately? Your answer might reveal your ideology.
Now, it’s old news that American acceptance of global climate change is closely linked to political affiliation: As of 2011, 77 percent of Democrats thought the Earth was getting warmer, but only 43 percent of Republicans agreed. We also already knew that when it gets hotter, more people of both affiliations say the Earth is warming.
But it isn’t necessarily a one-way street. A new study flips it around: Researchers have found that ideology can skew how people perceive local temperature trends. In other words, your answer to “Has it been hotter lately?” can reveal whether you’re an individualist or more community oriented.
As the summer heats up, air conditioners are being cranked to full blast. Once upon a time—that is, until the 1980s—the coolant gasses in these machines, which leaked into the atmosphere after units were junked, were a major threat to the ozone layer. Now manufacturers have replaced them with ozone-friendly versions. But the new coolants are still potent greenhouse gasses.