Half a Degree Makes a Big Difference for Global Climate

By Nathaniel Scharping | April 22, 2016 3:28 pm

(Credit: Johan Larson/Shutterstock)

World leaders meeting Friday at the United Nations headquarters in New York hope to make this Earth Day a historic one.

More than 150 countries are expected to sign the Paris Agreement, an accord reached last December designed to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, with some nations arguing that the world should rally around a more stringent threshold of 1.5 C. And the difference between the two goals might be significant: A new study shows that the world would look substantially different if mean global temperatures rise by 2 C, rather than 1.5 C.

Small Change, Big Impact

In the paper, a team of European researchers used multiple sets of climate models to analyze the difference between a planet that warms 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees by 2100. It’s a fractional difference, but it holds significant ramifications for at-risk areas near the equator, as well as for populations in Third World countries that will be most affected by climate change.

Sea levels would rise by a third of a foot more if the planet warms by 2 C as opposed to 1.5 C, and swelling coastal estuaries would allow the oceans to creep further into coastal cities. Under the 2 C scenario, nearly every reef worldwide would be at a high risk of degradation, compared to the still-unsettling 70 percent under the 1.5 C contingency, according to researchers’ models. They published their work Thursday in the journal Earth System Dynamics.

Third World Nations Hardest Hit

The researchers find that poor countries near the equator have the most riding on a half degree. With another half a degree increase in temperature, Central America and West Africa would see a twofold decrease in crop yields, compounding issues of food production in regions that are among the most affected by hunger and starvation.

Droughts too would grow worse in critical regions as the globe warms, the researchers say, with the Mediterranean at particular risk. Heat waves are also likely to increase in both length and duration in the tropics, affecting both crops and people. Central America, South Africa and Australia also stand to lose under this scenario, with the amount of water available decreasing by 10 percent under a 1.5 C scenario, and 20 percent if we reach the 2 C threshold.

Most of the models researchers looked at predict increases in crop yields and water levels for regions near the poles, where warming temperatures could prove to be a boon for food production. However, these regions tend to be sparsely populated and more developed, meaning that an increase in food production won’t yield much benefit locally. The populations with the most to lose from climate change, on the other hand, tend to live in areas that will be hardest hit.

Big Changes, Small Numbers

This study provides an insightful perspective of the impact an imperceptible temperature difference can have when applied on a global scale.

While half a degree may seem negligible, it’s important to remember that it is a global average. In some “hot spots”, temperatures are likely to increase far more, offset by smaller increases elsewhere. The impact climate change has on humanity rests on where these changes occur.

The 2 C breaking point represents the extreme for the signees of the Paris Agreement, beyond which humanity enters unknown territory. Even well below that number, we still will not be spared from droughts and rising sea levels. The fate of the agreement now rests in the hands of individual countries that are responsible for enacting the measures laid out in Paris.

It is well worth remembering that even small changes can make a big difference.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Remnants of a Supernova Are Pummeling Earth

By John Wenz | April 22, 2016 2:02 pm

Cosmic rays are accelerated toward Earth by the same kind of supernova explosions that carved this bubble into the Large Magellanic Cloud. (Credit: Gemini South Telescope in Chile; composite by Travis Rector of the University of Alaska Anchorage)

Sometime in the last few million years, a not-so-far-off supernova sent charged particles known as cosmic rays out in all directions. The scattered, stripped nuclei of radioactive iron isotopes eventually made their way to Earth as part of a larger stream of material. Now, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have found traces of this stream bombarding our planet, bringing interstellar atomic debris crashing into Earth.

In a paper published Thursday in Science, the researchers report on the findings of 17 years worth of observation from the Cosmic Ray Isotope Spectrometer aboard NASA’s ACE craft. During that time, it detected 15 individual nuclei of iron-60, a by-product of supernova explosions. Because iron-60 tends to decay quickly, and cosmic rays don’t quite reach the speed of light, that means the supernova was likely local. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

This Billboard Doubles as a ‘Sweaty’ Mosquito Trap

By Nathaniel Scharping | April 21, 2016 1:27 pm


Truth in advertising indeed.

A billboard created by two ad agencies in Brazil doubles as a deadly trap for the Aedes aegypti mosquitos that spread the Zika virus. A result of a partnership between NBS and Posterscope, the installment reads “This billboard kills hundreds of Zika mosquitos every day,” and the dead insects littering the bottom of the case prove they made good on that promise. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology

Levitating Rocket Sled Breaks World Speed Record

By Nathaniel Scharping | April 20, 2016 3:26 pm

(Credit: Holloman AFB)

A levitating rocket sled at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico recently broke the world speed record for maglev tracks, clocking in at 633 mph.

The rocket sled, which is basically a rocket bolted to a small platform, achieved such high speeds thanks to supercooled magnets that hold the sled about an inch off of the rails, allowing it to hover in midair. With only wind resistance holding it back, the sled and its rocket booster surpassed the previous record — set earlier this year by the same sled — with ease. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts

Offices Are Rife With Skin and Nose Bacteria

By Kiona Smith-Strickland | April 20, 2016 1:39 pm

(Credit: trekandshoot/Shutterstock)

Most of us spend a whopping 90 percent of our time indoors, which is the sort of statistic makes you want to spend your lunch break outside — especially when you consider the microbes that share your workspace.

Scientists are increasingly interested in the ecosystems of bacteria, fungi, and other micro-organisms that share those artificial environments with us. That’s why John Chase of Biota Technology and his colleagues sampled the microbial communities in offices in Flagstaff, San Diego, and Toronto. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: microbes & viruses

Nifty Gloves Convert Sign Language Into Spoken Words

By Nathaniel Scharping | April 20, 2016 12:17 pm

The SignAloud glove. (Credit: University of Washington)

Two sophomores at the University of Washington have been recognized for an invention that could break down communication barriers for the deaf.

Their invention, the SignAloud, is a pair of sensor-filled gloves that interpret the hand movements American Sign Language users use to communicate, and converts them into speech or text that the rest of us can understand.

The two students, Navid Azodi and Thomas Pryor, designed the gloves inside the CoMotion MakerSpace, a collaborative workshop on campus. They recently received the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for their work, which is a yearly award given to undergraduates for innovative inventions. They won in the “Use It” category, and received a $10,000 grant along with the prize. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: gadgets

A Frigid Surprise at Venus’ Poles

By John Wenz | April 20, 2016 10:31 am


Thanks to a thick layer of cloud cover trapping in heat, Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system, with temperatures boiling over at 850 degrees Fahrenheit (454 C). But in a study published last week in Nature Physics, the European Space Agency found something surprising at the planet’s poles: temperatures more frigid than anywhere on Earth.

Even though ESA lost contact with the Venus Express probe two years ago after it ran out of fuel, the agency is still working through the data it returned. As the first spacecraft to explore our nearest neighbor since 1989’s Magellan mission, the probe revealed much about that world. Many of the observations were made through plunging the craft into the atmosphere above the poles, where the probe encountered an atmosphere thinner than previously modeled, and filled with choppy atmospheric gravity waves, ripples caused by transfers of momentum between layers in the atmosphere. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

How the Brain Senses a Smile

By Nathaniel Scharping | April 19, 2016 4:38 pm

(Credit: Djomas/Shutterstock)

When you see a great big smile, you know that someone is happy. Pretty simple, right?

Such an inference is less a product of deductive reasoning and more like an instinctual reaction — we just know what certain facial expressions mean, we don’t have to think about it. And researchers from Ohio State University say they’ve pinpointed the region of the brain that goes to work whenever we are confronted with raised eyebrows, wrinkled noses, taut lips and other facial contortions. Located in the back, right-hand side of the brain, the small area is called the posterior superior temporal sulsus (pSTS), and researchers say it helps us process facial expressions. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts

NASA Captures Earth’s Auroras in High-Definition

By Nathaniel Scharping | April 19, 2016 11:38 am


For those of us lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, viewing an aurora is a near-magical experience.

Vast ribbons of electrically-charged particles cast off from the sun bathe the Earth in color as they interact with our planet’s magnetic field. This only happens regularly near the poles of course, so many people never get a chance to see these awe-inspiring light shows for themselves. Read More

MORE ABOUT: solar system

After 17 Years, Billions of Cicadas Are Ready to Emerge

By Carl Engelking | April 18, 2016 5:32 pm


Summer is going to be a little noisier this year on the East Coast.

Once the soil temperatures rise sufficiently, billions of cicadas are expected to emerge after spending 17 years underground. The soon-to-emerge cicadas were born in 1999 and spent the years feasting on secretions from plant roots. After toiling in the dirt for close to two decades, the cicadas will climb a tree, shed their nymphal shell, and proceed to get dirty — in the figurative sense. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: unusual organisms


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