Archive for December 2nd, 2010

Hey Look What's Making News!

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | December 2, 2010 6:44 pm

I’ve been writing and speaking about ocean acidification for a long time. And will continue. Now at CNN:

The chemistry of the world’s oceans is changing at a rate not seen for 65 million years, with far-reaching implications for marine biodiversity and food security, according to a new United Nations study released Thursday.”Environmental Consequences of Ocean Acidification,” published by the U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP),” warns that some sea organisms including coral and shellfish will find it increasingly difficult to survive, as acidification shrinks the minerals needed to form their skeletons.

Lead author of the report Carol Turley, from the UK’s Plymouth Marine Laboratory said in a statement: “We are seeing an overall negative impact from ocean acidification directly on organisms and on some key ecosystems that help provide food for billions. We need to start thinking about the risk to food security.”

Damn straight. Read the full article here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Environment, Marine Science

What Would Agatha Christie Say?

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | December 2, 2010 2:48 pm

By now you’ve likely heard about the bacterium discovered in California’s Mono Lake:

The study, published in the journal Science, demonstrates that one of the most notorious poisons on Earth can also be the very stuff of life for some creatures.

* * * *

“Life is mostly composed of the elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur and phosphorus,” the researchers write in Science.

These six elements make up the nucleic acids — the A, C, T and G of DNA — as well as proteins and lipids. But there is no reason in theory why other elements should not be used. It is just that science never found anything alive that used them.

* * * *

.. it does suggest that astrobiologists looking for life on other planets do not need to look only for planets with the same balance of elements as Earth has.

“Our findings are a reminder that life-as-we-know-it could be much more flexible than we generally assume or can imagine,” said Wolfe-Simon.

Exactly!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Education

Joining the Board of AGU With a Focus on Science Communication

By Chris Mooney | December 2, 2010 11:07 am

People are emailing me; they seem to have gotten their new copies of EOS, where it’s announced; so it is past time for me to flag the following:

The American Geophysical Union’s board of directors has approved two new members who will bring expertise in science policy and communication: policy advisor Floyd DesChamps and author Chris Mooney. Their selection reflects AGU’s commitment to applying the results of scientific research to challenges faced by the global community, many of which are based in the geosciences. Read More

The Science of Fracking

By Chris Mooney | December 2, 2010 8:06 am

no-frack-smallI recently noted that the state of New York has imposed a moratorium–likely a costly one–on the procedure known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used to remove shale oil embedded deep beneath the planet’s surface. The chief concern seems to be that this technique can contribute to the contamination of groundwater supplies.

Having not looked into the matter much, the complaint seems reasonable; but knowing how issues like this one play out, I’m sure there’s a high level of uncertainty about precisely what the effects of fracking are. And indeed, it’s a matter of study at the EPA right now.

Meanwhile, right wingers are hurling the phrase “junk science” to attack the fracking moratorium (see this comments thread). But of course, being cautious in the face of uncertainty is hardly junk science. Unless “junk science” is code for “reasonableness,” which is often the impression I’m left with.

In any case, I’m interested in comments–is fracking going to be the next great environmental science controversy? Certainly there is a lot at stake, with shale oil expected to comprise a growing percentage of domestic gas supplies.

And also….does the name come from Battlestar?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Energy, Environment
MORE ABOUT: fracking
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