Up Close With a Calving Antarctic Iceberg

By Eric Betz | November 15, 2016 1:07 pm

NASA Goddard sea ice scientist Jeremy Harbeck shot this image of an iceberg calving from the Getz Ice Shelf during a recent Operation IceBridge flight. (Credit: Jeremy Harbeck/NASA)

Last year, an iceberg the size of Manhattan calved off the vast Getz Ice Shelf in West Antarctica and pushed off into the ocean. The shoreline cliffs of this frosty new island, dubbed Iceberg B-34, would rise hundreds of feet above the surface, and stretch some 1,000 feet below the Amundsen Sea. And yet, this sensational event pales in comparison to the persistent melt here. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Seabird Poop Is a Force of Nature

By Carl Engelking | November 15, 2016 11:16 am
A guillemot seabird colony. (Credit: Shutterstock)

A guillemot seabird colony. (Credit: Shutterstock)

On planet Earth, nothing goes to waste; everything serves a purpose — including seabird poop.

Between the months of May and September, tens of millions of migratory seabirds converge on the Arctic where they eat, breed and cake the cliff sides with guano. Over time, the nitrogen in seabird droppings breaks down into ammonia, and it’s estimated that colonies emit some 40,000 tons of it into the atmosphere every year.

Now, a team of researchers working in the Canadian Arctic says summertime ammonia emissions from seabird excrement may be a key factor in cloud formation. It’s a surprising new twist in scientists’ ongoing effort to understand clouds, the wild card of climate science. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, earth science

Freak Winter Cyclone Wreaked Havoc on Arctic Icepack

By Eric Betz | November 14, 2016 3:40 am

So-called “Storm Frank” over Iceland in December 2015. (Credit: Icelandic Met Office)

The height of last winter – from December through February – was the warmest on record, shattering monthly marks for the least Arctic ice seen since satellite observations began in the 1970s. And now a new study in an American Meteorological Society journal shows how those temperatures combined with an unusual storm system to wreak havoc on the Arctic sea ice pack.

As seasons change and Earth’s northern axis tilts away from sun, ocean water freezes into sea ice around the pole. But many regions remained ice-free later than normal last winter. And for the Barents and Kara Seas, the region north of Scandinavia and Russia, the freeze-up came some two months late, leaving a brittle ice pack. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Ticklish Lab Rats Giggle for Science

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 11, 2016 3:06 pm

A rat hard at work discovering the neural basis of tickling. (Credit: Shimpei Ishiyama & Michael Brecht)

For social animals, living and working together is all about building and shoring up the bonds that tie our lives together.

Animals that live and work in concert with one another rely on complex rituals to affirm their connections. Mutual grooming, acts of compassion, social play and other behaviors factor into building trust, but one of the oldest and most reliable methods of bringing species together is touch. And tickling various species of animals is one way scientists are learning more about building tactile trust.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts

Scientists Are Drowning, Artificial Intelligence Will Save Them

By Carl Engelking | November 11, 2016 12:00 pm


There are over 34,000 scholarly, peer-reviewed journals in existence today, collectively publishing some 2.5 million articles every year. It’s estimated that a single researcher, depending on their discipline, will read about 270 of them in the same time frame.

Scientists will never keep up. They’re going to miss key insights. They’re drowning in a sea of their own expertise.

Fortunately, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) tossed them a life preserver. On Friday, AI2 expanded its artificial intelligence-based search engine, Semantic Scholar, to the field of neuroscience. The launch is just another step toward AI2’s long-term vision: bringing man and machine together to advance science and save lives. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts

This HIV Test Fits on a USB Drive

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 10, 2016 3:28 pm

(Credit: Imperial College London/DNA Electronics)

A new HIV test is as simple as plugging a USB drive into a computer.

Scientists from London’s Imperial College and a private genomics analysis company created a device that uses pH to test for the HIV-1 virus and communicates the results to a USB stick. The test requires only a drop of blood and the researchers say that it is simple and cost-effective to manufacture, offering a low-cost option for the millions of HIV-positive individuals who must monitor the effectiveness of their treatment regimes. Read More

MORE ABOUT: medical technology

Danger Breeds Bias in Schooling Fish

By Erica Tennenhouse | November 10, 2016 2:57 pm

(Credit: Shutterstock)

A swarm of schooling fish appears to move as a single organism as it fluidly pivots and flips to flee from approaching predators. In many species, these tightly synchronized turns are coordinated through a shared turning bias—a tendency for fish to turn right more often than left, or vice versa.

Having an automatic side bias may allow fish under attack to bypass the neural processes that precede the decision to escape left or right. As University of Saskatchewan biology professor Maud Ferrari notes, for a fish in imminent danger, “a millisecond may be the only thing separating life from death,” so any means of hastening one’s response is worthwhile. The bias may also serve to keep startled fish from unwittingly evicting themselves from their group when evading predators. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Watch Humans Conquer the Planet In 6 Minutes

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 10, 2016 12:30 pm


When humans first emerged from Africa 200,000 years ago, we weren’t much more than slightly brainier hominids. It would take time for us to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the species vying for dominance over the planet.

But once we got a toehold — oh, boy did we take off. Humans leveraged a few key innovations — fire, weapons, agriculture — into the beginnings of an unrivaled global empire. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, top posts

Something Stinks: Why Seabirds Eat So Much Plastic

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 9, 2016 3:12 pm

An albatross feeding. (Credit: Andrew M. Allport/Shutterstock)

Our plastic waste is playing tricks on seabirds, and that stinks.

When some species of seabirds dive down to snatch a tasty meal from the ocean’s surface, they get a nasty surprise instead: a beak full of plastic. The consumption of plastic debris in the oceans by sea life who mistake it for food is a major problem for marine conservation, and researchers have recently discovered another confounding factor: To some birds, plastic doesn’t only look like food, it smells like it too. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, oceans, pollution

These Spiders Sailed Completely Around the World

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 8, 2016 2:47 pm

A spider of the genus Amaurobioides. (Credit: Ceccarelli et. al/PLOS ONE)

Millions of years ago, a species of small spiders took to the high seas and conquered the globe.

Well, conquered may not quite be the right word, but spiders of the genus Amaurobioides did manage to completely circumnavigate the globe, spanning vast oceans and leapfrogging across continents, long before human explorers attempted the feat. Using a genetic analysis of the spiders evolutionary tree, researchers from Argentina, Africa, Australia and the U.S. determined that the species set out from South America during the Miocene Epoch, sailing first to Africa and then Australia before bringing their journey full circle in Chile. All told, the researchers estimate the trip took them around 8 million years. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, genetics


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