Ecosystems

The economic benefits of mercury reductions
December 29, 2015 07:10 AM - Jennifer Chu, MIT News

Mercury pollution is a global problem with local consequences: Emissions from coal-fired power plants and other sources travel around the world through the atmosphere, eventually settling in oceans and waterways, where the pollutant gradually accumulates in fish. Consumption of mercury-contaminated seafood leads to increased risk for cardiovascular disease and cognitive impairments.

In the past several years, a global treaty and a domestic policy have been put in place to curb mercury emissions. But how will such policies directly benefit the U.S.? 

California drought putting many trees at risk
December 29, 2015 05:13 AM - Carnegie Institute for Science via EurekAlert

California's forests are home to the planet's oldest, tallest and most-massive trees. New research from Carnegie's Greg Asner and his team reveals that up to 58 million large trees in California experienced severe canopy water loss between 2011 and today due to the state's historic drought. Their results are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In addition to the persistently low rainfall, high temperatures and outbreaks of the destructive bark beetle increased forest mortality risk. But gaining a large-scale understanding a forest's responses to the drought, as well as to ongoing changes in climate, required more than just a picture of trees that have already died. 

Bird habitat changing quickly as climate change proceeds
December 28, 2015 07:06 AM - University of Wisconsin-Madison

The climatic conditions needed by 285 species of land birds in the United States have moved rapidly between 1950 and 2011 as a result of climate change, according to a recent paper published in Global Change Biology.

Study looks into past climate in Oregon's Coast Range
December 27, 2015 09:32 AM - University of Oregon via ScienceDaily

Lush greenery rich in Douglas fir and hemlock trees covers the Triangle Lake valley of the Oregon Coast Range. Today, however, geologists across the country are more focused on sediment samples dating back 50,000 years that were dug up by University of Oregon scientists.

The sediment indicates that the mountainous region, which was not covered in glaciers during the last ice age, was a frost-covered grassy landscape that endured erosion rates at least 2.5 higher than today's, an eight-member team reports in a paper in the journal Science Advances.

How many trees are on planet Earth?
December 26, 2015 09:33 AM - NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, NPR

Here is a pop quiz: How many trees are on the planet?

Most people have no idea.

A new study says the answer is more than 3 trillion trees — that's trillion with a T, and that number is about eight times more than a previous estimate.

Thomas Crowther was inspired to do this tree census a couple of years ago, when he was working at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He had a friend who was working with a group with an ambitious goal: trying to fight global warming by planting a billion trees. A billion trees sounded like a lot. But was it really?

Bison get Christmas gift from Governor of Montana
December 23, 2015 08:24 AM - NRDC

In a big step forward for wild bison and all Montanans, today Governor Steve Bullock agreed to expand year-round habitat for wild bison in Montana outside Yellowstone National Park.  Historically, thousands of wild bison have been hazed or slaughtered as they migrated from Yellowstone into Montana in the spring. This decision represents a significant change in bison management.

Following is a statement from Matt Skoglund, Director of the Northern Rockies Office at the Natural Resources Defense Council:

“Giving wild bison from Yellowstone year-round habitat in Montana is a welcome holiday offering from Governor Bullock. While I’d certainly love to see the state go further, this decision is a big step forward for wild bison in Montana, and it will show that wild bison and people can successfully share the Montana landscape outside Yellowstone National Park. When you consider this from a science, economics, public opinion, or common sense perspective, it makes sense for Montana to give wild bison from Yellowstone year-round habitat in the state.”

How sea spray affects clouds
December 23, 2015 07:11 AM - National Science Foundation

All over the planet, every day, oceans send plumes of sea spray into the atmosphere. Beyond the poetry of crashing ocean waves, this salt- and carbon-rich spray also has a dramatic effect on cloud formation and duration.

In a new paper published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Colorado State University atmospheric scientist Paul DeMott finds that sea spray is a unique, underappreciated source of what are called ice nucleating particles. These microscopic bits make their way into clouds and initiate the formation of ice, affecting the clouds' composition.

Coastal Marshes More Resilient to Sea-Level Rise Than Previously Believed
December 21, 2015 07:21 AM - Duke University

Accelerating rates of sea-level rise linked to climate change pose a major threat to coastal marshes and the vital carbon capturing they perform. But a new Duke University study finds marshes may be more resilient than previously believed. 

The impact of Climate change on phytoplankton
December 20, 2015 08:13 AM - University of Pennsylvania via ScienceDaily

As nations across the globe negotiate how to reduce their contributions to climate change, researchers at Penn are investigating just how the coming changes will impact the planet. What's clear is that the effect extends beyond simple warming. Indeed, the very physics and chemistry of the oceans are also shifting, and are forecast to change even more in the coming decades.

These changes have implications for, among other things, the single-celled organisms that comprise the base of the ocean's food web and are responsible for half of the world's photosynthetic activity: phytoplankton. Not only are phytoplankton sensitive to changes in climate, they also contribute to those changes, as they can remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it deep in the ocean when they die.

A micrograph of phytoplankton. Like plants on land, phytoplankton growth is controlled by environmental factors such as light, nutrients, and temperature.

Climate change is impacting lakes faster than oceans
December 18, 2015 09:50 AM - JPL-NASA

Climate change is rapidly warming lakes around the world, threatening freshwater supplies and ecosystems, according to a new NASA and National Science Foundation-funded study of more than half of the world's freshwater supply.

Using more than 25 years of satellite temperature data and ground measurements of 235 lakes on six continents, this study -- the largest of its kind -- found lakes are warming an average of 0.61 degrees Fahrenheit (0.34 degrees Celsius) each decade. The scientists say this is greater than the warming rate of either the ocean or the atmosphere, and it can have profound effects.

The research, published in Geophysical Research Letters, was announced Wednesday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

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