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November 14, 2011 09:23 AM - Andy Soos, ENN
Before the first planet, before the first star, there had to be gas. For the first time, astronomers have found pristine clouds of the primordial gas that formed in the first few minutes after the Big Bang. The composition of the gas matches theoretical predictions, providing direct evidence in support of the modern cosmological explanation for the origins of elements in the universe. Only the lightest elements, mostly hydrogen and helium, were created in the Big Bang. Then a few hundred million years passed before clumps of this primordial gas condensed to form the first stars, where heavier elements were forged. Until now, astronomers have always detected metals (their term for all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium) wherever they have looked in the universe.
Monarch butterflies decline at wintering grounds in Mexico, Texas drought adds to stress to migration
November 14, 2011 07:55 AM - Rhett Butler, MONGABAY.COM
Every fall, millions of monarch butterflies travel south to Mexico and take refuge in twelve mountain sanctuaries of oyamel fir forests. Now, declining numbers of the overwintering butterflies expose the migration’s vulnerability and raise questions about threats throughout the monarch’s lifecycle. A study published online last spring in Insect Conservation and Diversity shows a decrease in Mexico’s overwintering monarch butterflies between 1994 and 2011. The butterflies face loss of wintering habitat in Mexico and breeding habitat in the United States. Extreme weather, like winter storms in Mexico and the ongoing drought in Texas, adds yet another challenge.
Survival against all odds: Animals of the Arctic
November 11, 2011 05:16 PM - BBC Earth
Adaptation is fundamental for a species to survive, especially in hostile environments like the Arctic. When faced with six months of perpetual darkness where snow and ice lays claim to every inch of the land. What kind of extraordinary animals survive in such harsh terrain, and more importantly, how do they do it? During winter in the Arctic, temperatures can drop to a bone-chilling −50°C (−58 °F). Rather than going into hibernation however, some animals will stick out the winter and use their cold-conquering adaptations to survive. One such animal that has done this is the arctic fox or the snow fox as it is also commonly known. Ranging far and wide in the arctic and alpine tundra, these jackals of the north, so-called because of their propensity to scavenge on polar bears' kills, have a woolly coat that has the best insulating properties of any mammal. Other adaptations for life in the arctic include small, heavily furred ears and a short nose. Having a smaller surface area reduces heat loss. They also have fur on the soles of their feet as well as increased blood circulation to the feet which literally stops their paws freezing to the ice! Another such master of retaining body heat is the walrus. Walrus are covered with short coarse hair that becomes less dense as they get older. Their skin which is folded and wrinkled can be up to 4 cm thick serving as a great insulator. This tough skin is the thickest on the neck and shoulders of adult males where it also serves as a defensive purpose — when these bulls spar the thick skin is intended to resist tusk penetration. They have a deposit of fatty tissue that is up to an astounding 15 centimetres (6 inches) thick - in winter it may make up to a third of their body mass. As well as being an excellent insulator it also streamlines the body and is used as an energy reserve.
The First Stars
November 11, 2011 09:16 AM - Andy Soos, ENN
The very first stars in our universe were not the giants scientists had once thought, according to new simulations performed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Astronomers grew stars in their computers, mimicking the conditions of our primordial universe. The simulations took weeks. When the scientists' concoctions were finally done, they were shocked by the results -- the full-grown stars were much smaller than expected.
First Green House Gas Permit
November 11, 2011 07:50 AM - Andy Soos, ENN
Green house gases are such materials as Carbon Dioxide and Methane that are implicated in global warming. From a permitting point of view it is a new phenomena. Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the first Texas Greenhouse Gas (GHG) permit for the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant in Llano County, Texas. LCRA is modernizing and expanding its plant by replacing its 37 year old unit with a new more efficient and reliable natural gas powered unit.
The Use of Whiskers on Mammals
November 10, 2011 03:14 PM - Andy Soos, ENN
Whiskers, are specialized hairs usually employed for tactile sensation. Research from the University of Sheffield comparing rats and mice with their distance relatives the marsupial, suggests that moveable whiskers were an important milestone in the evolution of mammals from reptiles. Using high-speed digital video recording and automatic tracking, the research team, which was led by Professor Tony Prescott from the University´s Department of Psychology, have shed new light on how rodents such as mice and rats move their whiskers back-and-forth at high speed and in varying ways to actively sense the environment around them in a behavior known as whisking. Whisking allows mice or rats to accurately determine the position, shape and texture of objects, make rapid and accurate decisions about objects, and then use the information to build environmental maps.
The Importance of Riverbed Carbon Storage Capacity
November 10, 2011 09:43 AM - David A Gabel, ENN
The soils and sediments at the bottom of rivers are rich in organic material. They can store carbon for thousands of years according to a study from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Despite often high rates of erosion and sediment transport, the riverbed can hold organic carbon for 500 to 17,000 years. The researchers focused their studies on the Ganges-Brahmaputra basin in India, which feeds off waters from the Himalaya Mountains. The fact that riverbeds store much carbon is a cause for concern. In a changing climate, the soils could be destabilized, releasing the carbon back to the atmosphere.
Lead Air Quality
November 10, 2011 08:02 AM - Andy Soos, ENN
It has long been understood that lead in water is not good. Well neither is lead in the air. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that available air quality information indicates that 39 states are meeting the health-based national air quality standards for lead set in 2008. Based on 2008 to 2010 air quality monitoring data, EPA also determined that Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan and Puerto Rico each have one area that does not meet the agency’s health based standards for lead. Exposure to lead may impair a child’s IQ, learning capabilities and behavior.
The Environmental Benefits of Cloud Computing
November 9, 2011 03:03 PM - David A Gabel, ENN
A new report released by the Carbon Disclosure Project in London has found that blue-chip companies can reduce their carbon emissions by 50% if they move their data storage operations to the cloud. The study focused on major IT companies in France and the United Kingdom. These are the same companies which are also developing such "cloud" technologies and services. The release of the report follows an announcement that the use of cloud services may well triple within the next two years.
GHG Index is Up
November 9, 2011 02:47 PM - Andy Soos, ENN
Green house gas emissions such as carbon dioxide have been increasing. NOAA’s updated Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, which measures the direct climate influence of many greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, shows a continued steady upward trend that began with the Industrial Revolution of the 1880s. Started in 2004, the AGGI reached 1.29 in 2010. That means the combined heating effect of long-lived greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere by human activities has increased by 29 percent since 1990, the base index year used as a baseline for comparison. This is slightly higher than the 2009 AGGI, which was 1.27, when the combined heating effect of those additional greenhouse gases was 27 percent higher than in 1990.