Oldest ice core ever dated reveals hidden clues to ancient Earth’s atmosphere

August 21, 2017 by  
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Ice cores hold secrets of what our planet was like millions of years ago, in bubbles preserving greenhouse gases from that time. A Princeton University -led team just revealed the date of ice from the oldest ice core we’ve ever dated, and it’s 2.7 million years old. Breaking the previous record by around 1.7 million years, the ice core could potentially help scientists determine what set off the ice ages . The ice core could help scientists understand more about our planet’s atmosphere millions of years ago. University of California, Berkeley geochemist David Shuster, who wasn’t part of the research, told Science Magazine, “This is the only sample of ancient Earth’s atmosphere that we have access to.” And the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the planet’s atmosphere, according to research on the ice core, may surprise some: they didn’t exceed 300 parts per million. Related: Why scientists are transporting ice from a mountain in Bolivia to Antarctica There are models of our planet’s ancient climate which hinted there would need to be low levels of CO2 to trigger ice ages. But according to Science Magazine, proxies that came from the fossils of animals who dwelt in shallow oceans had hinted at higher CO2 levels. The proxies may need to be re-calibrated if the new ice core dating holds up. Researchers unearthed the ice core from what’s called blue ice in East Antarctica. Science Magazine explained that in blue ice areas, glacial flow has allowed some ancient ice to come up to the surface. As a result, scientists don’t need to drill as deep to obtain old ice core samples in blue ice. The Princeton team hopes to extract still more ice cores from there and geochemist Ed Brook of Oregon State University , who was part of the team, said they could potentially find ice that dates back five million years. Princeton University graduate student Yuzhen Yan presented the research at the Goldschmidt Conference in Paris earlier this month. Scientists from institutions in California and Maine also made contributions. Via Science Magazine Images via Yuzhen Yan, Department of Geosciences

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Oldest ice core ever dated reveals hidden clues to ancient Earth’s atmosphere

Antarctica’s newest iceberg may destabilize the entire ice shelf

August 3, 2017 by  
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For eighteen months, scientists and concerned citizens waited for a giant iceberg to break off the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica. On July 12, the highly-anticipated event finally occurred . Because the iceberg, named A68, was predominantly submerged in the water before it detached, the event did not dramatically raise sea levels — phenomena which would propel natural disasters. While this is fortunate, it turns out the iceberg saga isn’t over: cracks are spreading towards a location that is paramount to the stability of the remaining ice shelf . For months, satellites have been capturing footage of the region to track the effects of climate change . After A68 broke off the shelf, satellites continued to track its movements. According to new data published by the University of Leeds, the structure has drifted approximately 3.1 miles (5km) away from its initial location. When the event finally took place, Larsen C lost about 10 perfect of its area; at least 11 smaller icebergs — some up to 8 miles (12 km) long — were also formed. NewAtlas reports that as the network of cracks continues to sweep across Larsen C, the number of icebergs will keep increasing. Related: Dubai firm wants to tow icebergs from Antarctica for fresh water Said Anna Hogg, a researcher at the University of Leeds: “The satellite images reveal a lot of continuing action on Larsen C Ice Shelf. We can see that the remaining cracks continue to grow towards a feature called Bawden Ice Rise, which provides important structural support for the remaining ice shelf. If an ice shelf loses contact with the ice rise, either through sustained thinning or a large iceberg calving event, it can prompt a significant acceleration in ice speed, and possibly further destabilization. It looks like the Larsen C story might not be over yet.” As Inhabitat previously reported, A68 is not a direct result of climate change . In fact, the process happens quite naturally during the life cycle of ice shelves. However, it is possible that it is breaking away progressed faster than normal due to changing environmental conditions . “Although floating ice shelves have only a modest impact on of sea-level rise, ice from Antarctica’s interior can discharge into the ocean when they collapse,” said Hilmar Gudmundsson, a researcher from the British Antarctic Survey. “Consequently we will see increase in the ice-sheet contribution to global sea-level rise. With this large calving event, and the availability of satellite technology, we have a fantastic opportunity to watch this natural experiment unfolding before our eyes. We can expect to learn a lot about how ice shelves break up and how the loss of a section of an ice shelf affects the flow of the remaining parts.” The findings were published in the journal Nature Climate Change . + University of Leeds Via NewAtlas Images via Pixabay

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Antarctica’s newest iceberg may destabilize the entire ice shelf

Antarctica plants show potential as natural sunscreen ingredients

July 28, 2017 by  
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Antarctica may be the last place you’d expect to find sunscreen ingredients, but scientists from Chile have a hunch the molecules that shield two species of Antarctic flowers from the harsh effects of the sun could also protect people and crops from the same. Researchers from Universidad de Santiago de Chile studying Colobanthus quitensis (a.k.a pearlwort) and Deschampsia antarctica (hair grass) under controlled conditions found that the plants were able to withstand high levels of ultraviolet radiation. A group of molecules in the flowers— Colobanthus in particular—act as a kind of solar filter to circumvent radiation damage, according to project leader Gustavo Zuniga. The only two that flower on the frosty continent, the plants typically grow in milder zones along its edges. Climate change is expanding their range, however, researchers said. Related: 40% of the top sunscreens don’t meet official guidelines for sun protection The university is on the lookout for partners who are able to use its findings to develop commercial products, such as natural sunscreen or human skin or gene therapy for agriculture. Testing could begin in earnest then. “It could be used in the not too distant future,” Zuniga told Reuters . “For example, for a crop that doesn’t tolerate increasing levels of radiation, that genetic information could be used to make the crop respond better.” + Universidad de Santiago de Chile Photos by Herson Rodriguez and Cassie Matias on Unsplash [Via Reuters ]

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Colossal iceberg weighing a trillion metric tons finally breaks off in the Antarctic

July 12, 2017 by  
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It finally happened. For several months scientists have had their eyes on the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica , where a massive iceberg has been dangling by a thread. Now they report the iceberg has indeed calved, and is floating in the Weddell Sea. The volume of this iceberg is twice that of Lake Erie. It’s thought to be one of the 10 biggest icebergs we’ve ever recorded. The new iceberg, which will likely be called A68, is around 2,239 square miles. It weighs over a trillion metric tons. Project Midas , which has been monitoring the Larsen C ice shelf, reported the calving happened sometime between July 10 and July 12. Scientists noted the break in NASA satellite data. Related: A colossal iceberg is breaking off Antarctica right now – and it’s big enough to fill Lake Michigan The Larsen C ice shelf has been reduced by 12 percent, meaning it’s at its lowest extent we’ve ever recorded. There isn’t evidence this event is linked to climate change , according to Project Midas leader Adrian Luckman of Swansea University . He said it is possible, but recent data shows that the ice shelf has actually been thickening. United States National Ice and Snow Data Center glacial expert Twila Moon agreed but did say climate change makes it easier for such events to occur. Project Midas team member and Swansea University glaciologist Martin O’Leary said in a statement, “Although this is a natural event, and we’re not aware of any link to human-induced climate change, this puts the ice shelf in a very vulnerable position. This is the furthest back that the ice front has been in recorded history.” Scientists don’t yet know what will happen to the rest of the Larsen C ice shelf. Luckman said more icebergs might break off, or the ice shelf could regrow. But the team’s prior research indicates an ice shelf is likely less stable now that A68 is floating free. Luckman told The Guardian, “We will have to wait years or decades to know what will happen to the remainder of Larsen C.” Via The Guardian and Project Midas Images via NASA/John Sonntag and Project Midas

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Colossal iceberg weighing a trillion metric tons finally breaks off in the Antarctic

A colossal iceberg is breaking off Antarctica right now – and it’s big enough to fill Lake Michigan

July 6, 2017 by  
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A gargantuan iceberg is set to break away from an Antarctic ice shelf within days — or even hours. Initially discovered by UK researchers in 2010, the nascent iceberg has been rapidly calving since 2016. Once the crack in the continent’s Larsen C ice shelf is complete, the resulting iceberg will stretch an astonishing 277 cubic miles, and it’ll be an 620 feet thick. That’s enough mass to fill more than 460 million Olympic-size pools — or nearly all of Lake Michigan . The news was shared in a European Space Agency press release . Europe’s ice-monitoring satellite CryoSat took the most precise measurements to date to determine the iceberg’s thickness. Though a bounty of information has been obtained, researchers still aren’t sure what will happen when the iceberg breaks off. Said Anna Hogg, a glaciologist at the University of Leeds. “It could, in fact, even calve in pieces or break up shortly after. Whole or in pieces, ocean currents could drag it north, even as far as the Falkland Islands .” As a side note, the Falkland Islands lie more than 1,000 miles away from Larsen C. According to Adrian Luckman of Swansea University in the UK, once the iceberg breaks off, the rest of the shelf “will be less stable than it was prior to the rift.” In other words, there is a small chance the natural phenomenon’s formation could cause the entire Larsen C ice shelf to disintegrate and fall into the ocean over time. While some scientists are concerned the development may result in sea levels rising up to four inches, Amanda Fricker, a glaciologist who studies Antarctic ice for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, perceives the shelf breaking off as a natural — and expected — occurrence. In an opinion column for The Guardian , she wrote, “Large calving events such as this are normal processes of a healthy ice sheet, ones that have occurred for decades, centuries, millennia — on cycles that are much longer than a human or satellite lifetime. What looks like an enormous loss is just ordinary housekeeping for this part of Antarctica .” As for now, it is impossible to know when, exactly, the rift will snap. Satellite images show that it is likely to be soon, however. “New Sentinel-1 data today continues to show the rift opening more rapidly. We can’t claim iceberg calving yet, but it won’t be long now,” wrote Martin O’Leary, another glaciologist with Swansea’s Project MIDAS, on Twitter late June. The Sentinel-1’s measurements show that the crack just needs three more miles to cut off the giant iceberg . + European Space Agency Via The Guardian Images via John Sonntag/Nasa , Swansea University

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A colossal iceberg is breaking off Antarctica right now – and it’s big enough to fill Lake Michigan

Make calls with light or radio signals thanks to first battery-free cellphone

July 6, 2017 by  
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Imagine never having to charge your smartphone ever again. We may be one step closer to that battery-free future with new research from University of Washington engineers. They made a phone capable of calling people drawing on light or ambient radio signals. Associate professor Shyam Gollakota said they think it could be the “first functioning cellphone that consumes almost zero power .” No, it’s not magic – the University of Washington’s battery-free cellphone can function on just a few microwatts of power it harvests from RF signals coming from a base station around 31 feet away, or from light via a minute solar cell that’s about the size of a grain of rice. The team constructed their prototype from off-the-shelf components and have already used it to make Skype calls. Related: MIT’s New Battery-Free Chip Captures Energy From Light, Heat, And Vibrations at the Same Time The cellphone prototype is able to run on such low power in part because the team got rid of the step to convert analog signals into digital data – a process that sucks up a lot of power in modern cellphones. Their battery-free phone can make use of small vibrations from the speaker or microphone that come when a person is talking or listening while making a call. According to a university press release, “An antenna connected to those components converts that motion into changes in standard analog radio signal emitted by a cellular base station. This process essentially encodes speech patterns in reflected radio signals in a way that uses almost no power.” The team designed their own base station to receive and transmit radio signals. But that technology could be embedded in cell towers or even Wi-Fi routers in the future. Research associate Vamsi Talla said if every home has a Wi-Fi router – as many already do – “you could get battery-free cellphone coverage everywhere.” The research was recently published in the Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable, and Ubiquitous Technologies . The team plans to keep working on the technology to increase the operating range and encrypt conversations. They also aim to stream video on battery-free cellphones. + Battery Free Phone Via the University of Washington Images via Mark Stone/University of Washington

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Ontario greenhouses could lose $10M because of new cap-and-trade rules

July 6, 2017 by  
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Ontario , Canada has 2,900 acres of greenhouses that export over $1 billion of cucumbers, tomatoes, and green peppers to the United States. But greenhouse growers are saying they’ll suffer under the province’s new climate action plan. Their industry doesn’t only produce carbon dioxide (CO2) but consumes it as part of plants ‘ photosynthesis process, but unlike in British Columbia and Alberta, Ontario growers won’t receive a rebate for the carbon consumption, which could cost them around $10 million in 2017. In January Ontario put in place cap-and-trade rules in an effort to combat climate change . But greenhouse growers say the rules are unfair to them, since they consume CO2 instead of just emitting it. They’ll be charged $18 per metric ton of carbon. Related: Wind-powered vertical Skyfarms are the future of sustainable agriculture Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers chair George Gilvesy told Financial Post, “We aren’t happy at all. We are using CO2 and the plants need CO2. Cap-and-trade is very bad policy . We are competing against the U.S. and Mexico, who do not have a carbon tax .” What would they prefer instead? A rebate, such as that given to growers in Alberta and British Columbia. Lawmakers in those provinces recognize greenhouses consume CO2 and offer a carbon tax rebate. BC Greenhouse Growers’ Association executive director Linda Delli Santi said British Columbia’s carbon tax used to cost her five-acre greenhouse $50,000 yearly and helped put it out of business. So growers successfully lobbied the government for a rebate. British Columbia’s then finance minister Michael de Jong said at the time, “Greenhouse growers are distinct from most others in that they need carbon dioxide and purposely produce it because it is essential for plant growth.” Ontario environment ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler said the province knows greenhouses will be an important source of local food as the climate changes. He told Financial Post, “Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan has committed up to $115 million to support the retrofit of agricultural facilities, including greenhouses. The investment will help the industry expand the use of innovative technologies and practices to reduce emissions .” Via Financial Post Images via Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay

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Ontario greenhouses could lose $10M because of new cap-and-trade rules

New study reveals plastic pollution in the Antarctic is 5x worse than expected

June 19, 2017 by  
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We know about plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean , and even in the Arctic Ocean . But scientists thought the Antarctic was relatively free of that particular type of pollution until a recent study from the University of Hull , Científica del Sur University , and the British Antarctic Survey . Researchers discovered the levels of microplastics in the area are much greater than expected. Microplastic levels in the Antarctic are five times greater than anticipated, according to the international team. Microplastics are those tiny particles less than five millimeters in diameter found in personal care items like toothpaste and shampoo, but they can also come from clothing fibers or be created as larger pieces of plastic in the ocean break down. Related: One of the world’s most remote islands is also the most polluted The researchers found the plastic around the Antarctic continent and in the Southern Ocean , which is around 8.5 million square miles large. They think plastic originating outside the area may be coming in over the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which scientists in the past considered nearly impassible. University of Hull scientist Catherine Waller, lead author on a study published this year in Science of the Total Environment , said the ecosystem of the Antarctic is very fragile, and the area was thought to be isolated. It’s populated with krill that might eat the microplastics, and in turn be consumed by larger marine mammals like whales . Co-author Claire Waluda of the British Antarctic Survey said in a statement, “We have monitored the presence of large plastic items in Antarctica for over 30 years. While we know that bigger pieces of plastic can be ingested by seabirds or cause entanglements in seals, the effects of microplastics on marine animals in the Southern Ocean are as yet unknown.” The scientists called for urgent international monitoring of the plastic in the Antarctic. Via British Antarctic Survey Images via Catherine Waller and Claire Waluda

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New study reveals plastic pollution in the Antarctic is 5x worse than expected

Scientists report enormous Texas-sized melting in Antarctica

June 16, 2017 by  
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A recent snowmelt event in West Antarctica could provide scientists with more information to understand how climate change will alter our world. A team of 14 scientists from American and Australian institutions documented widespread melting that happened in 2016, precipitated largely by warm winds from El Niño . An unusually hot summer didn’t help either. We have evidence warm waters are melting ice shelves in Antarctica, but this event was one of the first instances where researchers were able to document how warm air could induce melting from the skies. An area of West Antarctica more than double the size of California partially melted in January 2016. The Ross Ice Shelf’s surface had a sheet of meltwater that remained for up to 15 days in some locations. And as luck would have it, researchers had just deployed instruments to measure the environment just before the melt event happened. Dan Lubin of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography said, “These atmospheric measurements will help geophysical scientists develop better physical models for projecting how the Antarctic ice sheet might respond to a changing climate and influence sea level rise .” Related: Massive chunk of Antarctic ice shelf likely to break away soon Warm air from El Niño influenced the mass melting. Such melt event usually happen when westerly winds are weak, but scientists say this event was unique because the westerly winds were strong during the melt event. Without those winds the melting might have been even worse. David Bromwich, geography professor at The Ohio State University , said in a statement, “…because we expect stronger, more frequent El Niños in the future with a warming climate, we can expect more major surface melt events in West Antarctica.” If melting happens more often, the ice sheet would deteriorate faster, he said. The journal Nature Communications published the research online this week. Via The Ohio State University and The Washington Post Images via Colin Jenkinson, Australian Bureau of Meteorology and Julien Nicolas, The Ohio State University

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Scientists report enormous Texas-sized melting in Antarctica

London could be getting its first ultra-green, tidal-powered school

June 16, 2017 by  
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London-based Curl la Tourelle Head Architecture just unveiled plans for what could become London’s greenest building – a tidal powered school situated on the banks of the Thames River. The five-story building would be entirely powered by energy harvested from a series of large turbines built underneath the waterway. According to the proposal, the school’s location is key to the tidal power project. Currently, the proposed site is being used as a city trash collection center where boats pick up and transport the city’s refuse to a landfill outside of the city. However, this exact site happens to be located on the narrowest section of the Thames – the point in the river with the highest velocity of tidal surge. Related: Is tidal power finally coming of age? “As far west as Teddington, the power of the coastal tides is felt twice daily along the Thames, with a rise and fall of as much seven metres of water,” said Wayne Head, one of the studio’s two directors. “The movement of water due to tides represents an untapped source of power that it’s high time London harnessed for good,” he told Dezeen . “The site is located directly at the narrowest section of the Thames – meaning that the velocity of the tidal flow at this point will be the highest in the river. The plan is to capture this four-times daily energy through submerged tidal turbines as the primary means to supply the building with carbon neutral power.” The proposal, which will be built to meet the Passivhaus standard as well as the BEEAM Outstanding rating, calls for using the building’s natural environment of clean air and cooler temperatures to create a pleasant microclimate on the interior. The school would also be installed with a number of carbon monitoring systems that would help the occupants limit their carbon footprint as much as possible. Additionally, the various renewable materials used in the structure would be left exposed to serve as an example for future architecture projects. Although the proposal is at its very early stages, the architect envisions the carbon neutral project as not only the city’s greenest building, but also a beacon for future of sustainable architecture in the city, “The Thames Tidal Powered School is potentially London’s greenest public building,” he said. “The design is conceived as an exemplar of low embodied energy and carbon construction technologies, using natural and bio-renewable materials sourced through local supply chains.” + Curl la Tourelle Head Architecture Via Dezeen Renderings by Forbes Massie

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