Millions of insect species will go extinct before we even discover them

December 14, 2017 by  
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Only 200 years ago did humans begin to systematically categorize the species, and within that relatively small stretch, we’ve recorded about 2 million species of plants, animals, fungi. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. By some estimates, we still have another 2 million to uncover, and by others, there are upwards of 100 million left to be classified. However, with deforestation, sprawl, and, above all, climate change putting the planet in jeopardy, scientists believe millions of species will die off before we will even encounter them. And the implications of this are far-reaching. For several decades, scientists have warned that we are headed into, or may even be experiencing, the sixth mass extinction . As The Guardian notes , there have been five other instances like this in the past, including the end-Cretaceous extinction, which led to the demise of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. However, to know for certain if we’re amidst doom and gloom, scientists need to determine the rate at which species are disappearing, and when human activity is factored in, how by how much this rate increases. Related: Plummeting insect population signals potential “ecological Armageddon” Previous studies have deemed humans to indeed be major drivers, possibly causing animal species to go extinct “up to 100 times” faster because of human activity, as one  team of American and Mexican scientists  found. However, Terry Erwin, a world-renowned tropical entomologist, says that the data that has historically been used in these studies is wholly incomplete and “biased towards a very small portion of biodiversity.” Rather, if scientists want an accurate picture of existing conditions, they need to look beyond vertebrates to invertebrates like worms, snails, spiders, octopuses, and most importantly insects, which account for about 70 percent of the Earth’s living creatures. Indeed, only one in 200 of all known species is a mammal. With that said, to determine the true rate of extinction of species on Earth, you need to determine the scale of the insect kingdom—and this is the biggest challenge. While the scope of the insect population is still being explored, The Guardian does cite a “breakthrough” that’s offered some insight into what we’re dealing with. In 1982, Erwin headed to a rainforest in Panama with the goal of determining how many species of insect lived on average across one acre of forest. He chose one tree, which he draped in sheeting and used blasts of insecticide to fog the bugs out. Over several hours, as the insects evacuated the tree onto the sheeting, Erwin was able to collect 1,200 species of bugs, of which he later determined more than 100 of which were exclusive to that one tree. From those findings, he averaged that there are about 41,000 different species per hectare of rainforest, and in turn 30 million species worldwide. The estimates, however, he now deems conservative and suspects the number could actually be between 80 and 200 million, but adds that tens of thousands of them are probably disappearing annually without us even knowing. Of no surprise, climate change is being pinned as the fundamental driver of the great insect die off. Scientists have even noticed drops in the virgin forests of Ecuador and places where insecticides aren’t being used and humans have not cut down a single tree. As the Guardian writes, based on data collected, Erwin and his collaborators have found that the Amazon rainforest has been slowly dying out over the last 35 years. “[If the forest goes out] everything that lives in it will be affected,” he told the site. The disappearance of insect life on Earth would surely mean the end of all life on Earth. Insects are responsible for the planet’s course of evolution from flowering plants to food chains and are key to keeping those systems functioning. As EO Wilson, a celebrated Harvard entomologist, and inventor of sociobiology, tells The Guardian, humanity would last all of a few months without insects and other land-based arthropods. “After that, most of the amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals would go, along with the flowering plants. The planet would become an immense compost heap, covered in shoals of carcasses and dead trees that refused to rot. Briefly, fungi would bloom in untold numbers. Then, they too would die off. The Earth would revert to what it was like in the Silurian period, 440m years ago, when life was just beginning to colonise the soil – a spongy, silent place, filled with mosses and liverworts, waiting for the first shrimp brave enough to try its luck on land.” Via The Guardian Images via MaxPixel and Wiki Commons

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Millions of insect species will go extinct before we even discover them

Alaskan city’s temperatures spiked so significantly NOAA algorithms thought they were wrong

December 13, 2017 by  
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Every month the NOAA puts together a climate report , documenting changes in average temperatures across the country. While the agency found in November that much of the U.S. had seen an “above average” or “much above average” climb—it was actually the seventh warmest November on record—nowhere was this upswing more apparent than in Barrow, Alaska, where temperatures jumped so remarkably that the NOAA’s algorithms deemed the collected data to be flawed and omitted it. As shared in the  NOAA’s report , “In early December 2017, due to a sharp, but real, increase in temperature during the 21st century at Barrow (Utqia?vik), NCEI’s quality assurance algorithms retroactively rejected the station’s monthly temperatures dating to late summer 2016.” Related: Video of starving polar bear ‘rips your heart out of your chest’ Indeed, temperatures had jumped so significantly this year that the NOAA’s system believed the data collected was a mistake. As the Denver Post writes, “this kind of quality-control algorithm is only good in ‘average’ situations with no outliers.” Deke Arndt, the chief of NOAA’s Climate Monitoring Branch, described the flub as “an ironic exclamation point to swift regional climate change in and near the Arctic.” As reported by NOAA, Barrow, which is the United States’ northernmost city, experienced its warmest November on record with a temperature of 17.2°F, 16.4°F above the 1981-2010 normal, and 1.9°F warmer than the previous record in 1950. The rise has been a result of melting sea ice, which has historically served to reflect sunlight and kept temperatures stable. “The current observed rate of sea ice decline and warming temperatures are higher than at any other time in the last 1,500 years, and likely longer than that,” the NOAA report said. Moreover, the region has seen large swaths of permafrost turn to mud (permafrost contains huge amounts of frozen greenhouse gases) and the spread of non-native plants common to warmer climates across the tundra. The Arctic region overall had its second-warmest year, just after 2016. And the above hasn’t caused you to sit up in alarm, the NOAA’s more exhaustive  Arctic Report Card , a peer-reviewed document that includes the work of 85 scientists across 12 countries, was given the title: “ Arctic shows no sign of returning to [the] reliably frozen region of recent past decades.” In other words, say hello to the “new normal.” Via Denver Post Image via Wiki Commons graphs and maps via NOAA

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Alaskan city’s temperatures spiked so significantly NOAA algorithms thought they were wrong

New NASA tool shows which melting glaciers will affect coastal cities

November 17, 2017 by  
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NASA has developed a new tool  that individuals and communities can use to determine the precise impacts that sea level rise will have on individual coastal cities . This newly accessible information will enable scientists and policymakers to have a more complete understanding of the consequences of climate change in specific areas. “This study allows one person to understand which icy areas of the world will contribute most significantly to sea level change (rise or decrease) in their specific city,” said Eric Larour, one of the study’s authors, in an interview with CNN . While most coastal communities around the world understand the imminent risks to their survival from sea level rise , this tool allows them to plan more precisely for the future. Current projections estimate that coastal communities will face a sea level rise of one to four feet, depending on location. Since the impact of melting sea ice will be felt differently in different places, it is important for communities to have as precise and accurate information as possible. NASA’s new tool, developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, incorporates the rotation of the Earth and gravitational variables to more precisely identify how specific bodies of melting ice will impact certain communities. Related: Boston outlines its plans to adapt to rising sea levels To create this tool, researchers conducted a study in which they analyzed data for 293 coastal cities to calculate local sea level rise and the glacial source of this newly liquid water. Glaciers farthest away from a particular city tended to be the most responsible for its sea level rise, due to gravity. “Ice sheets are so heavy, that when they melt, the gravity field is modified, and the ocean is less attracted to the ice mass,” said Larour in an interview with CNN . “This means that locally, close to the ice change itself, sea level will decrease.” Larour hopes that this new tool will empower local communities to make informed decisions as they prepare for unfolding impacts of climate change . + NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Via CNN Images via NASA and Depositphotos

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Magnetic particles may be the future of data storage

October 24, 2017 by  
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Recently discovered magnetic behavior may have enormous potential to power the next generation of data storage technology , according to new research reported this week in the journal  Nature Nanotechnology.  The promise of data storage based on “skyrmions,” minuscule disturbances in magnetic orientation, offers a potential path to overcome fundamental limitations in computing technology that otherwise may have heralded the end of Moore’s Law, which holds that computing power doubles in strength roughly every two years. Skyrmions, the phenomenon on which this new data technology would be based, were only discovered in 2016 by a team led by MIT associate professor of materials science and engineering Geoffrey Beach. These magnetic particles occur between two thin metallic films from two different kinds of metal and can be wielded using electric fields, allowing long-term data storage without the need of additional energy. While the locations of these skyrmions were originally random, Beach and collaborators at MIT and in Germany  have since demonstrated an ability to purposefully create and harness these magnetic particles, opening the door to new technological possibilities. Related: Scientists turn eggshells into eco-friendly data-storage devices Because skyrmions are very stable in contrast to traditional magnetic storage devices , data could potentially be stored on a magnetic surface perhaps only a few atoms across. This feature is what allows the theoretical skyrmions-based storage devices overcome the physical limitations of traditional magnetic storage devices and continue the computing power expansion under Moore’s Law. The next step is to figure out an efficient way to read the data that has been written into the skyrmions. One solution is to add an additional layer of a different metal to the skyrmion sandwich and then use differences in the layer’s electrical resistance based on the presence of skyrmions to determine the encoded data. “There’s no question it would work,” said MIT postdoc and study co-author Felix Buettner, but further research and development is needed to determine how best to implement the idea. Via Futurism/MIT News Images via Moritz Eisebitt/MIT News and Depositphotos

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Magnetic particles may be the future of data storage

Biggest grid operator in US attacks Perry’s proposal to prop up coal

October 24, 2017 by  
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Energy Secretary Rick Perry is attempting to keep coal alive under the guise of grid resiliency , but the largest grid operator in the United States called on regulators to scrap the plan. PJM Interconnection CEO Andrew Ott called Perry’s pricing proposal unworkable and discriminatory, and even said it’s inconsistent with federal law. Multiple other grid operators have also called for its rejection. Perry has urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to alter how wholesale power markets price electricity – so some nuclear and coal generators can recover costs, according to Bloomberg. Perry’s plan would attempt to reward power plants able to store 90 days of fuel supplies onsite. Ott told reporters, “I don’t know how this proposal could be implemented without a detrimental impact on the market.” Related: Trump administration halts study on health risks of living near coal mining sites Ott said it seems the rule targets PJM – between 2011 and 2016, they retired over 19 gigawatts of coal-fired power, according to Bloomberg. But “the PJM market is more diverse and reliable today than we’ve seen,” Ott said. PJM serves over 65 million people in over a dozen states in the Midwest to Mid-Atlantic. Bloomberg said hundreds of energy companies commented on the proposal, with firms like ExxonMobil , Anadarko Petroleum , and Devon Energy pointing to the low cost and reliability of natural gas . The Solar Energy Industries Association said nuclear and coal plants aren’t invulnerable to outages. FirstEnergy supported Perry’s plan because they said the grid will be at risk if nuclear and coal plants are retired. They operate several coal plants in the PJM market. Grid operators like the New York Independent System Operator , the Midcontinent Independent System Operator , and ISO New England called for FERC to toss out Perry’s plan as part of a coalition that also included organizations the proposal wouldn’t impact, such as the California Independent System Operator , the Electric Reliability Council of Texas , and the Southwest Power Pool . Via Bloomberg Images via Pixabay and U.S. Department of Agriculture on Flickr

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Grass-fed beef may be even worse for the climate

October 10, 2017 by  
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Prepare to be cowed by the data.

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Grass-fed beef may be even worse for the climate

Is blockchain the singularity point for the environment?

October 10, 2017 by  
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Applying blockchain to carbon credits to create a “carbon currency” is the key to demystifying and consolidating the carbon market so it can scale up.

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Is blockchain the singularity point for the environment?

How Scott’s Miracle-Gro found value in vulnerability

October 10, 2017 by  
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In response to criticism about its fertilizers, the company sought to step forward as an environmental leader.

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MIT engineers devise algorithm to identify warning signs of extreme weather events

September 25, 2017 by  
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Extreme events – like a rogue wave, hurricane , or sudden extinction – often seem to strike with few hints beforehand. But what if we could predict these events before they even form? Two Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers came up with a framework, a computer algorithm , to spot patterns that come before such an event. According to MIT , their method may help anticipate “hotspots of instability affecting climate , aircraft performance, and ocean circulation.” It can be incredibly difficult to foresee extreme events, since many systems are complex, with many players or factors. The new MIT algorithm can be applied to a large range of systems to search for warning signs. In the past, researchers have tried to predict extreme events by solving mathematical models. But often scientists don’t fully understand the mechanisms shaping complex systems, which can lead to model errors. Related: INFOGRAPHIC: Countries where you are most likely to die from extreme climate events The new algorithm blends equations with available data . Sapsis said, “We are looking at the equations for possible states that have very high growth rates and become extreme events, but they are also consistent with data, telling us whether this state has any likelihood of occurring, or if it’s something so exotic that, yes, it will lead to an extreme event, but the probability of it occurring is basically zero.” MIT explained their algorithm acts as a sieve to catch precursors, or warning signs, that would be seen in the real world. To test their framework, they simulated a turbulent fluid flow and searched for precursors their framework predicted. Those precursors turned into extreme events, according to MIT, between 75 and 99 percent of the time. Sapsis said in a statement, “If you can predict where these things occur, maybe you can develop some control techniques to suppress them.” The journal Science Advances published the research late last week. Via MIT News and Inverse Images via Wikimedia Commons and Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

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MIT engineers devise algorithm to identify warning signs of extreme weather events

Australian researchers store light as sound for the first time

September 18, 2017 by  
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Photonic computers could run 20 times quicker than today’s laptops if microchips could process data in speedy photons. Now, they might be able to. For the very first time, researchers from two Australian universities have found a way to store light waves as sound waves in a microchip – a breakthrough that brings us closer to the super-fast computers of the future. Light-based computers could revolutionize computing. They won’t generate heat , or use as much energy as today’s computers. Light-based information sent across cables today is converted into electrons, which are slow, but storing light waves as sound waves allows the information, which computer chips can still read, to travel more quickly. Normally, light would pass through a microchip in two to three nanoseconds, but when it’s stored as sound, it can remain on a chip for an additional 10 nanoseconds, allowing data to be processed. Related: Newly discovered form of spiralized light breaks everything quantum physics says about photons The animation above breaks down the process. Photonic data enters the microchip as a yellow light pulse, and interacts with what’s called a write pulse that’s blue. That generates an acoustic wave where the data is stored. Then, another light pulse, called the read pulse, accesses the data stored in the acoustic wave and transmits it as light. Project supervisor Birgit Stiller of the University of Sydney said in a statement, “The information in our chip in acoustic form travels at a velocity five orders of magnitude slower than in the optical domain. It is like the difference between thunder and lightning.” Their system also works on a broad bandwidth, so Stiller said they can store and retrieve information at different wavelengths at the same time. The journal Nature Communications published the research online today. Two researchers from Australian National University joined three from the University of Sydney for the study. Via ScienceAlert and Phys.org Images via PublicDomainPictures.net and Louise Connor/University of Sydney

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