Earth ChangesS


Climatologists Baffled by Global Warming Time-Out

Global warming appears to have stalled. Climatologists are puzzled as to why average global temperatures have stopped rising over the last 10 years. Some attribute the trend to a lack of sunspots, while others explain it through ocean currents.

At least the weather in Copenhagen is likely to be cooperating. The Danish Meteorological Institute predicts that temperatures in December, when the city will host the United Nations Climate Change Conference, will be one degree above the long-term average.

Otherwise, however, not much is happening with global warming at the moment. The Earth's average temperatures have stopped climbing since the beginning of the millennium, and it even looks as though global warming could come to a standstill this year.

Ironically, climate change appears to have stalled in the run-up to the upcoming world summit in the Danish capital, where thousands of politicians, bureaucrats, scientists, business leaders and environmental activists plan to negotiate a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Billions of euros are at stake in the negotiations.


Scientists Uncover Corn's Full Genetic Code

© AFP PhotoTwo corncobs are seen in a corn field ready to be harvested
A team of US scientists has uncovered the complete genetic code of corn, a discovery that promises to speed development of higher yielding varieties of one of the world's most important food crops.

Corn is the third most abundant cereal crop, after rice and sorghum, researchers said. Advances in corn production could mean major steps toward feeding the world's growing population as it struggles with climate change.

The team of 150 experts, led by Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, said Thursday they had identified some 32,000 DNA sequences, or genes, in the 10 chromosomes that make up the genome of maize, the largest of any plant examined so far.

By comparison, the human genome includes 20,000 genes distributed in 23 chromosomes.

Better Earth

Rich Ore Deposits Linked to Ancient Atmosphere

Much of our planet's mineral wealth was deposited billions of years ago when Earth's chemical cycles were different from today's. Using geochemical clues from rocks nearly 3 billion years old, a group of scientists including Andrey Bekker and Doug Rumble from the Carnegie Institution have made the surprising discovery that the creation of economically important nickel ore deposits was linked to sulfur in the ancient oxygen-poor atmosphere.

© iStockphotoVolcano eruption on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean.
These ancient ores -- specifically iron-nickel sulfide deposits -- yield 10% of the world's annual nickel production. They formed for the most part between two and three billion years ago when hot magmas erupted on the ocean floor. Yet scientists have puzzled over the origin of the rich deposits. The ore minerals require sulfur to form, but neither seawater nor the magmas hosting the ores were thought to be rich enough in sulfur for this to happen.

"These nickel deposits have sulfur in them arising from an atmospheric cycle in ancient times. The isotopic signal is of an anoxic atmosphere," says Rumble of Carnegie's Geophysical Laboratory, a co-author of the paper appearing in the November 20 issue of Science.


Flax and Yellow Flowers Can Produce Bioethanol

© Johnathan J. Stegeman and Tom Hilton/SINCFlowers of a Brassica plant. Brassica offers a greater production of biomass per hectare and has a lesser environmental impact than flax.
Surplus biomass from the production of flax shives, and generated from Brassica carinata, a yellow-flowered plant related to those which engulf fields in spring, can be used to produce bioethanol. This has been suggested by two studies carried out by Spanish and Dutch researchers and published in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

"These studies evaluate, from an environmental point of view, the production of bioethanol from two, as yet unexploited sources of biomass: agricultural residue from flax (for the production of paper fibres for animal bedding), and Brassica carinata crops (herbaceous plant with yellow flowers, similar to those which carpet the countryside in spring)," Sara González-García, researcher of the Bioprocesses and Environmental Engineering Group of the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC), said.

González-García, along with other researchers from USC, the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the University of Leiden (Holland), has confirmed that if bioethanol is produced from these two types of biomass "both CO2 emissions and fossil fuel consumption will be reduced, meeting two of the objectives established by the European Union to promote biofuels."


The Benefits of Plants

© Flickr
Chronic stress in humans has been implicated in heart disease, weight gain, and diabetes, among a host of other health problems. Extreme environments, a source of chronic stress, present a challenge even for the hardiest organisms, and plants are no exception. Yet, some species somehow manage to survive, and even thrive, in stressful conditions.

A recent article by Dr. Yuri Springer in the November issue of the American Journal of Botany finds that certain wild flax plants growing in poor soils have succeeded in balancing the stress in their lives -- these plants are less likely to experience infection from a fungal pathogen. Walking the fine line between the costs associated with surviving under stressful conditions and the benefits that may be derived from growing in an environment with fewer interactions with antagonistic species is a tricky balancing act.

For plants, serpentine soils are one example of an extreme environment. Serpentine soils are those that provide a stressful medium for plant growth, due to features of the soil, such as a rocky texture, low water-holding capacity, high levels of toxic metals, and/or low levels of necessary nutrients.

Cloud Lightning

Ireland facing huge bill for flood damage

© Eamon WardSome people find the bright side in everything! Cloughleigh-native Shane Millar makes good use of his skim board on the streets of Ennis yesterday.
South and west hardest hit as Army is deployed

Ireland faces a multi-million euro flood damage bill after some of the worst flooding in living memory.

Bus and rail travel was disrupted, motorists were urged to undertake journeys only if absolutely necessary and the Army was called out to help stem rising floodwaters as parts of the South and the West faced the brunt of the atrocious conditions.

Last night, Met Eireann warned of more bad weather to come with more wind and heavy rain. Meteorologists added that next week was looking "every bit as unsettled".

Bizarro Earth

5.1 Earthquake Hits New Zealand

Two earthquakes hit near New Zealand North Island's Palmerston North on Thursday morning. There have been no immediate reports of injury or damage.

The New Zealand Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS Science) said the first tremor of 5.1 magnitude struck at 7:04a.m. (18:04 GMT Wednesday), 10 km south of Palmerston North at a depth of 40 km.

The tremor was felt throughout the North Island.


Bees Can Learn Differences in Food's Temperature, Study Finds

© James NiehHoneybees can discriminate between food at different temperatures, researchers have found.
Biologists at UC San Diego have discovered that honeybees can discriminate between food at different temperatures, an ability that may assist bees in locating the warm, sugar-rich nectar or high-protein pollen produced by many flowers.

While other researchers had previously found hints that bees might have the ability to do this, the UCSD biologists provide the first detailed experimental evidence in a paper that will be published in the December 1 issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology.

"We show that honeybees have the ability to associate temperature differences with food," said James Nieh, an associate professor of biology who headed the study. "This information may help guide bees looking for food by allowing them to distinguish which bees are returning to the hive with the highest quality of food."


The Evolution of Bat Migration

Most people know the term of "migrating bird" but "migrating bat" is not very established. However, some bat species migrate every year long or short distances. Whereas birds migrate to exploit seasonal food resources, the majority of bats migrate with the intention to find better hibernating conditions.

In Europe about 30 percent and in North America around 45 percent of bird species migrate; the migration of bats however is a rather rare phenomenon. Only about three percent of the approximately 1,000 bat species migrate, of those less than 0.016 percent migrate further than 1,000 kilometers. The vast majority of bats of the temperate zone hibernate during winter, as a result of the food shortage at this time.

Together, researchers of the University of Princeton in the U.S. and the Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology have analyzed the genealogical tree of bats on the basis of their migratory behavior. They are confining themselves to only the family of the Vespertilionidae, also called the vespertilionid bats, which includes 316 species or about a third of all bat species. Of about 32 migrating bat species, 23 are part of this family. Eleven of those migrate over long distances longer than 1,000 kilometers. The remaining twelve only fly short distances that vary between 100 and 1,000 kilometers.


Why Israeli Rodents are More Cautious than Jordanian Ones?

© iStockphoto/Johannes NorpothIsraeli gerbils are more cautious than their Jordanian friends.
A series of studies carried out at the University of Haifa have found that rodent, reptile and ant lion species behave differently on either side of the Israel-Jordan border. "The border line, which is only a demarcation on the map, cannot contain these species, but the line does restrict humans and their diverse impact on nature," says Dr. Uri Shanas.

Is a border line simply a virtual line appearing on the map? If so, why is it that Israeli rodents are more cautious than Jordanian rodents? Why is it that there are more ant lions in Israel than in Jordan? And how come there are more reptile species in Jordan than in Israel? A series of new studies at the University of Haifa's Department of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology and the University of Haifa-Oranim's Faculty of Sciences and Science Education are exploring the answers.

"The boundary is only a virtual marking that appears on the map and is not capable of keeping these species from crossing the border between Israel and Jordan; but the line does stop humans from crossing it and thereby contains their different impact on nature," says Dr. Uri Shanas, a participant in the research.

The series of studies, which have been carried out in cooperation with Jordanian researchers, has examined a variety of reptile, mammal, beetle, spider and ant lion species on either side of the border in the Arava region. The Israeli team includes Dr. Shanas and research students Idan Shapira and Shacham Mitler, who set out to reveal whether the border -- unknown to the species -- could affect differences between them and their numbers on either side of the frontier, even though they share identical climate conditions.