Climate change predictions not including CO2 impacts, study says

New research suggests that climate change predictions aren’t properly accounting for carbon dioxide impacts.

A new study suggests that climate change predications are not properly accounting for the possible effects of rising carbon dioxide levels.

Scientists current use climate models where warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius coincides with atmospheric carbon dioxide in the range of 425 and 520 parts per million (ppm). But the new study suggests that if the climate warms at a slower rate, 1.5 degree Celsius warming could be delaying until heightened carbon dioxide levels are reached.

“As well as being a major cause of global warming, CO2 also affects life directly,” said Richard Betts, first author on the study. “Higher CO2 concentrations cause increased growth in many plant species. This causes a general ‘greening’ of vegetation, but also changes the makeup of ecosystems—some species do better than others. Slower-growing large tree species can lose out to faster-growing competitors.”

“It can also reduce the effects of drought to some extent, because many plants use less water when CO2 is higher,” he continued.

Betts said that the new study conducted its calculations “in reverse”

“Instead of calculating the probability of a particular amount of warming if CO2 doubles, we calculated the probability of a particular amount of CO2 rise for a particular level of warming (1.5°C and 2°C),” he said.

“This lets us estimate what the range of CO2 concentrations would be when global warming passes those levels, if CO2 were the only thing in the atmosphere that we are changing.”

The findings were published in Nature Climate Change.

SpaceX launches flying robot head to befriend and spy on astronauts

SpaceX launched an orb-shaped flying robot head to befriend and spy on astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS).

On Friday, SpaceX launched a Dragon cargo ship destined for the International Space Station (ISS). On top of the usual supplies, the spaceship will deliver an artificially intelligent robotic head called Crew Interactive Mobile Companion (CIMON) to the astronauts.

“CIMON will be the first [artificial intelligence]-based mission and flight assistance system,” Manfred Jaumann, a payload engineer at Airbus (the aeronautics company that helped build the robot), said in a press release. He also said that CIMON will be “a free flyer, a kind of flying brain” that will interact with and learn from the astronauts.

CIMON’s first mission is to guide German astronaut Alexander Gerst through a social experiment. Afterwards, it will examine a Rubix’s Cube through a camera and give Gerst instructions to solve it. Its final task will be to record and assist Gerst perform a complicated medical experiment.

“Experiments sometimes consist of more than 100 different steps,” said Matthias Biniok, the lead architect from IBM Watson, who created the robot’s “brain.” But “CIMON knows them all,” meaning astronauts don’t have to worry about missing any steps.

The orb-shaped robot will also monitor the space station astronauts to assess their psychological “group effects” and emotional states.

“Social interaction between people and machines, between astronauts and assistance systems equipped with emotional intelligence, could play an important role in the success of long-term missions,” Airbus said.

Scientists use new coating to make natural fabrics waterproof

Fabrics like nylon, cotton, and linen might eventually be coated with a new waterproof coating.

A team of MIT researchers has created a unique new coating that adds water-repellency to natural fabrics like cotton and silk. The coating is more effective than existing water-repellent coatings, which tend to persist in the environment and build-up in our bodies.

“The challenge has been driven by the environmental regulators” due to the phaseout of the waterproof chemicals we use now, according to study co-author Kripa Varanasi.

But the results of the recent study reveal that the team’s repellant actually trumps existing materials.

“Most fabrics that say ‘water-repellent’ are actually water-resistant,” Varanasi said. “If you’re standing out in the rain, eventually water will get through.” Ultimately, “the goal is to be repellent—to have the drops just bounce back.”

The unique new coating process works on many kinds of fabrics, including nylon, cotton, and linen, as well as non-fabric materials like paper.

“Many fabrics can benefit from this technology,” Varanasi said. “There’s a lot of potential here.”

The team hopes to continue working on the chemical formula and improving it for the best water-repellency possible. The end-goal is to license the patent-pending technology so that it can be harnessed by clothing and fabric companies.

NASA pushes James Webb Space Telescope launch to 2021

NASA pushed the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope back to 2021.

NASA just announced a new launch date for the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) James Webb Space Telescope: March 30, 2021 at the earliest. The telescope is the successor of the Hubble Space Telescope, and the announcement comes not long after it was delayed from 2019 to 2020.

NASA’s Independent Review Board assessed the telescope’s progress through the examination of technical challenges and remaining tasks to be completed.

Although they concluded that the project should move forward, they also spoke of “a range of factors influencing Webb’s schedule and performance, including the technical challenges and tasks remaining by primary contractor Northrop Grumman before launch.”

NASA says that it “established the new launch date estimate to accommodate changes in the schedule due to environmental testing and work performance challenges by Northrop Grumman on the spacecraft’s sunshield and propulsion system.”

“The telescope’s new total lifecycle cost, to support the revised launch date, is estimated at $9.66 billion; its new development cost estimate is $8.8 billion,” the agency continued.

The next step is “to complete the extensive battery of testing on the spacecraft element of the Webb. Once this is done, it will be integrated with the other half of the observatory: the telescope and science instrument module. This module, which completed its tests last year, includes the NIRSpec and MIRI instruments – part of Europe’s contribution to the observatory.”

“The fully-assembled observatory then will undergo a series of challenging environmental tests and a final deployment test before it is shipped to Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, to be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket,” NASA said.

The full report, as well as NASA’s response, can be viewed here.

Theory suggests habitat fragmentation may be beneficial to wildlife

Researchers believe habitat fragmentation may be beneficial to wildlife.

Some ecological theory suggests habitat fragmentation may be beneficial to wildlife facing disease. Scientists theorize that populations of sick animals may stay isolated from healthy populations or dispersal might allow healthy animals to escape infection.

According to a new study by Lauren White, a University of Minnesota PhD. Student, habitat fragmentation may promote disease outbreaks in some cases. Her team’s project explores the role of wildlife movement and the concept of “perceptual range.”

Scientists do not know a lot about what determines perceptual range for different species, but they believe it most likely scales with body size.

“So many wildlife species are under stress from human activities like climate change and urbanization,” said white. Key findings of her study include:

A more fragmented habitat always resulted in longer lasting disease outbreaks. This was the case for simulations with both fewer individuals on the landscape and pathogens with longer infectious periods as well as for simulations with more individuals on the landscape and shorter infectious periods.

The way animals navigated their environment changed the relationship between fragmentation and disease outbreak success.

These findings highlight the potential role of resource hotspots and provisioning in altering animal movement patterns and disease transmission. This makes it especially relevant to systems where humans are manipulating or supplementing the availability of sustenance.

Another consideration for management is how humans conserve green space and keep habitat connected for wildlife. Wildlife corridors are important because they allow for animal movement, migration and dispersal.





Scientists locate missing baryonic matter

Researcher find missing baryonic matter.

Researchers can estimate the total amount of baryonic matter in the universe based on analysis of the Cosmic Microwave Background. CMB is the background radiation left behind by the Big Bang.

Ordinary matter takes up approximately 5 percent of the Universe’s mass, but that does not mean scientists know where all of it is. Astronomers have been trying to figure out why there is not as much as there should be for a couple of decades.

Now an international team has collaborated to solve the missing baryon problem. They found it floating around in the space between the stars.

All the detectable matter in the Universe is made up of baryonic particles. The planets, nebulas, stars, plasma and black holes are all composed of baryonic matter. According to the research team, they can only account for roughly two-thirds of this matter.

“The missing baryons represent one of the biggest mysteries in modern astrophysics,” said astronomer Fabrizio Nicastro of the INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma in Italy.

According to a 2012 census of the Universe’s baryons, investigators can find around 10 percent of the baryons inside galaxies, and 50 to 60 percent more in clouds of gas between galaxies. That leaves between 30 – 40 percent short.

Scientists predict they are in the warm-hot intergalactic medium. This medium is a web of hot diffuse gas between galaxies.

Another mystery is how WHIM formed. We must wait for the European Space Agency’s powerful Athena telescope, planned for a 2018 launch, for answers.

Scientists use software to measure streams and rivers

Study reveals rivers and streams cover much more of the planet than previously estimated.

To map out the Earth’s streams and rivers, University of North Carolina hydrologists George Allen and Tamlin Pavelsky analyzed thousands of images from a NASA Landsat Satellite.

Using software that Pavelsky developed, the two scientists ended up with 58 million river measurements. They used these measurements to calculate the total coverage of streams and rivers on Earth.

To make sure the program was reliable; the researchers used a large group of undergraduates to monitor the program to make sure it was measuring rivers, not roads. “They were so enthusiastic,” Pavelsky said. “They did such a great job.”

According to the study, streams and rivers cover much more of the planet than geologists previously thought. The new estimate indicates that, excluding land with glaciers, just below 300,000 square miles of rivers and streams cover Earth. Aside from their Texas-sized estimate, the researchers also found that rivers were both narrower and sparser in human-developed areas.

This finding has implications for climate change because rivers exchange greenhouse gasses with the atmosphere, especially when people pollute their waters.

As pollutants including fertilizers and sewage seep into water supplies, gasses including methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide bubble out and rise up into the atmosphere.

A map of Earth’s river morphology may prove useful when predicting floods or for studying the way rivers behave in the future, as global warming continues to be an environmental issue.

Study reveals more clues of Earth-like exoplanets

A new study sheds light on an exoplanet that likely has a stable climate with regular seasons.

Scientists have uncovered new clues suggesting that an exoplanet about 500 light-years away from our planet is a lot like Earth.

The planet, named Kepler-186f, is the first Earth-sized planet identified outside our solar system that orbits a star in the habitable zone, meaning it’s the right distance from its host star for the formation of water on its surface.

The team of researchers behind the study suggests that the Kepler-186f’s axial tilt is stable like Earth’s, which means it probably has a stable climate with regular seasons.

“Mars is in the habitable zone in our solar system, but its axial tilt has been very unstable—varying from zero to 60 degrees,” said Gongjie Li, who led the study together with graduate student Yutong Shan from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

“That instability probably contributed to the decay of the Martian atmosphere and the evaporation of surface water.”

“Our study is among the first to investigate climate stability of exoplanets and adds to the growing understanding of these potentially habitable nearby worlds,” Li said.

“I don’t think we understand enough about the origin of life to rule out the possibility of their presence on planets with irregular seasons,” Shan added. “Even on Earth, life is remarkably diverse and has shown incredible resilience in extraordinarily hostile environments.

The findings were published in The Astronomical Journal.

Saturn’s moon Encedalus yields best evidence yet for alien life

Saturn’s moon Enceladus just revealed the best evidence yet for alien life.

A new study discovered evidence that suggests that Saturn’s moon Enceladus contains carbon-rich substances, which could be a sign of alien life.

“Complex organic molecules do not necessarily provide a habitable environment, but on the other hand they are a necessary precursor for life,” said Frank Postberg from the University of Heidelberg, who is lead author of the new study.

“Previously it was unknown whether complex organic chemistry happens on Enceladus – and now we know,” he added.

Christopher Glein, a space scientist who specializes in extraterrestrial chemical oceanography, suggests that the findings mean that Enceladus is the only body except for Earth that is known to “simultaneously satisfy all of the basic requirements for life as we know it”.

“We are, yet again, blown away by Enceladus,” he continued. “Previously we’d only identified the simplest organic molecules containing a few carbon atoms, but even that was very intriguing.”

The team made the discovery through the examination of years of data obtained by Cassini as it flew by Saturn’s moons.

“It is of course one of the biggest science questions there are – extraterrestrial life: yes or no – and here is a spot where we can check,” Postberg said. “We have a habitable environment there and we have the means to probe it to find whether there is actual life or not.”

The findings were published Nature.

Milky Way contains 10 billion tonnes of “space grease,” study says

Researchers estimate that there is 10 billion trillion tonnes of “space grease” floating through our galaxy.

A new study reveals the most accurate estimate yet of the amount of “space grease” that is located in the Milky Way. After recreating the carbon-based compounds under laboratory conditions, the research team estimates that approximately 10 billion trillion tonnes of goop is floating through our galaxy.

“Amongst other stuff it’ll run into is interstellar dust, which is partly grease, partly soot and partly silicates like sand,” said Tim Schmidt, a chemist at the University of New South Wales, Sydney and co-author of the study, noting that the grease is swept up by solar wind.

Schmidt and his team recreated the process of greasy carbon formation in the outflows of carbon stars. By analyzing the data using spectroscopy, they were able to determine how strongly it absorbed the light of various wavelengths.

“This allowed us to figure out how much greasy carbon is in the line of sight of various stars,” he said.

The team found that there are approximately 100 greasy carbon atoms for every 1 million hydrogen atoms.

“This space grease is not the kind of thing you’d want to spread on a slice of toast,” said Schmidt. “It’s dirty, likely toxic and only forms in the environment of interstellar space – and our laboratory.”

The findings were published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.