Monthly Archives: May 2016

10 Ways Climate Science Has Advanced Since an Inconvenient Truth

As the world comes up on the 10th anniversary of George W. Bush’s Kyoto Protocol and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth that both addressed the issue of climate change, every scientist who had taken down data concerning climate changes has reviewed his or her scientific notebook. It was found that at least 10 significant changes have occurred between then and now.

Scientific notebook

  1. In 2006, the United States was the top carbon dioxide emitter in the world. Regardless of any treaties, it may not have been the climate that made the U.S. switch from coal to natural gas, but the boost it gave the economy. Today, the U.S. is the second top emitter of carbon dioxide.
  2. Steady growth in world population, from 6.5 billion in 2006 to 7.4 billion today indicates that by 2100 there could be as many as 12.3 billion people on the planet, which is more than it can sustain under today’s conditions.
  3. Sea levels are rising so quickly that by 2100 they could be 3 ft. higher than they are right now.
  4. The Arctic ice is melting twice as fast as it is anywhere else. The past ten years have offered 9 out of the 10 lowest ice levels ever.
  5. From the genocide that killed hundreds of thousands in Darfur Sudan in 2006 to the Syrian conflict that has taken the lives of more than 400,000, changes in the environment have played a factor in the lost lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Though it wasn’t the only factor, the change in climate meant changes in the environment that forced farmers to migrate and many resources to be lost.
  6. Though there were 28 major storms in 2006, the number has dropped dramatically. The prediction is that the hotter the planet gets, the fewer hurricanes will occur, but those hurricanes will get more intense as the planet warms.
  7. Between 1989 and 2007, Kilimanjaro’s ice has receded by 20%. It’s retreated 85% since 1912 and, by the end of 2016, it could be gone completely.
  8. 2016 is expected to be the hottest year on record, and 2015 was the hottest year on record so far.
  9. Carbon dioxide levels have been rising since the Industrial Revolution, so much so that they are currently at 400 ppm, and growing by 3 ppm every year. If they reach the predicted 450 ppm by 2100, it will cause dangerous changes in the climate.
  10. Humans have taken over the ability to change the planet. As of now, the Anthropocene Era has begun: an era that means humans now shape the planet more than nature.

An Inconvenient Truth may have opened the eyes of the world, but it didn’t stop the numbers from going in one scientific notebook to the next. If anything, the situation has only gotten worse. Humans don’t seem to be motivated to change things unless it has an immediate impact on their lives. Finances are typically where people focus the most, so selling climate change may be the only answer.

climate-change

Science Explains Why Giraffes Have Such Long Necks

What comes to mind when you think of a giraffe? The first thing you likely think of about a giraffe is its long neck. Did you know that a newborn giraffe calf is born with a height of about 2 meters? That’s a big baby! About 4 years ago, scientists whipped out their research notebooks, and began comparing and contrasting the giraffe with its close cousin, the okapi, to help determine just why giraffes have such long necks.

Giraffes Have Such Long Necks

The Okapi is a horse sized herbivore that is related to the giraffe but does not have the long neck or the super heart that giraffes have. What’s the story with the heart, and how does it relate to the long neck? A giraffe’s heart needs to pump blood all the way up to its brain; that requires an enlarged left ventricle and higher blood pressure. With such a difference in height and organ strength, how is the Okapi compared to the giraffe effectively?

According to scientists, these physical differences, and the fact that both animals are the only living members of the Giraffidae family, make the okapi a perfect screen to identify what is unique about a giraffe.

Genomes

So, why do giraffes have such long necks? Based on evolutionary theory and in depth studies of the genes and DNA in giraffes and okapi, it seems that we now know the answer to this question. A small number of genes, 70 to be exact, over the past 11 or 12 million years have evolved to create the animal with the long neck that we know and love. As always, evolution seems to involve genetics adapting to environments.

Because the giraffe needs to be tall and have a long neck in order to move quickly, spot danger approaching, and find the tender leaves it needs to feed on, their DNA and genomes have adapted to make this a part of their molecular blueprint. The okapi, while similar in many areas, have not developed these same 70 genomes that make their cousins taller, and which allow them to survive with a super strong heart. Once it is all broken down, the okapi may have more in common with a horse or zebra than its cousin, the giraffe.

Not Just Zoo Exhibits

For many people in the world, the only way we will get to experience the amazing height and beauty of the giraffe is to visit a zoo. These graceful and unique mammals are much more than simply a zoo exhibit. They are the key to several scientific studies, and the answer to many questions raised about evolution, familial genetics, and adaptation. Highly detailed comparisons, tests, and observances recorded in scientific research notebooks will help scientists continue to understand and share the mysteries of the regal giraffe with the world.

So many young people simply see a unique animal without putting any thought into why or how that animal came to be. Thanks to scientists, even laypeople are now able to understand different aspects of genetics and evolution. These studies may awaken interest in young people and encourage them to pursue a scientific future. This is why every bit of scientific research is important, and will make a difference to the future of civilization and how we relate to and adapt along with the other species that we share the world with.

Zoo-Exhibits

Oxygen Detected in Martian Atmosphere

There may be no busier research notebook than the one in the hands of a scientist exploring information concerning the Red Planet these days. Mars is a hot topic in the scientific community and with each discovery it gets a little bit hotter. Evidence of water on the planet was exciting enough, but now there is evidence of oxygen atoms on Mars as well.

Martian Atmosphere

Meet SOFIA

NASA has been measuring oxygen levels on Mars since the 1970s. Today, the equipment NASA uses is a bit more advanced than it was even in the late 20th century. To be more specific, it relies on SOFIA for much of its research.

SOFIA, or the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, is a modified 747 used to explore atmospheric conditions. This Boeing 747SP jetliner had to be modified for many reasons, but the one of most interest to scientists exploring the universe is the telescope on board. SOFIA’s telescope measures out with a 100 inch diameter—not your average star gazing tool.

History of Oxygen on Mars

Though the news is exciting enough to make one think that oxygen is a new development on Mars, it is the opposite that is true. There is far less oxygen on the Red Planet today than there was years ago, though it is difficult to measure exactly how many years ago or what happened to cause this drop in oxygen levels.

One way that scientists measure the oxygen level on the planet is to investigate geological findings. Rocks and other materials can reflect mineral content in the atmosphere over time. In this case, the content was observed through careful research of rocks found on Mars. What they found was that 3% of the rocks on Mars contained manganese oxide. In order for that to happen, at some point Mars must have had a higher level of oxygen atoms, as well as water.

It’s also important to note that the measurements taken were taken in the upper atmosphere. This is key, because the amount of oxygen atoms in the upper atmosphere plays a significant part in the release of other atoms in the upper atmosphere. At this point, oxygen levels are only half of what was expected, and the atmosphere on Mars is 95% carbon dioxide.

Future Research

Because scientists are saying that the planet has only half the oxygen that was expected, it can be assumed that calculations were made that offered some idea of what the levels could be. Those calculations had to be done based on assumed figures—figures which must have been determined based on the most current information combined with what is known about the behavior of planets and their atmospheres.

What this means is that the oxygen levels on Mars didn’t just change the way scientists look at current conditions. They might also change what is understood about atmospheres in relation to their position to the sun or other elements, like details about the activities and changes on the sun itself. In any case, it’s back to the research notebook to review notes and come up with new possibilities.

Oxygen on Mars

Did You Know There Are 390,900 Species of Plants Known to Scientists?

In an 80-page report that was based on a wealth of data collected from reports, notes in laboratory notebooks, and any other means of listing plants, it was revealed that the Earth has at least 390,900 species of plants. Those are just the known species across the globe. In areas that are untouched, above and below ground, there could be many more.

Species of Plants

State of World’s Plants

The report, titled the State of World’s Plants, offered more than just a list of plant species. It also identified which ones are currently used by man, unique features, and other elements specific to plants and their details. This is the first-ever report of its kind, and what it offered was very revealing in terms of how little the world really knows about the plants that thrive on it. It also offered some startling conclusions about the impact of the growing human population.

Plant Facts

This report did not include algae or moss, so it doesn’t technically include all of the green or brown things that grow on the planet. However, it did include flowering plants, of which there are 369,400. Flowering or not, humans only use as many as 30,000 species out of the 390,900 identified. Around 17,000 of the plants listed have known medicinal properties that are used by man. Only 5,500 of all plants are consumed by humans. A little over 2,000 plants on the list were plants that were discovered and cataloged in 2015. One of those plants was a carnivorous plant that stands about 1.5 meters tall.

Impact of Man

Because there has never previously been a list of global plants, it is impossible to say with any accuracy just how many plants have become extinct. Even when fossils are found and cataloged, this type of list is not possible because there may be other plants that are still unknown. The one thing that can be said with certainty is that 20% of all of the plants listed are currently in danger of becoming extinct.

Man has a significant role to play in the extinction of these plants. As the population grows, and more structures are built, plant life is removed from the areas where structures are built. Those are just the direct deaths of plants. There is always an indirect impact on any ecological system that is changed in any way.

Man is now able to travel just about anywhere in the world. That means species can be brought in, whether by accident or on purpose, to new areas. Each species has an impact on the system it grows in. Sometimes that impact is death or disease. The same is true when animals migrate or become extinct.

Plants of the Future

Now that there is a list of global plants, scientists can begin filling their laboratory notebooks in earnest as they explore the details and functions of some of the lesser-known species. There may be uses and dangers that have yet to be thought of at all. At the very least, it’s important to learn how one species might impact another, or whole ecosystems, so that extinction and hybrid options can be better understood.

Plants of the Future