July 22, 2019

    Outside of Blombos Cave in the southern Cape in South Africa. Image: Magnus Haaland
    Abstract drawing found from 73,000 years ago - ancient history science news

    Archaeologists have made a spectacular discovery in the Blombos Cave in South Africa: an abstract drawing made by humans 73,000 years ago. This drawing predates any other drawing found in Europe, Asia, and Africa by as much as 30,000 years. It consists of three red lines cross-hatched with six separate lines, made with an ochre crayon, with a tip of between one and three millimeters thick. In the same archaeological layer in the cave were other objects, such as shell beads covered with ochre, and pieces of ochres engraved with abstract patterns, some of which looked like the drawing. These findings show that Homo sapiens used different techniques and materials to express symbolic thinking.

    Read the full story: University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg
    Scientific publication: Nature


    Artist's impression of the Jurassic-era seas. Image: Nikolay Zverkov
    Fossil teeth show how reptiles adapted to rising sea water - global warming

    By analyzing fossil teeth from the Jurassic era, 150 million years ago, paleontologists have managed to assess which species thrived, and which species died out during climate and sea water level changes. It turns out that reptiles with sharp teeth living in shallow waters near the coast were the major victims of rising sea water. In contrast, reptiles living in the deeper parts of the oceans and were equipped with broader teeth for crunching and cutting prey became abundant. These results offer insights in what might happen with top predators in modern oceans as a consequence of global warming and rising sea water levels that we are experiencing today.

    Read the full story: University of Edinburgh
    Scientific publication: Nature Ecology & Evolution


    Global warming in the past forecasts dramatic floodings of rivers and loss of fertile soil
    Past global warming: dramatic forecast for the immediate future - global warming science news

    The Spanish Pyrenees tell a story of the consequences of global warming that occurred some 56 million years ago. By studying river sediments in ancient rock formations, scientists found that a relatively rapid temperature rise of 5 ° to 8 °C degrees in 10,000 to 20,000 years dramatically increased river floods, by a factor of 8 to 14. The expanded rivers brought the alluvium (fertile soil deposited by rivers) directly to the Atlantic Ocean, changing the landscape into an arid stony scenery without much vegetation. These findings give an example of might happen during the current period of global warming, with temperature changing now much more quickly than 56 million years ago. The consequences of global warming may thus be more dramatic than thought until now, and mathematical climate change models may have to be adjusted to accommodate the new findings.

    Read the full story: University of Geneva
    Scientific publication: Scientific Reports


    Niwot Ridge, Colorado, where the effects of nitrogen air pollution have been studied. Image: William Bowman
    Alpine ecosystems hardly recover from nitrogen deposition - Earth science news

    An experimental study on Colorado’s Niwot Ridge at an elevation of 11,400 feet shows that alpine ecosystems struggle to recover from nitrogen deposition. After applying nitrogen for 12 years, researchers observed that biodiversity did not recover after nine years without nitrogen air pollution. While nitrogen is vital for life, agricultural and industrial activities have increased global levels over the last two centuries, with harmful effects on water and soil. The study shows that recovery of alpine ecosystems with decreasing nitrogen emissions will be an extremely slow process at best.

    Read the full story: University of Colorado – Boulder
    Scientific publication: Ecological Applications


    Flaring of gas significantly contributes to global warming
    Flaring of gas mapped out - climate change science news

    By tapping in to a variety of sources, scientists have been able to determine which countries have high oil production emissions. The emissions are the burning, or flaring, of unwanted gas that is produced together with oil, and contribute significantly to global warming. Several local authorities have sucessfully taken measures to reduce flaring, by promoting the use or re-injection of the gas. However, more federal action is needed, and developing countries should be supported to reduce these greenhouse gas emissions, researchers say.

    Read the full story: Stanford University
    Scientific publication: Science


    Crops under threat as more hungry insects will feed on them with global warming
    More hungry insects looking for crops with global warming - global warming science news

    With rising global temperatures, insects’ metabolism and population growth will be dramatically on the rise, leading to many hungry insect mouths to feed. This will be devastating to crops, especially wheat. maize and rice that are at the basis of our alimentation. Most damage will be done to wheat in the world’s temperate zones, where the effects of temperature on the physiology of insects will be the most important. In the tropics, where growth and metabolism of insects are already at their optimum, further temperature increases will induce some decline as it becomes too hot. The estimated losses are expected to be greatest in France, China, and the US, which are the major producers of crops, and amount to 10-25 % per degree Celcius rise.

    Read the full story: University of Vermont
    Scientific publication: Science


    Aggregates formed by polystyrene beads and biogenic particles during laboratory experiments. Image: Jan Michels/Future Ocean
    Fate of plastics in the ocean - Earth science news

    While many used plastics end up in the oceans, surprisingly few plastic particles are found high in the water column. Now, by doing experiments in the laboratory, scientists have found that plastic microparticles aggregate with biological material, such as living or dead plankton together known as biogenics, and then sink to the bottom of the sea. This effect is even stronger when the plastics have been in contact with biofilm that consists of bacteria and single cell algae. The results of these laboratory experiments should still be verified in the oceans, where the presence of biogenics and biofilm are the typical condition.

    Read the full story: Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (Geomar)
    Scientific publication: Proceedings of the Royal Society B


    Earth's arctic regions are warming up and are invaded by plants
    Greening of the Arctic is in full swing - climate science news

    Using satellite images from the last 30 years, researchers have found that the Earth’s arctic zones (the poles and high mountains) are getting greener at a surprisingly fast pace. To date, already 16% of arctic regions are no longer temperature-limited for plant growth, increasing to 80% by the end of the century. Global warming is the underlying driving force of the greening of the Arctic, and has thus a huge impact on arctic ecosystems.

    Read the full story: Berkely Lab
    Scientific publication: Nature Climate Change


    Regions at mid-latitudes will experience more extreme summer weather as a result of the weakened jet streams
    Disturbed air circulation leads to extreme weather in summer - climate change news

    As the Arctic warms up faster than the rest of the globe, the difference between Arctic and mid-latitude temperatures decreases. This temperature difference is, however, the most important factor stimulating jet streams, so that air circulation will weaken. This likely leads to long and dry summers at mid-altitude, comparable to what we have experienced this year throughout Europe. Thus, global warming might accelerate in Europe, Canada and the US, and parts of Asia as a consequence of Arctic warming and disturbed air circulation.

    Read the full story: VU Amsterdam (in Dutch)
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications


    Cables which carry internet might soon be submerged in water
    Yet another victim of rising sea-levels - the internet - short science articles

    Much of the infrastructure responsible for the fast internet of today in the US is due to the thousands of miles of buried fibre optic cable in the coastal regions. However, this critical communication infrastructure might soon be submerged by rising sea levels in the coming 15 years or so. Several of the conduits are already close to sea levels and a fraction of rise in the water levels due to polar ice melting could put several more in the harm's way. Buried fibre optic cables aren't waterproof like the marine cables that transmit information between continents under the ocean. This is an urgent problem that needs to be addressed.

    Read the full story: University of Wisconsin-Madison


    Melting of the West-Antarctic ice sheet is related to the deep ocean's temperature cycle
    Melting of the West-Antarctic ice sheet depends on deep ocean temperature - Earth science news

    Scientists have found that the temperature in the deep ocean is much more variable than previously thought, and shows a cycle of warming and cooling over the 16 years observation period. This cycle was found in the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica, and appears to accelerate the melting of the West-Antarctic ice sheet during the warmer phase, while steadying it or even decreasing it during the cooler phases. The temperature cycle could be linked to El Nino in the tropical Pacific Ocean, and should be incorporated in the mathematical models that estimate how much ice will melt, and how much the sea water level will rise now that the Earth is warming up.

    Read the full story: British Antarctic Survey
    Scientific publication: Nature Geoscience


    Melting ice sheets are an underestimated source of silica for the oceans
    Melting ice provides oceans with precious silica nutrients - science news

    Silica is needed by a group of microscopic marine algae called diatoms, who use it to build their glassy cell walls. But where do these essential silica nutrients come from? A new study suggests that glacial meltwater, both in the present and during past ice ages, contains silica that could be useful in sustaining the growth of diatoms in the oceans around ice sheets, which are home to economically important fisheries and marine life. The researchers show that the silica in glacial meltwaters from the Greenland Ice Sheet has a distinctive isotopic signature, different to the that found in other rivers. The study concluded that glaciers and ice sheets are an under-appreciated component of the silica cycle in nature.

    Read the full story: University of Bristol
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications


    Strontium levels in bones from an ancient burial site allow scientists to tell where the builders of Stonehenge came from. Credit: Freesaly, Flickr
    Where the mysterious builders of Stonehenge came from - short science news

    About five thousand years ago, the builders of the mysterious Stonehenge monument buried cremated bodies near Amesbury, U.K. Now, archeologists are investigating this ancient burial site and they think that now they know where those people came from. The burials of 58 individuals were uncovered in 1919. Dating of the remains revealed that the cremations were interred during the earliest stages of the construction of Stonehenge, from 3000 to 2480 B.C.E. The study suggests that 10 of the builders were living most probably west Wales; the remaining 15 bodies investigated were from the region local to Stonehenge. The researchers analyzed Strontium levels in the bones to conclude this.

    Read the full story: Sciencemag
    Scientific publication: Scientific Reports


    China faces a great risk for heat waves that are dangerous for the human life. Credit: MIT
    Deadly heat waves could hit China hard by the end of the century - science news daily

    China holds one of the biggest density of people on Earth, but soon it could become less hospitable due to climate change. A recent study shows that the risk of deadly heat waves is significantly increased because of intensive irrigation in a relatively dry but highly fertile region, known as the North China Plain. The irrigation exposes more water to evaporation, leading to higher humidity in the air than would otherwise be present and exacerbating the physiological stresses of the temperature. Towards the end of the century, the increase in temperatures may push this region towards the boundaries of habitability.

    Read the full story: MIT
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications


    Only 13% of the Earth's oceans are considered to be untouched by human activities
    Almost no more marine wilderness - Earth science news

    Only 13% of the world’s oceans can be considered untouched by human activities, a new study indicates. These "natural" oceans are the Arctic and Antarctic oceans, and the seas around remote islands such as French Polynesia. However, climate change makes the waters at the Poles more readily accessible, so that they are under threat. All other oceans suffer from shipping fleets, all sorts of fishery activities, and sediment runoff along many coastal areas. Scientists warn that urgent international action is needed to preserve the last of the wild oceans.

    Read the full story: University of California – Santa Barbara
    Scientific publication: Current Biology


    Biodiversity is expected to collapse if no proper measures are taken to conserve and protect the tropics
    Global biodiversity collapse expected - Earth science news

    Scientists warn that urgent action is required to halt species loss in the tropics to save biodiversity on Earth. While the tropics cover 40% of our planet, and encompass four important ecosystems (tropical forests, savannas, lake and rivers, and coral reefs), the harbor more than 75% of plant and animals species, and even more than 90% of the world’s birds species. Climate change, over-exploitation, and other human activities are the main causes of extinction, and only concerted action across the globe can halt this otherwise irreversible process. The scientists have called for implementation of sustainable development and effective conservation interventions to restore tropical ecosystems and protect the species living there.

    Read the full story: Lancaster University
    Scientific publication: Nature


    Saharan dust streaming out over the Mediterranean Sea and northeastward to Italy. Credit: NASA
    Sahara dust may not be pleasant, but it is killing storms - science news in brief

    Sahara provides a huge amount of dust (2 to 9 trillion pounds) that is blown by winds all over the world. Now, a new study suggests that the dust creates a temperature inversion which in turn tends to prevent cloud and eventually storm formation. It means that fewer storms and even hurricanes are less likely to strike when the dust is present. So, even if the dust is an annoying presence, especially during the last weeks in Texas and Southern United States, it may provide some benefits after all.

    Read the full story: Texas A&M University
    Scientific publication: Journal of Climate


    The carbon cycle will be closely monitored from space to better estimate climate changes
    Measuring the carbon cycle from space is necessary to better predict climate changes - climate science news

    Monitoring the carbon cycle from space will not only provide us with vital information about the effects of greenhouse gas emission on climate, but also with insight in how climate events, such as El Nino, influence atmospheric carbon dioxide, researchers argue. Such feedback from climate events needs to be taken into account for the estimation of human greenhouse gas emissions will change the climate. The balance between gas emissions and feedback together determine the carbon cycle, including the amount of carbon that is absorbed by the oceans and terrestrial plants (currently about 50% of atmospheric carbon dioxide). This, in total, will ultimately determine what climate will look like in the decades to come. For these reasons, the major space agencies will launch new greenhouse gas monitoring missions in the coming years to find out more about the carbon cycle and climate.

    Read the full story: NASA
    Scientific publication: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA


    Scientists estimate that deep inside our planet a vast deposit of diamonds could be found
    A quadrillion tones of diamonds are hidden deep in Earth’s interior - science news in brief

    According to a new study, over a quadrillion tones (1016) of diamond may be buried more than 100 miles below the surface of the Earth. The diamonds are scattered within cratonic roots — the oldest and most immovable sections of rock that lie beneath the center of most continental tectonic plates. This shows that the precious mineral may not be as rare as believed, but in fact quite common at a geological scale. The diamonds are located far deeper than any drilling expedition has ever reached, so don’t bet on prices dropping soon.

    Read the full story: MIT
    Scientific publication: Advanced Earth and Space Science


    Using the observed climate evolution before the fire season with seasonal forecast allows scientist to predict future wildfires
    Scientists find way to predict wildfires months in advance - science news in short

    A recent study describes a new approach to predict fire risk related to climate changes several months before the fire season. The researchers used variables such as temperature and rain to predict the extension of the burnt area on a global scale. The new model is based on a standardized precipitation index which quantifies the conditions of a lack or excess of rain in a certain place for a specific time gap. Using this model, the ability to predict seasonal fires is significant regarding a great part of the planet, with higher accuracy for extratropical areas.

    Read the full story: University of Barcelona
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications


    Each leaf of the fern Azolla filiculoides is as tiny as a few millimeter, but holds big promise for environment and agriculture. Image: DJ Layton through Wikimedia Commons
    Fern genome sequenced, showing potential for agriculture and carbon dioxide reduction - plant science news

    Scientists have determined what the genome looks like of a tiny fern, Azolla filiculoides. It is an ancient plant, thought to have fixed trillions of tons of carbon dioxide fifteen million years ago and by doing so even helped cooling the Earth. The analysis identified a gene that makes the plant resistant to insects that might have been transferred by bacteria. Also, the genome revealed a relationship with cyanobacteria living on the fern’s leaves that supply the plant with nitrogen. Thus, this tiny fern might be useful to fix carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and act as an insect-resistant fertilizer due to its capacity to fix nitrogen with the aid of cyanobacteria.

    Read the full story: Cornell University
    Scientific publication: Nature Plants


    Oxygen levels rose and fell several times on early Earth before stabilizing in the Earth's atmosphere
    The rise and fall of oxygen levels on early Earth - Earth science news

    What can nitrogen isotopes and selenium in ancient rocks that were once at the bottom of the sea tell us about oxygen levels on early Earth? For one thing, they show that oxygen levels were not stable in the early life of our planet, but rather came and went before oxygen levels stabilized in the atmosphere at levels as we know them today. Nitrogen isotopes reveal the activity of certain marine microorganisms that use oxygen to form nitrate. Selenium is released from sulfur minerals on land by oxygen. Thus, by analyzing nitrogen isotopes and selenium in rocks of different age, it is possible to determine how abundant oxygen must have been at a certain time. Also, the lack of oxygen during certain periods does not necessarily mean the lack of microorganismal life, and this might be important for the search of life on other planets whose atmosphere does not contain oxygen today.

    Read the full story: University of Washington
    Scientific publication: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA


    Low-lying islands such as the Maldives will suffer most from rising sea levels
    Rising sea levels due to global warm could cost us $14 trillion a year in 2100 - climate change science news

    A study led by the UK National Oceanographic Centre (NOC) found that rising sea levels will impact heavily on global economy. The study warns that if we fail to limit global warming to 2 degrees C, the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement, costs will be $14 trillion per year by the end of this century. Especially middle-income countries such as China will be affected, while high-income countries have already coastal protection in place, and will therefore suffer less. Tropical regions are expected to see extreme sea water levels more often, while low-lying islands such as the Maldives will get into serious problems. Therefore, scientists recommend to take adequate measures to prevent global warming as much as possible.

    Read the full story: IOP Publishing
    Scientific publication: Environmental Research Letters


    According to old videos of cycling races, trees used to grow leaves and flower later in spring, before 1990
    Archived television video footage used to detect climate change impacts on trees - science news in short

    I always enjoy a good cycling race, but I never imagined videos of such competitions could be used to investigate climate changes. This is exactly what a team of scientists did by analyzing video footage from 1981 to 2016 of the major annual road cycling race in Belgium. They visually estimated how many leaves and flowers were present on the day of the course (usually in early April) and linked their scores to climate data. The ecologists found that the trees had advanced the timing of leafing and flowering in response to recent temperature changes. These shifts were most strongly related to warmer average temperatures in the area, which have increased by 1.5°C since 1980.

    Read the full story: EurekaAlert
    Scientific publication: Methods in Ecology and Evolution


    An alternate solution to 'Gaia puzzle' - short science articles

    Scientists have long questioned why the conditions on Earth remained stable enough for life to evolve for billions of years. The 'Gaia hypothesis' proposed that living things interacted with inorganic processes to keep the planet in which planet could persist in spite of threatening situations like volcanoes and meteorites. However, now researchers propose that this stability occurs due to 'sequential selection' in which life destabilizes the environment is short-lived which further changes until a stable situation occurs which then persists for a long time. This continues to happen till further traits are gained to stabilize the system by a process called 'selection by survival alone'.

    Read the full story: University of Exeter
    Scientific publication: Trends in Ecology and Evolution


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