More Metrics For Animal Intelligence

(Credit: Viesinsh/Shutterstock)

We appreciate Conor Feehly’s article in Discover, expanding our understanding of and ability to measure the intelligence of our co-inhabitants on this planet:

How Intelligence Is Measured In The Animal Kingdom

As understandings of human intelligence evolve, so, too, do understandings of animal intelligence.

Human beings — with our big brains, technology and mastery of language — like to describe ourselves as the most intelligent species. After all, we’re capable of reaching space, prolonging our lives and understanding the world around us. Over time, however, our understanding of intelligence has gotten a little more complicated. Continue reading

Ozone Progress

A refrigerator factory in 2018 in Xingfu, China, an area that defied restrictions on ozone-depleting CFC-11 until a government crackdown. Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

Any time we see even the slightest sign of meaningful change, it is worth pausing, noting it, and getting back to work:

Rogue emissions from China of ozone-depleting chemicals had threatened to delay recovery by a decade. But the emissions were stopped, according to a U.N.-backed report.

The protective ozone layer in the upper atmosphere could be restored within several decades, scientists said Monday, as recent rogue emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals from China have been largely eliminated. Continue reading

Lungs Of The Earth, The Amazon Calls Our Attention Again

Illustration by Max Guther

The Amazon is one of those big topics that we come back to again and again for a reason.  We all depend on these lungs of the earth, so it would be strange to not be obsessed with the subject:

Some Brazilian scientists fear that the Amazon may become a grassy savanna — with profound effects on the climate worldwide.

Illustration by Max Guther

One of the first times Luciana Vanni Gatti tried to collect Amazonian air she got so woozy that she couldn’t even operate the controls. An atmospheric chemist, she wanted to measure the concentration of carbon high above the rainforest. To obtain her samples she had to train bush pilots at obscure air-taxi businesses. The discomfort began as she waited on the tarmac, holding one door open against the wind to keep the tiny cockpit from turning into an oven in the equatorial sun. When at last they took off, they rose precipitously, and every time they plunged into a cloud, the plane seemed to be, in Gatti’s words, sambando — dancing the samba. Then the air temperature dipped below freezing, and her sweat turned cold. Continue reading

Embracing Anthropocene

Image credits: Alamy; David Guttenfelder for The New York Times; Getty Images; Ashley Gilbertson for The New York Times; Michael Probst/Associated Press; Getty Images; NASA

We have been using this terminology already for more than a decade, thinking it was apt enough to be official:

For Planet Earth, This Might Be the Start of a New Age

A panel of experts has spent more than a decade deliberating on how, and whether, to mark a momentous new epoch in geologic time: our own.

The official timeline of Earth’s history — from the oldest rocks to the‌ dinosaurs to the rise of primates, from the Paleozoic to the Jurassic and all points before and since — could soon include the age of nuclear weapons, human-caused climate change and the proliferation of plastics, garbage and concrete across the planet. Continue reading

Fusion Hoopla

A reason that the breakthrough is causing such hoopla is that it implicitly promises that we could use fusion to run the world in almost its current form. Photograph courtesy Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Without the expertise to fully appreciate the science, the hoopla can be overlooked too easily. McKibben’s comment helps clarify:

The Fusion Breakthrough Suggests That Maybe Someday We’ll Have a Second Sun

In the meantime, we need to use the sun we’ve already got.

On Tuesday, the Department of Energy is expected to announce a breakthrough in fusion energy: according to early reports, scientists at the government’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in California, have succeeded for the first time in making their complex and expensive machinery produce more power than it uses, if only for an instant. Continue reading

Huxley’s Extra Effort

A family of scientist-writers recast religion and ethics in light of evolution. Illustration by Melinda Beck

We are all fortunate that the Huxley family produced no slouches:

How the Huxleys Electrified Evolution

Defending Darwinism from both clerical and scientific opponents, T. H. Huxley and his grandson Julian shaped how we think about the past and future of our species.

Thomas Henry Huxley almost skipped the showdown of his life. It was the fourth day of the 1860 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He was tired. Continue reading

New Fracking Science

A shale gas drilling rig in St. Marys, Pennsylvania. AP PHOTO / KEITH SRAKOCIC

We thought the science of fracking’s dangers was already sufficiently clear, and now this (read Jon Hurdle’s entire story at Yale e360):

As Evidence Mounts, New Concerns About Fracking and Health

Two decades after the advent of fracking, a growing number of studies are pointing to a link between gas wells and health problems, particularly among children and the elderly. Researchers are now calling for new regulations restricting where wells can be located.

Almost 20 years after the adoption of hydraulic fracturing began to supercharge U.S. production of oil and gas, there’s growing evidence of a correlation between the industry’s activities and an array of health problems ranging from childhood cancer and the premature death of elderly people to respiratory issues and endocrine disruption. Continue reading

Blue Carbon Collaboration

Scientists fixed bio-logger tags equipped with cameras on tiger sharks in the Bahamas to map the ocean’s seagrass meadows. Photograph: Diego Camejo/Beneath the Waves

We thank Laura Paddison for this underwater news, published in the Guardian, that has implication for climate change mitigation:

Scientists discover ‘world’s largest’ seagrass forest – by strapping cameras to sharks

New study, carried out using tiger sharks in the Bahamas, extends total known global seagrass coverage by more than 40%

Tiger sharks are notoriously fierce. The huge animals, which can grow to more than 16ft, are ruthless predators and scared of absolutely nothing – recent research found that while other shark species fled coastal waters during strong storms, tiger sharks “didn’t even flinch”.

But recently they have a new role that could help burnish their reputations: marine scientists. Continue reading

Tagging Technology Gives Godwit Game

A juvenile bar-tailed godwit has flown from Alaska in the US to Tasmania in Australia, covering a record 13,560kms without stopping. Photograph: Johnny Madsen/Alamy

Who’s got game in the bird world is not, strictly speaking, a phrase associated with ornithologists or what they do for a living. But sometimes, their news features what looks like competitive sport to the lay public. We have shared news of long-journey bird species on several occasions, and one that has the right stuff now stands out from the rest by virtue of tagging technology:

Bar-tailed godwit sets world record with 13,560km continuous flight from Alaska to southern Australia

Satellite tag data suggests five-month-old migratory bird did not stop during voyage which took 11 days and one hour to reach Tasmania

A juvenile bar-tailed godwit – known only by its satellite tag number 234684 – has flown 13,560 kilometres from Alaska to the Australian state of Tasmania without stopping, appearing to set a new world record for marathon bird flights. Continue reading

Tree Core Samples & Age Estimations

Tree cores Harvard Forest

Core samples may hold clues to a forest’s response to climate change. Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Juan Siliezar, staff writer for the Harvard Gazette asks and answers a question that we never tire of:

Want to know how cold it was in 1490? Ask a tree

Harvard Forest Senior Ecologist Neil Pederso

“We use tree cores to extract what I’ve been leaning toward calling the memory of the tree,” said Neil Pederson in the lab alongside core samples.

Sometimes getting to where you want to go is a matter of finding the right guide.

Four teams of researchers, led by Harvard Forest ecologists, searched for a patch of ancient trees deep in the woods of western Pennsylvania this summer as part of a project to study how climate changes affected trees over the centuries. One of the scientists had come across them 40 years earlier, but they appeared to have vanished. Just as the group was about to give up and move on they came across someone who gave them a valuable clue. Continue reading

The New Climate War Book Tour Optimism

If you are wondering where the hope comes from, read Eric Schwartzman’s article at Yale Climate Connections:

Climate scientist Michael E Mann PhD, author of The New Climate War signs his book for winemaker Ross Halleck of Halleck Vineyard in Sonoma County, California.

Scientist Michael Mann expresses hope during West Coast book tour

University of Pennsylvania climate scientist says he remains optimistic despite daunting challenges and continued concerns about ‘false’ climate solutions.

CORTE MADERA, CALIFORNIA – Don’t believe the climate crisis doomsayers: We can still achieve a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. But we have to elect lawmakers with the political will to enact meaningful climate legislation. The atmosphere is warming significantly, just as Exxon Mobil scientists were predicting back in 1982. Continue reading

Elephant Seals & Marine Sciences

Thanks to Sierra for this:

When Elephant Seals Become Ocean Researchers

Marine mammals unlock the secrets of climate and the Arctic

By Kate Golden

Illustrations by Masha Foya

ON A FEBRUARY MORNING at Año Nuevo Reserve on the coast of Northern California, hundreds of gray-brown elephant seals lay strewn, lumplike, all over the beach. It was hard to hear anything over the honks and shrieks of status jockeying and sex dramas. The north wind gusted to 35 knots and blew a river of fine sand into everyone’s faces. At a dense seal cluster near the water, researchers and students from the University of California, Santa Cruz, knelt over an 815-pound female whose stern had been labeled “X1” with Clairol bleach. Continue reading

On Those 20 Quadrillion+ Ants, Again

Ants in Escazu

The earthworm in the photo above had been in a bag of soil where a coffee seedling started germinating earlier this year. I was moving the seedling from its small “starter” bag to a larger one, and the earthworm jumped out, wriggling under the nearby supplies I was working with. I did not see it again until it was too late. Since earthworms are good for soil, and we are in the early stages of a soil regeneration project, I was sorry to see the worm lose its life. This particular species of ant is currently everywhere on the property where we are re-planting coffee. I have not seen so many of this type of ant at any point in the last 22 years on this property, and their shocking abundance made me think of that new ant study. Normally we do not repeat sharing of news stories here, unless new information has come to light. It has only been a couple days, but I must share more on the study because my planting work is keeping the subject in front of me, and the photos in this article are that good.

Leaf cutter ants in Costa Rica. The researchers sampled 1,300 locations around the world, estimating ant abundance in different environments in areas such as forests and steppes. Bence Mate/Nature Picture Library, via Alamy

Rebecca Dzombak, who authored this article for the New York Times, will be on our radar from now on:

Weaver ants engaged in teamwork. Sunthorn Viriyapan/Alamy

Counting the World’s Ants Requires a Lot of Zeros

There are 20 quadrillion ants worldwide, according to a new census, or 2.5 million for every living human. There are probably even more than that.

Male leaf cutter ants on the move over the Sonoran Desert in search of females and to make more ants. Norma Jean Gargasz/Alamy

Right now, ants are scurrying around every continent except Antarctica, doing the hard work of engineering ecosystems. They spread seeds, churn up soil and speed up decomposition. They forage and hunt and get eaten. You may not know how much you rely on them. Continue reading

Ant Mass Calculation

In this photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, yellow crazy ants are seen in a bait testing efficacy trial at the Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in December, 2015. An invasive species known as the yellow crazy ant has been eradicated from the remote U.S. atoll in the Pacific. Robert Peck/AP

The mass of ants on earth is not a topic we have considered, but there is not too much surprise at reading this news:

The number of ants on Earth has a mass greater than all birds and mammals combined

For every human on Earth, there are estimated to be about 2.5 million ants — or 20 quadrillion in total.

A new study published by researchers at both the University of Hong Kong and University of Würzburg in Germany attempts to count the total number of ground-dwelling and tree-dwelling ants. Continue reading

Carbon Burial Venturing

Port Arthur’s Motiva Oil Refinery.PHOTOGRAPH: KATIE THOMPSON

The capturing of carbon is a concept we have been working to understand, but questions about where it goes  and how it is stored, have been fuzzy until now (thanks to Jeffrey Ball at Wired):

Tip Meckel holds a sandstone sample. PHOTOGRAPH: KATIE THOMPSON

The Big Business of Burying Carbon

The porous rock beneath the Gulf Coast launched the petroleum age. Now entrepreneurs want to turn it into a gigantic sponge for storing CO2.

SOMETIME AFTER THE dinosaurs died, sediment started pouring into the Gulf of Mexico. Hour after hour the rivers brought it in—sand from the infant Rockies, the mucky stuff of ecosystems. Year after year the layers of sand hardened into strata of sandstone, pushed down ever deeper into the terrestrial pressure cooker. Continue reading

New (To Us) Creatures Of The Deep

A gummy squirrel – Psychropotes longicauda – is a type of sea cucumber. This specimen is 60cm long with red palps, or lips, with which it feeds on sediment on the ocean floor, 5,100m deep

Discoveries still happen, even as the earth burns. Creatures not previously known are being identified 5,000 meters below the surface of the ocean. Some do not even yet have a name:

A spiny sea creature on the ocean floor

Scientists find 30 potential new species at bottom of ocean

Natural History Museum scientists seek to unlock mysteries of deep sea but some fear activity will disturb diversity of the depths

Scientists have found more than 30 potentially new species living at the bottom of the sea. Continue reading

Action Is The Thing

ILLUSTRATION: WIRED; GETTY IMAGES

Climate inaction is a theme bookending the first decade of our chronicling news stories and analytical essays. Why, we have stopped bothering to wonder, is inaction so persistent? Whether activism or other forms of action, there is not enough of it relative to the scale of the crisis. We thank Eleanor Cummins, a freelance science journalist and adjunct professor at New York University’s Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program for these ideas as published in Wired:

‘Thinkwashing’ Keeps People From Taking Action in Times of Crisis

When it comes to issues like climate change, too many let the perfect become the enemy of the good, while the world burns.

LESS THAN A decade ago, “wait and see” arguments about climate change still circulated. “We often hear that there is a ‘scientific consensus’ about climate change,” physicist Steven E. Koonin wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2014. “But as far as the computer models go, there isn’t a useful consensus at the level of detail relevant to assessing human influences.” The idea was that the world needed more data before it could respond to the threat posed by global warming—assuming such research indicated a response was even necessary. Continue reading

Science Communication Celebrated

Illustration by Michael Dunbabin; Source photograph by Kevin Winter / Getty

Alan Alda was not likely to appear in our pages before, even though we knew about this work that he has been doing starting some years ago. Not likely because celebrity is more often than not a distraction. But this conversation is worth sharing, because we care about science, and effective communication about science:

Alan Alda Is Still Awesome

The actor and director talks about his podcast, the comedic chops of Volodymyr Zelensky, and being called an “honorary woman.”

Few actors inspire the warm fuzzies like Alan Alda. At eighty-six, he’s still the platonic ideal of “nice dad”: the type of guy you’d find in a cardigan, reading a copy of the Sunday Times in an armchair. But the popular image of Alda doesn’t cover the remarkable breadth of his career. Continue reading

Questions About Forests As Carbon Sinks

PEXELS

We have featured articles about forests so many times for multiple reasons. Even when we hint that we do so just out of pure love, it is almost always about the value of forests to our future on the planet. As always, when a Yale e360 article can help illuminate further on a topic, here goes:

This map shows the height of forests worldwide. Taller forests typically store more carbon. NASA

Climate Change Will Limit How Much Carbon Forests Take Up, New Research Shows

Governments are increasingly looking to forests to draw down carbon pollution, but worsening droughts threaten to stunt tree growth, while larger wildfires and insect infestations risk decimating woodlands, two new studies show. Continue reading

Mosquito GMO News

Biotechnology firm Oxitec ran the first open-air test of genetically modified mosquitoes in the United States by placing boxes of its eggs in selected spots in the Florida Keys. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty

Genetically modified this and that have been concerns of ours for most of the time we have been posting on environmental issues and nature news. This news below may be the best test of how tolerant one might become about a technology that is inherently full of danger–of the unintended consequences variety more than the known in advance variety–and yet could tame some of the greatest natural pests that mankind suffers from:

Biotech firm announces results from first US trial of genetically modified mosquitoes

Oxitec reports that its insects behaved as planned — but a larger trial is needed to learn whether they can reduce wild mosquito populations.

Researchers have completed the first open-air study of genetically engineered mosquitoes in the United States. The results, according to the biotechnology firm running the experiment, are positive. But larger tests are still needed to determine whether the insects can achieve the ultimate goal of suppressing a wild population of potentially virus-carrying mosquitoes. Continue reading