The California oil spill could endanger birds and sea life for years, experts say
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A bird balances on a temporary floating barrier used to contain oil that seeped into Talbert Marsh, home to about 90 bird species, after a 126,000-gallon oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach, Calif., over the weekend.

By , NPR

Emergency officials are still trying to contain a major oil spill off the coast of Southern California that dumped more than 120,000 gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean, some of which has washed ashore.

But even as the response effort continues, experts say the long-term impacts to the environment — particularly on birds and marine life — could be significant even if they didn’t get saturated by the weekend oil slick.

“They might not look visibly oiled, but the exposure that they get subtly through their diet or because of physical contact later on might affect their physiology, their health and translate into a lower reproductive success and therefore lower chances of the population to persist,” Andrea Bonisoli Alquati, a professor of biological sciences at Cal Poly Pomona, told NPR.

Bonisoli Alquati studied the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on marine and terrestrial wildlife along the Gulf Coast and found that the repercussions are still present today.

“Some populations might recover fast. Some other populations take years and years,” he said. “Sometimes the focus, of course, of the press and the public has already shifted away, but the consequences are still happening.”

Officials say they’re already finding dead fish and wildlife

The ecological effects are already being felt in Southern California.

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley tweeted on Sunday that officials were starting to find dead birds and fish washing up on the shore. The director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife closed fisheries in coastal areas affected by the spill.

As of Sunday, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network reported that it had recovered three living birds impacted by the oil spill — a brown pelican, a ruddy duck and an American coot.

But many more could be at risk. The Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy says Talbert Marsh, which is in the zone of the oil spill, is home to about 90 different bird species.

“A spill of this magnitude is a disaster whenever it occurs, but this one occurred in an especially sensitive area at critical time, as many bird species head south for the winter,” Sarah Rose, executive director of Audubon California, said in a statement.

“This spill — in virtually the same spot as a devastating 1990 spill — is a reminder that petroleum and water are a dangerous mix along California’s precious coast and that continued reliance on oil kills birds and other wildlife, threatens our public health, and harms local economies and recreational opportunities,” she added.

Click here to read the full article on NPR.

Microbes in The Ocean Depths Can Make Oxygen Without Sun. This Discovery Could Be Huge
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Microbes in The Ocean Depths Can Make Oxygen Without Sun. This Discovery Could Be Huge. Octopus floating in the ocean

By DAVID NIELD, Science Alert

For most of life on Earth, oxygen is essential, and sunlight is usually needed to produce that oxygen. But in an exciting twist, researchers have caught a common, ocean-dwelling microbe breaking all the rules.

Scientists have found that a microbe called Nitrosopumilus maritimus and several of its cousins, called ammonia oxidizing archaea (AOA), are able to survive in dark, oxygen-depleted environments by producing oxygen on their own. They do so using a biological process that hasn’t been seen before.

While it’s previously been established that these microbes can live in environments where oxygen is scarce, what hasn’t been clear is what they get up to there – and how they’re staying alive for as long as they do. That was the inspiration behind this new research.

“These guys are really abundant in the oceans, where they play an important role in the nitrogen cycle,” says microbiologist Beate Kraft, from the University of Southern Denmark.

“For this they need oxygen, so it has been a long-standing puzzle why they are also very abundant in waters where there is no oxygen. We thought, do they just hang out there with no function? Are they some kind of ghost cells?”

Collect a bucket of seawater out of the ocean, and every fifth cell will be one of these organisms – that’s how common they are. Here, the researchers removed the microbes from their natural habitat and transferred them to the lab.

The team wanted to take a closer look at what would happen when all the available oxygen was gone, and there was no sunlight to produce new oxygen. The same scenario happens when N. maritimus moves from oxygen-rich to oxygen-depleted waters.

What they found was something unexpected: the microorganisms produced their own oxygen to create nitrite, with nitrogen gas (dinitrogen) as a by-product.

“We saw how they used up all the oxygen in the water, and then to our surprise, within minutes, oxygen levels started increasing again,” says geobiologist Don Canfield, from the University of Southern Denmark. “That was very exciting.”

At the moment, the researchers aren’t certain how the microbes are pulling off this trick, and the amount of oxygen produced appears to be relatively small (just enough for their own survival) – but it does look to be different to the few oxygen-without-sunlight processes that we already know about.

What the new pathway does show is that the oxygen production from N. maritimus gets linked to its production of gaseous nitrogen. The microbes are somehow converting ammonia (NH3) into nitrite (NO2-) – a process they use to metabolize energy – in an oxygen-depleted environment.

In turn, this requires them to make their own oxygen, which the team detected traces of, along with the byproduct of nitrogen gas (N2).

Click here to read the full article on Science Alert.

Study Confirms Southern Ocean Is Absorbing Carbon – Important Buffer for Greenhouse Gas Emissions
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map of earth showing c2 and green house gas levels

By Sofie Bates, SciTech Daily

New observations from research aircraft indicate that the Southern Ocean absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases, confirming that it is a strong carbon sink and an important buffer for the effects of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Previous research and modeling had left researchers uncertain about how much atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) gets absorbed by the chilly waters circling the Antarctic continent.

In a NASA-supported study published in Science in December 2021, scientists used aircraft observations of atmospheric carbon dioxide to “show that the annual net flux of carbon into the ocean south of 45°S is large, with stronger summertime uptake and less wintertime outgassing than other recent observations have indicated.” They found that the waters in the region absorbed roughly 0.53 more petagrams (530 million metric tons) of carbon than they released each year.

“Airborne measurements show a drawdown of carbon dioxide in the lower atmosphere over the Southern Ocean surface in summer, indicating carbon uptake by the ocean,” explained Matthew Long, lead author of the study and a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Aircraft observations were collected from 2009 to 2018 during three field experiments, including NASA’s Atmospheric Tomography Mission (ATom) in 2016.

The animation and still image on this page show areas where carbon dioxide was absorbed (blue) and emitted (red) by the global ocean in 2012. (Jump to 1:00 to focus on the Southern Hemisphere.) The data come from the ECCO-Darwin Global Ocean Biogeochemistry Model. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

When human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide enter the atmosphere, some of the gas is absorbed by the ocean, a process that can slightly slow carbon accumulation in the atmosphere and the global temperature increases that go with it. Part of this is due to upwelling of cold water from the deep ocean. Once at the surface, colder, nutrient-rich water absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere—usually with the help of photosynthesizing organisms called phytoplankton—before sinking again.

Computer models suggest that 40 percent of the human-produced CO2 in the ocean worldwide was originally absorbed from the atmosphere into the Southern Ocean, making it one of the most important carbon sinks on our planet. But measuring the flux, or exchange, of CO2 from the air to the sea has been challenging.

Many previous studies of Southern Ocean carbon flux relied heavily on measurements of ocean acidity—which increases when seawater absorbs CO2—taken by floating, drifting instruments. The new research used aircraft to measure changes in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere over the ocean.

“You can’t fool the atmosphere,” Long said. “While measurements taken from the ocean surface and from land are important, they are too sparse to provide a reliable picture of air-sea carbon flux. The atmosphere, however, can integrate fluxes over large expanses.”

Click here to read the full article on SciTech Daily.

The woman saving seahorses from ‘annihilation fishing’
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red seahorse floating in ocean

By Hazel Pfeifer, CNN

Every day, thousands of fishing boats around the world drag huge weighted nets across the seafloor, ensnaring everything in their wake and destroying marine habitats.

Almost one quarter of the world’s annual catch is from this bottom trawling — a process that has been described by scientists as “bulldozing” the ocean floor. The method can be traced back to the 14th century but technological advances in the latter half of the 20th century have allowed it to extend its reach from shallow waters to the deep sea.

Amanda Vincent, a professor at the Institute of Oceans and Fisheries at the University of British Columbia, in Canada, has witnessed the destruction of bottom trawling over three decades researching seahorses across the world.

“Consider your favorite forest or hillside and imagine helicopters dropping heavily weighted wires and clear cutting everything in their path, plowing into the soil, but also taking out every bee, butterfly, bird, bush and bear,” she says. “We wouldn’t allow that on land, not for a minute, but this is what’s happening in the ocean all day, every day.”

“It’s just devastating and it wreaks ecological havoc,” Vincent says. “It’s annihilation fishing, pure and simple, and it has to stop.”

Project Seahorse, a non-profit founded by Vincent in 1996, contributed to getting marine fish recognized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature — a major milestone in protecting seahorses and other marine life. Vincent was also instrumental in uncovering a huge global trade in seahorses — a popular ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine — and her campaigning led to global restrictions on the seahorse trade. Her next crusade is bottom trawling.

More than 70 million seahorses are caught every year by bottom trawling or other fishing methods, according to Project Seahorse, making fishing the biggest threat to the species.

“Most trawl boats only catch one or two seahorses per boat per night (as bycatch). It sounds like nothing,” she says, but continues “countries like Thailand or India export five million seahorses a year, (so) it tells you something about the scale of those bottom trawl operations, because that’s the main way they catch seahorses.”

Impact on the oceans
A 2018 study estimated that around 19 million tons of fish and invertebrates end up in the nets of tens of thousands of bottom trawlers worldwide every year. Other research has found that bottom trawling accounts for nearly 60% of fisheries discards, with unwanted catch thrown back into the ocean.

For the past seven decades, bottom trawling has wasted 437 million tons of fish, leading to an estimated loss of revenue of $560 billion, according to another study.

“It has made a tremendous impact on the world’s oceans,” says Juan Mayorga, a marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “For each kilogram of shrimp, you could get up to 25 kilograms of incidental catch … There’s no such thing as a selective bottom trawl.”

As well as threatening fish stocks, a recent paper Mayorga co-authored studied the movements of over 20,000 bottom trawling vessels worldwide and found that by dredging the carbon-rich sediment on the ocean floor, they had a carbon footprint comparable to that of global aviation.

The ocean absorbs a third of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere, making the seafloor the largest carbon repository on the planet.

“The first meter of the sea floor stores twice as much carbon as all of the terrestrial soils combined.” says Mayorga. “So it’s a huge, huge, huge reservoir of carbon.”

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

Striking NASA Animation Reveals the Dirty Truth About Ocean Plastic
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ocean plastic. A wave carrying plastic waste and other rubbish washes up on a beach in Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand.Photo: Mladen Antonov/AFP (Getty Images)

By Molly Taft, Gizmodo

The world dumps some 17.6 billion pounds (8 billion kilograms) of plastic into the ocean every year—and now, you can check out how all that trash moves around. NASA released an animation showing shifting plastic concentrations in the world’s oceans over an 18-month period, the first research of its kind to map plastics on such a global scale for such a long time.

Once plastic gets into the ocean, it doesn’t just float around uniformly. (That’s part of what makes cleanup so difficult.) A lot of plastic gathers in concentrations in the North Atlantic and North Pacific garbage gyres—commonly referred to as garbage patches. These places are relatively easy to measure plastic concentrations, which are performed by dragging a plankton net behind a boat. But these garbage gyres aren’t representative of plastic concentrations in much of the rest of the world’s oceans, and the manual net-based technique to measure plastic isn’t exactly realistic for taking concentrations in the rest of the world.

The NASA animation and images are based on a new method of tracking and mapping plastics’ journey through the worlds’ oceans, developed by researchers at the University of Michigan. The technique uses measurements of how rough the ocean surface is taken with eight microsatellites, which allows scientists to calculate wind speeds in the ocean. Normally a very useful tool for measuring hurricanes and monitoring weather, it turns out that these wind measurements also can help measure plastic. When plastic is close to the surface of the ocean, waters tend to be calmer with fewer waves.

“In cleaner waters, there’s a high degree of agreement between ocean roughness and wind speed,” Chris Ruf, one of the authors of the research, told NASA Earth Observatory. “But as you head into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, you see a bigger discrepancy between wind speed measurements and the roughness of the surface.”

To figure out where calmer spots in the ocean might be associated with the presence of plastic, University of Michigan researchers cross-referenced the space radar measurements of surface roughness with wind speed measurements from other sources on the ground (or seas, as the case may be) to spot places in the ocean where waters were calmer but wind speeds might still have been strong—suggesting the presence of plastic. They then compared those with other models of ocean plastics, looking at locations between 38 degrees north and south of the equator. (Hence the sharp cutoff line in the animation above.)

The researchers monitored these various data sources around the world for almost a year and a half, between April 2017 all the way through September 2018, making them the first to monitor ocean plastics over such a big scale and long time period. That allowed them to notice some interesting changes, including how garbage concentrations in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are higher in the summer and lower in the winter. That’s possibly due to how the colder water encourages vertical mixing, which could cause trash to travel to deeper levels of the water.

Click here to read the full article on Gizmodo.

A giant ‘black box’ will gather all climate data for future civilizations to learn from
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Earth's Black Box in the Australian state of Tasmania is a city bus-sized structure indestructible to the climate crisis itself and is meant to outlive humans.

By Rachel Ramirez, CNN

Every time new climate research is published, news headlines are posted or tweets are shared, a giant steel box perched on a granite plain in the Australian state of Tasmania will be recording it all. With its thick steel walls, battery storage and solar panels, the developers of “Earth’s Black Box” say the city bus-sized structure will be indestructible to the climate crisis itself and is meant to outlive humans. Eventually, its creators hope, the black box will tell future civilizations how humankind created the climate crisis, and how we failed or succeeded to address it.

“The box will act as an indestructible and independent ledger of the ‘health’ of our planet,” Jonathan Kneebone, artist and director of the artistic collective Glue Society, which is involved with the project, told CNN. “And we hope it will hold leaders to account and inspire action and reaction in the broader population.”
While the box’s construction won’t yet be completed until next year, hard drives have already begun recording algorithm-based findings and conversations since the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

“Earth’s Black Box will record every step we take toward this catastrophe,” write the makers behind the project, including University of Tasmania researchers and a marketing communications company, Clemenger BBDO. “Hundreds of data sets, measurements and interactions relating to the health of our planet will be continuously collected and safely stored for future generations.”

The steel monolith will document all climate-related conversations and artifacts from the past, present and future including land and sea temperature changes, ocean acidification, the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, human population, energy consumption, military spending, policy changes and more.
According to its makers, the box will be packed with storage drives and will constantly be downloading scientific data from the internet, which will be powered by the structure’s solar panels and battery storage.

Developers estimate the black box has the capacity to store enough data for the next three to five decades, and are continuing its research to grow its storage capabilities beyond story archiving and data compression. Kneebone said the creators are still trying to figure out who would be able to use the box in the far-off future, since gaining access to it is designed to be difficult and would require advanced technologies.

Much like the Rosetta Stone, he said, they plan to use multiple formats of encoding including mathematical symbolism for their longer-term analogue steel plate inscriptions, which would include instructions necessary to decode the box by whoever uncovers it. “It is impossible to anticipate who or what will find [the box], but it can be assumed that it will not be of any use unless it is discovered by someone or something that is intelligent and civilized, with the capability of understanding and interpreting basic symbolism,” he said.

Click here to read the full article CNN.

Has the electric car’s moment arrived at last?
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Woman kneeling down to charge her electric car

BY CRAIG WELCH, National Geographic

Joe Biden’s father sold used cars, steeping the future president in the world of combustion engines. The younger Biden washed vehicles on weekends, borrowed a Chrysler off the lot to drive to the prom, and hit automobile auctions to help stock his dad’s dealership. President Biden still owns the green ’67 Corvette his father gave him as a wedding gift, which he told Car and Driver magazine has “a rear-axle ratio that really gets up and goes.”

But if the White House’s resident motorhead gets his way—and that remains a big “if”—we may one day look back on the Biden presidency as the beginning of the end for gasoline-powered cars and trucks in the United States.

Biden is proposing sweeping reforms to the nation’s energy system to tackle climate change. But they aren’t just aimed at greening the electric grid or driving the nation away from coal and natural gas. Transportation accounts for more than a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions; it’s proven particularly thorny to figure out how to reduce that, given the number of vehicles on the roads. So, Biden is pitching a host of ways to steer the country toward electric vehicles, or EVs.

By nearly every measure, the popularity of EVs and hybrid vehicles is already surging. Yet despite an avalanche of promising news, the shift away from gas-fueled cars remains stubbornly marginal, compared with the scale of the problem, even as global temperature records driven by fossil fuel use are broken year after year. Clean vehicles still account for just 2 percent of cars sold in the United States, 5 percent in China, and 10 percent in Europe—and those are the world’s biggest markets.

“This transition is by no means inevitable,” says Nic Lutsey, with the International Council on Clean Transportation, an independent research outfit that works with policymakers around the world.

Yet analysts, environmentalists, clean-tech experts, and auto industry-backed researchers all say the right mix of regulation, consumer incentives, and research support might just be enough to spur dramatic acceleration. And thus far, these experts agree, Biden seems intent on pulling the right levers.

“The dam is breaking; the tipping point is here,” says Sam Ricketts, a member of the team that authored Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s climate action plan during his presidential run. Many of Inslee’s ideas have since found their way into Biden’s plans. “The question is how fast can the auto industry go,” Ricketts says, “and can it be fast enough to confront the climate crisis?”

That will depend in no small part on what happens next in Washington, D.C.—and whether Biden and the Democrats, who hold the White House and a razor-thin majority in Congress, can even get the pieces into place.

So close, yet so far
Vehicles powered by electricity have been around since the auto industry’s inception—several of the first 19th-century cars were powered by electrons. But their real promise wasn’t apparent until Toyota began globally mass-producing the Prius hybrid 20 years ago. Less than a decade later, Tesla introduced the Roadster, its all-electric sports car, and got a $465 million Department of Energy loan, jump-starting production of its all-electric sedans. The loan has since been repaid, and Tesla is currently worth seven times as much as General Motors.

Today, the trend is impossible to miss. Just since 2016 EVs and hybrid sales have nearly doubled in North America, and in 2018, for the first time ever, sales rose even as gas prices collapsed. Last year, with an economy wracked by COVID-19, electric or partly-electric vehicle purchases rose almost 5 percent over 2019 as auto sales overall declined by 15 percent.

There are electric Hummers, an electric Mustang, and an electric Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and North American car manufacturers plan to triple the number of non-gas-powered models by 2024 to 203.

Battery and motor prices are falling, and the innovation and economies of scale that come into play when companies like Amazon, which plans to buy 100,000 electric delivery vehicles in coming years, require more mass-produced vehicles almost certainly will drive them down more. Just as solar and wind energy now cost pennies to produce, the cost of buying a fossil-fuel-free car or truck, by some estimates, may match traditional vehicle prices in five years or less. Ford expects that an upcoming electric version of its popular F150 pickup will be vastly cheaper to own, over time, than the gas-powered original.

In all, more than seven million electrified vehicles now travel the world’s streets. Tesla alone has produced more than one million. BMW has sold a half million and hopes to double that by this year. Volkswagen, the world’s largest automaker, has proposed dozens of electric models.

Click here to read the full article on National Geographic.

Some Good News This Earth Day: A Few Ways the Natural World Is Improving
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earth day 2021 with a globe in the place of the zero

We hear a lot of doom and gloom regarding the health of our planet, but Bill Pekny says the news is not all bad. Just in time for Earth Day on April 22, he shares some encouraging bright spots.

There are lots of metrics to measure the health of our planet, but we only seem to hear about and focus on the ones that are getting worse.

“While we certainly must pay attention to the existing problems threatening the Earth, there are some compelling bright spots that we should remember to celebrate, especially as Earth Day approaches,” says Bill Pekny, author of A Tale of Two Climates: One Real, One Imaginary (Two Climates LLC, 2020, ISBN: 978-1-73493-960-6, $34.59). “There are in fact many ways in which our natural world is actually healthier now than it has been in the past.”

Pekny, who holds M.S. and B.S. degrees from Georgia Tech and DePaul, spent more than 50 years as a scientist in the U.S. Armed Forces and Aerospace industry. In A Tale of Two Climates, Pekny presents an honest, unbiased, evidence-based review of the state of our planet. Pekny says we should move the conversation away from abstract threats of doomsday scenarios, and focus on meaningful ways we can make things better instead of getting lost in debate that often just produces gridlock.

There’s a lot of good that we can do when we stop arguing, start listening, and become willing to change our minds if we learn something new. It’s through productive conversations that we can begin making a positive impact. And besides, we can all agree that we want clean land, air, and water. Further, people today are becoming more interested in preserving our natural resources. Because of COVID-19 we are spending increased time outdoors and seeing firsthand the importance of protecting the Earth. And we have entire generations of smart, resourceful young people dedicated to protecting the environment so it can be enjoyed for years to come. These are all things to be excited and optimistic about, says Pekny.

With all that in mind, here is some more good news about our natural world:

The number of wildfires, as well as acreage burned, has trended down over the last century. Although any wildfire metrics are staggering and tragic in terms of death, injury, and damage, the fact is, wildfires are down by a factor of five, from a peak of about 50 million acres burned in 1930 to about 10 million acres burned now. In the last 33 years, the number of U.S. wildfires has trended downward by about 25,000.

On a regional level, there are localized places, like California, Oregon, and Washington, where both dryness and wildfire frequency commonly increase in the fall. “While these periods can make us hyper-aware of wildfires, the good news is these events are tending to be less frequent and less severe,” says Pekny.

Long-term severe weather trends are down, not up. Prior to 1945, the only way we could keep track of severe storms was through visual observation by sailors and observers on land. Since then, airborne observation by Navy, Air Force, and NOAA Hurricane Hunters has dramatically improved position tracking and warning of these storms and hinted at their severity.

Even more significantly, we developed satellites and long range Doppler RADAR systems to monitor severe weather. These technology advancements have significantly improved worldwide monitoring of all types of severe weather activity.

What we have learned from improved global scale monitoring and data collection over the last 48 years, is that these extreme weather events are not only not getting more frequent, they’re actually getting less severe.

While many people point to increased property damage as evidence that these storms are getting worse, this is not actually the case. “We attribute these increased property damages mostly to human yearning to live near the water, regardless of its associated risks—and not to either storm frequency or intensity,” says Pekny.

While this doesn’t mean that we’ve got these threats handled, it is useful to remember that not everything is getting worse.

“Good stewardship of our planet is paramount, and everyone’s continuous responsibility,” says Pekny. “In order to do that effectively, we have to be in reality about where the real problems are and where they aren’t.”

About the Author:
Bill Pekny is the author of A Tale of Two Climates: One Real, One Imaginary. He holds physics M.S. and B.S. degrees from Georgia Tech and DePaul University, plus graduate study in physical meteorology and numerical analysis at Florida State University and the University of Utah, and a visiting scholar appointment at the Ginzton Laboratory of Applied Physics at Stanford University.

Bill’s career in science spans over 50 years in the U.S. Armed Forces and the aerospace industry.

His career highlights include: Project Stormfury with the U.S. Navy Hurricane Hunters; applied atmospheric physics and meteorology research; LASER RADAR development; new product testing in various atmospheric environments; aviation optics and electronics; global climate research; and more.

About the Book:
A Tale of Two Climates: One Real, One Imaginary (Two Climates LLC, 2020, ISBN: 978-1-73493-960-6, $34.59) is available from major online booksellers.

Diamonds That Formed Deep in the Earth’s Mantle Contain Evidence of Deep-Earth Recycling Processes
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This cartoon shows a subducting oceanic plate traveling like a conveyor belt from the surface down to the lower mantle. The white arrows show the comparatively well-established shallow recycling pathway in the top layer of the plate (crust and sediments), that feeds into arc volcanoes.

By CARNEGIE INSTITUTION FOR SCIENCE

Findings allow us to trace how minerals from the surface are drawn down into the mantle.

Diamonds that formed deep in the Earth’s mantle contain evidence of chemical reactions that occurred on the seafloor. Probing these gems can help geoscientists understand how material is exchanged between the planet’s surface and its depths.

New work published in Science Advances confirms that serpentinite — a rock that forms from peridotite, the main rock type in Earth’s mantle, when water penetrates cracks in the ocean floor — can carry surface water as far as 700 kilometers deep by plate tectonic processes.

“Nearly all tectonic plates that make up the seafloor eventually bend and slide down into the mantle — a process called subduction, which has the potential to recycle surface materials, such as water, into the Earth,” explained Carnegie’s Peng Ni, who co-led the research effort with Evan Smith of the Gemological Institute of America.
Serpentinite residing inside subducting plates may be one of the most significant, yet poorly known, geochemical pathways by which surface materials are captured and conveyed into the Earth’s depths. The presence of deeply-subducted serpentinites was previously suspected — due to Carnegie and GIA research about the origin of blue diamonds and to the chemical composition of erupted mantle material that makes up mid-ocean ridges, seamounts, and ocean islands. But evidence demonstrating this pathway had not been fully confirmed until now.

The research team — which also included Carnegie’s Steven Shirey, and Anat Shahar, as well as GIA’s Wuyi Wang and Stephen Richardson of the University of Cape Town — found physical evidence to confirm this suspicion by studying a type of large diamonds that originate deep inside the planet.

“Some of the most famous diamonds in the world fall into this special category of relatively large and pure gem diamonds, such as the world-famous Cullinan,” Smith said. “They form between 360 and 750 kilometers down, at least as deep as the transition zone between the upper and lower mantle.”
Sometimes they contain inclusions of tiny minerals trapped during diamond crystallization that provide a glimpse into what is happening at these extreme depths.

“Studying small samples of minerals formed during deep diamond crystallization can teach us so much about the composition and dynamics of the mantle, because diamond protects the minerals from additional changes on their path to the surface,” Shirey explained.

In this instance, the researchers were able to analyze the isotopic composition of iron in the metallic inclusions. Like other elements, iron can have different numbers of neutrons in its nucleus, which gives rise to iron atoms of slightly different mass, or different “isotopes” of iron. Measuring the ratios of “heavy” and “light” iron isotopes gives scientists a sort of fingerprint of the iron.

Read the full article at SciTechDaily.

New Effort To Clean Up Space Junk Reaches Orbit
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A rendering showing ELSA-d's concept of operations.

By , NPR

A demonstration mission to test an idea to clean up space debris launched Monday morning local time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Known as ELSA-d, the mission will exhibit technology that could help capture space junk, the millions of pieces of orbital debris that float above Earth.

 

 

 

The more than 8,000 metric tons of debris threaten the loss of services we rely on for Earth-bound life, including weather forecasting, telecommunications and GPS systems.

The spacecraft works by attempting to attach itself to dead satellites and pushing them toward Earth to burn up in the atmosphere.

ELSA-d, which stands for End-of-Life Services by Astroscale, will be carried out by a “servicer satellite” and a “client satellite” that launched together, according to Astroscale, the Japan-based company behind the mission. Using a magnetic docking technology, the servicer will release and try to “rendezvous” with the client, which will act as a mock piece of space junk.

The mission, which will be run from the U.K., will carry out this catch and release process repeatedly over the course of six months. The goal is to prove the servicer satellite’s ability to track down and dock with its target in varying levels of complexity.

The spacecraft is not designed to capture dead satellites already in orbit, but rather future satellites that would be launched with compatible docking plates on them.

Space junk has been a growing problem for years as human-made objects such as old satellites and spacecraft parts build up in low Earth orbit until they decay, deorbit, explode or collide with other objects, fragmenting into smaller pieces of waste.

In 2019, for example, India blew apart one of its satellites orbiting Earth, creating hundreds of pieces of debris that threatened to collide with the International Space Station.

According to a recent report by NASA, at least 26,000 of the millions of pieces of space junk are the size of a softball. Orbiting along at 17,500 mph, they could “destroy a satellite on impact.” More than 500,000 pieces are a “mission-ending threat” because of their ability to impact protective systems, fuel tanks and spacecraft cabins.

And the most common debris, more than 100 million pieces, is the size of a grain of salt and could puncture a spacesuit, “amplifying the risk of catastrophic collisions to spacecraft and crew,” the report said.

According to NASA, cleaning up space — and addressing the risks associated with debris — depend on preventing the accumulation of more waste and actively removing it.

Click here to read the full article on NPR.

Why Jane Goodall is hopeful in 2021
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A Chimpanzee hanging from a tree branch

By Laurie Wiegler, BBC

In the 1960s, Dr Jane Goodall upended the world’s understanding of chimpanzees by revealing that they are capable of making and using tools and engaging in complex social behaviours like kissing and tickling. Six decades later, the world-renowned primatologist, activist, author and humanitarian is not only still working, but reinventing herself with a new podcast called Hopecast, which offers reasons to be hopeful about the environment, wildlife and people in 2021.

We recently spoke with Goodall via Zoom from her childhood home in Bournemouth, UK, where she has been living with her younger sister and her sister’s family during the pandemic. During our talk, the British Dame and UN Messenger of Peace discussed the best days of her life, how storytelling is the best way to reach people’s hearts, and how each of us can help look after this wondrous world we all share.

Q: After all these years of studying primates, you broadened your focus to include humans. In doing so, you launched Hopecast, highlighting how we all can contribute to a more compassionate world. What inspired this?

The best days of my life were when I was out in Gombe, [Tanzania], with the chimps in nature, in the rainforest. And it was when I realised that right across Africa, forests were disappearing, chimpanzee numbers were dropping, [and] I had to try and do something to help. When I went to Africa to visit different chimp sites, I learned a lot about the problems for the wildlife but also about the problems faced by people and the crippling poverty, the lack of health and education.

And when I flew over the little tiny Gombe National Park in 1960, it was part of this great forest that stretched right across Africa. By 1990, it was a tiny little island of forests with more people than the land can support, who buy food from elsewhere and who are struggling to survive. And that was when I thought, “If we don’t do something to help the people find an alternative way of living without destroying the environment, then we can’t save chimps, forests or anything else.” So we began the Tacare programme.

In the villages that were around Gombe, [the programme] has improved lives, provided microcredit for women and scholarships to keep girls in school and ways of restoring fertility to the land without chemicals. Tacare is now throughout the chimp range in Tanzania at four villages and in six other African countries, and the people have learned to use smartphones to monitor their own environment. They’ve realised that saving the forests is for their own future, not just the chimpanzees’.

[I began] raising money for all of this [because] I wanted to raise awareness about Africa’s problems. So I was travelling further and further around the world and learning more about what we’re doing to harm this beautiful planet, and meeting young people who seemed to have lost hope. [They] told me that they’d given up because we’d compromised their future [and] there was nothing they could do about it.

Q: Did you sense that there was not enough hope or that young people, and people in general, needed hope?

People do need hope, because if you don’t have hope then you become apathetic. I mean, why would you bother to do anything to help the environment, people or animals if you didn’t think it was going to work? You need to hope that what you do is going to make a difference. Without hope, then you fall into apathy and do nothing.

Q: What are a few ideas or developments inspiring your sense of hope now, and what can each of us do to make the world healthier for people, animals and the environment?

We can think about the little choices we make each day. What did we buy? Where did it come from? And, could you buy it from somewhere nearer that uses less air miles? Was [its manufacture] cruel to animals? Is it cheap because of child slave labour? If everybody feels they’ve made ethical choices, then we move towards a better world.

Q: You have travelled extensively. What has surprised you or challenged you on your journeys?

First of all, growing up in the UK was during World War Two, and so I learned a lot about taking nothing for granted. Food was rationed; clothes were rationed; people we knew were dying, were killed. The stories of the Holocaust came out, and it was shocking to me that people could treat other people that way. After the war, my wise mother let me go out to a German family who wanted an English person to teach their children good English, and the reason she let me go was because she wanted me to understand that the Nazis and Germans were not the same; that all Germans were not Nazis. Because in the war, the sound of a German voice sent shivers down your spine.

When I first went to Africa, there were no planes flying back and forth. There were a few, but they were very expensive. And the first place [where] I touched land in Africa was Cape Town, which is really beautiful and very exciting. But then I saw the backs of the seats and the doors to the hotels said “Slegs blankes”. I said to the two friends who were looking after me, “What do these words mean? “[They said], ‘It means white people only’.”. I didn’t grow up that way – my father was a congregational minister and we didn’t judge people by the colour of their skin, their culture or their religion. I couldn’t wait to leave South Africa.

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When I got to Kenya, where my friend was who’d invited me, it was much better. They were just on the brink of independence from British rule, and soon after I arrived in Tanzania, that country became independent too. But of course, the cultures are very different. I sort of grew up being told about different cultures – my great-great-grandfather had travelled all over the world and was very adventurous. So, [going to Africa] added to the knowledge that I had as a child, from reading and from stories.

Q: You are not only a scientist but an activist. Have you ever felt conflicted by the two hats you wear, or do they somehow complement each other?

I started off as a naturalist. I was only forced to become a scientist by [British paleoanthropologist] Dr Leakey, who told me he wasn’t always going to be around to get money for me for studying the chimps and I needed a degree and I had to get a PhD at Cambridge University. It was a very nerve-racking experience because I had never been to college and I was doing a PhD.

I did get the PhD and I was told I’d done everything wrong: I shouldn’t have given the chimps names; they should have had numbers; I couldn’t talk about personality, mind or emotions [as] those were unique to us. But I’d already been taught by my dog that that wasn’t true. So I just persevered, I got the degree, and gradually science changed. And now we know we’re not the only beings with personality, mind and emotion.

After I left Gombe, I began travelling around and learning about the needs of the people and learning about the way animals were treated in Europe, in America, in medical research labs, the cruel training of circus animals. I decided I needed to become an advocate. And it’s never conflicted at all. I’ve never had any conflict between what I am doing now (we still have a research team at Gombe) and our method of research.

You know, the heart is involved, and empathy with the animal subjects is involved. So it’s not what some people would call “hard science”. It’s not all about facts and figures, although they have their place. When science says you have to be coldly objective [and] you can’t have empathy, they’re completely wrong. So I was able to stick up for what I believed, and if you have empathy with your subject you are more likely to understand complex behaviour.

Click here to read the full article on BBC.

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