Climate change and air pollution will combine to curb food supplies

Many studies have shown the potential for global climate change to cut food supplies. But these studies have, for the most part, ignored the interactions between increasing temperature and air pollution — specifically ozone pollution, which is known to damage crops.A new study involving researchers at MIT shows that these interactions can be quite significant, suggesting that policymakers need to take both warming and air pollution into account in addressing food security.The study looked in detail at global production of four leading food crops — rice, wheat, corn, and soy — that account for more than half the calories humans consume worldwide. It predicts that effects will vary considerably from region to region, and that some of the crops are much more strongly affected by one or the other of the factors: For example, wheat is very sensitive to ozone exposure, while corn is much more adversely affected by heat.The research was carried out by Colette Heald, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at MIT, former CEE postdoc Amos Tai, and Maria van Martin at Colorado State University. Their work is described this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.Heald explains that while it’s known that both higher temperatures and ozone pollution can damage plants and reduce crop yields, “nobody has looked at these together.” And while rising temperatures are widely discussed, the impact of air quality on crops is less recognized.The effects are likely to vary widely by region, the study predicts. In the United States, tougher air-quality regulations are expected to lead to a sharp decline in ozone pollution, mitigating its impact on crops. But in other regions, the outcome “will depend on domestic air-pollution policies,” Heald says. “An air-quality cleanup would improve crop yields.”Overall, with all other factors being equal, warming may reduce crop yields globally by about 10 percent by 2050, the study found. But the effects of ozone pollution are more complex — some crops are more strongly affected by it than others — which suggests that pollution-control measures could play a major role in determining outcomes.Ozone pollution can also be tricky to identify, Heald says, because its damage can resemble other plant illnesses, producing flecks on leaves and discoloration.Potential reductions in crop yields are worrisome: The world is expected to need about 50 percent more food by 2050, the authors say, due to population growth and changing dietary trends in the developing world. So any yield reductions come against a backdrop of an overall need to increase production significantly through improved crop selections and farming methods, as well as expansion of farmland.While heat and ozone can each damage plants independently, the factors also interact. For example, warmer temperatures significantly increase production of ozone from the reactions, in sunlight, of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. …

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Steam energy from the sun: New spongelike structure converts solar energy into steam

A new material structure developed at MIT generates steam by soaking up the sun. The structure — a layer of graphite flakes and an underlying carbon foam — is a porous, insulating material structure that floats on water. When sunlight hits the structure’s surface, it creates a hotspot in the graphite, drawing water up through the material’s pores, where it evaporates as steam. The brighter the light, the more steam is generated.The new material is able to convert 85 percent of incoming solar energy into steam — a significant improvement over recent approaches to solar-powered steam generation. What’s more, the setup loses very little heat in the process, and can produce steam at relatively low solar intensity. This would mean that, if scaled up, the setup would likely not require complex, costly systems to highly concentrate sunlight.Hadi Ghasemi, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, says the spongelike structure can be made from relatively inexpensive materials — a particular advantage for a variety of compact, steam-powered applications.”Steam is important for desalination, hygiene systems, and sterilization,” says Ghasemi, who led the development of the structure. “Especially in remote areas where the sun is the only source of energy, if you can generate steam with solar energy, it would be very useful.”Ghasemi and mechanical engineering department head Gang Chen, along with five others at MIT, report on the details of the new steam-generating structure in the journal Nature Communications.Cutting the optical concentrationToday, solar-powered steam generation involves vast fields of mirrors or lenses that concentrate incoming sunlight, heating large volumes of liquid to high enough temperatures to produce steam. However, these complex systems can experience significant heat loss, leading to inefficient steam generation.Recently, scientists have explored ways to improve the efficiency of solar-thermal harvesting by developing new solar receivers and by working with nanofluids. The latter approach involves mixing water with nanoparticles that heat up quickly when exposed to sunlight, vaporizing the surrounding water molecules as steam. But initiating this reaction requires very intense solar energy — about 1,000 times that of an average sunny day.By contrast, the MIT approach generates steam at a solar intensity about 10 times that of a sunny day — the lowest optical concentration reported thus far. …

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Climate Change Increases Risk of Crop Slowdown in Next 20 Years

The world faces a small but substantially increased risk over the next two decades of a major slowdown in the growth of global crop yields because of climate change, new research finds.The authors, from Stanford University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), say the odds of a major production slowdown of wheat and corn even with a warming climate are not very high. But the risk is about 20 times more significant than it would be without global warming, and it may require planning by organizations that are affected by international food availability and price.”Climate change has substantially increased the prospect that crop production will fail to keep up with rising demand in the next 20 years,” said NCAR scientist Claudia Tebaldi, a co-author of the study.Stanford professor David Lobell said he wanted to study the potential impact of climate change on agriculture in the next two decades because of questions he has received from stakeholders and decision makers in governments and the private sector.”I’m often asked whether climate change will threaten food supply, as if it’s a simple yes or no answer,” Lobell said. “The truth is that over a 10- or 20-year period, it depends largely on how fast Earth warms, and we can’t predict the pace of warming very precisely. So the best we can do is try to determine the odds.”Lobell and Tebaldi used computer models of global climate, as well as data about weather and crops, to calculate the chances that climatic trends would have a negative effect of 10 percent on yields of corn and wheat in the next 20 years. This would have a major impact on food supply. Yields would continue to increase but the slowdown would effectively cut the projected rate of increase by about half at the same time that demand is projected to grow sharply.They found that the likelihood of natural climate shifts causing such a slowdown over the next 20 years is only 1 in 200. But when the authors accounted for human-induced global warming, they found that the odds jumped to 1 in 10 for corn and 1 in 20 for wheat.The study appears in this month’s issue of Environmental Research Letters. It was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is NCAR’s sponsor, and by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).More crops needed worldwideGlobal yields of crops such as corn and wheat have typically increased by about 1-2 percent per year in recent decades, and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization projects that global production of major crops will increase by 13 percent per decade through 2030 — likely the fastest rate of increase during the coming century. …

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Trees save lives, reduce respiratory problems

In the first broad-scale estimate of air pollution removal by trees nationwide, U.S. Forest Service scientists and collaborators calculated that trees are saving more than 850 human lives a year and preventing 670,000 incidents of acute respiratory symptoms.While trees’ pollution removal equated to an average air quality improvement of less than 1 percent, the impacts of that improvement are substantial. Researchers valued the human health effects of the reduced air pollution at nearly $7 billion every year in a study published recently in the journal Environmental Pollution.The study by Dave Nowak and Eric Greenfield of the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and Satoshi Hirabayashi and Allison Bodine of the Davey Institute is unique in that it directly links the removal of air pollution with improved human health effects and associated health values. The scientists found that pollution removal is substantially higher in rural areas than urban areas, however the effects on human health are substantially greater in urban areas than rural areas.”With more than 80 percent of Americans living in urban area, this research underscores how truly essential urban forests are to people across the nation,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. “Information and tools developed by Forest Service research are contributing to communities valuing and managing the 138 million acres of trees and forests that grace the nation’s cities, towns and communities.”The study considered four pollutants for which the U.S. EPA has established air quality standards: nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) in aerodynamic diameter. Health effects related to air pollution include impacts on pulmonary, cardiac, vascular, and neurological systems. In the United States, approximately 130,000 PM2.5-related deaths and 4,700 ozone-related deaths in 2005 were attributed to air pollution.Trees’ benefits vary with tree cover across the nation. …

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Intensity of hurricanes: New study helps improve predictions of storm intensity

They are something we take very seriously in Florida — hurricanes. The names roll off the tongue like a list of villains — Andrew, Charlie, Frances and Wilma.In the past 25 years or so, experts have gradually been improving prediction of the course a storm may take. This is thanks to tremendous advancements in computer and satellite technology. While we still have the “cone of uncertainty” we’ve become familiar with watching television weather reports, today’s models are more accurate than they used to be.The one area, however, where there is still much more to be researched and learned is in predicting just how intense a storm may be. While hurricane hunter aircraft can help determine wind speed, velocity, water temperature and other data, the fact is we often don’t know why or how a storm gets stronger or weaker. There has been virtually no progress in hurricane intensity forecasting during the last quarter century.But, thanks to new research being conducted, all that’s about to change.”The air-water interface — whether it had significant waves or significant spray — is a big factor in storm intensity,” said Alex Soloviev, Ph.D., a professor at Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center. “Hurricanes gain heat energy through the interface and they lose mechanical energy at the interface.”Soloviev is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (UM RSMAS) and a Fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS.) He and his fellow researchers used a computational fluid dynamics model to simulate microstructure of the air-sea interface under hurricane force winds. In order to verify these computer-generated results, the group conducted experiments at the UM’s Rosenstiel School Air-Sea Interaction Salt Water Tank (ASIST) where they simulated wind speed and ocean surface conditions found during hurricanes.The study “The Air-Sea Interface and Surface Stress Under Tropical Cyclones” was published in the June 16, 2014 issue of the journal Nature Scientific Reports. Soloviev was the lead author of this study, which was conducted by a multi-institutional team including Roger Lukas (University of Hawaii), Mark Donelan and Brian Haus (UM RSMAS), and Isaac Ginis (University of Rhode Island.)The researchers were surprised at what they found. Under hurricane force wind, the air-water interface was producing projectiles fragmenting into sub millimeter scale water droplets. …

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Microscopic organism plays a big role in ocean carbon cycling

It’s broadly understood that the world’s oceans play a crucial role in the global-scale cycling and exchange of carbon between Earth’s ecosystems and atmosphere. Now scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have taken a leap forward in understanding the microscopic underpinnings of these processes.When phytoplankton use carbon dioxide to make new cells, a substantial portion of that cellular material is released into the sea as a buffet of edible molecules collectively called “dissolved organic carbon.” The majority of these molecules are eventually eaten by microscopic marine bacteria, used for energy, and recycled back into carbon dioxide as the bacteria exhale. The amount of carbon that remains as cell material determines the role that ocean biology plays in locking up atmospheric carbon dioxide in the ocean.Thus, these “recycling” bacteria play an important role in regulating how much of the planet’s carbon dioxide is stored in the oceans. The detailed mechanisms of how the oceans contribute to this global carbon cycle at the microscopic scale, and which microbes have a leadership role in the breakdown process, are complex and convoluted problems to solve.In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Scripps scientists have pinpointed a bacterium that appears to play a dominant role in carbon consumption. Scripps’s Byron Pedler, Lihini Aluwihare, and Farooq Azam found that a single bacterium called Alteromonas could consume as much dissolved organic carbon as a diverse community of organisms.”This was a surprising result,” said Pedler. “Because this pool of carbon is composed of an extremely diverse set of molecules, we believed that many different microbes with complementary abilities would be required to breakdown this material, but it appears that individual species may be pulling more weight than others when it comes to carbon cycling.”Pedler, a marine biology graduate student at Scripps, spent several years working with Scripps marine microbiologist Azam and chemical oceanographer Aluwihare in designing a system that would precisely measure carbon consumption by individual bacterial species. Because carbon in organic matter is essentially all around us, the most challenging part of conducting these experiments is avoiding contamination.”Much of the carbon cycling in the ocean happens unseen to the naked eye, and it involves a complex mix of processes involving microbes and molecules,” said Azam, a distinguished professor of marine microbiology. “The complexity and challenge is not just that we can’t see it but that there’s an enormous number of different molecules involved. The consequences of these microbial interactions are critically important for the global carbon cycle, and for us.”By demonstrating that key individual species within the ecosystem can play a disproportionally large role in carbon cycling, this study helps bring us a step closer to understanding the function these microbes play in larger questions of climate warming and increased acidity in the ocean.”In order to predict how ecosystems will react when you heat up the planet or acidify the ocean, we first need to understand the mechanisms of everyday carbon cycling — who’s involved and how are they doing it?” said Pedler. “Now that we have this model organism that we know contributes to ocean carbon cycling, and a model experimental system to study the process, we can probe further to understand the biochemical and genetic requirements for the breakdown of this carbon pool in the ocean.”While the new finding exposes the unexpected capability of a significant species in carbon cycling, the scientists say there is much more to the story since whole communities of microbes may interact together or live symbiotically in the microscopic ecosystems of the sea.Pedler, Aluwihare, and Azam are now developing experiments to test other microbes and their individual abilities to consume carbon.The study was supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Marine Microbiology Initiative through grant GBMF2758 and the National Science Foundation.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – San Diego. …

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Male or female? First sex-determining genes appeared in mammals some 180 million years ago

Man or woman? Male or female? In humans and other mammals, the difference between sexes depends on one single element of the genome: the Y chromosome. It is present only in males, where the two sexual chromosomes are X and Y, whereas women have two X chromosomes. Thus, the Y is ultimately responsible for all the morphological and physiological differences between males and females.But this has not always been the case. A very long time ago, the X and Y were identical, until the Y started to differentiate from the X in males. It then progressively shrank to such an extent that, nowadays, it only contains about 20 genes (the X carries more than one thousand genes). When did the Y originate and which genes have been kept? The answer has just been brought to light by the team of Henrik Kaessmann, Associate Professor at the CIG (UNIL) and group leader at the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, and their collaborators in Australia. They have established that the first ” sex genes ” appeared concomitantly in mammals around 180 million years ago.4,3 billion genetic sequencesBy studying samples from several male tissues — in particular testicles — from different species, the researchers recovered the Y chromosome genes from the three major mammalian lineages: placentals (which include humans, apes, rodents and elephants), marsupials (such as opossums and kangaroos) and monotremes (egg-laying mammals, such as the platypus and the echidna, a kind of Australian porcupine). …

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BOSS quasars track the expanding universe: Most precise measurement yet

The Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), the largest component of the third Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-III), pioneered the use of quasars to map density variations in intergalactic gas at high redshifts, tracing the structure of the young universe. BOSS charts the history of the universe’s expansion in order to illuminate the nature of dark energy, and new measures of large-scale structure have yielded the most precise measurement of expansion since galaxies first formed.The latest quasar results combine two separate analytical techniques. A new kind of analysis, led by physicist Andreu Font-Ribera of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and his team, was published late last year. Analysis using a tested approach, but with far more data than before, has just been published by Timothe Delubac, of EPFL Switzerland and France’s Centre de Saclay, and his team. The two analyses together establish the expansion rate at 68 kilometers per second per million light years at redshift 2.34, with an unprecedented accuracy of 2.2 percent.”This means if we look back to the universe when it was less than a quarter of its present age, we’d see that a pair of galaxies separated by a million light years would be drifting apart at a velocity of 68 kilometers a second as the universe expands,” says Font-Ribera, a postdoctoral fellow in Berkeley Lab’s Physics Division. “The uncertainty is plus or minus only a kilometer and a half per second.” Font-Ribera presented the findings at the April 2014 meeting of the American Physical Society in Savannah, GA.BOSS employs both galaxies and distant quasars to measure baryon acoustic oscillations (BAO), a signature imprint in the way matter is distributed, resulting from conditions in the early universe. While also present in the distribution of invisible dark matter, the imprint is evident in the distribution of ordinary matter, including galaxies, quasars, and intergalactic hydrogen.”Three years ago BOSS used 14,000 quasars to demonstrate we could make the biggest 3D maps of the universe,” says Berkeley Lab’s David Schlegel, principal investigator of BOSS. “Two years ago, with 48,000 quasars, we first detected baryon acoustic oscillations in these maps. Now, with more than 150,000 quasars, we’ve made extremely precise measures of BAO.”The BAO imprint corresponds to an excess of about five percent in the clustering of matter at a separation known as the BAO scale. …

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Morning rays keep off pounds

A surprising new strategy for managing your weight? Bright morning light.A new Northwestern Medicine study reports the timing, intensity and duration of your light exposure during the day is linked to your weight — the first time this has been shown.People who had most of their daily exposure to even moderately bright light in the morning had a significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than those who had most of their light exposure later in the day, the study found. (BMI is a ratio calculated from a person’s weight and height.)”The earlier this light exposure occurred during the day, the lower individuals’ body mass index,” said co-lead author Kathryn Reid, research associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “The later the hour of moderately bright light exposure, the higher a person’s BMI.”The influence of morning light exposure on body weight was independent of an individual’s physical activity level, caloric intake, sleep timing, age or season. It accounted for about 20 percent of a person’s BMI.”Light is the most potent agent to synchronize your internal body clock that regulates circadian rhythms, which in turn also regulate energy balance,” said study senior author Phyllis C. Zee, M.D. “The message is that you should get more bright light between 8 a.m. and noon.” About 20 to 30 minutes of morning light is enough to affect BMI.Zee is the Benjamin and Virginia T. Boshes Professor of Neurology and director of the Northwestern Medicine Sleep and Circadian Rhythms Research Program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She also is a neurologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.”If a person doesn’t get sufficient light at the appropriate time of day, it could de-synchronize your internal body clock, which is known to alter metabolism and can lead to weight gain,” Zee said. …

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Monkey caloric restriction study shows big benefit; contradicts earlier study

The latest results from a 25-year study of diet and aging in monkeys shows a significant reduction in mortality and in age-associated diseases among those with calorie-restricted diets. The study, begun at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1989, is one of two ongoing, long-term U.S. efforts to examine the effects of a reduced-calorie diet on nonhuman primates.The study of 76 rhesus monkeys, reported Monday in Nature Communications, was performed at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center in Madison. When they were 7 to 14 years of age, the monkeys began eating a diet reduced in calories by 30 percent. The comparison monkeys, which ate as much as they wanted, had an increased risk of disease 2.9 times that of the calorie-restricted group, and a threefold increased risk of death.”We think our study is important because it means the biology we have seen in lower organisms is germane to primates,” says Richard Weindruch, a professor of medicine at the School of Medicine and Public Health, and one of the founders of the UW study. “We continue to believe that mechanisms that combat aging in caloric restriction will offer a lead into drugs or other treatments to slow the onset of disease and death.”Restricting the intake of calories while continuing to supply essential nutrients extends the lifespan of flies, yeast and rodents by as much as 40 percent. Scientists have long wanted to understand the mechanisms for caloric restriction. “We study caloric restriction because it has such a robust effect on aging and the incidence and timing of age related disease,” says corresponding author Rozalyn Anderson, an assistant professor of geriatrics. “Already, people are studying drugs that affect the mechanisms that are active in caloric restriction. There is enormous private-sector interest in some of these drugs.”Still, the effects of caloric restriction on primates have been debated. …

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Humans and saber-toothed tiger met in Germany 300,000 years ago

Scientists of the Lower Saxony Heritage Authority and of the University of Tbingen excavating at the Schningen open-cast coal mine in north-central Germany have discovered the remains of a saber-toothed cat preserved in a layer some 300,000 years old — the same stratum in which wooden spears were found, indicating that early humans also inhabited the area, which at that time was the bank of a shallow lake.The discovery sheds new light on the relationship between early humans and beasts of prey. It is highly likely that humans were confronted by saber-toothed cats at the Schningen lakeside. In that case, all the human could do was grab his up to 2.3m long spear and defend himself. In this context, the Schningen spears must be regarded as weapons for defense as well as hunting — a vital tool for human survival in Europe 300,000 years ago.Officials from the Lower Saxony heritage authority and archaeologists from the Universities of Tbingen and Leiden uncovered a first tooth of a young adult Homotherium latidens in October 2012. Measuring more than a meter at the shoulder and weighing some 200kg, the saber-tooth was no pussycat. It had razor-sharp claws and deadly jaws with upper-jaw canines more than 10cm long.The find shows that the saber-toothed cat died out later in central Europe than previously believed. Along with the sensational wooden spears, the same level has yielded bones and stone tools indicating that early humans — probably Homo heidelbergenis — hunted horses and camped along a 100m stretch of the lakeside.The new finds demonstrate that a long time before anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens have reached Europe some 40,000 years ago, early man was able to defend himself against highly dangerous animals with his weapon technology. The results of the researchers’ study have just been published in a report by the Lower Saxony heritage authority, the Niederschsisches Landesamt fr Denkmalpflege.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Universitaet Tbingen. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Scientists solve the riddle of zebras’ stripes: Those pesky bugs

Why zebras have black and white stripes is a question that has intrigued scientists and spectators for centuries. A research team led by the University of California, Davis, has now examined this riddle systematically. Their answer is published April 1 in the online journal Nature Communications.The scientists found that biting flies, including horseflies and tsetse flies, are the evolutionary driver for zebra’s stripes. Experimental work had previously shown that such flies tend to avoid black-and-white striped surfaces, but many other hypotheses for zebra stripes have been proposed since Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin debated the problem 120 years ago.These include:A form of camouflage Disrupting predatory attack by visually confusing carnivores A mechanism of heat management Having a social function Avoiding ectoparasite attack, such as from biting flies The team mapped the geographic distributions of the seven different species of zebras, horses and asses, and of their subspecies, noting the thickness, locations, and intensity of their stripes on several parts of their bodies. Their next step was to compare these animals’ geographic ranges with different variables, including woodland areas, ranges of large predators, temperature, and the geographic distribution of glossinid (tsetse flies) and tabanid (horseflies) biting flies. They then examined where the striped animals and these variables overlapped.After analyzing the five hypotheses, the scientists ruled out all but one: avoiding blood-sucking flies.”I was amazed by our results,” said lead author Tim Caro, a UC Davis professor of wildlife biology. “Again and again, there was greater striping on areas of the body in those parts of the world where there was more annoyance from biting flies.”While the distribution of tsetse flies in Africa is well known, the researchers did not have maps of tabanids (horseflies, deer flies). Instead, they mapped locations of the best breeding conditions for tabanids, creating an environmental proxy for their distributions. They found that striping is highly associated with several consecutive months of ideal conditions for tabanid reproduction.Why would zebras evolve to have stripes whereas other hooved mammals did not? The study found that, unlike other African hooved mammals living in the same areas as zebras, zebra hair is shorter than the mouthpart length of biting flies, so zebras may be particularly susceptible to annoyance by biting flies.”No one knew why zebras have such striking coloration,” Caro said. …

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Natural variation: Warm North Atlantic Ocean promotes extreme winters in US and Europe

The extreme cold weather observed across Europe and the east coast of the US in recent winters could be partly down to natural, long-term variations in sea surface temperatures, according to a new study published today.Researchers from the University of California Irvine have shown that a phenomenon known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) — a natural pattern of variation in North Atlantic sea surface temperatures that switches between a positive and negative phase every 60-70 years — can affect an atmospheric circulation pattern, known as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), that influences the temperature and precipitation over the Northern Hemisphere in winter.When the AMO is in its positive phase and the sea surface temperatures are warmer, the study has shown that the main effect in winter is to promote the negative phase of the NAO which leads to “blocking” episodes over the North Atlantic sector, allowing cold weather systems to exist over the eastern US and Europe.The results have been published today, Wednesday 2 April, in IOP Publishing’s journal Environmental Research Letters.To arrive at their results, the researchers combined observations from the past century with climate simulations of the atmospheric response to the AMO.According to their observations, sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic can be up to 1.5 C warmer in the Gulf Stream region during the positive phase of the AMO compared to the negative, colder phase. The climate simulations suggest that these specific anomalies in sea surface temperatures can play a predominant role in promoting the change in the NAO.Lead authors of the study Yannick Peings and Gudrun Magnusdottir said: “Our results indicate that the main effect of the positive AMO in winter is to promote the occurrence of the negative phase of the NAO. A negative NAO in winter usually goes hand-in-hand with cold weather in the eastern US and north-western Europe.”The observations also suggest that it takes around 10-15 years before the positive phase of AMO has any significant effect on the NAO. The reason for this lag is unknown; however, an explanation might be that AMO phases take time to develop fully.As the AMO has been in a positive phase since the early 1990s, it may have contributed to the extreme winters that both the US and Europe have experienced in recent years.The researchers warn, however, that the future evolution of the AMO remains uncertain, with many factors potentially affecting how it interacts with atmospheric circulation patterns, such as Arctic sea ice loss, changes in solar radiation, volcanic eruptions and concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.The AMO also shows strong variability from one year to the next in addition to the changes seen every 60 – 70 years, which makes it difficult to attribute specific extreme winters to the AMO’s effects.Responding to the extreme weather that gripped the eastern coast of the US this winter, Yannick Peings continued: “Unlike the 2012/2013 winter, this winter had rather low values of the AMO index and the pattern of sea surface temperature anomalies was not consistent with the typical positive AMO pattern. Moreover, the NAO was mostly positive with a relatively mild winter over Europe.””Therefore it is unlikely that the positive AMO played a defining role on the east coast of the US, although further work is necessary to answer this question. Such an event is consistent with the large internal variability of the atmosphere, and other external forcings may have played a role.”Our future studies will look to compare the role of the AMO compared to Arctic sea ice anomalies, which have also been shown to affect atmospheric circulation patterns and promote colder, more extreme winters.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Institute of Physics. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Misleading mineral may have resulted in overestimate of water in moon

The amount of water present in the moon may have been overestimated by scientists studying the mineral apatite, says a team of researchers led by Jeremy Boyce of the UCLA Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences.Boyce and his colleagues created a computer model to accurately predict how apatite would have crystallized from cooling bodies of lunar magma early in the moon’s history. Their simulations revealed that the unusually hydrogen-rich apatite crystals observed in many lunar rock samples may not have formed within a water-rich environment, as was originally expected.This discovery has overturned the long-held assumption that the hydrogen in apatite is a good indicator of overall lunar water content.”The mineral apatite is the most widely used method for estimating the amount of water in lunar rocks, but it cannot be trusted,” said Boyce, who is an adjunct assistant professor in the UCLA College of Letters and Science. “Our new results show that there is not as much water in lunar magma as apatite would have us believe.”The research was published online March 20 in the journal Science on and will be published in a future print edition.For decades, scientists believed the moon was almost entirely devoid of water. However, the discovery of hydrogen-rich apatite within lunar rocks in 2010 seemed to hint at a more watery past. Scientists originally assumed that information obtained from a small sample of apatite could predict the original water content of a large body of magma, or even the entire moon, but Boyce’s study indicates that apatite may, in fact, be deceptive.Boyce believes the high water content within lunar apatite results from a quirk in the crystallization process rather than a water-rich lunar environment. When water is present as molten rock cools, apatite can form by incorporating hydrogen atoms into its crystal structure. However, hydrogen will be included in the newly crystallizing mineral only if apatite’s preferred building blocks, fluorine and chlorine, have been mostly exhausted.”Early-forming apatite is so fluorine-rich that it vacuums all the fluorine out of the magma, followed by chlorine,” Boyce said. “Apatite that forms later doesn’t see any fluorine or chlorine and becomes hydrogen-rich because it has no choice.”Therefore, when fluorine and chlorine become depleted, a cooling body of magma will shift from forming hydrogen-poor apatite to forming hydrogen-rich apatite, with the latter not accurately reflecting the original water content in the magma.Understanding the story of lunar apatite has implications beyond determining how much water is locked inside lunar rocks and soil. According to the predominant theory of how the moon originally formed, hydrogen and other volatile elements should not be present at all in lunar rocks.Many scientists theorize that the moon formed when a giant impact tore free a large chunk of Earth more than 4 billion years ago. If this “giant impact” model is correct, the moon would have been completely molten, and lighter elements such as hydrogen should have bubbled to the surface and escaped into space. …

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Arctic melt season lengthening, ocean rapidly warming

The length of the melt season for Arctic sea ice is growing by several days each decade, and an earlier start to the melt season is allowing the Arctic Ocean to absorb enough additional solar radiation in some places to melt as much as four feet of the Arctic ice cap’s thickness, according to a new study by National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA researchers.Arctic sea ice has been in sharp decline during the last four decades. The sea ice cover is shrinking and thinning, making scientists think an ice-free Arctic Ocean during the summer might be reached this century. The seven lowest September sea ice extents in the satellite record have all occurred in the past seven years.”The Arctic is warming and this is causing the melt season to last longer,” said Julienne Stroeve, a senior scientist at NSIDC, Boulder and lead author of the new study, which has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. “The lengthening of the melt season is allowing for more of the sun’s energy to get stored in the ocean and increase ice melt during the summer, overall weakening the sea ice cover.”To study the evolution of sea ice melt onset and freeze-up dates from 1979 to the present day, Stroeve’s team used passive microwave data from NASA’s Nimbus-7 Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer, and the Special Sensor Microwave/Imager and the Special Sensor Microwave Imager and Sounder carried onboard Defense Meteorological Satellite Program spacecraft.When ice and snow begin to melt, the presence of water causes spikes in the microwave radiation that the snow grains emit, which these sensors can detect. Once the melt season is in full force, the microwave emissivity of the ice and snow stabilizes, and it doesn’t change again until the onset of the freezing season causes another set of spikes. Scientists can measure the changes in the ice’s microwave emissivity using a formula developed by Thorsten Markus, co-author of the paper and chief of the Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.Results show that although the melt season is lengthening at both ends, with an earlier melt onset in the spring and a later freeze-up in the fall, the predominant phenomenon extending the melting is the later start of the freeze season. Some areas, such as the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, are freezing up between six and 11 days later per decade. But while melt onset variations are smaller, the timing of the beginning of the melt season has a larger impact on the amount of solar radiation absorbed by the ocean, because its timing coincides with when the sun is higher and brighter in the Arctic sky.Despite large regional variations in the beginning and end of the melt season, the Arctic melt season has lengthened on average by five days per decade from 1979 to 2013.Still, weather makes the timing of the autumn freeze-up vary a lot from year to year.”There is a trend for later freeze-up, but we can’t tell whether a particular year is going to have an earlier or later freeze-up,” Stroeve said. “There remains a lot of variability from year to year as to the exact timing of when the ice will reform, making it difficult for industry to plan when to stop operations in the Arctic.”To measure changes in the amount of solar energy absorbed by the ice and ocean, the researchers looked at the evolution of sea surface temperatures and studied monthly surface albedo data (the amount of solar energy reflected by the ice and the ocean) together with the incoming solar radiation for the months of May through October. The albedo and sea surface temperature data the researchers used comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s polar-orbiting satellites.They found that the ice pack and ocean waters are absorbing more and more sunlight due both to an earlier opening of the waters and a darkening of the sea ice. …

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Breakthrough in creating invisibility cloaks, stealth technology

Controlling and bending light around an object so it appears invisible to the naked eye is the theory behind fictional invisibility cloaks.It may seem easy in Hollywood movies, but is hard to create in real life because no material in nature has the properties necessary to bend light in such a way. Scientists have managed to create artificial nanostructures that can do the job, called metamaterials. But the challenge has been making enough of the material to turn science fiction into a practical reality.The work of Debashis Chanda at the University of Central Florida, however, may have just cracked that barrier. The cover story in the March edition of the journal Advanced Optical Materials, explains how Chanda and fellow optical and nanotech experts were able to develop a larger swath of multilayer 3-D metamaterial operating in the visible spectral range. They accomplished this feat by using nanotransfer printing, which can potentially be engineered to modify surrounding refractive index needed for controlling propagation of light.”Such large-area fabrication of metamaterials following a simple printing technique will enable realization of novel devices based on engineered optical responses at the nanoscale,” said Chanda, an assistant professor at UCF.The nanotransfer printing technique creates metal/dielectric composite films, which are stacked together in a 3-D architecture with nanoscale patterns for operation in the visible spectral range. Control of electromagnetic resonances over the 3-D space by structural manipulation allows precise control over propagation of light. Following this technique, larger pieces of this special material can be created, which were previously limited to micron-scale size.By improving the technique, the team hopes to be able to create larger pieces of the material with engineered optical properties, which would make it practical to produce for real-life device applications. For example, the team could develop large-area metamaterial absorbers, which would enable fighter jets to remain invisible from detection systems.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Central Florida. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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