Dramatic climate change is unpredictable

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Peter Ditlevsen

Peter Ditlevsen

The fear that global temperature can change very quickly and cause dramatic climate changes that may have a disastrous impact on many countries and populations is great around the world. But what causes climate change and is it possible to predict future climate change? New research from the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen shows that it may be due to an accumulation of different chaotic influences and as a result would be difficult to predict. The results have just been published in Geophysical Research Letters. For millions of years the Earth’s climate has alternated between about 100,000 years of ice age and approximately 10-15,000 years of a warm climate like we have today. The climate change is controlled by the Earth’s orbit in space, that is to say the Earth’s tilt and distance from the sun. But there are also other climatic shifts in the Earth’s history and what caused those?

New study shows that oilsands mining and processing are polluting the Athabasca River

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Polluting-The-Athabasca-Riv

Polluting-The-Athabasca-Riv

Inorganic elements known to be toxic at low concentrations are being discharged to air and water by oilsands mining and processing according to University of Alberta (U of A) research findings being published this month in one of the world’s top scientific journals. The 13 elements being discharged include mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium and several other metals known to be toxic at trace levels. The paper will appear in the August 30 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The results are not surprising according to corresponding author David Schindler – an internationally acclaimed researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences at the U of A – given the huge amounts of many of the same elements that the industry has reported discharging, according to Environment Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory.
“Given the large amounts of pollutants released, any monitoring program that cannot detect increases in the environment must be considered as incompetent,” says Schindler, referring to the Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program.
“The U of A study was deliberately designed to test claims by industry and Alberta politicians that all contaminants in the river are from natural sources,” said Schindler.
This included examining patterns of deposition of pollutants in snow and releases to water both near to, and remote from, industry.
“Rather than pollutants increasing continuously downstream in the river due to natural sources, as government has claimed, concentrations of the majority of toxins were always highest near sites of industrial activity,” Schindler says.
This included examining patterns of deposition of pollutants in snow and releases to water both near to, and remote from, industry.

Story tips from the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, September 2010

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Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Penetrating pores . . . Using neutron scattering to examine rock formations in Texas, Wisconsin and other parts of the country, Larry Anovitz, David Cole and Gernot Rother of Oak Ridge National Laboratory are gaining insight into little-understood geologic processes. The researchers are especially interested in studying how natural processes change the pore structure of rocks. These pores can range from nano-scale to room-size and are a primary pathway for many kinds of fluids. Combinations of small- and ultra-small angle neutron scattering, or (U)SANS, with backscattered electron imaging provide the powerful tools that allow researchers to quantitatively analyze porous rocks from the nano to the centimeter scale. Knowledge gained from this research is helping geologists understand fluid-rock interactions and could become increasingly important in discussions of many fluid-rock systems such as aquifers, oil and gas reservoirs and underground carbon sequestration. This research, the first part of which was published in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, is funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences

Marine animals suggest evidence for a trans-Antarctic seaway

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Taiwanplanst

Taiwanplanst

A tiny marine filter-feeder, that anchors itself to the sea bed, offers new clues to scientists studying the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet – a region that is thought to be vulnerable to collapse(1). As part of a study for the Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML), scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) analysed sea-bed colonies of bryozoans from coastal and deep sea regions around the continent and from further afield. They found striking similarities in particular species of bryozoans living on the continental shelves of two seas – the Ross and Weddell – that are around 1,500 miles apart and separated by the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
This new finding, published this month in the journal Global Change Biology, leads the science team to conclude that these animals could have spread across both seas only by means of a trans-Antarctic seaway through what is now a 2 km solid layer of ice. They suggest also that this seaway opened up during a recent interglacial (warm period between ice ages) perhaps as recently as 125,000 years ago when sea level was about 5 metres higher than today

Extra Healthy Apples may Soon Hit Markets

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Diet

Diet

The genetic code for Golden Delicious apples has been cracked by scientists, who are now well on the way to creating extra healthy apples.
The slow growth of the apple tree means that farmers are only able to know if their plants are indeed the best only after 8 years. With this research it may be possible to get healthy apples on the market in not time.
“We will be able to identify the genes which control the characteristics that our sensory scientists have identified as most desired by consumers – crispiness, juiciness and flavour,” said researcher Roger Hellens of New Zealand firm Plant & Food Research.

A Year of Living Dangerously: Reflections on Hot-Button Science

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cove

cove

Last September I wrote my first column for Scientific American, and this September marks my last one. In writing on science issues relevant to our culture and society, there is an inevitable tension between sticking just to science issues and commenting on potentially hot-button social issues. I have tried during the past 12 months to strike some balance, but without fail those issues that stir the greatest outrage also stir the greatest interest.
Nothing seems to stir more discussion than pieces about science and religion, an observation that reminds me of the comment that Henry Kissinger reputedly made about academic disputes: they are so vicious because the stakes are so small. After all, science will continue irrespective of religious opinions, and I expect organized religion will continue to be a part of the cultural landscape, too, largely unaffected by the ongoing march of human knowledge, as it has been for centuries.

Attractive Therapy: Magnetic Brain Stimulation Gaining Favor as Treatment for Depression

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Stimulation-rtms

Stimulation-rtms

Treatment of severe depression with magnetic stimulation is moving beyond large mental health centers and into private practices nationwide, following more than two decades of research on the treatment. Yet even as concern about its efficacy fades, one potential side effect—seizures—continues to shadow the technology.
Called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), the noninvasive technique uses electromagnets to create localized electrical currents in the brain. The gentle jolts activate certain neurons, reducing symptoms in some patients. Eight psychiatrists contacted for this article, all of whom use rTMS to treat depression, say it is the most significant development in the field since the advent of antidepressant medications. The prevailing theory is that people with depression do not produce enough of certain neurotransmitters, which include serotonin and dopamine. Electricity (administered in combination with antidepressants) stimulates production of those neurotransmitters.

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