Environment

  How did small bands of nomadic Mongol horsemen unite to conquer much of the world within a span of decades? A whole book could be written on that, and it probably will be, if a new "Indiana Jones" movie gets made using Genghis Khan.

The reasons are numerous and involve many different things but climate change is a less-considered one. Yet researchers studying the rings of ancient trees in mountainous central Mongolia say his conquest was likely due to nice weather. 


New technologies are changing the way we collect biodiversity data. What once required taking expensive, bulky and fragile equipment on field trips can now be collected on cheap, compact and robust devices.

A recent paper in the Biodiversity Data Journal on the construction of an environmental data-logger using the Arduino platform is described, in hopes that it will encourage the adoption of new data collection technologies by biodiversity scientists and foster new collaborations with both electronics hobbyists and electronics engineers who have an interest in biodiversity.


Genetic engineering of tobacco plants so that they produce moth pheromones demonstrates the potential of genetically modified plants to act as factories for the synthesis of insect pheromones, write the authors of a Nature Communications paper.

Pheromones are widely used as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional pesticides for trapping insects and the new work presents an opportunity for the cost-effective production of an environmentally safe alternative to insecticides. The demographic most likely to ban GMOs and tobacco aren't going to be happy, but they aren't happy with most science. Maybe if the work were done with marijuana it would be more acceptable.

You may not know it but on our biosphere - Earth - there is also a relatively unknown world hiding in plain sight. It is composed of microbes that live on floating pieces of plastic floating on the ocean. 

This "Plastisphere" of microbial organisms living on ocean plastic that was first discovered last year and it is now getting studied.


In 2011, a tsunami hit Japan. While the damage to a nuclear power plant got all of the media attention, with activists claiming mutant pregnancies in California a short while later, the environmental damage caused by the tsunami itself should be more of a concern.

The amount of debris in the ocean is growing exponentially and the driftage generated by the 2011 tsunami gave scientists Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner a unique chance to learn about the effects of the ocean and wind on floating materials as they move across the North Pacific Ocean. 


As scientists try to forecast the effects of climate change, one of the missing pieces of the puzzle is what will happen to the carbon in the soil and the microbes too.

Scientists studying grasslands in Oklahoma have discovered that an increase of 2 degrees Celsius in the air temperature above the soil creates significant changes to the microbial ecosystem underground. Compared to a control group with no warming, plants in the warmer plots grew faster and higher, which put more carbon into the soil as the plants senesce. The microbial ecosystem responded by altering its DNA to enhance the ability to handle the excess carbon.


Waste treatment facilities in the United States process more than 8,000,000 tons of biosolids - semi-solid sewage - about half of which is recycled into fertilizer and spread on crop land and which helps solve storage issues and produces revenue to support the treatment plants.

But what else is being spread in that sludge? As industry invents new materials and chemicals for modern products, many find their way to our skin and bloodstream and, subsequently, into our sinks and toilet bowls. More than 500 different organic chemicals have been identified in the biosolids used as fertilizer across the United States. 


Conversion landscapes to cement-dominated urban centers would seem to cause great losses in biodiversity, yet nature i heartier than you might think. According to a new study involving 147 cities worldwide, surprisingly high numbers of plant and animal species persist and even flourish in urban environments, to the tune of hundreds of bird species and thousands of plant species in a single city.


Cool roofs, green roofs and hybrids of the two are all of the rage for city planners who want to do something about greenhouse-gas induced warming.

They sound great but is it going to work, or is it another idealized wish that incurs cost but has little benefit (like replacing spoons in the Congressional cafeteria with corn-based alternatives that melted in soup and ending up being worse for the environment) outside public relations campaigns?
 


50,000 years ago, the Arctic tundra was not as drab as you might think, being an Ice Age - it was filled with colorful wildflowers and these wildflowers helped sustain woolly mammoths and other giant grazing animals, according to a new paper. The study challenges the view that the arctic landscape in the ice age was largely grasslands. 

The study looked at 50,000 years of arctic vegetation history to understand how fauna had changed with animals and humans. Historically, the belief has been that the ice age's landscape was covered by largely grass-dominated systems -- called steppe. These grasses were replaced by mosses and other boggy vegetation when the ice age ended nearly 10,000 years ago, Craine said.