Environment

Every dark cloud has a silver lining and the silver lining for a thawing permafrost is...still a dark cloud.

The climate is warming in the Arctic at twice the rate of the rest of the globe. That has led to a longer growing season and increased plant growth, which captures atmospheric carbon - that is good - but it is thawing the permafrost, which releases carbon into the atmosphere. Permafrost contains three to seven times the amount of carbon sequestered in tropical forests. A thawing permafrost which will result in the release of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere creating feedbacks to climate change – more warming and greater permafrost thaw.  


Radiological damage at Chernobyl doesn't just keep plant life from growing, it even keeps plant life from decomposing.

A paper in the journal Oecologia finds that microbes near the site of the Chernobyl disaster has slowed the decomposition of fallen leaves and other plant matter in the area. The resulting buildup of dry, loose detritus is a wildfire hazard that poses the threat of spreading radioactivity from the Chernobyl area.


A team of agronomists, entomologists, agroecologists, horticulturists and biogeochemists have determined that planting cover crops in rotation between cash crops - widely agreed to be ecologically beneficial - is even more valuable than previously thought. 

Writing in Agricultural Systems, the Penn State researchers quantified the benefits offered by cover crops across more than 10 ecosystem services. Benefits included increased carbon and nitrogen in soils, erosion prevention, more mycorrhizal colonization -- beneficial soil fungus that helps plants absorb nutrients -- and weed suppression.


Life is just packed full of surprises.

You just never know when you'll get stuck in an elevator with the finalists for the new Victoria's Secret Catalog (all of whom just happen to be in estrus). 

You never know when you open your door if Ed McMahon will be standing there with a $1 million check from Publishers Clearing House.  (OK, this one you do know, since he's somewhat dead). Or a paroled member of the Manson Family. Or Paris Hilton with a parakeet on her head. 

So,  just when you think you've already seen the worst possible science paper in the entire history of multicellular life, life pulls the rug out from under you.

What do people living in Boston, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles have in common? From coast to coast, prairie to desert, people love their lawns.  


If only there was a study that dug deeper, like examining differences in fertilization and irrigation practices.  

Don't scoff, the authors of a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences assure us that with 80 percent of Americans living in urban or suburban neighborhoods, understanding urban lawn care is vital to sustainability planning.


  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.