Earth Sciences

As early as 2015 China’s use of thermal coal for electricity could peak. Bret Arnett/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

By James Whitmore, The Conversation

The makeup of the Earth's lower mantle, which makes up the largest part of the Earth by volume, is significantly different than previously thought.

A new analysis suggests the planet can produce much more land-plant biomass – the total material in leaves, stems, roots, fruits, grains and other terrestrial plant parts – than previous estimates showed.

In modeling, earth scientists tend to make a lot of simplifying assumptions, and one of those assumptions has been that biomass of now will be biomass of the future, which is in defiance of both science and history.

A new paper in Environmental Science and Technology recalculates the limit of terrestrial plant productivity and finds that it is much higher than many current estimates allow.

Black carbon pollutants from wood smoke might be enough to trap heat near the earth's surface and warm the climate but a new study led by McGill Professor Jill Baumgartner suggests that black carbon may also increase women's risk of cardiovascular disease. 

To investigate the effects of black carbon pollutants on the health of women cooking with traditional wood stoves, Professor Jill Baumgartner, a scholar at McGill's Institute for the Health and Social Policy, measured the daily exposure to different types of air pollutants, including black carbon, in 280 women in China's rural Yunnan province.

The Taung Child, a hominin discovered in South Africa 90 years ago by Wits University Professor Raymond Dart, has been studied using the Wits University Microfocus X-ray Computed Tomography (CT) facility and the results cast doubt on theories that Australopithecus africanus shows the same cranial adaptations found in modern human infants and toddlers.

Instead it seems to disprove current support for the idea that this early hominin shows infant brain development in the prefrontal region similar to that of modern humans.

Boron deficiency is a common cause of reduced crop yields in places like Missouri and the eastern half of the United States. It is common for corn and soybean farmers to supplement their soil with boron and now researchers at the University of Missouri have found that boron plays an integral role in development and reproduction in corn plants.

The researchers anticipate that understanding how corn uses the nutrient can help farmers make informed decisions in boron deficient areas and improve crop yields.

Researchers have succeeded in reconstructing the sea ice conditions in the Fram Strait for this critical period at the end of the last glacial and thus in finding a direct connection between changes in sea ice cover and fluctuations in the Gulf Stream.

A nine meter long sediment core served as a window into the past for the geologists. It was drilled on a Fram Strait expedition conducted on the research vessel Maria. S. Merian and has such clearly defined layers that the scientists can read it like a book. 

Next year, American consumers will finally be able to purchase fuel cell cars and they are zero-emissions vehicles but, like current electric cars, not really, since the cars will run on hydrogen made from natural gas.

Water is abundant and so is sunlight, and using them to create hydrogen makes sense for a cleaner energy future, where biological systems powered by sunlight can manufacture hydrogen to use as fuel.

The way that plants produce hydrogen by splitting water has been poorly understood but answers are getting closer. A research team created a protein which, when exposed to light, displays the "electrical heartbeat" that is the key to photosynthesis. 

The system uses a naturally-occurring protein and does not need batteries or expensive metals, meaning it could be affordable in developing countries. 

The vast reservoir of carbon stored in Arctic permafrost is gradually being converted back to carbon dioxide (CO2) after entering the freshwater system in a process thought to be controlled largely by microbial activity, but a new study concludes that sunlight, not bacteria, is the key to triggering release of CO2 from Arctic soils.

Since climate change could affect when and how permafrost is thawed, which begins the process of converting the organic carbon into CO2, it is vital to know what is happening due to man's impact, what is due to solar cycles and what is due to natural microbes.