Earth Sciences

The court case over whether ExxonMobil may have deliberately downplayed the potential dangers of global warming is heating up. Eleven attorney generals have filed a brief in US District Court in Manhattan supporting a lawsuit by Exxon to halt a probe by their peers in New York and Massachusetts.

Though subways reduce overall pollution emissions in cities, what is good for society may not be good for the poor people who ride mass transportation. A new study finds that Canadian subways personal exposure to certain pollutants, and that Toronto has the highest levels in Canada.

Sounds awful for city dwellers, right? Breathe easy, the pollutant they measured has yet to be linked to any harm, and no acute deaths, outside government claims when they want to restrict businesses. 
Everyone knows the value of trees in the cycle of atmospheric life. They consumer carbon dioxide (CO2), the target of regulations for the last few decades.

But that's not the only way they keep us cool. Trees also impact climate by regulating the exchange of water and energy between the Earth's surface and the atmosphere, which should be important considerations as policymakers contemplate efforts to conserve forested land.

Here are some surprising facts about humans’ effect on planet Earth. We have made enough concrete to create an exact replica of Earth 2mm thick. We have produced enough plastic to wrap Earth in clingfilm. We are creating “technofossils”, a new term for congealed human-made materials – plastics and concretes – that will be around for tens of millions of years.

But it is the scale that humans have altered Earth’s life support system that is the most concerning.

No-till farming uses cover crops to conserve soil and suppress weeds but many vegetable producers haven't embraced it yet.

The reason is simple; small-seeded vegetable crops struggle to emerge through thick cover crop residues. A recent program sought to see how it might work better with string beans, a common staple of many dinners, and possessing larger seeds. In both Illinois and Washington, USDA-ARS agronomist Rick Boydston and University of Illinois ecologist Marty Williams grew vetch, rye, and a combination of the two cover crops before killing them with a roller-crimper—a machine that evenly flattens and crimps standing plant biomass—or with a combination of the roller-crimper and a burndown herbicide.
We think we know the perfect balance of gases in the atmosphere, and it involves a time before there was any industry, when the human population was tiny, when almost all of the planet was covered in plants. Basically, the dream of environmental groups today (with their members being the few allowed to live, of course.)

But we don't really know. There have been times when the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 10X what it is today, but we were only slightly warmed, and there were times when it was lower than today, and we were covered in ice. What we do know is that things are pretty good now, and we don't want a planet covered in ice, or to live in a greenhouse. 
The Amery Zig-Zags

Cracks in the Amery Ice Shelf show a prominent zig-zag form.  This is a type of crack which forms in a laminated material which is deformed under pressure.   As the laminate is forced into a curve it tends to crack in a series of radial and lateral failures.

The Amery Ice Shelf is the largest of the East Antarctic ice shelves.  Its location is shown in the map below.


Antarctica ice shelves
image courtesy NSIDC.
A primitive, non-photosynthesizing microbe, Methanospirillum hungatei, which is thought to have existed since before the development of photosynthesis, possess genes similar to those that play a role in photosynthesis, finds a new study.

Photosynthesis, creating oxygen and carbohydrates such as glucose from solar energy, water, and CO2, is indispensable for many species on this planet. However, it is unclear exactly how or when organisms evolved the ability to photosynthesize. A team has discovered an evolutionary model for the biological function that creates CO2 from glucose in photosynthesis. 
A lot has been said about the so-called "hiatus" in Global Warming starting in 1998, a major El Niño year. Perhaps the best illustration of the problem with the talking point is an animation titled "The Escalator", over at skepticalscience.com.

There's a more fundamental issue with it, however, than failing to recognize the difference between short-term weather fluctuations and long-term climate change. The talking point is based on faulty reasoning about trend analysis and burden of proof, as I intend to argue.
In 2006, former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore predicted that we only had 10 years to stave off our carbon dioxide doom, with plummeting yields in Africa, the Himalayas melting and other doomsday scenarios happening by 2016.