Earth Sciences

A new hypothesis aims to explain how the complex vertebrate body, with its skeleton, muscles, nervous and cardiovascular systems, arises from a single cell during development and how these systems evolved over time. They give it a proper name, embryo geometry, but scientists are going to hold off on calling it a theory until it shows some chance of validation. Until then, it is like String Theory, more philosophy than science.

The paper, along with illustrations - or "blueprints" - depicting how it applies to different vertebrate organ systems, is in Progress in Biophysics&Molecular Biology.

Atmospheric scientists overwhelmingly deny the existence of a secret, elite-driven plot to release harmful chemicals into the air from high-flying aircraft, according to the first peer-reviewed journal paper to address the "chemtrails" conspiracy theory.

Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, the Carnegie Institution for Science and the nonprofit Near Zero organization asked 77 atmospheric chemists and geochemists if they had come across evidence of such a large-scale spraying program, and 76 responded that they had not. The survey results were published Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters.

In recent years, litigation attorneys and environmental epidemiologists have attempted to link flame retardants, which were put in furniture and electronics to prevent immolation by national mandate, to health problems. Studies have shown that the substances, or their constituents, can leach out of products, and end up in indoor dust,  over time. In a world where we can now detect parts per quadrillion, they can also be found in us.

A new paper in Environmental Science&Technology discusses how flame retardants in our homes could also be ending up in surface water, via our laundry.

The number of honey bee colonies fell by nearly 12% last winter - according to a preliminary look at a survey of beekeepers, that is. The UK and Spain were worst affected this year. The prior year, other areas of Europe were hardest hit.  While environmental groups make money scaring people about that, what it really means is something else.

The preliminary claims are being made by the honey bee research association COLOSS, based in the Institute of Bee Health at the University of Bern.

Farmers are doing a lot more than just feeding the world, they are also offsetting tropical forests declines, capturing nearly 0.75 giga-tons of carbon dioxide every year ---but global warming estimates never account for that. 

Whatever happened to energy crops? A decade ago, the UK authorities confidently expected farmers to devote swaths of land to growing the likes of short-rotation willow and poplar and perennial grasses. These were to help feed one of the UK’s promising new renewable power sources – biomass energy, which burns plant materials to produce heat and power.

There are more than 120,000 varieties of rice stored at the germplasm bank at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, but a new paper focused on varieties that met important criteria - currently grown by farmers, have a high yield potential, be disease and pest-resistant, grow to the right size and have strong enough roots to withstand monsoon-force winds - to find out which ones could were optimal in regards to nitrogen.

Nitrogen is one of three main nutrients required for crops to grow, it also costs the most to produce. 

Organic farming should be in a Golden Age. Organic marketing groups, and the junkyard dogs they pay to attack scientists (1) finally got mandatory labeling on conventional food, the public is already spending $13,000,000,000 on organic food in the U.S. alone, and margins have shown to be much higher.

I have long wondered why everyone doesn't switch to organic farming.

It's that pesky free market. 

If man-made greenhouse gas emissions are going to cause more droughts and storm surges on a persistent basis, why did it take so long? And why is it only a concern in the last 25 years, rather than in the 1930s, when things were really hot?

A new estimate claims it's because the natural atmosphere already contained carbon dioxide  that human-induced changes were relatively small. Had these natural concentrations been lower, the effects of the emission of harmful greenhouse gases would have been felt much earlier.

A new class of high-performing organic molecules inspired by vitamin B2 can safely store electricity from intermittent energy sources like solar and wind power in large batteries.

The high-capacity flow battery uses organic molecules called quinones, which store energy in plants and animals, and a new class of battery electrolyte material. They contend in their study that it is high-performance, non-flammable, non-toxic, non-corrosive, and its low-cost could enable large-scale, inexpensive electricity storage.