Earth Sciences

Coral reefs, the world's most productive and diverse marine ecosystems, rely on a recycling program to stay healthy: The corals and algae that form the base of the reef's food web release a variety of nutrients that support a complex and efficient food chain.

But when this system gets out of whack, the cycle breaks down and endangers the coral reef's health, and a new paper in Nature Microbiology explores how a process known as "microbialization" destroys links in this delicate food chain.

An international team has just published a study titled "Greening of the Earth and its Drivers" in the journal Nature Climate Change (doi:10.1038/nclimate3004) showing significant greening of a quarter to one-half of the Earth's vegetated lands using data from the NASA-MODIS and NOAA-AVHRR satellite sensors of the past 33 years.

The greening represents an increase in leaves on plants and trees. Green leaves produce sugars using energy in the sunlight to mix carbon dioxide (CO2) drawn in from the air with water and nutrients pumped in from the ground. These sugars are the source of food, fiber and fuel for life on Earth. More sugars are produced when there is more CO2 in the air, and this is called CO2 fertilization.

Natural solutions are all the rage to people who believe in a 20th century "balance of nature" hypothesis. Scientists know better, it is obvious that there is no ecological balance, no environmental harmony, and never has been, the winners are in nature are instead species who got somewhere first or were better suited to an area and outlasted others and so seemed to be a balanced fit.

A new test has been developed to check for contamination of shallow groundwater from modern gas extraction techniques, such as hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking.

In computer models, European scholars estimate substantially different climate change impacts for global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C by 2100, the two temperature limits policy makers agreed on in the Paris climate agreement.

The simulation concluded that an additional 0.5°C would mean a 10-cm-higher global sea-level rise by 2100, longer heat waves, and would result in virtually all tropical coral reefs being at risk. 

Renewable energy may offer the imagery of a 'greener alternative' to traditional energy sources, but that hasn't really survived in the wild. The moment subsidies dry up, so do corporations reliant on government funding. And mounting evidence suggests that renewable energy infrastructure and the power transmission lines needed to serve them may impact avian populations, according to lead editor Jennifer Smith, a post-doctoral research associate at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute&State University writing in The Condor: Ornithological Applications.

I am a big fan of solar power. In Science Left Behind I argued we should be doing basic research to improve our capabilities in the technology so that it can be a viable end game for when fossil fuels no longer make sense.

Methane, the abundant and inexpensive natural gas, is often burnt off around the world at oil fields and refineries but it's a great energy source and base material for the chemical industry, if only there was a viable way to put it in liquid form, which is easier to transport and more reactive.

When we published a paper in 2013 finding 97% scientific consensus on human-caused global warming, what surprised me was how surprised everyone was.

Ours wasn’t the first study to find such a scientific consensus. Nor was it the second. Nor were we the last.

The most comprehensive analysis to date of a series of earthquakes that included a 4.8 magnitude event in East Texas in 2012 didn't find evidence that the earthquakes were caused by wastewater injection - and they the difficulty of trying to claim earthquakes were caused by human activity, at least using currently available subsurface data.