No posts since last week’s “In the News”. There’s a good reason…I’m being cured of my internet news addiction!! With the election coming up, I’m sick to my stomach thinking a man like Donald Trump is a heartbeat away from the most powerful position on the planet. No news is good news, right? Hence my attempts over the past week to kick the internet news habit! With that…some more science/nature/miscellaneous news for the week:
Common Swifts airborne for 10 months — Common Swifts seem to be in a league of their own in terms of length of time staying aloft. Scientists recently attached tiny trackers to 13 Common Swifts, a Eurasian species similar in appearance to some of the North American swifts. In sum, the 13 swifts were airborne for ~99% of their time outside of the breeding season. A few would land briefly during the winter months, but 3 of the birds didn’t land at all for 10 months straight.
Frankenspinach — Who thinks of things like this? Scientists have used a solution containing carbon nanotubes,and applied it to the leaves of growing spinach plants. The spinach plants absorb the carbon nanotubes, and when the plants are in the presence of soil containing trace elements associated with landmines and other explosives, the nanotubes emit a fluorescent signal that can be picked up by nearby sensors, alerting monitoring stations of danger.
There’s gotta be life out there — One constant about the earth’s ecosystems is that if there’s just the tiniest bit of suitability to support life, life is found there. Single-cell organisms can be found in the most hostile of environments, while even more complex life is continually found in new and surprising places. In this recent study, scientists looked at glacial landscapes that had been covered with ice for many thousands of years, but had the landscape recently uncovered as glaciers melt in response to climate change. These incredibly hostile environments are largely devoid of life when glaciated, but the scientists found that very complex biomes are established very quickly after the ice retreats. “Life finds a way” (Jurassic Park quote, I believe), which makes it pretty much a slam dunk that it’s not just Earth where life has established itself in hostile environments. It’s yet another example of why many scientists expect we will find evidence of alien life in the next few decades.
Poop-powered cars — “Hydrothermal liquefaction” may be coming to a sewage treatment plant near you, turning human waste into a viable fuel source. The process converts human waste into a product very similar to oil products pumped out of the ground, a product that similarly can be refined into fuel. People produce 34 billion gallons of waste every day in the U.S., enough to make 30 million barrels of oil per year. You yourself have the capability to produce a few gallons of fuel per year! Thus, those classy folks who have stickers on their car showing a little boy peeing on a brand name they don’t like? The producers of those stickers may have been prescient, and it’s really a symbol of a boy “fueling” his car!!
Ozone hole will still be around for decades — The ozone hole over the south pole grew achieved a maximum area of about 9 million square miles this year. That still very, very large, but a touch smaller than the average over the last few decades. It wasn’t until the mid 1980s that scientists even knew there was an ozone hole, which developed due to ozone-depleting chemicals used by humanity. The ban on those chemicals has set us on the path to restoring normal atmospheric conditions, but as this story notes, it’s going to be a slow process. They estimate things won’t return to “normal” until about 2070.
Roller-coaster therapy for kidney stones — Passing a kidney stone can be some of the worst pain a human being can experience, with some stating it’s even worse than child-birth. Options are sometimes limited for taking care of kidney stones, but researchers at Michigan State may have a new solution…roller coasters! The researchers noted several patients of theirs had recently visited theme parks, and had passed kidney stones soon after riding roller coasters. It’s thought the combination of the vibration and motion helps the body to move a kidney stone through the system.
We’re screwed — Count me as a major cynic about our feeble attempts to limit carbon emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change. As this story notes, the United Nations agrees, finding that our current efforts to curb carbon are woefully, painfully, ridiculously short of what’s needed to actually mitigate negative impacts of climate change. Given that Americans in particular seem to prefer sticking their heads in the sand, rather than face scientifically verified reality, it’s not a surprise. We’re just too short-sighted as a species, focused on our own short-term welfare (aka, greed and selfishness), to do a good job planning for long-term catastrophe like this.
Everything has a cost — Damn. I LOVE avocados. They may just be the world’s perfect food. I of course use them in the traditional ways, but guacamole or just plain avocado is SO good on so many other “non-traditional” foods. But alas, as with most things in life, there is a cost. As this story notes, avocados are having a much more severe impact in Mexico than once thought, with deforestation and increased water use affecting ecosystems in many areas. With an explosion in demand for avocados, the story is quite similar to the story of almonds in California, notorious water-suckers that demand a huge amount of resources to produce. “Niche” products like avocados or almonds clearly can have devastating environmental impacts, just as do some major staple crops.