Earth

MADISON, WI, AUGUST 18, 2008 – With oil prices skyrocketing, the search is on for efficient and sustainable biofuels. Research published this month in Agronomy Journal examines one biofuel crop contender: corn stover.

Corn stover is made up of the leaves and stalks of corn plants that are left in the field after harvesting the edible corn grain. Corn stover could supply as much as 25% of the biofuel crop needed by 2030.

MADISON, WI, AUGUST 18, 2008 – Serpentine soils contain highly variable amounts of calcium, making them marginal lands for farming. Successful management of serpentine soils requires accurate measurement of the calcium they hold. Research published this month in the Soil Science Society of America Journal shows that multiple measurement techniques are needed to accurately measure calcium content in serpentine soils.

Madison, WI, August 18, 2008 -- Like most things that exist underground, plant roots are out-of-sight and easily forgotten, but while flowers, leaves, and other aboveground plant parts are more familiar, plant roots are equally deserving of our appreciation. Beneath every towering tree, tasty crop, and dazzling ornamental lies a root system that makes it all possible. Roots provide anchor and support for plants, extract water and nutrients from soil, and reduce soil erosion. Roots also play an important role in soil carbon cycling and the global carbon balance.

New research, reported this week in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that coal burning, primarily in North America and Europe, contaminated the Arctic and potentially affected human health and ecosystems in and around Earth's polar regions.

The study, titled "Coal Burning Leaves Toxic Heavy Metal Legacy in the Arctic," was conducted by the Desert Research Institute (DRI), Reno, Nev. and partially funded by the National Science Foundation.

ATHENS, Ohio (Aug. 19, 2008) – A stalagmite in a West Virginia cave has yielded the most detailed geological record to date on climate cycles in eastern North America over the past 7,000 years. The new study confirms that during periods when Earth received less solar radiation, the Atlantic Ocean cooled, icebergs increased and precipitation fell, creating a series of century-long droughts.

Human-driven changes in the westerly winds are bringing hotter and drier springs to the American Southwest, according to new research from The University of Arizona in Tucson.

Since the 1970s the winter storm track in the western U.S. has been shifting north, particularly in the late winter. As a result, fewer winter storms bring rain and snow to Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, western Colorado and western New Mexico.

Aug. 15, 2008 — In the world of alternative fuels, there may be nothing greener than pond scum.

Algae are tiny biological factories that use photosynthesis to transform carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy so efficiently that they can double their weight several times a day, producing oil in the process — 30 times more oil per acre than soybeans, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Like soybean oil, the algae oil can be burned directly in diesel engines or further refined into biodiesel.

Ah, nothing like breathing clean coastal air, right? Think again.

Chemists at UC San Diego have measured for the first time the impact that dirty smoke from ships cruising at sea and generating electricity in port can have on the air quality of coastal cities.

A new analysis of environmental conditions over the Atlantic Ocean shows that hot, dry air associated with dust outbreaks from the Sahara desert was a likely contributor to the quieter-than-expected 2007 hurricane season.

For years scientists have struggled to understand the decline and slow recovery of Atlantic salmon, a once abundant and highly prized game and food fish native to New England rivers. Biologists agree that poor marine survival is affecting salmon in the U.S. and Canada, but specific causes are difficult to determine in the ocean. Small acoustic tags and associated technology may provide some answers.

In this edition of Science Picks, discover new information on the Arctic's oil and gas resources, learn about a magnitude-5.4 earthquake that rattled Los Angeles, and find out about recent explosive eruptions of volcanoes in Alaska. Learn about carbon farming, a plague vaccine for endangered ferrets, and how lead shot and sinkers are impacting nearby fish and wildlife. The 2008 Olympics games are underway; do you know how the Chinese culture is being incorporated into the medals? Learn about these science facts and much more!

An international team of researchers led by Monash University has used chemicals found in plants to replicate a key process in photosynthesis paving the way to a new approach that uses sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

The breakthrough could revolutionise the renewable energy industry by making hydrogen – touted as the clean, green fuel of the future – cheaper and easier to produce on a commercial scale.

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Scientists at Michigan State University have identified a new protein necessary for chloroplast development. The discovery could ultimately lead to plant varieties tailored specifically for biofuel production.

Chloroplasts, which are specialized compartments in plant cells, convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into sugars and oxygen ("fuel" for the plant) during photosynthesis. The newly discovered protein, trigalactosyldiacylglycerol 4, or TGD4, offers insight into how the process works.

A global study led by Professor Robert Diaz of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, shows that the number of "dead zones"—areas of seafloor with too little oxygen for most marine life—has increased by a third between 1995 and 2007.

Diaz and collaborator Rutger Rosenberg of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden say that dead zones are now "the key stressor on marine ecosystems" and "rank with over-fishing, habitat loss, and harmful algal blooms as global environmental problems."

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University nanoscientist Chad A. Mirkin has mass-produced the 2008 Summer Olympics logo -- 15,000 times. All the logos take up only one square centimeter of space.

Mirkin and his colleagues printed the logos as well as an integrated gold circuit using a new printing technique, called Polymer Pen Lithography (PPL), that can write on three different length scales using only one device.