Earth

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.

Gaza/Leipzig. Palestinian and German scientists have recommended to the authorities in the Gaza Strip that they take immediate measures to combat excessive nitrate levels in the drinking water. 90 per cent of their water samples were found to contain nitrate concentrations that were between two and eight times higher than the limit recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), say the researchers from the University of Heidelberg and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) writing in the specialist journal Science of the Total Environment.

Jeremy Jackson, senior scientist emeritus of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, asserts in the Aug. 12 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that the following steps, if taken immediately, could reverse the demise of the oceans: Establish marine reserves, enforce fishing regulations, implement aquaculture, remove subsidies on fertilizer use, muster human ingenuity to limit fossil fuel consumption, buy time by establishing local conservation measures.

AMES, Iowa – Say the word "biofuels" and most people think of grain ethanol and biodiesel. But there's another, older technology called gasification that's getting a new look from researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University. By combining gasification with high-tech nanoscale porous catalysts, they hope to create ethanol from a wide range of biomass, including distiller's grain left over from ethanol production, corn stover from the field, grass, wood pulp, animal waste, and garbage.

Human activities are cumulatively driving the health of the world's oceans down a rapid spiral, and only prompt and wholesale changes will slow or perhaps ultimately reverse the catastrophic problems they are facing.

Bumblebees choose whether to search for food according to how stocked their nests are, say scientists from Queen Mary, University of London.

When bumblebees return to the nest from a successful foraging mission, they produce a pheromone which encourages their nest mates to also go out and find food. Scientists had originally thought that these pheromones elicited a standard response from all bees. But new research from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences has shown that bees' response to the pheromone changes according to their situation.

The first scientific mission with Sentry, a newly developed robot capable of diving as deep as 5,000 meters (3.1 miles) into the ocean, has been successfully completed by scientists and engineers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the University of Washington (UW).

The vehicle surveyed and helped pinpoint several proposed deep-water sites for seafloor instruments that will be deployed in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s planned Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI).

The prospect of climate change sparking food and water shortages in the Middle East is less likely than previously thought, with new research by an Australian climate scientist suggesting that rainfall will be significantly higher in key parts of the region.

Elephant seals are helping scientists overcome a critical blind-spot in their ability to detect change in Southern Ocean circulation and sea ice production and its influence on global climate.

According to a paper published today by a team of French, Australian, US and British scientists in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, elephant seals fitted with special oceanographic sensors are providing a 30-fold increase in data recorded in parts of the Southern Ocean rarely observed using traditional ocean monitoring techniques.