The Eco News Roundup brings stories and commentary about issues related to climate change, renewable energy and the environment.


Past climate change and continental ice melt linked to varying CO2 levels

Scientists at the Universities of Southampton and Cardiff have discovered that a globally warm period in Earth’s geological past featured highly variable levels of CO2. Previous studies have found that the Miocene climatic optimum, a period that extends from about 15 to 17 million years ago, was associated with big changes in both temperature and the amount of continental ice on the planet.

Now a new study, published in Paleoceanography, has found that these changes in temperature and ice volume were matched by equally dramatic shifts in atmospheric CO2.

Earth’s magnetic field could flip within a human lifetime

Imagine the world waking up one morning to discover that all compasses pointed south instead of north. It’s not as bizarre as it sounds. Earth’s magnetic field has flipped — though not overnight — many times throughout the planet’s history. Its dipole magnetic field, like that of a bar magnet, remains about the same intensity for thousands to millions of years, but for incompletely known reasons it occasionally weakens and, presumably over a few thousand years, reverses direction.

Now, a new study by a team of scientists from Italy, France, Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley, demonstrates that the last magnetic reversal 786,000 years ago actually happened very quickly, in less than 100 years — roughly a human lifetime.

Hydraulic fracturing linked to earthquakes in Ohio

Hydraulic fracturing triggered a series of small earthquakes in 2013 on a previously unmapped fault in Harrison County, Ohio, according to a study published in the journal Seismological Research Letters (SRL). Nearly 400 small earthquakes occurred between Oct. 1 and Dec. 13, 2013, including 10 “positive” magnitude earthquake, none of which were reported felt by the public. The 10 positive magnitude earthquakes, which ranged from magnitude 1.7 to 2.2, occurred between Oct. 2 and 19, coinciding with hydraulic fracturing operations at nearby wells.

This series of earthquakes is the first known instance of seismicity in the area.

Climate change not responsible for altering forest tree composition

Change in disturbance regimes — rather than a change in climate — is largely responsible for altering the composition of Eastern forests, according to a researcher in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Forests in the Eastern United States remain in a state of “disequilibrium” stemming from the clear-cutting and large-scale burning that occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s, contends Marc Abrams, professor of forest ecology and physiology.

Moreover, Abrams noted, since about 1930 — during the Smokey Bear era — aggressive forest-fire suppression has had a far greater influence on shifts in dominant tree species than minor differences in temperature.

Microfossils reveal warm oceans had less oxygen, Syracuse geologists say

Researchers in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences are pairing chemical analyses with micropaleontology — the study of tiny fossilized organisms — to better understand how global marine life was affected by a rapid warming event more than 55 million years ago. Their findings are the subject of an article in the journal Paleoceanography.

“Global warming impacts marine life in complex ways, of which the loss of dissolved oxygen [a condition known as hypoxia] is a growing concern” says Zunli Lu, assistant professor of Earth sciences and a member of Syracuse’s Water Science and Engineering Initiative. “Moreover, it’s difficult to predict future deoxygenation that is induced by carbon emissions, without a good understanding of our geologic past.”

Shrinking resource margins in Sahel region of Africa

The need for food, animal feed and fuel in the Sahel belt is growing year on year, but supply is not increasing at the same rate. New figures from 22 countries indicate falling availability of resources per capita and a continued risk of famine in areas with low ‘primary production’ from plants. Rising temperatures present an alarming prospect, according to a study from Lund University in Sweden. The research has investigated developments between the years 2000 and 2010 in the Sahel belt, south of the Sahara Desert. Over this ten-year period, the population of the region grew from 367 million to 471 million. With this, the need for food, animal feed and fuel increased significantly. According to the study, the rate of increase was 2.2 per cent a year over the ten-year period.

Major breakthrough could help detoxify pollutants

Scientists at The University of Manchester hope a major breakthrough could lead to more effective methods for detoxifying dangerous pollutants like PCBs and dioxins. The result is a culmination of 15 years of research and has been published in Nature. It details how certain organisms manage to lower the toxicity of pollutants.

 

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