Biodiversity and Conservation Ecology Zoology 

Megabiota, Largest Life, Vital to Biosphere

By Mackenzie Myers @kenzwrites Large organisms such as whales, elephants, and redwoods are often featured in awe-inspiring nature documentaries, but they’re more than just oohs and ahs. Their existence or extinction could make or break the planet as we know it.  Megabiota—the largest plants and animals—are more likely than smaller organisms to go extinct as a result of climate change. And the rest of us could be in big trouble if they do, according to a recent study.  The charisma conundrum Think of successful conservation campaigns. Which animals are deemed…

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The water bear or moss piglet is a tiny invertebrate that's been around on Earth for more than half a billion years. This is a giant model at the AMNH's "Life at the Limits" exhibit. Photo courtesy of Eden, Janine, and Jim(CC BY 2.0) Biology Climate Change Environment Zoology 

Even the Resilient Tardigrade Has an Achilles Heel

By Shelby Nilsen (@shellbeegrace) Climate change is already affecting many habitats and ecosystems. As a result, scientists are working to understand how the rising temperatures we face might affect extant animals—that is, those species that are still surviving—including tardigrades, some of the toughest organisms around, which are well known for their ability to adapt to extreme environments.  In the face of certain environmental cues, tardigrades enter cryptobiosis, a state in which all metabolic processes stop until the organism’s surroundings become favorable again. This remarkable survival tactic allows tardigrades to withstand…

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hydropower dam Engineering Environment 

Are Hydropower Dams the Future of Energy?

By Emily Folk @EmilySFolk Growing concerns about fossil fuels—especially their potential contributions to pollution and global warming—have individuals and governments around the globe looking for alternative sources of power. Hydropower is one of the oldest sources of electricity, already responsible for generating around 52 percent of the United States’ renewable electricity generation according to the National Hydropower Association. Hydroelectric dams are seen as some of the best options available. However, there are challenges that hydropower will need to overcome—otherwise, they may prevent the energy source’s widespread adoption. Current state of…

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CO2 capture and storage Climate Change Environment Geology 

CO2 underground could combat climate change

By Mackenzie Myers, @kenzwrites Despite the scariness of already-manifesting climate change, lawmakers and researchers worldwide have identified strategies to help us fight it. Expanding renewable energy, replacing coal with natural gas, and making machines more energy-efficient are just a few tricks humankind has up its sleeves. At the center of all this, of course, is a reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. According to a new study, one key to accomplishing that goal may lie far beneath the surface of the earth and yet be more accessible than you might…

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Climate Change Ecology Geology 

Fossil pollen holds clues to past

By Mackenzie Myers What if, instead of ancient treasure and tombs, Indiana Jones researched ancient pollen and soil?  Beyond just a seasonal nuisance or a crucial component of agriculture, pollen can be a key to understanding the past. It clues researchers in to how land was used thousands of years ago, as well as what the climate conditions were like at that time. And according to a new study from North Carolina State University, this tool may be available in more areas than previously thought.  Painting the past with fossil…

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mass extinction events Environment 

Anthropocene mass extinction: are we there yet?

By Jacqueline Mattos In the last few decades, scientific observations have highlighted that we are now facing a mass extinction, caused in major part by human activity: habitat fragmentation, invasive species, spread of pathogens and diseases, climate changes leading to global warming, and, of course, direct killing of endangered species. However, this is still a debated topic among scientists. Some say that we are not in a mass extinction event, and that if we were, conservation biology and all the efforts we have been putting into conserving animal species would…

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Ecology Science Debate Series Science Policy 

Could Agriculture Save US Water Supply?

Population growth and climate change are making water an even more scarce resource. Does agriculture have the power to reduce water shortages? By Mackenzie Myers This article is part of a series about key science policy issues. Please use these articles to become an informed voter, ask political candidates about the issues, and put every candidate on record about science. This time of year in California’s Central Valley, it’s easy to see where the Golden State gets its nickname. Golden sun shines on golden grasses of rolling golden hills, parched…

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Environment 

Mapping the Urban Heat Island Effect with Wicked Hot Boston

by Emily Hostetler, Sara Benson, and Roxanne Lee It’s not just in your head; Boston really is hotter in the summer. When urban areas are warmer than surrounding non-urban environments, we experience a phenomenon called the urban heat island (UHI) effect.  Cities are filled with large amounts of artificial materials, such as concrete and asphalt, that absorb heat throughout the day and release heat at night. Living materials like trees, flowers, and grass tend to make areas feel cooler due to the shade they create and the water they release…

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