enviro science

Indonesia's New Tsunami Warning System

Disaster prediction where, the historical record indicates, it's needed most

Nearly four years after a series of disastrous tsunami waves struck coastlines bordering the Indian Ocean, a new Tsunami Early Warning System is up and running in Indonesia. Using a series of buoys linked to detectors that sit on the ocean floor, the new high-tech warning system will be able to detect an undersea earthquake and predict within minutes whether it will cause a tsunami.

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Deserts in the Ocean

Thousands of square miles of lifeless sea

Dear EarthTalk: What are these "ocean deserts" I've been hearing about? Also didn't I read that there was a huge mass of plastic bottles floating around somewhere on the ocean surface?
-- Wally Mattson, Eugene, OR

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pH Down, Noise Up

Higher ocean acidity makes the undersea world noisier

As increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) dissolve in the Earth's oceans, seawater is becoming warmer and more acidic. Now, a new study concludes that one result of more acidic seas is that sounds will travel farther underwater. A corresponding increase in background noise in the oceans could affect the behavior of marine mammals, a team of scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) says.

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Will We Run Out Of Breathable Oxygen If We Produce Too Much Carbon Dioxide?

PopSci experts weigh in on the important questions

Here’s why you might be worried: Burning oil, coal, gas, wood or other organic materials uses molecular oxygen, the O2 we breathe, to break carbon-hydrogen bonds and release energy. This reaction, better known as combustion, also pairs each broken-off, positively charged carbon atom with two negatively charged oxygen atoms, forming carbon dioxide, or CO2.

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Gaseous State

Scientists measure methane at the source

In a lush pasture near Buenos Aires, this cow and its compatriots are digesting important information: how much methane—a greenhouse gas 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide—is released by the country’s 55 million bovines. Researchers from Argentina's National Institute of Agricultural Technology connected inflatable tanks to the cows’ first stomach, where methane is made, through a small hole between their ribs.

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Duplicating Meat

Are cloned animals as good to eat as conventionally bred ones?

Dear EarthTalk: What's the story with animal cloning? Is the meat industry really cloning animals now to "beef up" production? -- Frank DeFazio, Sudbury, MA

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Permafrost Contains Vast Store of Carbon

A thaw could release a flood of greenhouse gases

With so much focus on sea ice and ice shelves, the role of permafrost in the global climate cycle is often not on the public's radar screen. But according to a new study published last week in the journal Bioscience, permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere contains more than two times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, and rapid thawing could make it a significant contributor to global climate change.

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Sea Level Rise May Be Smaller Than Predicted

A new study claims sea level rise this century won't exceed six feet

A new study released by the University of Colorado at Boulder claims that a global sea rise of more than six feet by the year 2100 is nearly impossible.

The researchers used conservative, medium, and extreme scenarios for Greenland, Antarctica, and the world's smaller glaciers and ice caps. Each scenario produced a result from two feet of sea rise to no more than six feet of sea rise. When factoring in thermal expansion due to warming waters, the team concluded that the most plausible scenario would result in a total sea rise of roughly three feet to six feet by 2100.

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Spraying Safely

How green are aerosol cans now, with chlorofluorocarbons out of the picture?

Dear EarthTalk: What's the deal nowadays with aerosol spray cans? I thought that the ozone-depleting chemicals used in them were eliminated back in the 1970s. Is this true? If so, what is now used as a propellant? Are aerosols still bad for the ozone layer? -- Sheila, Abilene, TX

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Student Helps Rescue Future Hurricane Victims

An MIT doctoral project helps evacuate disaster sites intelligently

There's some good news as hurricane season is getting under way: an MIT graduate student has developed a computer model that helps evacuation managers make better decisions, and possibly save lives in the process.

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Increase in Storm Numbers Predicted

With Hurricane Gustav, we're less than halfway through what scientists say will be a 17-storm season

Weeks before Hurricane Gustav slammed into the Caribbean and the Louisiana Gulf Coast, hurricane forecasters at Colorado State University continued to warn of the higher-than-average probability of at least one intense (or major) hurricane making landfall in the United States in the remaining months of this year's hurricane season.

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Show Me the Honey

New research finds higher-than-expected levels of pesticides in hives

People generally know that substances that are harmless when taken separately in small doses can lead to disorientation, and perhaps uncharacteristic behavior, when mixed. Honey bees, apparently, do not. After all, dabbling is what honey bees do, and it's what we love them for. These little workers are responsible for billions of annual agricultural industry dollars, thanks to their pollination services. But bees haven't been staying on task. They've been acting a little weird lately--leaving their hives and not coming back--and attracting a lot of attention for it.

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