Archive for the 'current research' Category

Published by Rosalind on 11 Jan 2011

Glaciers are shrinking

A new study has shown that glaciers all over the world are still shrinking, and the projections predict some real effects on ocean levels worldwide. Interestingly, though, the glaciers are shrinking unevenly, and it looks like European glaciers will melt the fastest. Read about it: Sea levels and Glaciers.

Published by Rosalind on 20 Nov 2010

Scientists study ice for clues to future

Is it possible that global climate change could cause sea levels to rise as much as six feet? Researchers are studying glacial ice and hoping to find the answer to the question. Even much smaller sea level rises would be a huge problem for people worldwide, as cities built by the ocean or by rivers would see flooding and damage to infrastructure like ports. Some low-lying coastal communities would be obliterated unless they could find ways to protect themselves from the rising waters.

Scientists all over the world are trying to find ways to predict the effects of climate change and specifically the rising average earth temperature. Glacial ice is being affected by rising sea temperatures in places like Greenland, where sea water temperatures of 40 degrees can melt the ice from beneath while air temperatures impact it from above.  You can read about some of this work here: Reading Earth’s Future in Glacial Ice.

Published by Rosalind on 05 Oct 2010

At last, a census for the ocean

An amazing sea creature! (photo from

After ten years of research and more than 540 ocean expeditions, more than 2700 scientists presented the world with the first-ever census of marine life on Monday. The census made direct observation of 120,000 marine species, including some 6,000 newly discovered species. Marine Census.

“There are no ocean deserts,” Jesse Ausubel, a co-founder of the census, says. “Everywhere we looked we found life.” Check out the amazing photos: Marine Species.

Published by Rosalind on 30 Sep 2010

Coral Reefs Affected by Rising Water Temperatures

Coral Reefs worldwide have been showing signs of bleaching — losing their color due to warmer ocean temperatures. Computer forecasts suggest that corals in the Caribbean may undergo drastic bleaching in the next few weeks, and many may die.

The New York Times reports that, “What is unfolding this year is only the second known global bleaching of coral reefs. Scientists are holding out hope that this year will not be as bad, over all, as 1998, the hottest year in the historical record, when an estimated 16 percent of the world’s shallow-water reefs died. But in some places, including Thailand, the situation is looking worse than in 1998.”

The NRDC has an appeal by Sigourney Weaver which you can read here: Coral Reefs.

Published by Rosalind on 27 May 2010

NASA Shuttle mission ends

Another shuttle mission ended today — but this one was the last for Space Shuttle Atlantis. Its final planned mission was to deliver an Integrated Cargo Carrier and a Russian-built Mini Research Module to the International Space Station. STS-132 was the 32nd mission for Atlantis. Despite the success of the shuttle missions in helping to build and re-supply the International Space Station, there are no new shuttles planned by NASA, due to changes in US government plans for NASA. You can read more about Atlantis’ final mission: Atlantis.

Published by Rosalind on 06 Apr 2010

New Money for NASA Studies of Our Earth

As the space shuttle Discovery circles the earth this week , the Obama administration is proposing a 60% rise in funding for NASA to study the earth. One particular focus of study will be carbon dioxide and its effects on the atmosphere — part of the money would pay for a new Orbiting Carbon Observatory. The GRACE satellites, which study gravity, will also be replaced. You can listen to the NPR story here: NASA Slated to Receive Billions of Dollars to Study Earth.

For updates on the Discovery mission, the astronauts, and to find out when Discovery is passing overhead, visit NASA Shuttle and Space Station.

Published by Rosalind on 12 Feb 2010

New Look at Ancient Human (and his earwax)

Researchers led by Eske Willerslev at the University of Copenhagen this week announced the first completed sequencing of the genome of an ancient human. The genetic material came from an ancient clump of hair, collected in Greenland by Danish archeologists in the 1980’s. “From the DNA, we can tell a lot about the individual,” says Willerslev. “He had brown eyes, brown skin, a tendency to baldness, dry earwax, and shovel-shaped front teeth.” The researchers have named him “Inuk,” which means “man” or “human” in Greenlandic. To see a drawing of Inuk and read more about the research, check out this article: Ancient Human Sequenced for First Time.

Published by Diana on 25 Jan 2010

Viruses in our DNA

“The borna virus is at once obscure and grotesque,” starts this New York Times article: Hunting Fossil Viruses in Human DNA. The article continues by describing the effects of the virus: “horses sometimes kill themselves by smashing in their skulls.”

The borna virus is only one fossil virus found in the DNA of every human. Other viruses are retroviruses, which are viruses uses RNA to make DNA, like the HIV virus.

Scientists have only begun to research these fossil viruses, buried deep in our DNA.

Published by Diana on 05 Dec 2009

Another step in the evolutionary process

Last week I wrote about snakes in Asia, and how they are evolving to take advantage of the local snails. This week it’s birds in Europe.

Blackcap warblers in central Europe have a genetically determined migration route that takes them to the Mediterranean when the weather cools in the fall. Well, it used to take them to Spain… now some populations go to England instead.

Why England? Bird feeders. People feed birds during the winter in England, and the birds evolved to take advantage of that. 30% of blackcap warblers now migrate to England.

Since food is readily available during the winter in England, and it’s a shorter route back to their summer home in Germany and Austria, the birds get to summer nesting sites earlier, and the English-winter birds mate with each other and not with the Spanish-winter birds.

This is called “reproductive isolation” and it’s one of the first steps in creating new species. The warblers are still the same species–they can still mate and produce fertile children–but they’re beginning to look different, fly differently, and eat a different diet.

More details, and some excellent photos here: Feeding Birds Could Create New Species.

Published by Diana on 26 Nov 2009

Changes in organisms from natural selection

Over time, new kinds of organisms develop as a result of mutations and changes to existing organisms. Bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics; the bacteria that aren’t resistant to antibiotics die off–and the very few that have a gene that makes them less likely to die are the only ones that live to reproduce. This process, in which better adapted organisms survive to reproduce and less adapted organisms die before reproducing (or have fewer offspring), is called natural selection and is the key concept of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Darwin published the first edition of his book on the evolution of species one hundred and fifty years ago, in November of 1859.

Darwin was curious about many things, and was interested in how land snails–like the European snail that ends up being eaten in the French dish escargot–could get to islands, because they don’t survive in salt water. After discovering that a short bath in salt water didn’t kill them, he decided that perhaps they got there on floating logs.

But more modern scientists have discovered that land snails come in right-handed and left-handed versions. The right-handed versions are more common, but there are more left-handed snails in Asia than elsewhere. Why? Well, it turns out that some snakes have evolved jaws that work better on the right-handed snails than on the left-handed ones. So as the right-handed snails get eaten more often, the left-handed snails are more likely to survive and reproduce, so there are more left-handed snails where there are more snakes that eat right-handed snails. Evolution and natural selection in action!

Read all about it here: In Snails and Snakes, Features to Delight Darwin.

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