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News & Events On Our Changing Planet

10/30/2014

The Weather Channel officially endorses man-made climate change

The Weather Channel just came out with its official position statement on man-made climate change: it’s happening.
The Weather Channel wasn’t exactly waffling on climate change before — it’s been known to produce some great content on that and other environmental issues, along with a wide array of what it calls “weather adjacent” clickbait. The statement, instead, was clearly timed to deal with the latest media fiasco that resulted after Fox News gave a platform to John Coleman, a climate denier who uses his severed connection to the network to spread his fringe theories.
Coleman’s interview with host Megyn Kelly lead to this PR disaster:

Just as there’s a large and significant difference between weather and climate, meteorologists are not climate scientists; as a whole, they tend to be more skeptical of climate science, and sites like the ones pictured above tend to jump on that skepticism as “proof” that the science isn’t nearly as settled as some would have you think. Coleman, despite spending years as a weather forecaster, was never formally trained as a meteorologist; what’s more, his beef isn’t with any particular studies, but with climate scientists themselves, who, he wrote back in 2010, “look askance at the rest of us, certain of their superiority. They respect government and disrespect business, particularly big business. They are environmentalists above all else.”
The writers and editors at the Weather Channel’s website aren’t meteorologists, either. But while they recognize that the science is still out on the relationship between large-scale climate change and local weather events, they’re explicitly clear about where they stand:
The bottom line is that with the rate of greenhouse gas emissions increasing, a significant warming trend is expected to also continue. This warming will manifest itself in a variety of ways, and shifts in climate could occur quickly, so while society needs to continue to wrestle with the difficult issues involved with mitigation of the causes of global warming, an increased focus should be placed on resiliency and adaptation to the effects of global warming given the sensitivity of civilizations and ecosystems to rapid climate change.
 Salon

10/29/2014

Mass. biologist finds rare blue leopard frog

Late this summer, Jacob Kubel, a conservation scientist with the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, was slogging through a Sudbury wetland, searching for a new species of leopard frog, when something unusual caught his eye.
“The frogs were quick and blended in with their surroundings,” Kubel said in an e-mail, “so we were basically chasing blurs and moving vegetation.”
Leopard frogs, which are named for their dark spots, are usually green, beige, or some combination of those colors, but one of the blurs Kubel saw through the stems of sedge and grass appeared to be bright blue.
“I couldn’t be sure of the exact color,” said Kubel, “so I just thought to myself, ‘Oh, I have a brightly colored one here — he should be easier to chase down.’ ”
Kubel said he didn’t think much of it at first: Individual animals in many wildlife species, after all, vary greatly from one another. But when he captured the 2-inch frog and looked at it up close, he realized it was something he — in fact, most everyone — had never seen before: a blue-colored leopard frog.
“It was truly blue, without even a hint of green,” said Kubel.
Kubel said green and bull frogs, two other species found in Massachusetts, sometimes tend to be blue or partly blue, but blue leopard frogs are extremely rare.
‘This colorful little frog . . . looked like it belonged in the tropics.’
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As in: one in 300,000 specimens. That’s Kubel’s best estimate, based on a 1960s study across the United States and Canada of the genus that includes leopard frogs. Conceding there may be cases he’s unaware of, Kubel knows of only three such recent discoveries: a blue leopard frog found in New Jersey in 2003, one in Delaware in 2007, and one in New York earlier this year.
When he made his remarkable discovery, Kubel was looking for something exciting in and of itself: a new species not yet found in Massachusetts. It was just two years ago that a new type of leopard frog was found on New York City’s Staten Island. Now, scientists like Kubel are catching leopard frogs across nine states, extracting genetic material to determine whether they are members of the still unnamed species.
That extraction is a lot less painful to the frog than you might think: To obtain a tissue sample, said Kubel, researchers clip a small piece of a single toe. Because of the limb-regeneration capabilities of frogs and other amphibians, the toe clip is considered to cause minimal, if any, harm, he said. The frog is then released at the point of capture, after a few photos are taken.
It’s those photos of Kubel’s frog that capture what’s most striking about it: its beauty. Its blueness represents no scientific breakthrough, merely a gorgeous aberration.
When people think of “malformations” in wildlife, said Kubel, they tend to think of second heads, third eyes, or other “negativities.”
“This colorful little frog, which looked like it belonged in the tropics,’’ he said, “was a welcome deviation from that norm, especially in a place like New England.”
The normal greenish or beige colors of leopardfrogs, he explained, have much to do with the yellow pigment ususally found in its skin cells.
Those cells are generated in a structure called the neural crest during embryonic development. Kubel said that a blue frog is a natural phenomenon that occurs when the yellow pigment cells are absent, either because they fail to develop or they migrate from the neural crest to other parts of the frog’s body.
“Obviously, my work does not include an objective to find aberrantly colored frogs,” said Kubel, “but incidental discoveries like this — seeing things I’ve never observed before — help to keep my work interesting.”
Such eureka moments are few and far between as he navigates through mucky swamps, dense vegetation, and swarms of biting insects. But Kubel said his love of nature — and helping to counter the threats that native wildlife face — provide plenty of motivation for him in his work as a conservation scientist. He derives much personal satisfaction, he said, from advancing knowledge about wildlife populations and playing some role in their long-term protection.
With a master’s degree in wildlife and fisheries science from Penn State, Kubel has worked with a wide variety of animal species during his career, including mammals and birds, but most recently his focus has been on amphibians, he said.
“In the big picture,’’ said Kubel, “amphibian populations are important to research, monitor, and understand because they are critical components of the food web and are relatively sensitive to environmental change.
“Amphibians,’’ he said, “are widely considered to be important indicators of environmental health, which of course impacts all forms of life.” 

10/24/2014

Amazon Deforestation Reaching New Heights—and the Future May Be Worse

Over the past two months, the Brazilian Amazon has registered a sharp spike in deforestation.
Official figures have not yet been released by the Brazilian government, but new satellite footage shows that the rate of deforestation in the region rose 29 percent last year, and it’s picking up speed, according to a report by The Guardian:
Satellite data indicates a 190% surge in land clearance in August and September compared with the same period last year as loggers and farmers exploit loopholes in regulations that are designed to protect the world’s largest forest.
Figures released by Imazon, a Brazilian nonprofit research organisation, show that 402 square kilometres – more than six times the area of the island of Manhattan – was cleared in September.
The Guardian noted that Brazil’s election season is also impacting the deforestation issue, as President Dilma Rousseff’s administration has forged ties with agribusiness groups and her challenger, AĆ©cio Neves, is a pro-business candidate. Given these options for the country’s top political position, the “world’s largest forest” is in imminent danger of losing its title in the near future.

Truth Dig

10/20/2014

Extinct giant kangaroos didn't hop, they walked

THEY had faces like rabbits and some were 2 metres tall. But now it seems that an extinct giant kangaroo didn't hop – it walked.
Known as "short-faced giant kangaroos", sthenurines roamed Australia for 12.5 million years before being wiped out 30,000 years ago. No one knows what killed off these relatives of modern kangaroos, although they may have struggled as Australia's climate grew more arid.
Unlike kangaroos today, these ancient giants walked just like us. "All our evidence fits with these animals leaning on one leg at a time, like humans," says Christine Janis of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
She and her team took hundreds of measurements of the bones of 66 living species of the kangaroo family and 78 extinct species, including 71 from sthenurines, to calculate the likely size and function of each animal's bones and muscles.
They found that the ill-fated sthenurines had bone structures resembling those of animals that move by shifting weight from one foot to the other, like humans and apes (PLOS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109888). A flange at the base of their shin bones, similar to those found in horses and humans, would have prevented their feet from collapsing sideways under the weight of their body.

Like walking primates, their pelvises fanned out at the rear. "They had big bums, and much more room for these large gluteal muscles than today's kangaroos," says Janis. These muscles would have supported each leg during walking.
Sthenurines had stiffer spines and shorter tails than modern kangaroos, which use their tails like a fifth leg. "It's reasonable that the ancestors of modern-day kangaroos moved differently," says Max Donelan of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada. "If pentapedal walking did not make biomechanical sense to these large, extinct kangaroos, they would have likely found a different solution."
Janis suggests they were browsers, taking advantage of their height and bipedalism to browse trees and shrubs for berries or other food, without having to waste energy hopping between them.
This article appeared in print under the headline "Extinct giant kangaroos didn't hop – they walked"

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