NASA’s successfully launched its Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base Wednesday morning.
OCO-2’s mission, which is expected to last at least two years, will study atmospheric carbon dioxide, which scientists say is not only an important element of Earth’s carbon-cycle, but also the primary human-produced greenhouse gas that’s been singled out as playing a role in global warming.
Throughout the course of its mission, the spacecraft’s lone instrument, which contains three high-resolution grating spectrometers, will collect space-based global measurements of atmospheric CO2 as well as locate sources of and storage places for this greenhouse gas.
Mission officials say OCO-2 will take the study of the global carbon cycle to a unique new level. They said it will create the most thorough picture that’s ever been taken of Earth’s natural carbon dioxide sources and their “sinks”, which are areas where the CO2 is removed and stored.
The population of Emperor penguins living in Antarctica is at risk of severe decline by the end of the century because of climate change, according to a new study by an international team of scientists.
Currently, the Emperor penguin is being considered for inclusion on the endangered species list, a move the study researchers support.
The researchers pointed out that since Emperor penguins depend so much on sea ice in their daily lives, any changes in the amount of local sea ice concentration (SIC) would have serious effects on their well-being.
In making their analysis of future Emperor penguin population, the researchers included all current and projected drops in sea ice concentration where the penguins maintain their colonies. They found that, due to ongoing climate change, the penguin numbers could drop as much as 50 percent by the end of the century.
NASA’s Cassini Mission, which has been studying Saturn, its famous rings and its moons for a decade, is readying for its final mission phase which is expected to begin sometime in 2016.
With help from 2,000 members of the public and those involved with the mission, the space agency has named the unmanned spacecraft’s swan song mission, “Cassini Grand Finale”.
In this final portion of the Cassini Mission, the spacecraft will be put through a “daring set of orbits” that in some ways will be like an entirely new mission, NASA says.
The spacecraft will frequently climb high above the ringed planet’s North Pole as it soars just outside of its narrow F ring. Mission officials said that Cassini will also study the water-rich geyser plumes found spouting high above the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and will dive between the planet and innermost ring 22 times.
Canadian scientists have found that fish have a better memory that was previously thought. Fish were thought to have a memory span of only about 30 seconds, but the researchers said the fish they studied disproved that notion by remembering context and associations for as long as 12 days.
The African Cichlids (Labidochromis caeruleus), a species many people put in their aquariums, exhibited a number of intricate behaviors, including aggression. This led the scientists to think that the fish might be capable of performing some advanced memory tasks.
So, the researchers trained each of the fish used in their experiments to navigate itself into a specific area of the aquarium where it was given a food reward. Each training session lasted about 20 minutes over a three-day period. The fish were then removed from their training area and allowed to rest for 12 days.
After this rest period, the fish were reintroduced back into their training environment where their movements were tracked with motion-tracking software.
The fish showed a preference for the area of the aquarium that had the previous food reward, which indicated that they were able to recall their previous training.
After the researchers put them through additional training, the fish were able to disassociate themselves from the original reward area in favor of a new location where the food was placed.
Have you ever wondered how bacteria mutate to a point where they build up a resistance to medication designed to kill them?
Researchers from Hebrew University of Jerusalem were able to precisely measure how bacteria respond to antibiotics, which allowed them to develop a mathematical model of the process.
The model they developed showed that giving the bacteria daily three-hour doses of an antibiotic provided it with the ability to predict just how long each dose was effective and then allowed it to go dormant for that period of time. The bacteria were able to evolve to where it was able to develop biological timers so it could outlive the effectiveness of the antibiotic.
New evidence suggests there might be oceans of water far beneath Earth’s surface.
Northwestern University geophysicist Steve Jacobsen, along with University of New Mexico seismologist Brandon Schmandt, found evidence of water in pockets of hot magma about 645 km beneath North America within the transition zone between Earth’s upper and lower mantle.
“It alters our previous understanding of the composition of the Earth,” said Jacobsen, adding that Earth might have far more H2O than was previously thought.
“It [also] has some implications for where Earth’s water came from, from inside [the Earth] versus comets,” Jacobsen said.
Even though this deep-Earth water isn’t in the form we’re used to, such as liquid, ice or even vapor, researchers say their discovery could still turn out to be one of our planet’s largest water reservoirs.
Not only will the findings help determine just how much water is trapped inside rock in the transition zone, but they will also provide scientists with unique insight into the composition of Earth’s structure, how it was formed, and the complex processes that are taking place deep inside our planet.
The study augments another, by a Canadian-led team, that discovered water deep within Earth hydrous minerals that were pushed to the surface by volcanoes.
Jacobsen and Schmandt believe that plate tectonics may be responsible for driving water so far down into the Earth.
There are instances where tectonic plates come together and one of them dives deep down from the crust into the mantle, beneath the other, in a process called subduction.
There are times during subduction when water is taken down into the mantle in the form of hydrous minerals, such as ringwoodite. This form of water often doesn’t make it that far down into the mantle.
Typically, within the upper 100 kilometers or so into the mantle, temperatures become so hot and the pressures become so high, that those hydrous minerals begin breaking down to form other minerals. But, in doing this, the minerals also release some water in a process called dehydration melting, which Jacobsen said is also the source of magma in all volcanoes .
The huge amounts of water described by the researchers are trapped within the molecular structure of minerals that are contained in the mantle rock.
The researchers say that even if only 1percent of the weight of transition zone rock had trapped water inside, that amount of water would be equal to about three times the water that’s held in our oceans.
Since the minerals are subjected to such immense pressure and high temperatures, water molecules that become bound within the mineral’s crystal structure actually split and form something called hydroxyl radicals.
As these OH rich minerals come up to the surface of the Earth and are melted through geological events such volcanic eruptions, the OH molecules regroup and form actual water (H20) molecules and are expelled as water vapor.
The research team believes that this deep Earth water is connected with surface reservoirs.
“You can probably recycle all of the water in the oceans, through the upper mantle, once every 100 million years or so,” said Jacobsen.
The research Schmandt conducted was based on seismic data produced by USArray, a network of some 2,000 seismometers that have been placed throughout the US. Jacobsen replicates the pressure and temperatures found deep inside the Earth through various laboratory experiments and then studies the geophysical processes that are taking place so far beneath the surface of the Earth, that direct observation isn’t possible.
“We don’t know much yet, about this deeper reservoir, which could be potentially as large as the oceans or maybe even more than that,” said Jacobsen.
Earth’s magnetic field is weakening, according to measurements taken over the past six months by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Swarm satellite constellation.
The measurements–taken between January and June 2014–come from the first high-resolution results made by Swarm, and also indicate that the magnetic field has declined most dramatically in the Western Hemisphere while increasing in other areas, such as the southern Indian Ocean.
The measurements also confirm that Earth’s magnetic north continues its slide towards Siberia.
Scientists say the shifting of the magnetic north pole is part of a process that takes thousands of years and will eventually result in the swap in magnetic poles – north will be south and vice-versa.
Scientists studying ancient rocks that came to the surface from deep within our planet have found that the Earth’s north and south magnetic poles have swapped with each other several hundred times during the past 160 million years.
Past research, including a study released in 2011, suggests that shifting of the Earth’s tectonic plates may play a role in the shifting of the magnetic poles.
The 2011 study suggested that, as the tectonics plates shift and move, they push into Earth’s crust at subduction zones, and could continue until they reach the outer core, modifying the flow of its molten iron which helps generate the magnetic field.
The Earth’s magnetic field protects us from harmful radiation from cosmic rays as well as high-energy particles from the sun. It has previously been shown to have faded by about 10 percent since measurements were first made in 1835 by German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss.
But unlike what was portrayed in the 2003 Sci-Fi movie, “The Core”, the Earth’s magnetic field will not simply fade out.
Field strength changes in the magnetic field are considered normal and while measurements, including those made by Swarm, indicate that it’s fading a bit, scientists say the magnetic field could just as easily regain its strength and become strong again.
The findings made by the Swarm mission were presented on Thursday, June 19, 2014, at the Third Swarm Science Meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The ESA Swarm mission, which measures the magnetic signals that come from Earth’s core up through the ionosphere and magnetosphere, was launched in November 2013.
Three identical but separate spacecraft are operating in tandem with each other for the mission.
All three units are circling the Earth in a polar orbit. Two of the three spacecraft, Swarm A and B, orbit at an altitude of about 460 km, while the third spacecraft Swarm C orbits at a higher altitude of about 530 km.
Mission officials say that as the Swarm program progresses, it will provide an unparalleled understanding of complex workings of Earth’s magnetic field.
Swarm mission officials said that as the spacecraft continues to send data, scientists hope to uncover the influence of the Earth’s mantle, crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere in creating and maintaining our planet’s protective magnetic shield.
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