Blue Marble

People Picks up on Hypermiling Guru

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 5:23 PM EDT

The just-released August 13, 2007, edition of People magazine features stories on Star Jones' weight loss, Britney Spears' custody battle, and ... hypermiling?

To learn more on how People covers fuel efficiency, continue reading this post on MoJoBlog.

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Ancient Frozen Microbes Return To Life

| Wed Aug. 8, 2007 4:16 PM EDT

The DNA of ancient microorganisms frozen in glaciers has the ability to return to life as the glaciers melt. A paper published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science by scientists who melted five samples of ice ranging in age from 100,000 to 8 million years old found many microorganisms trapped inside. The younger ice contained more lifeforms, which grew fast when cultured, doubling every couple of days. By contrast, the microorganisms from the oldest ice samples grew slowly, doubling only every 70 days. The researchers calculated a DNA half-life of 1.1 million years in Antarctic ice, and warned that as warming melts the glaciers, the revived DNA could fuel a new wave of bacterial evolution. . . Blimey. Will nature's cryogenesis be the end of us? JULIA WHITTY

Coral Reefs Disappearing Twice As Fast As Rainforests

| Wed Aug. 8, 2007 3:43 PM EDT

Corals in the central and western Pacific Ocean are dying faster than previously thought. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers have found nearly 600 square miles of reef have disappeared per year since the late 1960s, twice the rate of rainforest loss. The reefs are now disappearing at a rate of one percent per year, a decline that began decades earlier than expected. Historically, coral cover, a measure of reef health, hovered around 50 percent. Today, only about 2 percent of reefs in the Indo-Pacific have coral cover close to the historical baseline. "We have already lost half of the world's reef-building corals," said John Bruno, author of the study published in the online journal PLoS One. The Indo-Pacific contains 75 percent of the world's coral reefs and has the highest coral diversity in the world.

One of the most surprising results of the study was that coral cover was similar between reefs maintained by conservationists and unprotected reefs. This consistent pattern of decline across the entire Indo-Pacific indicates that coral loss is a global phenomenon, likely due in part to large-scale stressors such as climate change. . . Check out this video from the Philippines to see how climate change is adding to their reef problems. JULIA WHITTY

Knitting Meets Science

| Wed Aug. 8, 2007 3:10 PM EDT

How cool is this? Way more fun than stocking caps. JULIA WHITTY

How To Save Earth's Disappearing Topsoil & Store Carbon Too

| Wed Aug. 8, 2007 2:40 PM EDT

Ploughs and a rapidly growing world population are combining to deplete the Earth's soil supply. A new study from the University of Washington finds that long-established farm practices appear to increase soil erosion 10 to 100 more than the rate at which soil is created. The good news is there is a solution. No-till agriculture eliminates ploughing, instead mixing the crop stubble with the top layer of soil using a method called disking. Study author David Montgomery notes that as oil becomes more expensive and less available, preserving soil fertility through no-till farming becomes even more important, since it requires less fertilizer and many fewer passes with a tractor. No-till farming could also prove a major benefit in a warming climate by increasing organic matter in soil, and as much as tripling its carbon content in less than 15 years. More carbon in the ground means less in the air.

"If all farms on the planet were converted to no-till, the range of estimates for sequestered carbon runs from 10 percent of current carbon emissions to about half," says Montgomery. In his book, "Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations," Montgomery links the demise of history's major civilizations to how long it took them to deplete their soil supply. . . That's why that organic cheese and tomato sandwich on whole organic wheat bread you're munching is only good for you (in the short term) and not for the planet unless the components are also sustainably farmed. JULIA WHITTY

Kids Say Food in McDonald's Wrappers Just Tastes Better

| Tue Aug. 7, 2007 6:23 PM EDT

mcdonalds_tokyo.jpgWhether it's milk, carrots, or apple juice, kids ages 3-5 think food just tastes better when wrapped in the golden arches of McDonald's, a recent study finds. The study was aimed at low-income children enrolled in San Mateo, CA's "head start" programs, but the author of the study, Tom Robinson of Stanford University, believes the results would be similar for higher-income children. Quite simply, Robinson states, a child's sense of taste has been "physically altered by the branding."

While the extensive marketing of fast food products to young children has been decried by health advocates and in movies like Supersize Me, the fact that children prefer a branded food is probably heavily influenced by the larger advertising industry, not just McDonald's. I would guess that children prefer a branded grape juice to any generic grape juice, just as I'd guess that most people would give higher ratings to a Prada purse or Calvin Klein underwear than to their generic counterparts. Much of this can be explained by the connotations of happiness, wealth, and enjoyment that the ads convey.

On the other hand, some ads don't seem to convey much of anything, like this recent McDonald's commercial discussed by Slate.

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Cute Knut Under Pressure to Shed Lbs.

| Fri Aug. 3, 2007 5:06 PM EDT

fatty_knut.jpgHey, remember Knut? He was the high-profile, environmental poster-bear who made an appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair with Leonardo diCaprio during "Knut-mania," a time when Europeans flocked by the millions to see him in his Berlin zoo. He was so hot that a neighboring animal died and no one noticed.

The appeal of "Cute Knut" was in his miniature size; he was a cute little white fuzzball who romped around with his keeper. But, times are changing. The paparazzi attention has subsided and the chubby cub has been asked to slim down. It's all summed up in a Der Spiegel headline: "Fatty Knut Put on Strict Diet."

Knut's caretakers claim he weighs 132 lbs, but they're not sure because their scale only goes up to 110 lbs. Apparently, they're keeping a vigilant watch on him to ensure Knut doesn't steal scraps from the kitchen table while his meals are being prepared.

Critiques of his appearance, tales of bad behavior—Lindsay Lohan could have told him such is the life of a media darling.

Weird Weather Watch: Biblical Flooding in South Asia

| Fri Aug. 3, 2007 3:17 PM EDT

Flooding in India and Bangladesh has drowned out more than 12 million acres of farmland and killed almost 200 people in the last few days. The number of dead is expected to rise dramatically as news begins to flow from remote areas. In India's Uttar Pradesh, the army is attempting to evacuate 500 villages. The Red Cross and other groups are attempting to provide much-needed food, drinking water, and medical aid, but people on the ground report that their efforts are nowhere near adequate.

Several lessons here about our future with climate change: Developing nations are likely to be hardest hit. Military rule will likely be invoked regularly, diminishing civil liberties. Food and water supplies will be threatened as major disasters like this one become more commonplace.

Smells like apocalypse, huh? I'm only hoping that Bible thumpers will stop devoting their energy to denying marriage rights to gays and freedom of choice to women and start campaigning against greenhouse-gas pollution.

European Heat Waves Last Twice as Long As In 1880

| Fri Aug. 3, 2007 3:12 PM EDT

Heat waves in Europe have doubled and the frequency of extremely hot days has nearly tripled in the past century. The new data show that many previous assessments of daily summer temperature change underestimated heat wave events by 30 percent. The results are published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. "These findings provide observational support to climate modeling studies showing that European summer temperatures are particularly sensitive to global warming," said Paul Della-Marta of the University of Bern in Switzerland. "Due to complex reactions between the summer atmosphere and the land, the variability of summer temperatures is expected to increase substantially by 2100." JULIA WHITTY

Retrofitting Two-Stroke Engines Good For Everyone

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 10:47 PM EDT

An independent nonprofit out of Colorado has developed and disseminated a retrofit kit designed to reduce emissions from the ubiquitous two-stroke motorcycle taxis in the Philippines. A single motorcycle taxi with a traditional two-stroke engine emits as much pollution as 50 modern automobiles, and the Asian Development Bank estimates 100 million two-stroke vehicles ply the roads in Southeast Asia &mdash that's right, the equivalent of 5 billion cars. The Worldwatch Institute reports that Envirofit has won a World Clean Energy Award for developing and disseminating a retrofit kit, originally designed for snowmobiles. In the retrofit, the carburetor is eliminated and fuel is introduced directly into the engine cylinder, so less unburned fuel is wasted. The typical Filipino taxi driver makes only $3–5 per day, and the kits pay for themselves in fuel savings within 10 months. Envirofit hopes to expand its engine retrofit program to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and India, where demonstrations of the product will take place this year.

Now, can we just do away with jetskis, the most hateful of all the 2-stroke blights? According to the EPA, older jetskis (still prevalent around the world) cause more nonpoint source pollution (translation: runoff) in two hours than a car running for an entire year. Truly fun for the feeble-minded. JULIA WHITTY