No evidence global warming spawned twister
CNN iReporter Brenton Leete took this photo of the tornado on the ground in Moore, Oklahoma, on Monday.
May 22nd, 2013
05:44 PM ET

No evidence global warming spawned twister

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Yes, climate change is happening. But it's hard to say that the tornado that ripped through Moore, Oklahoma - or any given tornado, for that matter - was influenced by climate change.

Scientific research has not made a clear connection between tornadoes and climate change, said J. Marshall Shepherd, climate change expert and professor at the University of Georgia.

There is currently a much better understanding of how climate change increases the risks of droughts, heat waves and precipitation, he said. There are also indications that changing patterns may influence the intensity of hurricanes. But as far as tornadoes: There's just not a lot of information.

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Filed under: Climate • On Earth
Climate change will mean more heat deaths
May 21st, 2013
03:01 PM ET

Climate change will mean more heat deaths

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

As greenhouse gases cause average temperatures to climb worldwide, human health will suffer, scientists say.

study in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that heat deaths in Manhattan will increase over the rest of this century in connection with higher temperatures associated with global warming. In the 2020s, heat-related deaths could rise about 20% compared with the 1980s, according to the research.

"This paper helps to remind people that climate change is real, that it’s happening and we need to prepare and make ourselves as resilient as we can to climate change," said Patrick Kinney, the study's senior author and director of the Columbia Climate and Health Program at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. "It’s a real problem that we face. It’s not insurmountable."

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Filed under: Climate • On Earth
May 17th, 2013
09:53 AM ET

A Nobel Prize with help from sea slugs

By Edythe McNamee and Jacque Wilson, CNN

Neuroscientists love Aplysia. They are a type of sea slug that grows to be about a foot long. With only 20,000 nerve cells - compared with about 100 billion found in the human brain - Aplysia are the perfect lab animals for brain researchers hoping to isolate a crucial connection.

Plus, "they're just attractive to look at," says Dr. Eric Kandel, a biochemistry and biophysics professor at Columbia University.

Kandel won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work with Aplysia - or more specifically, for his work on the biological mechanisms of memory storage.

For decades, Kandel has studied how we create short-term and long-term memories at the molecular level. His work has shown what genes are changed during the learning process, how these genes are altered and how the changes contribute to the growth of new connections in the brain.

CNN spoke with Kandel about his research and why he's fascinated by the human brain. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity:

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Filed under: On Earth • Science Seat
Ancient water found in Canadian mine
Gas bubbles out of the floor of a deep mine in Canada, containing ingredients that could sustain life.
May 15th, 2013
01:00 PM ET

Ancient water found in Canadian mine

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

You wouldn't want to shower in it, but researchers have discovered pockets of water in a deep reservoir in Canada that may be up to 2.64 billion years old.

Researchers extracted the fluid from ancient rocks in a mine 1.5 miles underground in the area of Timmins, Ontario. In other mines, water has been found to support life, but scientists are still working to determine if there is life in this particular location. They say this is the oldest water found in such an environment.

We spoke with Chris Ballentine, professor of geochemistry at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, and senior author on this study, which published in the journal Nature. Here is an edited version of our email Q&A:

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Filed under: On Earth
May 13th, 2013
02:38 PM ET

Dramatic images show changing Earth

Whether we like it or not, just about everything changes from our bodies acquiring new wrinkles to fashion trends that differ by the week.

But what about the world itself? Just like us, Earth doesn't stay the same. Some of the changes have been beneficial, while others are quite troubling.

Now a partnership between Google, NASA and Time is revealing how our planet has radically changed over the decades.

The new TIME Timelapse website allows users to view how the Earth has altered through millions of time-lapsed satellite images.

With a few clicks, you can learn how climate change, urban expansion and population growth have modified the planet.

Click on the above video to learn about Timelapse and get a taste of what you will find on the website.

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Filed under: Climate • On Earth
CO2 levels hit new peak at key observatory
NOAA's Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii saw a new peak in carbon dioxide levels.
May 11th, 2013
11:45 PM ET

CO2 levels hit new peak at key observatory

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

In some ways, it's just a number, but it's a big number with enormous implications.

For the first time, scientists measured an average concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide of 400 parts per million in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observatory is located, on Thursday.

"Most experts that really study CO2 amounts estimate that we haven't seen that amount of CO2 in our atmosphere in about 3 million years," said J. Marshall Shepherd, climate change expert and professor at the University of Georgia. In other words, modern humans have never seen carbon dioxide in these proportions before.

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Filed under: Climate • On Earth
May 6th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

They’re baaack! Bugs emerge after 17 years

By Jacque Wilson, CNN

They emerge from the ground after 17 years, their worm-like bodies creating hundreds of peanut-sized holes near the base of your tree. As they begin to climb, their dark brown skin starts to shed. Two beady red eyes appear.

By the time they reach a steady branch their transparent wings have stretched, opened and closed. Within an hour their white bodies will turn black.

Soon the males will start to sing.

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Filed under: On Earth
Skin color is ‘bone-deep’
This is a sculptor's rendering of Australopithecus afarensis, an ancient human relative that lived 3.2 million years ago.
May 4th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Skin color is ‘bone-deep’

By Kelly Murray, CNN

From the darkest brown to the pastiest white and every shade in between, humans display a tremendous variety of skin colors. Human skin color is directly linked to our survival as a species as we lost our fur and developed a need for protection from the sun, and then migrated into cloudier regions of the globe. Over the course of evolution, scientists argue, skin color was influenced, among other factors, by our need for healthy bones.

To begin to explain this, we turn to Nina Jablonski, professor of anthropology at Pennsylvania State University. She is a well-recognized researcher in primate evolution, and specifically the evolution of human skin, and she was the subject of a Science Seat on CNN Light Years.

The story of human skin color begins with our furry ancestors about 6 to 7 million years ago in Africa, the last time that humans and chimpanzees shared an ancestor. Jablonski says that these ancestors, called Australopithecus, still had ape-like body proportions: fairly long arms and relatively short legs.

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Filed under: Human ancestors • On Earth
Graphene has massive future
May 3rd, 2013
05:04 PM ET

Graphene has massive future

By Eoghan Macguire and Matthew Knight, CNN

Ever since it was discovered in 2004, graphene has been hailed as a natural wonder of the materials world destined to transform our lives in the 21st century.

Graphene's amazing properties excite and confound in equal measure. How can something one million times thinner than a human hair be 300 times stronger than steel and 1,000 times more conductive than silicon?

CNN Labs asked the head of MIT's graphene research department, Tomas Palacios, to explain why graphene is such a special material and what we can expect it to do for us in the future.

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Filed under: On Earth
Science Seat: Saving the birds
The California condor is a rare and endangered species.
May 3rd, 2013
11:37 AM ET

Science Seat: Saving the birds

Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from different areas of scientific exploration. This is the 10th installment.

By Matthew Rehbein, CNN

For more than 30 years, Susan Haig’s mission has been to ensure that endangered bird species don’t become extinct.

Haig’s professional achievements are beyond impressive:  She is a supervisory research wildlife ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, a full-time professor at Oregon State University and president of the American Ornithologists’ Union, the largest professional society of ornithologists in the world.

Her current work seeks to find the best methods to preserve specific bird populations — often, populations that are endangered — with a combination of lab-based genetic research and field-based behavioral study. She also examines the effects of climate change and other environmental stressors on water birds and the places they live.

Haig’s efforts to reintroduce the California condor in the Pacific Northwest are detailed in her upcoming book “The California Condor in the Pacific Northwest,” which she cowrote with Jesse D’Elia, one of her Ph.D. students. The book comes out next month.

CNN Light Years caught up with Haig last week to talk about how we protect endangered species — especially in the face of climate change — and even how we might one day bring some back from extinction. Here is an edited transcript of our interview.

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Filed under: Climate • On Earth • Science Seat
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