We’ve got a mix of good news and bad this week. Global warming sucks, but new water sources in Africa may provide some measure of protection for its people. Lots of species may be in danger, but did you know some species of sharks glow in the dark? I didn’t! There’s also some cool news for Doctor Who fans. Plus, bonus pic of every Persephoneer’s favorite smexy scientist!
In good news for the less coordinated among us, researchers have developed a new coating that protects cotton from stains. Here’s hoping it turns out to be comfy, because I could definitely use the protection!
Enormous aquifers have been found underlying most of the continent of Africa, with some of the highest concentrations found deep below the arid Sahara. This discovery could help protect Africans against droughts due to climate change. Scientists have yet to figure out the best way to access it in a sustainable fashion; small-scale drilling seems to be a safer option since large-scale drilling could deplete the water supply much faster than it can be replaced, leading to further shortages in the future.
Measuring the ratio of a specific carbon isotope may enable scientists to determine whether carbon dioxide is from natural sources or from the burning of fossil fuels. Carbon-14 decays over thousands of years, so there is little to none found in fossil fuels and it therefore isn’t present in the CO2 released when they are burned.
While some glaciers such as those in the Karakoram are doing just fine, glaciers are on average out of balance and losing mass worldwide. More ice is melting each year than is replenished by snowfall in the following winter, leading to gradual shrinking of the ice in the Alps and other regions. Fortunately, so far the areas with the most retreat don’t have much ice to begin with and therefore won’t cause too much rise in sea levels.
In more environmental news, global climate change seems to be speeding up the water cycle, which may lead to more extreme weather. Warmer temperatures lead to higher rates of evaporation which leads to stronger storms and more rainfall. Just what we needed. The research is in preliminary stages so the full impact is not yet known, but if initial estimates bear out, it’s gonna suck.
Researchers have made a breakthrough in figuring out how birds navigate using the earth’s magnetic field. The pigeons that were studied have a cluster of brain cells that can detect the strength and direction of magnetic fields, acting like a compass integrated into their brains. Further study is needed to figure out exactly how that compass allows them to follow migratory paths, but it’s thought that they store a map in their hippocampus, which is where memories of locations are stored.
A hen in Sri Lanka gave birth to a live chick after incubating the egg inside her body. The chick was born after hatching internally, and is none the worse for wear. Sadly, the mother didn’t fare as well and died of internal injuries.
A cow in California has tested positive for mad cow disease. Fortunately it’s a dairy cow and the disease isn’t transmitted though milk, so no need to panic.
Some populations of koalas are being listed as vulnerable under Australian environmental law. In many parts of the country koalas are thriving, but their numbers are dropping at a precipitous rate in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, mostly due to habitat loss, disease, and dangers from increased human populations such as dog attacks and being hit by cars. With this new protection come funds to research koala habitats to try to find ways to better protect them.
24 new species of skinks have been identified in the Caribbean. Some were identified from museum species and may already be extinct in the wild, and many others are close to extinction, largely due to mongoose brought in by farmers to kill rats on sugarcane plantations.
Reef shark populations are on the decline in the Pacific, with numbers dropping by as much as 90% around populated islands. Sad.
In happier shark news, researchers are studying the tiny smalleye pygmy sharks to determine the origin of bioluminescence in sharks. Apparently more than 10% of sharks have the ability to glow, either to disguise their silhouettes against the brighter sky above or in some cases, to communicate in dark water. Cool!
The sonic screwdriver is one step closer to reality. Hooray! Researchers invented a device that uses ultrasound waves to move and rotate objects, which could lead to advances in medical procedures that use ultrasound instead of incisions. (I’m not sure how a writer for the BBC thinks his name is “Doctor Who” and no one there managed to catch it in editing. Y’all make the show! /nerd)