Science News Roundup: 6/26/12

It’s science news time, kiddos! Get ready for a dose of sexin’ turtles, a cute babby hippo, global warming fuckery, and Mickey Mouse in space!

Photograph of Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island giant Galapagos tortoise
RIP, Lonesome George. Image via Flickr user Mike Weston

Turtle News! Lonesome George, the last known living member of the Pinta Island subspecies of giant Galapagos tortoises, has died in captivity at an estimated age of over 100 years old. Sad. And some ancient turtles apparently went out with a bang, so to speak. Researchers at the Messel Pit near Darmstadt, Germany have unearthed several pairs of turtles who were fossilized mid-copulation. They theorize that the turtles may have gathered in shallow water to reproduce and then were poisoned by a sudden release of volcanic gasses. At least they died happy.

Fossilized remains of a large female turtle and smaller male turtle mid-copulation
Poor bastards never saw it coming.

Sika deer in Japan have an unusual way of finding food: spying on macaques. Researchers found that by playing macaque feeding calls over loudspeakers, they could get the deer to congregate in the area from which they heard the calls. Both species eat the fruit of camphor trees, so the deer follow the monkeys to take advantage of any dropped fruits.

Baby news! An endangered Sumatran rhinoceros was born in captivity for only the fifth time ever, and it was the first such birth in Asia since 1889. Named Andatu, or “gift from God,” the birth is hoped to be an important step toward bringing the species back from the brink of extinction. And he’s pretty cute too!

Image of mother Sumatran rhino with her newborn standing next to her
That’s a face only a mother could love. (Antara/M. Agung Rajasa)

The very air conditioners that bring relief from increasingly hot summers are, in fact, making the problem much worse. CFC coolants (commonly known by the trademark name freon) were banned from air conditioners because they deplete the earth’s ozone layer, and while the replacement chemicals cause far less damage to the ozone, they have devastating effects on global warming. The chemical currently used most frequently in the U.S. causes 2,100 times more warming than carbon dioxide, and with the spread of air conditioners worldwide, it’s estimated that 27% of global warming could be caused by these chemicals by 2050.

In further global warming news, sea levels are rising faster on America’s east coast than elsewhere in the world. Globally, the waters have risen about 2″ worldwide since 1990, but increases along the eastern seaboard range from  2.8″ in New York City to an astonishing 4.8″ in Norfolk, Virginia. Changes in currents and ensuing changes in the slope of the ocean’s surface are the most likely culprits of the uneven levels. Estimates show that the seas could rise as much as 3.3′ across the globe by 2100, and if this trend continues, the east coast could see an increase of closer to 4′. Yikes. And in a stunning example of illogic, the North Carolina legislature’s reaction to a state commission that predicted a 39″ sea level rise was to propose a bill that would only allow sea level forecasts based on historical data, not global warming trends. Head, meet desk.

News of which I don’t quite understand the workings but the findings sound cool! Twisting beams of light makes it possible to transmit data at incredibly fast speeds, more than one terabyte per second. The technique won’t work with current fiber-optic cables since they distort twisted light. Scientists have devised a molecule that can make “magnetic emulsions” to aid in the cleanup of oil spills. Finally, nanoparticles that shrink under UV light may be the next frontier in delivering medications directly into tumors. Badass!

Space news! Mars may have more subsurface water stores than were previously estimated. Analysis of two meteorites that were blasted out of Mars’ mantle (likely by a meteorite strike there) and landed on Earth about 2.5 million years ago shows that the interior of Mars probably has a water level of about 70-300 parts per million, as compared to Earth’s mantle which has about 50-300ppm. And NASA’s Messenger probe has found an unusual crater formation on Mercury. (All the Pluto jokes have been made already, sorry.)

Overlapping craters on the surface of Mercury that resemble Mickey Mouse
M-I-C; see you in space! K-E-Y; why? The human tendency to ascribe patterns to random events! M-O-U-S-E! (NASA/Johns Hopkins University)

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[E] Hillary

Hillary is a giant nerd and former Mathlete. She once read large swaths of "Why Evolution is True" and a geology book aloud to her infant daughter, in the hopes of a) instilling a love of science in her from a very young age and b) boring her to sleep. After escaping the wilds of Waco, Texas and spending the next decade in NYC, she currently lives in upstate New York, where she misses being able to get decent pizza and Chinese takeout delivered to her house. She lost on Jeopardy.

14 thoughts on “Science News Roundup: 6/26/12”

  1. I read somewhere (sorry, one news site, that I don’t remember) that the reason Virginia was getting more water level changes was also due to the shrinking of the glaciers…like the glaciers were pushing down on the top of the continental shelf, and now that the glaciers are shrinking, the continent isn’t pushed down as much, so it is leveling out, which is making Virginia dip further into the ocean.  I’m not sure if I believe it, I don’t have much background in geology.

    1. Continental rebound is real. As the ice melts off the continental crust weighs less and doesn’t sink as far into the mantle. Since there are more mountains and therefore more ice on the west side of the continent, that side is rising faster and tipping the east coast lower, which could partially account for higher sea levels in the long term. The southern part of the continent is also sinking as a result of the ice fields in the far north melting, which causes the crust to rebound quickly. However, I don’t know how much work has been done matching up the predicted increases in sea level with the predicted rise in the land, or how fast they’re moving relative to each other. I’m pretty sure oceans are rising faster than land, but hopefully in the long term some of the damage will be offset. (Of course, Africa, Australia, and most oceanic islands don’t have ice to melt off and won’t benefit from the rebound. Kilimanjaro has a few glaciers, but not enough to make any difference.) Wikipedia has a pretty good overview if you’re interested.

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