Science News Roundup: 5/29/12

We’ve got some good news about frakking for a change! And shitty news about climate change, sigh. But another new dinosaur was unearthed recently, a surprising shark repellent has been discovered, and the search is on for Bigfoot. I can’t wait!

Vermont has become the first state in the U.S. to ban frakking. Since Vermont isn’t thought to have much in the way of natural gas shales this ban is pretty much an empty gesture, but it’s a good start!

study that analyzed 27 different natural markers of historical climates has concluded that the last 60 years have been the hottest in Australasia over the last 1,000 years. There were no similar periods of long-term heat in the pre-industrial years, leading the researchers to conclude that the warming is due to human damage to the environment, not any sort of natural climate fluctuations.

More climate news! Melting arctic ice is releasing deposits of methane that had been trapped for thousands of years. Methane is second only to carbon dioxide in its effects on global warming. About 150,000 seeps have been identified in Alaska and Greenland alone; there are probably many more across Canada and Siberia. We’re fucked.

An American chemist has discovered an unusual shark repellent: magnets. While researching a possible chemical repellent, Eric Stroud accidentally dropped a magnet near the nurse sharks he was studying and they swam away. Sharks have sensory organs called the ampullae of Lorenzini that detect the location of prey in the water along with the earth’s magnetic field. It’s thought that, in some species at least, magnets can overload these sensors and cause the shark to swim away in distress. Certain rare earth metals have a similar effect. Stroud is currently testing special magnetic hooks for use in tuna fishing that will hopefully reduce the number of sharks caught accidentally. Check out the video below for a demonstration of how a lemon shark reacts to magnet.

New research shows that some whales can adjust their hearing to protect against loud noises. A false killer whale was trained to expect a loud beep following a much quieter one; over time electrical sensors showed a reduced spike in brain activity when the loud beep was played because she anticipated it and turned down the sensitivity of her hearing. I wish I could do that!

A new species of raptor was discovered in Utah. Dubbed Yurgovuchia doellingi, it was only about the size of a coyote and lived sometime between 120 and 130 million years ago. Several other sets of fossilized remains found in the same area may represent even more new dinosaur species, but more bones are needed to know for sure.

A 16-year-old student has solved a mathematical problem first posed by Sir Isaac Newton over 300 years ago, along with formulating a second equation to solve a problem that has baffled mathematicians since the 1800s. Shouryya Ray was born in India, moved to Germany at age 12 without even speaking a word of German, and is now being hailed as a genius after solving the equations just to see if he could. Badass, dude.

Meerkats may be in trouble due to an increase in inbreeding. A recent study found that 44% of the newborns tested showed signs of inbreeding, and these inbred babies were smaller than the others, decreasing their odds of survival. Meerkats don’t breed with family members that live in the same groups, but apparently can’t recognize close relatives that live in separate clans. Scientists are now worried that other species may be similarly affected.

Two meerkats, one with its head on the ground between its front paws and the other looking at the ground
Oh, man, I didn't know we were cousins!

I’ve saved the best for last. A team of scientists from the UK and Switzerland are planning to look for DNA evidence of the existence of yetis and Sasquatch. They plan to collect samples of fur that believers claim as evidence that Bigfoot is alive and well and then test the samples to see if they do in fact come from unknown humanoid species or if they’re fraudulent. I can’t wait to see the results of this one. Either they will (almost certainly) determine that the “proof” is all so much bullshit, or we’ll find out that the world is even stranger than most of us believe.

By [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.

10 replies on “Science News Roundup: 5/29/12”

Methane may be second in causing the effects of global warming, but equivalent amounts of methane to CO2 will do soooo much more damage in the long run. Melting permafrost, ice sheets, and whatnot that are releasing stores of methane are just one massively nasty feedback loop that we can do absolutely nothing to stop and/or counteract. Man, sometimes working in ecology and climate change sciences is really depressing.

On the plus side: I <3 VT.
so so much.

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