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Stanford Elephant Research Goes Fully Solar; Ushering Carbon Dating Into the Future

Discovered: Stanford research encampment fueled solely by sun; Japanese lake key to updated carbon dating; expiring tax credit could stall wind power; global warming changes sea acoustics. 

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Discovered: Stanford research encampment fueled solely by sun; Japanese lake key to updated carbon dating; expiring tax credit could stall wind power; global warming changes sea acoustics. 

Elephant researchers go 100 percent solar. Hollywood often depicts field research as a rugged endeavor, showing Indiana Jones type scientists roughing it in the Savanna with little more than a rucksack and machete. In reality, research conducted from remote outposts is much more complicated. Stanford University researchers studying elephants in Namibia's Etosha National Park, for example, need power to keep their computers, refrigerators, and photographic equipment humming. But instead of relying on noisy generators that pollute and scare the elephants away, Caitlin O'Connell-Rodwell and her colleagues have outfitted their encampment with solar panels. "Basically, all of our high-tech electronics are run off of a couple of solar panels, a couple of batteries and an inverter," says O'Connell-Rodwell. "The sun does the rest." See a brief documentary about the researchers' eco-friendly digs below: [Stanford University]

Bringing carbon dating up to date. "It's like getting a higher-resolution telescope," is how the University of Oxford's Christopher Bronk Ramsey describes his discovery of exquisitely preserved samples of radioactive carbon-14 isotopes found in the sediment of a Japanese lake. The sediment captures atmospheric carbon levels going back 52,800 years and will help scientists hone carbon dating techniques, improving current estimates by hundreds of years. Trees offer the best historical snapshot of atmospheric carbon levels, but they only go back 13,000 years at most. Bronk Ramsey says finding this soil sediment in Lake Suigetsu was a unique find: "It’s not unusual to have lakes with varves for short periods, but to have one that extends to the last ice age is unusual."Carbon dating is significant to global warming research because it allows scientists to study the historical connection between human activity, atmospheric carbon leves, and climate change. [The Scientist]

Global warming increases sound quality of the ocean. Unmitigated global warming may wreak havoc on every other facet of the Earth's ecosystem, but it's quite the boon for audiophile fish. As the ocean acidifies due to rising temperatures, low-frequency sounds such as whale vocalizations will travel further through the ocean at greater clarity, according to a new study from the Acoustical Society of America's David G. Browning and colleagues. Sounding like the marine biologist equivalent of vinyl fetishists bashing mp3s, Browning says, "We call it the Cretaceous acoustic effect, because ocean acidification forced by global warming appears to be leading us back to the similar ocean acoustic conditions as those that existed 110 million years ago, during the Age of Dinosaurs." You know, back when sound quality was really killer. [American Institute of Physics]

Wind power is booming, but a tax credit expiration could change that. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has good news and bad news. First, the good. Wind power developers have installed a record high number of wind turbines in 2012, upping America's wind power-producing capacities to 50,000 megawatts. That's enough to power 13 million homes! Now, the bad. Much of that progress has been achieved with a leg-up from a federal tax credit for producers of renewable energy, which is up for expiration at the end of this year. Every year since 2005, the tax credit accounts for a $15 billion investment per year. "This is what a successful policy looks like when it's working, but whether wind will continue to be a bright spot in the U.S. economy now depends on whether Congress acts to extend the production tax credit by the end of the year," says AWEA chief executive Denise Bode. [Scientific American]

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