Discovered: First sighting of spade-toothed whale; huge temperature spike predicted in this century; natural insect repellant; how an ancient volcano eruption precipitated acid rain.
Temperatures could soar come 2100. When even one of the Big Four accountancy firms says that global warming is speeding up at alarming rates, maybe it's time to end the debate on whether climate change is happening or not. PricewaterhouseCoopers has issued a report detailing the effects irresponsible fossil fuel use will have on our climate's future, estimating that temperatures could rise by six degrees Celsius (about 11 degrees Fahrenheit) by the year 2100. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change set a goal of keeping climate change reigned in to an increase of no more than two degrees (Celsius) every century, but it's not looking like we'll be able to meet that. The global economy would have to "decarbonize" by 5.1 percent every year for nearly four decades if we plan to get back in that range. Reductions of that scale have never happend since records began at the end of World War II. PwC partner Leo Johnson, one of the researchers behind these alarming figures, says, "This isn't shock tactics, it's simple maths. We're heading into uncharted territory for the scale of transformation and technical innovations required. Whatever the scenario, or response, business as usual is not an option." [The Independent]
Spade-toothed whales spotted. Up until now, we've only known the spade-toothed whale through its remains. A Scottish geologist named James Hector identified a skull bone discovered on New Zealand's Pitt island in 1871 as belonging to a distinct species of beaked whale, due to its protruding jaw. But for nearly a century and a half, no one had ever seen a spade-toothed whale. Until 2010, when people hanging out on New Zealand's Opape Beach saw a male and female spade-toothed whale wash ashore. Of course, they didn't know that the creatures were spade-toothed whales, but they called in experts from Department of Conservation, who were sure to take samples from the beached whales before they died. Later, in the lab, Kirsten Thompson of the University of Auckland was able to make a match—these were the first spade-toothed whales to have ever been positively identified by human eyes. The authors behind a paper just published in Current Biology write, "We can now confirm that the spade-toothed whale is extant and for the first time we have a description of the world’s rarest and perhaps most enigmatic marine mammal." [Discover]
Natural insect repellant. Many popular bug sprays contain DEET, a compound detected in many streams which the Environmental Protection Agency considers "slightly toxic" to wildlife. But no one likes to return from their camping trips covered in mosquito bites. So if scientists can find naturally occurring insect repellants in nature, everyone wins. USDA scientists have found one potential candidate, isolating bug-thwarting components in Jatropha curcas seed oil. Scientists aren't the first to discover this use for Jatropha curcas—people in India and Africa have been burning the oil to fend off bugs for a long time now. Charles Cantrell, a researcher with the Agricultural Research Service's Natural Products Utilization Research Unit, determined fatty acids and triglycerides to be the active bug-repelling ingredients in this substance. This is the first known case of triglycerides having insect repellant properties. [USDA]
How an ancient volcano eruption doused the Earth in acid rain. When the Toba volcano located in present-day Sumatra, Indonesia erupted 74,000 years ago, it brought on an intense period of climate change. That tends to happen when tons of ash and sulphuric acid are spewed into the atmosphere in an eruption 5,000 times bigger than Mount St Helena's in 1980. Some scientists estimate that temperatures dipped 10 degrees for decades afterwards, having drastic affects on early Homo sapiens. Researchers have long theorized that the eruption was large enough to spread acid rain over Earth's entire surface, and now researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute have found evidence of just such a downpour in the ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica. "We have long had an idea of at what depth the Toba eruption could be found in the Greenland ice cap, but we found no ash, so we could not be sure," says University of Copenhagen glaciologist Anders Svensson. "Now we have found the same series of acid layers from Toba in the Greenland ice sheet and in the ice cap in Antarctica. We have counted the annual layers between acid peaks in ice cores from the two ice caps and it fits together. This means that we can compare the ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica with annual accuracy and thus combine our knowledge of climate change in the northern and southern hemispheres." [University of Copenhagen]
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