Undersea Cables Are the Latest Tools for Earthquake Detection

These very words may have flown through an undersea cable before reaching your eyeballs. Hundreds of thousands of miles of fiber optics crisscross the world’s oceans, shuttling emails, Netflix shows, and news articles as packets of light. And, scientifically speaking, boy does that light have a story to tell—not so much about what happens on […]

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The Wetlands Are Drowning

Schoenoplectus americanus, or the chairmaker’s bulrush, is a common wetland plant in the Americas, and it has an existential problem. It has chosen to live in a place where it is always at risk of being drowned.  Like all plants, the bulrush requires oxygen to produce energy. One solution is obvious: Send shoots skyward like […]

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What the World’s Largest Organism Reveals About Fires and Forests

Despite concerns raised by Weaver and others in the field, fire suppression became a cornerstone of forest management. And at first, coinciding with a relatively cool, wet period, it seemed to work. Fires across the American West were limited and generally controllable. For about 50 years, this fire regime was presumed to be normal. The […]

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Nuclear Fusion Is Already Facing a Fuel Crisis

In the south of France, ITER is inching towards completion. When it’s finally fully switched on in 2035, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor will be the largest device of its kind ever built, and the flag-bearer for nuclear fusion. Inside a donut-shaped reaction chamber called a tokamak, two types of hydrogen, called deuterium and tritium, […]

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The Online Spider Market Is Massive—and Crawling With Issues

Stewart says public interest in spiders and scorpions has exploded as people realize they are actually low-maintenance pets that don’t need walking three times a day and can be kept in apartments or small homes without a backyard. “They’re fascinating creatures, and they’re beautiful,” says Stewart, who has been collecting them for the past 20 […]

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This Is Where Dirty Old Cars Go to Die

With each passing year, emissions from cars keep rising. Global carbon emissions from passenger road vehicles measured 2.5 gigatonnes in 2000. By 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, that had increased to 3.6 gigatonnes. The reason? People keep buying gas-guzzlers. Around 15 million new vehicles were sold in the United States […]

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The Almighty Squabble Over Who Gets to Name Microbes

IN DECEMBER 2009, a submarine plunged 2,000 meters into the Gulf of California and emerged clutching a whole new branch of life. The deep-sea craft hadn’t uncovered a new species of fish, or some hitherto unknown crustacean, but something much more profound. In one of the most alien environments on Earth, the submarine had found […]

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Carbon-Rich Peat Is Disappearing. But Is It Also Growing?

All of this creates a contradiction that scientists are only beginning to investigate: As the Arctic warms, more peat dries out and ignites, but more vegetation grows, which could eventually form new peat. “People think that there are no new peatlands initiating at the moment, but our data is—very tentatively, at least—showing that this is […]

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Farming Drives Toward ‘Precision Agriculture’ Technologies

This story originally appeared on Undark and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration. Across Midwestern farms, if Girish Chowdhary has his way, farmers will someday release beagle-sized robots into their fields like a pack of hounds flushing pheasant. The robots, he says, will scurry in the cool shade beneath a wide diversity of plants, […]

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A Powerful ISS Instrument Will Hunt for Minerals in Dusty Lands

What blows through the Sahara doesn’t stay in the Sahara. The vast African desert regularly burps up clouds of dust that fly into Europe, turning snow-capped mountains orange. They travel clear across the Atlantic Ocean, fertilizing the Amazon rain forest with phosphorus. The stuff can even reach the United States.  But for all their bluster, […]

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The Desert’s Fragile Skin Can’t Take Much More Heat

“When you trample it, you’re resetting a clock that’s been going for a long time back to zero,” says Finger-Higgens, whose latest findings on biocrust degradation were published last month in PNAS. “And so now the system has to repair itself.” To keep her plots devoid of damage, Finger-Higgins prefers to keep quiet about the […]

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A New Gas-Guzzling Postal Fleet Could Be Halted by Lawsuits

This story originally appeared on Mother Jones and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration. The saga of the United States Postal Service’s planned gas-guzzling fleet continues. Sixteen states and two environmental activist groups—Earthjustice and the National Resources Defense Council—are suing the USPS to halt its purchase of a fleet of of gas-guzzling mail trucks. […]

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Burning Crops to Capture Carbon? Good Luck Finding Water

A major consideration is the kind of crop you’d grow to feed a wide-scale BECCS system. That would probably be switchgrass or Miscanthus, another kind of grass, neither of which need as much water or added nutrients as a crop like corn. “They’re quite efficient,” says David Lawrence, a climate scientist at the National Center […]

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A Vast Underground Water System Helps Drive Antarctica’s Glaciers

Lake Whillans is a strange body of water, starting with the fact that there is liquid to fill it at all. Though buried under more than 2,000 feet of Antarctic ice, its temperatures climb to just shy of 0 degrees Celsius, thanks to a combination of geothermal warmth, intense friction from ice scraping rock, and […]

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You Don’t Have to Quit Meat to Save the Planet—Just Eat Less

In April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change dropped a gargantuan report examining how humans might mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. The entire report runs almost 3,000 pages, but the bit you really need to know about comes 50 pages in and lists all the ways we can reduce emissions right now. Switching […]

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The Pandemic Gave Scientists a New Way to Spy on Emissions

Think of the sky as a big bowl of blue soup. Its ingredients include oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, which scientists can precisely measure. But ever since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been adding heaps of extra CO2 by burning fossil fuels, warming the planet 1.2 degrees Celsius so far and complicating those calculations.  While […]

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Everyone Wants to Build Green Energy Projects. What’s the Holdup?

For green energy experts, it seems like there’s too much of a good thing right now. While it’s great that there are enough wind, solar, and battery storage projects planned to meet the United States’ climate goals, a growing bottleneck in the nation’s electric grid is keeping most of these projects grounded. The problem stems […]

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Give Fitbits (of Sorts) to the Trees

You might look at a tree swaying in the wind and see botanical tranquility—a hypnotic back and forth of life interacting with air. Scientists appreciate that too, but they also see something else: data in motion. It turns out that the way a tree moves says a lot about its biology, the local hydrology, and […]

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The Queen Conch’s Gambit

Archaeologists don’t know exactly how many Taíno survived the enslavement, massacres, and diseases that marked the following centuries—though genetic sampling reveals significant Indigenous ancestry in contemporary Puerto Rico. But Taíno stories and artifacts stress the importance of conchs: in their fishing and diving traditions; in the infinite piles of conch they harvested, ate, and honed […]

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It’s Not Too Late to Stop Mass Extinction in the Ocean

When Deutsch and Penn ran their models to find out how species would respond in the very high- and low-emissions scenarios, they found two dramatically different visions of the planet’s future. In the very high-emissions scenario, the projected mass extinction rivals the severity of the previous “Big Five” extinctions in Earth’s past—including the Permian-Triassic extinction […]

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