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Real-time feedback helps save energy and water

Those who take long showers use a great deal of water and energy. Yet people who enjoy taking long showers do not usually realize to what extent they are damaging the environment. However, if a clever measuring system shows current consumption, this immediately leads to increased efficiency. The consumption information available on the display is incentive enough to reduce water and energy consumption when showering on average by 22 per cent. This was shown by a study conducted by the Universities of Bonn and Bamberg, as well as ETH Zurich. The results have initially been published online in the journal Management Science. The print edition will be published soon.

Could Rudolph and friends help to slow down our warming climate?

Reindeer may be best known for pulling Santa’s sleigh, but a new study suggests they may have a part to play in slowing down climate change too.A team of researchers, writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found that when reindeer reduce the height and abundance of shrubs on the Arctic tundra through grazing, the level of surface albedo – the amount of solar energy (shortwave radiation) reflected by the Earth back into space – is increased. 

Studying the distant past in the Galapagos Islands

The Galápagos Islands are home to a tremendous diversity of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. But why this is, and when it all began, remains something of an open question. Now scientists may have at least one more piece of the puzzle. According to a new study out today in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, the geologic formation of one particular part of the archipelago–the part responsible for the huge biodiversity–formed, approximately 1.6 million years ago.

Game Changer for Organic Solar Cells

With a new technique for manufacturing single-layer organic polymer solar cells, scientists at UC Santa Barbara and three other universities might very well move organic photovoltaics into a whole new generation of wearable devices and enable small-scale distributed power generation.The simple doping solution-based process involves briefly immersing organic semiconductor films in a solution at room temperature. This technique, which could replace a more complex approach that requires vacuum processing, has the potential to affect many device platforms, including organic printed electronics, sensors, photodetectors and light-emitting diodes. The researchers’ findings appear in the journal Nature Materials.

For platinum catalysts, a tiny squeeze gives a big boost in performance, Stanford study finds

A nanosize squeeze can significantly boost the performance of platinum catalysts that help generate energy in fuel cells, according to a new study by Stanford scientists.The team bonded a platinum catalyst to a thin material that expands and contracts as electrons move in and out, and found that squeezing the platinum a fraction of a nanometer nearly doubled its catalytic activity. The findings are published in the Nov. 25 issue of the journal Science.

Study: Carbon-Hungry Plants Impede Growth Rate of Atmospheric CO2

New findings suggest the rate at which CO2 is accumulating in the atmosphere has plateaued in recent years because Earth’s vegetation is grabbing more carbon from the air than in previous decades.That’s the conclusion of a multi-institutional study led by a scientist from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). It’s based on extensive ground and atmospheric observations of CO2, satellite measurements of vegetation, and computer modeling. The research is published online Nov. 8 in the journal Nature Communications.

Drought conditions slow the growth of Douglas fir trees across the West

Whether growing along the rim of the Grand Canyon or living in the mist with California's coastal redwoods, Douglas fir trees are consistently sensitive to drought conditions that occur throughout the species' range in the United States, according to a study led by a researcher at the University of California, Davis.The study, published Aug. 8 in the journalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides direct evidence of the negative impact of water stress on forest ecosystems. It also pinpointed which conditions are causing low growth among Douglas fir trees.

Antarctic sea ice may be a source of mercury in Southern Ocean fish and birds

New research has found methylmercury – a potent neurotoxin – in sea ice in the Southern Ocean.Published today in the journal Nature Microbiology, the results are the first to show that sea-ice bacteria can change mercury into methylmercury, a more toxic form that can contaminate the marine environment, including fish and birds.If ingested, methylmercury can travel to the brain, causing developmental and physical problems in foetuses, infants and children.

Energy from sunlight: Further steps towards artificial photosynthesis

Chemists from the Universities of Basel and Zurich in Switzerland have come one step closer to generating energy from sunlight: for the first time, they were able to reproduce one of the crucial phases of natural photosynthesis with artificial molecules. Their results have been published by the journal Angewandte Chemie (international edition).Green plants are able to temporarily store electric charges after the absorption of sunlight by using a so-called molecular charge accumulator. The two research teams were able to observe this process in artificial molecules that they created specifically for this experiment.

Carbon dioxide fertilization is greening the Earth

From a quarter to half of Earth’s vegetated lands has shown significant greening over the last 35 years largely due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change on April 25.