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Flipping the switch on ammonia production

Nearly a century ago, German chemist Fritz Haber won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for a process to generate ammonia from hydrogen and nitrogen gases. The process, still in use today, ushered in a revolution in agriculture, but now consumes around one percent of the world’s energy to achieve the high pressures and temperatures that drive the chemical reactions to produce ammonia.Today, University of Utah chemists publish a different method, using enzymes derived from nature, that generates ammonia at room temperature. As a bonus, the reaction generates a small electrical current. The method is published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

Change in astronaut's gut bacteria attributed to spaceflight

Northwestern University researchers studying the gut bacteria of Scott and Mark Kelly, NASA astronauts and identical twin brothers, as part of a unique human study have found that changes to certain gut “bugs” occur in space.The Northwestern team is one of 10 NASA-funded research groups studying the Kelly twins to learn how living in space for a long period of time — such as a mission to Mars — affects the human body. While Scott spent nearly a year in space, his brother, Mark, remained on Earth, as a ground-based control.

Study Finds Parrotfish are Critical to Coral Reef Health

An analysis of fossilized parrotfish teeth and sea urchin spines by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego showed that when there are more algae-eating fish on a reef, it grows faster.In the new study, published in the Jan. 23 issue of the journal Nature Communication, Scripps researchers Katie Cramer and Richard Norris developed a 3,000-year record of the abundance of parrotfish and urchins on reefs from the Caribbean side of Panama to help unravel the cause of the alarming modern-day shift from coral- to algae-dominated reefs occurring across the Caribbean.“Our reconstruction of past and present reefs from fossils demonstrates that when overfishing wipes out parrotfish, reef health declines,” said Cramer, a postdoctoral researcher at Scripps and lead author of the study.

Americans believe climate change connected to location and local weather

A new study finds local weather may play an important role in Americans’ belief in climate change. The study, published on Monday, found that Americans’ belief that the earth is warming is related to the frequency of weather-related events they experience, suggesting that local changes in their climate influence their acceptance of this worldwide phenomenon. “One of the greatest challenges to communicating scientific findings about climate change is the cognitive disconnect between local and global events,” said Michael Mann, associate professor of geography at George Washington University and co-author of the paper. “It is easy to assume that what you experience at home must be happening elsewhere.”

Study: Maximizing grain yields won't meet future African needs

Maximizing cereal crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa would still fail to meet the region’s skyrocketing grain demand by 2050, according to a new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Wageningen University and multiple African institutions.

Warming global temperatures may not affect carbon stored deep in northern peatlands, study says

Deep stores of carbon in northern peatlands may be safe from rising temperatures, according to a team of researchers from several U.S.-based institutions.And that is good news for now, the researchers said.Florida State University research scientist Rachel Wilson and University of Oregon graduate student Anya Hopple are the first authors on a new study published today in Nature Communications. The study details experiments suggesting that carbon stored in peat—a highly organic material found in marsh or damp regions—may not succumb to the Earth's warming as easily as scientists thought.

Climate Change Will Drive Stronger, Smaller Storms in U.S.

The effects of climate change will likely cause smaller but stronger storms in the United States, according to a new framework for modeling storm behavior developed at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory. Though storm intensity is expected to increase over today’s levels, the predicted reduction in storm size may alleviate some fears of widespread severe flooding in the future.The new approach, published today in Journal of Climate, uses new statistical methods to identify and track storm features in both observational weather data and new high-resolution climate modeling simulations. When applied to one simulation of the future effects of elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide, the framework helped clarify a common discrepancy in model forecasts of precipitation changes.

Bioenergy grass can withstand freezing temperatures

March 2012 was unusually warm. Biomass crops around the Midwest were well established and thriving. But when a late frost came in mid-April, all of that changed.“When I went out in the morning, I was just shocked,” says University of Illinois agronomist D.K. Lee. “All the grasses were covered in frost. By noon, Miscanthus and switchgrass had turned black. The only plant that was untouched was prairie cordgrass.”

With Climate Change, Not All Wildlife Population Shifts Are Predictable

Wildlife ecologists who study the effects of climate change assume, with support from several studies, that warming temperatures caused by climate change are forcing animals to move either northward or upslope on mountainsides to stay within their natural climate conditions.But a new study of lowland and higher-mountain bird species by wildlife ecologists Bill DeLuca and David King at the University of Massachusetts Amherst now reports an unexpected and “unprecedented” inconsistency in such shifts. The majority of the mountain bird community responded against expectation and shifted downslope despite warming trends in the mountains. They say the result “highlights the need for caution when applying conventional expectations to species’ responses to climate change.”