New maps of Malaysian Borneo reveal worsening carbon losses along forest edges

Tropical forests are heavily fragmented as they are cleared for agricultural expansion and logging. Forest fragmentation leads to declines in carbon storage beyond just those trees that are cleared—the remaining forest at the edge of each clearing experiences environmental alterations such as increased sunlight and decreased soil moisture that can impact growing conditions for trees. These “edge effects” describe habitat disturbances that can lead to decreased tree growth and increased mortality, which change forest structure over time.

Co-occurring contaminants may increase NC groundwater risks

Contaminants that occur together naturally in groundwater under certain geological conditions may heighten health risks for millions of North Carolinians whose drinking water comes from private wells, and current safety regulations don’t address the problem, a new Duke University study finds.

New 3-D view of methane tracks sources

NASA’s new 3-dimensional portrait of methane concentrations shows the world’s second largest contributor to greenhouse warming, the diversity of sources on the ground, and the behavior of the gas as it moves through the atmosphere. Combining multiple data sets from emissions inventories, including fossil fuel, agricultural, biomass burning and biofuels, and simulations of wetland sources into a high-resolution computer model, researchers now have an additional tool for understanding this complex gas and its role in Earth’s carbon cycle, atmospheric composition, and climate system.

Coal exit benefits outweigh its costs

Coal combustion is not only the single most important source of CO2, accounting for more than a third of global emissions, but also a major contributor to detrimental effects on public health and biodiversity. Yet, globally phasing out coal remains one of the hardest political nuts to crack. New computer simulations by an international team of researchers are now providing robust economic arguments for why it is worth the effort: For once, their simulations show that the world cannot stay below the 2 degrees limit if we continue to burn coal. Second, the benefits of phasing out coal clearly outweigh the costs. Third, those benefits occur mostly locally and short-term, which make them useful for policy makers.

Simple framework helps future ocean studies

A range of information is collated through a simple framework that will help marine scientists to design more accurate experiments that will better help them understand the projected impact of global warming on marine life.

The relationship between Andean vegetation, precipitation and soil erosion

Plants may stabilize slopes, yet rainfall often intensifies soil erosion. Until now, just how these two things interact to form mountain topography was only clear for a few small regions on Earth. In a new study, Professor Todd Ehlers, Dr. Jessica Starke and Dr. Mirjam Schaller of the Geosciences department at the University of Tübingen, Germany, investigated how plants and climate shape topography. They did this in a large study of the 3,500 kilometer long western edge of the Andes Mountains in Peru and Chile. They found that the question of how plants influence the landscape and erosion can have different answers, depending on what area is investigated. Key factors identified are the climate zone and plant cover. In the dry Atacama Desert, for example, sparse vegetation is sufficient to hold the soil in place; while higher erosion rates can be seen in the wetter and more temperate regions where plant cover is denser. The study has been published in the latest edition of the journal Science.

How oceans and atmospheres move heat around on Earth and other planetary bodies

Imagine a massive mug of cold, dense cream with hot coffee poured on top. Now place it on a rotating table. Over time, the fluids will slowly mix into each other, and heat from the coffee will eventually reach the bottom of the mug. But as most of us impatient coffee drinkers know, stirring the layers together is a more efficient way to distribute the heat and enjoy a beverage that’s not scalding hot or ice cold. The key is the swirls, or vortices, that formed in the turbulent liquid.