Huge Study of Tiny Plankton a ‘Treasure Trove’

via: Reuters/AFI

Scientists have unveiled the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken of the world’s ocean plankton, the tiny organisms that serve as food for marine creatures such as the blue whale, but also provide half the oxygen we breathe.

The international team of researchers spent three and a half years aboard the schooner Tara, taking 35,000 samples of plankton from 210 sites globally, determining the distribution of the organisms, tracking how they  interact with one another and carrying out genetic analyses.

Plankton include microscopic plants and animals, fish larvae, bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that drift in the oceans.

“Plankton are much more than just food for the whales,” says Chris Bowler, a research director at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, and one of the scientists involved in the studies published in Science today…

(read more: ABC News - Australia)

image: CNRS/Tara Expitions: Christian Sardet

El Niño: active and strengthening

Early in 2014, an El Niño event started forming in the Pacific Ocean. An El Niño is a pattern of ocean circulation where warm water that generally is driven to the western part of the Pacific Ocean instead builds up in the eastern Pacific along the shores of South America (more here:

Because weather patterns are strongly affected by the location of warm ocean waters, weather in El Niño years differs a lot from weather during normal years – my favorite metaphor has always been that it’s like throwing a wrench in Earth’s weather system. You might be able to predict where some debris is going to fly, but you still may need to duck.

The 2014 “El Niño” buildup was very much an oddity. Most El Niño events start in the spring, peak in the winter, and return to normal or maybe slightly above normal conditions within a year. In 2014 that didn’t happen: weak El Niño-like conditions with slightly warmer than usual water in the eastern Pacific lasted through the winter and are still present today. It took until December 2014 for Japan to declare that an El Niño was underway, it took the U.S. until March, and it took Australia until last week.

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Awesome photos show the “Shell No” kayak protest in Seattle this weekend 

This Saturday, hundreds of environmental activists turned out in Seattle to celebrate a day-long festival called the “Paddle in Seattle” and protest Royal Dutch Shell’s plans to increase drilling activities in the Arctic Ocean. 

The protest proved to be as colorful as it was powerful.


Weather on Mars

Mars, like Earth, has weather systems. Martian weather is uniquely Martian however.

The first set of images shows Mars amidst a global dust storm in which the entire planet shrouds itself in a red blanket and almost all the features on the surface are hidden. This happens because the dust on Mars becomes a feedback loop.

When heat from sunlight generates an air current that carries dust into the atmosphere, the dust begins trapping heat which results in more air currents carrying more dust into the air until the entire planet is covered.

On the right you can see Mars during more peaceful times. There are water clouds teasing their way over the cold, desert surface. Because the atmosphere is so sparse, the pressure at the surface isn’t high enough to melt water ice into liquid so it often sublimates into gas form and rises into the atmosphere.

When humanity started exploring Mars, we became intimately more acquainted with the Martian nature.

The Mars Exploration Rovers depend largely upon solar energy to remain alive and on a planet in which global dust storms persist, this can be problematic.

The left image of the Mars Spirit Rover shows the rover after a dust storm. It was in desperate straits where the dust covering its solar array threatened to shut the rover down. Luckily a stray dust devil flew across the panels essentially dusting it off.

NASA’s Viking 2 lander took images of water-frost (included on the bottom left) on the Martian soil. The Phoenix lander saw it snow on Mars.

There are images (shown on the bottom right) taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which show what appears to be flowing water on the slopes of Newton Crater.

The images were taken at such a time that the melting point of ice was suspiciously close (and for salty/briny water was apparently attained). Those sets of images may be of liquid water flowing on the surface of Mars right now.

(Image credit: NASA)


United States Air Force’s McKinley Climatic Laboratory at Eglin AFB, Florida

 Since 1947, the Eglin Climactic Hangar has frozen, baked, deluged, snowed, blown, fogged, and humidified US Air Force aircraft to test their ability to fight in any climate on Earth. The hangar is capable of temperatures from -40 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, it can produce fog, rain, snow, and ice.

Aircraft shown being tested:

  • F-35B Lightning II being ice tested
  • C-5A Galaxy during extreme cold weather testing
  • C-5M Super Galaxy undergoing heat testing
  • YF-104 Starfighter prototype preparing for cold weather testing in 1958
  • F-22 Raptor, with ferry tanks, undergoing cold weather testing
  • F-22 Raptor undergoing heavy rain testing
  • C-130H Hercules undergoing a cold soak
  • C-130J Super Hercules undergoes heat testing
  • F-117 Nighthawk undergoes ice testing in the early 1980′s

via Code One

Neanderthals changed hunting strategy with climate change

Neanderthals occupying the Amud Cave in what is today northern Israel showed exploitation of different hunting territories depending upon the climate in which they lived, suggests researchers in a recent study.

Gideon Hartman of the University of Connecticut and colleagues from an international group of universities and research institutions came to this conclusion by reconstructing the hunting ranges of Neanderthals who occupied the cave at two distinct Ice Age occupational phases separated by about 10,000 years. The first phase occurred during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 4 (71,000 – 129,000 years ago), and the second occurred during Marine Isotope Stage 3 (57,000 – 70,000 years ago). They analyzed the comparison of oxygen, carbon, and strontium isotope samples from the tooth enamel of excavated gazelle remains with modern isotope data from the Amud Cave region. Read more.