Nebraska Bumblebee Outlook Is “Rosier”

(p. A1) The dismal outlook for the American bumblebee across the United States is much rosier in Nebraska, and experts aren’t exactly sure why.

They’re just happy to report that the Bombus pensylvanicus appears to be holding its own here, compared with eight states where the American bumblebee has reportedly disappeared completely.

. . .

(p. A5) “While there is clear decline in parts of this bee’s range, the American bumblebee appears relatively stable in Nebraska based on our recent work,” Lamke said.  . . .

She speculates that one reason numbers are higher in Nebraska than elsewhere is that this is near the center of the once-abundant bee’s territory.

For the full story, see:

Marjie Ducey. “Beleaguered Bumblebee Still Seems to Be Thriving in Nebraska.” Omaha World-Herald (Monday, January 22, 2022): A1 & A5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 11, 2021, and has the title “Threatened American Bumblebee Still Seems to Be Thriving in Nebraska.”)

“Unexpected” Discovery of Large “Pristine” Coral Reef “Unscathed by Climate Change”

(p. A7) An underwater mapping project recently took an unexpected twist off the coast of Tahiti, where deep sea explorers said this week that they had discovered a sprawling coral reef resembling a bed of roses that appeared to be largely unscathed by climate change.

Extending for about three kilometers (1.86 miles), the reef is remarkably well preserved and is among the largest ever found at its depth, according to those involved in the mapping project sponsored by UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Some even described the condition of the reef, hidden at depths between 30 meters (about 100 feet) and 100 meters in the crystalline waters of the South Pacific, as “pristine.”

Alexis Rosenfeld, an underwater photographer from Marseille, France, said on Thursday that the reef lived up to what he had envisioned when he first explored it shortly after its discovery in November [2021].

. . .

John Jackson, a film director with 1 Ocean who is involved with the project, compared the reef’s shape to lacework. In an interview on Thursday [January 20, 2022], he said that significant work remained when it came to underwater exploration, pointing out that only about 20 percent of the world’s seabeds had been mapped.

For the full story, see:

Neil Vigdor. “‘Pristine’ Coral Reef Resembling Bed of Roses Is Found Off the Coast of Tahiti.” The New York Times (Saturday, January 22, 2022): A7.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year and date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 20, 2022, and has the title “Sprawling Coral Reef Resembling Roses Is Discovered Off Tahiti.”)

Red Wolves “Declared Extinct in Wild,” Live in Wild Hybrid Coyotes

(p. D1) From a distance, the canids of Galveston Island, Texas, look almost like coyotes, prowling around the beach at night, eyes gleaming in the dark.

But look closer and oddities appear. The animals’ bodies seem slightly out of proportion, with overly long legs, unusually broad heads and sharply pointed snouts. And then there is their fur, distinctly reddish in hue, with white patches on their muzzles.

The Galveston Island canids are not conventional coyotes — at least, not entirely. They carry a ghostly genetic legacy: DNA from red wolves, which were declared extinct in the wild in 1980.

. . .

(p. D8) Mr. Wooten became convinced that the creatures that had taken his dog were actually red wolf-coyote hybrids, if not actual red wolves.

Eager to prove his hypothesis, he began looking for dead canids by the side of the road. “I was thinking that if these are red wolves then the only way they’re going to be able to tell is with genetics,” he recalled.

He soon found two dead animals, collected a small patch of skin from each and tucked them away in his freezer while he tried, for years, to pique scientists’ interest.

“Sometimes they wouldn’t respond,” he said. “Sometimes they’d say, ‘Yeah, that’s a neat animal. Nothing we can do about it.’ And, ‘They’re extinct. It’s not a red wolf.’”

. . .

Eventually, in 2016, Mr. Wooten’s photos made their way to Dr. vonHoldt, an expert on canid genetics.

The animals in Mr. Wooten’s photos immediately struck her. They “just had a special look,” she said. “And I bit. The whole thing — hook, line and sinker.”

. . .

The hybrids raise new conservation possibilities. For instance, scientists might be able to restore genetic diversity by carefully breeding red wolves to hybrids with high levels of red wolf ancestry. Or they could use artificial reproductive technologies or gene-editing techniques to insert the ghost alleles back into red wolves, Dr. vonHoldt said.

The findings also come as some scientists have begun rethinking the value of interspecies hybrids. “Oftentimes, hybridization is viewed as a real threat to the integrity of a species, which it can be,” Dr. Brzeski said.

One reason that the red wolf populations declined in the wild is because the animals frequently interbred with coyotes. But, she added, “here we have these hybrids that are now potentially going to be the lifeline for the highly endangered red wolves.”

For the full story, see:

Tristan Spinski and Emily Anthes. “Mystery ‘Coyotes’ Hold Key For Revival.” The New York Times (Tuesday, January 4, 2022): D1 & D8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 3, 2021, and has the title “The Ghost Wolves of Galveston Island.”)

Mars Can Be Terraformed to Reduce Costs of Colonization

(p. D5) Since joining NASA in 1980, Jim Green has seen it all. He has helped the space agency understand Earth’s magnetic field, explore the outer solar system and search for life on Mars. As the new year arrived on Saturday, he bade farewell to the agency.

Over the past four decades, which includes 12 years as the director of NASA’s planetary science division and the last three years as its chief scientist, he has shaped much of NASA’s scientific inquiry, overseeing missions across the solar system and contributing to more than 100 scientific papers across a range of topics. While specializing in Earth’s magnetic field and plasma waves early in his career, he went on to diversify his research portfolio.

. . .

Ahead of a December [2021] meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans, Dr. Green spoke about some of this wide-ranging work and the search for life in the solar system. Below are edited and condensed excerpts from our interview.

. . .

    You’ve previously suggested it might be possible to terraform Mars by placing a giant magnetic shield between the planet and the sun, which would stop the sun from stripping its atmosphere, allowing the planet to trap more heat and warm its climate to make it habitable. Is that really doable?

Yeah, it’s doable. Stop the stripping, and the pressure is going to increase. Mars is going to start terraforming itself. That’s what we want: the planet to participate in this any way it can. When the pressure goes up, the temperature goes up.

The first level of terraforming is at 60 millibars, a factor of 10 from where we are now. That’s called the Armstrong limit, where your blood doesn’t boil if you walked out on the surface. If you didn’t need a spacesuit, you could have much more flexibility and mobility. The higher temperature and pressure enable you to begin the process of growing plants in the soils.

There are several scenarios on how to do the magnetic shield. I’m trying to get a paper out I’ve been working on for about two years. It’s not going to be well received. The planetary community does not like the idea of terraforming anything. But you know. I think we can change Venus, too, with a physical shield that reflects light. We create a shield, and the whole temperature starts going down.

For the full story, see:

Jonathan O’Callaghan, interviewer. “Inhabiting Mars? He Calls It ‘Doable.’” The New York Times (Tuesday, January 4, 2022): D5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 2, 2021, and has the title “NASA’s Retiring Top Scientist Says We Can Terraform Mars and Maybe Venus, Too.” The first three paragraphs, and the block-indented sentence and question, are by the interviewer Jonathan O’Callaghan. The answer after the question is by Jim Green.)

“Unsettling” and “Remarkable” That the “Early Atlantification” of the Arctic Was Not Predicted by “Climate Models”

The research summarized below supports the thesis of Steven Koonin’s recent Unsettled book.

(p. D2) Long ago, the two oceans existed in harmony, with warm and salty Atlantic waters gently flowing into the Arctic.

. . .

But everything changed when the larger ocean began flowing faster than the polar ocean could accommodate, weakening the distinction between the layers and transforming Arctic waters into something closer to the Atlantic. This process, called Atlantification, is part of the reason the Arctic is warming faster than any other ocean.

. . .

In a paper published Wednesday [Nov. 24, 2021] in the journal Science Advances, Dr. Tesi and colleagues were able to turn back time with yard-long sediment cores taken from the seafloor, which archived 800 years of historical changes in Arctic waters. Their analysis found Atlantification started at the beginning of the 20th century — decades before the process had been documented by satellite imagery. The Arctic has warmed by around 2 degrees Celsius since 1900. But this early Atlantification did not appear in existing historical climate models, a discrepancy that the authors say may reveal gaps in those estimates.

“It’s a bit unsettling because we rely on these models for future climate predictions,” Dr. Tesi said.

Mohamed Ezat, a researcher at the Tromso campus of the Arctic University of Norway, who was not involved with the research, called the findings “remarkable.”

“Information on long-term past changes in Arctic Ocean hydrography are needed, and long overdue,” Dr. Ezat wrote in an email.

For the full story, see:

Sabrina Imbler. “This Ocean Invaded Its Neighbor Earlier Than Anyone Thought.” The New York Times (Tuesday, November 30, 2021): D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 27, 2021, and has the same title as the print version. The last three sentences quoted above, appear in the online version, but not in the shorter print version. Where there is a slight difference in wording between the two versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

The paper co-authored by Tesi is:

Tesi, Tommaso, Francesco Muschitiello, Gesine Mollenhauer, Stefano Miserocchi, Leonardo Langone, Chiara Ceccarelli, Giuliana Panieri, Jacopo Chiggiato, Alessio Nogarotto, Jens Hefter, Gianmarco Ingrosso, Federico Giglio, Patrizia Giordano, and Lucilla Capotondi. “Rapid Atlantification Along the Fram Strait at the Beginning of the 20th Century.” Science Advances 7, no. 48 (Nov. 24, 2021): eabj2946.

The Koonin book that I mention above is:

Koonin, Steven E. Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, 2021.

Colorful Spawning of Great Barrier Reef Is “Strong Demonstration” of Ecological “Recovery”

(p. D2) Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is spawning in an explosion of color as the World Heritage-listed natural wonder recovers from life-threatening coral bleaching episodes.

. . .

“It is gratifying to see the reef give birth,” Phillips said in a statement on Wednesday. “It’s a strong demonstration that its ecological functions are intact and working after being in a recovery phase for more than 18 months.”

For the full story, see:

AP. “In the Great Barrier Reef, Spawning Prompts a Burst of Color.” The New York Times (Tuesday, November 30, 2021): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: I could not find an online version of this story on the NYT web site.)

E-Mobility Devices Offer Consumers “Lower Virus Risk” and More Convenience Than Public Transit

(p. A9) A boom in electric-powered mobile devices is bringing what is likely to be a lasting change and a new safety challenge to New York’s vast and crowded street grid.

The devices have sprouted up all over. Office workers on electric scooters glide past Manhattan towers. Parents take electric bikes to drop off their children at school. Young people have turned to electric skateboards, technically illegal on city streets, to whiz through the far corners of New York.

Though many of these riders initially gave up their subway and bus trips because of the lower virus risk of traveling outdoors, some say they are sticking with their e-mobility devices even as the city begins to move beyond the pandemic.

“I use the scooter for everything, it’s really convenient,” said Shareese King, 41, a Bronx resident who deleted the Uber app from her phone after she started running her errands on an electric scooter.

Electric bikes, scooters and other devices are in many cases made for urban life because they are affordable, better for the environment, take up little, if any, street space for parking and are just fun to use, said Sarah M. Kaufman, the associate director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University.

For the full story, see:

Winnie Hu and Chelsia Rose Marcius. “As Personal E-Mobility Spreads, Safety Challenges Grow.” The New York Times (Tuesday, October 28, 2021): A9.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. [sic] 8, 2021, and has the title “As E-Scooters and E-Bikes Proliferate, Safety Challenges Grow.”)

Small Modular Reactors Are Safer and Cheaper Than Older Reactors and Generate More Predictable Carbon-Free Energy Than Can Wind and Sun

(p. B13) Nuclear energy is a rare thing—a carbon-free energy source that isn’t hyped and enjoys bipartisan support in Washington. The big question now is whether new technologies that might lower the costs actually work.

Governments are reconsidering nuclear power, given its ability to provide predictable carbon-free energy.

. . .

“Modular” nuclear fission plants are where the real promise lies. Simpler designs, standardized components and passive safety features all help reduce costs. Being smaller can make it easier to find sites and integrate into a grid with intermittent renewables. Proponents estimate that modular reactors could more than halve the cost and build time associated with traditional ones.

One approach uses existing technologies to build small modular reactors, known as SMRs. They generate anything from a few megawatts to 500, compared with around 1,000 or more for a typical conventional reactor. The controlled fission reaction splits uranium, which heats water into steam, driving a turbine to generate electricity. Water also cools the reactor. SMRs use passive safety features, such as placement underground or in a pool of water, to reduce the need for some more expensive measures. It makes them cheaper to build, but opponents worry it could be a recipe for more disasters.

. . .

Others are trying to build modular reactors with new technology, such as novel nuclear fuels or cooling systems involving gas or salt instead of water. These advanced designs are intended to reduce the risk of accidents and build in more flexibility for intermittent power.

. . .

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program co-founded two advanced nuclear reactor demonstration plants to be completed by 2027. The first is designed by Bill Gates-backed TerraPower in partnership with GE-Hitachi. It will feature a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with integrated energy storage on the site of a retiring coal plant in Wyoming. The second will be built in Washington state by X-Energy using four of its 80 MW helium gas-cooled reactors fueled by special uranium pebbles.

. . .

There is also innovation in nuclear fusion—combining atoms to generate energy—which comes with fewer safety and waste concerns. This month, Commonwealth Fusion Systems secured $1.8 billion in funding with promises to build reactors in the 2030s. But many think commercially viable fusion remains a very long shot.

For the full commentary, see:

Rochelle Toplensky. “Nuclear Power’s Second Chance.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021): B13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 20, 2021, and has the title “Nuclear Power Has a Second Chance to Prove Itself.”)

Fewer Wildfires, but More Wildfire Costs, Due to More Building Near Forests

Source of graph: online version of WSJ commentary cited below.

(p. A19) In the early 1900s, about 4.2% of land world-wide burned every year, as you can see on the nearby graph. A century later, that had dropped almost to 3%. That decline has continued through the satellite era, and 2021 is likely to end with only 2.5% of the globe having caught fire, based on data through Aug. 31 [2021].

This data is entirely noncontroversial. Even a report from the World Wildlife Fund—chillingly subtitled “a crisis raging out of control?”—concedes midway through that “the area of land burned globally has actually been steadily declining since it started to be recorded in 1900.”

Human ingenuity gets the credit: People have moved from hearths to power stations, converted untamed land into protected farms, and created enough excess wealth that societies can increasingly afford to defend our surroundings with fire suppression and forest management.

. . .

It is true that more people will probably be threatened by fires in the future, but this is because part of the world’s growing population will settle where wildfires are more common. The number of homes in high-fire-risk zones in the Western U.S. has increased 13-fold over the past 80 years and is set to increase further by 2050. A 2016 Nature study concludes this is true globally. “Contrary to common perception,” the researchers write, “human exposure to wildfires increases in the future mainly owing to projected population growth in areas with frequent wildfires, rather than by a general increase in burned area.”

For the full commentary, see:

Bjorn Lomborg. “Climate Activists Blow Smoke on Wildfire Fears.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021): A19.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date October 27, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Lomborg’s quotation from he report of the World Wildlife Fund is from p. 8 of:

Group, Boston Consulting. “Fires, Forests and the Future: A Crisis Raging out of Control?”: World Wildlife Fund, 2020.

The Nature study Lomborg quotes above is:

Knorr, W., A. Arneth, and Leiwen Jiang. “Demographic Controls of Future Global Fire Risk.” Nature Climate Change 6, no. 8 (Aug. 2016): 781-85.

No Clear Evidence That Tornadoes Are More Frequent or Intense Than 40 to 60 Years Ago

Damage from tornadoes depends on the strength of buildings, which depends on broad economic growth. To reduce harm, the level of economic growth matters as much or more than the frequency and intensity of tornadoes.

(p. A12) Some studies have concluded that as global warming advances, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, favorable conditions for severe storms in the United States will increase this century.

. . .

It remains less certain as to whether those increasingly severe storms might lead to more tornadoes. These complex events are harder to model, and so far there doesn’t appear to be clear evidence that, for instance, tornadoes have changed in frequency or intensity over the past 40 to 60 years.

. . .

“We might not know exactly how climate change is going to affect tornadoes going forward, but we do know that there are lot of things we can do to protect people today,” said Stephen Strader, a disaster scientist at Villanova University.

. . .

“There are always two sides of the coin when it comes to disasters,” Dr. Strader said. “There’s the climate itself, but there’s also society vulnerability. We can work to address climate change, but we shouldn’t lose focus on what we can do today to improve survivability against these extreme events.”

For the full story, see:

Brad Plumer, Winston Choi-Schagrin and Hiroko Tabuchi. “As World Warms, Bracing for More Extreme Weather.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 18, 2021): A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 17, 2021, and has the title “Examining the Role of Climate Change in a Week of Wild Weather.”)

Bans on Natural Gas for Cooking and Heating Could Most Hurt Low-Income Citizens

(p. A13) This week, New York City moved to ban gas hookups in new buildings, joining cities in blue states like California, Massachusetts and Washington that want to shift homes away from burning natural gas because it releases carbon dioxide, which causes global warming.

Instead, developers in New York City will have to install electric heat pumps and electric kitchen ranges in newly constructed buildings.

. . .

But the gas industry is fighting back and has lobbied in statehouses across the country to slow the shift away from gas. It argues that gas appliances are widely popular and still cost less than electric versions for many consumers. Opponents have also warned that a rush to electrify homes could strain power grids, particularly in the winter when heating needs soar, at a time when states like California and Texas are already struggling to meet demand.

Karen Harbert, president and chief executive of the American Gas Association, an industry group, said efforts to disconnect homes and businesses from the extensive network of gas pipelines would make it difficult to supply those buildings with low-carbon alternatives that might be available in the future, such as hydrogen or biogas.

“Eliminating natural gas and our delivery infrastructure forecloses on current and future innovation opportunities,” she said.

The question of whether to use natural gas in homes has become part of the culture wars, pitting climate activists against industry and other interest groups. Some chefs and restaurant owners have argued that they won’t be able to cook certain dishes as well without gas.

. . .

In a statement, Bill Malcolm, a senior legislative representative at the AARP, said the group had “supported legislative and regulatory initiatives allowing customers to continue to use the fuel of their choice to heat their homes and cook their food.” He added: “Outright bans on certain fuel options would run contrary to that choice.”

. . .

For now, natural gas remains the dominant fuel in much of the country, heating nearly half of American homes. Electric heat pumps, by contrast, satisfy just 5 percent of heating demand nationwide.

. . .

Experts have warned that as more homeowners go electric, gas utilities will still have to pay to maintain their existing network of pipelines, which could mean higher costs for the smaller base of remaining customers, many of whom may be low-income.

For the full story, see:

Brad Plumer and Hiroko Tabuchi. “Gas vs. Electric Stoves Join Partisan Battlefield.” The New York Times (Friday, December 17, 2021): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 10, 2021, and has the title “How Politics Are Determining What Stove You Use.” The online version says that the New York print edition had the title “Gas vs. Electric Stoves on a Partisan Battlefield.” My National print edition had the title “Gas vs. Electric Stoves Join Partisan Battlefield.” Where there is a slight difference in wording between the versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)