Permafrost polygons: Permafrost is rapidly melting away, releasing methane, and carbon dioxide into the Earth's atmosphere.  Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.
Permafrost polygons: Permafrost is rapidly melting away, releasing methane, and carbon dioxide into the Earth's atmosphere. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Greenhouse gases that have been trapped in frozen permafrost are being released from the melting soil much faster than was previously thought. The most notable one of these gases is methane, which is being released into the atmosphere at a rate 5 times greater than was previously thought.

Methane is an effective heat trapping agent, it is 23 times more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. It is practically harmless when it is frozen in permafrost.

Permafrost is ground that has consistently been at a temperature of zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) for two or more years. Permafrost occurs in regions of Arctic climates, such as the tundra of Alaska, northern Canada, and Siberia. Unfortunately, when these frozen climates get too warm, the trapped atmospheric gases are released. Unfortunately, this is now happening too frequently due to global warming.

The release of methane from melting permafrost speeds up the global warming process. The current warming of the earth causes the permafrost to melt, which causes methane and carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere, which causes more warming. It’s a horrible cycle and scientists are worried that it will eventually go out of control, setting off a “climate time bomb.”

Scientists are unsure whether or not methane or carbon dioxide is the worst greenhouse gas. While methane traps more heat, it only lingers in the atmosphere for around 10 years. Carbon dioxide traps less heat, but it typically remains in the atmosphere for a century. Neither of these gases is good.

Sounds like quite the problem. What do you think we can do about it?


Ouch, she should have used more sunscreen: Courtesy  Wikipedia
Ouch, she should have used more sunscreen: Courtesy Wikipedia

Have you ever been sunburned? Did you wear sunscreen? A recent study published in New Scientist might change your mind on how frequently an individual should reapply sunscreen.

Researchers at the University of California Riverside stated, “if you apply sunscreen anything less than once every two hours, you might be better off not using any in the first place.”

Kerry Hanson and colleagues exposed human skin samples grown in a lab to UV radiation. The samples were covered with three common UV filters found in many sunscreens (benzophenone-3, octocrylene and octylmethoxycinnamate). Findings suggested the protective compounds sunk into the skin resulting in its protective capability being greatly reduced.

Researchers also found the skin samples tested contained more reactive oxygen species (ROS) when compared to skin exposed to UV without sunscreen application. ROS are free radicals that damage skin cells and increase the odds of skin cancer. At low levels, ROS are able to assist in cell signaling processes. However, at higher levels ROS damage cellular macromolecules and could lead to apoptosis (programmed cell death).

For now the researchers advise to use sunscreens and reapply them often. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends reapplying sunscreen every two hours. Active individuals are advised to reapply even more frequently due to sweat washing away sunscreen.


Farming the Wind: photo by Dirk Ingo Franke.   licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0
Farming the Wind: photo by Dirk Ingo Franke. licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0

Want to make a difference?

Did you know that you can insist that the amount of electricity you use be produced without generating carbon dioxide emissions or other forms of pollution (mercury, sulfer). Windsource electricity is produced without air emissions, such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, both considered to contribute to greenhouse gases. Wind-generated electricity also uses no water and therefore requires no water treatment during production. I am doing this by joining the Windsource program.

Xcel Energy will be held accountable for using Windsource funds appropriately: it must file annual reports with the Minnesota Department of Commerce and Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, accounting for program revenues and expenses and wind generation and sales. In addition, all wind facilities supplying the Windsource program will be certified by the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Sierraclub

What does it cost?

I have agreed to pay $2 per 100 kWh extra on my electric bill. This month I used 304 kWh so I was billed an extra $6.08. Since my electricity is pollution free I was rebated the Fuel Cost Adjustment that I otherwise would have paid ($2.76). So I paid an extra $3.32 last month know that I am helping rather than hurting our future environment. When fuel cost rise enough the rebate can become greater than what you pay for Windsource. You can sign up for Windsource here or call 1-800-895-4999 anytime.

I love Earth & Sky radio's skywatching center. It always features tonight's sky chart and weather, plus skywatching tips and any news. Find out when the moon will rise, what phase of the moon we're in, and where visible planets will be in the sky and when you should look. Plus, it's packed with links to other resources, like interviews with scientists and web planetariums. And you can blog! Check it out...

Tonight's full moon is the nearest of 2006. It's 30,000 miles closer to us than it was back in February, when it was furthest away. For those of us in Saint Paul, forecasters say tonight will be fair to partly cloudy, so step outside and take a look!

Zoo Atlanta is home to a new giant baby panda. This is the fifth giant baby panda born in the U.S.

I'm not advocating the practice, of course, but if you MUST know, the experts at Scientific American explain why inhaling helium makes your voice sound strange.

Want to see a pink katydid (Amblycorypha carinata) seen in Michigan (Lake Erie Park).


The Pandemic: Photo Courtesy of Malingering
The Pandemic: Photo Courtesy of Malingering

No, its not bird flu, but there is a pandemic rapidly spreading through the world and contributing to a variety of diseases.

What is it?


"This insidious, creeping pandemic of obesity is now engulfing the entire world,” Professor Paul Zimmet declared at the opening speech of the International Congress on Obesity. He also said, "it's as big a threat as global warming and bird flu.”

Obesity puts people at a higher risk for getting diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure, stroke and some forms of cancer.

How bad is this pandemic?

There are about 6.5 billion people in the world. There are one billion overweight people in the world. So that means that 15 percent of the world population is affected by or will potentially be affected by the diseases related to being overweight. That’s a lot. Of the one billion overweight people, about 300 million are diagnosed as obese. But that is still a significant percentage of the world population (about five percent).

Interestingly enough, there are actually more overweight people in the world than undernourished. At least one billion people are overweight, whereas about 600 million people are undernourished.

Those statistics were for the whole world. But in certain countries, particularly Australia, England and the United States, the number of overweight people is much higher. In Australia, 25 percent of children, 50 percent of adult women, and 67 percent of men are overweight. The exact statistics for the U.S. were not given at the Australian International Congress on Obesity, but they were mentioned to be even higher than Australia’s percentages.

Not only is obesity a health problem, but it is an economic problem. Especially in the countries of Australia, England and the U.S., where billions of dollars are spent each year on treating health problems directly connected to being overweight. In fact, in the U.S., the states with the highest obesity levels also have the highest poverty rates.

How can we stop it?

According to the Trust for America's Health advocacy group, at least $5.6 billion could be saved when it comes to treating heart disease if just one-tenth of Americans began a regular walking program.

It seems like it would be pretty easy to stop this pandemic if we quit being so lazy.