Courtesy NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-CaltechIn photographs taken by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander there appear to be droplets of some kind of liquid. Is it water from just below the planet's surface? Some scientists suspect that this is exactly what you see in the photograph here. Although the temperature of the area where the photographs were taken never warmed above -15 degrees Fahrenheit during the spacecraft's mission, scientists think that salts called Perchlorates may have lowered the freezing point of the water, making liquid droplets possible at this temperature. Other scientists disagree, saying that the low-resolution photographs show clumps of frost or may have been formed by heat from the spacecraft's thrusters. This article explains more about the debate. What do you think?
It's a little on the long side, but the video below shows amazing footage of a sea turtle hunting down a tasty snack. The camera work is with the same technology – the Critter Cam – that's given us awesome views of penguins, falcons and other predators at work.
Courtesy Rita WillaertUnlike my bedroom, however, the Russians are frantically trying to get to the Lost World. Unless…
Oh, God! Do you think the Russians might be drilling into my bedroom? They probably want my natural resources! The thought of the Reds, bursting through my coal chute, snatching up my… clean socks, or something. Brr. It hardly bears thinking about.
But, yes, I live in a basement. “Tiempos Finales” I call it, and it bears some striking similarities to the “lost world” I read an article about recently.
There are a few key differences. The main difference, I suppose, is that the lost world the article describes is buried beneath about two miles of ice in Antarctica. Tiempos Finales is buried under 2 layers of wood flooring (and some linoleum in the bathroom) in St. Paul. Also, while a healthy person can survive almost indefinitely in the basement (assuming they have the proper protective equipment), you would suffocate, or freeze to death, or both, in Antarctica’s lost world, because it consists of sub-glacial lakes.
And while Tiempos Finales is teeming with mysterious creatures (largely arthropods—there’s rarely more than one chordate present at a time), Antarctica’s lost world only may be teaming with mysterious creatures.
But if there is anything down there, under the ice… it would be a very mysterious creature indeed. And that’s why the Russians are drilling away.
Russians and Brits are both drilling, in fact, but not together. A team of British scientists intends to drop probes into Lake Ellsworth, which they believe to be about 300 feet deep with a bottom covered in thick sediment. The Russians are drilling into the much larger Lake Vostok. Both lakes (and about 150 others) were discovered relatively recently thanks to ice-penetrating radar.
Many scientists think that it’s likely that the Antarctic lakes could hide living organisms (probably microorganisms). If that is the case, those organisms will have been isolated from the rest of the world for somewhere between 400,000 and 2 million years—ever since the ice sheet above the lake was formed. That’s a long time to spend by yourself, evolving in the cold and dark…
Cool. If any organisms are found, they’d likely be pretty different than anything else on the planet (remember my post a few weeks about aliens living among us? I knew you would. This is like that—isolated, extreme environments, etc). Also, the presence of life beneath the Antarctic ice would raise the odds that life could exist elsewhere in our solar system. Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter is the main analogy here. Europa is a frosty little moon (it’s a little bit smaller than our moon). Its surface is entirely covered with ice, but many scientists believe that a liquid water ocean could exist beneath the icy crust. The water could be kept liquid by heat generated by tidal and tectonic activity.
Organisms in the Antarctic lakes would be living under very similar conditions. With no light reaching that far into the ice, they would have to survive by consuming nutrients accumulated in the sediment millennia ago. Life on Europa might be nourished by heat and nutrients from mineral-rich hot water vents on the sea floor.
The British scientists don’t expect to break through the glacier until the Antarctic summer of 2012-2013, and when they finally do they’ll have just 36 hours to drop their probes through the 14-inch hole before it seals up again. They plan to get two probes into Lake Ellsworth. The first probe will capture video, and sample the water for living organisms, or for chemical evidence of them, and it will grab some sediment from the surface of the lakebed. The second probe will be sunk deeper into the lakebed, and will hopefully bring back several feet of sediment.
The Russians don’t plan on putting any probes into Lake Vostok—they just intend to tap into the lake to sample the water. The Russian project is somewhat controversial because their equipment is lubricated with kerosene, and is non-sterile (the British use a sterile, hot water-based drilling technique). There’s a good chance that the Russian equipment could contaminate the otherwise completely pristine lake, which, you know, slightly defeats the purpose. The Russians have had trouble with their equipment, however, and when they will break through the ice is much less certain.
So what do y’all think? Are they going to find anything? If Ellsworth and Vostok are anything like Tiempos Finales, whatever they find will be pretty depressing. Still, this is pretty cool stuff.
That wasn’t a pun.
Courtesy Mark GobleScientists know that the Amazon rainforest can help to slow down climate change. The trees not only take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, but they also are made of carbon. All living things are made of carbon, and when these things die that carbon is released.
There was an unusually severe drought in 2005, which gave scientists a preview of the Amazon's future climate. Scientists think the rainforest will see hotter and more intense dry seasons with climate change. When Oliver Phillips a professor at the University of Leeds, looked at the effects of the drought, he found that it caused carbon losses in the rainforest. This is bad for us, because we rely on the Amazon to take in carbon dioxide, not release it!
In most years the Amazon absorbs almost 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide. In 2005, the trees did not absorb that much carbon dioxide, but the forest lost more than 3 billion tons. The losses were caused by all the trees that died in the drought. The impact of the drought, 5 billion extra tons of carbon dioxide is more than the annual emissions of Europe and Japan put together.
Courtesy TaylorMilesScientists suspect that last year’s devastating earthquake in China may not have been a natural disaster. A nearby dam may have weakened fault lines and spurred the magnitude-7.9 quake.
The Zipingpu Dam is only 3.4 miles from the epicenter of the May 12, 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province. This quake killed 80,000 people and left 5 million homeless. Although the area exhibits a lot of seismic activity, an earthquake of this magnitude is unusual.
Water in the Zipingpu Dam
The Zipingpu Dam is one of nearly 400 hydroelectric dams in the area. It rises 511 feet high and holds 315 million tons of water. US and Chinese scientists believe that the weight of the water increased the direct pressure on the fault line below. This volume of water would exert 25 times more pressure annually than is natural. Additionally, water seeping into the rock acted as a lubricant and relaxed the tension between the two sides of the fault line. Since the reservoir was filled in 2004, the water caused a chain of ruptures culminating in this massive earthquake.
Worldwide impact on green energy
Sichuan province is the epicenter for more than just a powerful earthquake. It is here that most of China’s hydroelectric power is generated, an integral component of its renewable power plans. The area also produces much of the world’s wind turbine equipment. The infrastructure will take months or years to repair.
Before the quake, China admitted to major flaws in the country’s 87,000 dams. The earthquake damaged other dams and power stations and several major reservoirs were drained to prevent their dams from failing.
As the owner of more than a few tie-dyed shirts, I have found my new favorite fish with the recent discovery of the psychedelic fish – the VW van of the aquatic world. Here's National Geographic video of this groovy fish find.
Andrew Revkin, the blogger, is asking readers to send in photos or video (via Flickr or YouTube) of "...parts of your environs that you treasure, that are imperiled, or that otherwise matter." Doesn't say they have to be of New York, and Minnesotans know a thing or two about beautiful places and water in winter or both.
Courtesy AugneblinkenDon't tell me I'm not looking out for y'all's best interests, Buzzketeers.
I recently received a very secret tip, about some very secret mountains hiding under the antarctic ice.
Actually, nobody is totally surprised that there are mountains on Antarctica—these mountains under the glaciers were first discovered something like 50 years ago—but the region has only recently received detailed mapping with ground penetrating radar, and the mountains have been revealed to be very Alpine in nature. That is, they have high, sharp peaks, and deep, er... what's the opposite of sharp... not dull, but like the inverse of... whatever. The mountains have deep valleys. Sharply cleft valleys, we'll say.
It's interesting information because it tells us something about how these massive (about 2 miles thick!) slabs of ice formed: quickly. If the glaciers had formed slowly, the mountains would probably have been ground down do just about nothing by now. But that's not the case.
Perhaps more significantly, knowing more about the character of these glaciers can tell us something about how they might melt if Antarctic temperatures rise significantly with global warming. 2-mile-thick chunks of ice hold lots of water, enough to significantly change sea levels if it all became liquid.
And certainly most importantly is the investment opportunity this presents. I don't know much about real estate. Or the Alps. Or money. But don't people love the Alps? And spend lots of money to be around them, and slide down them on things? Something like that. So c'mon, kidz. Let's move on this! With all the coasts gone, people are going to be searching for new tourism destinations! These mountains could be ours!
Whatever. Check out the article.
Research showing that the glaciers of Glacier National Park might be gone by 2030 was wrong. New aerial surveys of the park's glaciers found them to be retreating faster than previously thought. Park scientists with the USGS now think the park could be glacierless by 2020.