You Know About Cow Farts, but How About Tree Farts? #nature #biology #climatechange #forest #trees

Over 100 years ago, a chemist in Kansas documented that cottonwood sap contained methane bubbles. He could light escaping gas and watch a blue flame flicker. Others discovered that not only cottonwoods produce the gas.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and today, thanks to global warming, we need to understand the ins and outs of methane in the atmosphere. New studies show:

Many instances in which trees produce their own methane—sometimes from microbes in the heartwood or other tissues and in other cases from a remarkable direct photochemical reaction thought to be driven by the ultraviolet wavelengths in sunlight. NatGeo

Measuring methane emissions from tundra

Measuring methane and CO2 emisisons from arctic tundra

Life writes its name with methane, which is why methane on Mars is so exciting. On Earth, methane is released from fossil fuels, microbes in soggy soil like bogs and rice paddies, and (as you know) cattle. Human activities accelerate emissions – sometimes, we do in a year what nature does in centuries.

Methanotroph microbes also break down methane. The life expectancy of an average methane molecule is a few decades.

Trees emit methane and break it down by hosting the wily microbes and also on their own. The balance depends on the tree and soil conditions, but there are “forests where similar trees in similar soils have been measured with a fiftyfold difference in methane emissions… [Forests] in wet soils uniformly were net emitters of methane but those in drier conditions in some regions actually were net absorbers of the gas.”

One scientists said that what we know today is a third grader’s cartoon drawing of a forest.”

None of this means trees are bad! Trees good. Forests good. But learning more about Earth’s methane cycle will improve our models and, if we’re smart enough, help us hand a beautiful world to our progeny.

Scandal Rocks Diet Research – Tips You Rely on Exposed #health #diet #nutrition #weightloss

bell shaped curveEuropean science was once so quaint. A wealthy family’s second son ensconced in a small parsonage in the country was free to classify local butterflies. Or perhaps the lord himself financed his own laboratory to study whatever he wanted. Sometimes a poorer soul might rise from employment under a Great Man (yes, mostly men!) or receive a scholarship, as Isaac Newton did at Cambridge in 1664.

Innocent days are gone. A craving for glory always created some scientific fraud, but the motivation seems to be growing. Big science is big business, requires big money, and can yield big rewards if a lab produces big results. This can be insidious, because if you receive fame and fortune for what you do, it’s easy to believe that what you do must be right. Especially in a field like nutrition, where there’s so much public interest, and lots of money to be made, sometimes, mistakes happen. Sometimes studies go “down in flames in a beefy statistics scandal.”

An internal investigation by a faculty committee found that ‘Professor Wansink committed academic misconduct in his research and scholarship, including misreporting of research data, problematic statistical techniques, failure to properly document and preserve research results, and inappropriate authorship.’

That’s a politely phrased condemnation, and may derail the careers of grad students who did the dirty work for him.

You may not recognise Wansink’s name, but if you buy 100 calorie snack packages, you’ve been fooled by his research. Ditto for using small plates to trick your brain into thinking you ate more, or hiding potato chips on the top shelf to help you lose weight. Read more truisms that have been retracted here. Maybe your favorite tip is among them.

Retraction Watch logo

Here’s a good place to keep an eye on scientific findings

Fortunately for science, you, and me, reality is a powerful force, and there are always researchers willing to challenge a famous author. As a consumer of science, avoid becoming anyone’s acolyte, don’t get too emotionally invested in someone else’s position, and keep reading, even if only in the popular press. Good consumers, like good scientists, are honestly open minded.

It often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. Carl Sagan

Let’s all make Carl proud.

Silurian Hypothesis – Industrial Civilization Long Before Us #science #poem #poetry #research #paleontology #civilization

Doctor Who Silurians

Silurians found by Doctor Who. Promotional material to illustrate the subject in question is fair use, or so says Wikipedia.

Deep within our history,
Four hundred million years ago,
One of the greatest dyings cleared
The Earth for them to grow.

Boney fish with moving jaws
Dodged scorpions in the shallow seas,
Hardly social it would seem,
Yet something walked the land near these.

Calcium
carbonate,
Abundant layers, weirdly thick,
In sandstones
do imply
Industry spewed pollution slicks.

Suggestion of dead ocean zones,
Through turbation
sediments,
Imply farming on
a scale vast.
That’s civilization evidence.

Not to mention oddly high
Concentrations to be found
Of antimony, lead, and chrome,
Rare earths, and gold within the ground.

Sudden population booms
Of crinoids and certain trilobites,
Indicator species these,
Increased to
impressive heights.

Shape of lipids well preserved
In geo-chemistry,
Not mono-chiral indicates
They were made
synthetically.

Until the late Devonian,
When life in deep oceans died,
Anoxia that changed the seas
Sent glaciers south to crush their lives.

No, there are no real facts
Silurians
once industrialized,
But to think of traces
they could have left
May help us search the starry skies.

by Kate Rauner

Silurian fossils

Silurian fossils, but, no, that’s not a Silurian coin. It’s just there to indicate size.

Thanks to theatlantic for their story on this study published in the International Journal of Astrobiology: could we tell if an advanced civilization existed on Earth long before humans, even before mammals?

Such conjecture may help us ponder extraterrestrials. As the authors say, While much idle speculation and late night chatter has been devoted to this question, we are unaware of previous serious treatments of the problem of detectability of prior terrestrial industrial civilizations in the geologic past.” Download the pdf for yourself.

When Banned Foods Turn Good – What in the World is Going On? How Will I Know it All? Why Do These Things Happen? Cause It’s Hard #nutrition #science #research #data #poetry #poem #humannature

Science inspired poetry by Kate Rauner

Rats are easier to study

It’s hard to study humans,
They live so very long.
Observing generations
Can’t complete before you’re gone.

They fib on every survey form,
Eat more than they say,
Exercise much less than claimed,
And forget along the way.

Confounding factors multiply
Throughout the lives they lead.
Their choices vary wildly,
Statistics can’t succeed.

They’ll never match a rat for tests,
But if you lure them
to your lab,
You’re not allowed to lock the door,
It’s enough to drive you mad.

By Kate Rauner

Brought to mind by a Forbes article suggesting an ounce or two of cheese a day, even full-fat cheese, may not be bad for you and could even be beneficial. The new study was published in the European Journal of Nutrition. Researchers used data from 15 earlier studies that followed their participants for 10 years. I’ve often seen articles contradict each other over nutritional and exercise claims. Part of that is, the popular media tends to make too much of a fuss over each new study because no one clicks on “maybe,” “suggests,” “slight change,” or “never mind” in the headline. But part of the problem is, it’s hard to study humans in the wild.