Hinterland Green

Sunday, April 25, 2010

New Caledonian Crows' Ability to Use Three Tools Stuns Scientists

From BBC News
New Caledonian crows have given scientists yet another display of their tool-using prowess.
Scientists from New Zealand's University of Auckland have found that the birds are able to use three tools in succession to reach some food. The crows, which use tools in the wild, have also shown other problem-solving behaviour, but this find suggests they are more innovative than was thought. The research is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.  The team headed to the South Pacific island of New Caledonia, the home of Corvus moneduloides.

They are the only birds known to craft and use tools in the wild. The discovery that they whittle branches into hooks and tear leaves into barbed probes to extract food from hard-to-reach nooks astounded scientists, who had previously thought that ability to fashion tools was unique to primates.

And further research in the laboratory and the field has revealed that New Caledonian crows are also innovative problem solvers, often rivaling primates. Experiments have shown that the birds can craft new tools out of unfamiliar materials, as well as use a number of tools in succession.
 Read more:  Clever New Caledonian crows can use three tools

Toxic Stew of Chemicals in Potomac River Causing Male Fish to Carry Eggs in Testes

  Photograph: Rob Heimplaetzer/Potomac Conservancy
SHOCK: More than 80% of the male bass fish in Washington D.C.'s Potomac River are now exhibiting female traits such as egg production due to a "toxic stew" of pollutants, the Potomac Conservancy reported.
Intersex fish probably result from drugs, such as the contraceptive pill, and other chemicals being flushed into the water and have been found right across the US.

The Potomac Conservancy, which focuses on Washington DC's river, called for new research to determine what was causing male small-mouth bass to carry immature eggs in their testes. "We have not been able to identify one particular chemical or one particular source," said Vicki Blazer, a fish biologist with the US geological survey. "We are still trying to get a handle on what chemicals are important."

But she said early evidence pointed to a mix of chemicals – commonly used at home as well as those used in large-scale farming operations – causing the deformities. The suspect chemicals mimic natural hormones and disrupt the endocrine system, with young fish being particularly susceptible.

The chemicals could include birth control pills and other drugs, toiletries especially those with fragrances, products such as tissues treated with antibacterial agents, or goods treated with flame retardants that find their way into waste water. However, Blazer also pointed to runoff from fertilizers and pesticides from agricultural areas.
Read more: 'Toxic stew' of chemicals causing male fish to carry eggs in testes

Princeton Review Names Drury University as a "Green College" for its Environmental Responsibility Focus

The Princeton Review has named Drury University as a "green" college for its focus on environmental responsibility.
"We are honored to be recognized among the top five percent of universities who have made a strong commitment to sustainability," Dr. Wendy Anderson, director of campus sustainability, said in a news release. "We hope this will put Drury on the radar for students who are interested in a university that values sustainability." Source:  News-Leader
Drury was the only Missouri school to make "The Princeton Review's Guide to 286 Green Colleges." The guide is a free publication for students looking for a sustainable campus.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

CDC Study Finds Link Between Lack of Indoor Plumbing and High Rates of Potentially Life Threatening Diseases in Alaska Village

From the Anchorage Daily News:

A new Centers for Disease Control study shows a strong link between a lack of indoor plumbing and high rates of potentially life-threatening diseases such as pneumonia and meningitis among children in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

"In villages where there was no in-home running water, the rates for disease were about three times higher than they were than in other villages," said Dr. Jay Wenger, lead author of the study. About 40 percent of households in the region lack water service, which could make it more difficult for people to wash their hands and prevent the spread of bacteria, said Dr. Rosalyn Singleton, immunization program director for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and a contributor to the report.

The region is home to some of the poorest, most crowded households in the state, the study says. The report found Alaska Native children younger than 5 years old in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region are five to 10 times more likely to suffer from a bacterial illness called Invasive Pneumococcal Disease than other Alaska kids.

The disease can lead to a serious form of pneumonia -- a lung infection that makes up the majority of Yukon-Kuskokwim cases -- as well as meningitis and blood infections, Singleton said.

NOAA: Global Temps Push Last Month to Hottest March on Record

From NOAA:

The world’s combined global land and ocean surface temperature made last month the warmest March on record, according to NOAA. Taken separately, average ocean temperatures were the warmest for any March and the global land surface was the fourth warmest for any March on record. Additionally, the planet has seen the fourth warmest January – March period on record.

The monthly National Climatic Data Center analysis, which is based on records going back to 1880, is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides government, business and community leaders so they can make informed decisions.

Read more:  NOAA: Global Temps Push Last Month to Hottest March on Record

Farmer Discovers Meteor Fragment From Fireball Over Wisconsin

From Space.com

A small chunk of rock believed to be a fragment from a meteor that burst into a stunning fireball over Wisconsin Wednesday night was discovered by a farmer after it fell on the roof of his shed.

The meteor fragment is peppered with gray, white and reddish minerals, though one side is covered in what scientists called a "fusion crust" – a layer of dark material forged during the meteor's fiery passage into Earth's atmosphere. It weighs just 0.2 ounces (7.5 grams) and is about 2 inches (5 cm) long and less than an inch wide.

A camera mounted to a campus building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison caught the Wisconsin meteor's explosive demise. The meteor's sonic boom and explosion were also seen and heard by numerous witnesses, and sparked frantic 911 emergency calls across six different states, according to the Near-Earth Object Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

National Restaurant Assocation Launches Greener Restaurants Pilot Program

From Green Lodging News:
The National Restaurant Association has launched the pilot of Greener Restaurants—a new national program to recognize restaurants’ environmental sustainability efforts. A limited number of restaurants have signed on to participate in the pilot that will open to industrywide participation in the next few months. Greener Restaurants will show operators how to save money while “going greener” and share their successes with guests.

“We listened to what our members have told us they wanted: a flexible, effective and affordable program to help them do the right thing for the planet and for their business, and worked closely with them to develop the program,” said Dawn Sweeney, National Restaurant Association president and CEO. “As we perfect the final program details in the pilot stage, we are working with our state restaurant association partners to introduce it industrywide.”

The goal of the Greener Restaurants program is to help restaurant operators save money and manage costs while incorporating sustainability practices throughout the restaurant. In addition, the program will help restaurants market their efforts to “go greener” to guests both onsite and online. It was developed with the input of restaurant operators and partners of the National Restaurant Association Conserve initiative—the Turner Foundation, Kendall College, Food Service Technology Center and EPA Energy Star.

The program comprises a checklist of action items from which participants select areas of focus and build a profile on an interactive website. The checklist contains both smaller steps, such as using low-energy light bulbs, and larger moves, including equipment and remodeling. The checklist will be accompanied by resources and instructional videos to help the operator implement each practice and report progress.
Read more:  Greener Restaurants National Recognition Program Pilot Launches

Chinese Ship Put a Two-Mile Gash in Great Barrier Reef, Could Take Decades to Recover

From Grist:
A Chinese ship that spent nine days stranded on the Great Barrier Reef gouged a two-mile scar in the coral that could take decades to recover, a top expert said on Tuesday. David Wachenfeld, chief scientist at the body overseeing the heritage-listed marine park, said the Shen Neng 1 coal carrier had been grinding against and crushing the reef after it veered off course and smashed into it on April 3.
Officials have expressed anger over the incident and accused the crew of the ship, which was refloated late on Monday and towed away, of taking an illegal route.

"This is by far the largest ship-grounding scar we have seen on the Great Barrier Reef to date," Wachenfeld told public broadcaster ABC. "This vessel did not make an impact in one place and rest there and then was pulled off. This scar is more in the region of three kilometres long and up to 250 meters wide."

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd expressed anger at the accident, which also leaked about two tons of fuel oil into the pristine seas. "It is still an absolute outrage that this vessel could've landed on the Great Barrier Reef," he said. "We will leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding out how that happened."

An approaching storm hurried authorities into refloating the 750-foot ship -- the length of two football fields-- after nightfall on Monday. They pumped compressed air into its bunkers and pulled it free using tugboats. Officials said the rescue had been carried out without adding to the initial oil spill, which created a two-mile slick.
Read more:  Chinese ship gouged two-mile scar in Great Barrier Reef | Grist

Monday, April 12, 2010

Science Daily: Hawaiian Submarine Canyons Are Hotspots of Biodiversity and Biomass for Seafloor Animal Communities

From Science Daily:

Underwater canyons have long been considered important habitats for marine life, but until recently, only canyons on continental margins had been intensively studied. Researchers from Hawaii Pacific University (HPU) and the Universtiy of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM) have now conducted the first extensive study of canyons in the oceanic Hawaiian Archipelago and found that these submarine canyons support especially abundant and unique communities of megafauna (large animals such as fish, shrimp, crabs, sea cucumbers, and sea urchins) including 41 species not observed in other habitats in the Hawaiian Islands.

The research is published in the the March issue of the journal Marine Ecology. The researchers used both visual and video surveys from 36 submersible dives (using UHM's Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory submersibles Pisces IV and Pisces V) to characterize slope and canyon communities of animals at depths of 350-1500 meters along the margins of four islands of the Hawaiian Archipelago. The coastlines of Oahu and Molokai were selected as examples of high, mountainous islands with large supplies of terrestrial and marine organic matter which can be exported down slopes and canyons to provide food to deep-sea communities. Nihoa Island and Maro Reef were chosen to represent low islands and atolls that are likely to export less organic matter to feed the deep-sea fauna.

Read more:  Hawaiian Submarine Canyons Are Hotspots of Biodiversity and Biomass for Seafloor Animal Communities

Sunday, April 11, 2010

NASA's Global Hawk Completes First Science Flight Over the Pacific

NASA/Dryden/Carla Thomas
From NASA:

NASA pilots and flight engineers, together with colleagues from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have successfully completed the first science flight of the Global Hawk unpiloted aircraft system over the Pacific Ocean. The flight was the first of five scheduled for this month's Global Hawk Pacific (GloPac) mission to study atmospheric science over the Pacific and Arctic oceans.

The Global Hawk is a robotic plane that can fly autonomously to altitudes above 60,000 feet (18.3 kilometers) -- roughly twice as high as a commercial airliner -- and as far as 11,000 nautical miles (20,000 kilometers) -- half the circumference of Earth. Operators pre-program a flight path, and then the plane flies itself for as long as 30 hours, staying in contact through satellite and line-of-site communications to the ground control station at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California's Mojave Desert.

"The Global Hawk is a revolutionary aircraft for science because of its enormous range and endurance," said Paul Newman, co-mission scientist for GloPac and an atmospheric scientist from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "No other science platform provides this much range and time to sample rapidly evolving atmospheric phenomena. This mission is our first opportunity to demonstrate the unique capabilities of this plane, while gathering atmospheric data in a region that is poorly sampled."

GloPac researchers will directly measure and sample greenhouse gases, ozone-depleting substances, aerosols, and constituents of air quality in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. In yesterday's flight, the plane flew approximately 4,500 nautical miles (8,300 kilometers) along a flight path that took it from Dryden to 150.3 degrees West longitude and 54.6 degrees North latitude, just south of Alaska's Kodiak Island. The flight lasted 14.1 hours and flew up to 60,900 feet (18.6 kilometers) in altitude.

Read more:  NASA's Global Hawk Completes First Science Flight Over the Pacific

Study: Traffic-Related Pollution Near Schools Linked to Development of Asthma in Children

From the Science Daily:

Living near major highways has been linked to childhood asthma, but a new study led by researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) suggests that traffic-related pollution near schools is also contributing to the development of asthma in kids.

The researchers found that the risk of developing asthma due to exposure at school was comparable to that of children whose exposure occurred primarily at home, even though time spent at school only accounted for about one third of waking hours. Children in schools located in high-traffic environments had a 45 percent increased risk of developing asthma. The study appears in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and is now available online.

Asthma is the most common chronic childhood illness in developed countries and has been linked to environmental factors such as traffic-related air pollution.

Read more:   Traffic-Related Pollution Near Schools Linked to Development of Asthma in Pupils

Barack Obama Green Charter High School to Open Soon in Plainfield, NJ

The Barack Obama Green Charter High School is slated to open soon in Plainfield, N.J. The zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously approved a variance for educators to set up classroom at the city's YMCA, according to the Star-Ledger. The school's founders are touting it as the first charter school in New Jersey to implement the philosophy of the nonprofit Green Schools initiative, which advocates having a toxin-free building, with sustainable use of resources and a ban on junk food.

The 120-seat Barack Obama Green Charter High School is slated to open for ninth and tenth graders at the start of the new school year at 530 West Seventh St. It already has approval from the state Department of Education. The school will encourage students to walk or take public transportation to school and bring their own lunches. It will not have a cafeteria or school buses.

Read more:  New Barack Obama Green Charter High School is coming to Plainfield

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Agricultural Research Service Scientists Develop Self-Pollinating Almond Trees

From the Science Daily:
 Self-pollinating almond trees that can produce a bountiful harvest without insect pollination are being developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists. This is good news for almond growers who face rising costs for insect pollination because of nationwide shortages of honey bees due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and other factors.

ARS geneticist Craig Ledbetter, at the agency's Crop Diseases, Pests and Genetics Research Unit near Parlier, Calif., is developing this new line of self-pollinating almond trees. Self-pollinating almonds are not new. The Tuono variety, originally from Spain, has been around for centuries. But its traits are not attractive when compared to California's most popular almond, Nonpareil.

Tuono's seed coat has a hairy texture and it has a very thick shell, so only 32 percent of the nut is edible kernel, compared to 60 to 65 percent for Nonpareil. But Tuono's thick shell gives it more resistance to the navel orangeworm and other pests. An almond that has traits from both varieties would be ideal. Ledbetter and his collaborators used Tuono as the male (pollen) parent in conventional hybridizations with California-adapted almond cultivars and selections. The scientists made crosses at bloom time and came back at harvest time to collect the nuts. They then grew those nuts into seedlings and surrounded the branches with insect-proof nylon bags to exclude insects that could serve as pollinators. The seedlings bloomed and some produced fruits inside the bags, making these seedlings self-pollinating.

Read more:  Agricultural Scientists Develop Self-Pollinating Almond Trees

Photo credit: Tripadvisor

Science Daily: Astronomers Take Close-Up Pictures of Mysterious Dark Object

From Science Daily:
For the first time, astronomers have directly observed the mysterious dark companion in a binary star system that has puzzled skywatchers since the 19th century.

Using an instrument developed at the University of Michigan, scientists have taken close-up pictures of Epsilon Aurigae during its eclipse, which happens every 27 years. "Close up" in this case is a relative term, but the images zoom in enough to show the shape of the dark object's shadow.

"Seeing is believing," said John Monnier, an associate professor in the U-M Department of Astronomy who is an author of a paper about the research findings published in the April 8 edition of Nature. Researchers from the University of Denver and Georgia State University were involved as well.

Read more:   Astronomers Take Close-Up Pictures of Mysterious Dark Object | Science Daily

NASA, Navy & University Researchers Successfully Demonstrate Robotic Underwater Vehicle

From Science Daily:
NASA, U.S. Navy and university researchers have successfully demonstrated the first robotic underwater vehicle to be powered entirely by natural, renewable, ocean thermal energy.

The Sounding Oceanographic Lagrangrian Observer Thermal RECharging (SOLO-TREC) autonomous underwater vehicle uses a novel thermal recharging engine powered by the natural temperature differences found at different ocean depths. Scalable for use on most robotic oceanographic vehicles, this technology breakthrough could usher in a new generation of autonomous underwater vehicles capable of virtually indefinite ocean monitoring for climate and marine animal studies, exploration and surveillance.Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, completed the first three months of an ocean endurance test of the prototype vehicle off the coast of Hawaii in March.

Read more:  NASA Demonstrates Novel Ocean-Powered Underwater Vehicle | Science Daily

Partial Skeletons Found in South African May Represent New Hominid

From Science Times:

Nearly two million years ago, an adult and a child walking through the South African landscape somehow fell through openings in a partly eroded, underground cave and died. Today, that fatal plunge has led to their identification as representatives of a new hominid species — and a contentious debate among paleoanthropologists over the pair’s evolutionary relationship to modern humans.

In the April 9 Science, anthropologist Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and his colleagues assign newly discovered fossils from these ancient individuals to the species Australopithecus sediba. They propose that the species served as an evolutionary bridge from apelike members of Australopithecus to the Homo genus, which includes living people. In a local African tongue, sediba means fountain or wellspring, a reference to this species as a candidate ancestor of the Homo line.“Australopithecus sediba could be a Rosetta Stone for anatomically defining the Homo genus,” Berger says.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Giant Lizard, Varanus Bitatawa, Found in the Phillipines

 From Pravda.RU:

Biologists announced on Wednesday, the spectacular discovery of a new species of giant lizard, a reptile the size of a grown adult man, and endowed with a double penis, in the Philippines. The monitor lizard, a skittish animal, though colorful, is a close cousin of the Komodo Dragon of Indonesia. But unlike the dreaded dragon, he is not carnivorous and does not feed on carrion. Rather it is an entirely peaceful animal eating fruit.

Called the Varanus bitatawa, the lizard measures two meters in length, according to an article published by the Royal Society. The lizard was found in a river in the northern island of Luzon, Philippines where it survived the loss of their habitat to hunting practiced by the locals, who use it for food. 

It is not known, however, how many of these animals survived. It is almost certain that the species is in serious danger of extinction and could have gone away without ever being cataloged had a large male specimen not been rescued, alive, in possession of a hunter, last June. 

The discovery of a species so special in a densely populated and cleared area "is an unprecedented surprise," stressed the report's authors, in an article published in the journal Biology Letters. The only significance of such discoveries made in recent decades were the Kipunji monkey, which inhabits a small area of forest in Tanzania, and Saola, and a wild ox found only in Vietnam and Laos. 

The Varanus bitatawa has distinctive markings and an unusual sexual anatomy. His scaly body and legs are dark blue with light yellow dots, while the tail is marked with alternating segments of green and black. Males have a double penis, called hemipenis, also found in snakes and other lizards. The two penises are usually used interchangeably, and sometimes contain spines or hooks to attach the male to female during mating. The giant lizard has a relative in Southern Luzon, the V. olivaceus , but the species are separated in river valleys and a precipice of 150 km in length, making it likely that they have never met.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Chinese Bulk Coal Carrier Leaking Oil in Sea Around Great Barrier Reef

(Reuters) - A stranded Chinese bulk coal carrier leaking oil into the sea around Australia's Great Barrier Reef is in danger of breaking up and damaging the reef, government officials said on Sunday.

The 230-meter (754-ft) Shen Neng I was on its way to China when it ran aground on a shoal on Saturday. It had 950 tonnes of oil on board and officials said patches of oil had been spotted in the water early on Sunday, but no major leak.

The premier of Queensland state Anna Bligh said the ship was in a poor state, and posed a danger to the reef."The situation remains serious as the extent of the damage means there is a very real risk that the vessel may break apart," Bligh said in a statement. "Every effort is now being made to limit the impact of this incident on the Great Barrier Reef."

To read entire article, CLICK HERE.