Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Science Policy Around the Web – March 27, 2015

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By: Agila Somasundaram, Ph.D

Amazon Manaus forest” by Phil P Harris. – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Climate Change

Amazon Forest Becoming Less of a Climate Change Safety Net

Forests help reduce global warming by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and releasing oxygen in return. In a recent study done by a team at the University of Leeds, Britain, researchers reported that the ability of the Amazon forests to absorb excess carbon is declining over time, a finding that does not bode well for the environment. Even though carbon emissions have been drastically increasing, the Earth’s forests and oceans have surprisingly kept up with it. But the study, done over 30 years, covering 189,000 trees across 321 plots in the Amazon basin, has reported that carbon uptake in the Amazon has fallen by half since its peak in the 1990s. Researchers postulate that the rising carbon dioxide levels may have initially sped up the growth of the trees, but the increased metabolism of trees may have led to the decline in carbon absorption. “With time, the growth stimulation feeds through the system, causing trees to live faster, and so die younger,” says Oliver L. Phillips, a tropical ecologist at the University of Leeds and one of the lead researchers of the study. Though forests are still absorbing more carbon than they are releasing, the question is if this trend will reverse. Will other forests also decrease their carbon absorption over time? “Forests are doing us a huge favor, but we can’t rely on them to solve the carbon problem,” Dr. Phillips said. “Instead, deeper cuts in (carbon) emissions will be required to stabilize our climate.” (Justin Gillis, The New York Times)


White House Science Fair celebrates student research

On March 23, 2015, the White House hosted its fifth annual White House Science Fair, where more than 100 elementary, middle and high-school students showcased their exciting and innovative research accomplishments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to President Obama and other government officials. “We’ve got to celebrate the winners of our science fairs as much as we celebrate the winners of football or basketball or other athletic competitions,” said President Obama. 35 student teams, the winners of STEM competitions across the country, exhibited their projects that ranged from disease diagnostics and clean energy, to enhanced information security. Sixteen-year old Sophia Sánchez-Maes has developed energy-efficient ways of extracting lipids from algae, and optimizing their use in biofuel production. Eric Koehlmoos, 18, has found that treating prairie grass with calcium hydroxide could boost ethanol production, making it a viable alternative to corn-based ethanol. Nikhil Behari, 14, created a computer protocol that measures each individual’s unique typing style to help protect online user identity. Other exhibits included carbon dioxide-powered batteries, software to identify genetic mutations that cause breast cancer, spine implants for scoliosis patients, and a Lego-based automatic page-turner. As part of the Fair, President Obama announced $240 million in funding for the ‘Educate to Innovate’ program, including a $150-million philanthropic effort to empower promising early-career scientists to become scientific leaders, a $90 million ‘Let Everyone Dream’ campaign to expand STEM opportunities to under-represented youth, and a $25 million Department of Education competition to create science- and literacy-based media to inspire students to explore. The announcements also included 120 universities and colleges to train 20,000 engineers to tackle the ‘Grand Challenges’ of the 21st century, and a coalition of CEOs called ‘Change the Equation’ to expand STEM programs to 1.5 million more students this year. The theme of this year’s science fair was ‘Diversity and Inclusion in STEM’, and the fair emphasized the importance of including minorities and women in science. “Science is for all of us,” Obama said, “and we want our classrooms and labs and workplaces and media to reflect that.” (Emily Conover, Science)

Climate Change

Arctic Ice Reaches a Low Winter Maximum

The Arctic Ocean is covered by a large amount of ice that fluctuates on a seasonal basis – the ice peaks around March, after which it melts during the warmer spring and summer climes, and reaches its minimum around September every year. This year the arctic ice reached its annual peak on Feb 25, two weeks earlier than average, and the ice cover is lower than it has been at the end of a winter, since 1978, says the National Snow and Ice Data Center in its report. The center said that this could be partly explained by recent changes in weather patterns – the North Pacific was warmer, and the south was cooler with heavier snows, because of the change in spread of the atmospheric jet stream of cold air. Walt Meier, a NASA scientist, says that the summer minimums of ice cover in the Arctic can have a greater effect on global climate than winter maximums, and that the winter ice cover is not a good predictor of how much ice will be left by the end of summer. This is because during winter, the ice near the edges of the sheet are thin, and melt, whereas the thicker ice in the center melt during summers. “When you lose summer ice you aren’t really just losing it for that year, you’re also losing some ice from many years ago,” he said. “That makes it harder for things to go back towards normal.” This long-term decline in the Arctic sea ice is mainly driven by global warming as a result of huge emissions of greenhouse gases by humans. (Derek Watkins, The New York Times)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

March 27, 2015 at 9:00 am

Posted in Linkposts

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