Category Archives: Science

Cover Preview: Scientific American – February 2022

Science: Cloning Saves An Endangered Species And Exoplanet ‘Super-Earths’

On this week’s show: How cloning can introduce diversity into an endangered species, and ramping up the pressure on iron to see how it might behave in the cores of rocky exoplanets.

First up this week, News Intern Rachel Fritts talks with host Sarah Crespi about cloning a frozen ferret to save an endangered species.

Also this week, Rick Kraus, a research scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, talks about how his group used a powerful laser to compress iron to pressures similar to those found in the cores of some rocky exoplanets. If these super-Earths’ cores are like our Earth’s, they may have a protective magnetosphere that increases their chances of hosting life.

Previews: New Scientist Magazine – January 15

Previews: New Scientist Magazine – January 8

Photography: The ‘Micro-Beauty’ Of Plankton

Plankton form the base of marine and freshwater food webs. They consist of phytoplankton (plants) and zooplankton (animals). Their name derives from the Greek word for “drifter”, since they are too tiny to fight tides or currents. Phytoplankton oxygenate the ocean through photosynthesis, enabling marine animals to thrive, and produce about half the world’s oxygen.  Yet despite their abundance and fundamental role for life on Earth, their microscopic nature makes them easy to ignore. 

“The most exciting thing of the whole project was the discovery of this parallel, beautiful, strange, complex world, ” says photographer Jan van IJken, “there’s so much beauty around the corner that you’re not aware of”. Inspired by the microscopic beauty of plankton – and their predators, van IJken embarked on a photo and film project called Planktonium.  Over a year, he collected a diverse array of species from various Dutch waters, including puddles, lakes and seas, “Every time it was [a] new discovery”, he says. “There’s such a diversity, it makes you humble”. 

Back in his studio, Van IJken used various microscope and photography techniques, including dark field microscopy and timelapse photography to capture the “beauty, fine detail and incredible shapes” of his subjects. To add impact to the film, he commissioned Norweigan musician, Jana Winderen to create a soundscape, made using aquatic audio recordings including of fish, icebergs, small crustaceans which made a crackling sound and even the sounds of “fish howling to the moon”.

Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/…

Ecology: Importance Of Peatlands In CO2 Capture

As more of the world’s forests are destroyed, it makes you wonder: what’s going to absorb CO2 in their place?! In an ironic twist of fate, one of Earth’s “deadest” habitats might be our best hope for an ongoing supply of breathable air.

Called peatlands, these wetland environments are named for their tendency to accumulate decayed plant matter. Unlike most other ecosystems, like forests, where branches and leaves typically decompose in a matter of months… in peatlands, that plant material can stay intact for millenia. You see, peatlands mostly exist in high altitude places where temps are low and there’s not much water flow. This results in their having extremely low oxygen and high acidity levels.

These harsh conditions aren’t very hospitable to microbes and fungi, which are instrumental to the whole decomposition process. So without them around, the plant material sort of… just sits. Over time, that it globs together to form peat, a thick, spongy material that can soak up 20x its weight in water. Peat also soaks up loads of carbon. Through a process known as the Calvin cycle, living plants absorb CO2 from the air and convert it into organic molecules that they can then use as energy to grow.

Through decomposition, the carbon that’s “fixed” in a plant’s structure gets released but since peat doesn’t decompose, that carbon can stay put! It’s estimated that peatlands contain 550 gigatonnes of organic carbon, which is twice as much organic carbon as all the world’s forests combined. That’s absolutely wild, considering that forests cover about 30% of the world’s land area… and peatlands only account for 3%! Like most of the world’s habitats, peatlands aren’t immune to the threats of human development and exploitation.

Peat is also are a very in-demand resource. Its incredible water holding capacity makes it a favorite amongst horticulturists; If you’ve ever picked up a bag of soil amendment, chances are it’s full of the stuff. Since peat is also a fossil fuel with a long burn, it’s used in some parts of the world. Peatlands are also often drained to accommodate other land use activities, like agriculture.