Friday 19 December 2014

How do Fireflies power their glow?

Fireflies emit light when a compound called luciferin breaks down. Scientists know that this reaction needs oxygen, but what they didn't know was how fireflies actually supply oxygen to their light-emitting cells.

According to the study, state-of-the-art-imaging revealed that oxygen distribution is key to being able to light up their cells. Fireflies divert oxygen from other cellular functions and put it towards the reaction that breaks up luciferin. Specifically, the researchers found that oxygen consumption in the cell decreased, slowing down energy production. At the same time, oxygen supply increased for light-emission  reactions.

Lappet faced vultures have their best recorded breeding season in Namibia

Lappet-faced vultures breed over most of Namibia. One of their strongholds is the Namib-Naukluft Park. This year the Lappets in the Park have raised 100 chicks.

The breeding success of these large vultures has been monitored for the past 24 years and it is the first time that 100 chicks have been found and ringed. They nest in very tops of trees and the best way to spot them is from aircraft flying low and slow. Normally there is only one egg per nest but occasionally twins are seen.

Over the past few years there have been good rains in the Namib-Naukluft Park which have resulted in increased breeding of Gemsbok, Springbok, Hartmann's Mountain Zebra and Ostrich. Now, during the drought, the limited grazing in several areas could be to the advantage of the vultures, as more animals succumb to the harsh conditions.

Although many vultures breed in protected areas, they also feed on farms and fly to neighbouring
countries. Some landowners, who use poison to control predators attacking their domestic stock, also poison the vultures in the process.

Poachers poison an elephant carcass after removing the tusks to stop vultures betraying the slaughter of these animals. The vultures are 'eyes-in-the-sky' and alert police and conservation officials. This
alarming trend has killed many hundreds of vultures in Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and countries in East Africa.

Vulture populations all over Africa have suffered a massive crash in the last 10 years or so due to poison and also from Diclofenac used by farmers to treat sick cattle. The Diclofenac destroys the vultures renal system and also stops their eggs from hatching.

The loss of 96% of India's vultures caused huge health problems in that country. Rotting carcasses of cattle encourage disease and an increase in the number of feral dogs. If it weren't for vultures the plains of the Serengeti would be littered with hundreds of thousands of dead Wildebeeste every year and I suspect the smell would be pretty awful.

Good to see they have had an excellent breeding year. I hope their numbers continue to recover all over Africa and Asia.

Thursday 18 December 2014

Vast amounts of fresh water are stored deep within the Earth's crust

There appears to be far more water locked deep within the Earth's crust than scientists have previously thought.

Some of the water is ancient and has been sitting there for between 1 and 2.5 billions of years old and is stored many kilometres below the surface.

There is thought to be more fresh water than all the World's rivers, swamps and lakes combined. The volume has been calculated at around 11 million cubic kilometres, which is 2.5 cubic miles in old units

A team  of researchers found that the water was reacting with the rock to release hydrogen, which is a potential food source.

The question is - could the deep crust be harbouring as yet undiscovered life forms? The search is on to find it, and see just how much and where it is.

Thursday 11 December 2014

Methane Hydrates escaping from sea floor much faster than expected

A study of the sea floor off the West Coast of the United States has revealed that methane is escaping at 500 times its average rate of natural release.

Waters off the coast of Washington are gradually warming at a depth of 500 meters, which is the same depth at which methane transforms from a solid into a gas, helping to facilitate the release of the most powerful of greenhouse gases which can trap heat in our atmospheres 20 times better than carbon dioxide.

Methane, is continually released by the ocean from natural seafloor vents or in a simple cycle of freezing and melting, as part of the Earth's greater carbon cycle, but recently experts have expressed concern that methane (CH4) is seeing more release than ocean carbon sinks can make up for. This may be due to uncharacteristic warming of the sea as a result of climate change. This warming could be melting areas of frozen water on the ocean floor, collapsing pockets of gas called "methane hydrates, or clathrates" and causing it to be released at a much faster rate.

"If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we're f'd," Jason Box, a widely published climatologist, tweeted back in August, when it was first revealed that this could be occurring in the East Siberian Arctic Ocean.

Many experts believe that these releases have the potential to speed up climate change well beyond
standard projections.

"Methane hydrates are a very large and fragile reservoir of carbon that can be released if temperatures change," Evan Solomon, co-author of the GRL study, explained in a recent statement. "I was skeptical at first, but when we looked at the amounts, it's significant."

It is estimated that four million metric tons of methane have been released since the 1970s. That's more than 40 times the carbon equivalent of all the methane released in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Researchers are shocked by these results, because the great majority of these methane releases were
expected to occur in the Arctic. However, other recent studies have found that there are more than 500 active methane vents along the US East Coast as well, adding an extra 90 metric tons annually from the Atlantic Ocean.

Scientists aren't sure how much of the methane hydates end up in the atmosphere. Much of it could be consumed by bacteria in the sediments below the seafloor or in the sea itself.  However, a consequence of this, that we already starting to see, is increased ocean acidification.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Kenya's elephant population is increasing

The number of elephants has increased to 35,720, despite poaching in various parts of the country.

Kenya Wildlife Service director William Kiprono said the elephant population was 34,000 two years ago. He said measures put in place to stop poaching are bearing fruit.

However, he also reported that the number of tourists visiting parks has dropped by half due to fears of insecurity.

"Kenya is largely a safe country, especially within the parks, but the few cases of insecurity, especially at the Coast, cause panic among tourists," he said.

Ebola has also played its part as people don't seem to realise just how big Africa is and how far away Liberia is from Kenya. It is closer to London than Kenya.