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221 new species described by the California Academy of Sciences in 2014

In 2014, researchers at the California Academy of Sciences added a whopping 221 new plant and animal species to our family tree, enriching our understanding of Earth's complex web of life and strengthening our ability to make informed conservation decisions. The new species include 110 ants, 16 beetles, three spiders, 28 fishes, 24 sea slugs, two marine worms, 9 barnacles, two octocorals, 25 plants, one waterbear, and one tiny mammal. More than a dozen Academy scientists--along with several dozen international collaborators--described the discoveries.

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Methane is leaking from permafrost offshore Siberia

Yamal Peninsula in Siberia has recently become world famous. Spectacular sinkholes, appeared as out of nowhere in the permafrost of the area, sparking the speculations of significant release of greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere.

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NOAA: Arctic is warming at twice the rate of anywhere else on Earth

A new NOAA-led report shows that Arctic air temperatures continue to rise at more than twice the rate of global air temperatures, a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification. Increasing air and sea surface temperatures, declining reflectivity at the surface of the Greenland ice sheet, shrinking spring snow cover on land and summer ice on the ocean, and declining populations and health of some polar bear populations are among the observations released today in the Arctic Report Card 2014.

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Crows Are Smarter Than You Think

Crows have long been heralded for their high intelligence – they can remember faces, use tools and communicate in sophisticated ways.

But a newly published study finds crows also have the brain power to solve higher-order, relational-matching tasks, and they can do so spontaneously. That means crows join humans, apes and monkeys in exhibiting advanced relational thinking, according to the research.

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New, tighter timeline confirms ancient volcanism aligned with dinosaurs' extinction

A definitive geological timeline shows that a series of massive volcanic explosions 66 million years ago spewed enormous amounts of climate-altering gases into the atmosphere immediately before and during the extinction event that claimed Earth's non-avian dinosaurs, according to new research from Princeton University.

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Fine particulate air pollution linked with increased autism risk

Women exposed to high levels of fine particulate matter specifically during pregnancy--particularly during the third trimester--may face up to twice the risk of having a child with autism than mothers living in areas with low particulate matter, according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The greater the exposure, the greater the risk, researchers found. It was the first U.S.-wide study exploring the link between airborne particulate matter and autism.

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Report: Clearing Tropical Rainforests Distorts Earth’s Wind and Water Systems, Packs Climate Wallop Beyond Carbon

A new study released today presents powerful evidence that clearing trees not only spews carbon into the atmosphere, but also triggers major shifts in rainfall and increased temperatures worldwide that are just as potent as those caused by current carbon pollution. Further, the study finds that future agricultural productivity across the globe is at risk from deforestation-induced warming and altered rainfall patterns.

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Public Contest to Name Craters on Planet Mercury

The MESSENGER Education and Public Outreach (EPO) Team is launching a competition this week to name five impact craters on Mercury in conjunction with the IAU. The contest is open to everyone, except for members of the mission’s EPO team. The contest runs from 15 December 2014 to 15 January 2015.

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How do fireflies produce those mesmerizing light flashes?

Fireflies used rapid light flashes to communicate. This "bioluminescence" is an intriguing phenomenon that has many potential applications, from drug testing and monitoring water contamination, and even lighting up streets using glow-in-dark trees and plants. Fireflies emit light when a compound called luciferin breaks down. We know that this reaction needs oxygen, but what we don't know is how fireflies actually supply oxygen to their light-emitting cells. Using state-of-the-art imaging techniques, scientists from Switzerland and Taiwan have determined how fireflies control oxygen distribution to light up their cells. The work is published in Physical Review Letters.

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Highly Pathogenic H5 Avian Influenza Confirmed in Wild Birds in Washington State

The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic (HPAI) H5 avian influenza in wild birds in Whatcom County, Washington. Two separate virus strains were identified: HPAI H5N2 in northern pintail ducks and HPAI H5N8 in captive Gyrfalcons that were fed hunter-killed wild birds. Neither virus has been found in commercial poultry anywhere in the United States and no human cases with these viruses have been detected in the United States, Canada or internationally. There is no immediate public health concern with either of these avian influenza viruses.

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Study Hints That Ancient Earth Made Its Own Water-Geologically

A new study is helping to answer a longstanding question that has recently moved to the forefront of earth science: Did our planet make its own water through geologic processes, or did water come to us via icy comets from the far reaches of the solar system?

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NASA Rover Finds Active, Ancient Organic Chemistry on Mars

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill.

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NOAA and British Geological Survey update World Magnetic Model

NOAA officials announced today the World Magnetic Model (WMM), a representation of Earth’s large-scale magnetic field and an indispensable complement to GPS devices used by NATO, the United States and United Kingdom militaries, as well as civil applications ranging from mineral exploration to smartphone apps, has been updated.

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Earth's most abundant mineral finally has a name

An ancient meteorite and high-energy X-rays have helped scientists conclude a half century of effort to find, identify and characterize a mineral that makes up 38 percent of the Earth.

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Exposure During Pregnancy to Common Household Chemicals Associated with Substantial Drop in Child IQ

Children exposed during pregnancy to elevated levels of two common chemicals found in the home—di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) and di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP)—had an IQ score, on average, more than six points lower than children exposed at lower levels, according to researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

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Researchers use real data rather than theory to measure the cosmos

For the first time researchers have measured large distances in the Universe using data, rather than calculations related to general relativity.

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Study supports the theory that men are idiots

Sex differences in risk seeking behaviour, emergency hospital admissions, and mortality are well documented. Males are more likely to be admitted to an emergency department after accidential injuries, more likely to be admitted with a sporting injury, and more likely to be involved in a fatal road traffic collision.

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Scientists reveal new family tree for birds, clear back to dinosaur parents

A large international group of scientists, including an Oregon Health & Science University neuroscientist, is publishing this week the results of a first-ever look at the genome of dozens of common birds. The scientists’ research tells the story of how modern birds evolved after the mass extinction that wiped out dinosaurs and almost everything else on Earth 66 million years ago, and gives new details on how birds came to have feathers, flight and song.

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NIST Tests: Firefighters Portable Radios May Fail at Elevated Temperatures

New test results* from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) confirm that portable radios used by firefighters can fail to operate properly within 15 minutes when exposed to temperatures that may be encountered during firefighting activities.

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NASA Study Shows 13-year Record of Drying Amazon Caused Vegetation Declines

A 13-year decline in vegetation in the eastern and southeastern Amazon has been linked to a decade-long rainfall decline in the region, a new NASA-funded study finds

With global climate models projecting further drying over the Amazon in the future, the potential loss of vegetation and the associated loss of carbon storage may speed up global climate change.

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Warmer Pacific Ocean could release millions of tons of seafloor methane

Off the West Coast of the United States, methane gas is trapped in frozen layers below the seafloor. New research from the University of Washington shows that water at intermediate depths is warming enough to cause these carbon deposits to melt, releasing methane into the sediments and surrounding water.

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In world first -- UNSW researchers convert sunlight to electricity with over 40 percent efficiency

UNSW Australia's solar researchers have converted over 40% of the sunlight hitting a solar system into electricity, the highest efficiency ever reported.

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Study finds early warning signals of abrupt climate change

A new study by researchers at the University of Exeter has found early warning signals of a reorganisation of the Atlantic oceans' circulation which could have a profound impact on the global climate system.

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Evidence of Life on Mars?

In 2012 the Mars Science Laboratory landed in the fascinating Gale crater. The Gale crater is of such great interest because of the 5.5 km high mountain of layered materials in the middle. This material tells an intricate story of the history of Mars, perhaps spanning much of the existence of this mysterious planet.

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On Pluto’s Doorstep, NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Awakens For Encounter

After a voyage of nearly nine years and 3 billion miles —the farthest any space mission has ever traveled to reach its primary target – NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft came out of hibernation on Dec. 6 for its long-awaited 2015 encounter with the Pluto system.

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NASA’s New Orion Spacecraft Completes First Spaceflight Test

NASA marked a major milestone Friday on its journey to Mars as the Orion spacecraft completed its first voyage to space, traveling farther than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has been in more than 40 years.

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Global Weirding Is Here - A Climate Guide to a Weird Future

Global Weirding is an interactive visualization of the most comprehensive scientific report on climate change ever made – the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report.

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Six Lessons to Boost Your Climate Vocabulary

Right now, political-types from virtually every country in the world are gathering in Peru to talk about climate change. They're working toward a major international agreement about how every nation will pitch in to address global climate change. It's kind of a big deal.

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Finding infant earths and potential life just got easier

Among the billions and billions of stars in the sky, where should astronomers look for infant Earths where life might develop? New research from Cornell University's Institute for Pale Blue Dots shows where - and when - infant Earths are most likely to be found. The paper by research associate Ramses M. Ramirez and director Lisa Kaltenegger, "The Habitable Zones of Pre-Main-Sequence Stars" will be published in the Jan. 1, 2015, issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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Oldest ever engraving discovered on 500,000-year-old shell

Homo erectus on Java was already using shells of freshwater mussels as tools half a million years ago, and as a 'canvas' for an engraving. An international team of researchers, led by Leiden archaeologist José Joordens, published this discovery on 3 December in Nature. The discovery provides new insights into the evolution of human behaviour.

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