Engaging science and research-based explainers.

Una advertencia grave para los arrecifes hondureños

«Se siente una impotencia», me dijo en una videollamada. Guerrero es la coordinadora para Honduras de la organización Arrecifes Saludables para Gente Saludable, que hace monitoreo de la salud de todo el sistema arrecifal mesoamericano, que también incluye México, Belice y Guatemala. «Realmente no puedes hacer nada más que documentarlo y regar la voz…pero una solución a corto o mediano plazo, pues no la sé», dijo.

What Will Green Hydrogen Mean for International Relations?

As world leaders pledge a sharper pivot toward a carbon-free future, an old answer is resurfacing to a many-trillion-dollar question: Where will we get energy when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow? Set aside thoughts of giant batteries, nuclear fission, natural gas, and pumped hydropower for the moment. The future of global energy markets might be in creating carbon-free hydrogen—and the implications extend beyond climate change. According to scholars Fridolin Pflugmann and Nicol

What Happens When Rising Seas Shift Maritime Borders?

In 1982, when the United Nations first defined where a nation’s maritime territory ends and the high seas begin, few people imagined that the land those boundaries were based on could disappear entirely beneath the waves. But now a warming planet and rising seas are forcing a reckoning with that assumption, writes law professor Vincent P. Cogliati-Bantz. According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), all coastal nations can claim an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) up t

Antarctica Is Warming. Are Invasive Species on the Way?

Most seaports today harbor a variety of inconspicuous, disastrous, and often spineless shipboard stowaways. Clusters of mussels, filaments of algae, or cliques of crustaceans that travel the world wedged under ship hulls can devastate ocean ecosystems (and cost billions) when the invaders breed in new environments and outcompete the locals. Thanks to Antarctica’s frigid isolation, the encircling Southern Ocean has been an exception so far. But with the Antarctic region now warming faster than a

Where Did the Oil from the Deepwater Horizon Spill Go?

For weeks after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, a horrified public witnessed video footage of a fixed spot, nearly a mile beneath the ocean surface. Here, write geophysicist Marcia McNutt and a team of researchers, “a complex, uneven, interwoven brownish, tan, and yellowish plume” of oil and natural gas spewed. In the following months, more than 4 million barrels of that chemical cocktail called crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. It fanned out across hundreds of miles at depth and

The Little Plankton That Could

They’re smaller than chia seeds, but they inspired one of this century’s most beloved cartoon villains. They are arguably the world’s most abundant animal, and by keeping their embryos suspended in time for decades, they have even challenged our very notion of what it means to be alive. Calanoid copepods are a superfamily of plankton. To oceanographers, they are the most dependable animals to find almost anywhere you can toss a net into the sea, akin to beetles on land. To everyone else, if cop

Dude, There Are Sand Flies That Consume Cannabis

The researchers double-checked their molecular analysis tools, and the DNA hadn’t lied: blood-sucking sand flies, collected from across the world, had been munching like mad on marijuana leaves. This wasn’t in Colorado, California, or Amsterdam. All of the pests were gathered from areas that prohibit cannabis cultivation, including Brazil, Palestine, Ethiopia, Israel, and Kazakhstan. The sand flies, which suck juices from plants but will also drink human blood while carrying offspring, had loca

Tidal Power: A Forgotten Renewable Resource?

As the tide rises and falls, is it worth generating electricity on a large scale from its movement? It’s a question engineers have studied for one particular part of Great Britain since the 1800s—and the urgency of making carbon-free power to limit climate change could mean deciding on an answer quickly. Most shorelines have two high and two low tides each day, a pattern that coincides with the constant tug of gravity from the moon and sun on the sea. Unlike the hydropower we make from damming

Sharks Are Hiding from Scientists in Plain Sight—Almost

The awe and fear many Americans feel watching Shark Week is familiar to most shark scientists—but not because of the sharks themselves. More troubling are sharks’ declining populations and the consequences for ocean ecosystems without these apex predators. Experts are in a time crunch. Not only do they have to alert the public to issues like overfishing and even the death of sharks due to fishing practices targeting other species, they also still have to gather the most basic data about sharks a

Will Chocolate Survive Climate Change? Actually, Maybe

For years, the alarm bell among agronomists has tolled: a warmer world could mean less cacao. Cacao is the name of both the seed that is used to make chocolate and the plant that bears it. It evolved in the damp Amazonian rainforest understory, where Indigenous societies selected for useful traits among “wild” cacao over millennia. Today, cacao is one of the most important crops in the tropics, where smallholder farmers toil to feed the world’s love of chocolate. Studies on climate change and

The Surprisingly Egalitarian Love Lives of Garden Snails

The common snails that chomp on backyard gardens and emerge after rains have wilder love lives than you ever dreamed. To start with, the mating process lasts for hours. Garden snails deliver what is described as a love dart somewhere along their partner’s body, with hopes of shooting that dart near the snail’s genital pore. They often miss, but not always. Least remarkably, most snail species are hermaphrodites. Hermaphroditism, or having both biologically male and female sex organs, is a comm

How the "Organic" Label Leaves Small Farmers Out

Every day, millions of Americans stroll into grocery stores, scan the produce options, and contemplate shelling out extra money to buy organic. They want to support the environment, or they like supporting small farmers, or they prefer healthier, fresher food. Surely opting for organic checks off at least some of these goals? Well, not necessarily—even though “organic” can be confusing to define, most people who buy these brands feel pretty sure it means they’re supporting something good. In re

Climate Change and the Criminal Justice System

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the U.S. criminal justice system sprang—or stumbled—into action. Some prisons released low-risk prisoners into society rather than keep them in hazardously crowded cells; some courtrooms switched to virtual trials; and across the nation, we grappled with how to penalize newly defined crimes, from violating mask mandates to vaccine fraud. But changes on this scale may be small potatoes compared with those climate change is introducing into the criminal justice

Scientists Find Clues to the Mysteries of an Ocean Reef

Just beyond the colorful coral reefs and tropical waves of the island nation of Palau, a far rarer sort of reef juts up from the crushing blackness of the deep Pacific Ocean. It’s called the Ngaraard Pinnacle. And unlike neighboring coral reefs, the environment of the narrow, shear ridge, which is surrounded by the deep on all sides and peaks 300 feet below the surface of the ocean, has long been a mystery. Until now, that is, thanks to a team of scientists led by Patrick Colin, who recently co

Magnetism Can Reveal Levels of Local Air Pollution

This post draws on a study originally published in the Bulletin of the Mexican Geological Society. The post can be read in Spanish here. Léalo en español The latest research on air pollution is crystal-clear: it’s far worse for us than anyone realized. Many studies have pinpointed airborne particulates as a risk factor in COVID-19, including recent research in London that linked the likelihood of hospitalization from COVID to air pollution at the neighborhood level. The World Health Organizati

Solar-Powered Sea Slugs and Survival in Future Seas

Add to the long list of ocean marvels great and small the humble lettuce sea slug, Elysia clarki. Ranging from a dusky olive to Jell-O lime green, with dramatic ruffles that resemble a flattened scrunchie, the Floridian species belongs to a group of “solar-powered” sea slugs known for stealing chloroplasts from their algal prey and repurposing them to photosynthesize within their own bodies. This ability to create sugars from sunlight like a plant while otherwise living a regular sea-slug life

Why National Pride Could Make or Break Climate Action

We’re weeks away from a high-stakes final exit ramp for what scientists have declared a “code red” climate catastrophe. The international climate negotiations in Scotland, called COP26, will convene October 31 with the goal of getting nearly 200 nations—including powerhouse emitters like the United States and China—to make serious commitments to releasing fewer planet-heating greenhouse gases. The commitments nations make are not legally binding. Instead, they are staked on international honor

How Drought Could Make Sea-Level Rise Worse

In the first decade of the Cold War, California was in a drought. The coastline north of Los Angeles retreated inland by several hundred feet. Less water flowing to the ocean meant less sediment swept down rivers to replenish the beaches that the waves, left to their own devices, would eat away over time. The ocean’s rapid encroachment wasn’t too unusual in the longer view of history, according to research published last year by earth scientists Julie Zurbuchen, Alexander Simms, and Sebastien H
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