SHRINKING SHEEP: The wild Soay sheep of Scotland have been shrinking for the last 25 years, which made no sense to scientists until recently. The Soay live on the remote island of Hirta in the North Atlantic, where brutal winters normally kill off the smaller, leaner lambs in favor of their heftier kin — natural selection in action. But the average female sheep there has shrunk by about three ounces per year since 1985, and a study published late last week by the journal Science offers an intriguing theory why: climate change. At the same time the sheep have been shrinking, Hirta has been getting warmer — fall lasts longer and spring comes earlier, meaning those lean little lambs have a better shot at surviving and passing on their more diminutive genes. In addition to showing a more gentle side of global warming, the study shows how changes in climate can sometimes trump natural selection. (Sources: MSNBC, New York Times, Associated Press, New Scientist)

SENATE SHOWDOWN: Just as Capitol Hill settles down after the contentious climate-bill frenzy in the House two weeks ago — which resulted in the first major climate-change bill to pass either chamber of Congress — the Senate is ramping up for its turn. Of course, the climate bill only passed through the House thanks to a surge of last-minute handouts to wary farm-state and coal-state lawmakers, and things only get trickier in the Senate, reports the LA Times' Jim Tankersley. Offshore oil and gas drilling will likely be a sticking point, as will the interstate power lines that'll be needed to make wind and solar power mainstream parts of the U.S. energy grid. "In the House, you can move blocks of votes," one expert tells Tankersley. "In the Senate, it's hand-to-hand combat." (Source: Los Angeles Times)

CHARGING AHEAD: The push for better fuel efficiency has been good to Toyota and Honda. The two Japanese automakers are still struggling, as are virtually all car companies, but they're dominating lists of the few cars that are being sold. Toyota's new 50-mpg Prius remains No. 1 in its home country, with sales jumping 258 percent in the past year, and Honda's Insight hybrid isn't far behind. While the industry in general has sunk 14.5 from a year ago, Toyota dropped just 11.4 percent, and Honda had a relatively gangbusters year, dropping only 7.1 percent in sales. (Source: Reuters)

ORCHESTRATING ORCAS: Forget killing birds — federal scientists think they can save two species with one stone. A plan to revive salmon runs on the Sacramento River might also salvage killer whale populations 700 miles to the north in Puget Sound, a fact that highlights the complex task of managing an enormous ecosystem that stretches from California to Alaska along the Pacific Coast. Declining salmon stocks have put a pinch on the orcas, which are estimated to eat up to 500,000 of the fish each year. But nothing is ever simple: While the plan might be needed to save the orcas, it may also cramp the lifestyles of farmers in the region by further restricting their drought-stricken water supplies. (Source: McClatchy Newspapers)

HOT TROPICS: Don't think you can make to to the tropics this summer? Don't worry; they're coming to you. Researchers at Australia's James Cook University report that the planet's tropical zones are rapidly expanding due to climate change, a prospect that isn't as great as it might seem at first. The warmer weather could usher in drier conditions and kill off sensitive species, and there's a good chance it could bring tropical diseases like dengue fever and malaria with it into formerly temperate zones. (Source: Brisbane Times)

TWIST OF LIME: The oceans' rising acidity could be slowed down by adding some lime — calcium hydroxide, that is, not citrus zest — according to proposals revealed today. The caustic substance, created by heating limestone, could help boost the seas' natural ability to absorb carbon dioxide while also keeping that from making seawater more acidic, which is what's currently happening. The lime reacts with dissolved CO2 by converting it into bicarbonate ions, reducing acidity while freeing up the oceans to absorb more of the greenhouse gas. The idea is one of many such "geoengineering" schemes being discussed at the two-day Manchester Report, a conference put on by Britain's Guardian newspaper to drum up innovative ideas for tackling climate change. (Source: Guardian)

Russell McLendon

Photo: og2t/Flickr

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