STATE OF THE UNION: President Obama sought to break gridlock in Congress and restore Americans' confidence in their government Wednesday night, ambitious goals for his first official State of the Union address. The high-stakes speech focused primarily on jobs and the economy, with Obama announcing a three-year spending freeze on many domestic programs while also proclaiming that "the worst of the storm is over," referring to the recession. On environmental issues, he emphasized the economic benefits of innovating in clean energy, arguing that even "those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change" can agree that "the nation that leads the clean-energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy, and America must be that nation." When outlining specifics about that "clean-energy economy," Obama offered several olive branches to Republicans — nuclear power, clean coal, and even offshore oil and gas drilling — but aside from calling for "continued investment in advanced biofuels," made no mention of renewable energy such as wind, solar or geothermal. He did thank the House for passing a climate bill last June, however, said he's eager to help push a bipartisan effort in the Senate as well. (Sources: CNN, New York Times)
TRAINS OF THOUGHT: Following last night's speech, Obama is in Tampa, Fla., today, announcing $8 billion in federal stimulus funding for 13 high-speed rail corridors throughout the country. It's part of a plan to transform loosely connected U.S. regions into tighter hubs of commerce and innovation, and is intended to one day set the stage for a nationwide network. One of the new rail lines will link Tampa to Miami — a modern upgrade of the disastrous "Tamiami Trail" that destroyed parts of the Everglades in the early 20th century — while another will span the 400 miles between San Francisco and Anaheim, Calif. Other lines will connect major cities in the Midwest, the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic and the Pacific Northwest, using trains that can travel up to 168 mph and slash travel time — potentially reducing those regions' traffic congestion and automobile emissions. (Sources: United Press International, Tampa Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Wired)
GINGER LIZARDS: If you thought you knew what color dinosaurs were before this week, you were wrong. Artists' renderings from children's books to Jurassic Park have imagined a variety of hues for the extinct race of giant reptiles, and while many of them were wisely based on the skin colors of dinosaurs' present-day relatives, they've all been speculative until now. A team of scientists from China and the U.K. have found the first evidence of pigment in dinosaur fossils, a subtle shade of orange the NY Times likens to "chestnut." It comes from the bristles of a 125-million-year-old Sinosauropteryx, a turkey-sized carnivore that featured a mohawk of orange feathers down its head and back, followed by an orange-and-white striped tail. The researchers also say their findings show that dinosaurs' feathers first evolved not for flight, but possibly for insulation or even display to attract mates. (Sources: BBC News, NY Times)
PEAK PERFORMANCE: Mountains in the South American region of Patagonia are growing taller at a record pace of 1.5 inches per year, according to a new study published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, but the cause may not be natural. Glaciers in Patagonia's southern ice field are rapidly melting — widely attributed to rising global temperatures from human greenhouse gas emissions — and the reduced weight from all that ice is allowing the land to rise higher, like a seat cushion after someone stands up from a chair. This phenomenon has been detected before in other places, but the fast pace of the Patagonian mountains' ascent is big news, experts say. "Before I saw this article I would have said the highest rate [of mountain growth] was at Glacier Bay, Alaska," says U.S. Geological Survey glacier expert Bruce Molnia, referring to another region where glacier melting is leading to a rapid mountain rise of about 1.3 inches annually. (Source: Discovery News)
WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT: Some climate skeptics have pounced on this winter's unusually cold weather and violent storms as proof that global warming isn't happening. But what if it's just the opposite? That's the claim of a new study by the National Wildlife Federation, which argues that the extreme weather this winter is actually an example how climate change can wreak havoc with long-established patterns. "Example" is of course different from "proof," since one season of bizarre weather is too fleeting to prove much of anything. But the NWF report does highlight the variable and potentially vicious nature of a planet in flux, pointing out that climate change can mean much more than just global warming. (Source: Washington Post)
SOMETHING FISHY: Fish in the Great Lakes are under assault from VHS, according to a new study by scientists at Cornell University and the USGS, but the threat has nothing to do with a resurgence of outdated videocassettes. "VHS" also refers to a potentially fatal fish virus called "viral hemorrhagic septicemia," and the researchers recently found evidence of it in Lake Superior, meaning it has now spread to all the Great Lakes since first appearing in the U.S. Northeast in 2005. VHS poses no threat to humans (other than clogging up our shelves with old tapes of Caddyshack and Coming to America), but it can cause fatal anemia and hemorrhaging in many fish species. With the Great Lakes' multimillion-dollar fishing industry at stake, scientists are racing to figure out how VHS might affect the 28 fish species it has already infected in the area's watershed, and how they might stop it from spreading even farther. (Source: e! Science News)
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Photo (Obama giving State of the Union address): Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Photo (Acela Express high-speed train): ZUMA Press
Photo (Sinosauropteryx): University of Bristol, Jim Robins/AP
Photo (Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia): ZUMA Press
Photo (VHS tape): Jupiter Images
Photo (snowy camel in Midway, Ky., on Jan. 7): ZUMA Press
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