CLIMATE OF TRUST: The last few months have been rough on many climate scientists, who have watched public confidence in their field melt much faster than a Himalayan glacier. A PR problem that began with last year's "Climategate" scandal — in which hackers published a decade's worth of scientists' embarrassing e-mails online — was only amplified by more recent revelations that a major U.N. climate report contains at least one error-riddled section (including the now-infamous forecast of melting glaciers in the Himalayas). In a front-page story today, the [skipwords]New York[/skipwords] Times looks at how climate scientists have begun working to win back the public's trust, beginning with efforts to change the perception that they withhold or manipulate information. On top of official reviews at Penn State, East Anglia and the U.N., the National Academy of Sciences is working on a nontechnical paper outlining what's known and what isn't known about climate change, and scientists around the world are now under more pressure than ever to be open and forthcoming with the public. They have their work cut out for them, however, and one NASA climatologist says it's not work they should be doing. "Climate scientists are paid to do climate science," NASA's Gavin Schmidt tells the Times. "Their job is not persuading the public." (Source: New York Times)
THRUST INTO THE SPOTLIGHT: The kind of gigantic "megathrust" earthquake that shook Chile last weekend doesn't happen very often — it was the fifth-strongest quake ever measured — but if another one is going to occur, geologists do at least know a few places to look. One of the most threatening ones is located under the seafloor just 50 miles off the Pacific Northwest coast, the AP reports today, part of a dormant fault that's been quiet for more than 300 years but could jolt awake any day now. Known as the Cascadia subduction zone, its last outburst was a magnitude-9 megathrust that sent tsunamis up to 40 feet high crashing into coasts all around the Pacific. Recent computer simulations of a similar quake suggest shaking could last for 2 to 5 minutes, potentially toppling buildings from British Columbia to Northern California and flooding low-lying areas along the U.S. West Coast. The Cascadia fault "has a long geological history of doing exactly what happened in Chile," a USGS geologist tells the AP, adding that "It's not a matter of if but when the next one will happen." Scientists say there's an 80 percent chance the fault's southern end near Oregon will rupture in the next 50 years. (Source: Associated Press)
NO FARM, NO FOUL: A Maryland poultry farm and the chicken giant Perdue Farms are targeted in a new lawsuit filed Tuesday by environmental activists, the latest in a rising rural resentment around the country at how megafarms often treat their neighbors. Blaming the farm and its owner for polluting the Chesapeake Bay with manure-laden runoff, the lawsuit asks a Maryland District Court judge to levy fines of $37,500 for each day the farm violated the Clean Water Act. The bay's manure pollution has risen about 20 percent in the last 25 years, helping feed one of many algae-ridden "dead zones" around the country's coasts as well as growing anger at the corporate farms often behind the waste. The Wall Street Journal also reports today on how rural residents in Missouri have lashed out against hog farmers in that state, using local ordinances to prevent concentrated animal feeding operations from sprouting up near where people live. A state judge ruled against a prospective hog farm in 2007, arguing the "odors and volatile and dangerous airborne pollutants" could "decimate" the area, but some farm-friendly state leaders are now pushing to ease restrictions on industrialized livestock farms. "In the eyes of the agricultural community," says Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, "this is starting to spin out of control." (Sources: Washington Post, Wall Street Journal)
MAMMOTH DISCOVERIES: Siberia's permafrost hasn't been living up to its name over the past three decades, thawing out in a massive meltdown that has Russian scientists arguing over whether global warming is playing a role. Either way, the loss of ice has been a boon for fossil enthusiasts, as a treasure trove of ice-age mammoth remains is being revealed by the receding ice. "People used to just come across bones and throw them aside or take them to the garbage, because they were not interested in them," a Siberian reindeer farmer tells the Los Angeles Times. "But now there's a big demand. And of course there's a lot of competition, and people who make it their main trade." Some Russian scientists have launched lucrative side businesses peddling mammoth bones, which are being sold online, whittled into chess sets and helping replace the loss of elephant ivory on the world market. The fossils are reportedly are even supporting entire villages in the tundra, and the popularity of hunting for them has given rise to new Siberian slang: "mamontit," a verb meaning "to mammoth." (Source: Los Angeles Times)
CREAM OF THE CROP: Not all mothers' milk is the same, and a team of scientists have discovered that among rhesus macaque monkeys, it may send signals to an infant about the environment where it'll be raised, affecting the young monkey's behavior and temperament later in life. Nutritional information in the milk seems to program the infant's brain with expectations of which and how many resources will be available during its lifetime, discouraging certain personalities that can be risky when food is scarce. The researchers working at the California National Primate Research Center collected milk samples from 59 rhesus macaque mothers when their offspring were 1 month old and again a couple months later, recording the quantity and energy content of each sample; they found that mothers that weighed more and had been pregnant before produced higher-quality milk than leaner, less experienced mothers did. "This is the first study for any mammal that presents evidence that natural variation in available milk energy from the mother is associated with later variation in infant behavior and temperament," says the study's lead author. "Our results suggest that the milk energy available soon after birth may be a nutritional cue that calibrates the infant's behavior to environmental or maternal conditions." (Source: ScienceDaily)
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Photo (Himalayan glaciers): NASA
Photo (Seattle skyline): ZUMA Press
Photo (chickens): [skipwords]Louisiana[/skipwords] Dept. of Agriculture and Forestry
Photo (mammoth skeleton): Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Photo (rhesus macaques): Ssppeeeeddyy/Flickr
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