There are thousands of sites in the Arctic where methane that has been stored for millennia is bubbling into the atmosphere. The methane has been trapped by ice, but is able to escape as the ice melts. Researchers say this ancient gas could have a significant impact on climate change.
In other environmental news, Los Angeles has become the largest city in the U.S. to approve a ban on plastic bags at supermarket checkout lines. The City Council voted to phase out plastic bags over the next 16 months at an estimated 7,500 stores, meaning shoppers will need to bring reusable bags or purchase paper bags for 10 cents each.
Periodic increases in the flow of Colorado River water through the Grand Canyon are designed to alleviate the environmental disruption caused by the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona in the 1960s. By mimicking the river's original dynamics, federal officials said, the flows could help restore the backwater ecosystems in which native fish are most at home.
A pan-European project has devised a much-anticipated way to differentiate marine populations of the same species with up to 100% accuracy. It will help managers tell the difference between, for example, an illegally harvested Northeast Arctic cod and a perfectly legal Eastern Baltic cod. The new approach relies on genetic variants called single-nucleotide polymorphisms.
An autonomous robotic fish designed to sense marine pollution is lurking in the waters of the port of Gijon, Spain. The robots will continuously monitor the water, letting the port respond immediately to the causes of pollution, such as a leaking boat or industrial spillage, and work to mitigate its effects.
Scientists have concluded that fresh water demand is driving sea-level rise faster than glacier melt. The massive impact of the global population's growing need for water on rising sea levels is revealed in a comprehensive assessment of all the ways in which people use water.
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Solar cells could become much cheaper thanks to improvements in a more than 20-year-old solar technology that captures light with dye molecules. The advance is "one of the most important breakthroughs in dye cells in the last several years," says a chemist at Pennsylvania State University, University Park.
In other technology news, two researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (N.J.I.T.) have devised a direct-contact membrane distillation (DCMD) system that can efficiently wring drinking water out of up to 20 percent-salt-concentrated brine.
Two scientists at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, have designed a metamaterial that stretches when compressed, and vice versa, under any circumstances. "What is interesting is that they study systems that are not responding to a vibration but to a steady applied force," says John Pendry of Imperial College London.
As a Houston computer scientist has developed his ideas over nearly a decade, he has found increasing acclaim for his "inexact" computer chips. At a major computing conference in Italy, Rice University's Krishna Palem unveiled his newest chips that trade a bit of accuracy for better efficiency.
When Clarence Birdseye figured out how to pack and freeze haddock, using what he called "a marvelous new process which seals in every bit of just-from-the-ocean flavor," he essentially changed the way we produce, preserve and distribute food.
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A private cargo rocket built by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. of Hawthorne, Calif. blasted off last week, headed to the International Space Station. The rocket carried only about 1,000 pounds of cargo. The importance of the launch was more technical and symbolic.
In other space news, stargazers will have a chance on June 5 to glimpse a transit of Venus, in which the planet passes directly between Earth and the sun. Venus will take six hours to march across the star's face, appearing as an inky black dot in silhouette against the solar disk.
The moon nearly blotted out the sun last week, creating a blazing "ring of fire" eclipse visible in many parts of the world.
In 2019, a spacecraft known as Euclid will begin a mission to study dark energy. But it is being launched by the European Space Agency, not NASA, with American astronomers serving only as very junior partners.
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