Too Far From Home, Arctic Ice Packs It In, Climate Change and the Tree line, Genitalia Most Fowl, Cosmic Killer

 

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Too Far From Home

too_far_from_home.jpg Too Far From Home, by Chris Jones

When the space shuttle Columbia burned up on re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere in 2003, all seven astronauts on board were killed. There were, however, still three humans left in space -- the astronauts on the International Space Station. Two Americans and a Russian were left to deal with the aftermath of the accident. They had to cope with the loss of their friends, which was hard enough. They also had to worry about how supplies were now going to reach them and how, ultimately, they would get home while the Space Shuttle fleet was grounded. Ottawa-based writer Chris Jones tells their story in his new book Too Far From Home, published by the Anansi press.

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Arctic Ice Packs It In

arctic_ice.jpg Arctic without ice - Courtesy, NASA

According to the pessimistic predictions by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Arctic Ice Cap may melt entirely during summers sometime in the latter part of this century due to climate warming in the north. That prediction may be wrong, but that's not good news. According to new research by Dr. Julienne Stroeve, of the National Snow and Ice Data Centre at the University of Colorado, and her colleagues, the Arctic Ice Cap is melting far more quickly than most scientists had thought. It's thirty years ahead of the IPCC's models, and that means that it may well be gone only a couple of decades from now.

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Climate Change and the Tree line

treeline.jpg Dr. Danby in the Kluane region of Yukon.

The Canadian boreal forest, like this country in general, seems to just go on forever. But if you travel far enough North, the trees will eventually start to thin out. The climate gets colder, the environment harsher, and eventually, you're so far north that trees simply can't grow anymore and the landscape turns to tundra. This area of transition is the tree line. Dr. Ryan Danby is a post-doctoral research scientist at the University of Alberta, and he's been studying regions of the Canadian treeline to find out what the impact of climate warming might be in these unique tracts of land. He found a rapid change in response to climate warming during the early to mid 20th century in forests in southwestern Yukon. Tree lines advanced considerably - as much as 85 metres elevation - on warm, south-facing slopes, and tree density increased as much as 65 per cent on cooler, north-facing slopes. This could have serious impact on tundra species that are forced higher up the mountains, such as Dall sheep and caribou.

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Genitalia Most Fowl

duck genitalia.jpg Duck genitalia (male on the right, female on the left) - Courtesy, Patricia Brennan

Bees do it, fleas do it, even ducks with very peculiar phalluses do it. When it comes to sex, ducks certainly don't have it easy and Dr. Patricia Brennan, a behavioural ecologist at Yale University and the University of Sheffield knows why. The first time she saw a male duck's phallus, she was shocked at how long and complicated it looked. The question was, why would male ducks evolve something so bizarre and what, if anything, do the female have in response? The answer points to a war of the sexes with the battlefield being each other's genitalia.

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Cosmic Killer

MilkyWayGalaxyNASA.jpg The Milky Way - Courtesy, NASA

There's a strange cycle to life here on the planet Earth. Once about every 62 million years, there's a sudden drop in the number of species on the planet. Then it gradually creeps back up, only to drop back again. The pattern was first discovered two years ago. Now Dr. Adrian Melott, a professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Kansas, thinks he knows why. He's noticed that our planet bobs up and down through the plane of the galaxy. Once every 62 million years or so, our solar system sticks its head up above the galaxy's plane and, according to his theory, we're exposed to a higher than normal number of cosmic rays. He thinks the cosmic rays lead to higher mutation rates, and cooler temperatures, which together lead to a reduction in the number of species.

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