MAVEN Breathes Martian Air * Meat Mummies * Arctic Sea Ice Loss Recorded in Algae * Global Warming Makes Mammals Shrink * Peak Garbage * Quirks Question Period - Earth's Core

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Humanity produces three million tonnes of garbage daily - a literal mountain of trash - and we're going to produce even more in the future. Today we look at how tall that mountain may grow, and look at lowering the peak of the garbage mountain before we get buried beneath it.  Plus, we'll hear about the mummified meat meant to feed mummified Egyptians; we'll learn how scientists are using algae to track sea ice loss in the Arctic; we'll find out how climate change in the past led to shrinking horses; we'll answer the question of what happens when the Earth's core goes cold and we'll look at MAVEN's mission to Mars.

 

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MAVEN Breathes Martian Air

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MAVEN at Mars - artist's impression, courtesy NASA/Goddard
NASA's latest mission to Mars launched successfully this week.  The MAVEN mission is something new for Mars. Most missions, so far, have been designed to study the Martian surface, but MAVEN is designed to study the thin Martian atmosphere. It will orbit the planet, dipping low to sniff the thin air, and also observe the process by which the solar wind strips away the atmosphere at the interface between air and space. Scientists hope the mission will explain what happened to Mars' atmosphere, which, billions of years ago, was as thick as Earth's. We speak with Dr. Mehdi Benna, a Planetary Scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, and Instrument Scientist for the Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer on the MAVEN spacecraft.

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Meat Mummies

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Beef rib meat mummy - PNAS
When wealthy Egyptians were mummified and entombed to preserve their bodies for the afterlife, they were supplied for the journey with everything they might need: furniture, treasure, artwork, mummified pets for companionship, and food and drink - lots of food and drink. And some of the food - the meat - was treated and wrapped in bandages, just like the people, creating meat mummies. Professor Richard Evershed of the Organic Geochemistry Unit of the University of Bristol has been studying meat mummies to try to understand how similar the way they were preserved was to the way humans were mummified.

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Arctic Sea Ice Loss Recorded in Algae


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Coralline algae, courtesy Nick Caloyianus

Coralline algae is a crusty, marine plant that is sometimes referred to as 'live rock' because of its coral-like appearance.  It grows everywhere regular coral is found, as well as in all Arctic regions.  It can grow to be as big as a soccer ball, and live for hundreds of years.  Because coralline algae is a plant, it depends on light to grow.  Its growth is measured in the new layer it adds every year, similar to tree rings.  Scientists, including Dr. Evan Edinger, an Associate Professor in the Departments of Geography and Biology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, have studied the algae in various locations around the Arctic to provide a historical record of sea ice cover. Rings grow according to how much light is able to penetrate the sea ice. So looking back 650 years so far, they have determined sea ice experienced a sharp decline about 150 years ago, coinciding with the Industrial Revolution and increased greenhouse gas emissions.  


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Global Warming Makes Mammals Shrink


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Modern horse and hyracotherium, courtesy Daniel Byerly, University of Florida
Scientists have known for some time that a period of global warming, 55 million years ago, resulted in mammals becoming about 30 percent smaller. Mammals did rebound to their original size, but now a team of researchers, including Abigail D'Ambrosia, a PhD candidate in the Department of Earth Sciences at The University of New Hampshire, has found evidence that mammalian 'dwarfism' happened a second time, just 2 million years later. Teeth and jaw fossils of a prehistoric horse, found in Wyoming, were indicative of a body size about 19 percent smaller than normal.  It is believed that mammals evolved new sizes because it is easier to cool down a smaller body during warming periods.  Also, the increase in C02 may have decreased the nutritional value of plants. 

Related Links

  • University of New Hampshire news
  • University Of Michigan news
  • Nature World News story

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Peak Garbage

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Oceanside garbage dump, copyright Adam Jones
Humans are producing an almost unimaginable amount of garbage right now.  Globally, we produce more than 3 million tonnes of solid waste daily. But as the world's population increases, urbanizes and becomes wealthier, that number could as much as triple by the end of the century, before it starts to decline - the point of "peak garbage." Professor Daniel Hoornweg, Research Chair in Energy Systems at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, thinks we can move "peak garbage" back - move the tip of the rubbish heap earlier and lower - in an effort to live more sustainably and not "waste" our future.


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Quirks Question Period - Earth's Core

You think of a question, and we'll ask a Canadian scientist to tell us the answer.  And today's question comes from Libni Pardo in Victoria, BC, who was wondering about the Earth's inner core, and sent the following email: "What maintains the heat in the Earth's core, and what will happen when it cools down?"

To help us answer this question, we contacted Dr. Andrew Frederiksen, an Associate Professor from the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Manitoba.

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein, Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0