Obama Talks Climate, Oil Drilling

President Barack Obama arrived in Alaska this week, sharing blunt language about climate change after laying out initiatives aimed at tackling that issue in the Arctic.

“On this issue—of all issues—there is such a thing as being too late,” said Obama. “And that moment is almost upon us … This year in Paris has to be the year that the world finally acts to protect the one planet that we have while we still can.”

On the three-day Alaska trip, Obama is experiencing firsthand the impacts of rapidly melting Arctic ice, which is warming waters that affect local fishing economies and raising sea levels, threatening the state’s coastal villages. To help address some of these local issues, Obama announced new initiatives. One is fish and wildlife cooperation management to help rebuild Chinook salmon stocks. Another is an exchange program that brings urban and rural youth together to understand the challenges of a changing Arctic and the potential for local solutions against the impacts of climate change.

Despite this focus on climate, Obama is receiving criticism for granting Royal Dutch Shell permits to drill for oil off Alaska’s coast. In an op-ed, Greenpeace Executive Director Annie Leonard writes “we commend the president for his leadership, and yet this trip comes on the heels of his administration’s decision to allow Royal Dutch Shell to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean, a move that seriously undermines his climate legacy.”

Obama addressed these criticisms last weekend.

“I know there are Americans who are concerned about oil companies drilling in environmentally sensitive waters,” said Obama. “Some are also concerned with my administration’s decision to approve Shell’s application to drill a well off the Alaskan coast, using leases they purchased before I took office. That’s precisely why my administration —> Read More

‘Hedgehog’ robots hop, tumble in microgravity

Hopping, tumbling and flipping over are not typical maneuvers you would expect from a spacecraft exploring other worlds. Traditional Mars rovers, for example, roll around on wheels, and they can’t operate upside-down. But on a small body, such as an asteroid or a comet, the low-gravity conditions and rough surfaces make traditional driving all the more hazardous. Enter Hedgehog: a new concept for a robot that is specifically designed to overcome the challenges of traversing small bodies. —> Read More

How Many Trees Does Earth Have? New Study Yields Big Surprise

If you’re having trouble seeing the forest for the trees, maybe it’s because there are so many trees out there. A new study puts the number at 3.04 trillion trees — a number that’s much, much higher than what scientists had expected.

“We were astonished, simply because this is such an astronomical number,” Dr. Tom Crowther, a post-doctoral fellow at Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the leader of the international team of scientists who did the study, told The Huffington Post in an email. “The previous estimate, which was solely based on satellite information, was approximately 400 billion, so we were surprised to find that our final number had 12 zeroes after it. The scale of this number really puts a lot of things in context.”

As we all know, trees add oxygen to the atmosphere and thus help produce the air we breathe. But if you think the existence of so many trees means we needn’t worry so much about pollution, get this: the study also showed that 15 billion trees are cut down every year and that the total number of trees has dropped by around 46 percent since the dawn of civilization. Yikes.

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For the study, the researchers used satellite data and environmental data as well as so-called “forest inventories,” tree tallies created by humans actually counting trees.

But what exactly counts as a tree? The researchers defined “tree” as a woody plant that, at breast height, has a stem that’s at least 10 centimeters in diameter, The Washington Post reported.

The researchers found that the highest densities of trees are located in the boreal forests in the sub-arctic regions of Russia, Scandinavia, and North America. The largest forested areas, —> Read More

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