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August 21 2018


A switch to turn fragrances on and off

Scientists have discovered the switch in plants that turns off production of terpenoids -- carbon-rich compounds that play roles in plant physiology and are used by humans in everything from fragrances and flavorings to biofuels and pharmaceuticals.

Orphaned elephants have a tougher social life

Young female orphan elephants have a tougher social life than non-orphans, a new study suggests, adding to a growing body of evidence of how the impacts of poaching cascade through elephant societies.
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NASA gets up close with Greenland's melting ice

With a new research plane and a new base to improve its chances of outsmarting Atlantic hurricanes, NASA's Oceans Melting Greenland campaign takes to the sky this week for its third year of gathering data on how the ocean around Greenland is melting its glaciers.

Preparing for chemical attacks with improved computer models

Researchers have used computer models on the Stampede2 supercomputer to replicate the dispersal of gases from the April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack in northwest Syria. The simulations were able to capture real world conditions despite a scarcity of information. Recently, the team developed a coarse model that uses seasonal conditions as background information to speed up calculations, reducing forecasting time from days to minutes.

Steps to keep buildings functioning after natural hazards

After an earthquake, hurricane, tornado or other natural hazard, it's considered a win if no one gets hurt and buildings stay standing. But an even bigger victory is possible: keeping those structures operational. This outcome could become more likely with improved standards and codes for the construction of residential and commercial buildings, according to a new report.

A common ancestral gene causes body segmentation in spiders and insects

Scientists have pinpointed a key gene that controls segmentation during spider development, which reveals a further similarity to the control of segmentation in insects.

Southern California coast emerges as a toxic algae hot spot

The Southern California coast harbors some of the world's highest concentrations of an algal toxin perilous to wildlife and people. The most thoroughgoing assessment of the problem shows it's getting worse due to humanmade and natural conditions.

Plant protein complex plays large role in important growth and development process

Little-studied plant cellular protein complex plays critical and surprising role in plant growth and development process.

RFF: "Questions about the Trump Administration’s Cost-Benefit Analysis for its Proposal to Freeze the CAFE Standards"

Alan J. Krupnick, Joshua Linn, and Virginia McConnell:

In April, we wrote a blog post responding to the Trump administration’s announcement that it was preparing to weaken the fuel economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) standards hammered out in 2011 by the Obama administration. We argued then that although some things have changed since those vehicle rules were established, the agencies should not simply roll back standards, but pursue a strategy to ensure steady long-term reductions in passenger vehicle GHG emissions to address the threat of global climate change.

Now, the Trump administration is proposing to freeze the fuel economy and GHG standards at model year (MY) 2020 levels until MY 2026 (the standards are set based on model years, which typically begin in the Fall of the preceding calendar year). This is an abrupt change from the Obama standards, which would have continued reducing emissions. Given current policies, this change would increase greenhouse gas emissions during that period and beyond. Fuel economy regulations were first established to reduce fuel use for more energy security (this rule would increase fuel use in new cars) and then concerns about climate change became an additional consideration (this rule would increase GHG emissions). The Trump administration downplays the GHG benefits of the Obama standards and claims that those standards would increase traffic accidents.

We will issue a series of blog posts discussing various aspects of the new proposal and the cost-benefit analyses underlying it. ...

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is conducting the benefit-cost analysis instead of the Environmental Protection Agency:

The Trump administration’s modeling, inputs, and underlying assumptions behind the analysis of this new rule are quite different from those behind the analysis of the earlier rule finalized in January of 2017 at the end of the Obama administration. EPA models, assumptions, and focus on greenhouse gas emissions reductions tended to dominate the earlier analysis of the proposed rules for 2021 to 2025 MYs. The current proposed rule under the Trump administration uses models developed by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to evaluate benefits and costs. The NHTSA analysis emphasizes the effect of the new rule on fuel use, vehicle miles traveled, and accidents by the entire fleet. The effort to set standards for vehicles has always been plagued by the problem of having two masters—improving fuel economy on the one hand and reducing GHG emissions on the other. The two are closely linked, but the agencies that regulate them have different jurisdictional authority and perspectives. What is needed is a unified effort to address the societal costs of consuming fuel with clear goals and consistent modeling and analysis.

To its credit, NHTSA attempts to expand the scope of the benefit-cost analysis, which could improve the accuracy of the evaluation. For example, NHTSA has introduced a dynamic stock model that includes effects of the rule not just on new vehicle technologies and costs, but on the number of new and used vehicles predicted to be on the road and how much they are driven. The model also allows for variation in the mix of cars and light trucks in the fleet in response to changes in the rule.

The NHTSA is making stuff up:

However, while expanding the scope of the analysis is good in theory, in reality there are important questions about both the way the model is used and the underlying assumptions. For example, the analysis finds that in going from the Obama rule (stricter standards each year through MY 2025) to the Trump rule (no change in standards after 2020), the overall size of the vehicle fleet falls even though new vehicle prices are lower. On its face, this is inconsistent with economics. Further, NHTSA predicts that total vehicle miles travelled also falls during this period, appearing to assume that households choose how many miles to drive their vehicles independently of the number of vehicles they own. This assumption is also inconsistent with economics. The agency is arguing that looser standards decrease the size of the on-road fleet and decrease total driving. We’re not aware of any real-world evidence supporting this argument. These new elements of the model are key because they result in significant reductions in external costs (such as congestion) and increases in safety from the change in vehicle ages and decreased driving under the proposed new rule.

Costs of CAFE regulation are inflated:

In addition, changes in how and when new technologies are introduced may have a significant effect on estimates of total technology costs. In the current NHTSA analysis, the technology costs are predicted to be more than two times higher for the Obama standards than the Obama analysis predicted for its rule in 2016. However the per vehicle costs in the new assessment are only about 50 percent higher ($1300 vs. $1950 in 2016 dollars). The NHTSA analysis provides some explanations for why these per vehicle costs might be higher, but it is not clear why total technology costs would be so much higher. ...

And, it ain't over:

In future blogs we will address other topics related to the proposed freezing of the standards, such as the effect of gasoline prices on fuel economy standards, assumptions about greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants, and the possible use of a safety valve if there is concern over high costs of meeting the standards.

Here is the link: http://www.rff.org/blog/2018/questions-about-trump-administration-s-cost-benefit-analysis-its-proposal-freeze-cafe


Living close to urban green spaces is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer

A new study examines the relationship between exposure to green spaces and breast cancer. The study, which analyzed data from more than 3,600 women in Spain, concluded that the risk of breast cancer was lower in the women who lived closer to urban green spaces, like parks or gardens.

Portable freshwater harvester could draw up to 10 gallons per hour from the air

For thousands of years, people in the Middle East and South America have extracted water from the air to help sustain their populations. Drawing inspiration from those examples, researchers are now developing a lightweight, battery-powered freshwater harvester that could someday take as much as 10 gallons per hour from the air, even in arid locations.

New Antarctic rift data has implications for volcanic evolution

New marine geophysical data recorded during two excursions on a French icebreaker enabled researchers to date the ocean floor and calculate the relative motion between the Antarctic Plates and the Australian Plate. This new data revealed that Antarctica fused into one plate around 11 million years ago, roughly 15 million years later than previously assumed.

August 20 2018


Natural disasters widen racial wealth gap

Damage caused by natural disasters and recovery efforts launched in their aftermaths have increased wealth inequality between races in the United States, according to new research.

Love vine sucks life from wasps, leaving only mummies

An evolutionary biologists have discovered a new trophic interaction -- the first example of a parasitic plant attacking a parasitic insect on a shared host plant. The find could point to new methods for controlling agricultural pests and perhaps fighting cancer.

Warming waters linked to lobster disease

New findings reveal that earlier springs and hotter summers in the northeastern U.S. are making resident lobsters increasingly susceptible to epizootic shell disease, a condition that has depleted the southern New England population and severely impacted the local lobster fishery.

A timescale for the origin and evolution of all of life on Earth

A new study has used a combination of genomic and fossil data to explain the history of life on Earth, from its origin to the present day.

California plain shows surprising winners and losers from prolonged drought

A long-term study has tracked how hundreds of species in the Carrizo Plain National Monument fared during the historic drought that struck California from 2012 to 2015.

Strategies in US climate litigation

Researchers have analyzed all US climate change lawsuits over a 26-year period.

The bright ways forests affect their environment

New study finds volatile gases emitted by forests increase the amount of diffuse light reaching the forests. The study shows that this increased diffuse sunlight enhanced the carbon absorbed by the world's forests by an amount equal to 10 percent of global fossil fuel emissions and industry emissions.

Carbon reserves in Central American soils still affected by ancient Mayan deforestation

Deforestation is suspected to have contributed to the mysterious collapse of Mayan civilization more than 1,000 years ago. A new study shows that the forest-clearing also decimated carbon reservoirs in the tropical soils of the Yucatan peninsula region long after ancient cities were abandoned and the forests grew back.
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