TIME Environment

U.S. Gives $15 Million to Help Cut Methane Emissions

"It is about time that world leaders come to the United Nations to recognize this threat in the way that it requires and demands"

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday pledged $15 million to help get the World Bank’s new initiative to cut methane emissions underway.

The Pilot Auction Facility for Methane and Climate Mitigation will use auctions to allocate public funds and private investment into projects around the globe that reduce methane emissions, including those that cut waste from landfills and treatment plants.

Addressing business leaders and government representatives at the opening of Climate Week NYC, Kerry said it was “about time” that world leaders recognized the “threat” of global warming.

“It gives me hope that this global summit may actually produce the leadership that is necessary to try to come together and move the needle to take advantage of the small window of time that we have left in order to be able to prevent the worst impacts of climate change for already happening,” he said.

Kerry urged leaders attending the U.N. Climate Change Summit in New York, which kicks off Tuesday, to “move and act now” on global warming, reports Responding to Climate Change.

The summit aims to engage governments and businesses into making real efforts to reduce climate change in preparation for an international agreement in 2015 to limit global warming to less than 2°C.

TIME animals

Study: Narwhal Tusk Size Correlates With Testicle Size and Fertility

Paul Nicklen—National Geographic/Getty Images

Is that a giant tooth on your head or are you just happy to see me?

A ballsy new study may have unlocked the secret behind narwhals’ unicorn-like tusks, or the single tooth found atop males’ heads.

Researchers studied the testicle size of 144 narwhals collected during aboriginal Inuit hunts between the years 1990 and 2008, and found that the bigger the tusks, the better the testes, pretty much — tusk length and teste mass (which indicates fertility) were closely related.

In a study published in Marine Mammal Science, these researchers suggest that a tusk’s length signals to female narwhals which males are the most fertile and would make the best mates, Science reports. That means narwhal tusks aren’t unlike peacock feathers or antlers in the sense that they’re animal body parts used to attract females with their impressive displays.

Previous theories about the tusks’ usage have included that they might serve as a (literal) icebreaker or a sensor of water salinity and temperature.

The latest study notes that while the tusks may serve other purposes, the fact that it’s such a gendered trait means it likely plays a small role in survival and providing a competitive evolutionary advantage.


TIME astronomy

Big Bang ‘Proof’ Might Just Be Space Dust, Study Finds

Ripples in space touted as proof of the Big Bang theory might simply be cosmic interference, a new study finds

A major discovery touted as proof of the explosive origins of our universe may simply be interference from space dust, new research suggests.

This past Spring, a research team called Bicep reported that by using a powerful telescope, the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2 (BICEP2), they could observe ripples in the sky that they believed to be gravitational waves from the cosmic event that we have come to know as the Big Bang.

If true, the findings would be monumental, since it would be close to absolute evidence of the Big Bang and a theory called cosmic inflation, which suggests that the world underwent a rapid expansion, bursting into existence in less than a second.

But a new paper published Monday in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics suggests that there was probably a lot of space dust interference in the original findings, and it’s unlikely that the Bicep researchers had a clear enough picture to confirm they indeed saw waves from the origins of the universe.

“We show that even in the faintest dust-emitting regions there are no “clean” windows in the sky,” reads the study. The researchers, who used data from the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite, determined that the dust could have produced the ripples the scientists saw, but added they could not be certain how much the dust did interfere.

The critique was not unexpected. As TIME reported in May, the research group which is led by John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, had already received feedback from other scientists who speculated the signals were just dust.

The Bicep and the Planck satellite teams will collaborate on both of their findings to come to a more detailed conclusion of what the Bicep team saw. For now, the scientific community will have to wait. The New York Times reports that the joint findings of the two groups are due at the end of the year.

(Casual readers may be more familiar with this specific finding than they realize. In March, a YouTube video went viral showing a member of Bicep knocking on the door of retired researcher Andrei Linde to tell him they discovered the ripples–implying his own theories about the start of the universe were correct.)


TIME Paleontology

Meet the Dinosaur With the Biggest Nose

"This dinosaur has a huge nose"

It’s easy to get excited about the biggest dinosaur ever found, or the baddest, or some other impressive superlative. But the one with the biggest nose? Somehow, it just doesn’t have the same impact.

Yet that’s what a team of paleontologists are reporting in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. The newly described dino is a hadrosaur, the group that includes the so-called duck-billed dinosaurs. Many of these plant-eating creatures sported huge bony crests atop their heads.

Not this one. “…instead,” reads a press release announcing the discovery, and calling a spade a spade, “this dinosaur has a huge nose.” What else to call it but Rhinorex, or “King Nose.” It was, says the release, the “Jimmy Durante of dinosaurs.” (If you’re under 50 or so, you’ll have to lo0k it up.)

The obvious question is: why would a dinosaur need a gigantic nose? We know why T. Rex sported long, dagger-like teeth and velociraptors needed razor-sharp claws. It’s clear why apatosaurus—better known to many, including Fred Flintstone, as brontosaurus—had such a long neck (like the giraffe’s, it was for more effective browsing).

But paleontologists Terry Gates of North Carolina State University and Rodney Sheetz of Brigham Young, who found the fossil embedded in sandstone in a Brigham Young Museum of Paleontology storage area, haven’t got a clue. It probably wasn’t for smell, but more likely for easy recognition by others of its species, or for knocking down edible plants, or—strange though it might sound—attracting mates.

“We are already sniffing out answers to these questions,” Gates said in a statement. He’s probably already regretting it.

TIME Infectious Disease

6 Ways Climate Change is Making Us Sick

Spaces Images—Getty Images/Blend Images

Climate change and global health are intimately connected new research argues

Just a day after the People’s Climate March, one of the largest international environmental marches, a new analysis of 56 studies on climate change-related health problems shows that increasingly, global temperatures and severe weather events will continue to have a major impact on global health.

In the U.S. alone, several cities are expected to experience many more frequent hot days by the year 2050, and New York City and Milwaukee for example, may have three times their current average of hot days that reach over 90 degrees. According to researchers from the University of Wisconsin, this is just one consequence of human-driven climate change.

Currently, 97% of scientists studying climate agree that climate change is caused by humans. The new study, which is published in JAMA, lays out what these wide ranging effects on public health are.

Here’s a breakdown of how climate change will impact human health:

Heat-related health problems
In the researchers’ findings, they report that heat-related deaths represent more fatalities than all other weather events combined, and the frequency of hot days is expected to increase across all U.S. cities. Other research, like a recent July CDC report confirmed earlier this summer that heat-related health problems in the U.S. are growing. Since outdoor workers are impacted by heat, there are also significant economic-related implications—and by 2050s, the researchers report that workdays lost due to heat could reach 15 to 18% in South East Asia, Central America and West and Central Africa.

Respiratory problems
Climate-related pollution can trigger respiratory problems, commonly due to poor air quality, as exhibited in large cities like Beijing. The researchers report that 43 million people in the U.S. alone live in places that are over the EPA’s health standards for fine particulate matter in the air, and that can come from forest fires, which are thought to increase as temperatures continue to rise and droughts are prolonged. Pollen is also thought to increase with climate change, which is terrible news for people with seasonal allergies.

Infectious diseases
In the U.S., diseases like West Nile, dengue fever, and chikungunya virus are increasing in warm and muggy states like Florida, and all three of those diseases are thought to have a connection to warmer temperatures. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says that the rise of temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns have contributed to longer summers, and therefore these diseases—which are insect-borne—have longer seasons.

Waterborne diseases
Climate change is projected to continue to cause heavier rain events, and the researchers note that gastrointestinal disease among kids has been tied to heavy rain fall in both the U.S. and India. Earlier this summer, citizens in Michigan and Toledo, Ohio were banned from drinking tap water after an algae bloom, caused in part by agricultural runoff, moved to the region’s water intake area and contaminated the drinking water.

Food insecurity
According to the report, climate change is expected to lower global food production by 2% per decade, even as demand increases 14%.

Mental health problems
The researchers show that serious weather events caused by climate change like Hurricane Katrina can leave people feeling utterly hopeless, displaced, full of anxiety and even with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a corresponding editorial, Dr. Howard Bauchner, the editor-in-chief of JAMA, and Dr. Phil Fontanarosa, the journal’s executive editor, write: “Understanding and characterizing this threat and educating the medical community, public, and policy makers are crucial if the health of the world’s population is to continue to improve during the latter half of the 21st century.”

When it comes to solutions, the researchers say reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a critical step in gaining better health and more economic stability. Starting Tuesday, the UN will meet for its 2014 Climate Summit, and the hope among many is that global public health will be an issue brought to the table—and addressed on an international scale.

TIME astronomy

The MAVEN Spacecraft Has Begun Orbiting Mars on a Yearlong Quest

Mars Maven
In this artist concept provided by NASA, the MAVEN spacecraft approaches Mars on a mission to study its upper atmosphere AP

It's on a mission to discover what happened to Mars' atmosphere

Mars explorer MAVEN entered the Red Planet’s orbit late Sunday night, beginning a yearlong journey during which scientists hope to discover what happened to the Martian atmosphere.

Mission managers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., received confirmation of MAVEN’s arrival at about 10:25 p.m. E.T. — about a half-hour after it began slowing down from more than 10,000 m.p.h. to enter Martian orbit.

Narration of the orbital’s entry was broadcast beginning at 9:30 p.m. from Lockheed Martin Space Systems’ mission-operations center in Littleton, Colo. It took about 12 minutes for MAVEN’s signals to travel the 442 million miles to Earth.

MAVEN – standing for Martian Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution – launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Nov. 18, 2013, and it will now take six weeks to turn itself on and test its systems.

After that, the $671 million, bus-sized craft will spend one (Earth) year assessing the planet Mars’ atmosphere, in hopes of discovering how the Martian atmosphere is changing now and, in doing so, understand how it has changed over billions of years.

Scientists believe that Mars and Earth were once sister planets, both of them green and wet. But, about 4 billion years ago, their fortunes diverged: as Earth incubated life in its thick, reassuring atmosphere, it’s thought that Mars somehow lost its magnetic field. That left it vulnerable to the spray of solar particles zooming through space, and, over time, scientists say, those particles winnowed the Martian atmosphere. Its land was buffed dry and brittle and its landscape turned freezing.

MAVEN is NASA’s 10th Mars orbiter mission, three of which have failed. Three other spacecraft are in Mars’ orbit, two of which are NASA missions (the 2001 Mars Odyssey and the 2005 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter), and one of which is a 2003 European Space Agency mission.

Two rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity, are still active on Mars’ surface. Spirit, another rover, is still on the planet, but was deactivated in 2010.

“Hello ‪@MarsCuriosity and ‪@MarsRovers! #MAVEN is looking over you. (In ‪#Spirit),” tweeted the MAVEN mission, just after arrival.

TIME Environment

Hundreds of Thousands Converge on New York to Demand Climate-Change Action

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Vice President Al Gore, and movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton all attended

At the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday, a 4-ft.-tall walking banana was passionately articulating his feelings about wind turbines.

“They can make things run just by the wind,” said 9-year-old Danny Haemmerle, who dressed up as the yellow fruit to attend the march with his family. “And my parents don’t have to pay as much,” added his brother Eddie Haemmerle, 11, sporting a lime green wig.

The Haemmerles were joined by an estimated 400,000-strong crowd that flooded the streets of Manhattan to demand U.N. action on global warming — a showing that quadrupled expected attendance and made the march the largest climate protest in history and largest social demonstration of the past decade.

Timed to coincide with the U.N. summit on climate change, which meets this week to discuss an international carbon-emissions agreement, the demonstration was an international effort with 2,646 events in more than 150 countries, attended by hundreds of thousands more people.

Coalesced by several organizations, including Bill McKibben’s 350.org, the swarming crowds were there to pressure Obama and other leaders to make addressing climate change a top political priority. “Today, civil society acted at a scale that outdid even our own wildest expectations,” said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, in a statement. “Tomorrow, we expect our political leaders to do the same.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made an appearance, along with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Vice President Al Gore, and movie stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton. Nearly every labor union joined the march, including the Service Employees International Union, the largest union in the city. The march was supposed to start at 59th Street, but the throng of people stretched past 93rd Street, and there were so many marchers that it took the back of the line over two hours to start moving. The march was so well attended that organizers had to send a text at 5 p.m., asking marchers to leave because the route had filled to capacity.

People marched in clogs, dreadlocks, optimistic T-shirts, Native-American headdresses, bike helmets, feathered hats, Lorax costumes and biohazard suits. Babies wore diapers. One woman dressed as Charlie Chaplin and carried a sign depicting a blackened earth, with just the word “Oops.” And Danny Haemmerle wasn’t the only person dressed as a banana.

Zak Davidson, a 20-year-old junior at Tulane, iconoclastically wore a suit, explaining, “A lot of conservatives try to marginalize environmentalism as a fringe movement, like just people wearing hemp skirts. But I have a job offer in the government for when I graduate, and I’m going to continue fighting for climate change within the system.”

Davidson and 60 of his classmates drove 26 hours up from New Orleans to attend the march, and after it’s over, they’ll hop right back on the road and drive 26 hours again in order to make it to class on Tuesday.

“Moving to New Orleans really politicized me about climate change, since the Gulf Coast is predicted to have the worst sea-level rise,” said Davidson’s classmate, Emma Collin, 21. “It’s like being in Rome before the fall.”

The props at the Climate March were as colorful as the costumes: a massive model of the earth, along with hundreds of smaller balloons and beach balls; a giant, inflatable cow intended to highlight how the meat industry hurts the environment (a U.N. report found that animal agriculture accounts for 14.5% of greenhouse-gas emissions). People carried massive sunflower signs, sculptures of waves, goddess puppets and angel kites.

There was also a dinosaur, made of car parts and gas jugs, named BP-Rexosaurus, built by BikeBloc, a group dedicated to promoting bicycle transportation. “He’s here to tell us how to get pass fossil fuels before humans go extinct like dinosaurs,” explained Elissa Jiji, who was biking with the group. Other bikers dressed their bikes as swordfish, noting that swordfish bills often pierce oil pipelines. People chanted, “Exxon Mobile, BP, Shell, take your oil and go to hell!”

Often, people’s attire reflected the particular social issues within climate change to which they felt the closest.

A cohort of doctors marched in lab coats to protest the global health effects of climate change. “It’s one of the most important threats to world health, and it’s completely preventable,” said Dr. Erica Frank, who specializes in preventative medicine in British Columbia. “It would be irresponsible for us to do nothing.”

“Carbon pollution directly results in asthma, heart disease and cancer,” said Dr. Steve Auerbach, a New York City pediatrician who also marched in his lab coat. “From a micro and macro point of view, climate change is a global health issue.”

For demonstrator Favianna Rodriguez, climate change is inextricable from social issues like feminism and immigration policy. To protest a “culture of hypersexuality,” she marched topless, with yellow butterfly stickers over each nipple.

Rodriguez works with CultureStrike, an organization that supports the arts movement around immigration, but she helped design signs for the Climate March because she says climate change is an example of social inequality.

“The destruction we’re facing has been wrought under male leadership, and women and children are disproportionately affected,” she said. “Addressing climate change is going to require a very strong shift in leadership, and require us to include the vision of women and youth.”

The one thing that the whole crowd seemed to agree on, whether doctors, vegans, bike enthusiasts, hippies, feminists, students, Christians, toddlers, Native-Americans, farmers or grandparents: changing nothing about global environmental policy is a scary prospect.

“Inaction, dude,” said green-haired fine-arts student Joe George, when I asked him what was the scariest part about global warming. “I keep imagining where I live in Brooklyn, just under water. It’s horrifying. You can’t stop the Atlantic Ocean.”

TIME astronomy

The Mystery of the Solar System’s Weirdest Moon, Explained

High-resolution image of the surface of Miranda, one of Uranus' largest moons, taken from the Voyager 2 spacecraft NASA

We already knew Miranda, one of Uranus' five major moons, has "one of the strangest and most varied landscapes among extraterrestrial bodies." Now, we (probably) know why

The first and only space probe ever to visit the planet Uranus timed its encounter very badly from a public-relations perspective. Voyager 2 zipped past the solar system’s seventh planet on Jan. 24, 1986; four days later, the shuttle Challenger exploded in flames. And suddenly, far-off Uranus and its retinue of moons didn’t seem so important anymore.

Yet the images Voyager took during that overshadowed encounter have continued to intrigue planetary scientists ever since — and that’s especially true when it comes to Miranda, one of the planet’s five main moons. Its surface, U.S. Geological Survey astrogeologist Laurence Soderblom told TIME shortly after the encounter, “is a bizarre hybrid,” while NASA describes Miranda as having “one of the strangest and most varied landscapes among extraterrestrial bodies.”

Perhaps the strangest features of all are Miranda’s three visible “coronae” — relatively crater-free regions marked by ridges and valleys and slapped onto the surface “like mismatched patches on a moth-eaten coat,” in NASA’s words. But now, nearly three decades after they were found, Miranda’s coronae may have an explanation at last. Writing in the journal Geology, Brown University planetary scientists Noah Hammond and Amy Barr argue that these odd scraps of terrain come from ancient hot spots in the moon’s 100-mile-thick crust of ice. “Despite being incredible cold,” says Hammond, ” there’s a lot of geologic activity on this moon.”

Geology on the frigid moons of the outer solar system itself isn’t such big news these days. Scientists have spotted volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io, ice geysers on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, lakes on Titan, plate tectonics on Europa and more. But to have geology, you need some source of heat, and there just doesn’t seem to be one for Miranda, which is deep-frozen to about –350°F.

There’s no heat source now, anyway. But Miranda’s orbit is unusually tilted with respect to Uranus’ equator — its “inclination,” as astronomers call it, is about 10 times greater than that of the planet’s other major moons. One way that could have come about is if Miranda’s orbit was originally very eccentric, or elongated. That would have brought it into close encounters with other moons, which could have relocated into a tilted orbit.

If Miranda’s orbit really was elongated, the moon would have been squeezed and stretched by the tidal effect of Uranus’ gravity, and, just like a rubber ball squeezed in your hand, it would have heated up a bit. And that rising heat would have made the ice itself flow very, very slowly upward — a process physicists call convection. Hammond and Barr created a computer model of that flow, and sure enough, he says, “we were able to show that if shell is convecting, it naturally produces four upwellings.” Since it’s just a model, it can’t simulate the actual moon precisely, but it’s definitely in the ballpark of what Voyager saw.

Each upwelling of ice would have tried to spread as it reached the surface, and crinkled, accordion-fashion, into the ridges and valleys that characterize the coronae. The fact that these regions are relatively crater-free fits right in: new ice flowing out from the interior would have to sit on the surface for a long time to match the cratering of the surrounding areas.

The coronae can’t be more than a few hundred million years old — peanuts compared with the rest of the surface, which dates back billions of years, and consistent, Hammond says, with the fact that Miranda probably gained its tilt and lost its heat generation about that long ago.

It all hangs together — but since it’s based on a handful of images taken nearly 29 years ago that only show Miranda’s southern hemisphere, it may be hard to be proved definitively. Planetary scientists have a far richer set of observations for the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, where the Galileo and Cassini probes respectively stuck around snapping photos for years rather than flying by (and Cassini is still going strong).

Unfortunately, while scientists are contemplating return missions to Jupiter and Saturn, nobody’s got plans to revisit Uranus. Which leaves Hammond and Barr’s theory of where the coronae came from in the “convincing but not definitive” realm.

Hammond is absolutely definitive about one thing, however. “Miranda,” he says, “is a really cool moon.”

TIME Environment

See the Worst Place to Breathe in America

It's not Los Angeles

If you think about smog, you’re probably picturing a major city like Los Angeles, where in the 1960s and ’70s the air was so bad that smog alerts telling people to avoid outdoor activity were regular occurrences. The air has improved in L.A. and other big cities in recent years, thanks to cleaner cars and air-pollution regulation.

But the real capital of air pollution in the U.S. is a farming city that sits to the northwest of L.A.: Bakersfield.

Bakersfield is in the San Joaquin Valley, a major agricultural area that stretches through much of California. The San Joaquin Valley contains some of the richest, most productive agricultural land in the country. But its geography — the valley is surrounded on all sides by mountains — creates a bowl that traps air pollution. Levels of soot and ozone — which in warm weather, which the valley has much of the year, can create smog — are some of the highest in the country. And while air in much of the U.S. has improved, in Bakersfield and other towns in the southern San Joaquin Valley, the air quality is as bad as ever — if not worse.

How bad? School officials in Bakersfield have used colored flags to indicate air quality: green for good, yellow for moderate, orange for unhealthy for sensitive groups and red for unhealthy for all groups. But this winter, the air became so bad that officials had to use a new color on the worst days: purple, even worse than red. Because of high levels of air pollution, asthma is prominent throughout the region, and the bad air can also raise levels of respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

Photographer Lexey Swall grew up in Bakersfield, and in this collection of photographs, she shows the human cost of living in one of the most polluted cities in the country. For Bakersfield residents, there’s simply no room to breathe.


Journey to the Red Planet: MAVEN Approaches Martian Orbit

Ahead of its arrival, take a look back at the spacecraft's evolution

On Sept. 21, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft will arrive in orbit around Mars and embark on a one-Earth-year long mission to collect data from the planet’s upper atmosphere. MAVEN launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Nov. 18, 2013 and, over the last 10 months, covered a journey of 442 million miles to get where it’s going. The spacecraft is the very first to be dedicated to the study and measurement of Mars’ upper atmosphere.

“The MAVEN science mission focuses on answering questions about where the water that was present on early Mars [went], about where did the carbon dioxide go,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator from the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in a statement. “These are important questions for understanding the history of Mars, its climate, and its potential to support at least microbial life.”

MAVEN, which is equipped with a telecommunications package that allows it to relay data from the Curiosity and Opportunity Rovers currently exploring the planet’s surface, is one of several efforts NASA has undertaken to prepare for potential human exploration of Mars.

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