February 6, 2014

Mountain trees could regulate global temperatures.     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Trees Act As Global Thermostat

They keep the planet from getting too hot or cold

Tree roots in mountains might play a crucial role in regulating long-term global temperatures, according to new research published in Geophysical Research Letters. In fact, through a complex sequence of steps, mountain trees could work as a thermostat of sorts for our planet.

Here's how it works: The thickness of leaf and soil layers on forest floors varies depending on temperature. This in turn affects how quickly tree roots grow; in warmer climates, tree roots commonly extend into the soil's mineral layer, breaking down rocks. Scientists call this process weathering, and as the rocks break down, they release components that bind with carbon dioxide, removing the gas from the atmosphere and cooling the planet.

This cycle prevents the planet from cataclysmic overheating or cooling, the paper suggests.

Scientists measured data from warm Amazonian lowland forests as well as trees in the cool Andes mountains. By comparing the root growth, temperature, humidity, rainfall, and soil moisture of these Peruvian trees over several years, the researchers were able to calculate the rates at which basalt and granite rocks broke down.

The paper also integrated data from ancient Indian volcanic eruptions and the formation of the Himalayas, concluding that mountainous regions specifically help regulate temperature because they contain high volumes of volcanic rock, which is highly reactive to weathering.

A simple lesson lies beneath these new findings: As humans infringe on mountainous forests, they could be reducing the effectiveness of a natural climate regulator. Of course, this study comes hot on the heels of recent research suggesting that a lack of trees can prove fatal for humans and that elderly forests disproportionately fight atmospheric greenhouse gases.

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Giant jellyfish look much better in the water.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Ugly Species of Jellyfish Discovered

Washed up on a beach in Tasmania

Perhaps some things are best left undiscovered.

A previously unidentified species of giant jellyfish has been discovered in southern Tasmania and, good grief, is it ever disgusting. The 1.5-meter jellyfish, which looks like someone left a milkshake full of boogers out in the sun for a week, was discovered by the Lim family last month while they were collecting shells on a beach south of Hobart.

The family photographed their find and sent it to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), where Lisa-Ann Gershwin took on the case. "The thing that I first said when I saw it was, 'Phwoar.' It's a very scientific term," jokes Gershwin to the Sydney Morning Herald. "I'm just rapt by it, honestly. It's such an amazing find."

Reports of the elusive species had been crossing Gershwin's desk for years as accounts of an especially large jellyfish "with pink in the middle" floating around Tasmanian waters. "Probably about five years ago I finally put together in my head that there were really three different species of lion's mane jellyfish in Tasmania, or 'snotties,' as they're also called. Yes, snotties. They're a bit slimy," says Gershwin.

Gershwin says she has chosen a name for the species and will now attempt to get it formally named and classified.

If you still want to visit Tasmania, check out our latest feature on surviving a trip Down Under.

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A new study might help explain why mammoths went extinct about 10,000 years ago.     Photo: Plutone/Flickr

Why Mammoths Went Extinct

They had a taste for flowers

Woolly mammoths’ dietary dependence on tiny flowers might have led to their extinction.

That’s right. These massive mammals relied on flowers as an important source of protein, according to a study published this month in Nature. So when the small plants disappeared after the last ice age, about 15,000 years ago, the mammoths weren’t far behind.

The findings are based on DNA analysis of 50,000-year-old permafrost cores and, well, mammoth poop. Turns out flowering plants made up a significant portion of the animals' diets. 

The landscape in the northern hemisphere would have been much more diverse and stable than it is today, the study found. Woolly mammoths fed on grasses and protein-rich flowers—diversity that all but disappeared after the last ice age. It’s a dire warning of what can happen when the climate changes drastically.

“Maybe we get ahold of the greenhouse gases in the future," study author Eske Willerslev told RedOrbit.com. "But don’t expect the good old well-known vegetation to come back when it becomes cooler again after the global warming. It is not given that the ‘old’ ecosystems will reestablish themselves to the same extent as before the warming.”

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The North Face partners with the American Alpine Club for the $20,000 Live Your Dream grant.     Photo: Getty Images

Climbers: Want Some Funding?

Apply for the Live Your Dream grant

The North Face has partnered with the American Alpine Club (AAC) to give away $20,000 to climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts who'd like to reach their goals. 

The 2014 Live Your Dream grant is available for individual adventurers or small teams who have specific goals in climbing (any discipline), mountaineering, ski mountaineering, and peak running.

Past winners include Melissa Buehler, who received $400 to help her achieve her dream of becoming the first woman to climb the Evolution Traverse solo in a day. Last May, 60-year-old Bob Porter received $500 to work toward his goal of a solo ascent of the Quad Direct on El Capitan. Other examples of funded projects might include a gym climber hoping to compete internationally or an ice climber looking to explore new territory.

“We are proud to collaborate with the North Face on our most transformational and popular grant,” said Phil Powers, AAC executive director. “Together we will make more and more dreams come true for those who have a genuine desire to explore and grow as climbers.”

The application period is open now through March 1 for grants ranging from $200 to $1,000. Winners from six regions around the country will be announced on April 15. 

What would you do with the money?

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Chobani had planned to send single-serve containers of blueberry, strawberry, and peach yogurt to U.S. athletes in Sochi.     Photo: Courtesy of Chobani

Russia Blocks Yogurt for U.S. Olympians

Thousands of Chobani containers sit in New Jersey

Yogurt is the latest source of conflict between the United States and Russia.

Five thousand containers of Greek-style Chobani yogurt bound for the U.S. Olympic team in Sochi, Russia, are reportedly sitting in logistical limbo near Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

The Russian government is blocking the shipment, citing lack of proper paperwork. U.S. officials claim the certification Russia is requiring is unreasonable. Since 2010, the two countries have been unable to reach an agreement on the health certification of American dairy exports.

"I'd like to think that yogurt could have diplomatic immunity," Peter McGuinness, Chobani's chief marketing and brand officer, told the New York Times. "Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished."

Chobani is a sponsor of the U.S. Olympic team. The New York–based company stocks its yogurt in Olympic training centers across the United States and attempted to send its product to Americans competing abroad at the Winter Olympics.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer called on Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to let the yogurt through. "Chobani yogurt is safe, nutritious, and delicious," Schumer said in a statement. "And the Russian authorities should get past 'nyet.'"

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Suzy Walsham won this year's event in under 12 minutes.     Photo: Kane Skennar/Thinkstock

Record Set at Empire State Run-Up

Australian woman climbs 86 flights in 11:57 for her fifth title

Suzy Walsham won her record-breaking fifth Empire State Building Run-Up on Wednesday night. The 40-year-old Australian conquered 86 flights of stairs in just under 12 minutes.

More than 500 people registered for this year’s event, which is one of the premiere tower climbs in the world. Starting in the lobby, contestants are faced with 1,576 steps before finishing on the 86th floor. 

Much like a marathon, the start times are staggered, which allows the elite men and women to begin first, followed by waves of the general field. 

"That was a goal of mine coming here. No other female has won it more than four times and I wanted to be the first," said five-time winner Walsham.

Norwegian Thorbjorn Ludvigsen won the men’s race with a time of 10:06.

In 2009, Outside’s Nick Heil competed in the Sears Tower Climb. At 103 floors, see why a skyscraper provides a challenge as daunting as many high peaks.

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