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US protected lands mismatch biodiversity priorities

April 8, 2015 Comments off

US protected lands mismatch biodiversity priorities
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Because habitat loss is the main cause of extinction, where and how much society chooses to protect is vital for saving species. The United States is well positioned economically and politically to pursue habitat conservation should it be a societal goal. We assessed the US protected area portfolio with respect to biodiversity in the country. New synthesis maps for terrestrial vertebrates, freshwater fish, and trees permit comparison with protected areas to identify priorities for future conservation investment. Although the total area protected is substantial, its geographic configuration is nearly the opposite of patterns of endemism within the country. Most protected lands are in the West, whereas the vulnerable species are largely in the Southeast. Private land protections are significant, but they are not concentrated where the priorities are. To adequately protect the nation’s unique biodiversity, we recommend specific areas deserving additional protection, some of them including public lands, but many others requiring private investment.

Direct measurements of methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania

February 18, 2015 Comments off

Direct measurements of methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Abandoned oil and gas wells provide a potential pathway for subsurface migration and emissions of methane and other fluids to the atmosphere. Little is known about methane fluxes from the millions of abandoned wells that exist in the United States. Here, we report direct measurements of methane fluxes from abandoned oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, using static flux chambers. A total of 42 and 52 direct measurements were made at wells and at locations near the wells (“controls”) in forested, wetland, grassland, and river areas in July, August, October 2013 and January 2014, respectively. The mean methane flow rates at these well locations were 0.27 kg/d/well, and the mean methane flow rate at the control locations was 4.5 × 10−6 kg/d/location. Three out of the 19 measured wells were high emitters that had methane flow rates that were three orders of magnitude larger than the median flow rate of 1.3 × 10−3 kg/d/well. Assuming the mean flow rate found here is representative of all abandoned wells in Pennsylvania, we scaled the methane emissions to be 4–7% of estimated total anthropogenic methane emissions in Pennsylvania. The presence of ethane, propane, and n-butane, along with the methane isotopic composition, indicate that the emitted methane is predominantly of thermogenic origin. These measurements show that methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells can be significant. The research required to quantify these emissions nationally should be undertaken so they can be accurately described and included in greenhouse gas emissions inventories.

Life cycle air quality impacts of conventional and alternative light-duty transportation in the United States

February 12, 2015 Comments off

Life cycle air quality impacts of conventional and alternative light-duty transportation in the United States
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Commonly considered strategies for reducing the environmental impact of light-duty transportation include using alternative fuels and improving vehicle fuel economy. We evaluate the air quality-related human health impacts of 10 such options, including the use of liquid biofuels, diesel, and compressed natural gas (CNG) in internal combustion engines; the use of electricity from a range of conventional and renewable sources to power electric vehicles (EVs); and the use of hybrid EV technology. Our approach combines spatially, temporally, and chemically detailed life cycle emission inventories; comprehensive, fine-scale state-of-the-science chemical transport modeling; and exposure, concentration–response, and economic health impact modeling for ozone (O3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). We find that powering vehicles with corn ethanol or with coal-based or “grid average” electricity increases monetized environmental health impacts by 80% or more relative to using conventional gasoline. Conversely, EVs powered by low-emitting electricity from natural gas, wind, water, or solar power reduce environmental health impacts by 50% or more. Consideration of potential climate change impacts alongside the human health outcomes described here further reinforces the environmental preferability of EVs powered by low-emitting electricity relative to gasoline vehicles.

Sound credit scores and financial decisions despite cognitive aging

January 23, 2015 Comments off

Sound credit scores and financial decisions despite cognitive aging (PDF)
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

At a time when the world’s 65-and-older population will double by 2035, policy changes have transferred many complex financial and healthcare decisions to individuals. Age-related declines in cognitive ability raise the specter that older adults facing major financial decisions may find them increasingly challenging. We explore whether knowledge and expertise accumulated from past decisions can offset age-related cognitive declines. Using a unique dataset that combines measures of cognitive ability, knowledge, and credit scores—a measure of creditworthiness that reflects sustained ability for sound financial decision-making—we find that cognitive decline does not spell doom. Instead, domain-specific knowledge and expertise provide an alternative route to sound financial decisions. These results suggest guidelines for designing effective interventions and decision aids across the life span.

Private traits and attributes are predictable from digital records of human behavior

January 19, 2015 Comments off

Private traits and attributes are predictable from digital records of human behavior (PDF)
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

We show that easily accessible digital records of behavior, Facebook Likes, can be used to automatically and accurately predict a range of highly sensitive personal attributes including: sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious and political views, personality traits, intelligence, happiness, use of addictive substances, parental separation, age, and gender. The analysis presented is based on a dataset of over 58,000 volunteers who provided their Facebook Likes, detailed demographic profiles, and the results of several psychometric tests. The proposed model uses dimensionality reduction for preprocessing the Likes data, which are then entered into logistic/linear regression to predict individual psychodemographic profiles from Likes. The model correctly discriminates between homosexual and heterosexual men in 88% of cases, African Americans and Caucasian Americans in 95% of cases, and between Democrat and Republican in 85% of cases. For the personality trait “Openness,” prediction accuracy is close to the test–retest accuracy of a standard personality test. We give examples of associations between attributes and Likes and discuss implications for online personalization and privacy.

Recent shifts in the occurrence, cause, and magnitude of animal mass mortality events

January 17, 2015 Comments off

Recent shifts in the occurrence, cause, and magnitude of animal mass mortality events (PDF)
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Mass mortality events (MMEs) are rapidly occurring catastrophic demographic events that punctuate background mortality levels. Individual MMEs are staggering in their observed magnitude: re- moving more than 90% of a population, resulting in the death of more than a billion individuals, or producing 700 million tons of dead biomass in a single event. Despite extensive documentation of individual MMEs, we have no understanding of the major features characterizing the occurrence and magnitude of MMEs, their causes, or trends through time. Thus, no framework exists for contextualizing MMEs in the wake of ongoing global and regional perturbations to natural systems. Here we present an analysis of 727 published MMEs from across the globe, affecting 2,407 animal populations. We show that the magnitude of MMEs has been intensifying for birds, fishes, and marine invertebrat es; invariant for mammals; and decreasing for reptiles and amphibians. These shifts in magnitude proved robust when we accounted for an increase in the occurrence of MMEs since 1940. However, it remains unclear whether the increase in the occurrence of MMEs represents a true pattern or simply a perceived increase. Regardless, the increase in MMEs appears to be associated with a rise in disease emergence, biotoxicity, and events produced by multiple interacting stressors, yet temporal trends in MME causes varied among taxa and may be associated with increased de- tectability. In addition, MMEs with the largest magnitudes were those that resulted from multiple stressors, starvation, and disease. These results advance our understanding of rare demographic processes and their relationship to global and regional perturba- tions to natural systems.

See: Mass Die-Offs of Birds and Fish on the Rise (AllGov.com)

A generation at risk: Young investigators and the future of the biomedical workforce

January 12, 2015 Comments off

A generation at risk: Young investigators and the future of the biomedical workforce (PDF)
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

A number of distressing trends, including a decline in the share of key research grants going to younger scientists, as well as a steady rise in the age at which investigators receive their first funding, are now a decades-long feature of the US biomedical research workforce. Working committees have proposed recommendations, policy makers have implemented reforms, and yet the trajectory of our funding regime away from young scientists has only worsened. An investigation of some of the major factors and their geneses at play in explaining the increasing average age to first RO1 is presented. Recommendations related to funding, peer review, career paths, and the university–government partnership are provided.

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