Dateline: United Kingdom, Belgium, Washington, and California.
Chris, Nevena, Tom, and JD bring you the latest science and
discussion from around the world. Seriously, how cool is that?
On This Week’s Show
- Old rocks
- Old fungi
- Tiny fish
- Internet satellites
- The Climate Lounge
- Pub Quiz
Science News with Chris MacAlister, and Nevena
Organic matter from space preserved in 3.3 billion year old
- The mountains of South Africa and Swaziland contain 3.3 billion
year old volcanic rock which contains carbon filled layers.
- Geologists from France & Italy have been examining these
layers and were surprised to find a thin layer where the profile of
the carbon was consistent with an extraterrestrial origin.
- Whilst finding extraterrestrial organic matter is not
unprecedented, to detect it 3.3 billion years later means that
there must have been a lot of it there in the first place.
- If this can happen on Earth then it can happen elsewhere. So if
we find it, will we know if it is native to the planet or an
Oldest fungi fossils may tell story of how life arrived on
- The oldest fossils of fungi known until recently were dated to
be about 400 million years old and were found in Scotland in the
beginning of the 20th century
- With the help of genetic sequencing and comparative genetics
between modern existing fungal species though, researchers now
estimate that the oldest common ancestor of the modern fungi should
be at least 600 million years older than the fungi from those
- In the meantime, scientists on an expedition at the Canadian
Arctic found microscopic imprints embedded in stone, which seem to
be fungal fossils too
- Dr. Rainbird (the arctic scientist who collected the fossils)
sent the material to Emmanuelle Javaux, a paleontologist at the
University of Liège in Belgium to study them
- In another sample, which the teams studied with electron
microscope and infrared imaging, they saw two properties very much
telling of an ancient fungal species: 1st – a double cell wall
(which could hint to fungi or plant cells) and 2nd – a chemical
signature of the cell wall indicating the presence of chitin – a
sugar which is found only in the cell walls of
fungi and not plants
- Even cooler is the fact that these might be the first land
fungi out of the ancient oceans. Why? Cause fungi feed by
decomposing matter outside their cells by secreting enzymes and
then internalising the nutrients. However – if those
fossils are of fungi, there weren’t land plants
that early in prehistory to feed on, which means that it might have
not been plants that first colonised land, but fungi (for the
record some fungi can in fact feed on inorganic
matter too, which would help if on the land there wasn’t anything
organic to munch on yet when those guys decided to live outside the
Nature, LiveScience, New
The tiniest fish are the most important for healthy coral
- Coral reefs take up 0.1% of the marine environment but house
25% of all marine species despite lacking a clear source of
nutrition to support them all. But we may now have an answer.
- Cryptobenthic reef fishes: gobies, blennies,cardinalfishes the
smallest of all marine vertebrates.
- These fish breed fast and plentifully, which is just as well as
they appear to making up 60% of the fish food in coral reefs.
- How do you calculate the biomass of numerous small fish who
like to hide? You sink nets that scare off big fish, pump in
anesthetic and count the floaters!
- Cryptobenthic fish larvae don’t disperse into the open ocean
like most other larvae.Instead, it’s been found that these larvae
stay close to their parents' reefs, yielding many more survivors
among their babies. These larvae then replace their rapidly ravaged
elders, sustaining the growth of larger reef fishes.
SpaceX launches 60 internet satellites
- The heaviest payload yet to be delivered into earth orbit by
the F9 rockets – 60 comms satellites.
- These satellites move in relation to the surface of the Earth
and by creating a tight network above it, will make broadband
internet coverage a thing for everyone on the surface of the
- The satellites are designed so that once they are about to be
decommissioned, they will deorbit.
- They are made of materials which will disintegrate once the
satellite re-enters earth's atmosphere.
- This was the third time this 1st stage of the F9 rocket was
- The potential benefit of such satellites compared to the
existing geo-stationary ones is that they are much lower in earth
orbit so the signal to earth surface will have to travel much much
shorter distance, hence the lag of the internet connection will be
- We will need many more than the 60 satellites in low earth
orbit for even a minor broadband coverage, but at least the success
of this mission is already a darn good start.
of the mission, BBC Science
and Environment, New
The Climate Lounge
Listening to experts on Sea Level Rise
Tom Di Liberto
What do you do when you need an opinion on whether to buy
something, or vote a certain way, or just what to believe? Who do
you go to? If you said the fever swamps of social media such as
Facebook/Twitter, well you might just be the crazy uncle/aunt in
your family, and you just described why things have gotten all
anti-intellectual across the globe recently.
No, I was looking for something along the lines of “I look for
expert opinion”. If I wanted advice on the best layout on a
sandwich, I wouldn’t go ask someone who works at an ice cream shop,
I’m headed to those sandwich artists at Subway. You get the
In climate science, often those expert opinions can be found
summarized in one of a number of massive collaborative consensus
reports. The IPCC report is an example and more recently and here
in the US, the National Climate Assessment is another. But those
reports can be massive and even too conservative (small c, not
large C) at times when it comes to certain projections. And today
in the lounge, I’m going to talk about just one of those
projections, sea level rise.
Sea level rise projections are hard to make confident because of
the uncertainties that lie in how fast the ice sheets will melt.
Because of this broad uncertainty, the IPCC report is generally
conservative with its estimates of global sea level rise.
However in a new article published in the proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences. Scientists asked 22 climate experts
to predict ice sheets affect on sea level rise under two scenarios:
global temp rise of 2C and 5C (which is unchecked ghg emission
growth or business as usual.
Using this technique of expert opinion, the paper reported that
sea level rise could plausibly exceed 2 meets (7.5 feet) by 2100
1.78 of which is from melting ice sheets, more than twice as high
as the upper limit in the IPCC report. This would displace oh, 187
million people, flood cities like New York, New Orleans, Miami,
Shanghai, and Mumbai, wipe island nations off the map. It’s grim
folks. REALLLY GRIM.
And the most nonchalant quote on this comes from co-author of
the paper Jonathan Bamber at the University of Bristol, who told
NBC news that “Two meters is not a good scenario”. You don’t
And if ghg continued unchecked to 2200 (which let’s be real,
they won’t if the impacts are THAT severe) sea levels would rise to
7.5 meters or 24 feet. I say this not to scare but to put into
context what sea levels are like when co2 levels get so high
In the 2C scenario, ice sheets would rise 0.8 meters or 2.5
feet. Which is much better than 2 meters but also,…not good.
The key thing here is that a 2 meter sea level rise, while not
likely, is plausible, which means that coastal communities have to
prepare for that scenario. This paper helps decision makers by
highlighting the potential high end estimates of SLR
The novel aspect of this paper is how they came to their
conclusions (ok, well yeah, that’s obvious). In particular, ice
sheet modeling is a very difficult task which leads to highly
uncertain estimates of sea level rise. Recent research has even
suggested the behavior of the ice sheets in greenland and antarctic
are more uncertain. So instead of relying on mathematical modeling,
they looked at the thoughts of 22 climate experts.
Using a standardized interview technique called structured
expert judgement, they asked the experts to predict the ice sheets
affect in the two scenarios I mentioned before. The Structured
expert judgment technique allowed the scientists to give their
scientific rationales for their uncertainty judgements related to
sea ice contribution and even helped highlight poorly understood
but potentially critical processes related to ice sheet
So I guess what I’m trying to tell all of you is that, asking
experts for their thoughts can be a really important thing when you
have to plan for the negative outcomes related to those experts
lines of work. Who’d a thunk it.
Sources: NBCnews, PNAS
That concludes this episode of the Blue Streak Science
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This show is produced by the Blue Streak Science team, and
edited by Pro
Our hosts today were Chris MacAlister, Nevena Hristozova, and
Tom Di Liberto.
I’m JD Goodwin.
Thank you for joining us.
And remember…follow the science!