Plants

Forests disappearing since 2000? Google cloud maps global changes

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 14, 2013   View Article

In this era of big data, anyone can now see how and where the world’s forests are changing thanks to a new mapping project made possible, in part, by the computing resources of the tech giant Google.

The map compiles 100-foot-resolution satellite images of Earth’s land area taken each season, every year between 2000 and 2012, to paint a picture of where trees were lost or gained. Globally, the map shows that 888,000 square miles of forest were lost between 2000 and 2012. In the same period, 309,000 square miles were gained.

Beetle juice? Trees killed by bugs eyed as biofuel for cars

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 8, 2013   View Article

Millions of acres of U.S. forest lands are carpeted with stands of unsightly reddish-brown trees that were killed by voracious beetles the size of rice grains. A $10 million, five-year research program launched this week aims to determine if the beetle-killed trees can be turned into biofuel for cars and trucks without breaking the bank or exacerbating climate change, which is aiding the beetle mania.

“A crucial thing with biofuels is that we understand just how much greenhouse gases do we really offset. Because obviously if we use lots of fossil fuels or we cause lots of emissions in producing the biofuels, then we are really not gaining as much as we might hope to,” Keith Paustain, a soil ecologist who is leading the project at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, told NBC News.

Saving most of Earth’s plants may take just a bit of land

Publication: NBC News   Date: September 5, 2013   View Article

Nearly two thirds of the world’s plant species — and the creatures and critters that depend on them for survival — can be saved by protecting patches of land, from the cloud forests of South America to islands in the Caribbean, Asia and Africa, according to a new study.

The finding is based on analysis of data on the distribution of more than 110,000 plant species, and is an effort to determine if internationally agreed conservation targets of protecting 17 percent of the Earth’s land area and 60 percent of its plants by 2020 are achievable.

Greenland to sprout new shades of green as planet warms, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 28, 2013   View Article

Scientists have long expected Greenland to get greener as the planet warms. Now they have a better idea of what trees will be able to take root on the Arctic island as the glaciers there retreat inland over the course of this century.

Newly published research shows that human assistance will be key to the spread of any trees over the coming decades.

Supergrapes could make good wine despite climate change

Publication: NBC News   Date: June 6, 2013   View Article

Experts say “terroir” — the geography, geology and climate of grapes’ native soils — defines the difference between good vintage and bad. But the plants’ sensitivity to their environment also means that climate change presents a massive threat to the industry and that delicate balance. However, new genetic research may stave off those worries, even as the planet warms.

Working with Corvina grapes, a team of Italian geneticists identified genes that help protect the fruit from the vagaries of the weather and could serve as a platform “for breeding new cultivars with improved adaptation to the environment,” the team reports Friday in the journal Genome Biology.

They’re alive! Harvested fruits and veggies respond to light cycles, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: June 20, 2013   View Article

The fruits and vegetables lining grocery store shelves respond to light signals, according to a new finding that may have profound implications for how food is stored, when it is eaten and, ultimately, human health.

While biologists knew that certain cells in harvested crops keep living after they are picked from a tree, plucked from a vine, or pulled from the ground, the responsiveness of fruits and veggies to the daily cycle of light and dark is a surprise, said study co-author Janet Braam from Rice University.

“The idea that postharvest you could keep circadian rhythms going is new,” the cell biologist told NBC News. “And that it would have a consequence for the accumulation of certain types of metabolites, some of which may have relevance to human health” is also new.

Photosynthesis interrupted: Plant parts used to generate electricity

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 13, 2013   View Article

A decade from now, a recorder powered by plant parts and stashed in the woods may answer the age-old question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

That’s one potential application for an energy conversion technology inspired by photosynthesis, the process plants use to convert sunlight into food.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach