Earth

Scientists have discovered why one of the world's most important agricultural diseases emerged, according to research published in the September issue of the Journal of General Virology. Maize streak virus (MSV) causes the main virus disease of Africa's most important food crop. By comparing the genome of the virus to those of its less harmful relatives, scientists have discovered how and why MSV became a serious pest and spread so rapidly across Africa.

MADISON, WI, AUGUST 18, 2008 – With oil prices skyrocketing, the search is on for efficient and sustainable biofuels. Research published this month in Agronomy Journal examines one biofuel crop contender: corn stover.

Corn stover is made up of the leaves and stalks of corn plants that are left in the field after harvesting the edible corn grain. Corn stover could supply as much as 25% of the biofuel crop needed by 2030.

MADISON, WI, AUGUST 18, 2008 – Serpentine soils contain highly variable amounts of calcium, making them marginal lands for farming. Successful management of serpentine soils requires accurate measurement of the calcium they hold. Research published this month in the Soil Science Society of America Journal shows that multiple measurement techniques are needed to accurately measure calcium content in serpentine soils.

Madison, WI, August 18, 2008 -- Like most things that exist underground, plant roots are out-of-sight and easily forgotten, but while flowers, leaves, and other aboveground plant parts are more familiar, plant roots are equally deserving of our appreciation. Beneath every towering tree, tasty crop, and dazzling ornamental lies a root system that makes it all possible. Roots provide anchor and support for plants, extract water and nutrients from soil, and reduce soil erosion. Roots also play an important role in soil carbon cycling and the global carbon balance.

New research, reported this week in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that coal burning, primarily in North America and Europe, contaminated the Arctic and potentially affected human health and ecosystems in and around Earth's polar regions.

The study, titled "Coal Burning Leaves Toxic Heavy Metal Legacy in the Arctic," was conducted by the Desert Research Institute (DRI), Reno, Nev. and partially funded by the National Science Foundation.

ATHENS, Ohio (Aug. 19, 2008) – A stalagmite in a West Virginia cave has yielded the most detailed geological record to date on climate cycles in eastern North America over the past 7,000 years. The new study confirms that during periods when Earth received less solar radiation, the Atlantic Ocean cooled, icebergs increased and precipitation fell, creating a series of century-long droughts.

Human-driven changes in the westerly winds are bringing hotter and drier springs to the American Southwest, according to new research from The University of Arizona in Tucson.

Since the 1970s the winter storm track in the western U.S. has been shifting north, particularly in the late winter. As a result, fewer winter storms bring rain and snow to Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, western Colorado and western New Mexico.

Aug. 15, 2008 — In the world of alternative fuels, there may be nothing greener than pond scum.

Algae are tiny biological factories that use photosynthesis to transform carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy so efficiently that they can double their weight several times a day, producing oil in the process — 30 times more oil per acre than soybeans, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Like soybean oil, the algae oil can be burned directly in diesel engines or further refined into biodiesel.

Ah, nothing like breathing clean coastal air, right? Think again.

Chemists at UC San Diego have measured for the first time the impact that dirty smoke from ships cruising at sea and generating electricity in port can have on the air quality of coastal cities.

A new analysis of environmental conditions over the Atlantic Ocean shows that hot, dry air associated with dust outbreaks from the Sahara desert was a likely contributor to the quieter-than-expected 2007 hurricane season.