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Arctic exploration for climate science

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In recent years, there have been many indications that the Arctic is suffering the effects of climate change more rapidly and seriously than almost any other region of the world. In particular, temperatures at the top of the planet have been rising much faster than the global average, and all that additional heat has melted vast quantities of Arctic sea ice.

Scientists have spotted these trends thanks to satellite data and other techniques, but there is still an awful lot that researchers don’t know about how the Arctic is responding to global warming. Data gathered in the actual locations is needed for solid evidence.

The quest for such data underpins a unique collaboration between scientists and explorers, known as the Catlin Arctic Survey, which just kicked off its third year. The survey is sponsored by Catlin Group Limited, an international insurance company.

Read more on the Natural Resources Defense Council's On Earth blog.

2,000 year old coral found living near Gulf oil spill site

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Scientists say they have dated coral living near the site of the busted BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico at 2,000 years old.

The U.S. Geological Survey said on March 29 it had determined the age of a kind of black coral in the Gulf for the first time. Scientists had been studying the ancient slow-growing corals before BP's well blew out on April 20, 2010. The corals were found about 21 miles northeast of the BP well living 1,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf.

Cain Burdeau writes about the discovery on the Huffington Post Green blog.

Driving as if people mattered

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I remarked to a colleague this winter after a snowstorm that this city where we live is a fantastic one to live in -- if you're an auto. The parking lots were all meticulously cleared of snow just a few hours after the last flake descended while the sidewalks were still obliterated. Someone remarked that aliens from outer space, observing the planet from a distance, would conclude the dominant life form is metal with round rubber rolling devices for locomotion.

Oil industry says it's the victim of the Gulf spill and keeps asking for more handouts

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This week, a handful of GOP lawmakers will introduce bills to accelerate the pace of offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and open more American waters to development. These representatives claim that the Obama administration has unfairly locked up the Gulf of Mexico and that we need more drilling to drive down gas prices.

Peter Lehner writes on his blog at the Natural Resources Defense Council's Switchboard page about the oil industry's push to receive even more favorable treatment in the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Non-toxic cleaning products you can make at home

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You can take those store-bought cleaning products off your shopping list. Here is a list of basic supplies that can get you through many domestic tasks.

Soap
Old housekeeping manuals and books on simple living often talk about the soap jar. This is a place where all those slivers of hand soap go when you are about to start a fresh bar. Pour in a little boiling water and you get a soft jelly which can be used for dishwashing, clothes, or diluted as a spray for aphids that attack your house plants.

Baking soda
This is endlessly useful around the house. Buy a box from the drugstore rather than the tiny ones you get for baking. It is a water softener, can be used as a scouring powder on sinks and bathtubs It's effective and easy to rinse away. It can be used as a coating on ovens to make them easier to clean, as an excellent polish for chrome. It also makes a good tooth powder and can be used in solution as a garden fungicide (half a teaspoon per pint of water).

Table salt
Salt is a mild disinfectant, and makes an abrasive but benign scouring powder. Keep drains clear with a weekly handful of salt and a kettle full of boiling water.

Clear distilled vinegar

Give yourself a break -- observe the Sabbath

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Growing up in my rural Catholic family, we always went to church on Sunday and refrained from work. My dad never even harvested wheat, our main source of income, on Sunday when many of the neighbors did. Talk about a witness of faith! I grew up knowing in my bones that Sunday was “different,” a day of rest dedicated to God, family, and leisure.

Once in talking with a group of friends, we got on this topic, and almost everyone said Sunday was like any other day. I was stunned. I just assumed everyone else observed the Lord’s Day like I did. My feeling was, “Oh, what a loss. You don’t know what you are missing.”

I wouldn’t even think of discarding the practice of observing the Sabbath, asI find it so valuable and critical to rest from labor on Sundays. I can lay aside my “to-do” list with nary a twinge of conscience, and enjoy my favorite renewing activities. Besides church and meditation, that usually means taking a nap, reading, exercise, time in nature, visiting with family or friends, and perhaps watching a movie. It would never enter my mind to cut the grass, do laundry, pay bills, go shopping, or do other chores, no matter how busy I am.

The most important microbe you've never heard of

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Meet Prochlorococcus -- it might be the most important microbe you've never heard of

Tiny creatures that inhabit the oceans’ well-lit upper waters emit gas or gaseous compounds. One algae Emiliana huxleyi emits dimethyl sulfide, which contributes to what we call the smell of the sea.

An unseen "forest" of these microscopic beings fills the upper 200 meters of ocean, exerting an influence on this planet every bit as profound as the forests on land. The diverse phytoplankton species inhabiting the ocean's surface waters -- which mainly consist of single-celled cyanobacteria, diatoms and other kinds of algae -- form the base of the marine food web. They account for roughly half the photosynthesis on the earth, remove nearly as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as all land plants, and supply about half to three-quarters of the oxygen we breathe. Without the activities of these free-floating plantlike organisms, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels would triple.

Br. David Andrews: Continuing GMO advocacy by 'experts' linked to Vatican Pontifical Academy of Science

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Holy Cross Br. David Andrews is senior representative at Food & Water Watch, a Washington-based consumer group. He is former executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference.

There is a new book published in English on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). It is called The Plain Facts About GMOs. It is a Hungarian White Paper on the benefits of GMOs. It is a strong appeal for Europe to take up GMOs claiming that the opposition to them is ideological and not sound science.

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