Archive | Land & Soil

Yellowstone National Park Takes on Long-Term Bison Study

Yellowstone National Park’s American bison are truly a sight to behold. The only population of free-ranging buffalo in the lower 48, they number over 4,000 strong and remain a powerful tourist draw. Bison were famously pushed to near-extinction in the 19th century, and only recently sprang back to healthy numbers.

But the rapidly increasing size of Yellowstone’s bison population has some worried about the long-term stability of the park’s grasslands. Syracuse University biologist Douglas Frank, who has examined the effects of climate change and herbivores on Yellowstone’s grasses for two decades, plans to embark on an extensive study to assess the bison’s impact.

“During the late 1980s, similar concerns were raised about the size of the park’s elk herd and whether the herd was negatively impacting grasslands,” says Frank, according to Syracuse University’s website. “Rather than having a negative impact on the grasslands, we found that increases in elk grazing actually stimulated plant growth.”

Frank, a professor in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Scientists, plans to spend three years on the project. He will work with the National Park Service to monitor the herds’ grazing habits, using research methods he developed in his 20 years studying the park’s grasslands.

“Fossil records indicate that prior to the industrial revolution, the Earth’s grasslands and large herds of migratory herbivores coexisted for millennia,” Frank says. “These systems were stable, despite having sustained very intense levels of grazing. My work in Yellowstone explores why and how this happens.”

In Frank’s previous work on elk grazing habits, he found that several factors contributed to plant growth. For one, elk feces and urine in grazing areas provided ample fertilizer for plants. The intensive feeding also stimulated plants to grow new shoots and leaves, enhancing the overall health of the grasslands.

“Heavy grazing also increases the amount of nitrogen in the leaf material, which increases the quality of material that falls to the ground,” Frank says. “The high-quality litter is quickly broken down by soil bacteria, which in turn enriches the soil around grazed plants.”

Regardless of the outcome, the study will provide scientists with further insights into Yellowstone’s ecosystem.

“We also intend to use this opportunity to better understand the complex and fascinating ways in which the interactions among plants, herbivores, and soil organisms foster the stability of grassland systems,” Frank says.

Posted in Animals, Ecosystems, Land & Soil, Mammals0 Comments

Mars Rock Coatings Puzzle Scientists

PASADENA, Calif., March 24 (UPI) — U.S. space scientists say a strange coating on Mars rocks discovered by the rover Opportunity near a crater has left them puzzled.

NASA said the rover spent six weeks investigating a crater dubbed Concepcion that was flagged in advance as a study target because it appears to be young.

The scientists said rocks ejected from the impact that formed the crater are chunks of the same type of bedrock Opportunity has seen at hundreds of locations since landing in January 2004 — soft, sulfate-rich sandstone holding harder peppercorn-size dark spheres like berries in a muffin. NASA said the spheres, rich in iron, gained the nickname “blueberries.”

“It was clear from the images that Opportunity took on the approach to Concepcion that there was strange stuff on lots of the rocks near the crater,” said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, principal investigator for Opportunity. “There’s dark, grayish material coating faces of the rocks and filling fractures in them. At least part of it is composed of blueberries jammed together as close as you could pack them. We’ve never seen anything like this before.”

While scientists continue to ponder the new images, Opportunity is again moving toward its long-term destination, Endeavour Crater, which is now about a 7-mile drive.

“We want to get to Endeavour with a healthy rover,” said Squyres. “It takes a compelling target for us to stop and study. And Concepcion was a compelling target.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Land & Soil, Other0 Comments

New Web Site Helps Forest Land Managers

WASHINGTON, March 24 (UPI) — The U.S. Forest Service says it has created an online database to help land managers understand the interactions of climate change, pathogens and forests.

The service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said changing climate alters patterns of forest disturbance. The searchable database is designed to explain how forest diseases will respond.

Officials said the U.S. forested area now annually infected by insects and pathogens is approximately 45 times the area affected by fire, with an economic impact nearly five times as great. The literature review shows climate change generally will lead to reductions in tree health and will improve conditions for some highly damaging pathogens.

The Forest Service said citations and summaries for more than 1,000 records of journal articles and working papers on forest pathogens and climate are retrievable at the Web site by author, topic, species or geographic area.

“This collaborative effort is the first of its kind to synthesize the information known about the interactions of climate change, pathogens and forests in a systematic and useful way for land managers addressing climate change,” officials said in a statement.

The database is available at

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Land & Soil, Literature, Other0 Comments

Precise Tectonic Plate Model Created

MADISON, Wis., March 23 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve created a model precisely describing the movements of the 25 tectonic plates that account for about 97 percent of Earth’s surface.

The project, which took 20 years to complete, is said to describe a dynamic three-dimensional puzzle of planetary proportions.

The model was created by University of Wisconsin-Madison geophysicist Chuck DeMets, Richard Gordon of Rice University and Donald Argus of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“This model can be used to predict the movement of one plate relative to any other plate on the Earth’s surface,” DeMets said. “Plate tectonics describe almost everything about how the Earth’s surface moves and deforms, but it’s remarkably simple in a mathematical way.”

The researchers said Earth’s tectonic plates are in constant motion, sliding past one another as they float atop the planet’s molten interior. The collisions and shifts can create mountain ranges or cause earthquakes, such as the ones that struck Haiti and Chile this year.

“We live on a dynamic planet, and it’s important to understand how the surface of the planet changes,” Gordon says. “The frequency and magnitude of earthquakes depend upon how the tectonic plates move. Understanding how plates move can help us understand surface processes like mountain-building and subsurface processes like mantle convection.”

The research is to be reported in the April issue of the Geophysical Journal International.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Earthquakes, Land & Soil0 Comments

At Least 45 Dead in Brazil Landslides

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan. 1 (UPI) — Landslides in the Rio de Janeiro area triggered by heavy rains caused at least 45 deaths, Argentine government officials said Friday.

Brasil Online reported initial reports from officials indicated the 22 killed in one landslide at Angra dos Reis included at least a dozen tourists.

Jornal do Brasil reported search-and-rescue efforts had been suspended for the night and were to resume Saturday. Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Sergio Cabral, who declared three days of morning, was expected to reach the disaster scene in the morning.

CNN reported a giant mudslide came down on the Sankay Inn resort at Angra dos Reis about 4:30 a.m., killing 22 and injuring two dozen more State officials said 15 more bodies were found floating on the nearby island of Ilha Grande. Others reportedly died in smaller landslides.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he would dispatch military personnel to help carry out rescue and relief efforts in remote coastal areas where more bodies were believed to be trapped.

Copyright 2010 by United Press International

Posted in Land & Soil, Military, Soil Erosion0 Comments

Soil Studies Find Antibiotic Resistance

NEWCASTLE, England, Dec. 28 (UPI) — Soil studies show antibiotic resistance in nature is growing despite tighter control over antibiotic use in medicine and agriculture, British scientists said.

Bacterial DNA taken from soil samples collected between 1940 and 2008 in the Netherlands revealed a rise in the level of antibiotic resistant genes, said David Graham, a professor at England’s Newcastle University.

Scientists fear a resistant gene in a harmless bacteria could be passed to a disease-causing pathogen, Graham said in this month’s issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

“The big question,” Graham said, “is that with more stringent European regulations and greater emphasis on conservative antibiotic use in agriculture and medicine, why are antibiotic resistant gene levels still rising?”

Graham said he and his team expect to find similar results when they expand their study to include soil samples from other parts of the world.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Land & Soil, Other, Science, Space, & Technology, Soil Ecology0 Comments

California's Napa Valley Vineyards Losing Water

ST. HELENA, Calif., Dec. 21 (UPI) — Slowing the rate of delivery would reduce the amount of water lost in vineyards in California’s Napa Valley, a Stanford researcher said.

Using water efficiently is a priority in the Napa Valley, where summers are hot and dry and grapevines must be irrigated to thrive.

Deep cracks caused by the natural shrinking and swelling of soil means that at least 10 percent of irrigation water bypasses vine roots and is wasted, Stanford researcher Eve Hinckley said.

Growers could reduce water loss by lowering irrigation drip lines to the ground or burying them, she said.

Growers also could slow the rate from drip emitters and irrigate earlier in the day for a longer period of time to allow more water to soak into the roots, rather letting the water bypass them altogether, the university said in a release Friday.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Drought, Drought & Shortages, Farming & Ranching, Land & Soil, Water Efficiency0 Comments

Erupting Volcano Filmed in Deep Sea

FALMOUTH, Mass., Dec. 18 (UPI) — For the first time, video and still photographic images have captured a deep-sea volcano erupting molten lava, scientists in Massachusetts said.

Scientists used a remotely operated vehicle named Jason to capture the event nearly 4,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean near Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, Mass., said in a release.

Scientists in a control van on a research ship guided Jason to within 10 feet of the erupting volcano to collect samples of rocks, hot spring waters and biological specimens, expedition leader Albert Collasius said.

“There were 15 exuberant scientists in the control van who all felt like they hit a home run,” Collasius said.

Through a fiber optic tether, Jason transmitted high-definition video of the eruption as it occurred during the first week of May. The video was shown publicly for the first time at this week’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Aquatic Life, Land & Soil, Volcanoes0 Comments

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