Old growth forests still big carbon sinks

Recent research published in the journal Nature shows that mature forests still sock away plenty of carbon, as much as 1.3 billion metric tons a year. It had been assumed that long-established trees would be “carbon-neutral,” while young trees would store more carbon.

UC Davis plant ecologist Susan Ustin isn’t surprised, telling Nature News that for every year a tree lives, it is adding rings and tissue, so any significant growth must mean net carbon uptake.

“If they are carbon neutral at 400 years old, how are they going to make it to 1,000?” she asks. “If it was really carbon neutral, the trees would die.”

Researcher Protection Act (AB 2296) now law

Over the weekend, Governor Schwarzenegger signed 64 bills and vetoed 131. Among those he signed was AB 2296, the Researcher Protection Act, which enacts a number of measures to protect researchers from attacks by animal rights activists and others. The bill was introduced by Assemblymember Gene Mullin (D-South San Francisco) and supported by the University of California.

“This law will provide law enforcement with some of the tools necessary to help protect academic researchers so they can continue to perform ground-breaking research without the threat of violence. I want to publicly thank Governor Schwarzenegger, the Legislature and particularly Assemblymember Mullin for their leadership on this important legislation, which sends a strong message of California’s support for academic research and innovation and its unwillingness to tolerate violence against researchers or their families,” said UC President Mark Yudof, in a prepared statement.

U.S. Judge: Geneva not in my jurisdiction

A federal judge in Hawaii dismissed a lawsuit against the Large Hadron Collider, noting that federal courts don’t have jurisdiction over the border between France and Switzerland. The plaintiffs sued because they think the Collider could create a Black Hole that consumes the planet.

Almost all physicists, however, argue that the machine poses no such risk.

After a successful initial run, the LHC seems to have experienced some technical breakdowns and will not be running again for a few months.

In any case, there is an abort button.

(Thanks to Dave for spotting this).

Parasitic nematode genome sequenced

Researchers at North Carolina State University, UC Davis, the Joint Genome Institute and UC Berkeley have completed sequencing the genome of the northern root-knot nematode, Meloidogyne hapla, a worm that parasitizes plants causing $50 billion of damage a year. It is the smallest genome of a multicellular organism sequenced so far, and is considered a model organism for studying other nematodes and the evolution of parasitism.

The effort drew heavily on a genetic map produced by Valerie Williamson, professor of nematology at UC Davis. A paper describing the work was published Sept. 22 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Solid ice may exist deep inside planets

Water may exist as a solid deep within the Earth or in the interior of the planets Uranus and Neptune, according to researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab and UC Davis.

Melting ice simulationEric Schwegler at LLNL, and Giulia Galli, Francois Gygi and Manu Sharma at UC Davis used molecular simulations to model the behavior of a phase of ice under extremely high pressures, comparable to those found in the core of a planet. Between 100,000 and 400,000 atmospheres, ice melts much as it does in a cold drink. But around 450,000 atmospheres there is a sharp increase in the melting curve reflecting a change in the way the ice melts.

“Dark flow” across the universe

To dark matter and dark energy, add a new mystery: astronomers at NASA, the University of Hawaii and UC Davis have found a “dark flow,” or a large-scale movement of distant galaxy clusters, that cannot be accounted for with current theories. The finding could eventually improve our understanding of events in the first moments after the birth of the universe — once we work out what’s causing it.

The researchers found the unexpected motion of galaxy clusters across a wide patch of the sky up to at least a billion light years away.

UC Davis experts on the Wall Street meltdown

(Contributed by Dateline editor Clifton Parker)

With America facing the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression and markets worldwide reeling from the deepening crisis, it is time to ask UC Davis economics experts two questions:

What happened, and what happens next?

Steven M. Sheffrin, professor of economics and dean of social sciences, likens it to a giant financial belly ache.

“Our financial system ate a bad meal,” he said. “Unsound mortgages are still working out the rather painful effects in our economic system. Unfortunately, we have digested and spread this bad meal” throughout the financial system.

Movie premiere: The Atom Smashers

A new movie about the hunt for the Higgs boson, “The Atom Smashers,” premieres at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago Sept. 19 as part of the Science Chicago festival. More about the event here.

From the movie website:

The Atom Smashers examines fifteen months at Fermilab as it scours the subatomic world for the Higgs. Will the discovery happen? Will the United States continue to lead the world in science? Or will it slip behind and watch as the greatest minds in physics drift across the Atlantic, closing a great chapter in American scientific progress?

New book: How Wikipedia works

UC Davis reference librarian Phoebe Ayers is co-author of a new book about the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, “How Wikipedia Works — And How You Can Be a Part of It.” The book explains how to use Wikipedia, both as a reader looking for information, and as a contributor creating and editing new entries.

Ayers has been involved with Wikipedia since 2003.

(Via the Digital Life blog at the New Jersey Star-Ledger).

Catalysis research: Key to energy independence

An op-ed piece in today’s Seattle Times calls for a big boost in funding for fundamental research on catalysts, compounds that make chemical reactions work faster. Major breakthroughs in catalysis research could make it possible to turn biomass, or heavy oil materials such as tar sands, into transportation fuels more quickly and efficiently.

“Catalysis — the essence of speeding up and directing chemical transformations — is the key to unlocking the full potential of today’s and tomorrow’s energy sources,” write Alexis Bell, professor of chemical engineering at UC Berkeley, Bruce Gates, professor of chemical engineering and materials science at UC Davis, and Douglas Ray, deputy director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, WA.