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Wildfires Heated Up The Early Earth – On Science

February 7, 2014

Have we found the burning past of Earth’s scorching climate history?

What’s the big chill in the mass extinction of the last Ice Age?

What’s one more health benefit of eating yogurt?

And lights out for your hearing. Coming up today…On Science!

Hello and welcome to On Science. I’m Emerald Robinson.

Apparently, in the iconic words of Billy Joel, “we didn’t start the fire.” New research from Yale University found that wildfires contributed to Earth’s scorching ancient climate of three million years ago. The team used a NASA model to simulate Earth’s ecosystem emissions and atmospheric composition of the Pliocene and pre-industrial eras. They determined that forests and smoke from wildfires released volatile compounds into the atmosphere causing more global warming than atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide. And since deforestation didn’t exist then, well, obviously there were no humans and a lot of trees to burn. These compounds altered Earth’s radiation balance which resulted in two to three times the warming of carbon dioxide, making a much hotter climate, even though carbon dioxide levels are about the same as today. So in conclusion, trees are typically good for climate change, but as with anything – too much of a good thing can be bad.

You know Earth’s relationship with climate is so hot and cold. About 25,000-15,000 years ago it was really cold, leading to a mass extinction. Researchers have long known that it was climate change that killed many of the large mammals in the latest Ice Age, but the question has been, “What’s the specific culprit or their smoking gun?” Clues found in Arctic sediment samples and gut content from permafrozen mammals revealed that is was the loss of protein-rich forbs that caused a loss in megafauna resulting in a lack of the vegetation that mammals had eaten before the massive cold. So the temperature may have rebounded, but the vegetation itself didn’t and therefore the mammals consuming it did not either. Well, done science cowboys for finding the smoking gun.

Science may have just provided Danon with a new advertising spin for their yogurt. Scientists at the University of Cambridge in the UK found that yogurt consumption reduces the risk of new-onset of type 2 diabetes by 28%. Consumption of low-fat fermented dairy products in general, which 85% of that is yogurt, also reduced the relative risk of diabetes by 24% overall. They based their research on the detailed daily food and drink records from a large pool of people that either did or did not develop new on-set type 2 diabetes over an 11 year period to compare the two. They say it could be due to constituents in fermented dairy products like probiotic bacteria and a special form of vitamin K. They should get me to advertise it. “Yogurt…for not developing type 2 diabetes.”

And science just keeps filling in black holes in our understanding of history. And here’s more. Tel Aviv University researchers say that black holes, formed from the first-ever stars, heated gas throughout space much later than we had thought. This is exciting because one of the most interesting frontiers in astronomy is the era of the formation of the stars. How scientists study the first stars is by actually looking directly into the earliest days of the universe by observing the time it takes light from far-off objects to reach Earth. Now that we know the heating didn’t occur until later, this means astronomers don’t have to look as far back!

And putting yourself in a black hole might improve your hearing. New research from a collaboration between Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland are turning the lights out on hearing misconceptions. You could call it the Ray Charles Effect. In their study, subjecting adult mice to temporary blindness resulted in hearing improvement. Researchers saw actual changes in key neurons for hearing in the part of the brain that acts as a sensory switchboard for sensory information. It had previously been thought that these neurons were not malleable in adults, that hearing could only be improved in children. I should give that a try…I liked the loud music when I was a kid.

And that’s what’s up On Science!



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