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New Science Communications Column on "Big Ideas," Coordinated by AAAS and Science, Debuts in the Washington Post's Outlook Section
Communities of giant ribbon worms (above), marine pill bugs, brittle stars, sea stars, sea lilies, and sea spiders are now vulnerable to crabs, which are sneaking back into shallow Antarctic waters for the first time in millions of years, thanks to warming temperatures.
[Photo © Richard B. Aronson]
Surprising science revelations—including reports on "greenhouse glaciers," a knee-powered energy harvester, predators invading Antarctica, and fickle female songbirds—are the focus of a new Washington Post column being coordinated by AAAS and Science.
Researchers from Germany, Canada, and the United States have so far contributed short columns and related images to the Post's Outlook section. Information related to each column, tentatively scheduled to appear every other Sunday in the Post, is made available to Outlook readers through a special Science magazine online site, http://www.sciencemag.org/wpoutlook.
André Bornemann's 11 January 2008 paper in Science served as the basis for the first Post column, titled "What's the Big Idea?" After analyzing isotopic evidence, Bornemann, a researcher at Germany's University of Leipzig, concluded that glaciers covered slightly more than half of Antarctica during the Cretaceous super-greenhouse period, some 90 million years ago. "This discovery can't explain modern global warming; the planet is heating much more rapidly today than during the Cretaceous Period, so comparing the two phenomena would be a scientific non-starter," Bornemann wrote in his Outlook column. "But our work shows that the `super-greenhouse' period may have been far more complex than we ever imagined. I'm convinced that further research about this ancient hothouse will help us better understand today's climate change."
Researcher Alexis Chaine of the National Center for Scientific Research in Moulis, France, contributed a Post column based on his 25 January 2008 paper in Science, which proposed that female lark buntings look for males with different secondary sexual traits each year. "For male lark buntings, reproductive success depends on whatever traits are in vogue among females that season." Chaine reported in his "Big Idea" column in the Post.. "By staying flexible and seeking out partners with the physical qualities most needed at the moment, females ensure that more chicks successfully leave the nest."
In a 10 February 2008 Post column, Max Donelan of Canada's Simon Fraser University and the company Bionic Power described a knee-mounted biomechanical energy harvester. While walking at a comfortable pace, volunteers were able to produce enough electricity to run 10 cell phones at the same time and twice the energy needed to run a basic computer in developing regions, Donelan reported in his related 8 February 2008 research report in Science. The strategy is "analogous to regenerative braking in hybrid cars, where energy normally dissipated during braking drives a generator instead," the Science paper explains.
Yet another Outlook column, published 17 February and authored by Senior Marine Scientist Richard B. Aronson of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, explains how crabs are sneaking into Antarctica's shallow marine ecosystems for the first time in millions of years. If temperatures keep rising as predicted, Aronson noted, "even more of these fast-moving predators will make their way south, where they'll disrupt communities of giant ribbon worms, marine pill bugs, brittle stars, sea stars, sea lilies and sea spiders found nowhere else on the planet." Aronson's column was based on a recent article in the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, and also related to a AAAS Annual Meeting press briefing. (That briefing included Aronson along with Sven Thatje of the University of Southampton's School of Ocean and Earth Science, whose latest findings appear in the March 2008 issue of the journal Ecology, and Cheryl D. Wilga of the University of Rhode Island, Kingston.)
The Science site for Outlook readers, maintained by the journal's Online Editor Stewart Wills and Associate Online Editor Tara Marathe, features technical abstracts, any freely available, related ScienceNOW news articles, and news releases and multi-media assembled by Patrick McGinness, director of EurekAlert!, the Association's popular science-news Web site for reporters.
Staff within the AAAS Office of Public Programs are helping to coordinate the Washington Post submissions, working with Outlook Editor John Pomfret and Emily Langer, a key editorial staffer at the newspaper. The new project reflects the Association's non-profit mandate to engage the public with science, technology, and engineering.
26 February 2008