What are the key questions in palaeoecological research?

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/?p=1032

Last year, a throng of palaeoecologists from the world around descended into Oxford to discuss what the 50 most pressing questions in palaeoecology are. I was happy to see some great scientists and communicators among them, including Anson Mackay, Jacquelyn Gill, and Gavin Simpson, which gives me real hope that these questions were crafted with more than just ‘science for the sake of science’ in mind, and I think this really shines through in their article.

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Curiosity continues to rock on Mars

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/?p=529

NASA might be having a rain-check on its outreach activities, but that’s not why Curiosity has gone silent the last few days. Every once in a while an event known as the Mars Solar Conjunction places Mars’ orbit directly behind the sun with respect to Earth, and makes communications impossible. Transmissions have ceased until May 1st, when the red planet will pop back into digital sight. Until then, Curiosity is working on the ‘B-side’ (like the cool side of the pillow) of its systems and operating autonomously.

In the mean time, I’ve been fortunate enough to be at the MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) Press Conference here in Vienna, with the latest from the little (1 tonne) science-savvy robot. During the current down time, it’s a chance for the teams to begin to really process the data and get the science out there (see here for where Curiosity has got to so far). This is a snippet of what to expect in forthcoming publications.

Panel at the Press Conference: (from left to right) John Grotzinger, Sylvestre Maurice, Sushil Atreya, Javier Gomez-Elvira, and Igor Mitrofanov (click for larger)

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Science Says: Groundwater Contamination in Pennsylvania Unrelated to Fracking Operations

One of the key topics at the moment regarding the future of global energy revolves around the extraction of gas from shale formations through a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. There is a vigorous and strongly polarised debate between pro- and anti-fracking campaigners, based around environmental concerns.  Many of the issues raised though are just ill-informed crap. The media are partially to blame for this, as well as the ridiculously naff Gaslands viral ‘documentary’, ironically so as it is devoid of any actual facts.

The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering (UK) have recently released a review of environmental risks associated with fracking, and concluding, despite it being in no way their position to, that shale gas extraction should go ahead in the UK. The Geological Society recently held a shale gas briefing meeting where gas extraction was discussed purely in a geoscientific context. What these both provided, adversely to so much of the material out on the interwebz, is evidence. What they both seem to at least imply, is that fracking CAN be done. What they don’t address is the question of whether it SHOULD be done, in alignment with the plans to decarbonise UK industry and forge a Green Economy in the UK to mitigate climate change. Despite this, the debate between many parties continues about environmental risks. Although not all have been addressed, many of the ‘big ones’ have, and subsequently demonstrated to be non-issues.

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