Tag Archives: Popular Science

Do we still need to save the bees? | Popular Science

Yes, and no, and yes.

By Philip Kiefer | Published Apr 18, 2022 6:00 AM

Yes. But maybe not how you think. Viesinsh/Deposit Photos

Around 15 years ago, a slogan began to appear on bumper stickers, license plate holders, and tote bags: Save the bees.

The sense that these pollinators—and the food system they support—were in critical condition was all-pervasive. In 2014, an online poll in the UK found that respondents ranked the decline of bees as a more serious environmental threat than climate change.

But do we still need to save the bees?The answer is complicated: The public began worrying about bees at a time when western honeybees were dying in alarming numbers from a mysterious syndrome, colony collapse disorder.

Now, their populations are much more stable. However, wild bees, which play an entirely different role in our food system and environment, are still in trouble.

Source: Do we still need to save the bees? | Popular Science

The West is historically dry. Desalination could help. | Popular Science

A historic drought calls for new ideas.

By Thor Benson, Published Apr 3, 2022 5:00 PM

As climate change continues to plague the planet, droughts are likely to become worse in the future. Unsplash

California and the rest of the American West are facing the worst drought in over 1,200 years.

This drought is devastating the agricultural industry and creating conditions that lead to massive wildfires. According to the IPCC, climate change makes it likely that droughts will only continue to get worse.

To maintain an adequate supply of fresh water, the region needs to develop technological solutions to dwindling water levels.

Fortunately, a decent chunk of California is on the coast, meaning one solution to the drought is utilizing desalination technologies to turn seawater into fresh water. However, large desalination plants take years to become operational and are expensive to operate (nearly $3,000 per acre-foot of seawater).

Additionally, many places experiencing drought in the West, such as Arizona and New Mexico, are not on the coast. But desalination isn’t just an option for freshening up seawater, says Brent Haddad, a professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“[Desalination] can improve not just brackish groundwater but also agricultural groundwater that’s been harmed by chemicals and even some industrial wastes,” Haddad says.

Source: The West is historically dry. Desalination could help. | Popular Science

Did food taste better 50 years ago? | Popular Science

We can’t go back in time, but some things have definitely changed.

By Claire Maldarelli | Published Oct 14, 2021 8:00 AM


This is probably a question that you might have heard once or twice in conversations: Did food taste better in the past? It’s one of those things that just kind of gets tossed around as common sense sometimes—the idea that food, and particularly produce, just isn’t like it used to be.

Unfortunately, we can’t go back in time and pluck a strawberry from a 1960s grocery store and compare it to one found in a supermarket today. Even if we could do that, it’s unlikely that everyone would agree that today’s strawberries are less flavorful than a fresh berry from decades ago.

In some ways, taste is pretty objective. There are currently five recognized kinds of taste—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. When we eat food, various receptors (otherwise known as taste buds) react to those tastes and send a signal to the brain telling us what’s going on. But, in other ways, taste can be perplexingly subjective.

Certain types of health conditions can impair your sense of taste, as can your mood, along with plenty of other environmental and genetic factors. For example, some people are more sensitive to bitter tastes, making foods that are particularly bitter less palatable. And this is often because of their genetics: Some folks who are more sensitive to bitter flavors—often dubbed supertasters—have a gene named TAS2R38, which heightens their perception of bitterness.

Source: Did food taste better 50 years ago? | Popular Science

How much water should you drink in a day? | Popular Science

The answer isn’t as simple as you might think.

By Claire Maldarelli | Published Sep 21, 2021 8:00 AM

Morphart via Deposit Photos

There are many luxuries in life, but water is decidedly not one of them.

Most of us are aware that we all need the liquid to survive, but exactly how much of it is necessary is surprisingly complex. There’s a popular notion that we all need to be chugging eight cups of water everyday for optimal health.

While it is true that staying hydrated will certainly help contribute to your body working at its best, there’s no evidence to suggest that consistently drinking eight glasses of water a day is needed. In reality, each person’s water intake needs vary, and they depend on a number of factors, including how much exercise you get, the weather conditions of where you are, what you eat, and other health conditions you might have.

Taking all these factors into account, the purported eight glasses a day just doesn’t work for most people. And our bodies already have an easy way to tell us if we need water: thirst. You can quickly replenish your lost fluids with a good helping of water. The human body has a carefully calibrated system for deciding when it needs more hydration and by listening to its cues, you can ensure you stay on top of your hydration needs.

Source: How much water should you drink in a day? | Popular Science

Cornell’s Merlin app can identify birds by sight and sound | Popular Science

The app’s new ‘Shazam for birds’ feature was made possible through citizen science. Here’s how it all works—and why you should download it.

By Charlotte Hu | Updated Jul 28, 2021 8:20 AM

Who’s singing here? Cornell’s updated Merlin app can listen and find out for you. Drew Weber / Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library

Last year, as pandemic lockdown restrictions hit the US, new bird enthusiasts flocked to the free Merlin Bird ID app.

The app, which comes from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, previously offered ways for users to identify a mystery bird near them through descriptions or a photo.

Earlier this summer, it received an even cooler feature: the ability to recognize a bird based on a short audio clip of its song, chirp, or call.

Starting in March 2020, the Merlin team saw an uptick in the number of app downloads, a trend that’s persisted. “Not only were we getting more downloads, but the number of active users has continued to grow,” says Drew Weber, the project coordinator for Merlin. This spring, 1.2 million people (and counting) were on Merlin. “People are downloading it, getting into birds, and they’re still into birds this year, even though the realities of lockdown and such are changing,” he says. “It seems like it piqued their interest, and kept their interest.”

Source: Cornell’s Merlin app can identify birds by sight and sound | Popular Science

Monarch butterflies are beloved—and declining for this sad reason | Popular Science

Scientists trawled thousands of volunteer surveys over 25 years to understand what imperils the insects.

By Kate Baggaley | Updated Jul 21, 2021 12:00 PM

From article…

For the past three decades, monarch butterflies have been dwindling.

The iconic bugs face a number of threats in North America, from weed killers to climate change, but it hasn’t been clear which one has been the most damaging. A new study, however, indicates that the butterflies are especially sensitive to weather conditions in their spring and summer breeding grounds.

Scientists analyzed data from more than 18,000 monarch counts from across the United States, Mexico, and Canada spanning 25 years. They found that over the past 15 years, climate had an influence on the eastern monarch population that was nearly seven times that of other variables such as herbicide use.

Source: Monarch butterflies are beloved—and declining for this sad reason | Popular Science