Abrupt climate change could follow collapse of Earth’s oceanic conveyor belt

A new study, co-authored by Zhengyu Liu, professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, shows Earth’s oceanic conveyor belt, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), could collapse as carbon dioxide levels rise and lead to abrupt climate change.

The study, led by Liu’s former graduate student, Wei Liu (no relation), is published Jan. 4, 2017 in Science Advances. The collapse would occur about 300 years after Earth’s carbon dioxide levels double compared to 1990 levels.

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More frequent hurricanes not necessarily stronger on Atlantic coast

Active Atlantic hurricane periods, like the one we are in now, are not necessarily a harbinger of more, rapidly intensifying hurricanes along the U.S. coast, according to new research performed at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

In fact, the research — published Wednesday (Jan. 4, 2017) in the journal Nature by James Kossin, a federal atmospheric research scientist based at the UW — indicates that hurricanes approaching the U.S. are more likely to intensify during less active Atlantic periods. During more active periods, they are more likely to weaken.

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Fossil fuel formation: Key to atmosphere’s oxygen?

A study now online in the February issue of Earth and Planetary Science Letters links the rise in oxygen to a rapid increase in the burial of sediment containing large amounts of carbon-rich organic matter. 

The key, says study co-author Shanan Peters, a professor of geoscience at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is to recognize that sediment storage blocks the oxidation of carbon.

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Ocean temperatures faithfully recorded in mother-of-pearl

Mother-of-pearl or nacre (pronounced nay-ker), the lustrous, tough-as-nails biomineral that lines some seashells, has been shown to be a faithful record of ancient ocean temperature.

Writing online Thursday, Dec. 15, in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, a team led by University of Wisconsin–Madison physics Professor Pupa Gilbert describes studies of the physical attributes of nacre in modern and fossil shells showing that the biomineral provides an accurate record of temperature as the material is formed, layer upon layer, in a mollusk.

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Becoming a thinker: Undergraduates discover excitement of research

The Undergraduate Research Scholars program connects first- and second-year students with research opportunities and thought-provoking discussions that put their research into a broader context. The program, which started in the late 1990s, allows students earn credit while gaining research experience and interacting with faculty, and it connects them with fellow participants and peer mentors in weekly group meetings.

Right now, URS students are working on the Ice Cube project, analyzing literature from a 20th-century African American playwright and researching bilingual Spanish students, among other fascinating pursuits.

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Novel catalysts improve path to more sustainable plastics production

The second most-produced organic chemical in the world, propene is a key component of plastics found in consumer goods such as electronics, clothing and food packaging.

A team led by chemistry and chemical engineering Professor Ive Hermans reports success with hexagonal boron nitride and boron nitride nanotube catalysts in the chemical reaction that converts propane to propene.

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Magnetic brain stimulation can bring back stowed memories

Psychology Professor Brad Postle’s lab is challenging the idea that working memory remembers things through sustained brain activity. They caught brains tucking less-important information away somewhere beyond the reach of the tools that typically monitor brain activity — and then they snapped that information back into active attention with magnets.

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In The Scientist: Retrieving Short-Term Memories

In a paper published on December 1, 2016 in Science, researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and their colleagues provide evidence for a theory in which information can be stored in working memory in an inactive neuronal state. The team’s results suggest that there are multiple ways our brains store short- and longer-term memories, depending on expectations of when that information is likely to be needed.

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Study shows many lakes getting murkier, but gives hope for improvement

A study of more than 5,000 Wisconsin lakes shows that nearly a quarter of them have become murkier in the past two decades. This trend could get worse as a changing climate leads to increased precipitation. However, the study also shows most lakes have stayed the same and some are even seeing an improvement in clarity.

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