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Humans are getting bigger, and that means more strain on the world’s food supply

Everyone knows that obesity is a major health crisis in the United States and many other countries, but humans aren’t just getting fatter, we’re also getting bigger overall. Humans are getting larger and larger, and the average person is now significantly taller than the averages of decades past.

On top of that, we eat more, and that’s bad news for planet Earth.

A new study conducted by researchers with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) reveals that the nutritional demands for the human race are steadily climbing, and not just because there’s more of us. Larger people need to eat more, and as humans get larger, that’s going to put additional strain on food supplies.

“We studied the effects of two phenomena,” Gibran Vita of NTNU’s Industrial Ecology Programme said in a statement. “One is that people on average have become taller and heavier. The second is that the average population is getting older.”

According to the data, humans are now around one-and-a-half percent taller overall than we were in 1975, as well as 14 percent heavier. Because the human population is living longer, the average age is also over six percent higher than it was in 1975. Crunching the numbers, the scientists figure that this means the average person needs around six percent more food energy than they did back then.

Over that same time frame, overall human food consumption spiked by a whopping 129 percent, with approximately 116 percent of that growth coming from population increases and the other 15 percent stemming from humans being larger on average. Humans are already struggling with maintaining food supplies in many areas of the world, especially developing countries, and those issues are only going to get worse as each generation consumes more and more.

The solution? Well, we don’t really have one yet.

Earth is being orbited by a pair of wispy ‘dust moons,’ scientists say

In a new paper published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, scientists explain that they’ve confirmed the presence of two clouds of dust that are orbiting Earth at around the same distance as our Moon. The discovery is confirmation of work that stretches back decades to the early 1960s when the clouds were first spotted.

The presence of the dust clouds has been extremely difficult to prove because they’re so faint. They are collections of extremely tiny particles stretched over an enormous area that dwarfs even Earth itself, but they’re definitely there.

These “moons,” as some are calling them, obviously aren’t actually moons as you’d normally think of them. They’re just huge, thin clouds of dust that are trapped in Earth’s orbit. They’re many times the size of Earth itself but you can’t see them with the naked eye because not enough light bounces off of the tiny particles and finds its way to our planet.

The large puffs of space dust have been named “Kordylewski clouds,” which is a nod to astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski, the first person that claimed to have actually spotted them back in 1961. Even after that discovery, the existence of the clouds was debated, but they’ve now been detected with certainty, proving the scientist, who died in 1981, correct.

“The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and though they are as close to Earth as the moon, are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy,” Judit Slíz-Balogh, co-author of the new study, said in a statement. “It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor.”

The existence of the dust clouds doesn’t mean a whole lot to you and I, but it does shed some light on the dynamics of Earth orbit. The points where the dust is trapped are known as Larange points, and scientists believe that locations like these might be the most ideal spots for placing space stations or satellites for long-term use.

The Earth is wobbling more than it should, and humans are likely the cause

When looking at the Earth from afar it appears to be a perfect sphere, but that actually isn’t the case. Because Earth isn’t uniform on all sides due to land masses that shift and change over time, our planet actually wobbles a bit when it spins. Now, a new study by researchers with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and several universities and science centers has pinpointed the causes of Earth’s imperfect spin, called “polar motion,” and they found that humans are contributing to it.

The researchers used a wealth of data gathered over 100 years to build mathematical models to trace the causes of the wobble and found that three factors are at play, and mankind is responsible for one of them.

Two of the three factors identified by the scientists are glacial rebound and mantle convection. Glacial rebound happens when thick ice sheets physically push down on land masses, compressing them, but then release that pressure upon melting. The land then balloons back up over time, causing Earth’s spin to wobble as if slightly off-axis. The effects of the last ice age, which would have compressed a huge amount of land across many continents, is still being felt today in the form of glacial rebound.

Mantle convection, the other uncontrollable factor in Earth’s wobble, relates to our planet’s inner workings. The plates on Earth’s surface are in constant flux due to the movement of liquid rock far beneath our feet. The researchers believe these currents also contribute to the planet’s imperfect spin.

The third and final factor identified by the scientists is the massive loss of ice on Greenland and other areas, which is the direct result of global warming thanks to human activities. The researchers estimate that Greenland has lost roughly 7,500 gigatons, or 7,500,000,000,000 metric tons of ice due to global warming.

All that ice loss has happened in the 20th century, and greenhouse gas production has been cited as the primary culprit. Losing all that mass has caused a significant shift on the planet and has contributed to the wobble as well.

“With these three broad contributors identified, scientists can distinguish mass changes and polar motion caused by long-term Earth processes over which we have little control from those caused by climate change,” NASA writes. “They now know that if Greenland’s ice loss accelerates, polar motion likely will, too.”

Scientists create most detailed map of Antarctica ever

Chances are you make it through most days without sparing a thought for Antarctica. At just over 5.4 million square miles, it’s a massive chunk of land that is nearly twice the size of Australia and dwarfs the continental United States. It’s also covered in ice, which makes it a lot less appealing as a potential vacation destination.

Still, it’s of great interest to scientists and researchers, and a new mapping effort has yielded the most stunning, high-resolution glimpse of the continent ever.

The new map, named the Reference Elevation Model of Antartica (or REMA for short), was created by researchers at Ohio State University led by professor Ian Howat. His desire to create the incredibly detailed map was the simple fact that, up until now, maps of Antarctica were just plain bad.

“Up until now, we’ve had a better map of Mars than we’ve had of Antarctica,” Howat, a professor of Earth sciences and director of the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, said in a statement. “Now it is the best-mapped continent.”

To construct the map, Howat and his team had to sift through an immense amount of data that was constantly being gathered by satellites cruising over the continent. To aid in piecing together the various high-resolution images, the researchers built a tool that matched the images up, overlapping edges and aligning it to be as accurate as possible.

The end result is a map that is not only incredibly sharp, but also extremely large in terms of file size. The full map’s size actually tops 150 terabytes. Yes, you read that correctly. Assuming the smartphone in your pocket holds around 64 GB of data, you’d need over 2,300 of them to hold the amount of data in this one map image. Yikes.

But why bother to create such a detailed map of a place that is essentially just a big block of ice? Antartica is a great indicator of the health of the climate, and by measuring changes in the ice in the region scientists can learn a lot about where the planet is heading.

“At this resolution, you can see almost everything,” Howat explains. “We can actually see variations in the snow in some places. We will be able to measure changes in the surface of the continent over time. We will see changes in snow cover, changes in the motion of ice, we will be able to monitor river discharge, flooding and volcanoes. We will be able to see the thinning of glaciers.”

A massive ancient volcano wiped out roughly 90 percent of all life on Earth just 250 million years ago

It might be hard to imagine today, but life on Earth hasn’t always had an go of things. The volcano that is thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs dramatically hindered the ability for many animals to survive, and it’s largely considered to be the most catastrophic thing life on Earth has ever had to endure.

It wasn’t.

The dinosaur-killing space rock that struck the Gulf of Mexico just shy of 66 million years ago wiped out roughly 75% of life on Earth, but something else happened even further back in Earth’s timeline that was even more dire and dramatic. An incredibly catastrophic event dating back some 250 million years snuffed out a whopping 90% of Earth’s life. It’s known among scientists as the “Great Dying,” and a new study suggests that a massive volcano in what is now Siberia was the trigger that started Earth’s largest mass extinction event.

Researchers knew a colossal volcano erupted in around the same time as the Great Dying, but determining whether the two were connected and to what extent was the subject of debate. This new work, which was published in Nature Geoscience, used samples from Earth’s crust to detect how the ancient eruption may have affected the Earth.

What they discovered was that a wealth of chemical elements was present in the geological record of Earth around the time of the eruption. After, however, the chemicals are nowhere to be found, suggesting that a massive chemicals including chlorine and iodine was shot into the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere. That would have spelled doom for just about anything living on Earth at the time.

“We concluded that the large reservoir of halogens that was stored in the Siberian lithosphere was sent into the Earth’s atmosphere during the volcanic explosion, effectively destroying the ozone layer at the time and contributing to the mass extinction,” Michael Broadley of the Centre for Petrographic and Geochemical Research explains.

Without a stable atmosphere to protect the Earth’s surface from the ravages of the Sun, life was rapidly snuffed out. The few life forms that were able to sustain themselves until the atmosphere could rebuild itself were the lucky ones, and managed to pass on their DNA. Every living thing we see on Earth today is ultimately a descendent of the species that found a way to survive.