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TOM THE DANCING BUG: What Will Be the Biggest Political Story of 2032?

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Scientific research in a forest

I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in the Harvard Forest—the most-studied forest in the world. It's an interesting place, with a complicated history. Originally forest, it was clear-cut in the decades following European settlement. By 1830, less than 90% of this part of Massachusetts had any forest left. But that trend had already begun to reverse itself by 1850, spurred by urbanization and cheaper, more-efficient farming in the "West" (i.e., Ohio).

What is now the Harvard Forest was farmland for many years. Then it was used for tree plantations. Then it became forest again, studied first by Harvard University's forestry program in the early 20th century, and then by ecologists and other environmental scientists beginning in the 1980s. Today, these 3,500 acres are home to dozens of individual studies and long-term, interdisciplinary projects led by scientists from more than 15 universities and institutions.

This particular study, led by Dr. Jerry Melillo of the Marine Biological Laboratory, is studying the nitrogen and carbon cycles of forests, and how those cycles are affected by rising soil temperatures. They're trying to understand how climate change will affect the growth of wild plants, and how it will affect those plants' ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide. I'll get more in-depth on this study later. Right now, I thought that this site offered a really great view of what a research forest looks like—it's a chance to see detail-oriented science and wild nature interacting and overlapping.

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Hacking carbon emissions into Minecraft

James Smith's entry to the Stockholm Green Hackathon was a Minecraft mod that adds carbon emissions to the game, which revolves around resource extraction and use:

When you burn some wood in a furnace, the mod calls out to AMEEconnect to do a calculation, and adds the result to a tracker in-game. As the carbon ticks up, the environment gets more and more polluted as the skies go dark and the clouds come down. OK, not entirely accurate, but an effective visual indicator!

Of course, it’s not just wood. Loads of things burn, and not just in furnaces. The hack supports combustion of almost anything in minecraft; wood, planks, coal, tree saplings, and so on. I even put in some calculations for setting fire to cows (as any Minecraft player knows, an effective way to quickly get cooked beef). Even the hostile mobs like creepers have their emissions mapped (mostly to generic biomass calculations). I also added redstone (like electricity) emissions using AMEE’s realtime UK national grid data.

Of course, there are also ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Plant a tree, and AMEEconnect will work out how much carbon was taken up by the tree growing and reduce the tracker by that amount. After a long day of mining and smelting, you’ll have to go plant a few trees to keep the weather nice.

Hacking Carbon Emissions into Minecraft (via Waxy)