January 14, 2019
Methane emissions that travel up into the atmosphere that are caused by cattle is a growing concerning. A cow breathalyzer has been developed to measure those worrisome methane emissions. We smelled it, now we've got to deal with it.
Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.
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*-- New technique helps scientists find galactic mergers --*
Scientists have developed new computer algorithms for identifying galactic mergers.
The technology allows scientists to scan galactic surveys for the stellar velocities and galactic structures most likely to result from the merging of two galaxies.
By finding and studying more galaxy mergers, scientists hope to better understand how giant galaxies like the Milky Way form and evolve over time.
"The goal is to build a bigger sample of merging galaxies than ever before," Rebecca Nevin, a graduate student at the University of Colorado, said in a news release.
To build the new technology, Nevin and her research partners simulated the many ways a pair of galaxies might collide and merge, revealing a range of possible stellar effects.
Until now, scientists have relied on human eyes to identify galactic mergers, but humans miss lots of mergers.
"These simulated galaxy mergers allow us to follow billions of years of evolution directly, whereas observations of real galaxies are limited to single moments in time," said Laura Blecha, an assistant professor at the University of Florida.
Researchers used the results of their simulations to train a machine learning program to pick out the signatures of potential galactic mergers. When scientists fed the algorithms images collected by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the program successfully identified 80 percent of the galactic mergers.
Scientists presented the new technology to attendees of this week's Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.
*-- Cow breathalyzers help scientists measure methane emissions --*
Researchers in Texas have developed new technology for measuring the amount of methane emitted into the atmosphere by cattle.
Though news headlines often focus on the release of methane from the bovine's backside, the majority of methane emitted by cattle -- 95 percent -- is released via a belch.
To more accurately measure the amounts of methane released by bovine burps, scientists with the USDA-ARS Conservation and Production Research Laboratory in Bushland, Texas, developed new technology called GreenFeed -- a breathalyzer for cows.
"Cattle are trained to put their head into an open hood (with food), and while they're there munching on the little treat the device is sampling their breath," Richard Todd, a research soil scientist at USDA, said in a news release. "Then we can calculate the methane emissions while they're inside."
The GreenFeed measurements alone weren't sufficient to accurately estimate the amount of methane emitted by individual cows, so researchers supplemented the data with mathematical models accounting for each cow's food intake and other influencing factors.
Scientists also designed models to analyze laser-tracked emissions rising from cattle herds. The algorithms effectively accounted for the influence of weather, wind direction and the positioning of individual cows, revealing a more accurate estimate of how much methane is emitted by each cow.
The data showed a cow's methane production is largely determined by how much and what the cow eats. As such, bovine emissions fluctuate throughout the different grassland seasons.
Researchers determined that cows fed corn produced only a third the amount of methane emitted by grass-fed cows.
"That's definitely a happy accident," Todd said. "I do not think that they remotely considering methane emissions. Corn's cheap, it's easy, and it's quick to feed them in feedlots."
But grasslands host bacteria that efficiently consume methane, making grassland environs a methane sink. Microbes in grassland soils likely offset some of the methane emitted by grass-fed cows.
Though bovine methane emissions pale in comparison to industrial CO2 emissions, a growing body of research suggests scientists are significantly underestimating natural sources of methane, including ice sheets and volcanic glaciers.
The problem of methane emissions isn't without solutions. Last year, scientists showed bovine methane emissions could be reduced by adding seaweed to cattle feed.