A question of climate science openness

Meteorologists met last week in Britain to hammer out a solution to one of the thorniest problems in climate science: how to make raw climate data freely available to all. The workshop follows years of discussion within the climate-science community, which wants to draw disparate climate data together into a single, comprehensive repository to streamline research.

But the effort has been given fresh urgency over the past year by the backlash against climate science that was sparked by the leaking of e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK. The episode came just months after Nature revealed that Phil Jones, the director of CRU, was being bombarded with requests under the Freedom of Information Act to make raw climate data available to the public.

“This workshop is an exercise in climate-science openness,” says Peter Thorne, a climate scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites in Asheville, NC, and chair of the workshop’s international organising committee. Currently, there are glaring holes in land temperature measurements, with some regions and time periods severely lacking data. In some cases, measurements simply haven’t been taken, but often they are not readily accessible.

Rhiannon Smith

In a fight for a tree, ants thwart elephants

Campers know the pesky feeling of ants crawling up and down their arms and legs. For elephants in Kenya’s central highlands, the sensation is disturbing enough to keep them far away from a variety of tree they would otherwise enjoy eating, according to a study in Current Biology. The tree, known as the Acacia drepanolobium, is a generous home to ants that live in its bulbous swellings and feed on a sugary solution it produces.

In return, the ants serve as guardians, instantly attacking any creature that approaches the tree. In the case of elephants, ants crawl up the inside of their trunks and agitate sensitive nerve endings. “An elephant’s trunk is a truly remarkable organ, but also appears to be their Achilles’ heel when it comes to squaring off with an angry ant colony,” said Todd M Palmer, a biologist at the University of Florida and the paper’s co-author.  The ants play a critical regulatory role in the savanna’s ecosystem, he said, ensuring the presence of tree cover and helping control wildfires, since fire spreads faster across grass than through trees.

Sindya N Bhanoo
New York Times News Service

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