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Jul. 02, 2013

A Most Important Radio Station, Birds and Tornadoes, More

by Jordan Davidson

Click to enlarge images
Making Waves
July 5th marks the 50th anniversary of the "most important radio station you’ve never heard of"—WWVB, run by the National Institute for Standards and Technology. Back in 1963, it broadcast standard frequencies at the accuracy required by satellite and missile programs. Today, it channels the time to an estimated 50 million radio-controlled time-keeping devices. While the Internet and GPS now threaten WWVB’s relevance, directing the station toward new applications—timing traffic lights to reduce jams, for instance, or syncing sprinklers with Daylight Savings time—could keep it from going radio silent. 
 
Staging an Intervention
Besides curtailing CO2 emissions, how can we fight our changing climate? Some scientists are looking to geoengineering, or manmade intervention. Live Science offers a roundup of proposals, from spraying aerosols into the stratosphere from a balloon-connected hose (the particles would theoretically reflect light), to seeding the ocean with iron fertilizers to prompt phytoplankton blooms (which absorb carbon from the atmosphere). The ethics of such tinkering, however, is another matter.
 
A Test for Asthma?
Genetic risk assessments could eventually be used to predict if children with asthma are likely to suffer into adulthood. Researchers reporting in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine combined information about genetic markers that are linked to asthma with data from a long-term study of 880 participants. They found that people with a higher genetic risk developed asthma earlier in life than those with a lower genetic risk and were also more likely to suffer into adulthood. Clinically applying a genetic assessment such as this is still a ways off, but the study could lead to a better understanding of asthma and how to treat it, reports BBC News.
 
Ruffling Feathers
Tornadoes upheave people's lives—that's for sure—but what about birds'? Twisters can alter avian habitat for the worse, destroying nesting sites and stripping the forest canopy. Yet, some habitat changes can also be beneficial—the loss of tree canopy promotes the growth of shrubby vegetation, which appeals to species such as golden-winged warblers and brown thrashers.   
About Jordan Davidson

Jordan Davidson is a freelance writer based in New York.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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