Science news

If you've been digging out of snowbanks lately, as many people in the East have been after a record-setting blizzard, blame the oceans.

Scientists have been doing some forensic work to figure out what set this megastorm in motion. And they think they've found a trail that starts with the weather pattern called El Niño.

El Niño starts in the tropical Pacific. Every few years, the ocean there gets unusually warm. This year is one of the biggest El Niños ever. Heat and moisture from it have been swept up into the tropical jet stream and carried eastward.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Wheat is one of the world’s staple foods and a big crop on the Great Plains, but it has been left in the dust. A corn farmer can grow 44 percent more bushels per acre than 30 years ago, but only 16 percent more wheat. That’s led many farmers to make a switch.


More storms are likely along the Pacific coast, especially California as we move into 2016. Sea surface temperatures from the El Niño are going down slightly, which will energize the storm track – but not in Colorado.

“And repeated storms, I mean the main thing with El Niño is that you get one storm after another,” said Klaus Wolter, a climatologist with the University of Colorado-Boulder.

“Any individual storm, it would be really hard to say if it is an El Niño storm. The fact that you get a lot of them makes all the difference.”

Dave Dennis / KUNC

Arizona's Yarnell Hill fire claimed the lives of 19 firefighters. Colorado's Waldo Canyon, Black Forest, and High Park fires were some of the costliest ever in terms of homes and property lost.

A better wildfire weather prediction system might have saved more lives and property. The state of Colorado thinks so, and has agreed to beta test a new system pioneered by the Boulder-based National Center for Atmospheric Research, starting late in the 2016 fire season.

On Monday, NASA started accepting applications for its new class of astronauts. Applying is simple: Just log in to, search for "astronaut," and upload your resume and references. The job description says "Frequent travel may be required."

Climate change isn't just something to worry about here on Earth. New research published today shows that Mars has undergone a dramatic climate shift in the past that has rendered much of the planet inhospitable to life.

About 3.8 billion years ago, Mars was a reasonably pleasant place. It had a thick atmosphere filled with carbon dioxide that kept it warm. Rivers trickled into lakes across its surface. Some researchers think there might even have been an ocean.

courtesy Colorado State University

It's a windy morning in early June, and Colorado State University researcher Jennifer Barfield is peering anxiously at a herd of bison. One is trying, really hard, to have a baby. Its her first birth, and the mama bison keeps laying down, then standing up, trying to get the calf out of her body.

Barfield takes another look at the mama, who is penned in with a small herd of other bison at the CSU Foothills Campus.

"The feet of the baby are sticking out about 3-4 inches, and she's pushing which is a good sign," she notes. Barfield's normally-smiling face is furrowed with anxiety though; the birth, which usually takes less than an hour, is moving too slowly. Today, she knows, is more than just a birth. It's the culmination of years of work.

Something unusual is happening in America's wilderness — some animals and plants are moving away from their native habitats. The reason is a warming climate. It's getting too hot where they live.

Species that can't migrate may perish, so some biologists say we need to move them. But they admit that's a roll of the dice that violates a basic rule of conservation: If you want to keep the natural world "natural," you don't want to move plants and animals around willy-nilly.

Michigan Technological University

Clouds aren’t always what appear to be: Two clouds that look the same on the outside might indicate a dry day or a rainstorm, all depending on where they are. Cloud scientists have begun peering into what’s happening inside at a microscopic level, and they’ve found that the particles in clouds aren’t nearly as homogenous as they thought.

Scott Spuler, a research engineer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, developed the holography technology in the study, “an instrument that could see and make a picture of roughly a thousand particles.” The three-dimensional imaging technique would allow the researchers to examine a few cubic centimeters of cloud, rather than cubic meters.

“We were never able to make measurements about clouds on these scales before,” says Spuler.

Maybe you've become inured to all the superlatives that get attached to sky-watching events. But the one on Sunday really is worth a look — it's the first total eclipse that's also a supermoon and a blood moon in more than three decades.