Millions of ABANDONED GAS AND OIL WELLS across the country release greenhouse gases — such as methane — that contribute to climate change. A study by civil and environmental engineering professors Michael Celia and Denise Mauzerall and former Princeton postdoc Mary Kang (now at Stanford) provides crucial guidance on which wells to close. Working in Pennsylvania, the researchers estimated that its 400,000 to 750,000 abandoned wells are responsible for up to 8 percent of methane emissions statewide. According to their study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in November, 90 percent of those emissions come from only 10 percent of the wells: those that were never plugged and gas wells in coal regions that were plugged but vented to relieve pressure. By closing these specific wells, states can efficiently stop the majority of emissions.
Scientists have been alarmed by the decrease in rainfall in the subtropics, fearing it will exacerbate areas already experiencing drought. But a new study looking at SUBTROPICAL RAINFALL by Jie He, a postdoc in the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, published in Nature Climate Change in November, offers a bit of optimism. Working with Brian Soden of the University of Miami, he found that previous models failed to account for warming of the Earth’s surface. Figuring that in, He and Soden found that much of the rainfall decreases will occur over the ocean, while decreases on land will be less severe, somewhat mitigating the effects of climate change.
GENDER STEREOTYPES about girls’ intellect set in as early as age 6, according to a new study by philosophy professor Sarah-Jane Leslie *07 and colleagues. In one test, children 5 to 7 were told a story about a “very, very smart person” and then were shown two men and two women and asked to guess who was the story’s protagonist. While 5-year-old boys and girls showed no bias, by 6 and 7 girls were less likely to think of their gender as “smart.” The study, published in Science in January, cautions that these stereotypes could have long-term consequences including causing girls to avoid fields associated with innate “brilliance,” such as science and technology.
Scientists have long known that PREMATURE BABIES lag in neurological development compared to full-term babies, but research published in Current Biology in February provides new insight. Assistant psychology professor Lauren Emberson, research specialist Alex Boldin, and colleagues from the University of Rochester fitted babies with special caps to measure brain activity and then applied repeated stimuli, for example, a honking sound followed by the image of a clown. They found that brains of premature babies were less likely to make predictions based on stimuli (i.e., that the honking preceded the image) and that the ability to make those “top-down sensory predictions” may be a key part of neural development. Scientists hope to use the research to find ways to overcome the developmental delay.