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Earth Is Losing Self-Cleansing Ability, Study Says

LOS ANGELES TIMES

The Earth’s atmosphere is beginning to lose its natural ability to remove air pollutants, a condition that could spread smog and accelerate the accumulation of greenhouse gases, according to a study published Friday in the journal Science.

The study documents for the first time a modest, two-decade-long worldwide decline of a key molecule that cleanses the air. Without enough of the molecules, emissions that contribute to the greenhouse effect, smog and the hole in the ozone layer do not get destroyed as fast as humans release them.

“This one molecule is very, very important. It is the critical cleaning chemical for the atmosphere,” said Professor Ronald G. Prinn of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. Prinn led a 13-member research team responsible for the study. “If this free-radical (molecule) is decreasing, it could add to global warming.”

But the losses of the chemical, called a hydroxyl radical, are slight so far and are not currently cause for alarm, experts say.

“There’s a number of research findings that demonstrate the global atmosphere is changing, but we really do not know the effect it is going to have on us in the long term,” said Terry Keating, environmental scientist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Indeed, some scientists say more research is necessary to understand the complex chemical reactions that occur in the atmosphere. Also, they say it is not clear whether the molecule’s decline is a temporary or cyclical event or one that portends a long-term shift.

Tina Wesson Wins ‘Survivor’

THE TECH

Tina Wesson is the sole survivor.

Wesson, a nurse from Tennessee, defeated automobile customizer Colby Donaldson by a 4-3 margin to win the $1 million grand prize on the season finale of CBS’s “Survivor: The Australian Outback.”

Series host Jeff Probst revealed the winner of the reality television show live last night, ending months of suspense among contestants and viewers.

Sixteen contestants endured brush fires, unexpected floods, and scant food rations during the 42-day contest, which was recorded last October and November in the Australian state of Queensland.

After every three days, the contestants voted out one member of their tribe and continued the process until the final two contestants remained. The final nine contestants, excluding Wesson and Donaldson, made up the final jury.

CBS’s investment in producer Mark Burnett’s series has proven lucrative. The show defeated NBC powerhouse “Friends” head-to-head throughout its second season, loosening NBC’s grip on Thursday night viewership.

“Survivor” came under fire from Australians after Donaldson stole coral off of the Great Barrier Reef, which is a criminal act. The Australian military was also criticized for wasting taxpayer money by transporting the contestants to the outback on a government plane.

The show also drew complaints from animal rights activists, who were offended after contestant Michael Skupin butchered a pig on camera.