Cooling Seas

Humans could boost the seas' ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the air. Harvard University geoscientist Kurt House and his colleagues propose coastal treatment plants that bring in seawater and run electric current through it to extract acid. This process would raise the seawater's alkalinity, enhancing its natural ability to absorb atmospheric CO2. Silicates in volcanic rocks could neutralize the acid. About 100 such plants could cut global carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent, the researchers say in the December 15, 2007, Environmental Science & Technology, but they caution that the alkaline seawater could kill marine life near these plants. —Charles Q. Choi

E-Waste Outpaces the Law

The Environmental Protection Agency says that recycling of old electronics gear is needed to keep a lid on growing piles of “e-waste.” But the EPA lacks the power to mandate such action. In 2005 the U.S. generated 2.6 million tons of e-waste (1.4 percent of the country's total waste stream); only 12.6 percent of it was recycled. The problem will grow as consumers replace computers, televisions and cell phones—all of which contain toxic substances. In contrast to U.S. inaction, the European Commission has limited the flow of e-waste since 2003, and some legislation there demands greener manufacturing. In the absence of federal law, nine U.S. states have instituted their own take-back rules. —Larry Greenemeier

Twisted Sister

The European Space Agency's Venus Express orbiter has revealed just how different Earth's twin really is. For instance, Venus's atmosphere, unprotected by a magnetic field, encounters fierce solar winds that rip apart molecules and send them out into space. Investigators discovered that twice as much hydrogen is leaving Venus as oxygen, suggesting that water is being driven off. Based on the data, perhaps an ocean's worth of H2O has departed Venus since the planet formed. The orbiter also confirmed that Venus's atmosphere produces its own lightning. —Nikhil Swaminathan