Category: Earth

Turns out Google’s undersea cables have a shark problem

There are many, many things that can go wrong as you lay thousands of miles of fiber optic cable along the ocean’s floor. Earthquakes can rip things up, as can fishing hooks. But now we know of a new threat: Shark attacks.

According to Network World, Google Product Manager Dan Belcher told folks at a Google marketing event in Boston last week that Google ensures its cable is sheathed in a Kevlar-like protective coating to keep the sharks from chomping through the line. Turns out this is standard operating procedure among undersea cable-layers, who must take a number of steps to keep aquatic life from harming (or being harmed by) data cables…

We’ve long known squirrels are a major problem to anyone laying cable, but according to a report by the International Cable Protection Committee cable bites—by sharks and other fish—remain a surprisingly persistent problem. In the 1980s, a deep-ocean fiber-optic cable was cut four times. Researchers blame crocodile sharks for those attacks after finding teeth in the cable.

The cable protection folks really have no idea why sharks bite cables either, although some suggest it may be due to “electro magnetic fields from a suspended cable strumming in currents,” they say in their report…

…Chris Lowe, the professor who runs California State University, Long Beach’s, Shark Lab, says they may simply be curious. “If you had just a piece of plastic out there shaped like a cable, there’s a good chance they’d bite that too.” But even an exploratory nibble is enough to cause some serious trouble. “Just a little bite is enough to get through the jacket, damage the fibers and then you’re screwed,” Lowe says.

Nothing to do with shark foreplay, at least.

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Wolves cooperate, dogs submit

Wolves
Click to enlarge

A new dog research study suggest dogs submit while wolves cooperate.

Comparative psychologists Friederike Range and Zsófia Virányi at the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna have an upsetting conclusion for dog lovers.

The two scientists studied lab-raised dog and wolf packs, they found out that wolves were the tolerant, cooperative ones.

A lot of researchers think that as humans domesticated dogs they became keen to to pitch in on tasks with humans. But, this is apparently not the true nature on today’s dogs…The dogs formed strict, linear dominance hierarchies that demand obedience from subordinates, says Range.

She thinks that as wolves became dogs, they were bred for the ability to follow orders and to be dependent on human masters…

The more dominant wolves were “mildly aggressive toward their subordinates, but a lower ranking dog won’t even try” when paired with a top dog, Range said…

Wolves also beat the dogs on tests assessing if they were able to follow the look of their fellows to find food. “They are very cooperative with each other, and when they have a disagreement or must make a group decision, they have a lot of communication or ‘talk’ first,” Range said.

The dogs, on the other hand were far more authoritarian and aggressive. A higher-ranked dog “may react aggressively” toward one that is subordinate for even the smallest transgression.

Range and Virányi suspect that the relationship between dogs and humans is hierarchical, with humans as top dogs compared to the cooperative wolf packs.

The idea of “dog-human cooperation” needs to be reconsidered, Range said, as well as “the hypotheses that domestication enhanced dogs’ cooperative abilities.”

Interesting conclusions – and more studies to follow.

I expect anthropomorphic ideologues will either fall apart in disbelief – or leap into predictable fundamentalist rapture over this report.

Giant crack in the Earth in Mexico

A giant crack has appeared in the ground in a rural part of Mexico, sparking concerns of seismic activity in the area.

Footage of the mile-long crack was captured by drones from the Hermosillo Sonora Mexico Emergency Management…It is over a mile long, three metres deep and five metres wide in some places. Locals from a rural area of Sonora, northern Mexico, discovered the crack running through a rural road connecting the area to a highway.

Rafael Pacheco Rodríguez, from the University of Sonora, said the crack could be the result of seismic activity or underground streams, but added geologists will have to investigate to determine the cause.

Martin Moreno Valencia, from the Institute of Geology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told Mexican news website Excelsior that there is no cause for alarm.

Uh-huh.

He said initial indications suggest the trench was caused by ditch flows from rainwater that had infiltrated the ground.

Our species’ environmental footprint is not sustainable

Substantial, fundamental changes in the world economy are required to reduce humanity’s overall environmental footprint to a sustainable level. This is the conclusion of Arjen Hoekstra, professor of Water Management at the University of Twente. He publishes his findings in the article “Humanity’s unsustainable environmental footprint[.pdf] in Science magazine.

Hoekstra, mainly known for the water footprint, has published the research together with his German counterpart Thomas Wiedmann, employed by the University of New South Wales in Australia. In Science, the authors describe how intertwined the global economy, politics, consumption and trade are in their effect on global land, water and raw material consumption and on the climate.

“Our article mainly focuses on understanding the interdependence of the different types of footprints and the role that businesses, consumers and governments play in creating our overall footprint,” says Hoekstra. “We know that we are not sufficiently sustainable in our actions. But the interdependence has not previously been shown in this way. The various players have divergent interests and take too little responsibility. Consumers do not feel responsible for what producers do and politicians focus too much on growth, exports and cheap imports. For example, who feels responsible for the distress caused when we deplete the resources in China because of cheap imports? If you buy a stolen bicycle, you are liable to punishment and individually responsible. But isn’t the consumption of products that are not produced sustainably also irresponsible behaviour? Rethinking the global supply chain, that’s what it’s all about.”

Hoekstra and Wiedmann map out mankind’s total environmental footprint in a scientific, unique manner, but also realize that a solution is not immediately obvious. “This of course requires fundamental changes in the global economy and international cooperation. But understanding the role of the various parties and the enormous complexity underlying our overall footprint is a first step. Everyone should assume and be given greater supply-chain responsibility; only then can we sustain our society“, concludes Hoekstra.

I don’t think this will provoke anymore examination and thought in the bowels of our government than, say, in the boardrooms of Western Capitalism.

That is not to say it will be ignored in the ever-burgeoning hinterlands of Brazil or China or the few centers of Realpolitik that engage with science. None of which are within the borders of the United States. Unfortunately.

Thanks, Mike

Global warming is humidifying the upper atmosphere

We have long suspected that greenhouse gases which cause the Earth to warm would lead to a wetter atmosphere. The latest research published by Eul-Seok Chung, Brian Soden, and colleagues provides new insight into what was thought to be an old problem. In doing so, they experimentally verified what climate models have been predicting. The models got it right… again.

To be clear, this paper does not prove that water vapor is a greenhouse gas. We have known that for years. Nevertheless, the paper make a very nice contribution. The authors show that the long-term increase in water vapor in the upper troposphere cannot have resulted from natural causes – it is clearly human caused. This conclusion is stated in the abstract,

Our analysis demonstrates that the upper-tropospheric moistening observed over the period 1979–2005 cannot be explained by natural causes and results principally from an anthropogenic warming of the climate. By attributing the observed increase directly to human activities, this study verifies the presence of the largest known feedback mechanism for amplifying anthropogenic climate change.

As stated earlier, climate models have predicted this moistening – before observations were available. In fact, the models predicted that the upper troposphere would moisten more than the lower atmospheric layers. As the authors state,

Given the importance of upper-tropospheric water vapor, a direct verification of its feedback is critical to establishing the credibility of model projections of anthropogenic climate change.

To complete the experiments, the authors used satellite measurements of radiant heat. The emissions have changed but it wasn’t clear why they have changed. Changes could be caused by increases in temperature or from increased water vapor. To separate the potential effects, the authors compared the first set of experiments with others made at a different wavelength. That comparison provided a direct measure of the separate effect of moistening.

Next, the authors used the world’s best climate models to test whether the observed trends could be caused by natural changes in the Earth’s climate or whether they require a human influence. Sure enough, only the calculations that included human-emitted greenhouse gases matched the observations. The authors conclude that,

Concerning the satellite-derived moistening trend in recent decades, the relations of trend and associated range among three experiments lead to the conclusion that an increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gases is the main cause of increased moistening in the upper troposphere.

Another box ticked, another set of relevant questions answered. Now, real scientists will continue with their work – preparing answers for those nations and politicians ready to deal with serious ecological questions.

The rest…? I don’t know. Don’t waste too much time asking a Republican what they intend to do?

Thanks, Mike

NASA releases HD footage of Mars landing system

The US space agency released a spectacular video detailing the testing of an interplanetary landing system, which is designed to place more massive payloads on the surface of Mars, as it hurtled toward Earth.

In the cosmic quest to explore the surface of Mars, NASA is attempting to devise technologies that will allow it to deliver heavy payloads to the mysterious red planet. In June, NASA engineers, with the help of a massive balloon, lifted the 7,000-pound saucer-shaped test vehicle to an altitude of 190,000 feet before it was released.

The strenuous trial, which tested the so-called Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), was designed to create conditions similar to that of a Mars landing.

At this point, with rockets firing to keep the vehicle stabilized, video from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory showed the ‘flying saucer’ traveling at a speed of Mach 4.3 – or more than four times the speed of sound. Engineers then released an inflatable, life-preserver shaped device around the perimeter of the vehicle, officially known as a Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator, or SIAD, which slowed the craft to Mach 2.

However, while the inflatable device proved tough enough to endure the rigors of such intense force, the 100-foot-wide parachute proved less successful, and nearly disintegrated as it attempted to slow the bulky, fast moving object on its descent toward Earth…

Project manager Mark Adler said that the videos will help his team as they continue to study how to improve the LDSD’s performance for a mission to Mars.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth about a million,” Adler said…

Gotcha!

I have to thank Ursarodinia for early prompts about this test – which didn’t have this level of video available. Thanks, Mike, for catching this new release.