Category: Science

Coastal conservatives need new places to hide their heads – Sea level rising faster


Click to enlarge — this ain’t the future, this is Miami in June 2014

Ocean levels on Earth have risen an average of three inches in the last 23 years, and could rise an additional three feet in the next century, according to an interdisciplinary NASA team charged with measuring changing sea levels.

Scientists from NASA Wednesday presented satellite data gathered since 1992 that measured ocean levels rising at an average of 3 millimeters per year. The findings pointed to thermal expansion caused by warming ocean temperatures, as well as melting ice sheets and glaciers, as the reasons for the rise — and scientists warned that the rate at which sea levels are climbing is accelerating.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made a comprehensive assessment of rising sea levels in 2013, with climate experts stating that oceans would rise from one to three feet by the end of the century.

But NASA said Wednesday that satellite data gathered since then has shown that sea levels will climb to the higher end of that range, though it will be difficult to predict exactly how long it will take to reach that level.

Along with partners from French space agency Centre National d’Études Spatiales, the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA has been tracking changing sea levels and the melting of ice sheets and glaciers using satellites equipped with highly sensitive instruments.

Mike Freilich, director of NASA’s earth science division in Washington, explained that the satellites were so accurate that they would be able to detect the movement of a dime lying on the ground from 40,000 feet above it.

The scientists said that melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica have been contributing to rising sea levels sooner and more significantly than they had anticipated…

Sea levels don’t rise uniformly across the planet, and in some places — particularly on the West coast of the U.S. — they are actually declining due to natural cycles of ocean currents. The scientists expect sea levels in those regions to catch up, and perhaps to exceed global average sea levels.

People need to understand that the planet is not only changing, it’s changed,” said NASA scientist Tom Wagner…

Researchers noted that with the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melting, it will be difficult for scientists to predict when sea levels will rise as a result because they have never actually witnessed the collapse of an ice sheet.

This will not bother the folks who not only never witnessed a conversation with a burning bush – they can’t find scientific record of such an occurrence. But, they still believe.

The same cultural rejection of science and scientific research that justifies superstition makes it easy to place the fate of future generations in the hands of politicians who make the same noises as your grandparents. And that’s true whether your rationale is defined in terms of ideology, religion or just something your favorite demagogue said, last Thursday on the radio.

New theory leads to ‘radiationless revolution’


Click to enlargeAnapole Visualization by Andrey Miroshnichenko

Physicists have found a radical new New theory leads to ‘radiationless revolution’: Physicists have found a radical new way confine electromagnetic energy without it leaking away, akin to throwing a pebble into a pond with no splash…

The theory could have broad ranging applications from explaining dark matter to combating energy losses in future technologies.

However, it appears to contradict a fundamental tenet of electrodynamics, that accelerated charges create electromagnetic radiation, said lead researcher Dr Andrey Miroshnichenko from The Australian National University…

“This problem has puzzled many people. It took us a year to get this concept clear in our heads,” said Dr Miroshnichenko, from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.

The fundamental new theory could be used in quantum computers, lead to new laser technology and may even hold the key to understanding how matter itself hangs together.

“Ever since the beginning of quantum mechanics people have been looking for a configuration which could explain the stability of atoms and why orbiting electrons do not radiate,” Dr Miroshnichenko said.

The absence of radiation is the result of the current being divided between two different components, a conventional electric dipole and a toroidal dipole (associated with poloidal current configuration), which produce identical fields at a distance.

If these two configurations are out of phase then the radiation will be cancelled out, even though the electromagnetic fields are non-zero in the area close to the currents.

Dr Miroshnichenko, in collaboration with colleagues from Germany and Singapore, successfully tested his new theory with a single silicon nanodiscs between 160 and 310 nanometres in diameter and 50 nanometres high, which he was able to make effectively invisible by cancelling the disc’s scattering of visible light.

This type of excitation is known as an anapole (from the Greek, ‘without poles’).

Um, OK. Like any physics including the word “quantum” – I usually end up asking SmartAlix to explain it to me. Which he does at least once a year.

Understanding lasts about 5 minutes in this old brain of mine.

Why does the NSA hate this Indonesian crayfish?


Cherax snowden

Crayfish experts in Europe have no need for field research. They simply let new species come to them, delivered by the pet trade.

For the second time in recent months, researchers in Europe have announced the discovery of a new freshwater crayfish species after analyzing specimens secured through the global decorative fish market.

Perhaps as a way to draw attention to their findings and infuse science with politics, a team of German scientists, led by independent researcher Christian Lukhaup, have dubbed the new species Cherax snowden in honor of controversial NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

In the new paper describing the green and orange species — published in the journal ZooKeys — the authors describe the crayfish’s name as an homage to an “American freedom fighter” characterized by his “achievements in defence of justice, and freedom.”

Politics aside, the new species is impressive. It’s easy to see why aquarium owners would want to accent their collections with such a brightly colored creature.

Researchers say collectors in the pet trade have likely been harvesting the Indonesian crayfish for decades, transporting it across the globe without knowledge of its distinct classification — likely mistaking it for a close relative.

The unfortunate result of unregulated harvesting for decorative pet sales is that the Snowden crayfish – like its close cousin the Cherax pulcher – is in danger of disappearing. Something the NSA would certainly wish upon its namesake.

Right Wing cabal defeated in their try to distort Hugo awards

GRRM
Click to enlarge

George RR Martin has said that the group of rightwing science fiction writers who tried to swing the results of this weekend’s Hugo awards to their own agenda were “routed” by the majority of fans who “did not like having their choices imposed on us”.

Two campaign groups, the so-called “Sad Puppies” and their more politically extreme counterparts the “Rabid Puppies”, had mobilised earlier this year to vote a bloc of writers onto the shortlists for the Hugo awards…

But on Saturday, members of the World Science Fiction Society rejected the finalists for the Hugos in an unprecedented five categories, voting for “No Award” rather than any of the nominees backed by the Puppies, which had included work by John C Wright, an author known for his homophobic views. Nominees picked by the Puppies won in only one category: Guardians of the Galaxy took best dramatic presentation.

“The Puppies lost and lost big; not just defeated, but routed, finishing behind No Award in almost all cases,” blogged Martin on Tuesday night. The bestselling author of the A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series has been a high-profile voice in what he has called “the controversy that has plunged all fandom into war”, urging fans to vote and criticising the Puppies for their actions.

On Tuesday, he said that “the Puppies are howling in outrage and anger…But fandom, according to Martin, is “mostly relieved”…

Martin was “pleased … greatly”, he said, to see Chinese author Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem win the best Hugo novel – an award won in the past by some of science fiction’s major names. “It’s a strong book, an AMBITIOUS book, a worthy winner … and the first Hugo to go to China, which is cool. Let us put more ‘world’ in worldcon, by all means.”…

I bought my first sci-fi magazine in 1946. THRILLING WONDER STORIES. That monthly – along with John Campbell’s AMAZING STORIES – became the heart and soul of newsprint periodicals for the rest of my life. Guiding my thoughts on philosophy, science and politics, flowing directly from the pens of giants.

An equal to some of the best, is George RR Martin. Though we’ve never met, we share mutual friends and the clean air of Northern New Mexico. And a love of science fiction.

Truly electric.

National sampling finds neonicotinoid insecticides in more than half of streams

Neonicotinoid insecticides (neonicotinoids) were present in a little more than half of the streams sampled across the United States and Puerto Rico, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study. This is the first national-scale study of the presence of neonicotinoids in urban and agricultural land use settings across the Nation and was completed as part of ongoing USGS investigations of pesticide levels in streams.

Neonicotinoids are one of the fastest growing classes of insecticides worldwide and are registered for use throughout the United States and the world. They are used in agricultural and urban settings and some are used predominately as seed coatings to protect seedlings such as corn and soybeans. The insecticides are also used as foliar sprays on horticultural, vegetable, and ornamental crops, pastures, and grasslands, and for domestic pests…

As an addition to the national reconnaissance study, four complimentary studies were led to determine how neonicotinoid concentrations varied in streams over time and during different streamflow conditions. Neonicotinoids were present in urban streams throughout the year, whereas pulses of the insecticides were typical in agricultural streams during the crop planting season.

None of the neonicotinoid concentrations exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency aquatic life criteria, and all detected neonicotinoids are classified as not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. However, the occurrence of low levels in streams for extended periods of time highlights the need for future research on the potential effects of neonicotinoids on aquatic life and terrestrial animals that rely on aquatic life.

We must politely tiptoe around the lobbying and other political power of the manufacturers of pesticides. In alliance with agribusiness, they are a wondrous Goliath to behold. If you think brute power worth admiring.

Meanwhile, Europe continues with it’s interim ban on such substances and more studies on the death of bees from this crap continue in assent. As a nation, we don’t especially care any more for the death of little creatures essential to our existence – than we do the death of human beings in foreign lands. Especially when and where the profits of large American corporations might be affected.

NASA says the world won’t be destroyed in September

asteroids attack

Good news for those with plans for October and beyond: the Earth will still be in existence.

NASA has confirmed – after rumours swept the internet about an imminent asteroid strike expected between 15 and 28 September – that the two-week period in question will be entirely free of Earth-destroying space attacks.

The likelihood of any known potentially hazardous asteroid striking the planet within the next 100 years stands at 0.01%, the space agency said…

Persistent rumours on “numerous recent blogs and web postings” that an errant asteroid is due to wipe out not just Puerto Rico, but the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States and Mexico, as well as Central and South America, persuaded NASA scientists that they needed to speak up…

It is not the first time NASA has punctured the excitement of doom-mongers. In 2012, it dismissed claims that the comet Elenin was on its way to destroy mankind, calling it a “trail of piffling particles”.

The space agency was also proved right in its assertion that the world would not end on 21 December 2012, as the Mayan calendar came to an end, heralding the apocalypse.

Stupidity and ignorance, particularly regarding sciences like astronomy, unite populist nutballs of the Left and Right as thoroughly as do their fears of modern standards for teaching…or vaccination.

Breakthrough in cost and efficiency in “artificial leaf” technology


Only symbolism, folks – but, you get the idea :)

New research out of Melbourne has broken records and brought emission-less hydrogen energy a step closer to commercial production. Thom Mitchell reports.

Researchers at Monash University have published a breakthrough paper detailing their success in creating hydrogen and oxygen from water and sunlight in a process which artificially mimics photosynthesis, the source of most of the world’s energy, including the fossil fuels that currently dominate energy markets.

The research represents a new level of efficiency in this so-called ‘artificial leaf’ technology which scientists say could become commercially viable within a few years because researchers have managed to produce a record-high level of hydrogen using nickel as a type of conductor, rather than more expensive precious metals.

“The reason this technology has not been at the forefront [of the discussion around renewable energy] is that it’s not that efficient,” said Professor Douglas MacFarlane, one of the researchers behind the paper…“There are better catalysts and materials that people have been working on for probably 10 or 15 years, but what we’ve done is show that you can actually do this with cheaper materials that are [still, and in this case particularly, efficient ].”

The process the researchers followed involves taking water, sunlight, and some conventional wiring, and using them to produce oxygen and the hydrogen that can then be converted into a range of fuels, including electricity, and stored with relative ease…

“The idea of making a fuel directly from sunlight is rapidly becoming practical at a household and petrol station level, and even at the solar farm level.”…

‘Artificial leaf’ devices are considered to be effective if 10 per cent of the solar energy captured is converted into hydrogen and earlier efforts had resulted in a conversion rate of around 18 per cent.

However they required more expensive and rarer metals for use as catalysts, whereas the Monash researchers were able to achieve a conversion rate of solar energy to hydrogen of around 22 per cent using nickel instead.

And hydrogen is a simple clean-burning gas. Storable, usable in fuel cells, a replacement for fossil fuels and absent the storage questions required of direct conversion of solar energy to electricity.

The kind of Green Science bound to piss off fossil fuel-reactionaries like the Koch Brothers even more than the EPA or James Hansen do.

Thanks, Honeyman

Our oceans hold the key to sustainability

Although 97 percent of the earth’s surface water is made up of oceans, humans use only a small percentage of the sea for food. Instead most people, especially those in Western cultures, rely heavily on land-based agriculture for food that result in deforestation, soil degradation, greenhouse gases, and depletion of freshwater supplies. In the August issue of Food Technology magazine…senior editor/writer Toni Tarver writes about how the oceans are an untapped resource for food that is not only more eco-friendly but, in some cases, more nutritious than land-based foods.

Fish and marine animals contain several nutritional benefits. Rich in vitamins A and D, selenium, zinc, iodine and iron, fish also contain essential omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) which support proper brain functioning. In Asian and Nordic countries, where seafood is a dominant part of the cuisine, the life expectancy of both men and women is four to seven years longer than in Western cultures where seafood is consumed on average once a week. In addition rates of obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes are much lower.

Although there are between 300 and 500 different species of fish sold for human consumption, only three types make up more than 50 percent of all seafood consumed: shrimp, tuna and salmon… Americans could benefit from expanding their seafood palate to include mackerel, mullet, sardines, oysters, mussels, clams, lionfish, and other unidentified edible species.

And that’s not even getting into seaweed – something many Asian and Pacific cultures are fond of.

You can check out Toni Tarver’s original article over here.

Planned Parenthood under attack, again

Planned Parenthood is under attack — again. This time, a campaign of misinformation about the retrieval of fetal tissue used in research and therapy is the excuse. When women have made the decision to terminate a pregnancy, Planned Parenthood allows them the opportunity to have the fetal tissue that would otherwise be discarded be used by qualified researchers to help answer important medical questions. The organization does so carefully, following all applicable laws and ethical guidelines.

In a Perspective article now published in the Journal, Charo presents compelling arguments defending these uses of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood, its physicians, and the researchers who do this work should be praised, not damned. The research is not easy to do, but as Charo explains, it has benefited millions of people worldwide. If the antichoice forces were allowed to rule the day, these advances would never have been made.

We strongly support Planned Parenthood not only for its efforts to channel fetal tissue into important medical research but also for its other work as one of the country’s largest providers of health care for women, especially poor women. In 2013, the most recent year for which data are available, Planned Parenthood provided services to 2.7 million women, men, and young people during 4.6 million health center visits. At least 60% of these patients benefited from public health coverage programs such as the nation’s family-planning program (Title X) and Medicaid. At least 78% of these patients lived with incomes at or below 150% of the federal poverty level. Planned Parenthood’s services included nearly 400,000 Pap tests, nearly 500,000 breast examinations, nearly 4.5 million tests for sexually transmitted illnesses (including HIV), and treatments. The contraception services that Planned Parenthood delivers may be the single greatest effort to prevent the unwanted pregnancies that result in abortions.

It is shameful that a radical antichoice group whose goal is the destruction of Planned Parenthood continues to twist the facts to achieve its ends. We thank the women who made the choice to help improve the human condition through their tissue donation; we applaud the people who make this work possible and those who use these materials to advance human health. We are outraged by those who debase these women, this work, and Planned Parenthood by distorting the facts for political ends.

I second that emotion. My contempt for the sophistry, the deceitful liars who planned and executed this latest attack on Planned Parenthood can scarcely be voiced in a civil manner.

I don’t care in the least if you wish to run your life, your family’s life by some rulebook written in the 14th Century. But, to have the gall, the smugness of a True Believer to justify egregious politics reactionary enough to impose your belief system on the rest of what is supposed to be a free and democratic nation is unconscionable.

BTW – Acetaminophen toxic at lower levels than thought – Oh!

Researchers have found that far lower levels of acetaminophen can be toxic to humans than previously thought, shedding light on how people can easily overdose on the commonly used over-the-counter painkiller.

…Oren Shibolet, head of the liver unit at Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center said…”This new technology provides exceptional insight into drug toxicity, and could in fact transform current practice.”

Researchers grew liver organs less than a millimeter in diameter which can survive for about a month — normally, human cells cannot survive outside the body for more than a few days. Where this chip technology differs from some others, said Dr. Yaakov Nahmias, a professor at Hebrew University, is the inclusion of nanotechnology-based sensors within in the tissues.

“We realized that because we are building the organs ourselves, we are not limited to biology, and could introduce electronic and optical sensors to the tissue itself. Essentially we are building bionic organs on a chip,” said Nahmias. “Because we placed sensors inside the tissue, we could detect small and fast changes in cellular respiration that nobody else could.”

This allowed the researchers to make the discovery about much lower levels of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, being more toxic than had previously been thought. They were able to detect the drug interfering with cellular respiration, explaining what toxic levels of acetaminophen do to the liver.

One of the better unintended consequences. Research into methods which can replace animal testing of medicines – turns up a danger to human beings that has been long been suspected – and often dismissed.