Indicator for fisheries health as accurate as flipping a coin

The most widely adopted measure for assessing the state of the world’s oceans and fisheries led to inaccurate conclusions in nearly half the ecosystems where it was applied. The new analysis was performed by an international team of fisheries scientists, and is reported in this week’s issue of the journal Nature.

“Applied to individual ecosystems it’s like flipping a coin; half the time you get the right answer and half the time you get the wrong answer,” said Trevor Branch, a University of Washington aquatic and fisheries scientist…

“This study makes clear that the most common indicator, average catch trophic level, is a woefully inadequate measure of the status of marine fisheries…”

The trophic level of an organism shows where it fits in food webs, with microscopic algae at a trophic level of one and large predators such as sharks, halibut and tuna at a trophic level around four…

The authors determined that those averages were declining over time and warned we were “fishing down the food web” by overharvesting fish at the highest trophic levels and then sequentially going after fish farther down the food web.

Twelve years later newly compiled data has emerged that considers the numbers and types of fish that actually live in these ecosystems, as well as catch data…

An example of the problem with the measure is in the Gulf of Thailand where the average trophic level of what is being caught is rising, which should indicate improving ecosystem health according to proponents of that measure.

Instead, it turns out fish at all levels have declined tenfold since the 1950s because of overharvesting.

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Canada will end combat in Afghanistan in a year

Remembrance Day at the Olympic Cauldron in Vancouver
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

The government of Canada has confirmed that its military would end its combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2011.

The United States had asked Canada to continue the military effort in Afghanistan with other members of NATO, but Parliament had already set the timetable for withdrawing combat troops. Some soldiers will remain in the country after next year, training Afghan security forces…

Public opinion polls indicate little support among Canadians for continued fighting in Afghanistan.

Under the new plan, the current deployment of about 2,700 troops will be cut by about two-thirds by the end of next year. The 950 remaining soldiers will be withdrawn from Kandahar and train Afghan troops and police officers until 2014 on military bases near Kabul and possibly elsewhere. The remaining troops will also support Canadian aid and reconstruction efforts.

“This will not be a combat mission,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House of Commons. “It will occur in classrooms, behind the wire and in bases…”

The Obama administration praised Canada for maintaining at least some military presence in Afghanistan until that date…

Canadians should be proud of both the hardiness of their troops – and the good sense of the electorate to make it clear to the government they want those troops home.

In a world first, physicists trap atoms of antimatter

Scientists claimed a breakthrough Thursday in solving one of the biggest riddles of physics, successfully trapping the first “anti-atom” in a quest to understand what happened to all the antimatter that has vanished since the Big Bang.

An international team of physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, managed to create an atom of anti-hydrogen and then hold onto it for long enough to demonstrate that it can be studied in the lab.

“For us it’s a big breakthrough because it means we can take the next step, which is to try to compare matter and antimatter,” the team’s spokesman, American scientist Jeffrey Hangst, told The Associated Press.

“This field is 20 years old and has been making incremental progress toward exactly this all along the way,” he added. “We really think that this was the most difficult step…”

Theory posits that matter and antimatter were created in equal amounts at the moment of the Big Bang, which spawned the universe some 13.7 billion years ago. But while matter — defined as having mass and taking up space — went on to become the building block of everything that exists, antimatter has all but disappeared except in the lab…

Scientists have long been able to create individual particles of antimatter such as anti-protons, anti-neutrons and positrons — the opposite of electrons. Since 2002, they have also managed to lump these particles together to form anti-atoms, but until recently none could be trapped for long enough to study them, because atoms made of antimatter and matter annihilate each other in a burst of energy upon contact.

“It doesn’t help if they disappear immediately upon their creation,” said Hangst. “So the big goal has been to hold onto them…”

We have a chance to make a really precise comparison between a matter system and an antimatter system,” he said, “That’s unique, that’s never been done. That’s where we’re headed now.”


Huge antenna launched into space

A US satellite carrying the biggest commercial antenna reflector ever put in space has been launched successfully from Baikonur in Kazakhstan. The mesh structure on the Skyterra-1 spacecraft is 22 metres across.

It will relay signals for a new 4G-LTE mobile phone and data system for North America run by Lightsquared.

Callers whose networks are tied into the system will be automatically switched to a satellite if they are out of range of a terrestrial mast.

Lightsquared is the latest effort to try to establish a hybrid satellite-terrestrial system in the US…Lightsquared has promised a different approach. It says its business will be wholesale only. It will be selling capacity to carriers who wish to offer go-anywhere connectivity to their consumers, be they phone or data users.

The system will be capable of supporting smartphone-sized devices, it says.

Under a schedule approved by the Federal Communications Commission, the company has to have a ground network of terrestrial stations in place to serve 90% of the US population by the end of 2015.

The Skyterra-1 satellite was launched from Baikonur on a Proton rocket at 2329 local time on Sunday (1729 GMT)…

The 22m-antenna on Skyterra-1 should be deployed by the end of the month. A second satellite, Skyterra-2, will follow in 2011.

Fascinating stuff. Especially for Satellite TV geeks like me who have become accustomed to following the day-by-day that leads to these launches.

There’s an amazing amount of traffic up in the sky. Including a lot of dross.

Nutball pastor tells church leaders to quit Facebook or resign

New Jersey’s newest self-ordained censor

Rev. Cedric A. Miller has had it with what he says Facebook is doing to couples coming to him for help and is giving his married church leaders until Sunday to get off the social-network website or resign their posts.

Miller…said a large percentage of his counseling over the past year and a half has been for marital problems, including infidelity, stemming from Facebook…There was no problem when people just met with friends from high school in a platonic way.

But that has changed, he said, and now people are reigniting old passions and connecting with people who should stay in the past. He said a marriage can be going along fine when someone from the past breaks through and trouble begins.

“It’s to the point now that this Sunday, anyone in our church in a leadership position and who is married and is on Facebook has to resign their church position if they do not give up Facebook,” said Miller…

The average citizen is going to see my action as controlling, not that I care about that,” Miller said. “I’m not concerned with being politically correct. I’m trying to save families and marriages…”

“I wouldn’t say Facebook is the problem,” said William Rosenblatt, an Ocean Township psychologist and therapist. “What I would say is we live in a rapidly changing world, and we are facing stresses and opportunities that we’ve never had to face before.

“Facebook doesn’t create dissatisfied marriages,” Rosenblatt continued. “People who are dissatisfied now have better means of creating support systems and networks that are much more vast, and it’s much easier to connect with people that way.

“I would see the pastor’s decree as sort of another example of how, when we as a group are faced with dramatic change, there are three paths people take,” Rosenblatt said.

“One path is we need to go back to the way things were, the conservative path,” he said. “Another group are those who just want to rush ahead and change everything. Then a third group says, let’s not paint this black and white. Let’s be mindful and thoughtful how we do this.”

Another “moderate” preacher in the community says Americans have a right to access to the Internet, but – “Any access to people unfiltered may not be good.”

How many examples do folks need – of paternalistic, patronizing self-aggrandizement from religions several centuries out of date with democracy and freedom – before you walk away?

Do you as an individual feel yourself so ignorant and unlearned about decision-making that you need a friendly neighborhood saviour telling you how to behave, how to manage your personal life?

Do you need a church-based “filter” governing what in the world you are allowed to read or see or hear?

UPDATED: The dude used to get off on 4-ways with his wife + another church “leader” and women from the church. Har!

In praise of the daily walk

A brisk half hour walk a day will keep you healthy – and sane – say researchers. Eight people reveal what walking means to them

Billy Bragg, musician

Walking my dog twice a day across the fields of Dorset around our house is better exercise than I could ever get in a gym – I don’t have to compete with everyone and though the route may be repetitious, the natural cycles of the countryside make every day different. What I wouldn’t get at a gym is me time, an escape from a crowded cluttered day and a chance to recalibrate my senses all the way to the far horizon. Walking is a time for contemplation and, on good days, inspiration.

Folks have started adding their own walks, feelings about daily walks in the comments after the article over at the Guardian. Or you can add ’em here.

Regular readers here know from my notes and photos that I walk with our companions three or four – or more – times a day. We’re down to only one dog, right now, and Rally gets a little grumpy with me sometimes. She’s as old as me in dog years and probably just as creaky.

Italy lights up for space station

Astronauts have taken a spectacular nighttime picture of Italy from the Cupola observation deck of the International Space Station.

The image looks north over Sicily and the “boot” of Italy. The Mediterranean Sea dominates the foreground.

The domed Cupola is attached to the underside of the station and is used to control robots working on its exterior.

Its amazing views also mean it has become a popular place for astronauts to relax and gaze over Earth.

Wow! You’d have a tough time getting me back to work.