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  • richardmitnick 9:57 am on May 14, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Spotlight on the pulse of our planet", , , Climate activist Jakob Blasel: “In my view world leaders do not take the climate crisis seriously.”, , Earth Observation, , , ESA’s Living Planet Symposium, Information from space, The Living Planet Symposium is hosting over 2000 children with their own dedicated programmes.   

    From European Space Agency: “Spotlight on the pulse of our planet” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    From European Space Agency

    13 May 2019

    ESA’s Earth Explorers surpassing expectations

    Milan in focus


    Satellites deliver crucial information to help solve what is our biggest global problem: climate change. As well as taking the pulse of our planet, satellite data are used in a myriad of daily applications, and are also used increasingly in business. It’s no surprise then that over 4 000 people have flocked to Milan to hear the latest scientific findings on Earth’s natural processes and global change, and to learn about the wealth of new opportunities that Earth observation has to offer.

    ESA’s holds its Living Planet Symposium – the largest Earth observation conference in the world – every three years, each time drawing more participants than the last. The current edition, which has been organised with support from the Italian Space Agency, got off to a flying start this morning in the heart of Milan, Italy.

    Traditionally, the focus of this series of symposiums has been on Earth science – and while this still takes centre stage, the importance of international cooperation in developing satellite observing systems that bring the most benefits to society is also very much at the forefront of discussions.

    In addition, the landscape of Earth observation is changing. Against the backdrop of commercial Earth observation and the digital revolution, participants will be talking about how satellite data and new technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain can benefit business, industry and science, and also ESA.

    Living Planet Symposium opens

    With all these topics, and more, to be presented and discussed in the days ahead, the symposium was opened by Milan’s Councillor for Urban Planning, Parks and Agriculture, Pierfrancesco Maran, who wished everyone a warm welcome from the city.

    He noted, “Cites around the world are facing the issues of climate change and pollution, but while cities are part of the problem, they can also be part of the solution through better education and innovation.”

    Participants were also welcomed by ESA’s Director General Jan Wörner. Stressing the importance of information from space to address the global challenges of climate change, energy and resources shortages, he said, “Earth observation is expanding the frontiers of knowledge – through this we understand climate change and much more.

    “From space you don’t see borders and this is the same for us – the countries of Europe are working together for a coherent approach that includes common goals and a full integration of space to bring the biggest benefits to society.”

    Deputy Director-General of the EC DG GROW, Pierre Delsaux, noted, “Climate Change is not just a European issue, it is a world-wide issue. We work to involve, sometimes convince our partners around the word that new missions can give us clear scientific assessments of the changes happening to our planet.”

    Recent demonstrations by students around the world make it clear that the young have serious concerns about the health of the planet and are pushing for action.

    Climate activist Jakob Blasel

    Young climate activist, Jakob Blasel from Fridays for Future talked passionately about his worries, “Our generation is the most conscious about climate change as we will have to live with the consequences in the next decades. I’m one of the people who fears the future.

    “In my view, world leaders do not take the climate crisis seriously.”

    The young are also in the spotlight this week. For the first time, the Living Planet Symposium is hosting over 2000 children with their own dedicated programmes. There are the Open Days available for 8–12 year olds and School Labs for 13–18 year olds. Students, for example, will be taking air pollution measurements, and much more.

    With the environment very much in the news, many governments, institutes, businesses and individuals are making different choices to reduce the impact we are having on our fragile planet.

    The EC’s Deputy Director General for Research and Innovation, Patrick Child, highlighted, “The transition towards a carbon-neutral economy and a sustainable Europe by 2030 requires advancing our knowledge of the Earth system, its dynamics and its interactions with human activities.

    “There is an urgent need to develop instruments to better predict and mitigate the consequences of climate change.

    “The global challenges our society faces requires knowledge-based policy-making, building on reliable observation systems, products and services.”

    Mr Child’s words are at the heart of the symposium – as science and understanding is critical to addressing environmental issues.

    ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Josef Aschbacher, said, “I am thrilled to see so many people here – a true testament to the growing interest and importance of what Earth observation brings.

    “We are looking forward to hearing the latest scientific results. And, with ESA’s next ministerial council, Space19+, in November, we will also be talking about how we will take Earth observation into the future, particularly through innovation and partnerships.

    “But crucially we need the engagement of young people, the scientists of tomorrow.”

    With eyes now on Milan, the week not only promises to be a week of discovery about our changing planet, but also showcases how society at large benefits from Earth observation.

    We are changing our natural world faster than at any other time in history. Understanding the intricacies of how Earth works as a system and the impact that human activity is having on natural processes are huge environmental challenges. Satellites are vital for taking the pulse of our planet, delivering the information we need to understand and monitor our precious world, and for making decisions to safeguard our future. Earth observation data is also key to a myriad of practical applications to improve everyday life and to boost economies.

    See the full article here .

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    Stem Education Coalition

    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 1:35 pm on May 12, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ayla Gizlice-thesis project combining environmental science and studio art., Earth Observation, , Gizlice hopes that including actual bones and carcasses will send a stronger message than abstract depictions., Jordan Lake - the New Hope Project, Over the past six months Gizlice has spent hours at the lake and surrounding streams collecting materials., , The man-made lake was created in the wake of several flooding disasters. The goal was to build a dam and create a reservoir that would prevent future flooding.,   

    From University of North Carolina Endeavors: “Artifacts of Alteration” A Photo Study 

    From University of North Carolina

    UNC Endeavors

    May 9th, 2019
    Megan May

    Ayla Gizlice looks for physical materials to include in her thesis project.

    Walking along the elevated shoreline of Jordan Lake, something catches Ayla Gizlice’s eye. She slides down the eroded bank, crouching with her weight on her heels, and navigates over a massive tangle of tree roots. Delicately picking up a large piece of clay, she inspects its texture and color. After putting a few hunks of the sediment into a bag, she stands and scans the shoreline ahead. The search continues.

    Last year, Gizlice studied the history and environmental issues of Jordan Lake during a capstone course. Since then, she has returned to the reservoir countless times to find objects to incorporate into her senior thesis art project.

    “I feel like, with environmental issues, there’s a tendency to either deny or disassociate,” she says. “I want people to look at the problems head on and consider how they might play a role in the environment and how the environment might affect them.”

    Gizlice untangles a plastic bag from a tree branch along the shore of Jordan Lake. With a plant pathologist as a mom, a dad with a PhD in plant genetics, and multiple extended family members who are artists, Gizlice’s choice to double-major in both environmental science and studio art was almost a given. “I came into the environmental science major most excited about advocacy,” she says. “I think that’s something I can definitely pursue through the lens of art.”

    Over the past six months, Gizlice has spent hours at the lake and surrounding streams collecting materials like clay, fish bones and carcasses, plastic bags, and large rocks.

    Development of Jordan Lake began in 1963. Called the New Hope Project, the man-made lake was created in the wake of several flooding disasters. The goal was to build a dam and create a reservoir that would prevent future flooding — a controversial decision that required the movement of entire communities. These days, scuba divers can still explore structural remains of the towns that once existed there, including the foundations of former homes and barns.

    Gizlice uses a ribbon tool to create a clay vessel to hold her accumulated fish bones and carcasses. In total, she made 27 vessels for the project. “I realized how uniquely pliable the clay around the lake is, and I kind of wanted to put those two things together — the fish bodies and the clay,” she says.

    A fish spine sits on Gizlice’s work table in her studio. Although litter is a big issue at Jordan Lake, Gizlice thinks the more troubling concern is water pollution. For decades, excessive discharge of nitrates into the water has caused algal blooms that lead to low oxygen levels and poor water quality, according to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

    Gizlice hopes that including actual bones and carcasses will send a stronger message than abstract depictions of dead fish. “I think there is a degree of separation that happens when you have a representation of an object or an issue,” she says. “By having the actual bodies that resulted from these environmental issues there’s a more immediate reaction.”

    Sticking to the organic nature of her project, Gizlice shaped the clay vessels according to the natural shape of the fish bones and carcasses, but sometimes branched out from this idea. “If the fish body wasn’t really apparent, I tried to take it in the direction of letter forms so that when it’s all laid out in a line its sort of like a hieroglyphic or cryptic text,” she says.

    Gizlice prepares to weld a flag stand for the plastic she found at the lake and surrounding streams. She calls her approach a “performative ecological proposition.”

    “It’s really wordy,” she says while laughing. “But it means forcing me to work a lot harder for the materials. Rather than creating something from materials that don’t really hold meaning on their own, these objects had meaning and existed perfectly outside of my project.”

    Gizlice welds a metal rod around a rock as the base of a flag pole.

    For the project, Gizlice specifically honed in on white plastic bags. Gathering them not only served as a functional component, she says, but the act of collecting the litter was also a way for her to undo negative human impact on the local environment. “It’s a white flag which seems a little bit like a surrender,” she says. “It’s the environment surrendering to human intervention.”

    Gizlice named her piece “Natura Naturans” — a Latin term that roughly translates as “to nature,” implying that the environment is always in flux. “I wanted to focus on the prospect of change,” she says. “I think that’s much more hopeful.”

    A large part of Gizlice’s research looked at the Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental impact statements and letters from concerned citizens prior to the lake’s development. “It seemed like a really good primary source to draw inspiration from, but it was also just interesting to me because of how different their predictions about the lake were from reality,” she says. One of those predictions stated that the reservoir’s water level would only vary by about three feet — but after the 2018 hurricane season, the water level was about 16 feet higher than normal.

    Gizlice chats with guests during a reception for her project. Having just graduated with her bachelor’s degree, she strives to continue her education and advocacy — potentially through a combined art and ecology grad program.

    Ayla Gizlice is a senior double-majoring in environmental science and studio art within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    U NC bloc

    U NC campus

    UNC-University of North Carolina

    Carolina’s vibrant people and programs attest to the University’s long-standing place among leaders in higher education since it was chartered in 1789 and opened its doors for students in 1795 as the nation’s first public university. Situated in the beautiful college town of Chapel Hill, N.C., UNC has earned a reputation as one of the best universities in the world. Carolina prides itself on a strong, diverse student body, academic opportunities not found anywhere else, and a value unmatched by any public university in the nation.

  • richardmitnick 11:29 am on May 10, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Invasive species are Australia’s number-one extinction threat", , Australia has the highest rate of vertebrate mammal extinction in the world and invasive species are our number one threat., , , Earth Observation, Invasive species are found in almost every part of Australia from our rainforests to our deserts; our farms; to our cities; our national parks and our rivers., It’s not all bad news. Australia actually has a long history of effectively managing invasive species., The effects of invasive species are getting worse, These affect our unique biodiversity as well as the clean water and oxygen we breath – not to mention our cultural values.   

    From CSIROscope: “Invasive species are Australia’s number-one extinction threat” 

    CSIRO bloc

    From CSIROscope

    10 May 2019
    Andy Sheppard
    Linda Broadhurst
    Asaesja Young

    Feral foxes and cats are known predators of the eastern pygmy possum, which is threatened with extinction. Photo by Phil Spark.

    This week many people across the world stopped and stared as extreme headlines announced that one eighth of the world’s species – more than a million – are threatened with extinction.

    According to the UN report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) which brought this situation to public attention, this startling number is a consequence of five direct causes: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasion of alien species.

    It’s the last, invasive species, that threatens Australian animals and plants more than any other single factor.

    Australia’s number one threat

    Australia has an estimated 600,000 species of flora and fauna. Of these, about 100 are known to have gone extinct in the last 200 years. Currently, more than 1,770 are listed as threatened or endangered.

    While the IPBES report ranks invasive alien species as the fifth most significant cause of global decline, in Australia it is a very different story.

    Australia has the highest rate of vertebrate mammal extinction in the world, and invasive species are our number one threat.

    Cats and foxes have driven 22 native mammals to extinction across central Australia and a new wave of decline – largely from cats – is taking place across northern Australia. Research has estimated 270 more threatened and endangered vertebrates are being affected by invasive species.

    Introduced vertebrates have also driven several bird species on Norfolk Island extinct.

    The introduction of the European red fox (Vulpes vulpes) has been disastrous for our wildlife. Image: Harlz_

    The effects of invasive species are getting worse

    Although Australia’s stringent biosecurity measures have dramatically slowed the number of new invasive species arriving, those already here have continued to spread and their cumulative effect is growing.

    Recent research highlights that 1,257 of Australia’s threatened and endangered species are directly affected by 207 invasive plants, 57 animals and three pathogens.

    These affect our unique biodiversity, as well as the clean water and oxygen we breath – not to mention our cultural values.

    When it comes to biodiversity, Australia is globally quite distinct. More than 70% of our species (69% of mammals, 46% of birds and 93% of reptiles) are found nowhere else on earth. A loss to Australia is therefore a loss to the world.

    Some of these are ancient species like the Wollemi Pine, may have inhabited Australia for up to 200 million years, well before the dinosaurs.

    But invasive species are found in almost every part of Australia, from our rainforests, to our deserts, our farms, to our cities, our national parks and our rivers.

    Feral cats are a major driver of biodiversity loss, contributing to 26% of bird, mammal and reptile extinctions. Image credit: Mark Marathon via Wikimedia Commons

    The cost to Australia

    The cost of invasive species in Australia continue to grow with every new assessment.

    The most recent estimates found the cost of controlling invasive species and economic losses to farmers in 2011-12 was A$13.6 billion. However this doesn’t include harm to biodiversity and the essential role native species play in our ecosystems, which – based on the conclusions of the IPBES report – is likely to cost at least as much, and probably far more.

    Rabbits, goats and camels prevent native desert plant community regeneration; rabbits alone impacting over 100 threatened species. Rye grass on its own costs cereal farmers A$93M a year.

    Aquaculture diseases have affected oysters and cost the prawn industry $43M.

    From island to savannah

    Globally, invasive species have a disproportionately higher effect on offshore islands – and in Australia we have more than 8,000 of these. One of the most notable cases is the case of the yellow crazy ants, which killed 15,000,000 red land crabs on Christmas Island.

    The yellow crazy ant is one of the world’s top 100 most invasive pests. They can form huge colonies, totally displacing native animals and seriously disrupting ecological processes.

    Nor are our deserts immune. Most native vertebrate extinctions caused by cats have occurred in our dry inland deserts and savannas, while exotic buffel and gamba grass are creating permanent transformation through changing fire regimes.

    Australia’s forests, particularly rainforests, are also under siege on a number of fronts. The battle continues to contain Miconia weed in Australia – the same weed responsible for taking over 70% of Tahiti’s native forests. Chytrid fungus, thought to be present in Australia since 1970, has caused the extinction of at least four frog species and dramatic decline of at least ten others in our sensitive rainforest ecosystems.

    Myrtle rust is pushing already threatened native Australian Myrtaceae closer to extinction, notably Gossia gonoclada, and Rhodamnia angustifoliaand changing species composition of rainforest understories, and Richmond birdwing butterfly numbers are under threat from an invasive flower known as the Dutchman’s pipe.

    Australia’s rivers and lakes are also under increasing domination from invasive species. Some 90% of fish biomass in the Murray Darling Basin are European carp, and tilapia are invading many far north Queensland river systems pushing out native species .

    Invasive alien species are not only a serious threat to biodiversity and the economy, but also to human health. The Aedes aegypti mosquito found in parts of Queensland is capable of spreading infectious disease such as dengue, zika, chikungunya and yellow fever.

    And it’s not just Queensland that is under threat from diseases spread by invasive mosquitoes, with many researchers and authorities planning for when, not if, the disease carrying Aedes albopictus establishes itself in cooler and southern parts of Australia.

    We have been testing in quarantine a new virus to control invasive carp. CSIRO

    What solutions do we have?

    Despite this grim inventory, it’s not all bad news. Australia actually has a long history of effectively managing invasive species.

    Targeting viruses as options for controlling rabbits, carp and tilapia; we have successfully suppressed rabbit populations by 70% in this way for 50 years.

    Weeds too are successful targets for weed biological control, with over a 65% success rate controlling more than 25 targets.

    The IPBES report calls for “transformative action”. Here too Australia is at the forefront, looking into the potential of gene-technologies to suppress pet hates such as cane toads.

    Past and current invasive species programs have been supported by governments and industry. This has provided the type of investment we need for long-term solutions and effective policies.

    Australia is better placed now, with effective biosecurity policies and strong biosecurity investment, than many countries. We will continue the battle against invasive species to stem biodiversity and ecosystem loss.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    SKA/ASKAP radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Mid West region of Western Australia

    So what can we expect these new radio projects to discover? We have no idea, but history tells us that they are almost certain to deliver some major surprises.

    Making these new discoveries may not be so simple. Gone are the days when astronomers could just notice something odd as they browse their tables and graphs.

    Nowadays, astronomers are more likely to be distilling their answers from carefully-posed queries to databases containing petabytes of data. Human brains are just not up to the job of making unexpected discoveries in these circumstances, and instead we will need to develop “learning machines” to help us discover the unexpected.

    With the right tools and careful insight, who knows what we might find.

    CSIRO campus

    CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

  • richardmitnick 10:45 am on May 10, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Low cost way to explore groundwater resources could be game changer", , Earth Observation,   

    From University of New South Wales: “Low cost way to explore groundwater resources could be game changer” 

    U NSW bloc

    From University of New South Wales

    10 May 2019
    Lachlan Gilbert

    UNSW Sydney water engineers have revealed that investigating and managing groundwater resources more sustainably can be achieved at lower cost by using existing Earth and atmospheric tidal data.

    Dr Gabriel Rau downloads data from a bore. Picture: Prof Emeritus Ian Acworth

    Groundwater exploration can be achieved at much lower cost and with less invasive procedures thanks to a new passive technique being championed by UNSW engineers.

    In an article to be published in Reviews of Geophysics, the research team from UNSW Sydney, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany and Deakin University point to a new way of investigating groundwater resources by analysing the groundwater level changes due to influences by Earth and atmospheric tides. These effects can be measured in monitoring boreholes globally.

    Dr Gabriel Rau who is an engineering geologist at KIT and affiliated with UNSW’s Connected Waters Initiative Research Centre says that current testing methods require active pumping of water from a specially designed water-extraction well while observing the water level response in other wells in the vicinity.

    “This costs a lot of money and only gives a result for that particular location,” he says.

    “The properties of groundwater reservoirs – also known as aquifers – vary greatly in space, and it is much too expensive and intrusive to build extraction wells everywhere.

    “The new method, on the other hand, involves using tidal information embedded in water levels from monitoring boreholes. It is a passive technique and simpler to conduct than the current practices of pump and aquifer testing.”

    Extracting groundwater to investigate resources the conventional way requires more hands on deck. Picture: Dr Landon Halloran

    Co-author Timothy McMillan – from the UNSW Connected Waters Initiative Research Centre and School of Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering – says the article pulls together studies from multiple disciplines including some previously carried out by UNSW researchers about an underutilised groundwater investigation method.

    “Our work has uncovered that recent advancements in this field, developed both here at UNSW and abroad reveal a potential for significantly cheaper long-term groundwater investigations,” he says.

    “This method has the advantage of being able to calculate the physical properties of the subsurface from just the measured water levels.”

    The engineers say that normally to calculate the groundwater available, a large hole needs to be drilled which then requires a crew of two to three people managing the drill rig to pump water out, anywhere from a few days to several months.

    However, as McMillan explains, the passive approach that they recommend requires only a small hole to be drilled, then an automated water pressure data logger to be placed in the hole for a month, which produces the same results.

    “An added advantage of our new approach lies in the fact that we can re-analyse decades of existing water level data to calculate subsurface properties that change over time,” he says.

    “Whereas the pumping method would require the pumping crew to come back and pump the hole again for the same length of time they previously did to get one more value.”

    Representation of groundwater head measured in a well penetrating a semi-confined aquifer with a relatively rigid matrix subjected to (A) strains caused by Earth tides (using the moon as an example celestial body) and (B) barometric loading caused by atmospheric tides.

    Dr Rau describes the passive method as “paradigm shifting” in subsurface resources research.

    “We can use the impact of Earth and atmospheric tides on commonly acquired atmospheric and groundwater pressure to obtain unprecedented knowledge of subsurface properties at low cost,” he says.

    “Similar to tides in the ocean, the groundwater level is affected by tidal forces squeezing the porous rocks in the subsurface and causing measurable pressure changes.”

    Another benefit to the cost-saving aspect of the passive approach is the capability to rapidly expand our knowledge of subsurface properties in order to sustainably manage groundwater resources. Groundwater extraction is increasing rapidly throughout the world and is linked to falling water tables, ground surface subsidence, water quality degradation and reduction of stream baseflow.

    The engineers say that using a combination of knowledge gained from engineering, science and maths, the impact of Earth and atmospheric tides on groundwater can be used to make calculations to forecast groundwater resources linked to climate variability.

    “Our new approach lets us use existing data to get to the same properties [as active exploration],” says co-author, Professor Wendy Timms, of Deakin University.

    “And because we can also use the cheaper monitoring boreholes, we get many more locations in space. Also, we can now monitor changes in properties over time.”

    The new approach highlights the huge value of existing groundwater monitoring networks, such as those funded by the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy.

    “We are facing immense challenges related to water resources in the future,” Dr Rau says.

    “With the results, we can better manage subsurface resources and do it much more sustainably.”

    Associate Professor Martin Andersen who is director of the Connected Waters Initiative and a co-author on the paper says that “if the groundwater industry adopts our suggested investigation technique we will take a giant step forward in the characterisation of the water bearing layers in the subsurface and vastly improve our ability to manage this valuable resource”.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    U NSW Campus

    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

  • richardmitnick 1:14 pm on May 9, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Earth is not thought to have always had an oxygenated atmosphere and deep ocean., Earth Observation, Geochemistry of island arc magmas, Geoscientists at Caltech and UC Berkeley have identified a chemical signature in igneous rocks., Island arcs are formed when one oceanic tectonic plate slides beneath another in a process called subduction., The emergence of oxygen—and with it the ability for the planet to sustain aerobic life—occurred in two steps., The most abundant magmatic or igneous rocks are basalts—dark-colored and fine-grained rocks commonly found in lava flows., The signaure records the onset of oxygenation of Earth's deep oceans., This signature managed to survive the furnace of the mantle.   

    From Caltech: “How Life on Earth Affected its Inner Workings” 

    Caltech Logo

    From Caltech

    May 09, 2019
    Robert Perkins
    (626) 395‑1862


    It is well known that life on Earth and the geology of the planet are intertwined, but a new study provides fresh evidence for just how deep—literally—that connection goes. Geoscientists at Caltech and UC Berkeley have identified a chemical signature in igneous rocks recording the onset of oxygenation of Earth’s deep oceans—a signal that managed to survive the furnace of the mantle. This oxygenation is of great interest, as it ushered in the modern era of high atmospheric and oceanic oxygen levels, and is believed to have allowed the diversification of life in the sea.

    Their findings, which were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on April 11, support a leading theory about the geochemistry of island arc magmas and offer a rare example of biological processes on the planet’s surface affecting the inner Earth.

    Island arcs are formed when one oceanic tectonic plate slides beneath another in a process called subduction. The subducting plate descends and releases water-rich fluids into the overlying mantle, causing it to melt and produce magmas that ultimately ascend to the surface of the earth. This process builds island arc volcanoes like those found today in the Japanese islands and elsewhere in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Eventually, through plate tectonics, island arcs collide with and are incorporated into continents, preserving them in the rock record over geological time.

    The most abundant magmatic, or igneous, rocks are basalts—dark-colored and fine-grained rocks commonly found in lava flows. Most basalts on the earth today do not form at island arcs but rather at mid-ocean ridges deep underwater. A well-known difference between the two is that island arc basalts are more oxidized than those found at mid-ocean ridges.

    A leading but debated hypothesis for this difference is that oceanic crust is oxidized by oxygen and sulfate in the deep ocean before it is subducted into the mantle, delivering oxidized material to the mantle source of island arcs above the subduction zone.

    But Earth is not thought to have always had an oxygenated atmosphere and deep ocean. Rather, scientists believe, the emergence of oxygen—and with it the ability for the planet to sustain aerobic life—occurred in two steps. The first event, which took place between about 2.3 and 2.4 billion years ago, resulted in a greater than 100,000-fold increase in atmospheric O2 in the atmosphere, to about 1 percent of modern levels.

    Although it was dramatically higher than it had previously been, the atmospheric O2 concentration at this time still was too low to oxygenate the deep ocean, which is thought to have remained anoxic until around 400 to 800 million years ago. Around that time, atmospheric O2 concentrations are thought to have increased to 10 to 50 percent of modern levels. That second jump has been proposed to have allowed oxygen to circulate into the deep ocean.

    “If the reason why modern island arcs are fairly oxidized is due the presence of dissolved oxygen and sulfate in the deep ocean, then it sets up an interesting potential prediction,” says Daniel Stolper (Caltech PhD ’14), one of the authors of the paper and an assistant professor of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley. “We know roughly when the deep oceans became oxygenated and thus, if this idea is right, one might see a change in how oxidized ancient island arc rocks were before versus after this oxygenation.”

    To search for the signal of this oxygenation event in island arc igneous rocks, Stolper teamed up with Caltech assistant professor of geology Claire Bucholz, who studies modern and ancient arc magmatic rocks. Stolper and Bucholz combed through published records of ancient island arcs and compiled geochemical measurements that revealed the oxidation state of arc rocks that erupted tens of millions to billions of years ago. Their idea was simple: if oxidized material from the surface is subducted and oxidizes the mantle regions that source island arc rocks, then ancient island arc rocks should be less oxidized (and thus more “reduced”) than their modern counterparts.

    “It’s not as common anymore, but scientists used to routinely quantify the oxidation state of iron in their rock samples,” Bucholz says. “So there was a wealth of data just waiting to be reexamined.”

    Their analysis revealed a distinct signature: a detectable increase in oxidized iron in bulk-rock samples between 800 and 400 million years ago, the same time interval that independent studies proposed the oxygenation of the deep ocean occurred. To be thorough, the researchers also explored other possible explanations for the signal. For example, it is commonly assumed that the oxidation state of iron in bulk rocks can be compromised by metamorphic processes—the heating and compaction of rocks—or by processes that alter them at or near the surface of the earth. Bucholz and Stolper constructed a variety of tests to determine whether such processes had affected the record. Some alteration almost certainly occurred, Bucholz says, but the changes are consistent everywhere that samples were taken. “The amount of oxidized iron in the samples may have been shifted after cooling and solidification, but it appears to have been shifted in a similar way across all samples,” she says.

    Stolper and Bucholz additionally compiled another proxy also thought to reflect the oxidation state of the mantle source of arc magmas. Reassuringly, this independent record yielded similar results to the iron-oxidation-state record. Based on this, the researchers propose that the oxygenation of the deep ocean impacted not only on the earth’s surface and oceans but also changed the geochemistry of a major class of igneous rocks.

    This work complements earlier research by Bucholz that examines changes in the oxidation signatures of minerals in igneous rocks associated with the first oxygenation event 2.3 billion years ago. She collected sedimentary-type, or S-type, granites, which are formed during the burial and heating of sediments during the collision of two landmasses—for example, in the Himalayas, where the Indian subcontinent is colliding with Asia.

    “The granites represent melted sediments that were deposited at the surface of Earth. I wanted to test the idea that sediments might still record the first rise of oxygen on Earth, despite having been heated up and melted to create granite,” she says. “And indeed, it does.”

    Both studies speak to the strong connection between the geology of Earth and the life that flourishes on it, she says. “The evolution of the planet and of the life on it are intertwined. We can’t understand one without understanding the other,” says Bucholz.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. “The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”

    Caltech campus

  • richardmitnick 11:03 am on May 9, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Labor commits $15m for National Health and Climate Centre at UNSW", , Climate Change Research Centre, Earth Observation, The Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes,   

    From University of New South Wales: “Labor commits $15m for National Health and Climate Centre at UNSW” 

    U NSW bloc

    From University of New South Wales

    09 May 2019
    Lucy Carroll

    The Centre will be the first in Australia to deliver a national response to the impact of climate change on health.

    Professor Ian Jacobs, UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor, Associate Professor Donna Green and Matt Thistlethwaite, MP for Kingsford Smith.

    A new UNSW Sydney centre that will investigate the major health risks Australians face from climate change will receive $15 million in funding under a Labor government.

    Matt Thistlethwaite, MP for Kingsford Smith, announced the investment in the flagship National Health and Climate Centre at UNSW’s Kensington campus on Thursday. It will be the first centre in Australia to deliver a national response to the impact of climate change on health by bringing together state and federal governments, and world-class researchers from a range of disciplines.

    The Centre, which will operate with about 30 staff and 40 to 50 PhD students, will assemble academics to work on a range of issues including heat-related illness from heatwaves, mental health impacts in farming communities caused by severe droughts, asthma caused by air pollution and bushfires and infectious diseases transmission in Far North Queensland.

    Mr Thistlethwaite said the new Centre will leverage the existing expertise of UNSW in cutting-edge science innovation and the Climate Change Research Centre and The Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes.

    “Climate change is the world’s largest health risk,” said Mr Thistlethwaite. “For a nation like Australia a lack of action on climate change will risk people’s lives. Scientists know we need to do more to remain healthy into the future. This Centre will address the effects of temperature and water-related illness, respiratory problems caused by major dust storms and the significant impact climate change has on health services.”

    Matt Thistlethwaite, MP for Kingsford Smith.

    Funding for the Centre will come from Labor’s election commitment of a $300 million University Future Fund and will be overseen by an independent advisory board.

    “The Centre will work to reduce impacts of climate change and prepare Australia for a changed future around the damaging effects of climate change. This Labor investment will directly boost Australia’s health and climate change research capabilities in Sydney as well as in partner agencies across the country,” said Mr Thistlethwaite.

    The Centre will include board members and representatives from states and territories’ health departments, the health service industry, academia and the NGOs. It will represent a cross-section of health and policy expertise and be boosted by UNSW’s School of Public Health and Community Medicine, the Kirby Institute and The George Institute.

    UNSW Science’s Associate Professor Donna Green, who will be the director of the new Centre, said Australians were already highly vulnerable to extreme weather which will continue to be worsened by climate change.

    “A recent Lancet special report on health and climate change warned that if our hospitals and health systems fail to prepare for our changing climate, that failure would threaten human lives and the viability of the national health systems they depend on. Australia cannot afford to ignore such clear advice,” said Associate Professor Green, a founding member of the Climate Change Research Centre.

    “Instead of just reacting to climate impacts – and risk having our health systems caught out – our goal with this Centre is to carry out research that will better protect all Australians.

    “The Centre will bring together medical and scientific experts to ensure our emergency departments – and other related health infrastructure – have plans in place to better prepare ourselves for a more extreme future. While we have a small window of opportunity to take action, we currently lack a coordinated, strategic national response to this crisis. The Centre will respond to this gap.”

    Associate Professor Green said the centre will develop critically needed educational programs on how climate impacts health, assist and engage the most vulnerable communities – especially the elderly, young children and remote Indigenous communities, integrate leading health and climate researchers on regionally-specific challenges and develop comprehensive multi-media public education campaigns to translate the Centre’s findings into better health outcomes.

    Professor Ian Jacobs, UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor, welcomed the funding announcement and emphasised that inaction on climate change would mean avoidable loss of life.

    “UNSW has been at the forefront of both climate and health research for many decades, with the largest university-based climate change research centre in Australia,” said Professor Jacobs. “We need to find solutions and it is our researchers who will be in the vanguard of this battle.”

    “University researchers all across Australia have shown leadership on this issue and will continue to do so into the future. But, we cannot do this on our own. Regardless of who wins the upcoming Australian election, they must, as a priority, unite with their political rivals to find a way to confront climate change as a nation,” Professor Jacobs said.

    The Centre will bring together the responses of federal agencies including the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC), along with state and territory governments and other universities. The Centre will include a range of researchers including epidemiologists, environmental scientists, climate impact scientists and science communicators.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    U NSW Campus

    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

  • richardmitnick 1:09 pm on May 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "What Was It Like When Life’s Complexity Exploded?", , As creatures grew in complexity they accumulated large numbers of genes that encoded for specific structures that performed a variety of functions., , Earth Observation, , Evolution- in many ways- is like an arms race. The different organisms that exist are continuously competing for limited resources., If an organism develops the ability to perform a specific function then it will have a genetic sequence that encode the information for forming a structure that performs it., In biology structure and function is arguably the most basic relationship of all., Once the first living organisms arose our planet was filled with organisms harvesting energy and resources from the environment, The second major evolutionary step involves the development of specialized components within a single organism, What we do know is that life existed on Earth for nearly four billion years before the Cambrian explosion which heralds the rise of complex animals.   

    From Ethan Siegel: “What Was It Like When Life’s Complexity Exploded?” 

    From Ethan Siegel
    May 8, 2019

    During the Cambrian era in Earth’s history, some 550–600 million years ago, many examples of multicellular, sexually-reproducing, complex and differentiated life forms emerged for the first time. This period is known as the Cambrian explosion, and heralds an enormous leap in the complexity of organisms found on Earth. (GETTY)

    We’re a long way from the beginnings of life on Earth. Here’s the key to how we got there.

    The Universe was already two-thirds of its present age by the time the Earth formed, with life emerging on our surface shortly thereafter. But for billions of years, life remained in a relatively primitive state. It took nearly a full four billion years before the Cambrian explosion came: where macroscopic, multicellular, complex organisms — including animals, plants, and fungi — became the dominant lifeforms on Earth.

    As surprising as it may seem, there were really only a handful of critical developments that were necessary in order to go from single-celled, simple life to the extraordinarily diverse sets of creatures we’d recognize today. We do not know if this path is one that’s easy or hard among planets where life arises. We do not know whether complex life is common or rare. But we do know that it happened on Earth. Here’s how.

    This coastline consists of quartzite Pre-cambrian rocks, many of which may have once contained evidence of the fossilized lifeforms that gave rise to modern plants, animals, fungi, and other multicellular, sexually-reproducing creatures. These rocks have undergone intensive folding over their long and ancient history, and do not display the rich evidence for complex life that later, Cambrian-era rocks do. (GETTY)

    Once the first living organisms arose, our planet was filled with organisms harvesting energy and resources from the environment, metabolizing them to grow, adapt, reproduce, and respond to external stimuli. As the environment changed due to resource scarcity, competition, climate change and many other factors, certain traits increased the odds of survival, while other traits decreased them. Owing to the phenomenon of natural selection, the organisms most adaptable to change survived and thrived.

    Relying on random mutations alone, and passing those traits onto offspring, is extremely limiting as far as evolution goes. If mutating your genetic material and passing it onto your offspring is the only mechanism you have for evolution, you might not ever achieve complexity.

    Acidobacteria, like the example shown here, are likely some of the first photosynthetic organisms of all. They have no internal structure or membranes, loose, free-floating DNA, and are anoxygenic: they do not produce oxygen from photosynthesis. These are prokaryotic organisms that are very similar to the primitive life found on Earth some ~2.5–3 billion years ago. (US DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY / PUBLIC DOMAIN)

    But many billions of years ago, life developed the ability to engage in horizontal gene transfer, where genetic material can move from one organism to another via mechanisms other than asexual reproduction. Transformation, transduction, and conjugation are all mechanisms for horizontal gene transfer, but they all have something in common: single-celled, primitive organisms that develop a genetic sequence that’s useful for a particular purpose can transfer that sequence into other organisms, granting them the abilities that they worked so hard to evolve for themselves.

    This is the primary mechanism by which modern-day bacteria develop antibiotic resistance. If one primitive organism can develop a useful adaptation, other organisms can develop that same adaptation without having to evolve it from scratch.

    The three mechanisms by which a bacterium can acquire genetic information horizontally, rather than vertically (through reproduction), are transformation, transduction, and conjugation. (NATURE, FURUYA AND LOWY (2006) / UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER)

    The second major evolutionary step involves the development of specialized components within a single organism. The most primitive creatures have freely-floating bits of genetic material enclosed with some protoplasm inside a cell membrane, with nothing more specialized than that. These are the prokaryotic organisms of the world: the first forms of life thought to exist.

    But more evolved creatures contain within them the ability to create miniature factories, capable of specialized functions. These mini-organs, known as organelles, herald the rise of the eukaryotes. Eukaryotes are larger than prokaryotes, have longer DNA sequences, but also have specialized components that perform their own unique functions, independent of the cell they inhabit.

    Unlike their more primitive prokaryotic counterparts, eukaryotic cells have differentiated cell organelles, with their own specialized structure and function that allows them to perform many of the cells life processes in a relatively independent fashion from the rest of the cell’s functioning. (CNX OPENSTAX)

    These organelles include a cell nucleus, the lysosomes, chloroplasts, golgi bodies, endoplasmic reticulum, and the mitochondria. Mitochondria themselves are incredibly interesting, because they provide a window into life’s evolutionary past.

    If you take an individual mitochondria out of a cell, it can survive on its own. Mitochondria have their own DNA and can metabolize nutrients: they meet all of the definitions of life on their own. But they are also produced by practically all eukaryotic cells. Contained within the more complicated, more highly-evolved cells are the genetic sequences that enables them to create components of themselves that appear identical to earlier, more primitive organisms. Contained within the DNA of complex creatures is the ability to create their own versions of simpler creatures.

    Scanning electron microscope image at the sub-cellular level. While DNA is an incredibly complex, long molecule, it is made of the same building blocks (atoms) as everything else. To the best of our knowledge, the DNA structure that life is based on predates the fossil record. The longer and more complex a DNA molecule is, the more potential structures, functions, and proteins it can encode. (PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE BY DR. ERSKINE PALMER, USCDCP)

    In biology, structure and function is arguably the most basic relationship of all. If an organism develops the ability to perform a specific function, then it will have a genetic sequence that encode the information for forming a structure that performs it. If you gain that genetic code in your own DNA, then you, too, can create a structure that performs the specific function in question.

    As creatures grew in complexity, they accumulated large numbers of genes that encoded for specific structures that performed a variety of functions. When you form those novel structures yourself, you gain the abilities to perform those functions that couldn’t be performed without those structures. While simpler, single-celled organisms may reproduce faster, organisms capable of performing more functions are often more adaptable, and more resilient to change.

    Mitochondria, which are some of the specialized organelles found inside eukaryotic cells, are themselves reminiscent of prokaryotic organisms. They even have their own DNA (in black dots), cluster together at discrete focus points. With many independent components, a eukaryotic cell can thrive under a variety of conditions that their simpler, prokaryotic counterparts cannot. But there are drawbacks to increased complexity, too. (FRANCISCO J IBORRA, HIROSHI KIMURA AND PETER R COOK (BIOMED CENTRAL LTD))

    By the time the Huronian glaciation ended and Earth was once again a warm, wet world with continents and oceans, eukaryotic life was common. Prokaryotes still existed (and still do), but were no longer the most complex creatures on our world. For life’s complexity to explode, however, there were two more steps that needed to not only occur, but to occur in tandem: multicellularity and sexual reproduction.

    Multicellularity, according to the biological record left behind on planet Earth, is something that evolved numerous independent times. Early on, single-celled organisms gained the ability to make colonies, with many stitching themselves together to form microbial mats. This type of cellular cooperation enables a group of organisms, working together, to achieve a greater level of success than any of them could individually.

    Green algae, shown here, is an example of a true multicellular organism, where a single specimen is composed of multiple individual cells that all work together for the good of the organism as a whole. (FRANK FOX / MIKRO-FOTO.DE)

    Multicellularity offers an even greater advantage: the ability to have “freeloader” cells, or cells that can reap the benefits of living in a colony without having to do any of the work. In the context of unicellular organisms, freeloader cells are inherently limited, as producing too many of them will destroy the colony. But in the context of multicellularity, not only can the production of freeloader cells be turned on or off, but those cells can develop specialized structures and functions that assist the organism as a whole. The big advantage that multicellularity confers is the possibility of differentiation: having multiple types of cells working together for the optimal benefit of the entire biological system.

    Rather than having individual cells within a colony competing for the genetic edge, multicellularity enables an organism to harm or destroy various parts of itself to benefit the whole. According to mathematical biologist Eric Libby:

    “[A] cell living in a group can experience a fundamentally different environment than a cell living on its own. The environment can be so different that traits disastrous for a solitary organism, like increased rates of death, can become advantageous for cells in a group.”

    Shown are representatives of all major lineages of eukaryotic organisms, color coded for occurrence of multicellularity. Solid black circles indicate major lineages composed entirely of unicellular species. Other groups shown contain only multicellular species (solid red), some multicellular and some unicellular species (red and black circles), or some unicellular and some colonial species (yellow and black circles). Colonial species are defined as those that possess multiple cells of the same type. There is ample evidence that multicellularity evolved independently in all the lineages shown separately here. (2006 NATURE EDUCATION MODIFIED FROM KING ET AL. (2004))

    There are multiple lineages of eukaryotic organisms, with multicellularity evolving from many independent origins. Plasmodial slime molds, land plants, red algae, brown algae, animals, and many other classifications of living creatures have all evolved multicellularity at different times throughout Earth’s history. The very first multicellular organism, in fact, may have arisen as early as 2 billion years ago, with some evidence supporting the idea that an early aquatic fungus came about even earlier.

    But it wasn’t through multicellularity alone that modern animal life became possible. Eukaryotes require more time and resources to develop to maturity than prokaryotes do, and multicellular eukaryotes have an even greater timespan from generation to generation. Complexity faces an enormous barrier: the simpler organisms they’re competing with can change and adapt more quickly.

    A fascinating class of organisms known as siphonophores is itself a collection of small animals working together to form a larger colonial organism. These lifeforms straddle the boundary between a multicellular organism and a colonial organism. (KEVIN RASKOFF, CAL STATE MONTEREY / CRISCO 1492 FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

    Evolution, in many ways, is like an arms race. The different organisms that exist are continuously competing for limited resources: space, sunlight, nutrients and more. They also attempt to destroy their competitors through direct means, such as predation. A prokaryotic bacterium with a single critical mutation can have millions of generations of chances to take down a large, long-lived complex creature.

    There’s a critical mechanism that modern plants and animals have for competing with their rapidly-reproducing single-celled counterparts: sexual reproduction. If a competitor has millions of generations to figure out how to destroy a larger, slower organism for every generation the latter has, the more rapidly-adapting organism will win. But sexual reproduction allows for offspring to be significantly different from the parent in a way that asexual reproduction cannot match.

    Sexually-reproducing organisms only deliver 50% of their DNA apiece to their children, with many random elements determining which particular 50% gets passed on. This is why offspring only have 50% of their DNA in common with their parents and with their siblings, unlike asexually-reproducing lifeforms. (PETE SOUZA / PUBLIC DOMAIN)

    To survive, an organism must correctly encode all of the proteins responsible for its functioning. A single mutation in the wrong spot can send that awry, which emphasizes how important it is to copy every nucleotide in your DNA correctly. But imperfections are inevitable, and even with the mechanisms organisms have developed for checking and error-correcting, somewhere between 1-in-10,000,000 and 1-in-10,000,000,000 of the copied base pairs will have an error.

    For an asexually-reproducing organism, this is the only source of genetic variation from parent to child. But for sexually-reproducing organisms, 50% of each parent’s DNA will compose the child, with some ~0.1% of the total DNA varying from specimen to specimen. This randomization means that even a single-celled organism which is well-adapted to outcompeting a parent will be poorly-adapted when faced with the challenges of the child.

    In sexual reproduction, all organisms have two pairs of chromosomes, with each parent contributing 50% of their DNA (one set of each chromosome) to the child. Which 50% you get is a random process, allowing for enormous genetic variation from sibling to sibling, significantly different than either of the parents. (MAREK KULTYS / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

    Sexual reproduction also means that organisms will have an opportunity to a changing environment in far fewer generations than their asexual counterparts. Mutations are only one mechanism for change from the prior generation to the next; the other is variability in which traits get passed down from parent to offspring.

    If there is a wider variety among offspring, there is a greater chance of surviving when many members of a species will be selected against. The survivors can reproduce, passing on the traits that are preferential at that moment in time. This is why plants and animals can live decades, centuries, or millennia, and can still survive the continuous onslaught of organisms that reproduce hundreds of thousands of generations per year.

    It is no doubt an oversimplification to state that horizontal gene transfer, the development of eukaryotes, multicellularity, and sexual reproduction are all it takes to go from primitive life to complex, differentiated life dominating a world. We know that this happened here on Earth, but we do not know what its likelihood was, or whether the billions of years it needed on Earth are typical or far more rapid than average.

    What we do know is that life existed on Earth for nearly four billion years before the Cambrian explosion, which heralds the rise of complex animals. The story of early life on Earth is the story of most life on Earth, with only the last 550–600 million years showcasing the world as we’re familiar with it. After a 13.2 billion year cosmic journey, we were finally ready to enter the era of complex, differentiated, and possibly intelligent life.

    The Burgess Shale fossil deposit, dating to the mid-Cambrian, is arguably the most famous and well-preserved fossil deposit on Earth dating back to such early times. At least 280 species of complex, differentiated plants and animals have been identified, signifying one of the most important epochs in Earth’s evolutionary history: the Cambrian explosion. This diorama shows a model-based reconstruction of what the living organisms of the time might have looked like in true color. (JAMES ST. JOHN / FLICKR)

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    “Starts With A Bang! is a blog/video blog about cosmology, physics, astronomy, and anything else I find interesting enough to write about. I am a firm believer that the highest good in life is learning, and the greatest evil is willful ignorance. The goal of everything on this site is to help inform you about our world, how we came to be here, and to understand how it all works. As I write these pages for you, I hope to not only explain to you what we know, think, and believe, but how we know it, and why we draw the conclusions we do. It is my hope that you find this interesting, informative, and accessible,” says Ethan

  • richardmitnick 7:32 am on May 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Arsenic-breathing life discovered in the tropical Pacific Ocean", , , , Earth Observation,   

    From University of Washington: “Arsenic-breathing life discovered in the tropical Pacific Ocean” 

    U Washington

    From University of Washington

    May 1, 2019
    Hannah Hickey

    Arsenic is a deadly poison for most living things, but new research shows that microorganisms are breathing arsenic in a large area of the Pacific Ocean. A University of Washington team has discovered that an ancient survival strategy is still being used in low-oxygen parts of the marine environment.

    “Thinking of arsenic as not just a bad guy, but also as beneficial, has reshaped the way that I view the element,” said first author Jaclyn Saunders, who did the research for her doctoral thesis at the UW and is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    The study was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Jaclyn Saunders (far right) fixes the line on a McLane instrument that pumps large volumes of seawater in order to extract the DNA. The instrument on the left measures properties such as temperature, salinity and depth and collects smaller samples of seawater. Noelle Held/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

    “We’ve known for a long time that there are very low levels of arsenic in the ocean,” said co-author Gabrielle Rocap, a UW professor of oceanography. “But the idea that organisms could be using arsenic to make a living — it’s a whole new metabolism for the open ocean.”

    The researchers analyzed seawater samples from a region below the surface where oxygen is almost absent, forcing life to seek other strategies. These regions may expand under climate change.

    “In some parts of the ocean there’s a sandwich of water where there’s no measurable oxygen,” Rocap said. “The microbes in these regions have to use other elements that act as an ‘electron acceptor’ to extract energy from food.”

    The most common alternatives to oxygen are nitrogen or sulfur. But Saunders’ early investigations suggested arsenic could also work, spurring her to look for the evidence.

    The team analyzed samples collected during a 2012 research cruise to the tropical Pacific, off the coast of Mexico. Genetic analyses on DNA extracted from the seawater found two genetic pathways known to convert arsenic-based molecules as a way to gain energy. The genetic material was targeting two different forms of arsenic, and authors believe that the pathways occur in two organisms that cycle arsenic back and forth between different forms.

    A purple arsenic atom surrounded by four oxygen atoms is arsenate (left). An arsenic atom surrounded by three oxygen atoms is arsenite (right). The study found evidence of marine organisms that can convert one to the other to get energy in oxygen-deficient environments.Wikimedia

    Results suggest that arsenic-breathing microbes make up less than 1% of the microbe population in these waters. The microbes discovered in the water are probably distantly related to the arsenic-breathing microbes found in hot springs or contaminated sites on land.

    “What I think is the coolest thing about these arsenic-respiring microbes existing today in the ocean is that they are expressing the genes for it in an environment that is fairly low in arsenic,” Saunders said. “It opens up the boundaries for where we could look for organisms that are respiring arsenic, in other arsenic-poor environments.”

    California’s Mono Lake is naturally high in arsenic and is known to host microbes that survive by breathing arsenic. The organisms that live in the marine environment are likely related to the ones on land. Pixabay

    Biologists believe the strategy is a holdover from Earth’s early history. During the period when life arose on Earth, oxygen was scarce in both the air and in the ocean. Oxygen became abundant in Earth’s atmosphere only after photosynthesis became widespread and converted carbon dioxide gas into oxygen.

    Early lifeforms had to gain energy using other elements, such as arsenic, which was likely more common in the oceans at that time.

    “We found the genetic signatures of pathways that are still there, remnants of the past ocean that have been maintained until today,” Saunders said.

    Arsenic-breathing populations may grow again under climate change. Low-oxygen regions are projected to expand, and dissolved oxygen is predicted to drop throughout the marine environment.

    “For me, it just shows how much is still out there in the ocean that we don’t know,” Rocap said.

    Saunders recently collected more water samples from the same region and is now trying to grow the arsenic-breathing marine microbes in a lab in order to study them more closely.

    “Right now we’ve got bits and pieces of their genomes, just enough to say that yes, they’re doing this arsenic transformation,” Rocap said. “The next step would be to put together a whole genome and find out what else they can do, and how that organism fits into the environment.”

    Co-author Clara Fuchsman collected the samples and led the DNA sequencing effort as a UW postdoctoral research scientist and now holds a faculty position at the University of Maryland. The other co-author is Cedar McKay, a research scientist in the UW School of Oceanography. The study was funded by a graduate fellowship from NASA and a research grant from the National Science Foundation.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

  • richardmitnick 11:05 am on May 4, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Sponges and corals: Seafloor assessments to help protect against climate change", , Earth Observation, , , Sponge grounds have an effect on ocean health, The role of vast sea sponge grounds   

    From Horizon The EU Research and Innovation Magazine: “Sponges and corals: Seafloor assessments to help protect against climate change” 


    From Horizon The EU Research and Innovation Magazine

    29 April 2019
    Sandrine Ceurstemont

    The glass sponge Vazella pourtalesi, found on the Scotian Shelf, is one of about 8,500 sponge species that is known to exist. Image credit – Fisheries and Oceans Canada

    Little is known about deep ocean environments. But scientists focussing on the depths of the North Atlantic are now learning more about their ecosystems – including the role of vast sea sponge grounds – and how to safeguard them against the effects of climate change and industry.

    Deep-sea sponges – aquatic invertebrates that spend their lives attached to the seabed and are found in almost all areas of the deep ocean – have been particularly neglected when it comes to research and conservation. But they are an important component of their ecosystems.

    ‘Given their huge filtering capacity and their pronounced role in pumping and cleaning the ocean, sponge grounds have an effect on ocean health,’ said Professor Hans Tore Rapp from the University of Bergen in Norway.

    But studying sponges is not easy. Found at depths of up to 4,000 metres, sponges are hard to access and most cannot handle exposure to air which makes it difficult to conduct lab experiments.

    Telling species apart is tricky too because many have limited distinguishing features. ‘Nowadays a combination of morphological information and DNA has made things a bit easier but it is still a challenging and very time-consuming task,’ said Prof. Rapp.

    Professor Rapp and his colleagues are identifying different species for a wide-ranging project called SponGES. The scientists are investigating sponges’ ecological functions, how these animals can be used in biotechnology as well as the resilience of their ecosystems.

    ‘We will be using modelling tools to look into the future, to see how these sponge grounds will be impacted by climate change or any kind of stressors,’ said Prof. Rapp.

    Scientists want to understand how fragile cold-water coral ecosystems are being affected by sectors such as deep-sea mining. Image credit – © Changing Oceans Expedition 2012 (cruise JC073)

    Sponge genomes

    So far, the scientists have discovered more than 30 new species of sponges and produced the largest sponge genomic data sets ever, which should reveal how different species and populations are related. They also performed experiments in the lab to investigate their ecosystem functions, such as how they absorb and turn carbon and inorganic nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus into nourishment for the rest of the habitat.

    Now they are conducting experiments on the seafloor. ‘(We are) looking at sponges in pristine areas then comparing how they function in areas that are more impacted, whether it’s from oil and gas or mining,’ said Prof. Rapp.

    The project is also taking a novel approach to drug discovery. The chemicals that sponges use to defend themselves could potentially be used to treat cancer and infectious diseases.

    Sponges are typically ground up and tested to identify compounds that could be used to develop drugs. The project, however, is trying to zero in on the genes involved in making these compounds so that it can sustainably produce them in the lab.

    ‘We’ve already identified some of the gene sequences that are related to the production of anti-cancer compounds,’ said Dr Shirley Pomponi from Florida Atlantic University in the US and Wageningen University in the Netherlands, who is leading the biotechnology arm of the project.

    Dr Pomponi and her project colleagues are also one step closer to creating bone implants that make use of sponge architecture. Sponges produce microscopic skeletal elements, or spicules, made of biosilica that are the building blocks of their structures. Biosilica has been found to induce bone-forming cells to produce more bone. The scientists therefore hope to make implant scaffolds with bone-forming cells.

    They achieved a breakthrough by creating a cell line in the lab from deep-sea sponge cells, which Dr Pomponi claims is the first time this has been done for any marine invertebrate.

    Dr Pomponi says the cell lines are exciting as they will enable the scientists to study how sponges produce their skeletons as well as their defensive chemicals. The team is focussing on how to produce biosilica and these chemicals in tissue culture, she says.


    Results from the project are already being recognised by policymakers too. Sponge grounds have now been included in the Norwegian Red List for endangered habitats, for example.

    ‘We are now also contributing to getting sponge grounds into the management plan for the Nordic Seas,’ said Prof. Rapp.

    In addition to sponges, other elements of deep North Atlantic ocean ecosystems need to be better understood. To tackle this, a project called ATLAS is undertaking the biggest assessment of the area to date.

    The deep Atlantic is home to a number of vulnerable ecosystems, says Professor Murray Roberts from the University of Edinburgh in the UK, the project coordinator.

    ‘We need to understand the corals, the sponges, the clams, we need to understand the seamounts,’ he said.

    ‘And critically we need to understand how industry active in these areas already, and proposing to increase its operations, could impact these systems.’

    The project is monitoring the deep ocean by using climate-monitoring instruments, along with new equipment such as sensor arrays to measure carbon dioxide and acidity to provide regular readings for the first time which will be made publicly available.

    The new information will help to better understand the physics of the ocean such as circulation patterns, for example, so that changes can be predicted.

    The project has published 49 scientific papers, revealing, for example, how corals on the seafloor are nourished in an environment where there is little food available [Scientific Reports].

    Simulations showed that water currents interact with coral mounds, which can grow hundreds of metres tall to draw organic matter down to them from the surface.

    ‘It’s an amazing example of ecosystem engineering on a scale we’ve never really seen before,’ said Prof. Roberts. The scientists will follow up by taking measurements in the field to see if they agree with their model.


    Another aspect of the project involves bringing together different sectors that use the ocean, such as fisheries and oil and gas companies, to plan out marine space in a more sustainable way. ‘It’s like town planning in a sense for the oceans,’ said Prof. Roberts.

    The team’s goal is to make sure that ocean activities are sustainable and that ecosystems are preserved.

    They have been working with multinational oil and gas companies, for example, to assess the areas in which they operate, where there are vulnerable ecosystems such as sponge grounds and coral reefs. The impact of climate change also needs to be addressed.

    ‘With warming of the Atlantic Ocean and gradual acidification, areas that have been protected are going to end up as unsuitable for the very things that they’ve been closed to protect,’ said Prof. Roberts.

    Based on scientific findings from the project, the team plans to come up with management strategies for sectors such as deep-sea mining and renewable energy where growth is forecast. The team also developed new models showing the distribution of deep Atlantic species which will provide a good starting point.

    ‘We have a much better understanding of how likely it is that vulnerable species occur in areas that industries are looking to exploit,’ said Prof. Roberts. ‘We’re (now) taking that into industry and policy.’

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 3:21 pm on April 30, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "What ‘Rock Tides’ Reveal About Movements of the Earth", , , Earth Observation   

    From Discover Magazine: “What ‘Rock Tides’ Reveal About Movements of the Earth” 


    From Discover Magazine

    April 30, 2019
    Rebecca Boyle

    Rock formations in the Atacama Desert. (Credit: Phil Whitehouse via Flickr)

    Earth’s interior teems with movement and heat, a characteristic that manifests in memorable fashion as volcanoes and earthquakes. But even Earth’s more seemingly stable solid rocks move, too. Understanding just how rocks respond when they are pushed and pulled by natural forces, such as tectonic activity, or human-caused forces, like hydraulic fracturing, can make mining, construction, natural gas production and other projects safer. It can also improve geological monitoring in fault zones.

    Now, a new technique uses the fingerprints of the moon, sun and surf to pin down rock behavior.

    Rocks feel solid, but their slight imperfections and cracks give them elastic tendencies, which change when the rock is under some sort of external stress, whether from heat or water or the tidal pull of the moon and sun, said Nicholas van der Elst, a seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey who was not involved in the new work.

    “For the most part, rocks are elastic in that they change shape when you apply force, but they recover completely when the force is removed. There’s also a small amount of squishy deformation, which takes some time to recover,” he said. These shape changes are captured in a measurement called strain, which can give direct information about rock properties like strength and stiffness. But strain is difficult to measure away from Earth’s surface, van der Elst said.

    Scientists can expose small samples to titanic pressure and heat in lab settings or conduct field measurements of induced seismic activity — like mini-quakes set off by explosive charges — but both these approaches have key limitations such as high costs or questions about how well they replicate the natural environment.

    In the new study [no citation], researchers in Germany were able to link rock strain to seismic velocity changes, using a long-term seismometer station. The seismic velocity measurements serve as a proxy for strain, van der Elst said. And instead of having to squeeze the rock themselves, the scientists let the moon and sun do it for them.

    Christoph Sens-Schönfelder of the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam and Tom Eulenfeld of the University of Jena in Germany sifted through 11 years of data from a seismic monitoring station in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The Patache station rests on a hillcrest along the Pacific coast, less than 2 kilometers from the shore, in an area where nothing grows save for microbes living in salt rock. The only signs of life are occasional lichen flakes and seabird burrows, and distant lights from copper and salt mines sprinkled through the Atacama. The station keeps tabs on seismic activity in an area known for earthquakes. But it can detect more sensitive ambient movements, too.

    As the moon and sun perpetually tug on Earth, the tides slosh water back and forth all over the planet, causing shorelines to shrink or swell. But not only the water moves: Earth’s insides are strained, too. In this way, the tides serve as a controlled deformation experiment, Sens-Schönfelder said.

    He and Eulenfeld analyzed the Patache recordings for seismic echoes — waves that struck the detector, bounced off the surrounding rock, and then hit the detector again. When they plotted the echo patterns, they could see variations related to the pounding of surf from the Pacific Ocean, a couple kilometers away. They also noticed patterns that repeated every day or half day. They realized the half-day oscillations actually represented two signals, corresponding to 12.42 and 12.56 hours. The 12.42-hour period precisely matches the lunar tide, while the longer oscillation matches the elliptical orbit of Earth’s satellite. The elliptic orbit is the same effect that leads to an occasional “supermoon” when the moon is closer to Earth.

    “We were surprised to see the effects of the tides so clearly,” Sens-Schönfelder said. What’s more, the rocks don’t respond instantaneously, meaning the rock takes some time to relax after it is pushed and pulled.

    The researchers also found something unexpected: The sun was producing a greater effect on the rock tides than they thought it would. Though the sun does contribute to Earth’s tides, its pull is greatly outshone by that of the moon — so why would the one-day seismic signal be so strong? The researchers decided it was related to the sun’s warmth, heating the surface during the day, only to disappear at night and allow the surface to cool and contract.

    “The most surprising thing was that we found an interaction between the tidal and thermal effects. They modulate each other and cause distinct peaks in the spectrum,” Sens-Schönfelder said. The researchers are not sure how these two signals are interacting.

    Van der Elst said the rock deformation and relaxation, or “squishiness,” is faster than the timescales of the tides, which makes it a difficult measurement outside of a controlled lab setting. “It’s a real achievement to have measured this rock property in the field with such precision,” he said.

    Sens-Schönfelder said the researchers were able to separate the effects of temperature and tides by looking at the cycles of the sun and moon — “and the fact that the moon does not cause any heating,” he added. “Disentangling both effects from the sun alone would be much more difficult.”

    Still, the results are precise enough that others should be able to perform similar measurements almost anywhere, and use the signals of the moon and the sun to measure the pulse of the Earth.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

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