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  • richardmitnick 8:57 am on July 2, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: livescience, Why Are Atheists Generally [Considered to be] Smarter Than Religious People   

    From LIVESCIENCE: “Why Are Atheists Generally [Considered to be] Smarter Than Religious People? 

    Livescience

    June 5, 2017
    Laura Geggel

    1
    Credit: patrice6000/Shutterstock

    For more than a millennium, scholars have noticed a curious correlation: Atheists tend to be more intelligent than religious people.

    It’s unclear why this trend persists, but researchers of a new study have an idea: Religion is an instinct, they say, and people who can rise above instincts are more intelligent than those who rely on them.

    “Intelligence — in rationally solving problems — can be understood as involving overcoming instinct and being intellectually curious and thus open to non-instinctive possibilities,” study lead author Edward Dutton, a research fellow at the Ulster Institute for Social Research in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.

    Smart cookie

    In classical Greece and Rome, it was widely remarked that “fools” tended to be religious, while the “wise” were often skeptics, Dutton and his co-author, Dimitri Van der Linden, an assistant professor of psychology at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, wrote in the study.

    The ancients weren’t the only ones to notice this association. Scientists ran a meta-analysis of 63 studies and found that religious people tend to be less intelligent than nonreligious people. The association was stronger among college students and the general public than for those younger than college age, they found. The association was also stronger for religious beliefs, rather than religious behavior, according to the meta-analysis, published in 2013 in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review.

    But why does this association exist? Dutton set out to find answer, thinking that perhaps it was because nonreligious people were more rational than their religious brethren, and thus better able to reason that there was no God, he wrote.

    But “more recently, I started to wonder if I’d got it wrong, actually,” Dutton told Live Science. “I found evidence that intelligence is positively associated with certain kinds of bias.”

    For instance, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that college students often get logical answers wrong but don’t realize it. This so-called “bias blind spot” happens when people cannot detect bias, or flaws, within their own thinking. “If anything, a larger bias blind spot was associated with higher cognitive ability,” the researchers of the 2012 study wrote in the abstract.

    One question, for example, asked the students: “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” The problem isn’t intuitive (the answer is not 10 cents), but rather requires students to suppress or evaluate the first solution that springs into their mind, the researchers wrote in the study. If they do this, they might find the right answer: The ball costs 5 cents, and the bat costs $1.05.

    If intelligent people are less likely to perceive their own bias, that means they’re less rational in some respects, Dutton said. So why is intelligence associated with atheism? The answer, he and his colleague suggest, is that religion is an instinct, and it takes intelligence to overcome an instinct, Dutton said.

    Basic instinct

    The religion-is-an-instinct theory is a modified version of an idea developed by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, who was not involved in the new study.

    Called the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis, Kanazawa’s theory attempts to explain the differences in the behavior and attitudes between intelligent and less intelligent people, said Nathan Cofnas, who is pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom this fall. Cofnas, who specializes in the philosophy of science, was not involved with the new study.

    The hypothesis is based on two assumptions, Cofnas told Live Science in an email.

    “First, that we are psychologically adapted to solve recurrent problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors in the African savanna,” Cofnas said. “Second, that ‘general intelligence’ (what is measured by IQ tests) evolved to help us deal with nonrecurrent problems for which we had no evolved psychological adaptations.”

    The assumptions imply that “intelligent people should be better than unintelligent people at dealing with ‘evolutionary novelty’ — situations and entities that did not exist in the ancestral environment,” Cofnas said.

    Dutton and Van der Linden modified this theory, suggesting that evolutionary novelty is something that opposes evolved instincts.

    Philosophical take

    The approach is an interesting one, but might have firmer standing if the researchers explained exactly what they mean by “religious instinct,” Cofnas said.

    “Dutton and Van der Linden propose that, if religion has an instinctual basis, intelligent people will be better able to overcome it and adopt atheism,” Cofnas said. “But without knowing the precise nature of the ‘religious instinct,’ we can’t rule out the possibility that atheism, or at least some forms of atheism, harness the same instinct(s).”

    For instance, author Christopher Hitchens thought that communism was a religion; secular movements, such as veganism, appeal to many of the same impulses — and possibly ‘instincts’ — that traditional religions do, Cofnas said. Religious and nonreligious movements both rely on faith, identifying with a community of believers and zealotry, he said.

    “I think it’s misleading to use the term ‘religion’ as a slur for whatever you don’t like,” Cofnas said.

    Religion and stress

    The researchers also examined the link between instinct and stress, emphasizing that people tend to operate on instinct during stressful times, for instance, turning to religion during a near-death experience.

    The researchers argue that intelligence helps people rise above these instincts during times of stress.

    “If religion is indeed an evolved domain — an instinct — then it will become heightened at times of stress, when people are inclined to act instinctively, and there is clear evidence for this,” Dutton said. “It also means that intelligence allows us to be able to pause and reason through the situation and the possible consequences of our actions.”

    People who are able to rise above their instincts are likely better problem-solvers, Dutton noted.

    “Let’s say someone had a go at you. Your instinct would be to punch them in the face,” Dutton told Live Science. “A more intelligent person will be able to stop themselves from doing that, reason it through and better solve the problem, according to what they want.”

    The study was published May 16 in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:01 pm on May 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , livescience, Yellowstone supervolcano   

    From LiveScience: “What Would Happen If Yellowstone’s Supervolcano Erupted?” 

    Livescience

    [I usually pass up articles on Yellowstone, but this is compelling, even if they are late with it to social media.]

    May 2, 2016
    Becky Oskin

    1
    Hot springs in Yellowstone National Park are just one of the types of thermal features that result from volcanic activity. Credit: Dolce Vita / Shutterstock.com

    Although fears of a Yellowstone volcanic blast go viral every few years, there are better things to worry about than a catastrophic supereruption exploding from the bowels of Yellowstone National Park.

    Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Yellowstone Volcano Observatory always pooh-pooh these worrisome memes, but that doesn’t mean researchers are ignoring the possible consequences of a supereruption. Along with forecasting the damage, scientists constantly monitor the region for signs of molten rock tunneling underground. Scientists scrutinize past supereruptions, as well as smaller volcanic blasts, to predict what would happen if the Yellowstone Volcano did blow.

    Here’s a deeper look at whether Yellowstone’s volcano would fire up a global catastrophe.


    Yellowstone Supervolcano is Roaring Back to Life

    Probing Yellowstone’s past

    Most of Yellowstone National Park sits inside three overlapping calderas. The shallow, bowl-shaped depressions formed when an underground magma chamber erupted at Yellowstone. Each time, so much material spewed out that the ground collapsed downward, creating a caldera. The massive blasts struck 2.1 million, 1.3 million and 640,000 years ago. These past eruptions serve as clues to understanding what would happen if there was another Yellowstone megaexplosion.

    2
    An example of the possible ashfall from a month-long Yellowstone supereruption. Credit: USGS

    If a future supereruption resembles its predecessors, then flowing lava won’t be much of a threat. The older Yellowstone lava flows never traveled much farther than the park boundaries, according to the USGS. For volcanologists, the biggest worry is wind-flung ash. Imagine a circle about 500 miles (800 kilometers) across surrounding Yellowstone; studies suggest the region inside this circle might see more than 4 inches (10 centimeters) of ash on the ground, scientists reported Aug. 27, 2014, in the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems.

    The ash would be pretty devastating for the United States, scientists predict. The fallout would include short-term destruction of Midwest agriculture, and rivers and streams would be clogged by gray muck.

    People living in the Pacific Northwest might also be choking on Yellowstone’s fallout.

    “People who live upwind from eruptions need to be concerned about the big ones,” said Larry Mastin, a USGS volcanologist and lead author of the 2014 ash study. Big eruptions often spawn giant umbrella clouds that push ash upwind across half the continent, Mastin said. These clouds get their name because the broad, flat cloud hovering over the volcano resembles an umbrella. “An umbrella cloud fundamentally changes how ash is distributed,” Mastin said.

    But California and Florida, which grow most of the country’s fruits and vegetables, would see only a dusting of ash.

    A smelly climate shift

    Yellowstone Volcano’s next supereruption is likely to spew vast quantities of gases such as sulfur dioxide, which forms a sulfur aerosol that absorbs sunlight and reflects some of it back to space. The resulting climate cooling could last up to a decade. The temporary climate shift could alter rainfall patterns, and, along with severe frosts, cause widespread crop losses and famine.

    3
    The walls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone are made up predominantly of lava and rocks from a supereruption some 500,000 years ago.
    Credit: USGS

    But a Yellowstone megablast would not wipe out life on Earth. There were no extinctions after its last three enormous eruptions, nor have other supereruptions triggered extinctions in the last few million years.

    “Are we all going to die if Yellowstone erupts? Almost certainly the answer is no,” said Jamie Farrell, a Yellowstone expert and assistant research professor at the University of Utah. “There have been quite a few supereruptions in the past couple million years, and we’re still around.”

    However, scientists agree there is still much to learn about the global effects of supereruptions. The problem is that these massive outbursts are rare, striking somewhere on Earth only once or twice every million years, one study found [Springer Link]. “We know from the geologic evidence that these were huge eruptions, but most of them occurred long enough in the past that we don’t have much detail on what their consequences were,” Mastin said. “These events have been so infrequent that our advice has been not to worry about it.”

    A far more likely damage scenario comes from the less predictable hazards — large earthquakes and hydrothermal blasts in the areas where tourists roam. “These pose a huge hazard and could have a huge impact on people,” Farrell said.

    Supereruption reports are exaggerated

    Human civilization will surely survive a supereruption, so let’s bust another myth. There is no pool of molten rock churning beneath Yellowstone’s iconic geysers and mud pots. The Earth’s crust and mantle beneath Yellowstone are indeed hot, but they are mostly solid, with small pockets of molten rock scattered throughout, like water inside a sponge. About 9 percent of the hot blob is molten, and the rest is solid, scientists reported on May 15, 2015, in the journal Science. This magma chamber rests between 3 to 6 miles (5 to 10 km) beneath the park.

    Estimates vary, but a magma chamber may need to reach about 50 percent melt before molten rock collects and forces its way out. “It doesn’t look like at this point that the [Yellowstone] magma reservoir is ready for an eruption,” said Farrell, co-author of the 2015 study in the journal Science.

    How do researchers measure the magma? Seismic waves travel more slowly through hot or partially molten rock than they do through normal rock, so scientists can see where the magma is stored, and how much is there, by mapping out where seismic waves travel more slowly, Farrell said.

    The magma storage region is not growing in size, either, at least for as long as scientists have monitored the park’s underground. “It’s always been this size, it’s just we’re getting better at seeing it,” Farrell said.

    Watch out for little eruptions

    As with magma mapping, the science of forecasting volcanic eruptions is always improving. Most scientists think that magma buildup would be detectable for weeks, maybe years, preceding a major Yellowstone eruption. Warning signs would include distinctive earthquake swarms, gas emissions and rapid ground deformation.

    Someone who knows about these warning signals might look at the park today and think, “Whoa, something weird is going on!” Yellowstone is a living volcano, and there are always small earthquakes causing tremors, and gas seeping from the ground. The volcano even breathes — the ground surface swells and sinks as gases and fluids move around the volcanic “plumbing” system beneath the park.

    But the day-to-day shaking in the park does not portend doom. The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory has never seen warning signs of an impending eruption at the park, according to the USGS.

    What are scientists looking for? For one, the distinctive earthquakes triggered by moving molten rock. Magma tunneling underground sets off seismic signals that are different from those generated by slipping fault lines. “We would see earthquakes moving in a pattern and getting shallower and shallower,” Farrell said. To learn about the earthquake patterns to look for, revisit the 2014 eruption of Bardarbunga Volcano in Iceland.

    4
    Pictures taken by Peter Hartree between 14.30 and 15.00 on September 4th 2014. I’m sorry for the less than ideal quality of these – this wasn’t a professional photo shoot.
    All photos are unedited. I have a bunch more (fairly similar) shots – if you’d like to see them, write to peter@reykjavikcoworking.is.
    Many thanks to pilot Siggi G for the ride.
    Date 4 September 2014,
    Source http://www.flickr.com/photos/41812768@N07/15146259395/
    Author peterhartree

    Both amateurs and experts “watched” Bardarbunga’s magma rise underground by tracking earthquakes. The eventual surface breakthrough was almost immediately announced on Twitter and other social media. As with Iceland, all of Yellowstone’s seismic data is publicly available through the U.S. Geological Survey’s Yellowstone Volcano Observatory and the University of Utah.

    “We would have a good idea that magma is moving up into the shallow depths,” Farrell said. “The bottom line is, we don’t know when or if it will erupt again, but we would have adequate warning.”

    “We would have a good idea that magma is moving up into the shallow depths,” Farrell said. “The bottom line is, we don’t know when or if it will erupt again, but we would have adequate warning.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:32 am on July 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , livescience, , Possible fifth force?,   

    From Don Lincoln of FNAL on livescience: “A Fifth Force: Fact or Fiction” 

    Livescience

    FNAL Icon
    FNAL

    FNAL Don Lincoln
    Don lincoln

    July 5, 2016

    1
    Has a Hungarian lab really found evidence of a fifth force of nature? Credit: Jurik Peter / Shutterstock.com

    Science and the internet have an uneasy relationship: Science tends to move forward through a careful and tedious evaluation of data and theory, and the process can take years to complete. In contrast, the internet community generally has the attention span of Dory, the absent-minded fish of Finding Nemo(and now Finding Dory) — a meme here, a celebrity picture there — oh, look … a funny cat video.

    Thus people who are interested in serious science should be extremely cautious when they read an online story that purports to be a paradigm-shifting scientific discovery. A recent example is one suggesting that a new force of nature might have been discovered. If true, that would mean that we have to rewrite the textbooks.

    A fifth force

    So what has been claimed?

    In an article submitted on April 7, 2015, to the arXiv repository of physics papers, a group of Hungarian researchers reported on a study in which they focused an intense beam of protons (particles found in the center of atoms) on thin lithium targets. The collisions created excited nuclei of beryllium-8, which decayed into ordinary beryllium-8 and pairs of electron-positron particles. (The positron is the antimatter equivalent of the electron.)

    3
    The Standard Model is the collection of theories that describe the smallest experimentally observed particles of matter and the interactions between energy and matter. Credit: Karl Tate, LiveScience Infographic Artist

    They claimed that their data could not be explained by known physical phenomena in the Standard Model, the reigning model governing particle physics. But, they purported, they could explain the data if a new particle existed with a mass of approximately 17 million electron volts, which is 32.7 times heavier than an electron and just shy of 2 percent the mass of a proton. The particles that emerge at this energy range, which is relatively low by modern standards, have been well studied. And so it would be very surprising if a new particle were discovered in this energy regime.

    However, the measurement survived peer review and was published on Jan. 26, 2016, in the journal Physical Review Letters, which is one of the most prestigious physics journals in the world. In this publication, the researchers, and this research, cleared an impressive hurdle.

    Their measurement received little attention until a group of theoretical physicists from the University of California, Irvine (UCI), turned their attention to it. As theorists commonly do with a controversial physics measurement, the team compared it with the body of work that has been assembled over the last century or so, to see if the new data are consistent or inconsistent with the existing body of knowledge. In this case, they looked at about a dozen published studies.

    What they found is that though the measurement didn’t conflict with any past studies, it seemed to be something never before observed — and something that couldn’t be explained by the Standard Model.

    The Standard Model of elementary particles (more schematic depiction), with the three generations of matter, gauge bosons in the fourth column, and the Higgs boson in the fifth.
    The Standard Model of elementary particles (more schematic depiction), with the three generations of matter, gauge bosons in the fourth column, and the Higgs boson in the fifth

    New theoretical framework

    To make sense of the Hungarian measurement, then, this group of UCI theorists invented a new theory.

    The theory invented by the Irvine group is really quite exotic. They start with the very reasonable premise that the possible new particle is something that is not described by existing theory. This makes sense because the possible new particle is very low mass and would have been discovered before if it were governed by known physics. If this were a new particle governed by new physics, perhaps a new force is involved. Since traditionally physicists speak of four known fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces), this hypothetical new force has been dubbed “the fifth force.”

    Theories and discoveries of a fifth force have a checkered history, going back decades, with measurements and ideas arising and disappearing with new data. On the other hand, there are mysteries not explained by ordinary physics like, for example, dark matter. While dark matter has historically been modeled as a single form of a stable and massive particle that experiences gravity and none of the other known forces, there is no reason that dark matter couldn’t experience forces that ordinary matter doesn’t experience. After all, ordinary matter experiences forces that dark matter doesn’t, so the hypothesis isn’t so silly.

    6
    There is no reason dark matter couldn’t experience forces that ordinary matter doesn’t experience. Here, in the galaxy cluster Abell 3827, dark matter was observed interacting with itself during a galaxy collision. Credit: ESO

    There are many ideas about forces that affect only dark matter and the term for this basic idea is called “complex dark matter.” One common idea is that there is a dark photon that interacts with a dark charge carried only by dark matter. This particle is a dark matter analog of the photon of ordinary matter that interacts with familiar electrical charge, with one exception: Some theories of complex dark matter imbue dark photons with mass, in stark contrast with ordinary photons.

    If dark photons exist, they can couple with ordinary matter (and ordinary photons) and decay into electron-positron pairs, which is what the Hungarian research group was investigating. Because dark photons don’t interact with ordinary electric charge, this coupling can only occur because of the vagaries of quantum mechanics. But if scientists started seeing an increase in electron-positron pairs, that might mean they were observing a dark photon.

    The Irvine group found a model that included a “protophobic” particle that was not ruled out by earlier measurements and would explain the Hungarian result. Particles that are “protophobic,” which literally means “fear of protons,” rarely or never interact with protons but can interact with neutrons (neutrophilic).

    The particle proposed by the Irvine group experiences a fifth and unknown force, which is in the range of 12 femtometers, or about 12 times bigger than a proton. The particle is protophobic and neutrophilic. The proposed particle has a mass of 17 million electron volts and can decay into electron-positron pairs. In addition to explaining the Hungarian measurement, such a particle would help explain some discrepancies seen by other experiments. This last consequence adds some weight to the idea.

    Paradigm-shifting force?

    So this is the status.

    What is likely to be true? Obviously, data is king. Other experiments will need to confirm or refute the measurement. Nothing else really matters. But that will take a year or so and having some idea before then might be nice. The best way to estimate the likelihood the finding is real is to look at the reputations of the various researchers involved. This is clearly a shoddy way to do science, but it will help shade your expectations.

    So let’s start with the Irvine group. Many of them (the senior ones, typically) are well- regarded and established members of the field, with substantive and solid papers in their past. The group includes a spectrum of ages, with both senior and junior members. In the interest of full disclosure, I know some of them personally and, indeed, two of them have read the theoretical portions of chapters of books I have written for the public to ensure that I didn’t say anything stupid. (By the way, they didn’t find any gaffes, but they certainly helped clarify certain points.) That certainly demonstrates my high regard for members of the Irvine group, but possibly taints my opinion. In my judgment, they almost certainly did a thorough and professional job of comparing their new model to existing data. They have found a small and unexplored region of possible theories that could exist.

    On the other hand, the theory is pretty speculative and highly improbable. This isn’t an indictment … all proposed theories could be labeled in this way. After all, the Standard Model, which governs particle physics, is nearly a half century old and has been thoroughly explored. In addition, ALL new theoretical ideas are speculative and improbable and almost all of them are wrong. This also isn’t an indictment. There are many ways to add possible modifications to existing theories to account for new phenomena. They can’t all be right. Sometimes none of the proposed ideas are right.

    However, we can conclude from the reputation of the group’s members that they have generated a new idea and have compared it to all relevant existing data. The fact that they released their model means that it survived their tests and thus it remains a credible, if improbable, possibility.

    What about the Hungarian group? I know none of them personally, but the article was published in Physical Review Letters — a chalk mark in the win column. However, the group has also published two previous papers in which comparable anomalies were observed, including a possible particle with a mass of 12 million electron volts and a second publication claiming the discovery of a particle with a mass of about 14 million electron volts. Both of these claims were subsequently falsified by other experiments.

    Further, the Hungarian group has never satisfactorily disclosed what error was made that resulted in these erroneous claims. Another possible red flag is that the group rarely publishes data that doesn’t claim anomalies. That is improbable. In my own research career, most publications were confirmation of existing theories. Anomalies that persist are very, very, rare.

    So what’s the bottom line? Should you be excited about this new possible discovery? Well…sure…possible discoveries are always exciting. The Standard Model has stood the test of time for half a century, but there are unexplained mysteries and the scientific community is always looking for the discovery that points us in the direction of a new and improved theory. But what are the odds that this measurement and theory will lead to the scientific world accepting a new force with a range of 12 fm and with a particle that shuns protons? My sense is that this a long shot. I am not so sanguine as to the chances of this outcome.

    Of course, this opinion is only that…an opinion, albeit an informed one. Other experiments will also be looking for dark photons because, even if the Hungarian measurement doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, there is still a real problem with dark matter. Many experiments looking for dark photons will explore the same parameter space (e.g. energy, mass and decay modes) in which the Hungarian researchers claim to have found an anomaly. We will soon (within a year) know if this anomaly is a discovery or just another bump in the data that temporarily excited the community, only to be discarded as better data is recorded. And, no matter the outcome, good and better science will be the eventual result.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:41 am on June 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , livescience,   

    From livescience: “Quantum Computer Could Simulate Beginnings of the Universe” 

    Livescience

    June 27, 2016
    Charles Q. Choi

    1
    Researchers simulated the creation of elementary particle pairs out of the vacuum by using a quantum computer.
    Credit: IQOQI/Harald Ritsch

    Quantum mechanics suggest that seemingly empty space is actually filled with ghostly particles that are fluctuating in and out of existence. And now, scientists have for the first time made an advanced machine known as a quantum computer simulate these so-called virtual particles.

    This research could help shed light on currently hidden aspects of the universe, from the hearts of neutron stars to the very first moments of the universe after the Big Bang, researchers said.

    Quantum mechanics suggests that the universe is a fuzzy, surreal place at its smallest levels. For instance, atoms and other particles can exist in states of flux known as superpositions, where they can seemingly each spin in opposite directions simultaneously, and they can also get entangled — meaning they can influence each other instantaneously no matter how far apart they are separated. Quantum mechanics also suggests that pairs of virtual particles, each consisting of a particle and its antiparticle, can wink in and out of seemingly empty vacuum and influence their surroundings.

    Quantum mechanics underlies the standard model of particle physics, which is currently the best explanation for how all the known elementary particles, such as electrons and protons, behave.

    The Standard Model of elementary particles (more schematic depiction), with the three generations of matter, gauge bosons in the fourth column, and the Higgs boson in the fifth.
    The Standard Model of elementary particles (more schematic depiction), with the three generations of matter, gauge bosons in the fourth column, and the Higgs boson in the fifth

    However, there are still many open questions regarding the standard model of particle physics, such as whether or not it can help explain cosmic mysteries such as dark matter and dark energy — both of which have not been directly detected by astronomers, but are inferred based on their gravitational effects.

    The interactions between elementary particles are often described with what is known as gauge theories. However, the real-time dynamics of particles in gauge theories are extremely difficult for conventional computers to compute, except in the simplest of cases. As a result, scientists have instead turned to experimental devices known as quantum computers.

    “Our work is a first step towards developing dedicated tools that can help us to gain a better understanding of the fundamental interactions between the elementary constituents in nature,” study co-lead author Christine Muschik told Live Science. Muschik is a theoretical physicist at the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Innsbruck, Austria.

    Whereas classical computers represent data as ones and zeroes — binary digits known as “bits,” symbolized by flicking switch-like transistors either on or off — quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, that are in superpositions — meaning that they are on and off at the same time. This enables a qubit to carry out two calculations simultaneously. In principle, quantum computers could work much faster than regular computers at solving certain problems because the quantum machines can analyze every possible solution at once.

    In their new study, scientists built a quantum computer using four electromagnetically trapped calcium ions. They controlled and manipulated these four qubits with laser pulses.

    The researchers had their quantum computer simulate the appearance and disappearance of virtual particles in a vacuum, with pairs of qubits representing pairs of virtual particles — specifically, electrons and positrons, the positively charged antimatter counterparts of electrons. Laser pulses helped simulate how powerful electromagnetic fields in a vacuum can generate virtual particles, the scientists said.

    “This is one of the most complex experiments that has ever been carried out in a trapped-ion quantum computer,” study co-author Rainer Blatt, an experimental physicist at the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Innsbruck, Austria, said in a statement.

    This work shows that quantum computers can simulate high-energy physics — showing how particles might behave at energy levels that are much too high to be easily generated on Earth. “The field of experimental quantum computing is growing very fast, and many people ask the question, What is a small-scale quantum computer good for?” study co-lead author Esteban Martinez, an experimental physicist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, told Live Science. “Unlike other applications, you don’t need millions of quantum bits to do these simulations — tens might be enough to tackle problems that we cannot yet attack using classical approaches.”

    The problem the researchers had their quantum simulator analyze was simple enough for classical computers to compute, which showed that the quantum simulator’s results matched predictions with great accuracy. This suggests that quantum simulators could be used on more complex gauge-theory problems in the future, and the machines could even see new phenomena.

    “Our proof-of-principle experiment represents a first step toward the long-term goal of developing future generations of quantum simulators that will be able to address questions that cannot be answered otherwise,” Muschik said.

    In principle, desktop quantum simulators could help model the kind of extraordinarily high-energy physics currently studied using expensive atom smashers, such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

    CERN/LHC Map
    CERN LHC Grand Tunnel
    CERN LHC particles
    LHC at CERN

    “These two approaches complement one another perfectly,” study co-author Peter Zoller, a theoretical physicist at the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Innsbruck, said in a statement. “We cannot replace the experiments that are done with particle colliders. However, by developing quantum simulators, we may be able to understand these experiments better one day.”

    “Moreover, we can study new processes by using quantum simulation — for example, in our experiment, we also investigated particle entanglement produced during pair creation, which is not possible in a particle collider,” Blatt said in a statement.

    Ultimately, quantum simulators may help researchers simulate the dynamics within the dead stars known as neutron stars, or investigate “questions relating to interactions at very high energies and high densities describing early-universe physics,” Muschik said.

    The scientists detailed their findings in the June 23 issue of the journal Nature.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:11 pm on June 24, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Le Grand K the kilogram standard, livescience   

    From livescience: “The Kilogram May Be Redefined” 

    Livescience

    June 24, 2016
    Tia Ghose

    1
    The international prototype kilogram is a cylinder of platinum and platinum-iridium alloy, which is kept at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) near Paris. Photograph courtesy of © BIPM

    One of the most iconic hunks of metal in the world is set to get a demotion.

    The official metallic cylinder that defines the mass of a kilogram may soon be set aside in favor of a measurement that is defined by fundamental constants of nature.

    The egg-size alloy of platinum and iridium, known as “Le Grand K,” has sat inside a hermetically sealed room in Paris since 1879. Le Grand K serves as the benchmark against which all other kilograms are compared.

    Under lock and key

    But Le Grand K has its failings. For one, it must be housed inside three glass bell jars, in a climate-controlled room, under multiple locks and keys. The slightest fleck of dust or smudge of sweat or residue could alter its weight or corrode its surface, changing its mass.

    The hunk of metal is only taken out once every 40 years to be compared against similar replicas from around the world.

    “The problem with the kilogram in Paris is that it’s so precious that people don’t want to use it,” Stephan Schlamminger, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, said in a statement.

    Fundamental constants

    So for years, physicists have chased an elusive dream: replacing the physical kilogram with a standard inherent in properties of nature such as the speed of light, the wavelength of photons and the Planck constant (also called h-bar), which links the energy a wave carries with its frequency of oscillation. Scientists could use the Planck constant to compare the energy of a wave with Einstein’s iconic E=mc^2 equation; in that way, they would determine mass solely through the physical constants.

    Unfortunately, no one has yet been able to measure the Planck constant to a level of precision that could rival what has been achieved by using Le Grand K as the benchmark.

    But researchers are making strides, and at the current pace, believe they can redefine the kilogram as soon as 2018. In the new study published in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments, Schlamminger and his colleagues measured the Planck constant to a high level of precision using the NIST-4 watt balance, a sophisticated scale that measures a weight by the electromagnetic force that counterbalances it. The electromagnetic force can then be used to calculate the Planck constant.

    With that method, the team calculated the Planck constant down to an uncertainty of 34 parts per billion. That result also lines up well with what other teams have calculated.

    A separate experiment measuring the atoms in a silicon sphere has calculated Planck’s constant down to an uncertainty of 20 parts per billion, while the best watt measurement has achieved an uncertainty of just 19 parts per billion.

    All the teams will need to submit their measurements of the Planck constant to the General Conference on Weights and Measures by July 2017; a computer will then calculate a new definition of the kilogram that best matches those measurements.

    All of this hard work is unlikely to be noticed when people step on their scales.

    “It’s the frustrating part about being a metrologist,” Schlamminger said. “If you do your job right, nobody should notice.”

    Even after the kilogram gets its makeover, Le Grand K is unlikely to be completely forgotten, Schlamminger said.

    “It’s such a symbol and it has such a rich history of measurement. I don’t think people will just throw it in the garbage,” he said.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:28 am on May 22, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , livescience, ,   

    From livescience: “LHC [Particle] Smasher Opens Quantum Physics Floodgates” 

    Livescience

    May 20, 2016
    Ian O’Neill, Discovery News

    1
    A display of a proton-proton collision taken in the LHCb detector in the early hours of May 9.
    Credit: CERN/LHCB

    CERN/LHCb
    CERN/LHCb

    A display of a proton-proton collision taken in the LHCb detector in the early hours of May 9. Credit: CERN/LHCb

    The Large Hadron Collider is the most complex machine ever built by humankind and it is probing into deep quantum unknown, revealing never-before-seen detail in the matter and forces that underpin the foundations of our universe.

    CERN/LHC Map
    CERN LHC Grand Tunnel
    CERN LHC particles
    LHC at CERN

    In its most basic sense, the LHC is a time machine; with each relativistic proton-on-proton collision, the particle accelerator is revealing energy densities and states of matter that haven’t existed in our universe since the moment after the Big Bang, nearly 14 billion years ago.

    The collider, which is managed by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is located near Geneva, Switzerland.

    With the countless billions of collisions between ions inside the LHC’s detectors comes a firehose of data that needs to be recorded, deciphered and stored. Since the 27 kilometer (17 mile) circumference ring of supercooled electromagnets started smashing protons together once more after its winter break, LHC scientists are expecting a lot more data this year than what the experiment produced in 2015.

    “The LHC is running extremely well,” said CERN Director for Accelerators and Technology Frédérick Bordry in a statement. “We now have an ambitious goal for 2016, as we plan to deliver around six times more data than in 2015.”

    And this data will contain ever more detailed information about the elusive Higgs boson that was discovered in 2012 and possibly even details of “new” or “exotic” physics that physicists could spend decades trying to understand. Key to the LHC’s aims is to attempt to understand what dark matter is and why the universe is composed of matter and not antimatter.

    In fact, there was already a buzz surrounding an unexpected signal that was recorded in 2015 that could represent something amazing, but as is the mantra of any scientist: more data is needed. And it looks like LHC physicists are about to be flooded with the stuff.

    Central to the LHC’s recent upgrades is the sheer density of accelerated “beams” of protons that are accelerated to close to the speed of light. The more concentrated or focused the beams, the more collisions can be achieved. More collisions means more data and the more likelihood of revealing new and exciting things about our universe. This year, LHC engineers hope to magnetically squeeze the beams of protons when they collide inside the detectors, generating up to one billion proton collisions per second.

    Add these advances in extreme beam control with the fact the LHC will be running at a record-breaking collision energy of 13 TeV and we have the unprecedented opportunity to make some groundbreaking discoveries.

    “In 2015, we opened the doors to a completely new landscape with unprecedented energy. Now we can begin to explore this landscape in depth,” said CERN Director for Research and Computing, Eckhard Elsen.

    The current plan is to continue proton-proton collisions for six months and then carry out a four-week run using much heavier lead ions.

    So the message is clear: Hold onto your hats. We’re in for an incredible year of discovery that could confirm or deny certain models of our universe and revel something completely unexpected and, possibly, something very exotic.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:39 pm on May 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , livescience, ,   

    From livescience: “What Would Happen If Yellowstone’s Supervolcano Erupted?” 

    Livescience

    May 2, 2016
    Becky Oskin

    1
    Hot springs in Yellowstone National Park are just one of the types of thermal features that result from volcanic activity. Credit: Dolce Vita / Shutterstock.com

    Although fears of a Yellowstone volcanic blast go viral every few years, there are better things to worry about than a catastrophic supereruption exploding from the bowels of Yellowstone National Park.

    Caldera at Yellowstone  Image not credited
    Caldera at Yellowstone Image not credited

    Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Yellowstone Volcano Observatory always pooh-pooh these worrisome memes, but that doesn’t mean researchers are ignoring the possible consequences of a supereruption. Along with forecasting the damage, scientists constantly monitor the region for signs of molten rock tunneling underground. Scientists scrutinize past supereruptions, as well as smaller volcanic blasts, to predict what would happen if the Yellowstone Volcano did blow. Here’s a deeper look at whether Yellowstone’s volcano would fire up a global catastrophe.

    Probing Yellowstone’s past Most of Yellowstone National Park sits inside three overlapping calderas. The shallow, bowl-shaped depressions formed when an underground magma chamber erupted at Yellowstone. Each time, so much material spewed out that the ground collapsed downward, creating a caldera. The massive blasts struck 2.1 million, 1.3 million and 640,000 years ago. These past eruptions serve as clues to understanding what would happen if there was another Yellowstone megaexplosion.

    2
    An example of the possible ashfall from a month-long Yellowstone supereruption. Credit: USGS –

    If a future supereruption resembles its predecessors, then flowing lava won’t be much of a threat. The older Yellowstone lava flows never traveled much farther than the park boundaries, according to the USGS. For volcanologists, the biggest worry is wind-flung ash. Imagine a circle about 500 miles (800 kilometers) across surrounding Yellowstone; studies suggest the region inside this circle might see more than 4 inches (10 centimeters) of ash on the ground, scientists reported* Aug. 27, 2014, in the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems.

    The ash would be pretty devastating for the United States, scientists predict. The fallout would include short-term destruction of Midwest agriculture, and rivers and streams would be clogged by gray muck. People living in the Pacific Northwest might also be choking on Yellowstone’s fallout. “People who live upwind from eruptions need to be concerned about the big ones,” said Larry Mastin, a USGS volcanologist and lead author of the 2014 ash study. Big eruptions often spawn giant umbrella clouds that push ash upwind across half the continent, Mastin said. These clouds get their name because the broad, flat cloud hovering over the volcano resembles an umbrella. “An umbrella cloud fundamentally changes how ash is distributed,” Mastin said. But California and Florida, which grow most of the country’s fruits and vegetables, would see only a dusting of ash. A smelly climate shift.

    Yellowstone Volcano’s next supereruption is likely to spew vast quantities of gases such as sulfur dioxide, which forms a sulfur aerosol that absorbs sunlight and reflects some of it back to space. The resulting climate cooling could last up to a decade. The temporary climate shift could alter rainfall patterns, and, along with severe frosts, cause widespread crop losses and famine.

    3
    The walls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone are made up predominantly of lava and rocks from a supereruption some 500,000 years ago. Credit: USGS

    But a Yellowstone megablast would not wipe out life on Earth. There were no extinctions after its last three enormous eruptions, nor have other supereruptions triggered extinctions in the last few million years.

    “Are we all going to die if Yellowstone erupts? Almost certainly the answer is no,” said Jamie Farrell, a Yellowstone expert and assistant research professor at the University of Utah. “There have been quite a few supereruptions in the past couple million years, and we’re still around.” However, scientists agree there is still much to learn about the global effects of supereruptions. The problem is that these massive outbursts are rare, striking somewhere on Earth only once or twice every million years, one study found. “We know from the geologic evidence that these were huge eruptions, but most of them occurred long enough in the past that we don’t have much detail on what their consequences were,” Mastin said. “These events have been so infrequent that our advice has been not to worry about it.” A far more likely damage scenario comes from the less predictable hazards — large earthquakes and hydrothermal blasts in the areas where tourists roam. “These pose a huge hazard and could have a huge impact on people,” Farrell said.

    Supereruption reports are exaggerated

    Human civilization will surely survive a supereruption, so let’s bust another myth. There is no pool of molten rock churning beneath Yellowstone’s iconic geysers and mud pots. The Earth’s crust and mantle beneath Yellowstone are indeed hot, but they are mostly solid, with small pockets of molten rock scattered throughout, like water inside a sponge. About 9 percent of the hot blob is molten, and the rest is solid, scientists reported on May 15, 2015, in the journal Science. This magma chamber rests between 3 to 6 miles (5 to 10 km) beneath the park. Estimates vary, but a magma chamber may need to reach about 50 percent melt before molten rock collects and forces its way out. “It doesn’t look like at this point that the [Yellowstone] magma reservoir is ready for an eruption,” said Farrell, co-author of the 2015 study in the journal Science.

    How do researchers measure the magma? Seismic waves travel more slowly through hot or partially molten rock than they do through normal rock, so scientists can see where the magma is stored, and how much is there, by mapping out where seismic waves travel more slowly, Farrell said.

    The magma storage region is not growing in size, either, at least for as long as scientists have monitored the park’s underground. “It’s always been this size, it’s just we’re getting better at seeing it,” Farrell said.

    Watch out for little eruptions

    As with magma mapping, the science of forecasting volcanic eruptions is always improving. Most scientists think that magma buildup would be detectable for weeks, maybe years, preceding a major Yellowstone eruption. Warning signs would include distinctive earthquake swarms, gas emissions and rapid ground deformation.

    Someone who knows about these warning signals might look at the park today and think, “Whoa, something weird is going on!” Yellowstone is a living volcano, and there are always small earthquakes causing tremors, and gas seeping from the ground. The volcano even breathes — the ground surface swells and sinks as gases and fluids move around the volcanic “plumbing” system beneath the park.

    But the day-to-day shaking in the park does not portend doom. The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory has never seen warning signs of an impending eruption at the park, according to the USGS.

    What are scientists looking for? For one, the distinctive earthquakes triggered by moving molten rock. Magma tunneling underground sets off seismic signals that are different from those generated by slipping fault lines. “We would see earthquakes moving in a pattern and getting shallower and shallower,” Farrell said. To learn about the earthquake patterns to look for, revisit the 2014 eruption of Bardarbunga Volcano in Iceland. Both amateurs and experts “watched” Bardarbunga’s magma rise underground by tracking earthquakes. The eventual surface breakthrough was almost immediately announced on Twitter and other social media. As with Iceland, all of Yellowstone’s seismic data is publicly available through the U.S. Geological Survey’s Yellowstone Volcano Observatory and the University of Utah.

    “We would have a good idea that magma is moving up into the shallow depths,” Farrell said.

    “The bottom line is, we don’t know when or if it will erupt again, but we would have adequate warning.”

    *Science paper:
    Modeling ash fall distribution from a Yellowstone supereruption

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:40 am on May 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , livescience,   

    From livescience: “Alien ‘Wow!’ Signal Could Soon be Explained” 

    Livescience

    April 19, 2016 [this just appeared in social media]
    Ian O’Neill

    1
    A color scan of the original computer printout of the “Wow!” signal as detected by the Big Ear Radio Observatory in 1977.
    Credit: Big Ear Radio Observatory and North American Astrophysical Observatory (NAAPO)

    The story behind the famous “Wow!” signal has an eerie quality that has inspired countless science fiction alien encounters and is often lauded as one of the strongest pieces of evidence that we are, in fact, not alone in the universe.

    However, its “alien intelligence” authenticity has been questioned since that fabled night on Aug. 15, 1977 at 10:16 p.m. ET when astronomer Jerry Ehman used the Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope to sweep the skies for signals that may have originated from an extraterrestrial civilization.

    Ohio State Big Ear Radio Telescope

    On that night, Ehman found something. And since that night, astronomers have been trying to figure out what it means.

    While pointed in the direction of 3 star systems named Chi Sagittarii, in the constellation of Sagittarius, Big Ear detected a 72 second radio wave burst, a signal far stronger than background noise. On the observatory’s computer printout, Ehman circled the burst with the infamous annotation “Wow!”

    This excitement wasn’t an overstatement, it was this kind of signal he was looking for, the kind of signal astronomers thought a technologically-capable alien civilization would produce.

    The Big Ear printout contains a bunch of apparently random numbers and letters, but Ehman’s red pen circles a cluster of digits “6EQUJ5” with other circles around a “6” and “7” on separate columns. This particular code first uses the numbers 1-9 and then the alphabet A-Z to denote signal strength. As the burst suggests, the signal strength hit “6” and then blasted through the letters reaching a peak of “U” before subsiding back into the numerical scale at “5.” There was then a slight wave trailing the main signal (hence the circled “6″ and “7”). The wave profile of the “Wow!” signal is graphically envisaged here.

    However, since that day in 1977, a detection of a signal of that strength has not been replicated. Even after the SETI Institute was founded in 1984, and countless efforts have been made to find another radio burst like the “Wow!” signal, astronomers have been faced with silence in the cosmos; a problem that has only served to intensify the Fermi Paradox unease.

    SETI Institute

    Now, Antonio Paris of St Petersburg College, Fla., an ex-analyst of the US Department of Defense, hopes to solve the mystery and he suspects that an entirely different cosmic phenomenon is to blame.

    In an interview with The Guardian.com, Paris says that his investigative background sent him on a mission to find another possible explanation for the “Wow!” signal and he tracked down two “suspicious” comets that may have been in the vicinity of Chi Sagittarii on Aug. 15, 1977. Interestingly, these comets, called 266P/Christensen and 335P/Gibbs, were only discovered in 2006 and 2008, so weren’t considered as possible reasons for the signal in 1977 as no one knew of their existence.

    But what have comets got to do with errant radio bursts?

    The “Wow!” signal was recorded in the 1420MHz radio frequency band. It just so happens that cosmic neutral hydrogen naturally radiates at this frequency — it is therefore an abundant signal that is commonly used in astronomy. This is no coincidence; through alien-hunting logic, should there be an extraterrestrial species wanting to make contact, what frequency would they use? Firstly, as we only have ourselves to use as an alien template, we have to assume that hypothetical aliens will likely use radio waves. Secondly, if they are using radio waves to communicate with us, they would likely use a frequency that other intelligent aliens would be naturally tuned into. 1420MHz is the “universal water cooler,” where intelligent life could check into and potentially chat.

    The bummer is, however, that comets contain copious amounts of hydrogen in their atmospheres. Say if the “Wow!” signal was actually caused by the chance passage of a comet through the radio telescope’s field of view, packing a powerful radio surge?

    In 2017, Comet 266P will once again orbit in front of Chi Sagittarii and Comet 335P will do so the following year and Paris wants to test this hypothesis. Unfortunately, existing radio telescopes are already booked, so he has to buy or build his own radio antennae in time for the cosmic encounters. He has a crowdfunding campaign set up to raise the $20,000 he needs and is most of the way there.

    It may be a long shot, but as is the way with many astronomical studies, all possible phenomena need to be ruled out before a discovery is made and, should Paris’ experiment prove the “Wow!” signal was in fact caused by interference by an undiscovered comet, the universe will get quieter once again, making the Fermi Paradox even more bewildering.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 6:03 am on May 7, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Source of Antarctica's Eerie 'Bleeding Glacier' Found", , , livescience   

    From livescience: “Source of Antarctica’s Eerie ‘Bleeding Glacier’ Found” 

    Livescience

    April 28, 2015 [Just appeared in social media]
    Becky Oskin

    1
    Blood Falls, Antarctica. Credit: Peter Rejcek, National Science Foundation

    Antarctica’s Dry Valleys are the most arid places on Earth, but underneath their icy soils lies a vast and ancient network of salty, liquid water filled with life, a new study finds.

    The Dry Valleys are almost entirely ice-free, except for a few isolated glaciers. The only surface water is a handful of small lakes. Inside the canyons, the climate is extremely dry, cold and windy; researchers have stumbled upon mummified seals in these gorges that are thousands of years old.

    Yet there is life in this extreme landscape. For instance, bacteria living under Taylor Glacier stain its snout a deep blood red. The rust-colored brine, called Blood Falls, pours into Lake Bonney in the southernmost of the three largest Dry Valleys. The dramatic colors offer shocking relief to senses overwhelmed by the glaring white ice and dull brown rocks.

    Now, for the first time, scientists have traced the water underneath Taylor Glacier to learn more about the mysterious Blood Falls. In the process, the researchers discovered that briny water underlies much of Taylor Valley. The subsurface network connects the valley’s scattered lakes, revealing that they’re not as isolated as scientists once thought. The findings were published today (April 28) in the journal Nature Communications.

    “We’ve learned so much about the dry valleys in Antarctica just by looking at this curiosity,” said lead study author Jill Mikucki, a microbiologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “Blood Falls is not just an anomaly, it’s a portal to this subglacial world.”

    Mikucki led an international research team that tested a newly developed airborne electromagnetic sensor in Taylor Valley. The flying contraption is a large, six-sided transmitter suspended beneath a helicopter. The instrument creates a magnetic field that picks up conductivity differences in the ground to a depth of about 1,000 feet (300 meters).

    “Salty water shone like a beacon,” Mikucki said.

    The researchers found liquid water underneath the icy soil in Taylor Valley, stretching from the coast to at least 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) inland. The water is twice as salty as seawater, the scientists reported. There is also briny water underneath Taylor Glacier as far back as the instrument could detect, about 3 miles (5 km) up the glacier, the researchers said. Eventually, the ice was too thick for the magnetic field to penetrate.

    “This study shows Blood Falls isn’t just a weird little seep,” Mikucki told Live Science. “It may be representative of a much larger hydrologic network.”

    Water underneath Taylor Valley could have turned extremely salty in two ways: The brines could be due to freezing and evaporation of larger lakes that once filled the valley. Or, ocean water may have once flooded the canyons, leaving remnants behind as it retreated. The new findings will help researchers pin down the valley’s aquatic history.

    “I find it a very interesting and exciting study because the hydrology of the Dry Valleys has a complicated history and there’s been very little data abut what’s happening in the subsurface,” said Dawn Sumner, a geobiologist at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the study.

    Scientists are also intrigued by the new results because the Dry Valleys are considered one of the closest analogs to Mars that are located on Earth. Similar briny groundwater could have formed on Mars when the planet transitioned from having liquid water to a dry environment, Sumner said.

    Finally, the findings may change views of Antarctica’s coastal margins, Mikucki said. Now that scientists know Taylor Valley’s groundwater seeps into the ocean, further research may reveal that coastal regions are important nutrient sources for Antarctica’s iron-depleted seas, she said.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 2:59 pm on April 24, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , livescience, Massive Coral Reef Discovered in the Amazon River   

    From livescience: “Massive Coral Reef Discovered in the Amazon River” 

    Livescience

    1
    The Amazon feeds into the Atlantic Ocean in a plume where salt and freshwater mix. The unique pH, salinity, debris and light levels create a unique ecosytem perfect for a massive reef network. Credit: Lance Willis

    Scientists have discovered a huge coral reef system lurking beneath the muddy waters of the Amazon.

    The network of coral reefs, which is about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) long and is home to a hidden ecosystem of colorful and bizarre creatures, was found at the mouth of the Amazon River, where freshwater from the river empties into the briny waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

    Extraordinary expedition

    The Amazon River is the world’s largest river by volume, harboring 20 percent of the freshwater on Earth. It is also home to a stunning array bizarre and as-yet-undocumented creatures. [The World’s 10 Longest Rivers]

    Patricia Yager, a marine scientist at the University of Georgia and lead investigator of the River-Ocean Continuum of the Amazon project, and her colleagues had originally set sail on the expedition to sample species from the mouth of the Amazon River, according to a statement.

    But one of the team members, biologist Rodrigo Moura from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, had seen a published study from the 1970s “that mentioned catching reef fish along the continental shelf and said he wanted to try to locate these reefs,” Yager said.

    So the team set out on a hunt for mysterious reefs. The first obstacle was finding out exactly where the researchers of that past study had done their surveying. The 1970s journal article didn’t have GPS coordinates, so the team went to the general area and used sound waves to create pictures of the river bottom. Then they pulled up seafloor samples to confirm the presence of the reef.

    Intricate web of life

    It turned out the reef was home to a hidden carnival of life not evident at the murky water’s surface, including loads of reef fish species, a wide variety of sponges (as well as sponge-eating fish), algae and, of course, coral species.

    “We brought up the most amazing and colorful animals I had ever seen on an expedition,” Yager said.

    The team then returned to the site in 2014 to do a full catalogue the rainbow of reef species and the reef’s characteristics, which they reported* April 22 in the journal Science Advances.

    The reef changes over its extent. At the southern edge of the reef, sea creatures get more sunlight, and the reef is dominated by traditional coral and creatures that use light to make food.

    “But as you move north, many of those [species] become less abundant, and the reef transitions to sponges and other reef builders that are likely growing on the food that the river plume delivers. So the two systems are intricately linked,” Yager said.

    Yet the amazing Amazon reef system was endangered almost from the moment of its discovery. It turned out that oil exploration is planned on top of the reef, while ocean acidification and warming threatens the coral reefs just as it does throughout the world’s oceans, Yager said.

    *Science paper:
    An extensive reef system at the Amazon River mouth

    See the full article here .

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