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  • richardmitnick 12:38 pm on January 11, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Crater From Giant Meteorite Strike Might Be Hidden Under Volcanic Plateau", Although the evidence they present is thorough it’s not quite rock-solid., , , Earth Observatory of Singapore, , New York Times, PNAS, Smithsonian.com, The first clue to the meteorite’s impact site came from the bits of glassy debris called tektites that it launched into the air about 800000 years ago., Ultimately a lava field in southern Laos turned up promising results.,   

    From smithsonian.com: “Crater From Giant Meteorite Strike Might Be Hidden Under Volcanic Plateau” 

    smithsonian
    From smithsonian.com

    January 10, 2020
    Theresa Machemer

    1
    A large meteorite can launch bits of molten rock into the atmosphere when it impacts Earth. When that molten rock cools, it forms tektites, shown here. (Photo by Robert Eastman / Alamy Stock Photo)

    Debris from the strike scattered across Earth, but the exact point of impact has been a mystery.

    The impact of a meteorite ranges from an Alabama woman’s giant bruise to the end of the dinosaurs. But one meteorite’s crater has eluded scientists for almost a century, despite the fact that it scattered glass confetti across one-tenth of the Earth’s surface. Now, experts at the Earth Observatory of Singapore have released a study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, providing new evidence for the crater’s location.

    The first clue to the meteorite’s impact site came from the bits of glassy debris, called tektites, that it launched into the air about 800,000 years ago. The tektites landed across Antarctica, Australia and Asia, so geologist Kerry Sieh searched for signs of the crater in satellite imagery. Sieh’s search has taken years and led him down many dead-ends, Katherine Kornei reports for the New York Times-Hints of Phantom Crater Found Under Volcanic Plateau in Laos, but ultimately a lava field in southern Laos turned up promising results. There, volcanic eruptions long ago covered the land in molten rock, building a layer of igneous rock up to 1,000 feet deep, which could have easily obscured the impact crater.

    The research team began by analyzing previously published chemical characteristics of tektites found in Australia and Asia, and found evidence linking them to the Laotian lava field. They then estimated the age of the tektites and lava flows—the lava at the suspect site was younger than the lava around it—and measured the local gravitational field of the lava bed. Craters are often filled with less dense material that was broken apart on impact, and Sieh’s findings of a weaker gravitational pull provide more evidence of the impact crater’s existence.

    “There have been many, many attempts to find the impact site,” Sieh tells CNN’s Michelle Lim [A huge meteorite smashed into Earth nearly 800,000 years ago. We may have finally found the crater]. “But our study is the first to put together so many lines of evidence, ranging from the chemical nature of the tektites to their physical characteristics, and from gravity measurements to measurements of the age of lavas that could bury the crater.”

    By the new study’s calculations, the meteorite was about 1.2 miles wide and created a crater 8 miles wide and 11 miles long. It would have struck our planet at a speed fast enough to melt the Earth beneath it, material that was thrown into the air to create tektites. The impact also would have sent boulders flying at 1,500 feet per second, Leslie Nemo writes for Discover [Found: Crater From Asteroid Impact That Covered 10% of Earth’s Surface in Debris], some of which Sieh spotted in a hill that was cut through by a road a few miles away from the suspected impact site.

    Although the evidence they present is thorough, it’s not quite rock-solid. In a commentary [PNAS] that accompanied the study, impact crater expert Henry Melosh writes that Sieh and his team “present the best candidate yet for the long-sought source crater,” but adds, “one of my impact-savvy colleagues read the paper and was unconvinced. As with all possible impact craters, proof will rest on finding shock-metamorphosed rocks, minerals, and melt.”

    Melosh points out that the crater is smaller than previously expected for this meteorite, and that it would have had to land at an unusually shallow angle to create the oval shape that Sieh’s team proposes. To provide the strongest evidence that this is the crater they’ve been looking for, scientists would have to drill through the lava flows, which are in a tropical jungle, and recover rock samples from below.

    Sieh tells Nemo that he would be supportive of anyone who wants to complete that work.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:08 am on January 4, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "The Complicated Role of Iron in Ocean Health and Climate Change", , , , Smithsonian.com   

    From smithsonian.com: “The Complicated Role of Iron in Ocean Health and Climate Change” 

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    From smithsonian.com

    January 3, 2020
    Emily Underwood

    Iron dust may have played a significant role in the last ice age, and it could be an important factor in mitigating future global temperature increases.

    1
    Iron-rich dust launched into the air by winds swirls around the Southern Ocean. Understanding how iron’s chemistry shifts during its journey from earth to air to sea will be important for developing better climate models. (William Putnam and Arlindo da Silva, NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center)

    One brisk day in April 2013, as he drove with colleagues along the southern coast of Patagonia, Mike Kaplan spotted a geologist’s treasure trove—an active gravel pit with freshly exposed walls. He pulled over, grabbed the backpack full of digging tools stowed in the car trunk and walked into the large hole.

    To Kaplan’s south lay the Southern Ocean, stretching toward Antarctica. Strewn around him was evidence of Earth’s most recent ice age: heaps of crushed rock and gravel released by one of the many glaciers that had once covered North and South America. Standing in the pit, Kaplan spotted what he was looking for: a layer of fine gray silt deposited by ice sheets roughly 20,000 years ago.

    A geologist at Columbia University in New York, Kaplan has spent over a decade collecting the sediments that make dust, and studying how that dust, launched from earth to air to sea, influences Earth’s climate, past and present. Dozens of intriguing samples have made their way home with him, stowed in his suitcase or shipped in a duct-taped cardboard box. As he scraped the dark gray sediment into a plastic bag, he felt a rush of anticipation. Given the sample’s location, he thought that it might be just what he needed to test an aspect of a controversial idea known as the iron hypothesis.

    Proposed in 1990 by the late oceanographer John Martin, the hypothesis suggests that flurries of dust — swept from cold, dry landscapes like the glacial outwash where Kaplan now stood, trowel in hand — played a crucial role in the last major ice age. When this dust landed in the iron-starved Southern Ocean, Martin argued, the iron within it would have fertilized massive blooms of diatoms and other phytoplankton. Single-celled algae with intricate silica shells, diatoms photosynthesize, pulling carbon from the atmosphere and transforming it to sugar to fuel their growth. Going a step further, Martin proposed that using iron to trigger diatom blooms might help combat global warming. “Give me half a tanker of iron and I’ll give you an ice age,” he once said half-jokingly at a seminar, reportedly in his best Dr. Strangelove accent.

    Thirty years after Martin’s bold idea, scientists are still debating just how much iron dust contributed to the ice age, and whether geoengineering of the oceans—a prospect still lobbied for by some—might actually work. Although it’s now well-established that an uptick in iron fertilization occurred in the Southern Ocean during the last major ice age, for example, scientists still argue about how much it reduced carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. And while Martin’s hypothesis inspired 13 large iron fertilization experiments that boosted algae growth, only two demonstrated removal of carbon to the deep sea; the others were ambiguous or failed to show an impact, says Ken Buesseler, a marine radiochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

    In 2008, concerns about possible environmental impacts of iron fertilization, such as toxic algal blooms and damaged marine ecosystems, prompted the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to place a moratorium on all large-scale ocean fertilization experiments. The ban “put the kibosh” on such activity, says Buesseler. The problem with that, many scientists now contend, is that the most fundamental questions about iron fertilization—if it can sequester enough carbon to alter climate, and what its environmental consequences would be—remain unanswered.

    As atmospheric carbon levels soar past 400 parts per million, some researchers believe that the freeze on iron fertilization experiments should be reconsidered, Buesseler among them. “I’m not a supporter of geoengineering, but I think it is our responsibility to look” at ways of actively removing carbon from the atmosphere, including iron fertilization, he says.

    Whether people ever decide to pursue iron fertilization to combat climate change or not, scientists still need to understand the environmental impacts of iron-rich dust and ash from natural sources like volcanoes, and from manmade pollutants, says Vicki Grassian, a physical chemist at the University of California, San Diego. To meet that challenge, labs around the world are studying how iron affects climate and ocean health. Their work spans the scales, from the tiny crystalline structure of iron-peppered nanoparticles to large-scale simulations of global climate. Ultimately, scientists hope to understand the role of iron dust in marine systems, says Kristen Buck, a chemical oceanographer at the University of South Florida. “When you add iron to a system, how does that trigger the system to change?”

    In ancient seas, iron aplenty

    To learn how iron fertilization might work in the future, some researchers are looking at the past, in paleoclimate records such as ice cores and deep-sea sediments. From that perspective, many of the natural iron fertilization experiments have already been run, says Gisela Winckler, a climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia, and Kaplan’s colleague.

    Three billion years ago the ocean was chock-full of iron, ancient mineral deposits show. Iron was plentiful when life first evolved, and the metal was incorporated into a long list of essential cellular functions. Animals need iron to transport oxygen in their blood and to break down sugar and other nutrients for energy. Plants need iron to transfer electrons during photosynthesis and to make chlorophyll. Phytoplankton need it to “fix” nitrogen into a usable form.

    2
    Ancient layers of iron oxides, typically magnetite or hematite, separated by chert (a type of quartz), form sedimentary rocks called banded iron formations. (One shown here from Fortescue Falls in Western Australia.) It’s thought that iron, once abundant in the oceans, began to form such deposits on the ocean floor between 2.5 billion and 1.9 billion years ago, as oxygen levels rose. (Graeme Churchard via Wikipedia Commons under CC BY 2.0)

    Despite being the fourth most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, iron is vanishingly scarce in the modern ocean. It started disappearing from the seas more than 2.4 billion years ago, when cyanobacteria evolved and started to breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen. When this happened, dissolved iron rapidly linked up with the newly plentiful oxygen atoms, forming iron oxides such as hematite, a common mineral that contains a form of the element known as iron(III). Most phytoplankton and other living organisms can’t use iron in this state. They require a different form, iron(II), which more readily dissolves and is absorbed by cells.

    Hematite has another downside: It sinks. Over billions of years, layer upon layer fell to the sea floor, forming iron ore deposits hundreds to thousands of feet deep. Meanwhile, iron in the waters above diminished to barely detectable levels—an average liter of seawater contains roughly 35 grams of salt, but only on the order of a billionth of a gram of iron. In roughly a third of the ocean, iron is so rare that its absence can hinder the growth of diatoms and other phytoplankton. The Southern Ocean, where Martin developed his hypothesis, is one of the most “iron-limited” oceans in the world. Even with an abundance of other crucial nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, it’s the availability of iron that matters for diatoms and other organisms.

    Unless, of course, a gust of wind delivers a plume of iron particles. Standing in the freshly excavated gravel pit in Patagonia, Kaplan was directly upwind of the Southern Ocean—close to where Martin proposed that ice age dust had helped to fertilize the ocean some 20,000 years ago. It was the perfect place to test whether those iron-rich glacial sediments would have made a good fertilizer for diatoms. Researchers already knew that there was more dust-borne iron during the last ice age, much of it freed by melting glaciers. But no one had yet rigorously tested whether the iron was in the form that diatoms can absorb, Kaplan says.

    Kaplan scraped up the dark gray silt and brought it back to Columbia, where he handed it off to then-graduate student Elizabeth Shoenfelt Troein, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Shoenfelt Troein flew out to the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource in Menlo Park, California. There, along with her adviser Benjamin Bostick and fellow graduate student Jing Sun, she spent many long nights zapping the sediment with high-powered X-rays to reveal its mineral composition.

    Kaplan scraped up the dark gray silt and brought it back to Columbia, where he handed it off to then-graduate student Elizabeth Shoenfelt Troein, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Shoenfelt Troein flew out to the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource in Menlo Park, California. There, along with her adviser Benjamin Bostick and fellow graduate student Jing Sun, she spent many long nights zapping the sediment with high-powered X-rays to reveal its mineral composition.

    Only certain types of minerals yield dust that is rich in soluble forms of iron, including iron(II), the kind that diatoms can easily digest, as Grassian and colleagues described in 2008 in the Annual Review of Physical Chemistry. Clay minerals containing iron, for example, yield iron(II) more easily than hematite, as they’ve found in experiments on dust from around the world, including Africa’s Sahara Desert, Chinese loess and Saudi Arabian beach sand. Winds blowing off the Sahara are one of the most important sources of iron dust in the ocean, supplying more than 70 percent of dissolved iron to the Atlantic, another group has found. But there are several other paths by which iron(II) makes its way to the oceans, including rivers, hydrothermal vents, volcanoes and glacial outwash plains like the one where Kaplan found his sample in Patagonia.

    Iron is among the most common elements on Earth, but is rarely found in its pure metallic form (Fe). Instead, it readily reacts with oxygen to form various iron oxides, and with other elements to form a wide array of minerals. Hematite is the main source of iron used to make steel but living organisms can more readily use iron in the +2 oxidation state. Adding water to an iron oxide can create rust in what’s termed a hydrated iron oxide. (A. Murugan / New Castle University 2011)

    The glacial sediment contained far more iron(II) than samples deposited during non-glacial periods from the same region, Shoenfelt Troein found. When glaciers grind down bedrock, the resulting freshly ground sediments tend to contain more iron(II) than sediments produced from weathering by wind and water, which are richer in iron(III), Winckler says. Back at Columbia, Shoenfelt Troein fed the iron(II)–rich, glacial sediment to a common species of diatom, Phaeodactylum tricornutum, and the diatoms reproduced 2.5 times as fast as they did on weathered sediment, the team reported in Science Advances in 2017. This would translate into a roughly fivefold increase in carbon uptake compared with the non-glacial sediment, the team calculated.

    When the team looked at marine sediment cores from several glacial and interglacial periods spanning 140,000 years, Winckler, Shoenfelt Troein and colleagues found that dust from the glacial periods contained 15 to 20 times more iron(II) than did dust from the current interglacial period. That suggests that the potency of glacial sediment led to a self-reinforcing cycle, in which higher rates of iron fertilization in the oceans reduced carbon in the air, leading to colder temperatures, which in turn, grew glaciers, the team reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2018. It also suggests that not all iron is equal when it comes to fertilization, and that freshly mined, fine-ground iron might be more effective than other forms, Winckler says.

    In most of the geoengineering experiments in the 1990s and early 2000s, scientists mixed a powdered form of iron called ferrous sulfate with acidic water and fed the liquid off the back of a ship, says David Emerson, a geomicrobiologist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine. The fate of ferrous sulfate once it enters the oceans is not fully known, he says, but it’s reasonable to assume that some of it oxidizes to the diatom-disdained iron(III) and sinks, even if some persists in the upper water column for days. Emerson recently proposed using aircraft to distribute a fine iron dust produced by iron-eating bacteria, called biogenic oxide. This form is composed of iron nanoparticles bound to organic compounds, and would likely stay suspended longer than ferrous sulfate in the sunlit surface waters where diatoms grow, he says.

    4
    Not all iron is equal when it comes to fertilizing diatoms. When scientists fed this common diatom species, Phaeodactylum tricornutum, a glacier-made sediment rich in soluble iron(II), the phytoplankton reproduced 2.5 times as fast as they did when fertilized with sediment that contained a less soluble form of iron. The higher growth rate would translate into a roughly fivefold increase in carbon uptake, the team calculated. (Alessandra De Martino, Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris / NSF)

    Getting iron to linger in surface waters won’t necessarily ensure that the carbon absorbed by diatoms actually reaches the deep sea, however. Roughly 90 percent of the organic carbon that diatoms create during photosynthesis is released back into the ocean in dissolved form as the algae dies, rots and is consumed by bacteria, zooplankton and fish, Buesseler says. Just 10 percent of the carbon produced by the ocean’s creatures migrates to the depths where it may remain for hundreds to thousands of years—the length of time relevant for climate mitigation. A mere 1 percent gets permanently buried on the seafloor. Critically, no iron fertilization experiment has yet lasted long enough to track how much of the carbon that diatoms do capture actually gets sequestered to the deep ocean, he says.

    Location also plays a vital role in whether iron fertilization is effective, Winckler says. Based on marine sediment cores, Winckler and her colleagues have reconstructed a 500,000-year record of iron dust levels throughout the Pacific to see if—and where—notable spikes of iron fertilization occurred in the past. The team knows how much the dust level has changed, and in parallel measures the biological responses to the dust to determine if the phytoplankton “actually cares about the change,” she says. She concludes that the iron hypothesis appears to apply only to some parts of the Southern Ocean—and not other low-iron regions the such as equatorial Pacific, where past iron fertilization experiments have boosted phytoplankton growth but failed to show the degree of carbon capture scientists had expected.

    There are many complex factors involved in determining where iron fertilization might work, including upwelling currents that deliver iron from deeper waters and the availability of other vital nutrients. Yet “people often just look at one piece of this puzzle, and then make big conclusions,” Winckler says.

    6
    Before the GEOTRACES effort to map the global sources of iron, the metal’s path was somewhat unclear. In a 2019 paper, scientists used data from GEOTRACES to “fingerprint” the origins of soluble iron in particles of dust that fall on the ocean. Human activities such as burning coal or gasoline contributed as much as 80 percent of the soluble iron that landed on the sea surface throughout the world’s oceans—far more than a previous model (shown on the left) had suggested. Mineral dust swept from dry regions like the Sahara made up a smaller portion of the ocean’s iron. (T.M. Conway et al / Nature Communications 2019 under CC BY 4.0)

    Grassian studies yet another factor that can influence iron fertilization in unexpected ways: the chemical reactions that transform particles containing iron as they fly through the sky, exposed to air, water and sunlight. At her lab in San Diego, she simulates the effects of water vapor and airborne pollutants on iron particles. She and her colleagues have discovered that chemicals like sulfur dioxide and nitric acid make iron more soluble—and thus easier for diatoms to absorb—by coating them in acid.

    Iron particles produced by manmade pollution are also potent fertilizers, she and others have found. Iron flecks in coal fly ash, for example, are amorphous globs that dissolve more easily than the crystals found in mineral dust. The result is that even if you have less overall iron in coal fly ash, its impact on algae could be just as important as that of mineral dust, Grassian says.

    Iron can rapidly alter its molecular composition or state as it moves from the Earth’s crust to the ocean, and such changes determine whether iron is in a chemical form that diatoms and other photosynthetic algae can use—and thus, how much carbon they capture. Yet, for decades, climate and atmospheric chemistry models have overlooked iron’s complexity, which includes the many forms of iron present in dust as well as how dust is altered by aging and chemical exposures. “As physical chemists, we’re trying to understand the details … to get away from thinking about things in a too-simplistic fashion,” Grassian says.

    Other researchers are studying what happens when dust-borne iron dissolves into the ocean. When water molecules come up against the abrupt transition to air, many can no longer find partners for all their hydrogen bonds. As a result, one of every four water molecules has something akin to a grasping limb—a single hydroxyl (OH) group—pointing up into the air with nothing to bind to, creating an uneven chemical landscape. That variability can affect how iron transforms into one of its myriad chemical identities, and then how organisms such as diatoms interact with the metal, says Heather Allen, a physical chemist at Ohio State University.

    Sometimes iron doesn’t interact only with the water, but also encounters a millimeter-thick gel of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids known as the sea surface microlayer, or the ocean’s “skin.” This layer can concentrate trace metals such as iron, particularly when oily pollutants common along shipping routes, such as hydraulic fluids, are present, says Allen.

    Iron is so scarce in the ocean that even a bit of rust flaking off a ship’s hull can throw measurements off by a factor of 10. The instruments used to detect iron are sensitive: “If a whale poops, there goes your whole experiment,” Buck says. Through a project called GEOTRACES, Buck and an international consortium of other scientists have examined more than 20,000 measurements to map where iron comes from in the ocean, where it goes and how it changes. To avoid contamination, scientists process seawater samples in plastic-enclosed bubble labs that appear more suited to studying deadly microbes than one of Earth’s most abundant elements.

    They’ve found that most naturally produced iron dust blows off the Sahara and other deserts, but large amounts are also released in plumes of hot dissolved minerals from hydrothermal vents. Volcanoes, which can spew thousands of kilograms of iron into the atmosphere in a single eruption, are another important source. Although the evidence is circumstantial, iron fertilization from volcanic ash may have contributed to the brief hiatus in carbon buildup in the atmosphere after the 1991 eruption of the Philippines’ Mt. Pinatubo, says Emerson. Unfortunately, there was no monitoring at the time to determine if this led to a large-scale iron fertilization event, he says.

    The ocean’s iron miners

    Given how quickly iron rusts and sinks, there should be very little dissolved iron in seawater, including the highly soluble iron(II). Yet GEOTRACES has detected more of it than scientists predicted. Buck and others believe that some of these scant traces of dissolved iron can be explained by an active effort made by living things to scavenge it. In addition, they point to the presence of organic molecules called ligands, which lock up iron in a soluble, diatom-friendly form. One common example of a ligand is found in siderophores, chemical compounds that bacteria secrete to break down iron particles.

    Some organisms actively mine iron from dust. On the northernmost end of the Red Sea, for example, marine biogeochemist Yeala Shaked of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is studying how a stringlike, reddish kind of phytoplankton called Trichodesmium takes advantage of iron-rich dust that blows in from the Sahara. This Trichodesmium species assembles into puffball-shaped colonies, each composed of tens to thousands of individual filaments. When this dust lands, the colonies shuttle the iron-rich mineral particles into the center of the colony and start extracting iron(II). A colony can transform a pool of iron(III) into iron(II) in 30 minutes, Shaked and her colleagues have found in lab experiments.

    Even small changes in the abundance and productivity of phytoplankton could have a significant impact on marine life and the rate of global warming, so organisms such as Trichodesmium are key to global climate models. An ambitious effort at MIT, for example, is attempting to incorporate many different phytoplankton species into their simulations.

    Despite iron’s assumed influence over climate, climate models still don’t currently include much detailed information about the element, says Andreas Schmittner, a climate scientist at Oregon State University. Although it’s now well-established that iron fertilization occurred in the ancient Southern Ocean, for example, there’s still lively debate over how much it affected past carbon dioxide levels. Some scientists have argued that iron fertilization wasn’t particularly important, and that most of the roughly 100 ppm drop in carbon dioxide during the last ice age can be explained by changes in ocean currents and sea ice.

    But in June 2019, Schmittner and colleagues published a different take in Science Advances, calculating that cooler temperatures and iron fertilization were responsible for most of the decrease, and ocean circulation and sea ice had “close to zero” impact, he says. Iron fertilization alone accounted for a 25 to 35 ppm decrease in atmospheric carbon during that period, “a larger effect than we expected,” he says.

    Once scientists have pieced together more about iron’s complex chemistry, they will still have to learn when to turn certain factors off and on in these climate models to accurately simulate reality, Grassian says. Better models will also depend on fine-tuning countless other factors that could affect how much carbon dioxide sequestration occurs in response to a phytoplankton bloom, including how layers of ocean water mix, and the presence of zooplankton, tiny marine organisms that graze on algae.

    Several iron fertilization experiments favored certain phytoplankton species over others, a consequence that could inadvertently reorganize marine food webs. Large algal blooms both natural and manmade have also been known to deplete oxygen in the water, creating dead zones. One risk is that iron fertilization could damage ecosystems downstream, by depriving them of nutrients that normally would have reached them, Buesseler says. “What happens when that water upwells somewhere else and [a] fishery collapses because … you’ve kind of stripped away all the juicy nutrients in one part of the ocean?”

    Meanwhile, the controversy over iron fertilization as a geoengineering approach rages on. As the vision of a climate-tweaking tool has waned, some companies have attempted to apply the idea to revitalize fisheries. In a highly controversial 2012 example, American businessman Russ George persuaded members of the Haida Nation to fund the dumping of roughly 100 tons of iron sulfate off the coast of Canada, fertilizing a 10,000-square-kilometer algae bloom. George sold the controversial project as a way to boost salmon populations and sequester carbon, but follow-up studies failed to find conclusive evidence that it worked.

    In 2013, the London Protocol, an international treaty that prevents ocean dumping, adopted amendments allowing researchers to apply for exceptions to the moratorium on iron fertilization experiments. Winckler does not advocate using iron fertilization as a geoengineering tool, but she is among those who think that more rigorous experiments are necessary to establish the approach’s efficacy and potential risks and benefits, even if people decide never to use it. “We are in a climate crisis, and we’ve got to think about these questions,” she says.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 5:21 am on December 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
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    From smithsonian.com: “Three Things to Know About Europe’s New Exoplanet Space Telescope” 

    smithsonian
    From smithsonian.com

    December 18, 2019
    Katherine J. Wu

    ESA/CHEOPS


    ESA/CHEOPS is the first exoplanet satellite devoted specifically to learning more about the thousands of planets we have already found.

    Home to all life as we know it, Earth certainly has a special place in our universe. But it’s probably not the only habitable planet in the cosmos—and scientists are dead set on finding and understanding as many as they can.

    Today, the European Space Agency (ESA) ratcheted up the search with the launch of its new telescope, the CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite (CHEOPS). Originally scheduled for liftoff from Kourou, French Guiana, on the morning of December 17, the probe’s departure was delayed at the last minute by officials citing a software error.

    But just before 4 a.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, December 18, CHEOPS finally took flight. Here’s what you need to know.

    CHEOPS is a focused study of known exoplanets

    Compared to exoplanet hunters like NASA’s TESS, and Kepler before it, a satellite currently scouring the skies for new bodies orbiting distant dwarf stars, CHEOPS’ mission is a little different. Rather than turning its lens to the unknown, this satellite plans to focus on some of the 4,000-plus exoplanets previous missions have already identified—and find out as much about them as it can.

    NASA/MIT TESS replaced Kepler in search for exoplanets

    NASA/Kepler Telescope, and K2 March 7, 2009 until November 15, 2018

    “Detecting exoplanets is now the norm,” Matt Griffin, an astronomer at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, tells Jonathan O’Callaghan at Nature News. “But we need to move into a new era in which we start to characterize and measure their detailed properties.”

    To accomplish this, CHEOPS will observe nearby stars already known to host their own planets that fall between Earth and Neptune, the most mid-sized planets in our solar system, in diameter. Because these planets can’t be seen up close, the satellite will measure them indirectly, waiting for blips in the brightness of their stars—an indication that a planet has passed in front of them.

    One of the most important important measurements CHEOPS will home in on is the size of various exoplanets that astronomers have already made mass estimates for. Those two numbers combined give scientists enough information to calculate density, a critical metric that can hint at a planet’s composition. Researchers are expecting some targets to be rocky like Earth, while others might be gassy like Neptune, or perhaps rich in subsurface water.

    2
    The CHEOPS telescope being assembled and tested in the clean room at the University of Bern ( T. Beck / University of Bern)

    An unusual orbit for an unusual mission

    Launched on a Soyuz-Fregat rocket, CHEOPS will settle into orbit about 500 miles above Earth’s surface, circling the planet’s poles from north to south. To ensure maximal access to prime image-snapping conditions—that is, dark skies—the satellite will always keep its main instrument pointed toward the side of Earth experiencing night, or away from the sun.

    The $55-million spacecraft isn’t a big one, measuring just five feet on each side, a fraction of the size of the Hubble Space Telescope. But its plan is ambitious: From April 2020, onward, CHEOPS will study between 300 and 500 worlds in just three and a half years.

    CHEOPS sets the stage for future missions

    CHEOPS’ mission might sound cut and dry, but the measurements it takes could help scientists answer some lingering questions about the origin and evolution of planets around the galaxy. Knowing what lies at the heart of other small, rocky planets, for instance, could clue researchers in to the crucial ingredients that help them come together, explains Kate Isaak, a CHEOPS project scientist at the European Space Research and Technology Centre in the Netherlands, in an interview with O’Callaghan.

    The list of hundreds of planets CHEOPS turns its eye on will also be whittled down by the satellite’s observations, identifying the most promising candidates for future study.

    Though CHEOPS is the first “follow-up” space surveyor of exoplanets, it won’t be the last. The highly-anticipated James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in the early 2020s, will be one of several crafts joining the search.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    The ESA will also deploy the PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) and Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) missions in the late 2020s to further investigate new worlds, according to a statement.

    ESA PLATO spacecraft depiction

    UK-led ESA mission ARIEL -Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey

    Together, the three probes will collect data on planets that exhibit potential glimmers of habitability—ones that orbit their stars at a distance conducive to the existence of liquid water, for instance, or harbor atmospheres that resemble our own.

    “We are very much looking forward … to [following] up on some of the known exoplanets in more detail,” Isaak said in a statement in July. The launch, she said, is just “the beginning of our scientific adventure.”

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 11:58 am on November 6, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Scientists Around the World Declare ‘Climate Emergency’", , , , More than 11000 signatories to a new research paper argue that we need new ways to measure the impacts of a changing climate on human society., Severe threat to humanity, Smithsonian.com, The new paper in "Bioscience"looks at 40 years of climate data.   

    From smithsonian.com: “Scientists Around the World Declare ‘Climate Emergency’” 

    smithsonian
    From smithsonian.com

    November 5, 2019
    Avery Thompson

    More than 11,000 signatories to a new research paper argue that we need new ways to measure the impacts of a changing climate on human society.

    1
    An image of the Camp Fire in Northern California on November 8, 2018, from the Landsat 8 satellite. (USGS / NASA / Joshua Stevens)

    NASA/Landsat 8

    The world’s scientists are increasingly worried about our civilization’s reluctance to tackle climate change, so in a paper released today, thousands of them are raising the alarm.

    In a report published in the journal BioScience, over 11,000 of the world’s leading climate scientists have added their names to a declaration calling the planet’s current warming trends a “climate emergency.” Titled “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency,” the paper takes an urgent tone, detailing a dire situation that will require extreme responses to avert disaster.

    “As a scientist, I feel that I must speak out about climate change, since it is such a severe threat to humanity,” says Bill Ripple, an ecologist at Oregon State University and lead author of the new report. In addition to a warning about the future, Ripple, his co-authors and the 11,258 other people who attached their names to the paper suggest a set of tools to make sense of our changing world.

    2
    Flooding level shown against a speed limit sign in Finchfield, IA. (Don Becker, USGS)

    The paper, which looks at 40 years of climate data, argues that scientists as well as world leaders should start moving away from using a single number to track the progress of climate change: global average surface temperature. When the world’s leaders signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, that’s the number they used.

    According to the Paris Agreement, if the global average surface temperature rises more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, we’ll start seeing more extreme weather events and around two feet of sea level rise. If it rises more than 2 degrees, we’ll experience significant melting of the polar ice caps, widespread desertification and severe coastal flooding. If we do nothing at all about climate change, we could see 4 degrees or more of warming, which could trigger a so-called “hothouse Earth” [PNAS] scenario where runaway climate effects bring us past a point of no return, resulting in a world barely habitable for humans with major population losses around the globe.

    But, Ripple argues, global average surface temperature is too simple to capture the nuances of climate change. It ignores other pieces of crucial information, and it doesn’t address all the various ways our planet is transforming.

    “For the average policy maker or the public, 1.5 degrees centigrade does not sound like a catastrophe,” he says. “It seems like, ‘O.K., that would be a little warmer, but not too bad.’”

    But a global average increase of just a degree and a half would have nuanced and cascading effects. To address this variation, the researchers developed a suite of different metrics, including the amount of heat stored in the oceans, the masses of the polar ice caps, the economic losses sustained from extreme weather events, and the area of land covered by wildfires in the United States.

    3
    According to the graphs Ripple and his colleagues have put together, despite decades of work fighting climate change, human impact is only getting worse. Fossil fuel use is still increasing. CO2 emissions are barely slowing down. The world’s forests are shrinking as quickly as ever. (William J. Ripple et al. / BioScience)

    “The effects of climate change are much broader than just surface temperature,” Ripple says. By incorporating these additional metrics in the conversation, researchers hope to highlight the wide array of climate change’s affects and make them clearer to the public.

    “By setting our goals with a single set of measures, we were making the climate problem more abstract,” says David Victor, a climate researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego. “It was hard to see the progress people were making with that indicator.”

    In 2015, Victor authored a paper [Nature Climate Change] arguing that the climate debate needed more diverse metrics. Four years later, along with a large body of additional research, this new paper outlines a different way of looking at climate change. Surface temperatures are just one indicator out of many, but regardless of what you focus on, the picture looks increasingly grim.

    Over the last decade, for example, the cost of hurricanes, fires, floods, droughts and other such disasters has nearly doubled. The world is projected to spend around $200 billion on climate-related disaster relief next year. That cost is only going to go up as the Earth gets warmer.

    4
    Climate change has many wide-reaching impacts beyond a rising thermometer. Effects include hotter and more acidic oceans, melting ice caps, rising sea levels and more extreme weather. (William J. Ripple et al. / BioScience)

    The research team also developed a second set of metrics to track humanity’s impact on worldwide climate. “We think that to be holistic in the conversation, and for considering transformative change by society, we should track how we’re behaving as humans,” Ripple says.

    Dozens of measurements are included, including acreage of deforestation, world GDP, rate of population growth, and even how many cows there are around the world. Collectively, they paint a picture of a society either unaware of the damage it’s doing or unwilling to change. Still, the information is going to come in handy as scientists and leaders seek out solutions.

    “You want to understand not just the impact, but also what are the levers you can pull in order to reduce that impact,” Victor says.

    The research lists six steps to avoid the worst of an oncoming climate disaster. These steps fall into broad categories, such as energy, short-lived pollutants, nature conservation, food, economy and population. They range from well-known solutions like transitioning away from fossil fuels and countering deforestation to more uncomfortable tactics like slowing population growth and eating less meat.

    “We’re suggesting a major transformative change in the way that society functions that would promise a greater future well-being for humans,” Ripple says. “I have hope that we will do what it takes to sustain life on planet Earth.”

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Smithsonian magazine and Smithsonian.com place a Smithsonian lens on the world, looking at the topics and subject matters researched, studied and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution — science, history, art, popular culture and innovation — and chronicling them every day for our diverse readership.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:02 pm on November 2, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know GPS Could Do", 1. Feel an earthquake, 2. Monitor a volcano, 3. Probe the snow, 4. Sense a sinking, 5. Analyze the atmosphere, Smithsonian.com   

    From smithsonian.com: “Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know GPS Could Do” 

    smithsonian
    From smithsonian.com

    November 1, 2019
    Alexandra Witze

    Scientists use the navigation system to measure and monitor many aspects of our planet.

    1
    This high-precision GPS station is in the Ford Range of Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica. It is part of the Polar Earth Observing Network (POLENET), which collects GPS and seismic measurements to understand ice sheet behavior. It’s one example of the varied data that scientists are gleaning from GPS instruments. (Nicolas Bayou/UNAVCO)

    You might think you’re an expert at navigating through city traffic, smartphone at your side. You might even hike with a GPS device to find your way through the backcountry. But you’d probably still be surprised at all the things that GPS — the global positioning system that underlies all of modern navigation — can do.

    GPS consists of a constellation of satellites that send signals to Earth’s surface. A basic GPS receiver, like the one in your smartphone, determines where you are — to within about 1 to 10 meters — by measuring the arrival time of signals from four or more satellites. With fancier (and more expensive) GPS receivers, scientists can pinpoint their locations down to centimeters or even millimeters. Using that fine-grained information, along with new ways to analyze the signals, researchers are discovering that GPS can tell them far more about the planet [Annual Reviews] than they originally thought it could.

    Over the last decade, faster and more accurate GPS devices have allowed scientists to illuminate how the ground moves during big earthquakes. GPS has led to better warning systems for natural disasters such as flash floods and volcanic eruptions. And researchers have even MacGyvered some GPS receivers into acting as snow sensors, tide gauges and other unexpected tools for measuring Earth.

    “People thought I was crazy when I started talking about these applications,” says Kristine Larson, a geophysicist at the University of Colorado Boulder who has led many of the discoveries and wrote about them in the 2019 Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “Well, it turned out we were able to do it.”

    Here are some surprising things scientists have only recently realized they could do with GPS.

    1. Feel an earthquake

    For centuries geoscientists have relied on seismometers, which measure how much the ground is shaking, to assess how big and how bad an earthquake is. GPS receivers served a different purpose — to track geologic processes that happen on much slower scales, such as the rate at which Earth’s great crustal plates grind past one another in the process known as plate tectonics. So GPS might tell scientists the speed at which the opposite sides of the San Andreas Fault are creeping past each other, while seismometers measure the ground shaking when that California fault ruptures in a quake.

    Most researchers thought that GPS simply couldn’t measure locations precisely enough, and quickly enough, to be useful in assessing earthquakes. But it turns out that scientists can squeeze extra information out of the signals that GPS satellites transmit to Earth.

    Those signals arrive in two components. One is the unique series of ones and zeros, known as the code, that each GPS satellite transmits. The second is a shorter-wavelength “carrier” signal that transmits the code from the satellite. Because the carrier signal has a shorter wavelength — a mere 20 centimeters — compared with the longer wavelength of the code, which can be tens or hundreds of meters, the carrier signal offers a high-resolution way to pinpoint a spot on Earth’s surface. Scientists, surveyors, the military and others often need a very precise GPS location, and all it takes is a more complicated GPS receiver.

    2

    Engineers have also improved the rate at which GPS receivers update their location, meaning they can refresh themselves as often as 20 times a second or more. Once researchers realized they could take precise measurements so quickly, they started using GPS to examine how the ground moved during an earthquake.

    In 2003, in one of the first studies of its kind, Larson and her colleagues used GPS receivers studded across the western United States to study how the ground shifted [Science] as seismic waves rippled from a magnitude 7.9 earthquake in Alaska. By 2011, researchers were able to take GPS data on the magnitude 9.1 earthquake that devastated Japan and show that the seafloor had shifted a staggering 60 meters during the quake [Geophysical Research Letters].

    Today, scientists are looking more broadly at how GPS data can help them quickly assess earthquakes. Diego Melgar of the University of Oregon in Eugene and Gavin Hayes of the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado, retrospectively studied 12 large earthquakes to see if they could tell, within seconds of the quake beginning [Science Advances], just how large it would get. By including information from GPS stations near the quakes’ epicenters, the scientists could determine within 10 seconds whether the quake would be a damaging magnitude 7 or a completely destructive magnitude 9.

    Researchers along the U.S. West Coast have even been incorporating GPS into their fledgling earthquake early warning system, which detects ground shaking and notifies people in distant cities whether shaking is likely to hit them soon. And Chile has been building out its GPS network [Seisomological Research Letters] in order to have more accurate information more quickly, which can help calculate whether a quake near the coast is likely to generate a tsunami or not.

    2. Monitor a volcano

    Beyond earthquakes, the speed of GPS is helping officials respond more quickly to other natural disasters as they unfold.

    Many volcano observatories, for example, have GPS receivers arrayed around the mountains they monitor, because when magma begins shifting underground that often causes the surface to shift as well. By monitoring how GPS stations around a volcano rise or sink over time, researchers can get a better idea about where molten rock is flowing.

    Before last year’s big eruption of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, researchers used GPS to understand which parts of the volcano were shifting most rapidly [Science]. Officials used that information to help decide which areas to evacuate residents from.

    4
    A GPS station sits on the shores of Kachemak Bay, Alaska (top). Data from this receiver track nicely with data from a nearby National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tide gauge (bottom), demonstrating how GPS signals can be used to monitor changing water levels.

    GPS data can also be useful even after a volcano has erupted. Because the signals travel from satellites to the ground, they have to pass through whatever material the volcano is ejecting into the air. In 2013, several research groups studied GPS data from an eruption of the Redoubt volcano in Alaska four years earlier and found that the signals became distorted soon after the eruption began.

    By studying the distortions, the scientists could estimate how much ash had spewed out and how fast it was traveling. In an ensuing paper, Larson called it “a new way to detect volcanic plumes [Geophysical Research Letters].”

    She and her colleagues have been working on ways to do this [AMS100] with smartphone-variety GPS receivers rather than expensive scientific receivers. That could enable volcanologists to set up a relatively inexpensive GPS network and monitor ash plumes as they rise. Volcanic plumes are a big problem for airplanes, which have to fly around the ash rather than risk the particles’ clogging up their jet engines.

    3. Probe the snow

    Some of the most unexpected uses of GPS come from the messiest parts of its signal — the parts that bounce off the ground.

    A typical GPS receiver, like the one in your smartphone, mostly picks up signals that are coming directly from GPS satellites overhead. But it also picks up signals that have bounced on the ground you’re walking on and reflected up to your smartphone.

    For many years scientists had thought these reflected signals were nothing but noise, a sort of echo that muddied the data and made it hard to figure out what was going on. But about 15 years ago Larson and others began wondering if they could take advantage of the echoes in scientific GPS receivers. She started looking at the frequencies of the signals that reflected off the ground and how those combined with the signals that had arrived directly at the receiver. From that she could deduce qualities of the surface that the echoes had bounced off. “We just reverse-engineered those echoes,” says Larson.

    5
    A growing number of researchers are using reflected GPS signals as remote sensing tools to study, for example, Earth’s water cycle. A signal reflecting off bare soil (top right) has specific qualities, some of which differ if the signal is bouncing off a snow layer, vegetation or wet soil.

    This approach allows scientists to learn about the ground beneath the GPS receiver — for instance how much moisture the soil contains or how much snow has accumulated on the surface. (The more snow falls on the ground, the shorter the distance between the echo and the receiver.) GPS stations can work as snow sensors to measure snow depth, such as in mountain areas where snowpack is a major water resource each year.

    The technique also works well in the Arctic and Antarctica, where there are few weather stations monitoring snowfall year-round. Matt Siegfried, now at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, and his colleagues studied snow accumulation at 23 GPS stations in West Antarctica [Geophysical Research Letters] from 2007 to 2017. They found they could directly measure the changing snow. That’s crucial information for researchers looking to assess how much snow the Antarctic ice sheet builds up each winter — and how that compares with what melts away each summer.

    4. Sense a sinking

    GPS may have started off as a way to measure location on solid ground, but it turns out to be also useful in monitoring changes in water levels.

    In July, John Galetzka, an engineer at the UNAVCO geophysics research organization in Boulder, Colorado, found himself installing GPS stations in Bangladesh, at the junction of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. The goal was to measure whether the river sediments are compacting and the land is slowly sinking — making it more vulnerable to flooding during tropical cyclones and sea level rise. “GPS is an amazing tool to help answer this question and more,” Galetzka says.

    In a farming community called Sonatala, on the edge of a mangrove forest, Galetzka and his colleagues placed one GPS station on the concrete roof of a primary school. They set up a second station nearby, atop a rod hammered into a rice paddy. If the ground really is sinking, then the second GPS station will look as if it is slowly emerging from the ground. And by measuring the GPS echoes beneath the stations, the scientists can measure factors such as how much water is standing in the rice paddy during the rainy season.

    GPS receivers can even help oceanographers and mariners, by acting as tide gauges. Larson stumbled onto this while working with GPS data from Kachemak Bay, Alaska [1200IEEE GEOSCIENCE AND REMOTE SENSING LETTERS, VOL. 10, NO. 5, SEPTEMBER2013]. The station was established to study tectonic deformation, but Larson was curious because the bay also has some of the biggest tidal variations in the United States. She looked at the GPS signals that were bouncing off the water and up to the receiver, and was able to track tidal changes almost as accurately as a real tide gauge in a nearby harbor.

    This could be helpful in parts of the world that don’t have long-term tide gauges set up — but do happen to have a GPS station nearby.

    6
    Villagers from Sonatala, a farming community in Bangladesh, dig a trench for a GPS antenna cable. The installed GPS stations will help monitor the water table in the region, which is vulnerable to flooding. (John Galetzka/UNAVCO)

    5. Analyze the atmosphere

    Finally, GPS can tease out information about the sky overhead, in ways that scientists hadn’t thought possible until just a few years ago. Water vapor, electrically charged particles, and other factors can delay GPS signals traveling through the atmosphere, and that allows researchers to make new discoveries.

    One group of scientists uses GPS to study the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere that is available to precipitate out as rain or snow. Researchers have used these changes to calculate how much water is likely to fall from the sky in drenching downpours, allowing forecasters to fine-tune their predictions of flash floods [AMS100] in places like Southern California. During a July 2013 storm, meteorologists used GPS data to track monsoonal moisture moving onshore there, which turned out to be crucial information for issuing a warning 17 minutes before flash floods hit.

    GPS signals are also affected when they travel through the electrically charged part of the upper atmosphere, known as the ionosphere. Scientists have used GPS data to track changes in the ionosphere [JGR Space Physics]as tsunamis race across the ocean below. (The force of the tsunami produces changes in the atmosphere that ripple all the way up to the ionosphere.) This technique could one day complement the traditional method of tsunami warning, which uses buoys dotted across the ocean to measure the height of the traveling wave.

    And scientists have even been able to study the effects of a total solar eclipse using GPS. In August 2017, they used GPS stations across the United States to measure how the number of electrons in the upper atmosphere dropped [Geophysical Journal International] as the moon’s shadow moved across the continent, dimming the light that otherwise created electrons.

    So GPS is useful for everything from ground shaking beneath your feet to snow falling from the sky. Not bad for something that was just supposed to help you find your way across town.

    See the full article here .

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Smithsonian magazine and Smithsonian.com place a Smithsonian lens on the world, looking at the topics and subject matters researched, studied and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution — science, history, art, popular culture and innovation — and chronicling them every day for our diverse readership.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:39 am on October 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Designing Floating Buildings With an Eye to the Marine Species Living Underneath", , Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab, , Smithsonian.com, Would it be possible to design floating buildings that provide habitat for humans while protecting — and perhaps even enhancing — marine ecosystems?   

    From smithsonian.com: “Designing Floating Buildings With an Eye to the Marine Species Living Underneath” 

    smithsonian
    From smithsonian.com

    October 7, 2019
    Lindsey J. Smith

    A prototype deployed in San Francisco Bay imagines the underside of a floating building as an upside-down artificial reef.

    1
    The Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab will be offshore of Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland for three years, in an effort to test its viability as a substrate for futuristic floating cities. (JD Beltran)

    On an August day that is brutally hot by San Francisco’s foggy standards, Margaret Ikeda and Evan Jones, architecture faculty at the California College of the Arts (CCA), are on one of the campus’ back lots to present a vision of the future — though at first glance, the object they’re showing off doesn’t look like much. It’s white, roughly heart-shaped, and about the size of a sedan.

    As a prototype for what the underside of a floating building — or possibly a whole floating community — might look like, however, it represents years of imagination, research, design, and testing. It also represents the hopeful vision of Ikeda, Jones, and their CCA colleague Adam Marcus, who together developed the concept with an eye toward a future of flooding amid steadily rising seas — particularly for the 10 percent of the world’s population that lives in low-lying coastal areas.

    Officially, it’s called the Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab, and just a few weeks later, after a lengthy design and permitting process, the team moved the prototype to its new home in San Francisco Bay’s chilly waters. The goal is to have it remain there, a few hundred feet offshore of Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland, for three years, by which time the team hopes to have proven its viability as a potential substrate for the futuristic — and some critics of floating city models say misguided — effort to move at least some communities displaced by climate change out onto the water.

    They also suggest that linking together floating structures like their prototype could help to make marine ecosystems healthier. It could also protect coastlines from further erosion in the near term, which will be crucial to places like the San Francisco Bay Area where large tracts of densely-populated land are expected to start sinking into the sea in the coming decades.

    Whether or not they’re right, of course, remains to be seen, but Ikeda, Jones, and Marcus are eager to test their concept. “We want to show how floating artificial structures can coexist with living ecosystems,” says Marcus.

    And although they acknowledge the path from their current prototype to the design and construction of habitable buildings on the water may be long, they also say that if humanity isn’t going to stop burning fossil fuels and heating up the planet, the time to start preparing workable adaptations that benefit both people and the natural environment is now.

    The Float Lab grew out of a series of design studios taught by Ikeda, Jones, and Marcus. In them, students explored a question that is at once straightforward and visionary: In anticipation of rising seas eating away at the land, would it be possible to design floating buildings that provide habitat for humans while protecting — and perhaps even enhancing — marine ecosystems?

    Climate change, after all, is already affecting all of the world’s oceans, which absorb up to 95 percent of the excess heat that human industry is causing. The result: habitat loss for marine species, ocean acidification, widespread coral bleaching, and even changes in ocean currents. And as the team learned from early conversations with scientists, giant floating cities — like anything that floats, from boats to docks to barges — would be likely to attract barnacles and other invertebrates. Known as “fouling communities,” they’re often homogenous and seen as nuisances that can push out native species over time. Indeed, there’s evidence [Ecological Society of America]to suggest that as oceans warm, invasive species will begin to dominate these fouling communities.

    2
    Design plans for the Float Lab, a prototype for a potential future of floating structures. (Adam Marcus)

    Designing Floating Buildings With an Eye to the Marine Species Living Underneath
    A prototype deployed in San Francisco Bay imagines the underside of a floating building as an upside-down artificial reef
    floatlab2.jpg
    The Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab will be offshore of Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland for three years, in an effort to test its viability as a substrate for futuristic floating cities. (JD Beltran)
    By Lindsey J. Smith, Undark Magazine
    smithsonian.com
    October 7, 2019 10:46AM

    On an August day that is brutally hot by San Francisco’s foggy standards, Margaret Ikeda and Evan Jones, architecture faculty at the California College of the Arts (CCA), are on one of the campus’ back lots to present a vision of the future — though at first glance, the object they’re showing off doesn’t look like much. It’s white, roughly heart-shaped, and about the size of a sedan.

    As a prototype for what the underside of a floating building — or possibly a whole floating community — might look like, however, it represents years of imagination, research, design, and testing. It also represents the hopeful vision of Ikeda, Jones, and their CCA colleague Adam Marcus, who together developed the concept with an eye toward a future of flooding amid steadily rising seas — particularly for the 10 percent of the world’s population that lives in low-lying coastal areas.

    Officially, it’s called the Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab, and just a few weeks later, after a lengthy design and permitting process, the team moved the prototype to its new home in San Francisco Bay’s chilly waters. The goal is to have it remain there, a few hundred feet offshore of Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland, for three years, by which time the team hopes to have proven its viability as a potential substrate for the futuristic — and some critics of floating city models say misguided — effort to move at least some communities displaced by climate change out onto the water.

    They also suggest that linking together floating structures like their prototype could help to make marine ecosystems healthier. It could also protect coastlines from further erosion in the near term, which will be crucial to places like the San Francisco Bay Area where large tracts of densely-populated land are expected to start sinking into the sea in the coming decades.

    Whether or not they’re right, of course, remains to be seen, but Ikeda, Jones, and Marcus are eager to test their concept. “We want to show how floating artificial structures can coexist with living ecosystems,” says Marcus.

    And although they acknowledge the path from their current prototype to the design and construction of habitable buildings on the water may be long, they also say that if humanity isn’t going to stop burning fossil fuels and heating up the planet, the time to start preparing workable adaptations that benefit both people and the natural environment is now.

    ***

    The Float Lab grew out of a series of design studios taught by Ikeda, Jones, and Marcus. In them, students explored a question that is at once straightforward and visionary: In anticipation of rising seas eating away at the land, would it be possible to design floating buildings that provide habitat for humans while protecting — and perhaps even enhancing — marine ecosystems?

    Climate change, after all, is already affecting all of the world’s oceans, which absorb up to 95 percent of the excess heat that human industry is causing. The result: habitat loss for marine species, ocean acidification, widespread coral bleaching, and even changes in ocean currents. And as the team learned from early conversations with scientists, giant floating cities — like anything that floats, from boats to docks to barges — would be likely to attract barnacles and other invertebrates. Known as “fouling communities,” they’re often homogenous and seen as nuisances that can push out native species over time. Indeed, there’s evidence to suggest that as oceans warm, invasive species will begin to dominate these fouling communities.
    Float-Lab-diagram.png
    Design plans for the Float Lab, a prototype for a potential future of floating structures. (Adam Marcus)

    After studying the problem, however, the team hypothesized that if an underwater surface had more peaks and valleys, it might act like an upside-down coral reef, both expanding the habitat and encouraging a greater diversity of species to settle.

    Between 2014 and 2018, students in CCA’s Architectural Ecologies Lab worked with scientists from the Benthic Lab at the California State University System’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratories to design various prototypes, which were made at scale from fiberglass at Kreysler & Associates, a Bay Area composite fabrication company. Tests of these prototypes in Monterey Bay and San Francisco Bay showed that, indeed, a greater variety of species settled on the ones with more surface variation.

    The design worked because “the peaks and valleys [are] going to create water dynamics that will enhance fouling communities,” said Brian Tissot, a professor and researcher at Humboldt State University who studies benthic ecology — the animals, plants, and microbes that live at the bottom of a body of water — and is not associated with the project. The greater variety of seaweeds, barnacles, and other filter feeders will, in turn, attract larger creatures, like crabs and fish, creating a vibrant ecosystem.

    These early prototypes informed the design of the Float Lab, today a 14-foot long, 9-foot wide structure with top and bottom sides that look something like topographic maps: Each side has two “mountains,” one slightly shorter than the other, with a valley in between, and each of the mountains is made up of smaller peaks and valleys. On the underside, these variations in elevation create diverse spaces for invertebrates as well as “fish apartments,” where smaller fish can hide from predators. The top side, which will float just above the surface of the water, is equipped with a solar-powered pump that brings seawater up to the peaks and lets it filter down into the valleys, mirroring a tidepool habitat.

    After testing the prototypes, the team behind the Float Lab felt confident that it could create diverse and healthy underwater ecosystems. But Marcus says the team also realized that with a few careful design tweaks, these structures could potentially counteract the effects of climate change in a more direct way.

    For years now, as climate warnings have grown increasingly dire, governments worldwide have been scrambling to figure out how to address sea level rise. But a study published in Nature Communications earlier this year warned of another global warming hazard coastal communities will have to face: increasingly forceful waves. The study found that climate change has been making waves more powerful by 0.4 percent annually from 1948 to 2008.

    Waves are the primary force behind coastal erosion, and as they get stronger, they will eat away at fragile shorelines more quickly, threatening not only human infrastructure, but also crucial nearshore habitats. Bluffs and shorelines can be protected with seawalls and rock barriers, but these defensive solutions do nothing to actually dampen wave energy.

    For that, scientists are turning to nature for inspiration. Even before the results of this study were published, people were experimenting with solutions like rebuilding or creating artificial oyster reefs, which are known to help prevent erosion. One such example that has garnered significant attention is the “Living Breakwaters” project designed by the New York- and New Orleans-based landscape architecture firm SCAPE. It proposes coupling artificial breakwaters with oyster habitat restoration to protect Staten Island’s battered coastline, and in 2014 was one of six winners of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design challenge.

    The Float Lab, its advocates argue, has a unique advantage over that project and other artificial reefs: It is mobile. That’s key because “this could offer a more agile and more flexible, more customizable and scalable alternative to the kind of huge defensive barriers that many cities are thinking about, or even many cities are building, right now,” Marcus said.

    As currently designed, there isn’t much inherent to the Float Lab’s structure that would blunt a wave. But to help with that, the team plans to attach long tubes to the bottom of the structure, making it look like a windchime — or perhaps a giant jellyfish. It adds a new dimension of utility so that “when you place the columns or the tubes close to each other, like let’s say six to eight to ten inches apart, the invertebrates attach on all sides,” Marcus says, explaining, “they just kind of create this giant sponge of animals.” Scientists from Moss Landing’s Benthic Lab plan to dive below the Float Lab every month for the next three years to assess whether these columns actually soak up wave energy.

    Tissot sees clear ecological benefits to the columns. He says, “adding more structure that’s vertical would definitely increase the likelihood that you’re going to get a lot of fishes that will come in there. They love that kind of habitat.” But he’s unsure how far they will go towards absorbing wave power, saying “my guess is that’s pretty small to actually have much of an effect.”

    Marcus acknowledges that how well they will work is still unknown, explaining that “in order for it to develop significant wave attenuation capacity you would need many of them kind of arrayed in a necklace or a network parallel to the shore.” The full Float Lab team plans to plug the data they gather into computer simulations to project the impact a whole fleet of Float Labs might have. Renderings imagine them clustered together in threes, blooming over a body of water like a field of clover.

    Despite the modest near-term ambitions behind it, the Float Lab prototype bobs along in the wake of a long and controversial history of schemes to create utopias out on the water. Many have centered around the concept of seasteading, the idea of establishing new floating societies that exist outside the jurisdiction of national and international law. In fact, the most notable and best-funded of these groups, the Seasteading Institute, is also based in the San Francisco Bay area. Founded in 2008 by libertarian activists Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, and Patri Friedman, a grandson of Nobel-prize winning economist Milton Friedman, the non-profit’s vision of “freedom on the high seas” is as much about building a new society based on the free-market ideals of fewer regulations and lower taxes as it is about grappling with the impacts of climate change.

    “We do distance our work from that,” says Marcus. “There is a big difference in agenda. One is about tax havens and cryptocurrencies. Ours is about multi-benefit solutions for both humans and animals.”

    Regardless of political motivations, all floating city proposals face the problem of scaling up quickly enough to represent a meaningful solution for the nearly 187 million people around the world now projected [PNAS]to be displaced by rising sea levels in the coming decades. For now, the Float Lab team is focused on demonstrating the viability of just a single link, but their system is designed to be modular, and imagining a future in which coastlines, harbors, marshes, and other sensitive areas are protected by chains of Float Labs is made more plausible by the way they are designed and manufactured.

    Because it is made up of just two pieces — plus some finishing touches, like cleats for its anchors — it would be relatively easy to churn out Float Labs by the hundreds or thousands. And they’re designed to last. Fiberglass has been used in boatmaking since the 1940s and is one of the most durable materials in marine construction; it doesn’t corrode or rot. “The first fiberglass boat ever made is probably still floating around somewhere,” says Bill Kreysler, the founder of Kreysler & Associates, the firm that helped fabricate all the prototypes and the Float Lab.

    With the Float Lab launched and officially unveiled in late September, the team from CCA is already thinking about a more ambitious extension of this work. In late July, Jones and Ikeda visited the Maldives, where they and their students have been working with local partners since 2017 to imagine what a floating community could look like — a much-needed adaptation in a country that sits just about 5 feet on average above the current sea level.

    The work is all still theoretical, but the vision — like that behind the Float Lab — is expansive. Renderings show pods of interconnected floating structures, pulsing with life both on the inside and below the surface. Sun streams down through skylights, flooding the buildings and artificial light attracts plankton in the ocean below. Seaweed and algae cling to the underside, while fish seek shelter behind the stalactite-like underwater mountains. Shorebirds nest on the roof next to solar panels and a rainwater catchment system.

    This vision for the Maldives, the team suggests, will evolve over the coming years as lessons pour out of the Float Lab. “This is really studying how modular structures could link together to create communal systems,” says Marcus.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Smithsonian magazine and Smithsonian.com place a Smithsonian lens on the world, looking at the topics and subject matters researched, studied and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution — science, history, art, popular culture and innovation — and chronicling them every day for our diverse readership.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:00 pm on September 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Women Scientists Were Written Out of History, Margaret Rossiter, Smithsonian.com, The "Matilda Effect" named after a suffragist Matilda Gage,   

    From smithsonian.com: Women in STEM-“Women Scientists Were Written Out of History. It’s Margaret Rossiter’s Lifelong Mission to Fix That” 

    smithsonian
    From smithsonian.com

    October 2019
    Susan Dominus

    The historian has devoted her career to bringing to light the ingenious accomplishments of those who have been forgotten.

    1
    Margaret Rossiter’s research spotlights the women in science whose intellectual contributions have not been given their due. (Illustration by Katherine Lam)

    In 1969, Margaret Rossiter, then 24 years old, was one of the few women enrolled in a graduate program at Yale devoted to the history of science. Every Friday, Rossiter made a point of attending a regular informal gathering of her department’s professors and fellow students. Usually, at those late afternoon meetings, there was beer-drinking, which Rossiter did not mind, but also pipe-smoking, which she did, and joke-making, which she might have enjoyed except that the brand of humor generally escaped her. Even so, she kept showing up, fighting to feel accepted in a mostly male enclave, fearful of being written off in absentia.

    During a lull in the conversation at one of those sessions, Rossiter threw out a question to the gathered professors. “Were there ever women scientists?” she asked. The answer she received was absolute: No. Never. None. “It was delivered quite authoritatively,” said Rossiter, now a professor emerita at Cornell University. Someone did mention at least one well-known female scientist, Marie Curie, two-time winner of the Nobel Prize. But the professors dismissed even Curie as merely the helper to her husband, casting him as the real genius behind their breakthroughs. Instead of arguing, though, Rossiter said nothing: “I realized this was not an acceptable subject.”

    2
    Of her discoveries, Rossiter says, “I felt like a modern Alice who had fallen down a rabbit hole into a wonderland of the history of science.” (Evyn Morgan)

    Acceptable or not, the history of women in science would become Rossiter’s lifework, a topic she almost single-handedly made relevant. Her study, Women Scientists in America, which reflected more than a decade of toil in the archives and thousands of miles of dogged travel, broke new ground and brought hundreds of buried and forgotten contributions to light. The subtitle—Struggles and Strategies to 1940—announced its deeper project: an investigation into the systematic way that the field of science deterred women, and a chronicling of the ingenious methods that enterprising women nonetheless found to pursue the knowledge of nature. She would go on to document the stunted, slow, but intrepid progress of women in science in two subsequent volumes, following the field into the 21st century.

    “It is important to note early that women’s historically subordinate ‘place,’ in science (and thus their invisibility to even experienced historians of science) was not a coincidence and was not due to any lack of merit on their part,” Rossiter wrote at the outset in the first volume. “It was due to the camouflage intentionally placed over their presence in science.”

    Rossiter’s research has been “revolutionary,” said Anne Fausto-Sterling, a Brown University professor emerita and an expert on developmental genetics, who was astonished by the first volume when it came out. “It meant that I should never believe anything anybody tells me about what women did or didn’t do in the past, nor should I take that as any measure of what they could do in the future.”

    Academic historians typically don’t have an immediate impact on everyday life. Rossiter is the exception. In excavating the lives of forgotten women astronomers, physicists, chemists, entomologists and botanists, Rossiter helped clear the way for women scientists in the future. “Her work showed that there were women in science, and that we could increase those numbers, because women are quite capable of it,” said Londa Schiebinger, a historian of science at Stanford University. In addition, Rossiter’s work illustrated that administrators needed to reform academic institutions to make them more hospitable to women. “She showed that very talented women faced barriers—and so that sparks something.”

    Rossiter’s findings were impressive to key figures at the National Science Foundation, which funded her research over many years—and which, starting in the 1980s, also began funding efforts to increase “the representation and advancement of women in engineering and academic science degrees.” Schiebinger said, “All of Margaret Rossiter’s well-documented work gives an intellectual foundation for these things.”

    Today, Rossiter, 75, has scaled back her research efforts and carries a light teaching load at Cornell. But her work remains deeply important, in large part because she knew how to make a point stick. Back in 1993, Rossiter coined a phrase that captures an increasingly well-recognized phenomenon: the Matilda Effect, named after a suffragist, Matilda Gage, whose own work was overlooked by historians, and who also wrote about the way women scientists, in particular, had been erased by history. Rossiter’s 1993 paper decried the troubling recent history of male scientists receiving credit for work done by female scientists. The phrase—the Matilda Effect—took off, and has been cited in hundreds of subsequent studies. A 2013 paper, “The Matilda Effect in Science Communication,” [Gender Action Portal] reported that both men and women judged research papers by men to be stronger than those by women, and both men and women showed preference for the male authors as possible future collaborators. In the past year alone, dozens of papers on gender discrimination in science have cited the Matilda Effect. In naming the phenomenon, Rossiter identified the issue of misplaced credit as a problem that institutions would have to fight to rectify, and that equality-minded scholars are monitoring with even more rigor.

    Both Margaret Rossiter and Matilda Gage made substantial original contributions to American scholarship that were, for too long, not recognized as significant; and, interestingly, both tried to bring to light the work of other women who suffered the same fate. Their births separated by more than a century, the two nonetheless have almost a symbiotic relationship, with the work of one giving new life to that of the other in a collaboration across time to advance the role of women in the sciences, a fight ongoing in laboratories and the halls of academia.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Smithsonian magazine and Smithsonian.com place a Smithsonian lens on the world, looking at the topics and subject matters researched, studied and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution — science, history, art, popular culture and innovation — and chronicling them every day for our diverse readership.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:53 pm on September 14, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Study Reveals Lost Continent Demolished by Europe", , Greater Adria, , Smithsonian.com,   

    From smithsonian.com: “Study Reveals Lost Continent Demolished by Europe” 

    smithsonian
    From smithsonian.com

    Painstaking research recreates the history of Greater Adria, which slipped under the Eurasian plate 120 million years ago.

    September 13, 2019
    Jason Daley

    1
    Remnants of Greater Adria in the Taurus Mountains (Utrecht University)

    Researchers uncovered traces of a lost continent that disappeared under what is today Europe about 120 million years ago.

    Geologists have seen hints of the continent, dubbed Greater Adria, for years. But the Mediterranean area is incredibly complicated, so piecing together its history took a decade of academic detective work. “The Mediterranean region is quite simply a geological mess,” geologist Douwe van Hinsbergen of Utrecht University, first author of the study in Gondwana Research says. “Everything is curved, broken, and stacked.”

    The story that the rocks tell begins on the supercontinent Gondwana, which would eventually split into Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica and India. Greater Adria broke away from the mother continent about 240 million years ago, beginning a slow drift northward. Roughly 140 million years ago, it was about the size of Greenland, mostly submerged in a tropical sea, collecting sediment that hardened into rock. Then, roughly 100 to 120 million years ago, it hit the southern edge of future Europe, spinning counterclockwise and moving at about 3 to 4 centimeters per year.

    As Robin George Andrews at National Geographic reports, the destruction of Greater Adria was complex. It hit several subduction zones, or areas where tectonic plates meet. In this case, the Greater Adria plate was trumped by the European plate, and most of it dove down into Earth’s mantle. The overlying plate scraped the top layers of Great Adria off. That debris eventually formed mountain ranges in Italy, Turkey, Greece, the Balkans and in the Alps. A few bits of Greater Adria escaped the plunge into the mantle and still exist in Italy and Croatia.

    Figuring out the story of Greater Adria was difficult, not only because of the geology but also due to human factors. Information about the continent is spread across many countries, from Spain to Iran. “Every country has their own geological survey and their own maps and their own stories and their own continents,” Hinsbergen tells Yasemin Saplakolu at LiveScience. “[With this study] we brought that all together in one big picture.”

    They also spent time constructing the continent’s history by examining the orientation of tiny magnetic minerals created by bacteria trapped in the Adria rocks. From that data they were able to understand how much the rock layers rotated over time. They also pieced together structures like strings of volcanoes and coral reefs. New, more powerful software developed over the last 15 years or so also aided in reconstructing the lost land mass.

    Sid Perkins at Science reports that the new study isn’t the only evidence for Greater Adria. In 2016, another team identified slabs of the continent in Earth’s mantle using seismic waves. Nor is it the only “lost continent” out there. A large land mass called Zealandia is submerged under two-thirds of a mile of water in the South Pacific and is considered the “eighth continent” by some researchers. In 2017, other scientists announced that they found a sunken “mini-continent” under the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Smithsonian magazine and Smithsonian.com place a Smithsonian lens on the world, looking at the topics and subject matters researched, studied and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution — science, history, art, popular culture and innovation — and chronicling them every day for our diverse readership.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:44 am on September 7, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Boknis Eck Observatory disappears., Smithsonian.com, The observatory cost around 300000. euros ($331425.) but “the data that we collect is downright priceless.   

    From smithsonian.com: “A Huge Underwater Observatory Has Vanished Without a Trace” 

    smithsonian
    From smithsonian.com

    September 6, 2019
    Brigit Katz

    The instrument, located off Germany’s Baltic coast, cost more than $330,000. But its data was ‘priceless,’ one expert said.

    1
    The frame of the underwater observatory responsible for the power supply during deployment. (Research Dive Center of the CAU)

    Since 2016, a hulking underwater observatory known as “Boknis Eck” has been transmitting data on the ecosystem of the Baltic Sea. But on the evening of August 21, the transmissions suddenly stopped. Divers were dispatched last week to the observatory’s location in Eckernförde Bay, north of the German city of Kiel, to investigate. And when they got there, they were shocked to find that the Boknis Eck had vanished.

    “The devices were gone,” says Hermann Bange of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel, which installed the observatory in conjunction with the Helmholtz Center Geesthacht. “[T]he divers could not find them anymore.”

    All that remained in the Boknis Eck’s place was a frayed cable, which once connected the observatory to the coast, according to the BBC. The Boknis Eck consists of two large frames, one weighing nearly 1,150 pounds and the other 485 pounds, making it unlikely that it was dragged away by a storm, tide or large animal. Humans are a more probable culprit, though the observatory was located in a restricted area, off-limits even to local fishing boats.

    At this point, as Gizmodo’s George Dvorsky points out, it isn’t clear what value looters may have seen in the Boknis Eck. But thieves have been known to scour the bottom of the sea for scrap metal, typically targeting shipwrecks. Earlier this summer, for instance, two WWII-era ships disappeared off the coast of Malaysia; they had contained the remains of 79 crewmen, which also vanished. According to Live Science’s Brandon Specktor, looters typically blow the vessels apart with explosives, then use cranes to pull up any valuable metals.

    Whatever happened to the Boknis Eck, its loss is being keenly felt by researchers. The observatory cost around 300,000 euros ($331,425), but “the data that we collect is downright priceless,” Bange says. The observatory was equipped with various instruments that measure conditions in the southwestern Baltic, like flow velocities and methane concentrations on the seabed. By tracking this data, experts could be alerted to any issues and possibly take countermeasures. So they are anxious to get the Boknis Eck back up and running.

    Police in the town of Eckernförde are on the case, but researchers hope that announcing the loss of the observatory might lead to new clues. “Maybe someone saw something on the morning of 21 August,” Bange says. “Or someone finds parts of the frames somewhere on the beach.”

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Smithsonian magazine and Smithsonian.com place a Smithsonian lens on the world, looking at the topics and subject matters researched, studied and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution — science, history, art, popular culture and innovation — and chronicling them every day for our diverse readership.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:16 am on August 3, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Nevada Has a Massive New Dark Sky Sanctuary", , , , , , Nevada's Massacre Ridge, Smithsonian.com   

    From smithsonian.com: “Nevada Has a Massive New Dark Sky Sanctuary” 

    smithsonian
    From smithsonian.com

    The night skies at 100,000-acre Massacre Ridge are some of the starriest in the world.

    1
    (Richie Bedarski/Friends of Nevada Wilderness )

    August 2, 2019
    Jason Daley

    The view of the night sky from the Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area is spectacular, but chances are very few people will ever make it to the 100,000-acre plot in Washoe County, Nevada, near the California and Oregon borders, to see it. The area has no hotels, electricity and requires visitors to bring everything they will need with them down long, rugged gravel roads, which boasts rattlesnakes, scorpions and almost no cell service. And that’s just fine. Massacre Rim was recently designated a Dark Sky Sanctuary, and the goal is keep it as dark and undisturbed as possible.

    A Dark Sky Sanctuary is a designation given to an area by the International Dark Sky Association, a group that works to preserve views of the night sky and fight light pollution. The group has several designations for Dark Sky Places, including International Dark Sky Parks, which are existing parks that implement outdoor lighting that preserves the night sky. The Grand Canyon, for instance, just got certified as one. Then there’s Dark Sky Reserves, dark parks or plots of land where nearby landowners and cities cooperate to preserve its dark character. But the darkest of dark places are Dark Sky Sanctuaries, remote areas where a lack of development and human presence have preserved the view of the same starry skies that humans hundreds of years ago would have looked at.

    Massacre Rim easily meets that criteria. According to the Dark Sky Association, the Rim is 150 miles from Reno, Nevada, and 163 miles from Redding, California, the closest major towns. With just four small ranching communities and a population of 800 in the vicinity, humans have very little impact on the night sky in the area, making for a stunning spectacle.

    Despite the fact that Massacre Rim is naturally dark, it did take some effort to earn the title. The designation was spearheaded by the conservation group Friends of Nevada Wilderness, reports Benjamin Spillman at the Reno Gazette. To qualify, last year the group traveled throughout the park via four-wheel drive and on foot, using light measuring instruments and quantifying the night sky using the Bortle Scale, a measure of star visibility and natural light. Those measurements found that the area was close to the top of the chart in star brightness; the starlight was so bright, in fact, it cast shadows.

    The scores were high enough to qualify the area for sanctuary status, which was granted in March. “This designation literally puts Washoe County on the Dark Sky map,” Shaaron Netherton, executive director of Friends of Nevada Wilderness, tells Spillman.

    “While all of the wilderness areas and wilderness study areas in Nevada are special remote places, the Massacre Rim WSA stands out because it is so far from any major populated areas, making light pollution there next to immeasurable,” Netherton says in a press release. “People lucky enough to venture there on a clear moonless night will not only see the enormity of the Milky Way, but will also be awestruck to view our neighboring galaxy, Andromeda, with the naked eye.”

    The designation comes with no legal obligations for the BLM and no requirements from people living nearby to keep the night sky dim.

    Noah Glick of NPR recently visited the new sanctuary. In general, he reports, locals are happy to preserve the skies, one of the things that makes their area special. “It’s something that’s always there and we’ve always taken for granted,” Janet Irene, owner of the Country Hearth restaurant in nearby Cedarville, tells him. “It’s so exciting to know that there’s something else up there, other than what we see every day here. And you can actually see some small part of it. It’s an insight into what might be.”

    Massacre Rim is just one of ten Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world. It’s the largest of the four designated in the United States, which include New Mexico’s Cosmic Campground, Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Utah and the Devil’s River State Natural Area-Del Norte Unit in southwest Texas.

    Combating light pollution is good for night skies, saves on energy costs and protects bird and bat species that can be disoriented by excess outdoor light. But preserving some slice of the night sky is getting harder and harder. Today, according to Nadia Drake at National Geographic, an estimated 83 percent of people on Earth live with some degree of light pollution, and 99 percent of the United States and Europe are light polluted.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Smithsonian magazine and Smithsonian.com place a Smithsonian lens on the world, looking at the topics and subject matters researched, studied and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution — science, history, art, popular culture and innovation — and chronicling them every day for our diverse readership.

     
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