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  • richardmitnick 9:44 am on February 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Building 10 million wind-powered pumps over the Arctic ice cap, Could a £400bn plan to refreeze the Arctic before the ice melts really work?, , The Guardian   

    From The Guardian: “Could a £400bn plan to refreeze the Arctic before the ice melts really work?” 

    The Guardian Logo

    The Guardian

    11 February 2017
    Robin McKie

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    Roxanne Desgagnés/Unsplash

    Physicist Steven Desch has come up with a novel solution to the problems that now beset the Arctic. He and a team of colleagues from Arizona State University want to replenish the region’s shrinking sea ice – by building 10 million wind-powered pumps over the Arctic ice cap. In winter, these would be used to pump water to the surface of the ice where it would freeze, thickening the cap.

    The pumps could add an extra metre of sea ice to the Arctic’s current layer, Desch argues. The current cap rarely exceeds 2-3 metres in thickness and is being eroded constantly as the planet succumbs to climate change.

    “Thicker ice would mean longer-lasting ice. In turn, that would mean the danger of all sea ice disappearing from the Arctic in summer would be reduced significantly,” Desch told the Observer.

    Desch and his team have put forward the scheme in a paper that has just been published in Earth’s Future, the journal of the American Geophysical Union, and have worked out a price tag for the project: $500bn (£400bn).

    It is an astonishing sum. However, it is the kind of outlay that may become necessary if we want to halt the calamity that faces the Arctic, says Desch, who, like many other scientists, has become alarmed at temperature change in the region. They say that it is now warming twice as fast as their climate models predicted only a few years ago and argue that the 2015 Paris agreement to limit global warming will be insufficient to prevent the region’s sea ice disappearing completely in summer, possibly by 2030.

    “Our only strategy at present seems to be to tell people to stop burning fossil fuels,” says Desch. “It’s a good idea but it is going to need a lot more than that to stop the Arctic’s sea ice from disappearing.”

    The loss of the Arctic’s summer sea ice cover would disrupt life in the region, endanger many of its species, from Arctic cod to polar bears, and destroy a pristine habitat. It would also trigger further warming of the planet by removing ice that reflects solar radiation back into space, disrupt weather patterns across the northern hemisphere and melt permafrost, releasing more carbon gases into the atmosphere.

    Hence Desch’s scheme to use wind pumps to bring water that is insulated from the bitter Arctic cold to its icy surface, where it will freeze and thicken the ice cap. Nor is the physicist alone in his Arctic scheming: other projects to halt sea-ice loss include one to artificially whiten the Arctic by scattering light-coloured aerosol particles over it to reflect solar radiation back into space, and another to spray sea water into the atmosphere above the region to create clouds that would also reflect sunlight away from the surface.

    All the projects are highly imaginative – and extremely costly. The fact that they are even being considered reveals just how desperately worried researchers have become about the Arctic. “The situation is causing grave concern,” says Professor Julienne Stroeve, of University College London. “It is now much more dire than even our worst case scenarios originally suggested.’

    Last November, when sea ice should have begun thickening and spreading over the Arctic as winter set in, the region warmed up. Temperatures should have plummeted to -25C but reached several degrees above freezing instead. “It’s been about 20C warmer than normal over most of the Arctic Ocean. This is unprecedented,” research professor Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University told the Guardian in November. “These temperatures are literally off the charts for where they should be at this time of year. It is pretty shocking. The Arctic has been breaking records all year. It is exciting but also scary.”

    Nor have things got better in the intervening months. Figures issued by the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), in Boulder, Colorado, last week revealed that in January the Arctic’s sea ice covered 13.38 million sq km, the lowest January extent in the 38 years since satellites began surveying the region. That figure is 260,000 sq km below the level for January last year, which was the previous lowest extent for that month, and a worrying 1.26 million sq km below the long-term average for January.

    In fact, sea ice growth stalled during the second week of January – in the heart of the Arctic winter – while the ice cap actually retreated within the Kara and Barents seas, and within the Sea of Okhotsk. Similarly, the Svalbard archipelago, normally shrouded in ice, has remained relatively free because of the inflow of warm Atlantic water along the western part of the island chain. Although there has been some recovery, sea ice remains well below all previous record lows.

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    The area covered by Arctic sea ice at least four years old has decreased from 1,860,000 sq km in September 1984 to 110,000 sq km in September 2016. In this visualisation, the age of the ice is indicated by shades ranging from blue-gray for the youngest ice to white for the oldest. Photograph: Scientific Visualization Studio/Nasa

    This paucity of sea ice bodes ill for the Arctic’s summer months when cover traditionally drops to its lower annual level, and could plunge to a record minimum this year. Most scientists expect that, at current emission rates, the Arctic will be reliably free of sea ice in summer by 2030.

    By “free” they mean there will be less than 1m sq km of sea ice left in the Arctic, most of it packed into remote bays and channels, while the central Arctic Ocean over the north pole will be completely open. And by “reliably”, scientists mean there will have been five consecutive years with less than 1m sq km of ice by the year 2050. The first single ice-free year will come much earlier than this, however.

    And when that happens, the consequences are likely to be severe for the human and animal inhabitants of the region. An ice-free Arctic will be wide open to commercial exploitation, for example. Already, mining, oil and tourism companies have revealed plans to begin operations – schemes that could put severe strain on indigenous communities’ way of life in the region.

    Equally worrying is the likely impact on wildlife, says Stroeve. “Juvenile Arctic cod like to hang out under the sea ice. Polar bears hunt on sea ice, and seals give birth on it. We have no idea what will happen when that lot disappears. In addition, there is the problem of increasing numbers of warm spells during which rain falls instead of snow. That rain then freezes on the ground and forms a hard coating that prevents reindeer and caribou from finding food under the snow.”

    Nor would the rest of the world be isolated. With less ice to reflect solar radiation back into space, the dark ocean waters of the high latitudes will warm and the Arctic will heat up even further.

    “If you warm the Arctic you decrease the temperature difference between the poles and the mid-latitudes, and that affects the polar vortex, the winds that blow between the mid latitudes and the high latitudes,” says Henry Burgess, head of the Arctic office of the UK Natural Environment Research Council.

    “Normally this process tends to keep the cold in the high north and milder air in mid-latitudes but there is an increasing risk this will be disrupted as the temperature differential gets weaker. We may get more and more long, cold spells spilling down from the Arctic, longer and slower periods of Atlantic storms and equally warmer periods in the Arctic. What happens up there touches us all. It is hard to believe you can take away several million sq km of ice a few thousand kilometres to the north and not expect there will be an impact on weather patterns here in the UK.”

    For her part, Stroeve puts it more bleakly: “We are carrying out a blind experiment on our planet whose outcome is almost impossible to guess.”

    This point is backed by Desch. “Sea ice is disappearing from the Arctic – rapidly. The sorts of options we are proposing need to be researched and discussed now. If we are provocative and get people to think about this, that is good.

    THE BIG SHRINK

    The Arctic ice cap reaches its maximum extent every March and then, over the next six months, dwindles. The trough is reached around mid-September at the end of the melting season. The ice growth cycle then restarts. However, the extent of regrowth began slackening towards the end of the last century. According to meteorologists, the Arctic’s ice cover at its minimum is now decreasing by 13% every decade – a direct consequence of heating triggered by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

    Climate change deniers claim this loss is matched by gains in sea ice around the Antarctic. It is not. Antarctic ice fluctuations are slight compared with the Arctic’s plummeting coverage and if you combine the changes at both poles, you find more than a million sq km of ice has been lost globally in 30 years.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:50 am on September 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Small modular nuclear reactors, The Guardian   

    From The Guardian: “Mini-nuclear reactors could be operating in the UK by 2030 – report” 

    The Guardian Logo

    The Guardian

    29 September 2016

    Energy Technologies Institute argues small modular reactors capable of delivering clean power and heat could be in place by 2030 if the right policy framework is put in place, reports BusinessGreen.

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    Last year the government announced plans for a £250m competition to boost nuclear development, including plans to support commercial SMRs. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

    The first small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) could be operating in the UK by 2030 with the right government support, according to a new report from the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI).

    The analysis, released today by the government and industry-backed energy research body, examined the steps needed to support the first SMR in the UK and concluded a credible schedule for implementation can be set out – as long as a policy framework is developed to reduce risks for SMR developers and increase investor confidence.

    Setting out a timeline of key steps that will be required to deliver SMR deployment, the ETI said the UK should clarify and raise awareness of regulatory standards and expectations in the next five years and set out a clear statement of intent in relation to SMR development in the UK by 2024, with the aim to achieve at least one final investment decision by 2025.

    Mike Middleton, nuclear strategy manager at the ETI and author of the report, said vendors, government and regulators must all work together in an integrated programme to ensure the first of a kind SMR is in operation by 2030.

    “Creating the right environment for increasing investor confidence is critical if this schedule is to be met; there will be a key role for government in the first five years of any such programme to deliver an SMR policy framework which progressively reduces investor risk,” he said in a statement.

    The study also suggests developers should consider using SMRs as Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants rather than simply for power generation, arguing the small size and relatively easy siting of SMRs mean they could feed low carbon heat directly into cities using hot water pipelines.

    The ETI argues developers should consider deploying SMRs that are “CHP ready”, even in cases where there is not yet strong local demand for district heating systems. The report suggests the additional cost of making the reactors capable of delivering CHP is small, but future heat revenues could be significant if district heating networks materialise.

    The case for deploying SMRs capable of producing heat is further bolstered by the fact they will be built to a standard design in factories before being assembled on site, the report said, meaning that including ‘CHP ready’ standards in all designs would reduce downstream deployment costs as there would be no need to reconfigure factory processes to deliver CHP integrated reactors.

    “Firstly, these options can increase deployment opportunities which can further reduce unit cost; secondly it is not necessary to reassess the design or reconfigure the factory production process to deliver these options and again this reduces downstream deployment costs,” said Middleton.

    Last year the government announced plans for a £250m competition to boost nuclear development, including plans to support commercial SMRs. Phase one of the programme waslaunched in March this year, with the government calling on developers to come forward with proposals for pilot projects.

    Meanwhile, companies such as US nuclear developer NuScale Power – which aims for its first SMR to be in operation in the US by 2024 – have shown increasing interest in deploying SMR technology in the UK.

    However, the ETI report argued that despite government support and warm words from ministers there is currently no programme for UK SMR deployment or SMR-specific policies to encourage private sector development.

    While advocates of SMRs maintain they can safely bring down the cost of nuclear power and help to support an increasingly decentralised grid, critics argue there is still little evidence the technology will bring down costs where larger reactors have consistently failed to do so and fear they will come with inherent safety risks, which other low carbon sources of power could avoid.

    However, the ETI report identified several sites in the UK that it said had potential for early SMR deployment, including sites which could be suited for a first of a kind SMR plant.

    It may still be very early days for the embryonic SMR industry, but some experts are increasingly confident an exciting future awaits.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 6:48 am on July 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , The Guardian, UK scientists dropped from EU projects because of post-Brexit funding fears   

    From The Guardian: “UK scientists dropped from EU projects because of post-Brexit funding fears” 

    The Guardian Logo

    The Guardian

    11 July 2016
    Ian Sample

    Doubts over the UK’s ability to win future project grants mean some EU partners are avoiding working with British researchers.

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    The chemistry research building at Oxford University, whose chancellor, Lord Patten, raised concerns about effect of Brexit on research income. Photograph: View Pictures/UIG/Getty Images

    Britain’s vote to leave the EU has unleashed a wave of discrimination against UK researchers, with elite universities in the country coming under pressure to abandon collaborations with European partners.

    In a confidential survey of the UK’s Russell Group universities, the Guardian found cases of British academics being asked to leave EU-funded projects or to step down from leadership roles because they are considered a financial liability.

    In one case, an EU project officer recommended that a lead investigator drop all UK partners from a consortium because Britain’s share of funding could not be guaranteed. The note implied that if UK organisations remained on the project, which is due to start in January 2017, the contract signing would be delayed until Britain had agreed a fresh deal with Europe.

    The backlash against UK researchers began immediately after the June referendum when the failure to plan for a post-Brexit Britain cast serious doubts over the chances of British organisations winning future EU funding. British researchers receive about £1bn a year from EU finding programmes such as Horizon 2020, but access to the money must be completely renegotiated under Brexit.

    The 24 universities in the Russell Group are regarded as Britain’s elite institutions. With Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, University College London and Imperial College among their number, they are renowned for world-class research and academic excellence.

    One leading university said anecdotal evidence that UK applicants were being dropped from EU bids came almost straight after the vote. Since then they had witnessed “a substantial increase in definitive evidence that EU projects are reluctant to be in collaboration with UK partners, and that potentially all new funding opportunities from Horizon 2020 are closing”.

    Incidents reported by the universities suggest that researchers across the natural sciences, the engineering disciplines and social sciences are all affected. At least two social science collaborations with Dutch universities have been told UK partners are unwelcome, one Russell Group university said in the survey.

    Speaking at Oxford’s Wolfson College last Friday, the university’s chancellor, Chris Patten, said Oxford received perhaps more research income than any European university, with about 40% coming from government. “Our research income will of course fall significantly after we have left the EU unless a Brexit government guarantees to cover the shortfall,” Lord Patten said.

    The uncertainty over future funding for projects stands to harm research in other ways, the survey suggests. A number of institutions that responded said some researchers were reluctant to carry on with bids for EU funds because of the financial unknowns, while others did not want to be the weak link in a consortium. One university said it had serious concerns about its ability to recruit research fellows for current projects.

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    Researchers in natural sciences, the engineering disciplines and social sciences are all affected. Photograph: Alamy

    Some Russell Group universities declined to comment for the survey, and not all of those which did knew of any discrimination against their researchers. Though one university said concerns over the impact of the referendum had become a part of almost every conversation about research, their academics were continuing with funding applications as usual.

    A week after the referendum, science minister Jo Johnson told academics and industry figures he had raised concerns over potential discrimination against UK researchers with the EU science commissioner, Carlos Moedas. Johnson has asked a team at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to gather evidence for discrimination and urged organisations to report any incidents. Until the UK left the EU, he said the situation was “business as usual”.

    Others see it differently. Joe Gorman, a senior scientist at Sintef, Norway’s leading research institute, said he believed UK industry and universities would see “a fairly drastic and immediate reduction in the number of invitations to join consortiums”.

    Only 12% of bids for Horizon 2020 funds are successful, a rate that falls by more than half in highly competitive areas. Given the low probability of winning funds at the best of times, Gorman said it was natural risk aversion to be cautious of UK partners. In many cases, British organisations will not have a clue they have lost out. “If you don’t get invited to the party, you don’t even know there is a party,” he said.

    “I strongly suspect that UK politicians simply don’t understand this, and think it is ‘business as usual’, at least until negotiations have been completed. They are wrong, the problems start right now,” he added. As a former European commission official, Gorman oversaw research projects and now advises universities and companies on how to succeed in EU-funded research programmes.

    According to Gorman, the UK government must make a clear and immediate statement on how Britain will take part in future EU projects from outside the union. “All the talk is about when negotiations will start,” he said. “We don’t want that. People want to know now what is going to happen. This could all be solved by one pronouncement from one minister.”

    Another obstacle British researchers face is the potential bias, whether conscious or not, of the independent evaluators who score applications for EU funding. Xavier Aubry at Zaz Ventures, a consultancy that works with consortiums to win Horizon 2020 funding, said Switzerland was discriminated against at the evaluation stage after its 2014 referendum to restrict immigration.

    Aubry’s firm operates a “no win, no fee” policy, which has left him second-guessing how the evaluators will respond to the Brexit vote. “Right now the problem is that we don’t know how the evaluators will react, he said.” “Even if they are briefed that they should not discriminate, they could have unconscious biases.”

    As a result, he thinks British organisations will have to bring more to the table to justify the risk of them being included in a consortium. “We are becoming more strict,” he said. “But we are not telling people to stop working with the UK.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 6:38 am on July 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Scientists closer to understanding why red hair genes increase skin cancer risk, The Guardian   

    From The Guardian: “Scientists closer to understanding why red hair genes increase skin cancer risk” 

    The Guardian Logo

    The Guardian

    12 July 2016
    Nicola Davis

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    While redheads might already dodge the sun’s rays, those with only one copy of gene may not realise that they are at risk from the sun’s damaging effects. Photograph: David Leahy/Getty Images

    Scientists are a step closer to understanding why people with the genes for red hair have a greater risk of developing the potentially deadly skin cancer melanoma.

    Research has revealed that patients with the genes for red hair have more mutations in their skin cancer than those without.

    “We have known for a while that there is an association between these [genetic] variants that cause red hair and increased risk of melanoma,” said David Adams, a co-author of the research from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. “What this really does is show at least a contributing factor to that is more mutations.”

    Red hair, fair skin and a sensitivity to the sun are down to variations in a gene called MC1R that affects the production of pigments, called melanins, in the skin.

    “People with red hair have a different type of melanin than people who don’t have red hair – and the type of melanin that redheads have is less able to protect them from the sun,” said Adams.

    About 6% of the UK population have two copies of the MC1R gene variant and hence have red hair, while around 25% of the UK population have only one copy and are typically not redheads. But the new research reveals that patients in both groups show the same number of mutations in their skin cancer.

    The scientists say the findings suggests people with just one copy of the gene might be more susceptible to the damaging effects of sunlight than previously thought.

    Writing in the journal Nature Communications, an international team of researchers describe how they analysed existing genetic data and samples from 405 melanoma patients.

    The scientists found that melanoma patients with redhead gene variants had a greater number of mutations in their skin cancer than those without, with 42% more sun-associated mutations alone.

    But while previous research has shown that the chance of developing melanoma is linked to the number of copies of the redhead gene variants a person has, the new study has thrown up a puzzle.

    “We don’t understand why persons with two MC1R variants are more likely to develop melanoma than those with only one variant, because our [new] data suggest they accumulate mutations at the same rate,” said Tim Bishop, co-author of the study from the University of Leeds.

    The findings, he says, have important implications. While redheads might already dodge the sun’s rays, those with only one copy of gene may not realise that they are at risk from the sun’s damaging effects.

    Adams agrees. “I think there is a general public health message here that there’s a high proportion of the population who need to be careful in the sun,” he said.

    Dr Julie Sharp, head of health and patient information at Cancer Research UK, which co-funded the research, said: “This important research explains why red-haired people have to be so careful about covering up in strong sun. It also underlines that it isn’t just people with red hair who need to protect themselves from too much sun. People who tend to burn rather than tan, or who have fair skin, hair or eyes, or who have freckles or moles are also at higher risk.

    “For all of us the best way to protect skin when the sun is strong is to spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm, and to cover up with a t-shirt, hat and sunglasses. And sunscreen helps protect the parts you can’t cover; use one with at least SPF15 and four or more stars, put on plenty and reapply regularly.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:27 am on May 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , The Guardian, The planet's health is essential to prevent infectious disease,   

    From The Guardian: “The planet’s health is essential to prevent infectious disease” 

    The Guardian Logo

    The Guardian

    15 May 2016
    Sonila Cook
    Oren Ahoobim

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    ‘The environmental degradation of natural ecosystems has resulted in many negative outcomes, one of which is the outbreak of infectious disease.’ Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

    The Zika virus, now detected in 42 countries, is only the latest in a series of diseases establishing a new normal for pandemics. Sars ravaged South China in 2003, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) shocked the Middle East in 2012, and Ebola devastated west Africa in 2014. We have seen avian influenza emerge in new geographies alongside mosquito-borne viruses, such as Chikungunya. Over the past 50 years, more than 300 infectious pathogens have either newly developed or reemerged in places where they had never been seen before.

    These trends raise questions: Why are infectious diseases occurring with such frequency? Why are pandemics the new normal? The increased rate of outbreak is typically framed as a failure of the health system. Indeed, that is a critical component. But the conditions that allow for outbreak in the first place are rooted in environmental change.

    The environmental degradation of natural ecosystems has resulted in many negative outcomes, one of which is the outbreak of infectious disease. The vast majority of human infectious diseases, such as malaria, Zika, and HIV/Aids, originate in animals. When we disrupt the natural environment and habitat of animals, we are poking the beast, so to speak.

    Take deforestation. Destroying the delicate balance of ecological conditions in forests increases contact between humans and potential reservoirs of disease in the animal population. Evidence shows that Ebola may have been spread to humans who came into contact with infected wildlife, enabled by widespread deforestation. The environment plays a critical role in serving as a buffer against infectious disease. A failure to recognise the value of this service that forests provide means that deforestation and infectious disease outbreaks are likely to continue at alarming rates.

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    Jambi province, Sumatra. A logged-over area in the vast track of pulp wood concessions. Photograph: Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images

    Infectious disease is a systems problem that requires systems solutions. Treating only one part of the overall problem – whether by vaccination, quarantine or awareness campaigns – merely scratches the surface. Effective solutions must address the system as a whole, including changes to underlying ecosystems. The field of planetary health has emerged to better understand and solve the integrated relationship between human health and the environment. It aims to shed light on health problems induced by large-scale changes to the environment, and to highlight new ways of working to address these often intractable issues.

    The connection between environmental change and human health is increasingly clear, but this big-picture view is not how we currently orient ourselves. Take existing public health solutions to Ebola, for example, which are to treat the disease, contain its spread, and prevent it by developing a vaccine. These are all necessary, but they miss a large set of tools found further upstream.

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    Sawmills processing illegally logged trees from the Amazon rainforest near Rio Pardo, Brazil. Photograph: Nacho Doce/Reuters

    A way to access these tools might be to ask ourselves: can we prevent transmission of the Ebola virus from animals to humans to begin with? With planetary health, we have an opportunity to redefine prevention to include upstream solutions that safeguard the environment. For Ebola, this would mean that forest protection efforts would be added to the arsenal of tools we use to fight the disease. These solutions can have multiple benefits to the environment and to human health; for example, in addition to preventing pandemics, reducing deforestation can combat climate change, protect biodiversity, and preserve watersheds that provide clean water to nearby communities.

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    Sino County, Liberia: A person stands amid the remnants of slash and burn deforestation. Photograph: Evan Bowen-Jones/Alamy

    Planetary health draws attention to the cross-sector innovation that is needed to tackle complex problems such as infectious disease, using integrated surveillance tools incorporating both environmental and health data. For example, USAid and the Wildlife Conservation Society are creating a surveillance system, Predict, to detect and prevent spillover of potentially pandemic pathogens that can move between wildlife and people – and inform environmental and health policy to prevent it. Another example of cross-sector innovation is the Norway-Liberia agreement; Norway will give Liberia up to $150m (£104m) over the next six years to fund protective measures to squash illegal logging in its agricultural sector, with the aim of averting a future Ebola crisis.

    A growing community of practice is forming around planetary health. The US-based Rockefeller Foundation and UK-based Wellcome Trust are shaping and nurturing this emerging field. They are funding research to better understand complex human-environmental systems and the range of responses that local communities, governments and international bodies can bring to bear.

    Together with leading scientists, including those at the Harvard School of Public Health, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Rockefeller and Wellcome are looking into a host of issues for which a planetary health approach might be useful. These include the relationship between climate change and human nutrition, and the links between coastal ecosystems and resilience to natural disasters, among others.

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    Mato Grosso, Brazil: A single tree is seen on land that was previously jungle. Photograph: Bruno Domingos / Reuters/REUTERS

    “Public health alone can take us only so far in addressing today’s complex health challenges,” said Michael Myers, managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation. “We see the need for a new interdisciplinary field that’s as relevant for this century as public health was for the last – planetary health, or what we consider public health 2.0. By embracing the new reality that our health and the planet’s health are inextricably linked, the field of planetary health will identify more effective approaches to ensuring our own health.”

    We don’t know what pandemics are coming in the future. What we do know is that with continued environmental degradation, outbreaks will occur with greater frequency, and the toolkit we are using to control them is incomplete. Planetary health can help us expand the toolkit by finding ways to prevent outbreaks occurring in the first place, allowing us to proactively manage the health of the human population, rather than reactively try to control deadly diseases that we don’t fully understand.

    n recent years we’ve become more sophisticated at understanding and assessing nature’s value to people; from food and fuel production, to water purification and spiritual renewal, natural ecosystems provide countless services that sustain us. Protection against infectious disease is another critical service. It is time to build a field that fully recognises the important role that the environment plays in our collective health. The survival of our planet and our species depends on it.

    While it is true that “…Treating only one part of the overall problem – whether by vaccination, quarantine or awareness campaigns – merely scratches the surface…” it is still a valuable tool and you can help.

    There are projects at World Community Grid, an initiative IBM Corporation which seek treatment answers in attempts to curb the human degradation.
    Check out what follows:

    WCGLarge

    WCG Logo New

    World Community Grid (WCG) brings people together from across the globe to create the largest non-profit computing grid benefiting humanity. It does this by pooling surplus computer processing power. We believe that innovation combined with visionary scientific research and large-scale volunteerism can help make the planet smarter. Our success depends on like-minded individuals – like you.”

    WCG projects run on BOINC software from UC Berkeley.
    BOINCLarge

    BOINC WallPaper

    BOINC is a leader in the field(s) of Distributed Computing, Grid Computing and Citizen Cyberscience.BOINC is more properly the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing.

    “Download and install secure, free software that captures your computer’s spare power when it is on, but idle. You will then be a World Community Grid volunteer. It’s that simple!” You can download the software at either WCG or BOINC.

    Open Zika
    7

    Help Stop TB
    WCG Help Stop TB
    Outsmart Ebola together

    Outsmart Ebola Together

    Mapping Cancer Markers
    mappingcancermarkers2

    Uncovering Genome Mysteries
    Uncovering Genome Mysteries

    Say No to Schistosoma

    GO Fight Against Malaria

    Drug Search for Leishmaniasis

    Computing for Clean Water

    The Clean Energy Project

    Discovering Dengue Drugs – Together

    Help Cure Muscular Dystrophy

    Help Fight Childhood Cancer

    Help Conquer Cancer

    Human Proteome Folding

    FightAIDS@Home

    World Community Grid is a social initiative of IBM Corporation
    IBM Corporation
    ibm

    IBM – Smarter Planet
    sp

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 4:54 pm on March 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Entoto Observatory, Ethiopia, The Guardian   

    From The Guardian: ” ‘They call us crazy’: a trip to Ethiopia’s first space observatory” 

    The Guardian Logo

    The Guardian

    21 March 2016
    Natasha Stallard

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    Ethiopia’s closeness to the equator and clear skies makes it an ideal location for space exploration. Photograph: Natasha Stallard

    Entoto Observatory 1 meter alt-az telescope which will operate soon
    1 meter alt-az telescope which Entoto Observatory will operate soon.

    With its clear skies and closeness to the equator, Ethiopia is an ideal location for space exploration. Yet for a developing country facing its worst drought in 50 years, spending millions of dollars to look at the stars might, at first, seem frivolous.

    “They call us crazy because they think we’re [only] exploring outer space and gazing at the stars. But they can’t see the bigger picture,” says Abinet Ezra of the Ethiopian Space Science Society.

    Sitting in a roadside café near the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology, Ezra explains that the “bigger picture” means using space research to expand the economy, improve agriculture, fight climate change and create jobs.

    The Ethiopian Space Science Society, which has recruited 10,000 members since being launched in 2004 by three aspiring astronomers, has recently opened east Africa’s only space observatory on the 3,200-metre summit of Entoto, overlooking Addis Ababa.

    The multi-million dollar Entoto Observatory and Research Centre has become one of the prime places to view Orion’s Belt – which appears larger and more pronounced here than from other parts of the northern hemisphere.

    Orion Nebula M. Robberto NASA ESA Space Telescope Science Institute Hubble
    Orion’s belt is visible in the Orion Nebula, M. Robberto, NASA/ESA Hubble , Space Telescope Science Institute

    NASA/Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    The society wooed a series of government insiders and private donors, including the Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire Sheikh al Amoudi, to fund its research and pay for the observatory – although the government took over running costs in March.

    With 10 million Ethiopians at risk of famine, this might seem extravagant. But government officials and space enthusiasts say the same thing: that space science is essential for the country’s development, whether using earth observation to improve agriculture or lowering the costs of communications through the launch of its own satellites – which it currently rents from other countries for inflated sums.

    “It was our priority to convince the government – now they have been convinced,” says Dr Solomon Belay Tessema, director of the Ethiopian Space Science Society and one of its founding members.

    The son of a priest, Tessema grew up in a small rural village in north-western Ethiopia. He remembers reading news of Yuri Gagarin’s launch into space in Amharic newspapers as a child.

    The director explains how agriculture, water resources, telecommunications, education, healthcare and the economy all stand to gain from Ethiopia’s space science research. What may seem like a huge investment now will pay off in years to come, he says.

    His own education is an example of the change the Ethiopian Space Science Society has lobbied for: with no postgraduate facilities in astronomy and astrophysics available in Ethiopia in 2008, Tessema travelled to Sweden to complete his PhD. He returned to his home country energised by the possibility that astronomy could serve “not just science, but all [of Ethiopia’s] 94 million people.”

    Last year, 219 students applied for the 24 places on the Institute of Technology’s PhD program in astronomy, one of the five universities now teaching at a post-graduate level in the country. The society manages more than 60 space science clubs throughout the country’s school system.

    “If someone studies here, they’re going to contribute to society. It’s a mechanism to control the brain drain,” the director says.

    Gods vs science?

    “We’re not looking for aliens,” says Ghion Ashenafi, a 24-year old electrical engineer during a tour of the observatory, as a group is led to see the twin German telescopes housed in Entoto’s two domes.

    3
    Solomon Belay, director of the Entoto Observatory and Research Centre, stands on the right-hand side of one of the observatory’s two telescopes situated in the Entoto Mountains, overlooking the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

    The complex is so new that the chairs in its digital library are still wrapped in plastic.

    Ashenafi runs through a series of his favourite astro-photos captured by the telescopes: the moons of Jupiter, the two outstretched arms of the spiral M51 galaxy.

    Messier 51. NASA/ESA Hubble
    Messier 51. NASA/ESA Hubble

    A member of the predominant Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church, Ashenafi talks about the uneasy meeting of Ethiopia’s new space exploration drive and its ancient religious beliefs.

    “For me it’s about attitude. I always say God created everything. For me, science is a proof of God,” Ashenafi says.

    Standing on a holy mountain in one of the oldest Christian countries in the world, the Ethiopian Space Science Society is often seen as a challenge to the church.

    Astronomy is a particular bone of contention. Ethiopia’s long history of stargazing predates Christianity – a scholarly tradition tied to agriculture. Some historians argue that the first study of celestial bodies can be traced back to Ethiopia.

    “If you look at a church or mosque, you see a dome-like structure. And if you look at an observatory, you see a dome-like structure too,” says Kelali Adhana, the board chairman of the Ethiopian Space Science Society.

    He recalls his own love of the stars as a child. “Like any child that grew up in a rural area, we looked to the sky to tell the time – we didn’t have watches. I knew the stars by name, but only in the local language,” Adhana says.

    The Ethiopian Space Science Society is currently working on a feasibility study to build a second observatory in Lalibela. One of Ethiopia’s holiest sites, Lalibela’s 12th century rock-cut churches are a feat of engineering that has long fascinated visitors – some believe they were built by angels, others by aliens.

    The proposed state-of-the-art research centre has the backing of the International Astronomical Union, of which the Ethiopian Space Science Society is an official member, and the society believes that the dry climate and Lalibela’s 4,200-metre-high peaks have the same stargazing potential as the famous Atacama desert in Chile.

    This international recognition, as well as a visit from NASA administrator and former astronaut Charles Bolden in 2014, gives the Ethiopian Space Science Society extra motivation as it continues to lobby the government for research funding and support.

    The society hopes to represent east and central Africa in the space science field, and applauds the work of South Africa as well as the Nigerian space agency. While development remains the society’s main aim, do they have plans to send an Ethiopian astronaut into space? “Of course,” says Ashenafi.

    “But maybe not in my lifetime – there’s plenty of other work to do first.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:10 am on March 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , The Guardian   

    From The Guardian: “New simulation could shed light on dark energy and expansion of the universe” 

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    The Guardian

    Based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity, new tool allows researchers to take into account ripples in spacetime, making the most accurate simulations yet.

    7 March 2016
    Nicola Davis

    Scientists have created the most accurate way yet of simulating the way the universe expands.

    Dubbed “gevolution”, the tool will for the first time allow researchers to take into account the effect of ripples in spacetime – known as gravitational waves – and could help shed light on dark energy, the mysterious force driving the universe’s accelerated expansion.

    Dark energy depiction
    Depiction of dark energy

    “I think it is an important step forward,” said Professor Jo Dunkley of the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the study. “It’s something that people have been trying to work towards for a while.”

    While many models of the universe currently exist, simulations are typically based on those built on Newton’s theory of gravity. The new tool, however, is based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity, allowing scientists to create computer simulations based on a far wider range of models. Dr Julian Adamek, one of the paper’s authors now based at the Observatoire de Paris in Meudon, says that offers exciting possibilities. “You can see now a simulation of how spacetime is dragged around – the ‘frame-dragging’ effect – by the movement of matter and also how gravitational waves would be generated by the matter which moves around,” he says.

    “Surprisingly, you can calculate – to really good accuracy – what the large-scale structure of the universe should look like by just using simple Newtonian gravity. Hence virtually all the large computer simulations we use to date just work with Newton’s laws,” says Dr Tessa Baker, also from the University of Oxford. However the new tool, she says, goes further. “It allows one to calculate the small deviations from Newtonian gravity that weren’t captured by any simulation to date.”

    Published in the journal Nature Physics, the paper, led by scientists at the University of Geneva, also points out that the tool will allow researchers to delve deeper into the nature of dark energy – the mysterious phenomenon responsible for the acceleration of the expansion of the universe. While dark energy is often given a value known as the cosmological constant, Adamek is quick to add that it is still an enigma. “If it is not [described by the cosmological constant], if it is something else, you need to know what kind of implications [it would] have and for this, simulations would be a nice way,” says Adamek.

    But not everyone is so enthusiastic. “Einstein’s general relativity is our best description of gravity, but the equations are complicated and expensive to solve – in the sense that it takes a great deal of computer time,” says Dr David Seery from the University of Sussex. “To study growth of structure on cosmological scales we can usually make do with the older Newtonian theory of gravity.” Indeed, while the new tool could offer advantages, Seery believes it has yet to usher forth revelations. “Their computer software is an impressive piece of work, but at this stage the results don’t amount to significant changes in our understanding of the growth of structure.”

    However, with large cosmological surveys in the offing, including the European Space Agency’s Euclid satellite, Dunkley believes the simulations will yet prove valuable.

    ESA Euclid spacecraft
    ESA/Euclid

    “This is really timely because we are just about to embark on this whole wealth of new data – we will need these computer simulations available if we want to learn new physics from the new data that is coming,” she says.

    Baker agrees. “Capturing these general relativistic effects is important because as our telescope technology is improves, so does the accuracy of our astronomical data. They may be only small corrections to the Newtonian predictions, but we should include them to make totally rigorous calculations for the next generation of telescopes.” She adds: “Also they have a bearing on ruling out models of dark matter and dark energy, arguably the biggest problems in current cosmology.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:01 am on January 18, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , The Guardian,   

    From The Guardian: “Titanosaurs: the largest animals ever to walk the Earth” 

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    The Guardian

    17 January 2016
    Ben Garrod

    How do you eat a skip full of food every day without ever chewing? How do you walk on tiptoes when you’re the length of four London buses? How do you have sex when you weigh 70 tons? While the answers to these three questions is probably “with great difficulty”, scientists are tackling such improbable questions after uncovering what is undoubtedly the biggest dinosaur excavation of all time.

    In the spring of 2014, a lone farmer scanned his land, looking for a lost sheep. He thought there was something odd about the rocky ledge his grizzled old sheep was perched on. Dinosaur finds aren’t uncommon in the area but the outcrop was huge – could it really be a bone? He called in the scientists. When they determined that the ledge was in fact the 8ft thigh bone of a dinosaur, this sleepy Argentinian farm became the most important dinosaur dig site for more than 100 years.

    Temp 1
    The Titanosaur replica at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Since its discovery, an international team of biologists, Hollywood model makers, a BBC film crew and palaeontologists, led by Dr Diego Pol and his colleagues from the Museum of Paleontology Egidio Feruglio in Argentina, has worked tirelessly and after 40,000 hours’ work, the results are astounding. The team discovered that not only was this giant herbivore a new species but it was the largest dinosaur ever, dwarfing its closest competitors. What’s more, the team found that seven of these animals actually died in the exact same spot, across at least three different occasions, approximately 101.6 million years ago.

    This new dinosaur belongs to a group known as the sauropods, the long-necked, big-bodied beasts usually found roaming around in herds in the background of Hollywood dinosaur blockbusters. If you’ve seen Dippy at the Natural History Museum in London, then you’ll know what a sauropod is. Within this fascinating group of large herbivorous dinosaurs, however, a subsection is known as the titanosaurs and, as the name suggests, these are the real giants – the ones that literally shook the ground. They followed on from the extinction of smaller sauropods, such as the better-known diplodocids and brachiosauridae, and were found across the world. South America is especially rich in titanosaur fossils and already, true giants such as Puertasaurus and Argentinosaurus have been unearthed there.

    Temp 2
    David Attenborough with a giant titanosaur’s 8ft-long thigh bone. Photograph: Robin Cox/BBC

    Describing any new species can be a delicate subject, so introducing the largest dinosaur to both the scientific community and the wider world will be a huge task. Everyone wants their giant dinosaur to hold the title of “biggest” and, with multiple methods for assessing size to choose from, the team needed to be certain of what they’d found. Body size estimations can vary according to the technique used and on how much of the skeleton is retrieved. Estimates for the previous biggest dinosaur, Argentinosaurus, are based on fewer than 20 bones and Puertasaurus size estimates on just four vertebrae.

    The difference with this newly discovered titanosaur is that much of the skeleton has been found. From the seven individuals, 223 bones have been recovered to date, allowing Pol and his team to use multiple methods to develop a reliable size estimate. Their results show that this dinosaur was 37m in length and weighed 70 metric tons, making it the largest animal ever to walk the face of the planet.

    These dinosaurs had to sustain this incredible weight on four specially adapted column-like legs. They were so big they probably used the heavy musculature running from their thighs to halfway down their tails to gain momentum for walking. What’s more, in order to survive the stresses and fractures that could easily result from such extreme weights, these animals not only evolved to reduce the toes in their forelimbs, forcing them to walk on horseshoe-shaped stumps of reduced metacarpal bones, they walked on tiptoes, with huge fleshy pads cushioning the impact as they moved.

    Weighing as much as up to 15 African elephants, this new species of dinosaur hasn’t even been named yet and although we still can’t fully explain why seven animals were found together, the 80 or so giant serrated carnivore teeth from an unknown killer found alongside the bones hint at a murderous end for these gentle giants. However, as a lifesize replica skeleton is unveiled at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, this super-size discovery is set not only to inspire a new generation of dinosaur fans but will stoke the fires of scientific debate for years to come.

    See the full article here .

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