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  • richardmitnick 12:23 pm on December 4, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "With Mauna Loa’s Eruption a Rare Glimpse Into Earth", , , , , , The New York Times,   

    From “The New York Times” : “With Mauna Loa’s Eruption a Rare Glimpse Into Earth” Photo Essay 

    From “The New York Times”

    Oliver Whang

    Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, began erupting this week for the first time since 1984. Credit: Bruce Omori/EPA, via Shutterstock.

    Notice that Mauna Loa, the largest active volcano in the world, was going to erupt — as it did this week for the first time in nearly four decades — came to people on the Big Island of Hawai’i an hour before the lava began to flow. Public officials scrambled to alert nearby residents. Scientists rushed to predict which areas of the island might be in danger. The curious made plans to observe what could shape up to be an event of a lifetime: the exhalation of a massive mountain.

    The eruption was years in the making, matched not quite in scale by the ongoing effort to monitor the volcano with seismometers, spectrometers, tiltmeters, GPS units and other state-of-the-art tools. “Mauna Loa is one of the most well-instrumented volcanoes in the United States,” said Wendy Stovall, a volcanologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. Even still, so much about the inner workings of the mountain is unknown, Dr. Stovall and other scientists said.

    Weston Thelen, a volcanologist with the U.S.G.S. who monitored the mountain from 2011 to 2016, said that sheer size, mineral composition and heat all presented logistical difficulties for scientists and public officials hoping to predict its movements. “Mauna Loa is a beast,” he said.

    With the eruption underway, researchers on the Big Island, including Jim Kauahikaua, a volcanologist with the U.S.G.S. Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, have had to strike a careful balance between concern for public safety, given the many unknowns, and the desire to collect data.

    “Our main mission is to mitigate these hazards scientifically,” Dr. Kauahikaua said. “An eruption is always exciting, but we learn to temper our excitement and professionally work toward our main mission.”

    So far the eruption has posed little danger to surrounding communities — and thus has lent a sense of urgency to scientists who are eager to unlock Mauna Loa’s many mysteries. For how many weeks, months or years will the opportunity remain available? “Nobody really knows how long this eruption’s going to last,” said Gabi Laske, a geophysicist at the University of California-San Diego.

    Dr. Thelen said: “We get very rare looks at what’s happening in the volcano. If we just station people in lawn chairs at the end of the lava flow and say, ‘It’s moved one meter,’ we’re blowing it.”

    An ancient hot spot

    Lava near Saddle Road, a major roadway on the Big Island, on Monday. Credit: Marco Garcia/Associated Press.

    The details of Mauna Loa’s plumbing system are still relatively unclear, said Weston Thelen, a volcanologist with the U.S. Geological Service. “The closer we look, the more questions that we have.” Credit: Go Nakamura/Reuters.

    Most volcanoes form above the boundaries of Earth’s tectonic plates, where collisions and separations can create anomalous areas in the crust and the upper mantle through which rock — made molten and less dense by heat from the planet’s core — can push through to the surface. But the Hawaiian Islands are 2,000 miles from the nearest tectonic boundary, and their existence puzzled geologists for centuries.

    In 1963, a geophysicist named John Tuzo Wilson proposed that the islands, which are covered with layers of volcanic stone, sit above a magma plume, which forms when rock from the deep mantle bubbles up and pools below the crust. This “hot spot” continually pushes toward the surface, sometimes bursting through the tectonic plate, melting and deforming the surrounding rock as it goes. The plate shifts over millions of years while the magma plume stays relatively still, creating new volcanoes atop the plate and leaving inactive ones in their wake. The results are archipelagoes like the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain and parts of the Iceland Plateau.

    The hot spot theory gained broad consensus in the subsequent decades. “There is no other theory that is able to reconcile so many observations,” said Helge Gonnermann, a volcanologist at Rice University.

    Some confirming observations came relatively recently, in the 2000s, after scientists began placing seismometers, which measure terrestrial energy waves, on the ocean floor. John Orcutt, a geophysicist at the University of California-San Diego, who helped lead that research, said that the seismometers had provided an X-ray of the magma plume rising beneath Hawaii. The instruments were able to accurately read the direction and speed of the magma’s flow; the results pointed resoundingly toward the presence of a hot spot.

    This hot spot has probably been fomenting volcanic activity for tens of millions of years, although it arrived in its current position under Mauna Loa only about 600,000 years ago. And as long as it remains there, Dr. Orcutt said, it will reliably produce volcanic activity. “Few things on Earth are so predictable,” he added.

    Closer to the surface, predicting when, where and how intense these eruptions will be becomes more difficult, despite the profusion of seismometers and satellite sensors. “The deeper you go, the more smooth the behavior gets,” Dr. Orcutt said. “By the time you get this interface between rock and molten rock and the ocean, the magma tends to come out sporadically.”

    Under the hood of the volcano

    A satellite view of lava flows on Monday. Mauna Loa is about 10 miles from base to summit and covers 2,000 square miles. Credit: Maxar Technologies, via Associated Press

    Mauna Loa in 1984. Credit: John Swart/Associated Press.

    The magma plume fueling Mauna Loa is made primarily of molten basalt, which is less viscous than the magma beneath steeper stratovolcanoes like Mount St. Helens and Mount Vesuvius. This makes the average Mauna Loa eruption less explosive and contributes to the mountain’s long profile: about 10 miles from base to summit and covering 2,000 square miles.

    The movement of thinner magma is also more difficult for seismometers to detect, which makes it harder for scientists to map the system of magma melts, rock, crystal and gas that feed eruptions.

    Satellites, while ever-improving, are not sensitive enough under normal conditions to see deeper into Mauna Loa than the shallow magma reservoir a couple of miles below the summit. “It is not clear whether there are additional storage reservoirs at greater depths,” Dr. Gonnermann said.

    Things change, though, when the volcano starts breathing. Magma pushes upward more quickly, cracking rock below ground and causing the surface of the volcano to swell. Such deformations can be picked up by seismometers, which detect the depth and intensity of minerals vibrating and splitting under the molten pressure. From this, together with data about the gases and crystals emitted during the eruption and tiny inflections in gravitational force, a picture begins to emerge from the chaos.

    “We’re lucky if the pressure is high enough, or the system is moving fast enough that we can get clues to what’s going on there,” Dr. Thelen said. “For the most part, when these things are not erupting, they’re quiet.”

    Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984, and in the years afterward, it stayed mostly silent, even as the smaller neighboring volcano, Kilauea, which shares the same magma source, erupted continuously. Rumblings in the ground beneath the volcano started increasing in frequency and intensity around 2013, and seismometers detected clusters of low-magnitude earthquakes deep underground.

    “But it waxes and wanes and stops inflating and hangs out,” Dr. Thelen said. “You get lulled into this: ‘Here we go, another swarm up there.’”

    Sean Solomon, a geophysicist at Columbia University, said that some earthquakes were caused by the volcano’s weight pushing down on the seafloor, but most result from rising magma, which presses up incessantly, fracturing rocks, creating new melts and forming paths of less resistance.

    “Rocks retain memories of every fracture that’s happened before,” Dr. Solomon said. “There’s some kind of plumbing system underneath the volcanoes on Hawaii that leads to these preferred paths to rise.”

    The details of this plumbing system are still relatively unclear, Dr. Thelen said: “All we can do is pass waves through the earth and see how they’re impacted, and try to make a model that explains how that wave is impacted underneath the volcano.” He added, “The closer we look, the more questions that we have.”

    “You can’t hold back the magma forever”

    For some volcanologists on the Big Island, this is the first Mauna Loa eruption in their lifetime. “We live on a very interesting place,” said John Orcutt, a geophysicist at the University of California-San Diego. Credit: Go Nakamura/Reuters.

    Late at night on Sunday, the seismometers around the summit of the volcano started showing more activity. “When they tried to locate where inside the seismicity was originating, they saw that it was originating shallower and shallower and shallower, and that is a telltale sign that the magma is moving upward,” Dr. Laske said.

    At the surface of Mauna Loa are two rift zones, one on the northeast side of the mountain and the other on the southeast. These are imprints of previous eruptions, where magma pooled for miles down the slope in veiny, glowing streams. The northeast rift zone leads to an uninhabited area of the island. The southwest rift zone leads toward several communities along the Kona coast.

    The eruption began at the summit of the mountain, when magma spurted through fissures in the rock and filled the bowl-like caldera. Previous eruptions had started in the summit and moved to a rift zone, but scientists did not know which of the two it would choose this time. The northeast flank would mean safety; the southwest could put thousands of people in danger. Even after the eruption started, Dr. Stovall said, “we didn’t know the eruption had moved to the northeast zone until we had eyes in the air,” flying over the rift zone and watching the lava spill out.

    Since then, the lava flow has slowed in its progression down the sides of the mountain, although it does threaten to cross Saddle Road, a major highway on the Big Island. Magma continues to erupt from the northeast rift zone, spurting upward in red fountains, and scientists are unsure what might come next.

    In the meantime, volcanologists and seismologists are trying to decipher the incoming data by placing more monitoring instruments around active zones and collecting more satellite images of the mountain’s surface. “We’re really trying to understand physically what’s happening in the volcano,” Dr. Thelen said.

    There’s no knowing when the next eruption will occur. For some volcanologists on the Big Island, this is the first Mauna Loa eruption of their lifetimes. But, as Dr. Solomon noted, “on geological time scales, 38 years is pretty short.”

    Dr. Orcutt said: “It’s just something that’s happened for thousands to millions of years, and it’s not going to stop doing that. You can’t hold back the magma forever.”

    See the full article here.

    Comments are invited and will be appreciated, especially if the reader finds any errors which I can correct. Use “Reply”.


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  • richardmitnick 8:37 am on November 19, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "The Mysterious Comets That Hide in the Asteroid Belt", Astronomers suspect that at least some of Earth’s water came from a bombardment of comets flying in from afar., , , , Comets normally fly in from the far reaches of space. Yet astronomers have found them seemingly misplaced in the asteroid belt. Why are they there?, , One new comet candidate: 2001 NL19, The New York Times   

    From “The New York Times” : “The Mysterious Comets That Hide in the Asteroid Belt” 

    From “The New York Times”

    Robin George Andrews

    Comets normally fly in from the far reaches of space. Yet astronomers have found them seemingly misplaced in the asteroid belt. Why are they there?

    ING Isaac Newton 2.5m telescope interior

    What do you expect to find in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter?

    Unsurprisingly, asteroids — millions of bits of rocky debris — would be the correct answer. But recently, astronomers have found some oddball objects that appear to be misplaced hiding in the rubble: comets.

    Now, as reported last week in a study in the MNRAS [below], a survey dedicated to hunting these misfits might have spied another icy individual blasting its own matter into space.

    Scientists identified the suspected comet with the Wide Field Camera of the Isaac Newton Telescope on the Canary Island of La Palma. During three observation runs from 2018 through 2020, they watched 534 different asteroids, looking for signs of a comet’s coma — its ephemeral gassy shell — or tail made by the dust in the coma being pushed by the sun’s radiation.

    Conventionally, comets are made of a nucleus, a solid core of various ices and dust. As a comet approaches the sun, its most volatile ices vaporize, creating a coma and two types of tails.

    Comets are thought to have originated from the fringes of the solar system and beyond. Unlike their frosty cousins that often linger in our star system’s cold outer reaches, asteroid belt, or main belt, comets stick to the warmer edge of the inner solar system. These comets are also as ancient as their neighboring asteroids, making their frozen matter mystifying.

    “We need to be able to explain how their ice survived for so long,” said Léa Ferellec, a postgraduate student of astronomy at the University of Edinburgh and an author of the study.

    Solving this will help to explain not just the planetary diversity and layout of the solar system, but also one of the greatest questions in astronomy: Where did Earth’s water come from?

    Astronomers suspect that at least some of Earth’s water came from a bombardment of comets flying in from afar. However, robotic reconnaissance missions and distant observations have demonstrated that their water’s chemical fingerprints often do not match the Earth’s. It is also easier for objects from the asteroid belt to crash into the planet.

    That means objects like main belt comets may “be a source of Earth’s water,” said Colin Snodgrass, an astronomer at the University of Edinburgh and a co-author of the study.

    As in other comets, the ices of a main belt comet vaporize and create a coma as they screech past the sun. But bizarrely, they orbit in the asteroid belt, a graveyard of debris that did not coalesce into planets.

    The first main belt comet was discovered in 1996, but “you can always explain one weirdo,” Dr. Snodgrass said, suggesting that the belt could have captured an interloping comet. However, eight others have since been detected. Around 20 other belt-bound objects seen shedding mass — possibly because of comet-like periodic ice vaporization, wild spinning or recent impacts by asteroids — are considered candidates to be comets.

    Researchers from the study, hoping to spot more mavericks in the main belt, found just one new candidate: 2001 NL19.

    “This is the only one that seems to have a little something,” Ms. Ferellec said, describing the object’s faint tail-like feature streaking away from the sun. It could have been born of ice vaporization, making the object cometary. More observations will be necessary as it re-approaches the sun, when a coma or tail is most likely to appear.

    Regardless of how 2001 NL19 is classified, the number of confirmed main belt comets suggests that “these things are native to the asteroid belt,” Dr. Snodgrass said. Their genesis remains hazy, though some ideas have been put forward.

    Perhaps main belt comets, like their more distant, conventional counterparts, formed far from the sun during the chaotic early days of the solar system, but instead of remaining remote they were jostled by the gravity of other objects and placed into what is now the asteroid belt. After billions of years, any surviving primordial ice would be buried deep below their rocky surfaces. If they are hit by another asteroid, some of this ice will be excavated, exposing it to scorching starlight.

    Uncertainties aside, one thing is clear: The existence of these asteroid-comet screwballs complicates the urge to put natural phenomena into neat little boxes.

    “I always say, ‘Everything is a comet,’” said Kacper Wierzchos, an astronomer at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona who was not involved with the study. “If you brought my couch close enough to the sun, it would start melting and having a coma.”

    Science paper:
    See the science paper for instructive material with images by viewing the .pdf.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 8:27 pm on November 8, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "After Decades of Resistance Rich Countries Offer Direct Climate Aid", , COP27: 27th session of the Conference of the Parties, For 30 years developing nations have been calling for industrialized countries to provide compensation for the costs of devastating storms and droughts caused by climate change., The New York Times   

    From”The New York Times”: “After Decades of Resistance Rich Countries Offer Direct Climate Aid” 

    From “The New York Times”

    David Gelles

    Sandbags providing a barrier against rising seas in Funafuti, Tuvalu, in the South Pacific. Tuvalu’s prime minister, Kausea Natano, said on Tuesday that his nation was “the Pacific region’s champion of loss and damage.” Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images.

    For 30 years, developing nations have been calling for industrialized countries to provide compensation for the costs of devastating storms and droughts caused by climate change. For just as long, rich nations that have generated the pollution that is dangerously heating the planet have resisted those calls.

    At the United Nations climate summit last year, only Scotland, the host country, committed $2.2 million for what’s known as “loss and damage.” But this week, the dam may have begun to break.

    On Sunday, negotiators from developing countries succeeded in placing the matter on the formal agenda of this year’s climate summit, known as COP27, or the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties.

    “The addition of loss and damage on the agenda is a significant achievement, and one that we have been fighting for many years,” Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, said on Tuesday. “We have a moral and just cause.”

    By the end of the third day of the conference, several European countries had pledged cash for a new loss and damage fund.

    The first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, appeared at a New York Times event on the sidelines of COP27 after promising an additional $5.7 million.

    “The Global South still feel that they’re having to come and plead with the rich countries to acknowledge, let alone address, the issue of loss and damage, for example,” Ms. Sturgeon said. “There is a real need to make tangible progress.”

    The commitment of direct funding for loss and damage represents a major break from precedent. For decades, wealthy nations, which have emitted half of all heat-trapping gasses since 1850, have avoided calls to help poor countries recover from climate disasters, fearing that doing so could open them to unlimited liability. And, as a legal and a practical matter, it has been extraordinarily difficult to define “loss and damage” and determine what it might cost and who should pay how much.

    Yet after increasingly destructive fires, floods and droughts, which have touched every corner of the globe but have disproportionately affected the developing world, Western leaders have changed their tune.

    Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, addressing the United Nations climate summit on Tuesday. “We have a moral and just cause,” she said. Credit: Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

    Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, joined the chorus of European nations endorsing the idea of new funds for poor nations being affected by climate change. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

    On Tuesday, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, endorsed the idea of new funds for poor nations being affected by climate change.

    “The COP must make progress on minimizing and averting loss and damage from climate change,” she said, addressing other world leaders. “It is high time to put this on the agenda.”

    Shortly after Ms. von der Leyen’s remarks, Prime Minister Micheál Martin of Ireland said his country was pledging $10 million to a new effort “to protect the most vulnerable from climate loss and damage.”

    “The burden of climate change globally is falling most heavily on those least responsible for our predicament,” he said. “We will not see the change we need without climate justice.”

    Austria’s climate minister said the country would pay 50 million euros, or around $50 million, to developing countries struggling with climate effects. Belgium joined in, promising $2.5 billion in loss and damage funding to Mozambique. And Demark said in September that it would spend at least $13 million paying for loss and damage in developing nations.

    Germany made a related move on Monday, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledging $170 million to a new program that would offer vulnerable nations a form of insurance in the event of climate emergencies.

    Other leaders said the time had come for real loss and damage funding.

    “I support governments paying money for loss and damage and adaptation, but let’s be very clear that that’s a matter of billions or tens of billions,” Al Gore, former vice president of the United States, said on Monday.

    Foot traffic at the convention center at Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, on Tuesday. Credit: Fayez Nureldine/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

    Shortly after Mr. Gore spoke, President Emmanuel Macron of France said that Europe was already helping poorer countries, and that other Western nations needed to do more. “Europeans are paying,” he said. “We are the only ones paying.”

    “Pressure must be put on rich non-European countries, telling them, ‘You have to pay your fair share,’” Mr. Macron said, in a not-too-veiled reference to the Americans.

    But the United States, the world’s richest nation and the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, was conspicuously absent from the discussions on loss and damage.

    John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy, has agreed to discuss the idea of financing for loss and damage at the climate conference, but the United States has not agreed to a new fund.

    “We are anxious to see the loss and damage issue dealt with upfront and in a real way at the COP,” a spokesman for Mr. Kerry said as the conference began. “We anticipate that it will be an agenda item, and we’re perfectly comfortable helping it to be that — which means, at some point, you’ve got to have an outcome.”

    Still, no strategy was offered on Tuesday by the United States delegation. Instead, Mr. Kerry plans to unveil on Wednesday a new plan designed to get big corporations to purchase carbon offsets — essentially, credits for their greenhouse gas pollution. The money would go toward driving down emissions in developing nations by retiring fossil fuel plants, creating renewable energy and building resilience to climate effects.

    The initiative has been met with skepticism from some European nations as well as members of the U.N. secretary general’s staff, because they felt the plan lacked details and was being rushed, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions.

    Some of the most influential environmental groups in the United States who were briefed by the State Department on the strategy, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute, also do not support the plan because they fear it could actually undermine efforts to drive down global emissions to zero, activists said.

    John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, has agreed to discuss the idea of financing for loss and damage at the climate conference, but the United States has not agreed to a new fund. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

    Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini of Eswatini. “The urgency to mitigate and adapt is being overshadowed by the need to deal with the loss and damage we are already facing and experiencing,” he said. Credit: Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

    The mixed efforts by Western nations came as leaders from developing countries continued to call for financial compensation.

    “We need to put together the loss and damage fund we have been speaking about for years,” President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela said during a fiery speech. He denounced capitalism and the extraction of natural resources as the causes of climate change, but made no mention of his own country’s history as an oil producer.

    Kausea Natano, the prime minister of Tuvalu, said his nation was “the Pacific region’s champion of loss and damage” and called for “a secure, guaranteed loss and damage facility.”

    Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of Pakistan, detailed the continuing recovery following extraordinary floods this summer that killed an estimated 1,700 people and left one-third of his country underwater. “This all happened despite our very low carbon footprint,” he said. “Loss and damage needs to be part of the core agenda of COP27.”

    And Cleopas Dlamini, the prime minister of Eswatini, previously known as Swaziland, said countries like his were having such a hard time recovering from one climate disaster that it was getting difficult to prepare for the next one.

    “We have come to a point where the urgency to mitigate and adapt is being overshadowed by the need to deal with the loss and damage we are already facing and experiencing,” Mr. Dlamini said, “hence the need for a loss and damage financing facility.”

    Other African leaders made similar remarks, emphasizing that their countries could not afford the cost of adapting to climate change or mitigating extreme weather disasters.

    When asked on Tuesday if the delegates from nearly 200 nations would end the two-week conference with an agreement on a loss and damage fund, Ms. Sturgeon of Scotland was skeptical, despite her country’s pledge.

    “I would like to say yes,” she said. “I think, realistically, probably not. I hope I’m wrong about that. But I do think it’s really important that we emerge from these two weeks with something tangible and concrete that people can see the end point to an agreement.”

    Declining to help the most vulnerable nations, she said, would represent a moral failure on the part of the West.

    “This is a really fundamental question of climate justice,” she said. “The rich world has a responsibility here.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 2:14 pm on October 10, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Black Holes May Hide a Mind-Bending Secret About Our Universe", A blizzard of research in the last decade on the inner lives of black holes has revealed unexpected connections between the two views of the cosmos., , , For the last century the biggest bar fight in science has been between Albert Einstein and himself., , Gravity rules outer space shaping galaxies and indeed the whole universe whereas quantum mechanics rules inner space-the arena of atoms and elementary particles., , , Susskind vs Hawking: The Black Hole War, The New York Times   

    From “The New York Times” : “Black Holes May Hide a Mind-Bending Secret About Our Universe” 

    From “The New York Times”

    Dennis Overbye

    Credit: Leonardo Santamaria

    For the last century the biggest bar fight in science has been between Albert Einstein and himself.

    On one side is the Einstein who in 1915 conceived General Relativity, which describes gravity as the warping of space-time by matter and energy. That theory predicted that space-time could bend, expand, rip, quiver like a bowl of Jell-O and disappear into those bottomless pits of nothingness known as black holes.

    On the other side is the Einstein who, starting in 1905, laid the foundation for quantum mechanics, the nonintuitive rules that inject randomness into the world — rules that Einstein never accepted. According to quantum mechanics, a subatomic particle like an electron can be anywhere and everywhere at once, and a cat can be both alive and dead until it is observed. God doesn’t play dice, Einstein often complained.

    Gravity rules outer space, shaping galaxies and indeed the whole universe, whereas quantum mechanics rules inner space, the arena of atoms and elementary particles. The two realms long seemed to have nothing to do with each other; this left scientists ill-equipped to understand what happens in an extreme situation like a black hole or the beginning of the universe.

    But a blizzard of research in the last decade on the inner lives of black holes has revealed unexpected connections between the two views of the cosmos. The implications are mind-bending, including the possibility that our three-dimensional universe — and we ourselves — may be holograms, like the ghostly anti-counterfeiting images that appear on some credit cards and drivers licenses. In this version of the cosmos, there is no difference between here and there, cause and effect, inside and outside or perhaps even then and now; household cats can be conjured in empty space. We can all be Dr. Strange.

    “It may be too strong to say that gravity and quantum mechanics are exactly the same thing,” Leonard Susskind of Stanford University wrote in a paper in 2017. “But those of us who are paying attention may already sense that the two are inseparable, and that neither makes sense without the other.”

    That insight, Dr. Susskind and his colleagues hope, could lead to a theory that combines gravity and quantum mechanics — quantum gravity — and perhaps explains how the universe began.

    Einstein vs. Einstein

    The schism between the two Einsteins entered the spotlight in 1935, when the physicist faced off against himself in a pair of scholarly papers.

    In one paper, Einstein and Nathan Rosen showed that general relativity predicted that black holes (which were not yet known by that name) could form in pairs connected by shortcuts through space-time, called Einstein-Rosen bridges — “wormholes.” In the imaginations of science fiction writers, you could jump into one black hole and pop out of the other.

    In the other paper, Einstein, Rosen and another physicist, Boris Podolsky, tried to pull the rug out from quantum mechanics by exposing a seeming logical inconsistency. They pointed out that, according to the uncertainty principle of quantum physics, a pair of particles once associated would be eternally connected, even if they were light-years apart. Measuring a property of one particle — its direction of spin, say — would instantaneously affect the measurement of its mate. If these photons were flipped coins and one came up heads, the other invariably would be found out to be tails.

    To Einstein this proposition was obviously ludicrous, and he dismissed it as “spooky action at a distance.” But today physicists call it “entanglement,” and lab experiments confirm its reality every day. Last week the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to a trio of physicists whose experiments over the years had demonstrated the reality of this “spooky action.”

    The physicist N. David Mermin of Cornell University once called such quantum weirdness “the closest thing we have to magic.”

    As Daniel Kabat, a physics professor at Lehman College in New York, explained it, “We’re used to thinking that information about an object — say, that a glass is half-full — is somehow contained within the object. Entanglement means this isn’t correct. Entangled objects don’t have an independent existence with definite properties of their own. Instead they only exist in relation to other objects.”

    Einstein probably never dreamed that the two 1935 papers had anything in common, Dr. Susskind said recently. But Dr. Susskind and other physicists now speculate that wormholes and spooky action are two aspects of the same magic and, as such, are the key to resolving an array of cosmic paradoxes.

    Throwing Dice in the Dark

    To astronomers, black holes are dark monsters with gravity so strong that they can consume stars, wreck galaxies and imprison even light. At the edge of a black hole, time seems to stop. At a black hole’s center, matter shrinks to infinite density and the known laws of physics break down. But to physicists bent on explicating those fundamental laws, black holes are a Coney Island of mysteries and imagination.

    In 1974 the cosmologist Stephen Hawking astonished the scientific world with a heroic calculation showing that, to his own surprise, black holes were neither truly black nor eternal, when quantum effects were added to the picture. Over eons, a black hole would leak energy and subatomic particles, shrink, grow increasingly hot and finally explode. In the process, all the mass that had fallen into the black hole over the ages would be returned to the outer universe as a random fizz of particles and radiation.

    This might sound like good news, a kind of cosmic resurrection. But it was a potential catastrophe for physics. A core tenet of science holds that information is never lost; billiard balls might scatter every which way on a pool table, but in principle it is always possible to rewind the tape to determine where they were in the past or predict their positions in the future, even if they drop into a black hole.

    But if Hawking were correct, the particles radiating from a black hole were random, a meaningless thermal noise stripped of the details of whatever has fallen in. If a cat fell in, most of its information — name, color, temperament — would be unrecoverable, effectively lost from history. It would be as if you opened your safe deposit box and found that your birth certificate and your passport had disappeared. As Hawking phrased it in 1976: “God not only plays dice, he sometimes throws them where they can’t be seen.”

    His declaration triggered a 40-year war of ideas. “This can’t be right,” Dr. Susskind, who became Hawking’s biggest adversary in the subsequent debate, thought to himself when first hearing about Hawking’s claim. “I didn’t know what to make out of it.”

    Encoding Reality

    A potential solution came to Dr. Susskind one day in 1993 as he was walking through a physics building on campus. There in the hallway he saw a display of a hologram of a young woman.

    A hologram is basically a three-dimensional image — a teapot, a cat, Princess Leia — made entirely of light. It is created by illuminating the original (real) object with a laser and recording the patterns of reflected light on a photographic plate. When the plate is later illuminated, a three-dimensional image of the object springs into view at the center.

    “‘Hey, here’s a situation where it looks as if information is kind of reproduced in two different ways,’” Dr. Susskind recalled thinking. On the one hand, there is a visible object that “looked real,” he said. “And on the other hand, there’s the same information coded on the film surrounding the hologram. Up close, it just looks like a little bunch of scratches and a highly complex encoding.”

    The right combinations of scratches on that film, Dr. Susskind realized, could make anything emerge into three dimensions. Then he thought: What if a black hole was actually a hologram, with the event horizon serving as the “film,” encoding what was inside? It was “a nutty idea, a cool idea,” he recalled.

    Across the Atlantic, the same nutty idea had occurred to the Dutch physicist, Gerardus ’t Hooft, a Nobel laureate at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

    According to Einstein’s general relativity, the information content of a black hole or any three-dimensional space — your living room, say, or the whole universe — was limited to the number of bits that could be encoded on an imaginary surface surrounding it. That space was measured in pixels 10⁻³³ centimeters on a side — the smallest unit of space, known as the Planck length.

    With data pixels so small, this amounted to quadrillions of megabytes per square centimeter — a stupendous amount of information, but not an infinite amount. Trying to cram too much information into any region would cause it to exceed a limit decreed by Jacob Bekenstein, then a Princeton graduate student and Hawking’s rival, and cause it to collapse into a black hole.

    “This is what we found out about Nature’s bookkeeping system,” Dr. ’t Hooft wrote in 1993. “The data can be written onto a surface, and the pen with which the data are written has a finite size.”

    The Soup-Can Universe

    The cosmos-as-holograph idea found its fullest expression a few years later, in 1997. Juan Maldacena, a theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., used new ideas from string theory — the speculative “theory of everything” that portrays subatomic particles as vibrating strings — to create a mathematical model of the entire universe as a hologram.

    In his formulation, all the information about what happens inside some volume of space is encoded as quantum fields on the surface of the region’s boundary.

    Dr. Maldacena’s universe is often portrayed as a can of soup: Galaxies, black holes, gravity, stars and the rest, including us, are the soup inside, and the information describing them resides on the outside, like a label. Think of it as gravity in a can. The inside and outside of the can — the “bulk” and the “boundary” — are complementary descriptions of the same phenomena.

    Since the fields on the surface of the soup can obey quantum rules about preserving information, the gravitational fields inside the can must also preserve information. In such a picture, “there is no room for information loss,” Dr. Maldacena said at a conference in 2004.

    Hawking conceded: Gravity was not the great eraser after all.

    “In other words, the universe makes sense,” Dr. Susskind said in an interview.

    “It’s completely crazy,” he added, in reference to the holographic universe. “You could imagine in a laboratory, in a sufficiently advanced laboratory, a large sphere — let’s say, a hollow sphere of a specially tailored material — to be made of silicon and other things, with some kind of appropriate quantum fields inscribed on it.” Then you could conduct experiments, he said: Tap on the sphere, interact with it, then wait for answers from the entities inside.

    “On the other hand, you could open up that shell and you would find nothing in it,” he added. As for us entities inside: “We don’t read the hologram, we are the hologram.”

    Wormholes, wormholes everywhere

    Our actual universe, unlike Dr. Maldacena’s mathematical model, has no boundary, no outer limit. Nonetheless, for physicists, his universe became a proof of principle that gravity and quantum mechanics were compatible and offered a font of clues to how our actual universe works.

    But, Dr. Maldacena noted recently, his model did not explain how information manages to escape a black hole intact or how Hawking’s calculation in 1974 went wrong.

    Don Page, a former student of Hawking now at the University of Alberta, took a different approach in the 1990s. Suppose, he said, that information is conserved when a black hole evaporates. If so, then a black hole does not spit out particles as randomly as Hawking had thought. The radiation would start out as random, but as time went on, the particles being emitted would become more and more correlated with those that had come out earlier, essentially filling the gaps in the missing information. After billions and billions of years all the hidden information would have emerged.

    In quantum terms, this explanation required any particles now escaping the black hole to be entangled with the particles that had leaked out earlier. But this presented a problem. Those newly emitted particles were already entangled with their mates that had already fallen into the black hole, running afoul of quantum rules mandating that particles be entangled only in pairs. Dr. Page’s information-transmission scheme could only work if the particles inside the black hole were somehow the same as the particles that were now outside.

    How could that be? The inside and outside of the black hole were connected by wormholes, the shortcuts through space and time proposed by Einstein and Rosen in 1935.

    In 2012 Drs. Maldacena and Susskind proposed a formal truce between the two warring Einsteins. They proposed that spooky entanglement and wormholes were two faces of the same phenomenon. As they put it, employing the initials of the authors of those two 1935 papers, Einstein and Rosen in one and Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen in the other: “ER = EPR.”

    The implication is that, in some strange sense, the outside of a black hole was the same as the inside, like a Klein bottle that has only one side.

    How could information be in two places at once? Like much of quantum physics, the question boggles the mind, like the notion that light can be a wave or a particle depending on how the measurement is made.

    What matters is that, if the interior and exterior of a black hole were connected by wormholes, information could flow through them in either direction, in or out, according to John Preskill, a Caltech physicist and quantum computing expert.

    “We ought to be able to influence the interior of one of these black holes by ‘tickling’ its radiation, and thereby sending a message to the inside of the black hole,” he said in a 2017 interview with Quanta. He added, “It sounds crazy.”

    Ahmed Almheiri, a physicist at N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi, noted recently that by manipulating radiation that had escaped a black hole, he could create a cat inside that black hole. “I can do something with the particles radiating from the black hole, and suddenly a cat is going to appear in the black hole,” he said.

    He added, “We all have to get used to this.”

    The metaphysical turmoil came to a head in 2019. That year two groups of theorists made detailed calculations showing that information leaking through wormholes would match the pattern predicted by Dr. Page. One paper was by Geoff Penington, now at the University of California, Berkeley. And the other was by Netta Engelhardt of M.I.T.; Don Marolf of the University of California, Santa Cruz; Henry Maxfield, now at Stanford University; and Dr. Almheiri. The two groups published their papers on the same day.

    “And so the final moral of the story is, if your theory of gravity includes wormholes, then you get information coming out,” Dr. Penington said. “If it doesn’t include wormholes, then presumably you don’t get information coming out.”

    He added, “Hawking didn’t include wormholes, and we are including wormholes,”

    Not everybody has signed on to this theory. And testing it is a challenge, since particle accelerators will probably never be powerful enough to produce black holes in the lab for study, although several groups of experimenters hope to simulate black holes and wormholes in quantum computers.

    And even if this physics turns out to be accurate, Dr. Mermin’s magic does have an important limit: Neither wormholes nor entanglement can transmit a message, much less a human, faster than the speed of light. So much for time travel. The weirdness only becomes apparent after the fact, when two scientists compare their observations and discover that they match — a process that involves classical physics, which obeys the speed limit set by Einstein.

    As Dr. Susskind likes to say, “You can’t make that cat hop out of a black hole faster than the speed of light.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 9:34 am on October 4, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Nobel Prize in Physics Is Awarded to 3 Scientists for Work in Quantum Technology", , , , , , , The New York Times   

    From “The New York Times” : “Nobel Prize in Physics Is Awarded to 3 Scientists for Work in Quantum Technology” 

    From “The New York Times”

    Isabella Kwai
    Cora Engelbrecht
    Dennis Overbye

    Awarding the prize on Tuesday, the committee said that the scientists’ work had “opened doors to another world.” Credit: Jonas Ekstromer/TT News Agency, via Associated Press

    The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Alain Aspect, John F. Clauser and Anton Zeilinger on Tuesday for work that has “laid the foundation for a new era of quantum technology,” the Nobel Committee for Physics said.

    Alain Aspect.

    John F. Clauser

    Anton Zeilinger

    The scientists have each conducted “groundbreaking experiments using entangled quantum states, where two particles behave like a single unit even when they are separated,” the committee said in a briefing. Their results, it said, cleared the way for “new technology based upon quantum information.”

    The laureates’ research builds on the work of John Stewart Bell, a physicist who strove in the 1960s to understand whether particles, having flown too far apart for there to be normal communication between them, can still function in concert, also known as quantum entanglement.

    According to quantum mechanics, particles can exist simultaneously in two or more places. They do not take on formal properties until they are measured or observed in some way. By taking measurements of one particle, like its position or “spin,” a change is observed in its partner, no matter how far away it has traveled from its pair.

    Working independently, the three laureates did experiments that helped clarify a fundamental claim about quantum entanglement, which concerns the behavior of tiny particles, like electrons, that interacted in the past and then moved apart.

    Dr. Clauser, an American, was the first in 1972. Using duct tape and spare parts at The DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., he endeavored to measure quantum entanglement by firing thousands of photons in opposite directions to investigate a property known as polarization. When he measured the polarizations of photon pairs, they showed a correlation, proving that a principle called Bell’s inequality had been violated and that the photon pairs were entangled, or acting in concert.

    The research was taken up 10 years later by Dr. Aspect, a French scientist, and his team at the University of Paris. And in 1998, Dr. Zeilinger, an Austrian physicist, led another experiment that considered entanglement among three or more particles.

    Eva Olsson, a member of the Nobel Committee for Physics, noted that quantum information science had broad implications in areas like secure information transfer and quantum computing.

    Quantum information science is a “vibrant and rapidly developing field,” she said. “Its predictions have opened doors to another world, and it has also shaken the very foundation of how we interpret measurements.”

    The Nobel committee said the three scientists were being honored for their experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science.

    “Being able to manipulate and manage quantum states and all their layers of properties gives us access to tools with unexpected potential,” the committee said in a statement on Twitter.

    Dr. Zeilinger described the award as “an encouragement to young people.”

    “The prize would not be possible without more than 100 young people who worked with me over the years and made all this possible,” he said.

    Though he acknowledged that the award was recognizing the future applications of his work, he said, “My advice would be: Do what you find interesting, and don’t care too much about possible applications.”

    It was the second of several such prizes to be awarded over the coming week. The Nobels, among the highest honors in science, recognize groundbreaking contributions in a variety of fields.

    “I’m still kind of shocked, but it’s a very positive shock,” Dr. Zeilinger said of receiving the phone call informing him of the news.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 8:33 am on September 25, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: " CAISO": the California Independent System Operator, "Dodging Blackouts California Faces New Questions on Its Power Supply", About 2000 megawatts of natural gas units-enough to power almost 1.5 million homes-were offline or operating at less than their full potential., An increasing share of electricity is coming from solar and wind farms that produce power only when the sun shines or the wind blows., , As climate change makes extreme weather events more frequent the peril has only increased., As electricity demand kept increasing so did prices-some to almost $2000 per megawatt-hour-compared with normal prices of less than $100., As Sept. 6 arrived it did not take long for temperatures to surge back into the 100s with Sacramento setting a record high of 116 degrees., CAISO told utilities to prepare to cut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers., CAISO’s forecasters were projecting the highest demand the system had ever seen-51276 megawatts., California did help neighboring states affected by the extreme heat-Nevada in particular-just as other states provided support to California., California finds itself on edge more than ever with a lingering fear: the threat of rolling blackouts for years to come., California relies heavily on energy from other states., California’s grid is connected by transmission lines to other Western states and Canadian provinces allowing it to import and export power., , , During a heat wave this month the operator of California’s electric grid faced the highest demand the system had ever seen., , , Even as California was facing record demand its power lines were sending power to other parts of the region-in some cases to fulfill contracts between producers and utilities., Even with the exports the state imported more power that day than it shared., Governor Newsom ordered emergency warnings to be sent to 27 million cellphones in areas of high demand like Los Angeles urged people to avoid nonessential power use., The New York Times, The state’s electric system must depend on and compete with neighbors for what is sold in energy markets., The transition away from fossil fuels has complicated energy operations., The typical customer in California pays about $290 a month for electricity compared with $154 for the average U.S. resident., Utilities began firing up backup generators.   

    From “The New York Times” : “Dodging Blackouts California Faces New Questions on Its Power Supply” 

    From “The New York Times”

    Ivan Penn

    Power lines in Cathedral City, Calif. During a heat wave this month the operator of California’s electric grid faced the highest demand the system had ever seen. Credit: Alex Welsh for The New York Times.

    California finds itself on edge more than ever with a lingering fear: the threat of rolling blackouts for years to come.

    Despite adding new power plants, building huge battery storage systems and restarting some shuttered fossil fuel generators over the last couple of years, California relies heavily on energy from other states — the cavalry rushing over a distant hill.

    Sometimes the support does not show up when expected, or at all. That was the case this month, when millions of residents got cellphone alerts urging them to cut their energy use as the state teetered close to blackouts in blazing heat.

    As climate change makes extreme weather events more frequent the peril has only increased.

    “Weather volatility wreaks havoc on energy systems,” said Evan Caron, a 20-year veteran of the energy industry as a trader and investor who handles venture investments for Riverstone Holdings, a private equity firm in New York. “They’ve created complex systems to help try to figure out how to balance demand, but the system is an imperfect system.”

    Where local utilities once produced, transmitted and delivered electricity to their customers, a cast of players now orchestrates the service in most areas of the country. There are power plant owners, energy traders who buy and sell excess power not committed in contracts, utilities that deliver electricity to customers, electric grid managers who coordinate it all.

    California’s grid is connected by transmission lines to other Western states and Canadian provinces allowing it to import and export power. Like any big marketplace, the system has advantages of scale, allowing resources to be redirected to where they are needed. But California’s experience has revealed a number of vulnerabilities — in the system’s design and in the region’s generating capacity — that create the potential for failure.

    The transition away from fossil fuels has complicated energy operations, as an increasing share of electricity is coming from solar and wind farms that produce power only when the sun shines or the wind blows, making the available supply more variable over a 24-hour period.

    Part of President Biden’s strategy to reduce emissions and counter the effects of climate change is to increase the delivery of clean energy from one area, state or region to another — say, from Wyoming wind farms or Arizona solar farms to California homes and offices — an effort backed by hundreds of billions of dollars in this year’s Inflation Reduction Act and other measures.

    But until those plans yield a significant increase in energy generation and transmission, grid managers like the California Independent System Operator, or CAISO, which runs 80 percent of the state’s electric system must depend on and compete with neighbors for what is sold in energy markets. That means California risks falling short during periods of peak demand, like the one it experienced on Sept. 6.

    With temperatures soaring throughout the West, CAISO faced rising prices in the regional market that it operates to buy and sell energy. As electricity demand kept increasing so did prices-some to almost $2,000 per megawatt-hour-compared with normal prices of less than $100.

    “Where the risk comes is if we can’t get our prices high enough compared to the rest of the West to get any imports,” said Carrie Bentley, the co-founder and chief executive of Gridwell Consulting, which focuses on energy markets in the West. “Prices in the desert Southwest were a little higher, so we were competing with them. There just wasn’t enough supply.”

    Coping With a Crisis

    As Sept. 6 arrived, Elliot Mainzer, CAISO’s chief executive, knew he was facing one of his organization’s toughest days.

    Its meteorologists, along with those at the National Weather Service, were forecasting record heat. With overnight lows in the 80s in much of the state, it did not take long for temperatures to surge back into the 100s with Sacramento setting a record high of 116 degrees.

    Just before Mr. Mainzer and a hundred other people from utilities, smaller grid operators and emergency services got on a 9 a.m. call with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office, CAISO’s forecasters were projecting the highest demand the system had ever seen-51276 megawatts. The peak, set 16 years earlier, was 50,270.

    “We were seeing that there were going to be some significant shortfalls,” Mr. Mainzer said. “It’s not just the demand and the heat, but wildfires, smoke and cloud cover were affecting the system.”

    About 2,000 megawatts of natural gas units — enough to power almost 1.5 million homes — were offline or operating at less than their full potential.

    One problem was that natural gas plants become overly strained in extreme heat. The Ormond Beach Generating Station, a 51-year-old gas plant an hour’s drive up the coast from Los Angeles, was repeatedly forced offline in the early days of the heat wave. Now, the plant’s output was nearly at capacity, although it had not reached 100 percent.

    Utilities began firing up backup generators.

    None of it was enough. At 4:57 p.m., demand for power in CAISO’s system hit 52,061 megawatts — nearly 4 percent higher than the record.

    “The sheer temperatures that were going on outside just kept pushing the load,” Mr. Mainzer said. “It was just going up and up and up. We’re also facing sunset.”

    A worker distributed water in California during the heat wave on Sept. 6. The temperature in Sacramento that day reached 116 degrees. Credit: Alex Welsh for The New York Times.

    That meant the supply of solar power was about to drop off rapidly, and the grid operator was running out of backup tools.

    About 5:17 p.m., the highest of three emergency alert levels was declared, and CAISO told utilities to prepare to cut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers.

    At 5:40 p.m., CAISO informed Mr. Newsom that “we were deep into the emergency,” Mr. Mainzer said. “That was where we were, one step away from rotating outages.”

    Taking a drastic measure, Mr. Newsom ordered emergency warnings to be sent to 27 million cellphones in areas of high demand like Los Angeles. The messages urged people to avoid nonessential power use, keep thermostats no lower than 78 degrees and charge electric vehicles only at night, after demand recedes.

    In minutes, electricity use dropped more than 2,000 megawatts — or the production capacity of two large power plants.

    Even as California was facing record demand its power lines were sending power to other parts of the region, in some cases to fulfill contracts between producers and utilities. At moments during the day, more than 5,000 megawatts of electricity were exported through CAISO’s system for hours at a time, according to Tyson Siegele, an analyst at the Protect Our Communities Foundation, an advocacy group for energy issues.

    Even with the exports the state imported more power that day than it shared, with a net that never fell below 4,000 megawatts, according to Ms. Bentley of Gridwell Consulting.

    Still, Mr. Mainzer is aware of the optics of the exports at such a critical time.

    “I think we’re kind of terrified,” Mr. Mainzer said, “that we’re going to be criticized that we were doing exports.”

    The Search for Solutions

    In the summer of 2000, two years after California opened its wholesale energy market, the state’s retail electricity prices reached record highs, and power shortages forced rolling blackouts — problems driven by manipulation of the system by market participants.

    State and federal lawmakers and regulators acted to guard against future manipulation, price volatility and rolling outages, but those steps did not eliminate the uncertainty and risks inherent in financial markets, including wholesale energy markets.

    What Mr. Mainzer described as a system of neighbors helping one another in a crisis is also, in practice, a competition.

    In a review of this month’s emergency by Gridwell Consulting, Ms. Bentley determined that California was receiving all the electricity it could purchase from the Pacific Northwest as well as hydroelectric power from British Columbia. The additional electricity would have to come from the Southwest, but California’s wholesale price limits made it difficult to compete with Arizona and New Mexico, where wholesalers could get more money for their electricity.

    “There was nothing any of the other states could give us,” Ms. Bentley said.

    Jon Wellinghoff, a former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, believes CAISO and California regulators need to spend more time getting their forecasts right. Markets are the most efficient way to manage energy supplies across states, he said, but without proper planning electricity becomes too expensive.

    “Yes, there weren’t any rolling blackouts in California, but at what cost?” he said of the recent emergency. “What was the total cost to consumers in California?” There is, as yet, no authoritative answer.

    Even absent an emergency, Californians have been acutely affected by higher electricity costs, reflecting regulatory requirements for utilities to do more to prevent their equipment from causing wildfires as well as the need for more power plants and energy storage to meet the growing demand. The typical customer in California pays about $290 a month for electricity compared with $154 for the average U.S. resident, according to the Energy Information Administration.

    Mr. Wellinghoff believes that part of California’s problem can be solved by changing the way electricity is managed in the West. CAISO runs an energy trading market across multiple Western states but controls only California’s electric grid.

    In addition to a regional trading market, Mr. Wellinghoff wants a regional electric grid operator rather than individual operators in separate states — an idea that has met stiff opposition in the past because CAISO’s board is appointed by California’s governor and other states do not want their outsize neighbor dictating policy. For California’s part, some officials have not wanted to surrender control of their grid manager to smaller states.

    But Mr. Wellinghoff said a regional grid manager could better distribute resources without depending on the energy market alone to deliver power from area to area.

    “Broader authority will produce benefits immediately,” Mr. Wellinghoff said. “The system needs to be made more efficient. We could have been in a better position, yes.”

    Mr. Mainzer said his staff would have to review the data from the Sept. 6 emergency for more details about power plant performance and imports and exports, but California did help neighboring states affected by the extreme heat, Nevada in particular, just as other states provided support to California. The bigger concern, he said, is the need to adjust for the evolving demands that climate change is placing on the electric grid, including by improving planning.

    “We’re having to update our resource forecasting,” Mr. Mainzer said. “The past is no longer the predictor of the future.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 8:55 pm on September 15, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "CATS": Categorizing Atmospheric Technosignatures, "The Search for Intelligent Life Is About to Get a Lot More Interesting", As of August NASA’s confirmed tally of such exoplanets was 5084 and the number tends to grow by several hundred a year., , , Extraterrestrial technosignatures, Pretty much every star you see in the night sky has a planet around it if not a family of planets., Several advances have made the search for technosignatures feasible., Several other powerful ground- and space-based instruments are being developed that will allow us to view exceedingly distant objects for the first time., The New York Times, The potential candidates for life-as well as for civilizations that possess technology-may involve numbers almost too large to imagine., There are probably at least 100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy and an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the universe., This summer the first pictures from the new James Webb Space Telescope were released.   

    From “The New York Times” : “The Search for Intelligent Life Is About to Get a Lot More Interesting” 

    From “The New York Times”

    Jon Gertner

    Extraterrestrial technosignatures

    When the space shuttle Atlantis lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 18, 1989, it carried the Galileo in its cargo bay.

    Arrayed with scientific instruments, Galileo’s ultimate destination was Jupiter, where it would spend years in orbit collecting data and taking pictures. After it left the shuttle, though, Galileo headed in the other direction, turning toward the sun and circling around Venus, in order to slingshot around the planet and pick up speed for its journey to the outer solar system. Along the way, it flew around Earth too — twice, in fact, at altitudes of 597 and 188 miles. This gave its engineering team an opportunity to test the craft’s sensors. The astronomer Carl Sagan, a member of Galileo’s science team, called the maneuver the first flyby in our planet’s history.

    Carl Sagan NASA/JPL

    It also allowed him to contemplate what a spacecraft might find when looking at a far-off planet for signs of intelligent life.

    There was plenty to see. Our technology creates an intriguing mess. Lights blaze, and heat islands glow in paved-over urban areas. Atmospheric gases ebb and flow — evident today not only in rising concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane, but also in clouds of floating industrial byproducts. Sometimes there are radiation leaks. And all the while, billions of gadgets and antennas cast off a buzzing, planetary swarm of electromagnetic transmissions.

    Would other planets’ civilizations be like ours? Would they create the same telltale chemical and electromagnetic signs — what scientists have recently begun calling technosignatures — that Galileo detected? The search for intelligence beyond Earth has long been defined by an assumption that extraterrestrials would have developed radio technologies akin to what humans have created. In some early academic papers on the topic, dating to the late 1950s, scientists even posited that these extraterrestrials might be interested in chatting with us. “That played into this whole idea of aliens as salvation — you know, aliens were going to teach us things,” Adam Frank, an astrophysicist at the University of Rochester, told me recently. Frank points out that the search for signals from deep space has, over time, become more agnostic: Rather than looking for direct calls to Earth, telescopes now sweep the sky, searching billions of frequencies simultaneously, for electronic signals whose origins can’t be explained by celestial phenomena. At the same time, the search for intelligent life has turned in a novel direction.

    In 2018, Frank attended a meeting in Houston whose focus was technosignatures. The goal was to get the 60 researchers in attendance to think about defining a new scientific field that, with NASA’s help, would seek out signs of technology on distant worlds, like atmospheric pollution, to take just one example. “That meeting in Houston was the dawn of the new era, at least as I saw it,” Frank recalls. NASA has a long history of staying out of the extraterrestrial business. “Everybody was sort of there with wide eyes — like, ‘Oh, my God, is this really happening?’”

    The result, at least for Frank, has been a new direction for his work, as well as some money to fund it. He and a few astronomy colleagues around the country formed the group Categorizing Atmospheric Technosignatures, or CATS, which NASA has since awarded nearly $1 million in grants. The ambition for CATS is to create a “library” of possible technosignatures. In short, Frank and his colleagues are researching what could constitute evidence that technological civilization exists on other planets. At this stage, Frank stresses, his team’s work is not about communicating with aliens; nor is it meant to contribute to research on extraterrestrial radio transmissions. They are instead thinking mainly about the atmospheres of distant worlds, and what those might tell us. “The civilization will just be doing whatever it’s doing, and we’re making no assumptions about whether anybody wants to communicate or doesn’t want to communicate,” he says.

    This line of inquiry might not have been productive just a few years ago. But several advances have made the search for technosignatures feasible. The first, thanks to new telescopes and astronomical techniques, is the identification of planets orbiting distant stars. As of August NASA’s confirmed tally of such exoplanets was 5,084, and the number tends to grow by several hundred a year. “Pretty much every star you see in the night sky has a planet around it, if not a family of planets,” Frank says; he notes that this realization has only taken hold in the past decade or so. Because there are probably at least 100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy and an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the universe, the potential candidates for life — as well as for civilizations that possess technology — may involve numbers almost too large to imagine. Perhaps more important, our tools keep getting better. This summer the first pictures from the new James Webb Space Telescope were released. But several other powerful ground- and space-based instruments are being developed that will allow us to view exceedingly distant objects for the first time or view previously identified objects in novel ways.

    “With things like J.W.S.T. and some of the other telescopes, we’re beginning to be able to probe atmospheres looking for much smaller signals,” Michael New, a NASA research official who attended the 2018 Houston conference, told me. “And this is something we just couldn’t have done before.”

    As Frank puts it, more bluntly: “The point is, after 2,500 years of people yelling at each other over life in the universe, in the next 10, 20 and 30 years we will actually get data.”

    Illustration by Somnath Bhatt.

    In July, when NASA released the first batch of images from the Webb telescope, we could glimpse remote corners of the universe with newfound clarity and beauty — a panorama of “cosmic cliffs,” 24 trillion miles tall, constructed from gas and dust, for instance. The images were stunning but also bewildering; they defied description. What could we even compare them to? Webb was reaching farther in distance and into the past than any telescope before it, collecting light from stars that in some cases required more than 13 billion years to reach us. We will need to acclimate ourselves to the task of constantly looking at — and interpreting — things we’ve never seen before.

    The Webb telescope can look near as well as far. During its first year, about 7 percent of its time will be spent observing our own solar system, according to Heidi B. Hammel, an interdisciplinary scientist who worked on the telescope’s development. Webb can analyze the atmospheres of nearby planets like Jupiter and Mars using its infrared sensors. These capabilities can also be directed at some of the closest Earth-size exoplanets, like those surrounding the small Trappist-1 star, 40 light-years away.

    One goal of that focus is to discern a biosignature — that is, an indication that life exists (or has existed) on those worlds. On Earth, a biosignature might be the discarded shell of a clam, the fallen feather of a bird, a fossilized fern embedded in sedimentary rock. On an exoplanet, it might be a certain ratio of gases — oxygen, methane, H₂O and CO₂, say — that suggest the presence of microbes or plants. Nikole Lewis, an associate professor of astronomy at Cornell University whose team has been approved for 22.5 hours of Webb observation time this year to look at Trappist-1e, one of seven planets circling the Trappist-1 star, told me that well before declaring the discovery of a biosignature, she would have to carefully determine the planet’s atmosphere and potential habitability. “First, we have to find out if there’s air,” she says, “and then we can ask, ‘OK, what’s in the air?’” She estimates that it would take three or more years of observing a system to be able to say there’s a biosignature.

    Biosignatures and technosignatures point the same way: toward life. But for now, they are being pursued by two separate scientific communities. One reason is historical: The study of biosignatures — which began in the 1960s, within the new discipline of exobiology — has been receiving support from NASA and academic institutions for decades. But “technosignature” was coined only recently, in 2007, by Jill Tarter, a pioneering figure in astronomy who has spent her career conducting searches for alien transmissions. Jason Wright, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State who is a member of Frank’s CATS group, says he thinks of Tarter’s idea as a “rebranding” of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, which has long been relegated to the scientific fringe. “When Jill coined the phrase,” Wright told me, “she was trying to emphasize that NASA was looking for microbes and slime and atmospheric biosignatures, but technosignatures were really under the same umbrella.” Any search for biosignatures on a distant planet, Wright contends, would logically overlap the search for technosignatures, once it became time to explain unusual observations. Does a telescopic reading suggest a life-sustaining atmosphere? Or is it possibly a sign of technology, too? Scientists looking for biosignatures, in other words, may encounter marks of technology as well.

    Wright, Frank and the rest of the CATS team are thus interested in atmospheric markers that would probably never occur naturally. One recent group paper, for example, written primarily by Jacob Haqq-Misra, a CATS member who works at the nonprofit Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, considers how the presence of chlorofluorocarbons, an industrial byproduct, would give a distinct spectral signal and could be picked up by Webb [The Planetary Science Journal (below)]. Haqq-Misra was also the first author on a recent paper suggesting that an exoplanet with agriculture — “exofarms” — might emit telltale atmospheric emissions [The Astrophysical Journal Letters (below)]. Another paper, one written mainly by Ravi Kopparapu, a CATS member who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, makes the case that the emission of nitrogen dioxide, an industrial byproduct, could signal the existence of alien technology [The Astrophysical Journal (below)]. Those emissions might be observable by a NASA space telescope, known as LUVOIR (Large Ultraviolet Optical Infrared Surveyor), that is slated to be deployed after 2040. These scenarios — aliens running factories, say, or aliens riding tractors at harvest time — might seem unlikely, but the scientists working on technosignatures are comfortable with the low odds. “If we focus on what’s detectable, based on these instruments that we’re building, that’s really the fundamental question,” Haqq-Misra told me.

    When I visited Wright at his office at Penn State in the spring, he made the case that technosignatures are not only more detectable than biosignatures, possibly, but also more abundant and longer lived. Consider Earth as an example, he said. Its technology already extends all over the solar system. We have junk on the moon; we have Rovers driving around Mars; we have satellites orbiting other planets. What’s more, several spacecraft — including two Pioneers, two Voyagers and the Pluto-probe New Horizons, all launched by NASA — are venturing beyond the edge of the solar system into interstellar space. Such technosignatures could last billions of years. And we’re only 65 years into the age of space exploration. An older civilization could have seeded the galaxy with thousands of technosignatures, which could make them easier to detect.

    “Look, I’m truly agnostic about whether there’s even anything to find,” Wright said. In 1961, he pointed out, the astronomer Frank Drake presented what’s now known as the Drake Equation, which is made up of many variables and attempts to help calculate the number of intelligent civilizations elsewhere in the galaxy. But with so little data to plug in to the variables, there has yet to be any solution to the equation.

    For Wright, Drake’s equation at least allows for a “plausibility” that something is out there. But is it life or complex life? Biosignatures, Wright said, are going to be “extremely challenging to detect — if they exist. So that’s two big ifs. It’s very possible that life is just so rare that there’s nothing within a kiloparsec for us to find.” But technology, he explained, could have started the same distance away — a kiloparsec is 3,261 light-years in distance — and moved closer to Earth over eons. It could be a traveling probe like one of our Voyagers or a systematic species migration; it could be an electronic signal, sent 3,250 years ago and, moving at the speed of light, just coming into our range.

    “So we have a much bigger search radius for technology,” Wright said. “But also, perhaps complex life that builds technology is itself extremely rare, even when life forms.” He paused. “I don’t know,” he said. “What drives me is not the idea that we will find something in my lifetime. What drives me is that we’re not looking very well. And it’s too important a search, answering too important a question, not to do well.”

    “The giggle factor” — that’s what anyone who does research on extraterrestrials is bound to encounter, according to Frank. As a graduate student in the ’80s, Frank was wary of the field as a career move. “I’d never worked in this before, I’d never published any papers,” he told me, referring to his pre-technosignature research. His reluctance was reinforced by the marginalization of the subject. Early on, in the 1970s, NASA had shown a willingness to fund radio-telescope searches for extraterrestrial activity. But the search for aliens aroused opposition. In 1978, Senator William Proxmire declared that taxpayers were being fleeced, a criticism NASA heeded by striking the search for extraterrestrials from its budget. The agency was willing to back survey projects again in the 1980s, but another senator, Richard Bryan, stopped the programs in 1993. “This hopefully will be the end of Martian hunting at the taxpayer’s expense,” Bryan said at the time.

    Only recently has the stigma begun to wear off. At the urging of the Texas representative Lamar Smith (now retired), who was chairman of the House Science Committee, a bill was introduced in Congress for NASA to allocate $10 million to technosignatures. NASA quickly asked for a forum to get a clearer sense of what research was worth funding, positioning the effort as a departure from radio astronomy. “I was told the workshop had to be in a certain Texas congressional district,” Wright, who was asked to organize the Houston meeting, told me.

    When Frank, who trained as a theoretical astrophysicist rather than an observational astronomer, attended the Houston meeting, he had been writing about how civilizations alter their planetary atmospheres. Because humans have changed our world so significantly through global warming — essentially by burning wood and fossil fuels — he had been wondering if this would happen everywhere. “When you pull back and think of the evolution of any planet, you find that what we’re going through may be a common transition that you do, or don’t, make it through,” Frank says. In his view, any species that expands and grows is probably going to create significant feedback effects on its planet. “Civilizations are basically focused on harvesting energy and putting it to work,” he says. “And there should be unintentional markers when you do that. You’re leaving traces.” You’re creating technosignatures. Such assumptions about energy generation and activity are mostly what guide the CATS group.
    One day in early May, I sat in on their monthly meeting, which takes place online. Frank led the discussion from his office in Rochester. Wright joined from Penn State; Haqq-Misra from Delaware; Kopparapu from Maryland. Another team member, Sofia Sheikh, joined from San Francisco. A few other contributors tuned in, too. The first order of business was planning for a four-day technosignatures conference at Penn State, organized by Wright for late June, just weeks away. “This is the first time we’ll all be together, physically, since the 2018 meeting in Houston,” Frank said enthusiastically. “I think we want to advertise how much progress has happened.” He quickly mentioned the chlorofluorocarbons work, the exofarm paper and the visibility of nitrogen pollutants from afar.

    When Kopparapu’s turn came, he explained the relationship of the team’s ideas to the specifications of current and future telescopes. Some next-generation projects involve ground-based instruments that are much more powerful and sophisticated than what exists today — for instance, the Giant Magellan Telescope (now under construction in Chile) and the Thirty Meter Telescope (planned for Hawaii). For the CATS group, the most important of these future missions include LUVOIR and HabEx (Habitable Exoplanet Observatory), multibillion-dollar space telescopes that, unlike Webb, are to be built and calibrated expressly for the study of distant Earth-like planets.

    These devices — only one of which may be built — are two decades away from deployment, however, and for the time being exoplanet study will largely depend on Webb. Once a year, a call goes out for proposals from researchers who want to use the telescope. Fainter objects in the sky generally require more time, brighter objects less. “The competition for a slot is fierce,” Eric Smith, Webb’s program scientist, told me. Because so many requests are rejected — last year the telescope reviewed about 1,200 proposals and awarded time to 286 winners — the proposals have to be compelling. According to Smith, the competition is likely to become even greater in the coming years, now that the scientific community has seen what the telescope can do. Frank told me that he believes that his team, or other scientists taking a cue from his team’s technosignature research, are probably a few years away from making a formal request. “If we’re going ask for a hundred hours of James Webb time, we better have every possibility worked out,” he says. “They’re not going to give us that unless we’ve shown that this is exactly where to look, this is the signal-to-noise ratio we expect, and so on.”

    In the CATS meeting, the brainstorming covered a mix of old and new ideas. The technosignatures field is open to looking for inspiration anywhere, even in concepts that might have appeared decades earlier in journals or in obscure conference proceedings before being dismissed or forgotten (a 1961 paper on interstellar laser communication, for example). At this meeting, there was talk of “service worlds,” where a civilization develops a nearby planet or moon not for habitation but for, say, energy harvesting. It is an idea sometimes contemplated in science fiction, but in this instance the notion first arose from a paper that a member of the CATS group co-wrote a few years ago. On a service world, terrain might be covered entirely with photovoltaic panels that reflect part of the light spectrum back into space — a reflection that could be discernible trillions of miles away. “A service world wouldn’t even have a biosignature,” Frank said. “It’s just a pure technosignature.”

    Sheikh then mentioned something she had been thinking about lately: microplastic pollution in oceans, now an Earth technosignature. “You can see it if you scoop up a glass of water and look at it under a microscope, it’s very obvious in situ,” she said. “But is there any way to detect that remotely? So I just decided to check — it seemed kind of silly.” While reading academic papers, she told the group, she found that scientists are trying to spot plastic in our oceans using radar satellites. “So they’re using remote sensing to look for changes in viscosity of ocean water, which is indicative of microplastics, and it seems like it actually works.”

    As the discussion wound down, Frank raised something else: oxygen and combustion as a technosignature. This in turn raised an issue about ocean worlds. Could they, he asked, produce species that develop technology? “If you can’t start a fire underwater, how does an oceangoing species learn to do metallurgy?” The question was not a whimsy. Many exoplanets are thought to be complete water worlds. Earth, about one third of which is land, might be an exception. The group debated where an ocean species could find energy. “Hydrothermal vents,” Haqq-Misra offered. Others suggested chemical reactions that produce heat without combustion.

    Frank said he still wondered if fire in an oxygen-rich environment is a prerequisite to development. “That’s why we’re thinking about combustion,” he said. “You’re not going to start with nuclear power, right?”

    “It just seems very anthropocentric,” Nick Tusay, a Penn State graduate student on the call, said. “Just because that’s the way we did it, does it mean everyone else would? What if you have a civilization of octopuses?”

    The comment prompted Sheikh to share some links to academic studies. “There’s actually this cool literature about tool development and aquatic animals,” she said. Underwater tool development has been hard to observe, as she understood it, but it’s real, and it could mean that combustion is not the only route to sophistication. A number of species also use water pressure or bubbles — or other species — as tools. “I think there’s a lot to explore there,” she added.

    Frank seemed inclined to put off the discussion until next time. Still, as the meeting ended, the comments demonstrated how challenging it can be for the team to conceptualize other worlds. Their conversation likewise suggested that we know far less than we might think about our own.

    To imagine the unimaginable, Ravi Kopparapu told me one day, “we must reorient our minds.” The problem is that the technosignatures field relies, for now, on a small data set (a single planet: Earth) where we know a species has arisen that created gadgetry, made pollution and altered its atmosphere (dangerously so). The CATS members, Kopparapu says, understand this as a liability, but also as a requisite first step. “If you go to a party where you know hardly anyone,” Kopparapu says, “the first thing you do is go to someone that you recognize so you can start up the conversation.”

    During my visit to Frank, he told me that as difficult as it is for humans to imagine alien species, imagining long time frames is equally challenging. Modern science as a discipline is only about 500 years old. The transistor, the building block of modern technologies, is around 75 years old. The first iPhone came out 15 years ago. How would a technological society evolve over 10,000 years? Over a million?

    Frank notes that there may be many other ways to define a civilization beyond what his group has been focusing on. Rather than builders of big antennas, extraterrestrials could be more like trees in a grove, communicating through threads of fungi underground. Rather than creators of dirty power plants, aliens might be like octopuses using tools in ice-crusted oceans. Some theorists have even posited that an ancient society could discard matter altogether, choosing to supplant itself with a diaphanous and undying form of artificial intelligence. “I can imagine biologies that are much different; I can imagine minds that are much different,” Frank says. For civilizations that we can detect through our instruments, though, he is still convinced that the logical approach is to focus on energy and the consequences of its use.

    He is not inflexible, though. Since the meeting in Houston, Frank told me, some of his old assumptions and biases have been challenged. This includes the possibility that our familiarity with Western technology can trap us. He and some of the CATS members have been influenced by critiques of the search for extraterrestrials — chronicled, in part, in a recent issue of The American Indian Culture and Research Journal — that challenge our tendency to view industry and gadgetry as the primary indicators of “advancement.” Frank pointed out that some Indigenous cultures regard the whole natural world as intelligent. He has become wary, too, of grand, deterministic anthropological narratives he once saw as persuasive: the idea that “we were egalitarian hunter gatherers, and then there was the agricultural revolution, and then came villages, which turned into empires, and that then led to capitalism and science.” A new book, “The Dawn of Everything,” by David Graeber and David Wengrow, argues that research data from the last 30 years doesn’t support a story of such linear advancement. It has persuaded Frank that different and unpredictable paths for social and political arrangements — and technology, too — are possible anywhere. He has begun to seek out historians, anthropologists, sociologists, biologists and futurists to help his group narrow the possibilities.

    Kathryn Denning is an archaeologist at York University in Canada and a longtime contrarian voice in the extraterrestrial-search community. “The social evolutionary story of humans on Earth is not a simple, unilinear upward trajectory,” she told me recently. And we shouldn’t think of aliens that way either. Many societies on Earth have fallen apart and rebuilt from their ruins, Denning points out; and many have never sought to become conquerors. And yet public intellectuals have often rendered the future in ways that give their declarations of high-tech destiny — gleaming megacities and roving starships — an air of certainty.

    We might ascribe that to cultural hubris. At the June technosignatures meeting at Penn State, many presentations were given over to the CATS work as well as “traditional” extraterrestrial research involving radio astronomy. But there were also Denning and Hilding Neilson, an Indigenous astronomer and astrophysicist from the Memorial University of Newfoundland. Neilson challenged the audience to think about how some Indigenous societies were at least thousands of years old — older than science itself. And yet he wondered if they were considered “advanced” by Western definitions. In the case of looking for life elsewhere, he remarked, “we’re really looking for ourselves in space.”

    The CATS group appears to be able to avoid that trap. At the Penn State meeting, not long after Neilson’s talk, I wandered into a lounge and ended up listening to a coffee-break debate among Frank, Sheikh and Wright. They were discussing a lecture by a colleague who proposed to find a technosignature in the glow of sodium lights, commonly used in streetlamps. A strong-enough signal could be detectable through some telescopes if, say, an exoplanet were completely covered in urban development.

    But any technosignatures idea must go through the gantlet of group skepticism. Frank and Sheikh wondered if sodium light would be used by a civilization that developed differently — perhaps their eyes would function in different parts of the spectrum. Or perhaps they would live underground? “If you’re a creature that can’t see, if you’re like a bat that used echolocation, would you even need lights?” Frank said.

    “Would you even know you’re part of the galaxy and this larger world?” Sheikh asked.

    “Would you even look up at the stars?” Frank added. “I mean, if you couldn’t see, would you even know they’re there?”

    Frank turned to me. “That’s what’s so extraordinary about this,” he said, meaning the maze he and the group wander through. They have to rethink evolution, technology, culture and the meaning of intelligence. “But you always have to come back to the fact that we’re building a telescope,” he added. “What sensors should it have to find a technosignature?”

    He laughed, seemingly at the sheer number of details that would someday need to be worked out. “Also, what screws should it use — flat head, Phillips head or hex nut?”

    Officially, NASA considers the work on technosignatures to be “high risk, high reward.” The risk, in dollars, is modest for now: The amount allocated by the agency is minuscule in comparison to, say, the $93 billion being invested over the next few years in its Artemis moon mission. But moving on to a next step, which would mean devoting precious time for technosignatures research on a telescope like Webb, or building an entirely new space-based instrument, would involve a sizable investment. As for rewards, the development of a technosignatures discipline might mirror that of astrobiology, which arose 25 years ago in response to the discovery of exoplanets. In contemplating biosignatures, astrobiologists gained new knowledge into how basic life on Earth can endure in extreme environments — under icecaps, for example, or near hydrothermal vents. Thinking about far-off things yielded insights close to home.

    The ultimate success for the technosignature team would be an instance of someone using the CATS research to identify signs of a technological civilization. “That would be like the dog who is running and catches the car,” Kopparapu told me. What would we do next?

    He and Frank both think it’s possible that we would do … nothing. At least not right away. While there exists a growing body of literature about “first contact” protocols, we might just monitor a distant technosignature for decades, or perhaps centuries, taking readings with increasingly better telescopes. And then — maybe — we might send a space probe or message. Because distances are so vast, it’s not lost on the researchers that in viewing an apparently bustling exoplanet from, say, 50 light-years away, we would see the spectra of technology from 50 years earlier. To send an electronic message and receive a response would, at best, take 100 years. An actual journey could take millenniums.

    But the work may turn out to have utility beyond a contact scenario or headline-grabbing discovery. Since the 1950s, one of the defining ideas in the search for extraterrestrials has been the Fermi Paradox, named after the Italian American physicist Enrico Fermi. Essentially, it asks why, in a universe packed with stars and planets, we have yet to see evidence of life beyond Earth. One possible explanation is that life is rare or even unique to Earth. Another is that intelligent beings exist elsewhere but prefer not to make themselves observable. But there is a resolution to the paradox that is more unsettling: An idea known as “the great filter” posits that there are difficult, perhaps impassable, points in any species’ evolution. That filter might kick in early, as complex life begins, or later, when technology produces dangerous rebound effects. Either way, a result would be eerie cosmic silence.

    Rebecca Charbonneau, a science historian at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory who attended the Penn State technosignatures conference, told me that in the mid-1960s, not long after Drake came up with his equation, Carl Sagan, a close friend and colleague of his, asked, “Do technical civilizations tend to destroy themselves shortly after they become capable of interstellar radio communications?” Charbonneau says that the specter of nuclear annihilation probably shaped that era’s views. But while the agents of destruction may have changed, the fear remains. We can glimpse an updated version of how things might end in our warming atmosphere, in our world’s shocking declines in biodiversity.

    In a sense, this makes the search for technosignatures a search for sustainability as well. “Any society that’s long-lived on geological or astronomical time scales is by definition sustainable,” Michael New, the NASA administrator, told me. But the fact that a society avoided reducing its impact on the geology and chemistry of its home, he says, might hold a key to how they avoided self-destruction. “It may also be that really successful technological societies at some point become hard to detect,” he says, “because they’re living in more or less equilibrium with their planet.”

    This last point is being debated within Frank’s group, too; they don’t want to overlook technosignatures because they don’t fit ideas of what they should be looking for. Sofia Sheikh gave me an example: the first European settlers to California. “There are good records, primary sources from the time, that say that they were like, ‘Oh, it’s like a wonderland out here, you can just walk through the forest and there’s no undergrowth, there are just fruit trees growing naturally everywhere.’ But what they were seeing was not a natural process — it was the result of centuries of tending of the land by Indigenous groups.” These were technosignatures, she said, resulting from advanced agricultural techniques that stopped wildfires from breaking out — but Europeans didn’t recognize them. “And so we don’t want to see something astronomically and be like, ‘Wow, isn’t it cool that the universe did that?’ just because it doesn’t fit our idea of a resource-consuming, technological civilization.”

    And yet, it’s also possible that years from now — after all the arduous and careful searching — even a total absence of cosmic evidence could prove valuable. Two CATS members, Haqq-Misra and Kopparapu, recently considered how the coming age of observations for biosignatures and technosignatures might shed light on the great filter. “If we find biosignatures, that means there’s a bunch of planets that can have life on them,” Haqq-Misra told me. But if we find plentiful signs of life but no signs of technology, that’s more worrisome. It could mean the odds are against technological civilizations sustaining themselves. They may be exceedingly rare — or tend to self-destruct.

    “On the other hand,” Haqq-Misra added, “what if we find technosignatures everywhere? That’s actually encouraging. That means that it’s possible to have technology in a long-term, sustainable balance with your planet.”

    Would the data, I asked — assuming we ever find it — tell us how to become sustainable or how to remain sustainable? No, Haqq-Misra said. “Just that it’s possible.” As for getting there, we would still be on our own.

    Science papers:
    The Planetary Science Journal
    The Astrophysical Journal Letters
    The Astrophysical Journal

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  • richardmitnick 7:24 am on August 2, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "A Silver Lining:: Giant Floods Not Only Destroy They Also Renew", A free-flowing river behaves like a fire hose creating and nourishing a rich patchwork of marshes; swamps; oxbow lakes; river side channels and ponds depositing sediment throughout its system., A river that floods seems almost alive-constantly remaking and renewing itself., An absence of flooding can wipe out species that have adapted to its cadence., , Dams that disrupt giant flood patterns prevent destruction of homes. But in nature they can imperil environments that depend on floodwaters., , , Flooding is part of the heartbeat of rivers., Floods are considered a shot of adrenaline for the evolutionary survival of river systems., Floods are so critical for the health of rivers that biologists and managers of many dammed rivers are managing dams to restore some semblance of flooding., Post-flood benefits greatly outweigh damage as years pass., Removing floods from the landscape reduces the number of ecological niches and species simplifying the ecosystem., Some species of fish-like the silvery minnow in the Rio Grande-are endangered in part because of the lack of a flood pulse that triggers spawning., The living things that make their home in and along the river and have adapted to periodic flooding are also renewed., The New York Times   

    From “The New York Times” : “A Silver Lining:: Giant Floods Not Only Destroy They Also Renew” 

    From “The New York Times”

    Jim Robbins

    Dams that disrupt giant flood patterns prevent destruction of homes. But in nature they can imperil environments that depend on floodwaters.

    The Gardner River, a tributary of the Yellowstone River, carved a new path along North Entrance Road in Yellowstone National Park in Montana, after historic flooding last month. Credit: Pool photo by Samuel Wilson.

    The floodwaters that roared off the Yellowstone plateau and ripped through southern Montana in June have altered so much of the Yellowstone River that whitewater raft guides said they would have to relearn how to float the changed route.

    The flood, fueled by torrential rains that fell atop melting snow tore out much of the river’s template — the physical features of the river — and built a new one. Its swell was measured over 51,000 cubic feet per second just north of the park, far surpassing the high of more than 32,000 in 1990s flooding. It’s the type of event that occurs here once every 500 years; floods of this magnitude are known as reset floods.

    Experts say the flood, as well as recent record flooding in Australia and southern China, is likely driven by a warmer atmosphere, which can hold more moisture; and that more floods like this are forecast as the world heats further.

    In the midst of the damage and dislocation caused by overflowing rivers, experts point out that floods play a vital ecological role over time. They are messy and chaotic — the technical term is disturbance regimes. Floods are considered a shot of adrenaline for the evolutionary survival of river systems. Like conditions wrought by wildfires, once the flames and smoke die out, nature begins to rebuild.

    “A common flood that goes over bank re-waters the landscape, rejuvenates the vegetation and leaves a veneer of fresh sediment,” said Jack C. Schmidt, a professor of watershed science at Utah State University and the director of the Center for Colorado River Studies. “That’s a fertile situation that allows a good seeding ground for cottonwoods.”

    A flood of the magnitude that hit Yellowstone does even more.

    “A gang buster reset flood is a whole different deal,” Dr. Schmidt said. “It rips up the oldest of trees. It sends the river off into a new direction. It re-channelizes the flood plain and rejuvenates everything and gives the river a new lease on life.”

    While floods do cause destruction of the natural world, Dr. Schmidt said that post-flood benefits greatly outweigh damage as years pass.

    The Route 89 bridge over the Yellowstone River was damaged by flooding in June. Credit: Louise Johns for The New York Times.

    A river that floods seems almost alive-constantly remaking and renewing itself. It’s not just the physical features of the river that are reborn; the living things that make their home in and along the river and have adapted to periodic flooding are also renewed.

    This natural ecological rebuilding process, however, is endangered.

    Experts are concerned about the effects of the surge in dam building on river systems, stemming from economic benefits. Dam building has become especially pronounced as the climate changes. Only one-third of the world’s rivers remain free flowing. (The Yellowstone is the longest undammed river in the United States at nearly 700 miles.) Dams bring a great many benefits, from power generation to flood prevention, but they also have considerable effects, especially those caused by the end of high water levels downstream.

    The periodic flooding and receding of a river is called a flood pulse, and while it can cause problems for people who live along a stream, it also, turns rivers into biodiversity hot spots. The floodplain and the river channel are a single system. A free-flowing river, over time, behaves like a fire hose, snaking across a landscape much broader than the main channel when it floods, creating and nourishing a rich patchwork of marshes, swamps, oxbow lakes, river side channels, ponds while depositing sediment and other debris throughout its system.

    “That rhythm of flooding is part of the heartbeat of rivers,” said David A. Lytle, a professor of integrative biology at Oregon State University. “One of the important things about flooding is the reconnection of off-channel habitat back to the main stem of the ecosystem,” which allows fish, amphibians and other species to return to the river and nutrients to be exchanged, which fertilizes the food chain.

    “These systems are dynamic,” said Paul Keddy, a former professor at Louisiana State University and the author of Wetland Ecology: Principles and Conservation.

    “When people build dams to control the spring flood pulse, that has immediate deleterious effects,” Mr. Keddy said. “As soon as you cut out the spring floods, wetlands down the whole watershed start to shrink back toward the river.”

    An absence of flooding can wipe out species that have adapted to its cadence. Some species of fish, like the silvery minnow in the Rio Grande, are endangered, in part because of the lack of a flood pulse that triggers spawning. Riverside cottonwood galleries, known across the southwest as bosques, are imperiled. Bosques are the tall, majestic, deciduous forests common along rivers, shady oases in the desert that provide habitat for a broad range of bird, mammal and reptile species.

    The bosque along the middle Rio Grande in New Mexico is the largest such cottonwood forest in the country, stretching nearly 200 miles across New Mexico.

    A burning bosque in Belen, N.M., in April. Fires in cottonwood bosques, once unheard-of, are now common. Credit: Adolphe Pierre-Louis/ The Albuquerque Journal, via Associated Press.

    The bosque along the middle Rio Grande in New Mexico is the largest such cottonwood forest in the country, stretching nearly 200 miles across New Mexico.

    Cottonwood seeds are borne on white cotton-like puffs — hence the name — that sail through the air.

    A flood in 1941 sent a huge amount of sediment down the Rio Grande and created a fertile bed for the beginnings of the bosque. But the flood also wiped out farms and towns. In the 1960s, construction of the giant Cochiti Dam, 50 miles north of Albuquerque, got underway to thwart the flow of water and sediment down the river. It worked — at a cost.

    The dam also ended the flood pulse, which has prevented young cottonwoods from establishing, leaving only the eight-decade-old trees that grew up after the flood. Craig Allen, a retired U.S.G.S. ecologist in Santa Fe, N.M., calls it a “zombie forest.”

    “It’s the living dead,” he said. “The whole riparian system has been transformed into something much drier.” Invasive fire-prone species of tree, such as tamarisk, have moved in beneath the old cottonwoods. Bosque forest fires, once unheard-of, are common.

    Dams also cut off the gravel, silt and other sediment that rivers carry, which are used to build new ecological features during a flood. Fine sediment trapped behind the dam contains essential nutrients “and the base of the food chain is undermined,” said Matt Kondolf, a professor of environmental planning at the University of California, Berkeley.

    Because the dam also reduces stream flow, “it simplifies the channel,” he said. “So, where before you had gravel bars and pools and riffles, all of that gets washed away, and you wind up with a bowling alley geometry. If there’s a fish in there, there’s no place for them to hide, they just get washed downstream.”

    Floods also stimulate life in the main river channel by capturing and bringing nutrients from the flood plain into the main channel, which provides more food for insects, which in turn feed other creatures.

    After a major flood at a study site on Sycamore Creek in Arizona, Dr. Lytle said the waterway, with downed trees and heaps of mud, looked like a disaster. “Debris was piled everywhere,” he said. When he and his team began looking below the stream bed, however, they found more mayflies than they had ever seen. “A big pulse of nutrition was triggered by that major flood,” he said. “The conditions were just right for them to explode in numbers. That means more food for birds, lizards, spiders and fish.”

    Flooding in Paradise Valley, Mont., after the Yellowstone flooding. The Yellowstone is the U.S.’s longest undammed river. Credit: Louise Johns for The New York Times.

    Removing floods from the landscape reduces the number of ecological niches and species simplifying the ecosystem. Wet places along the river dry up — a trend that climate change accelerates — and become less resilient.

    Dams not only end the flood pulse, they also change water temperatures. The river above the dam becomes a lake where many native fish species cannot survive and warm water fish, such as small mouth bass, thrive. Below the dam, the natural flow regime that many species are adapted to is altered.

    One ecological change dams bring to rivers is caused by something called hydropeaking. Dams that generate power cause daily fluctuations in water levels as power is needed. Aquatic insects, such as caddisflies and mayflies, though, are adapted to natural seasonal flooding and lay eggs just below the surface of the water. These frequent drops in water levels can dry out and destroy the eggs and eliminate species of insect and make the ecosystem much less diverse.

    Floods are so critical for the health of rivers that biologists and managers of many dammed rivers are managing dams to restore some semblance of flooding, something called adaptive management. This is critical, experts say, as the climate warms.

    Some dams, for example, are managed to allow sediment to be flushed into the river below. Dr. Schmidt, for example, has researched the effects of releases from Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River to restore gravel and sandbars.

    Climate change, however, may make adaptive management harder. This year, the artificial floods that Dr. Schmidt has engineered were curtailed because of extremely low water levels in the Colorado River.

    “It’s a higher order of challenge to maintain resilience in systems that are going to get hit really hard, more often, by multiple kinds of extreme events,” said N. Leroy Poff, a professor of biology at Colorado State University. “We need a more serious national effort to identify systems that are most vulnerable to extremes.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 10:06 pm on July 28, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "James Lovelock Whose Gaia Theory Saw the Earth as Alive Dies at 103", , , , , , , The New York Times   

    From “The New York Times” : “James Lovelock Whose ‘Gaia Theory’ Saw the Earth as Alive Dies at 103” 

    From “The New York Times”

    Keith Schneider

    James Lovelock in 1962. Among his inventions was the Electron Capture Detector, an inexpensive, portable, exquisitely sensitive device used to measure the spread of toxic man-made compounds in the environment. Credit: Donald Uhrbrock/Getty Images.

    James Lovelock, the maverick British ecologist whose work was essential to today’s understanding of man-made pollutants and their effect on climate and who captured the scientific world’s imagination with his “Gaia theory”, portraying the Earth as a living creature, died on Tuesday, his 103rd birthday, at his home in Dorset, in southwest England.

    His family confirmed the death in a statement on Twitter, saying that until six months ago he “was still able to walk along the coast near his home in Dorset and take part in interviews, but his health deteriorated after a bad fall earlier this year.”

    Dr. Lovelock’s breadth of knowledge extended from Astronomy to Zoology. In his later years he became an eminent proponent of nuclear power as a means to help solve global climate change and a pessimist about humankind’s capacity to survive a rapidly warming planet.

    But his global renown rested on three main contributions that he developed during a particularly abundant decade of scientific exploration and curiosity stretching from the late 1950s through the last half of the ’60s.

    One was his invention of the Electron Capture Detector, an inexpensive, portable, exquisitely sensitive device used to help measure the spread of toxic man-made compounds in the environment. The device provided the scientific foundations of Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, a catalyst of the environmental movement.

    The detector also helped provide the basis for regulations in the United States and in other nations that banned harmful chemicals like DDT and PCBs and that sharply reduced the use of hundreds of other compounds as well as the public’s exposure to them.

    Later, his finding that chlorofluorocarbons — the compounds that powered aerosol cans and were used to cool refrigerators and air-conditioners — were present in measurable concentrations in the atmosphere led to the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer. (Chlorofluorocarbons are now banned in most countries under a 1987 international agreement.)

    But Dr. Lovelock may be most widely known for his “Gaia theory” — that Earth functioned, as he put it, as a “living organism” that is able to “regulate its temperature and chemistry at a comfortable steady state.”

    The seeds of the idea were planted in 1965, when he was a member of the space exploration team recruited by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and stationed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

    As an expert on the chemical composition of the atmospheres of Earth and Mars, Dr. Lovelock wondered why Earth’s atmosphere was so stable. He theorized that something must be regulating heat, oxygen, nitrogen and other components.

    “Life at the surface must be doing the regulation,” he later wrote.

    He presented the theory in 1967 at a meeting of the American Astronautical Society in Lansing, Mich., and in 1968 at a scientific gathering at Princeton University.

    That summer, the novelist William Golding, a friend, suggested the name “Gaia”, after the Greek goddess of the Earth. Mr. Golding, the author of Lord of the Flies and other books, lived near Mr. Lovelock in southwest England.

    A few scientists greeted the hypothesis as a thoughtful way to explain how living systems influenced the planet. Many others, however, called it New Age pablum.

    The hypothesis might never have gained credibility and moved to the scientific mainstream without the contributions of Lynn Margulis [ex-wife of Dr Carl Sagan], an eminent American microbiologist. In the early 1970s and in the decades afterward, she collaborated with Dr. Lovelock on specific research to support the notion.

    Since then a number of scientific meetings about the “Gaia theory” have been held, including one at George Mason University in 2006, and hundreds of papers on aspects of it have been published. Mr. Lovelock’s theory of a self-regulating Earth has been viewed as central to understanding the causes and consequences of global warming.

    His Electron Capture Detector was created in 1957, when he was a staff scientist at the National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill, in north London. It was announced in 1958 in the Journal of Chromotography.

    When combined with a gas chromatograph, which separates chemical mixtures, the detector was capable of measuring minute concentrations of chlorine-based compounds in air. It ushered in a new era of scientific understanding about the spread of the compounds and helped scientists identify the presence of minute levels of toxic chemicals in soils, food, water, human and animal tissue, and the atmosphere.

    Dr. Lovelock in 2014 with one of his early inventions, a homemade gas chromatography device, used for measuring gas and molecules present in the atmosphere. Credit: Nick Ansell/PA Wire.

    In 1969, using his electron capture device, Dr. Lovelock went on to find that man-made pollutants were the cause of smog. He also discovered that the family of persistent man-made compounds known as chlorofluorocarbons were measurably present even in the clean air over the Atlantic Ocean. He confirmed the global spread of CFCs during an expedition to the Antarctic in the early 1970s, and in 1973 published a paper about his findings in the journal Nature [below].

    Dr. Lovelock prided himself on his independence from universities, governments and corporations, though he earned his living from all of them. He delighted in being candid, blunt, deliberately provocative and incautious. And perhaps not coincidentally, he was less successful leveraging his work for financial gain and stature within the scientific community. The electron capture detector, arguably one of the most important analytical instruments developed during the 20th century, was redesigned and commercialized by Hewlett-Packard without any royalty or licensing agreement with Dr. Lovelock.

    And though Dr. Lovelock identified the presence of CFCs in the atmosphere, he also reasoned that at concentrations in the parts per billion, they posed “no conceivable hazard” to the planet. He later called that conclusion “a gratuitous blunder.”

    A year after his paper in Nature, Mario Molina of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and F. Sherwood Rowland of the University of California at Irvine published a paper in the same journal [below] detailing how sensitive the Earth’s ozone layer is to CFCs. In 1995, they and Dr. Paul Crutzen, of the Max Planck Institute in Germany, were given the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work in alerting the world to the thinning ozone layer.

    “He had a great mind and a will to be independent,” said Bill McKibben, the author of The End of Nature and a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont. “He credibly played a significant role in literally saving the Earth by helping to figure out that the ozone layer was disappearing. The “Gaia theory” is his most interesting contribution. As global warming emerged as the greatest issue of our time, the “Gaia theory” helped us understand that small changes could shift a system as large as the Earth’s atmosphere.”

    James Ephraim Lovelock was born on July 26, 1919, in his maternal grandmother’s house in Letchworth Garden City, about 30 miles north of London. His parents, Tom and Nell Lovelock, were shopkeepers on Brixton Hill, in south London. James lived with grandparents in his earliest year but joined his parents on Brixton Hill after his grandfather died in 1925.

    In London he was an underachieving student but an ardent reader of Jules Verne and of science and history texts that he borrowed from the local library.

    Dr. Lovelock often ascribed his determined independence to his mother, an amateur actress, secretary and entrepreneur whom he regarded as an early feminist. His interest in the natural world came from his father, an outdoorsman who took his son on long walks in the countryside and taught him the common names of plants, animals and insects.

    In 1939 James enrolled at The University of Manchester (UK), and was granted conscientious objector status, which enabled him to avoid military service at the start of World War II, and graduated in 1941. He was soon hired as a junior scientist at the Medical Research Council, a government agency, where he specialized in hygiene and transmission of infectious agents.

    Dr. Lovelock in 2006. In his later years he was pessimistic that humankind had the ability to prevent catastrophic climate change. Credit: Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

    One of the young people who also joined the research institute was Helen Hyslop, a receptionist. The two married on Dec. 23, 1942, and the first of their four children, Christine, was born in 1944. Later came another girl, Jane, and two boys, Andrew and John. In 1949, Dr. Lovelock earned a Ph.D. in medicine from the London University School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

    Helen Lovelock, who had multiple sclerosis, died in 1989. He later married Sandra Orchard, an American. They met when she had asked him to speak at a conference, he told the British magazine The New Statesman in 2019.

    Dr. Lovelock’s survivors include his wife; his daughters, Christine Lovelock and Jane Flynn; his sons, Andrew and John; and grandchildren.

    Dr. Lovelock is the author of Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (1979), among other books. Another, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning (2009), argued that Earth was hurrying to a permanent hot state more quickly than scientists believe. His autobiography, Home to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scientist, was published in 2000.

    Among his many awards were two of the most prestigious in the environmental community: the Amsterdam Prize for the Environment, awarded by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Blue Planet Prize, awarded in 1997 and widely considered the environmental equivalent of a Nobel award.

    Dr. Lovelock caused a sensation in 2004 when he pronounced nuclear energy the only realistic alternative to fossil fuels that has the capacity to fulfill the large-scale energy needs of humanity while reducing greenhouse emissions.

    In his last years, he expressed a pessimistic view of global climate change and man’s ability to prevent an environmental catastrophe that would kill billions of people.

    “The reason is we would not find enough food, unless we synthesized it,” he told New Scientist magazine in 2009. “Because of this, the cull during this century is going to be huge, up to 90 percent. The number of people remaining at the end of the century will probably be a billion or less. It has happened before. Between the ice ages there were bottlenecks when there were only 2,000 people left. It’s happening again.”

    Science papers:
    Nature 1973

    Nature 1974

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 9:16 pm on July 28, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "There Are Holes on the Ocean Floor and Scientists Don’t Know Why", , , , The New York Times   

    From “The New York Times” : “There Are Holes on the Ocean Floor and Scientists Don’t Know Why” 

    From “The New York Times”

    Christine Chung

    While researchers explored a volcano in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge on July 23, they observed several sets of holes in the sediment that remain a mystery to scientists. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Deep in the waters along a volcanic ridge in the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, sea explorers using a remotely operated vehicle to examine largely unexplored areas found a pattern of holes in the sand.

    During the dive, north of the Azores, near Portugal’s mainland, on July 23, they saw about a dozen sets of holes resembling a track of lines on the ocean floor, at a depth of 1.6 miles.

    Then about a week later, on Thursday, there were four more sightings on the Azores Plateau, which is underwater terrain where three tectonic plates meet. Those holes were about a mile deep and about 300 miles away from the site of the expedition’s initial discovery.

    The scientists don’t know what the holes are, but they have encountered similar markings before and consider them to be “lebensspuren,” [Frontiers in Marine Science (below)] German for “life traces,” referring to impressions in sediments that could be the work of living organisms.

    The question the scientists are posing, to themselves and to the public in posts on Twitter and Facebook, is: What is creating those marks on the ocean floor?

    “The origin of the holes has scientists stumped,” said the post on Twitter from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Exploration project. “The holes look human made, but the little piles of sediment around them suggest they were excavated by … something.”

    Nearly two decades ago, just about 27 miles away from the location of the current expedition’s initial sighting, scientists spotted similar holes during an exploration, Emily Crum, a NOAA spokeswoman, said.

    But the passage of time has not provided any clear answers, said Michael Vecchione, a NOAA deep-sea biologist who participated in that project and is also involved in part of this latest expedition.

    “There is something important going on there and we don’t know what it is,” Dr. Vecchione said. “This highlights the fact that there are still mysteries out there.”

    The holes are but one of the questions that scientists on an ambitious ocean expedition are probing, as they explore the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is a section of a massive deep-ocean range of mountains and stretches for more than 10,000 miles beneath the Atlantic Ocean.

    Experts with NOAA are seeking answers during three expeditions that they are calling Voyage to the Ridge 2022, which began in May and will conclude in September, in journeys that are taking them from the waters off Newport, R.I., to the Azores and back to Puerto Rico in the Caribbean.

    Explorers want to know what lives along the continuous range of underwater volcanoes and what happens when geologic processes that create life-supporting heat are halted.

    They are paying close attention to deep-sea coral and sponge communities, which are “some of the most valuable marine ecosystems on Earth,” said Derek Sowers, an expedition coordinator aboard the NOAA ship, the Okeanos Explorer.

    Dr. Sowers said that expeditions such as the Voyage of the Ridge projects were “fundamental” to establishing an understanding of the biodiversity of the planet and “the novel compounds produced by all of these life-forms.”

    And they want to know more about areas where seawater is heated by magma, with deep-sea life deriving energy from this source and chemicals, instead of the sun, like most life on Earth.

    “This has expanded our understanding of under what conditions life on other planets may occur,” Dr. Sowers said.

    After the agency turned to social media in an effort to engage the public, dozens of comments streamed in, with some delving into speculation. Are the holes man-made? Could they be a sign from extraterrestrials? Are they tracks left by a submarine? Could they be the breathing holes of a “deep sea creature that buries itself under the sand?”

    That last guess wasn’t necessarily so far-fetched, Dr. Vecchione said. In a paper about the holes spotted in 2004 [Frontiers in Marine Science (below)], Mr. Vecchione and his co-author, Odd Aksel Bergstad, a former researcher at the Institute of Marine Research in Norway, proposed two main hypotheses for why the holes exist. Both involved marine life, either walking or swimming above the sediment and poking holes down, or the inverse scenario, burrowing within the sediment and jabbing holes up.

    The holes seen on Thursday appeared to have been pushed out from underneath, Dr. Vecchione said.

    The ROV Deep Discoverer over the ocean seafloor during a fourth dive of the Voyage to the Ridge 2022 expedition on July 23. Credit: NOAA.

    The remotely operated vehicle’s suctioning device collected sediment samples to examine whether there was an organism inside the holes, Dr. Sowers said.

    Dr. Vecchione said that while he was pleased about encountering the ocean floor holes again, he was “a little disappointed” that scientists still lacked an explanation.

    “It reinforces the idea that there is a mystery that some day we will figure out,” he said. “But we haven’t figured it out yet.”

    One last dive, which will be livestreamed, remains to be carried out in the second expedition of the series, NOAA said. The third expedition begins on Aug. 7.

    Science paper:
    Frontiers in Marine Science

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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