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  • richardmitnick 9:29 am on June 22, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Clues to the impact of climate change may seep from a volcano in Costa Rica", Another NASA scientist-Florian Schwandner- had been the first one to propose studying carbon fertilization on a tropical volcano’s shoulders., Every year tropical forests soak up more than 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide., , Research suggests that higher concentrations of the gas could actually protect forests., Rincón de la Vieja- an active volcano in Costa Rica, The constant low-level discharges of carbon dioxide from volcanoes might bathe surrounding forests in enough gas to run an enhancement experiment “for free.”, The Washington Post,   

    From The Washington Post via Michigan Tech University: “Clues to the impact of climate change may seep from a volcano in Costa Rica” 

    Michigan Tech bloc

    Michigan Technical University

    From The Washington Post

    June 8, 2020
    Daniel Grossman

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    Steam and hot gases rise from the crater of Rincón de la Vieja, an active volcano in Costa Rica. Two scientific teams are measuring the carbon dioxide that seeps from cracks in the volcano’s foundation to determine its impact on the surrounding tropical forest. (Dado Galdieri/Hilaea Media)

    Chad Deering trudges up a dry river channel on the north side of Rincón de la Vieja, one of Costa Rica’s active volcanoes. He wears a baseball cap emblazoned with the phrase Semper Fi, a token of his tour of duty with the Marines, and lugs a peculiar apparatus, part of a sensitive gas-testing kit, that looks more like a metal mixing bowl. The bedrock here is smooth lava, a lifeless tear in the rainforest that blankets Rincón de la Vieja’s flanks.

    Along with two teams of scientists, Deering is pursuing not potential volcanic drama but something imperceptibly gradual — carbon dioxide seeping invisibly from cracks in the volcano’s foundation and exposing the surrounding environment. The question is whether that elevated exposure is a positive, a negative or neither — and what it might mean for the fate of tropical forests globally.

    The stability of the world’s climate depends in part on these areas.

    2

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    TOP: Ecologist Josh Fisher, left, and graduate students Nel Rodriguez Sepulveda and Katie Nelson traverse one of Rincón de la Vieja’s slopes. MIDDLE: Graduate students Nel Rodriguez Sepulveda, left, and Katie Nelson walk near the volcano. They and other researchers are measuring carbon dioxide levels around Rincón de la Vieja. BOTTOM: A scientist gauges the airflow in the tropical forest surrounding the volcano. (Dado Galdieri/Hilaea Media)

    Every year, tropical forests soak up more than 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, a substantial share of what’s emitted by power plants, industrial smokestacks and vehicle exhaust pipes. Yet how increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall will affect them long term remains unclear.

    While many climate scientists believe that tropical forests will begin to absorb progressively less CO2, other research suggests that higher concentrations of the gas could actually protect them, an idea dubbed carbon fertilization.

    In Costa Rica’s natural laboratory, a dense, steamy tangle in the country’s northwest corner, the teams hope to get closer to the answer. The issue is “one of the biggest uncertainties in climate projections of the fate of the planet,” says NASA scientist Josh Fisher, the ecologist leading the trek. He believes the study “could be a game changer.”

    If extra carbon dioxide revs up Rincón de La Vieja’s jungle, the teams should find bigger trees, more carbon-dense species or some combination where gas levels are particularly high. One group is working on the volcano’s wetter north side and the other on its drier south side, to better assess and then compare two different ecosystems.

    But how to tease out other conditions that also can affect tree growth and the species mix, including altitude and soil moisture? U.S. Forest Service biologist Michael Keller, a tropical forests expert who, though unaffiliated with the project, is following it closely, says such confounding factors make the research a “high risk” experiment.

    Still, he considers it a creative approach to the urgent problem of forecasting the tropical “carbon sink.”

    Research needs data. And on this day, the north-flank team has hit a snag getting it. The river bed has become a deep canyon that abruptly ends beneath sheer walls. The one woman and five men huddle over a computer tablet with a high-resolution map of their intended route.

    Deering, a volcanologist from Michigan Technological University, stabs a finger swollen with bug bites at a spot tantalizingly close but inaccessible. “I want to be here,” he says.

    5
    Graduate student Jacob Bonessi inputs data after measuring carbon dioxide levels around Rincón de la Vieja. (Dado Galdieri/Hilaea Media)

    A crazy idea

    Another NASA scientist had been the first one to propose studying carbon fertilization on a tropical volcano’s shoulders. Several years earlier, Florian Schwandner had helped the Philippines set up a successful network for detecting early symptoms of eruptions of 8,000-foot Mount Mayon, with sensors to track the flow of carbon dioxide from faults in its foundation. (One telltale sign of an oncoming eruption is when that flow suddenly increases.)

    At the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California, the volcanologist hoped satellite-based measurements of carbon dioxide releases would provide early warnings around the world. His research group was filled with ecologists and frequent discussion of trees’ carbon sink, although nobody knew how to forecast the sink’s future.

    A certain kind of experiment often came up in conversation: spraying extra carbon dioxide into a forest parcel to study how trees respond. Such carbon-enhancement trials had been run often in the United States and in other temperate regions and had shown that extra carbon dioxide sometimes increased forest growth.

    The studies’ relevance for tropical forests was uncertain, but the huge logistical costs of trying to replicate them in remote equatorial areas had been prohibitive.

    An alternative solution dawned on Schwandner in 2016. The constant low-level discharges of carbon dioxide from volcanoes might bathe surrounding forests in enough gas to run an enhancement experiment “for free.” He emailed Fisher, proposing a “compellingly crazy carbon fertilization idea.” Four years later, with funding from NASA, it was finally a go.

    Schwandner, Fisher, and several other scientists and graduate students recruited for the project spent months scouring geological studies and satellite images of Costa Rica, hunting for faults and vents where the 6,286-foot-tall Rincón de la Vieja might be exhaling CO2 onto its rainforest carpet. They pinpointed 16 likely regions.

    Stewing in CO2

    Deep in the jungle, Deering’s team has doubled back, retracing their steps along the river bed and away from the canyon walls. They soon discover a trail near the spot he pointed out. Their local guide, a botanist, says a tapir probably made it foraging for fruit and leaves.

    Deering and graduate student Jacob Bonessi are taking dozens of CO2 measurements daily. They stop not far from a pile of fresh tapir dung. Deering tightly clamps the metal chamber he carries onto a patch of damp jungle soil. An umbilical cord of hoses channels soil exhalations into the apparatus on his back. Buzzing over bird calls, a pump inside the case draws the gas into an instrument that computes the concentration of carbon dioxide wafting up from the ground.

    The pair gaze for a few minutes at the forest’s emerald palms and twined strangler figs. A troop of howler monkeys can be heard in the distance.

    Bonessi checks the reading, displayed on a tablet linked by Bluetooth to the electronics on Deering’s back.

    “What you got?” asks Deering. “One point one four six,” Bonessi answers. “Big time!”

    Deering whoops his enthusiasm. The number is one of the highest they’ve seen.

    6
    Volcanologist Chad Deering walks through the tropical rainforest with a gas-testing kit. (Dado Galdieri/Hilaea Media)

    All over the planet, soil exudes carbon dioxide. It’s a waste product that microbes and subterranean fauna churn out while generating energy from oxygen and nutrients. But what the scientists have detected is well above the background level seeping from the soil here. This is the type of spot, infused with extra carbon dioxide from the volcano’s fractured rock, they were looking for. The trees here are stewing in it.

    The team — traveling only with small backpacks stuffed with lunch, gear for measuring trees and bug repellent — heads to another targeted destination a few minutes uphill. Fisher dons a pair of snake-resistant chaps after a close call with a rattlesnake. Fina Soper, an ecologist and professor at McGill University, wears a custom neckerchief to protect against mosquitoes and ticks. “Badass Biogeochemists,” it reads.

    At each stop, they record the diameter of all trees bigger than a sapling inside a plot the shape and size of a soccer pitch’s center circle. Soper struggles one afternoon with an uncooperative tape measure, a special forester’s rule purchased just for this trip. She loops the metal ribbon around a trunk as broad and true as a Greek temple’s column. But the band won’t retract.

    “It figures that I’d break the most low-tech device I’ve used in my life,” she mutters, tugging on loops of the snarled steel.

    By gathering detailed observations from many sites — each exposed to a unique combination of influences — she and the others are trying to account or control for the factors that influence tree heft. They’ll then tease out the effect of each factor, especially the one that concerns them most: greater carbon dioxide.

    Fisher hopes to vastly ramp up their observations, if this initial expedition pans out, with return trips using one of the most advanced drones flown by NASA. Meanwhile, they painstakingly probe Rincón de la Vieja’s secrets. Ten days of slashing and slogging will yield the diameters of 952 trees between the two groups of scientists. Back home, they’ll calculate the mass of carbon stored in the wood of each plot using standard formulas.

    “It’s good,” Fisher says halfway through the expedition. “Everyone’s healthy. Everyone’s happy. Equipment is working.” But as he well knows, a technical problem could upend the good fortune at any time. And then, he adds with a laugh, “We’ll all be fighting with each other. And everything will go to hell.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 7:52 am on July 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Planck’s constant, Redefining the kilogram, The Washington Post   

    From The Washington Post: “Scientists are about to change what a kilogram is. That’s massive.” 

    The Washington Post

    July 5, 2017
    Sarah Kaplan

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    The NIST-4 Kibble balance. The instrument was used to calculate Planck’s constant, an important step toward redefining the kilogram. (Jennifer Lauren Lee/NIST PML)

    If Jon Pratt were an international criminal mastermind, he would fly to Paris, don an all-black suit and ski mask and sneak into the elegant French baroque building that serves as headquarters for the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures.

    His mission: “To set the whole world’s system of mass into disarray,” Pratt said. “This is my dastardly plan.”

    In this hypothetical scenario, Pratt slips past the security guards, disables the alarm system and picks the lock on a temperature-controlled, airtight safe deep in the bowels of the BIPM. Inside, he finds his target: a small platinum and iridium cylinder weighing exactly one kilogram. It’s the kilogram, crafted in 1889 to serve as the single standard by which all other kilograms are measured. People call it “le grand K.”

    “I’d take out a nail file, and I’d scratch a little bit off,” Pratt said. Then he’d slip back into the night. “And the next time they take the thing out” (to test the accuracy of the world’s other kilograms) “everything else will be wrong.”

    But Pratt is not a criminal mastermind. He’s a public servant, the chief of quantum measurement at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which oversees weights and measures in the United States. And he doesn’t want to tamper with the global system of mass. He wants to revolutionize it.

    Pratt and his colleagues at NIST are part of an international effort to redefine the kilogram based on a fundamental universal constant — a physical quantity in nature, like the speed of light or the electric charge of a proton, that never changes regardless of when and where you are. And on Friday, the NIST team got their most precise measurement ever for this constant.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 10:17 am on June 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , In the hunt for new antibiotics scientists hit pay dirt, Pseudouridimycin (PUM for short), Richard Ebright, , The Washington Post,   

    From Rutgers via The Washington Post: “In the hunt for new antibiotics, scientists hit pay dirt” 

    Rutgers University
    Rutgers University

    1

    The Washington Post

    June 15, 2017
    Jenna Gallegos

    2
    Soil is full of microbes that produce toxins to kill their neighbors — a great source of antibiotic drugs. (Wendy Galietta/The Washington Post)

    Scientists have discovered a new kind of antibiotic — buried in dirt. Tests in animals show that it is effective against drug-resistant bacteria, and it could lead to desperately needed treatments for deadly antibiotic-resistant infections.

    Almost our entire arsenal of antibiotics was discovered in soil, but scientists haven’t gone digging for drugs in decades. That’s because, “screening microbial extracts from soil is thought to be a tapped-out approach,” said Richard Ebright, a scientist at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers.

    3
    Waksman Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers

    Soil has been “over-mined,” agreed Kim Lewis, director of the Antimicrobial Discovery Center at Northeastern University. But there is still a wealth of useful compounds under foot; we just have to take a closer look.

    The “golden age of antibiotic discovery” began 65 years ago with a simple strategy: Scoop up dirt, grow the soil-dwelling bacteria in the lab, and screen them for useful compounds. Bacteria in the soil compete fiercely for nutrients. To get an advantage, they produce toxins that kill their neighbors. According to Lewis, soil bacteria “fight with each other. We borrow those compounds and use them as medicine.”

    Now scientists at the Waksman Institute — named for Selman Waksman, who developed the soil-screening technique — and colleagues have combined the tried-and-true approach with new technologies to discover a new weapon in our molecular arms race against killer pathogens.

    A study published Thursday in the journal Cell describes a compound called pseudouridimycin (PUM for short) discovered in Italian soil that could be a game changer in bacterial defense.

    Ebright described PUM as the inaugural member of “an entirely new class of antibacterial compounds effective against drug-resistant bacteria.” Lewis, who was not involved with this study, calls PUM’s discovery “very surprising and completely unanticipated.”

    Most antibiotics kill bacteria that are happily multiplying in infected patients. But PUM is predicted to also kill dormant bacteria, such as those that persist in slime layers on our desks and door handles. It does this by inhibiting an enzyme that is required for virtually every function in every organism: polymerase. Polymerase transcribes DNA into molecular messages called RNA. RNA serves as instructions for the construction of all our cellular proteins.

    Ebright specializes in polymerase. He and his team have been searching for more than a decade for compounds like PUM that disrupt polymerase. In the new study, they show that PUM not only inhibits polymerase, but it does so in a surprising way.

    PUM mimics one of the building blocks of RNA. These building blocks fit into polymerase like a lock and key. To evolve resistance, the bacteria would have to change its polymerase just enough to exclude the impostor PUM while still allowing all the right keys to fit. That makes PUM about 10 times less likely to trigger antibiotic resistance than traditional antibiotics.

    In the lab, PUM killed 20 species of bacteria. It is primarily effective against strains that cause strep and staph infections, some of which are resistant to multiple antibiotics. PUM also cured mice infected with a strain of bacteria that causes scarlet fever.

    Importantly, PUM specifically interacts with polymerase in bacteria and not human polymerase. This is surprising, because the polymerase for bacteria and humans is thought to have a very similar shape.

    Compounds that act by impersonating RNA building blocks have been used in the past to treat viruses including HIV and hepatitis C, but scientists didn’t think that was possible for bacteria. Now that we know this approach can also work against bacteria, libraries of polymerase inhibitors that have been used against viruses can be screened as possible antibiotics.

    PUM could move to human clinical trials within three years, and to market within a decade. In the meantime, Waksman’s legacy might again spur a whole new wave of antibiotic discovery. Perhaps most important, said Rolf Muller of the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research in an email, the results of this study “show once again that soil bacteria are still one of the best (if not THE best) source for novel antibiotics.”

    Read more:

    The world’s leaders are finally holding a summit on superbugs

    These 12 superbugs pose the greatest threat to human health

    See the full article here .

    Follow Rutgers Research here .

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