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  • richardmitnick 8:49 am on May 10, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Security cameras in nursing homes aim to protect the vulnerable but present ethical dilemmas", , Privacy and consent, U Washington   

    From University of Washington: “Security cameras in nursing homes aim to protect the vulnerable but present ethical dilemmas” 

    U Washington

    From University of Washington

    May 6, 2019
    Kim Eckart


    For many people who care for aging parents, one solution is a safe, responsible nursing home.

    But an increasingly common means of ensuring that safety — security cameras installed by relatives — may do more harm than good, says Clara Berridge, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Washington.

    With reports of crimes against nursing home residents gaining media attention around the country, it’s understandable that families would want to protect their loved one and attempt to establish accountability for care, Berridge said. But in articles published late last winter in AJOB Empirical Bioethics and Elder Law Journal, Berridge outlines the list of legal and moral issues that surveillance raises.

    “The use of cameras in resident rooms is so common that some states have passed laws to help families and facilities navigate the legal issues. But it’s not just a gray zone for law. Lots of ethical issues are at play, and it raises the question of privacy’s role in our lives.”

    At least 10% of Americans ages 60 and older are believed to have been the victim of some form of elder abuse, whether physical, sexual or psychological, or in the form of financial mismanagement or a deprivation of resources such as food or medication. (Cases are believed to be underreported, making the 10 percent figure a low estimate.) While most abuse is committed by relatives [National Council on Aging], the high-profile nature of crimes against nursing home residents by facility staff can alarm anyone whose loved one is in residential care. This is especially true for families of people with forms of dementia, because those residents are less likely to be able to accurately report abuse.

    So far, seven states, including Washington, have passed laws allowing placement of surveillance cameras in the rooms of nursing home residents. In the Elder Law Journal article, Berridge and her co-authors analyze each state’s law and conclude that for each law, privacy concerns remain.

    For the study published in AJOB Empirical Bioethics, Berridge distributed an online survey through the Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research at Brown University to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. More than 270 facilities from 39 states responded to the anonymous survey, which included specific and open-ended questions about policies and use of surveillance cameras. Of the caregiving facilities that responded, some 11% had initiated use of cameras on their premises.

    In this survey, the majority of respondents cited privacy and dignity of residents as key disadvantages to cameras.

    By their very nature, surveillance cameras record all of the activity in a room, including personal moments such as hygiene or dressing. From a crime-prevention perspective, those are times when a resident is most vulnerable, but from a privacy perspective, the resident may not want such footage to be recorded, let alone viewed.

    Tied to questions about privacy is the issue of consent, Berridge said – not only whether the resident has the capacity to consent to being monitored, but also, in the case of two-person rooms, whether the roommate can consent.

    “Most nursing home residents have a roommate. Protecting their privacy when a camera is in the room would be very difficult in practice, especially if the camera picks up audio,” Berridge said. “We found that the real-life constraints on opportunities to selectively move or cover a camera in a given situation are not acknowledged in the state laws. These are chronically understaffed settings.”

    A less-cited — and often overlooked — issue, Berridge added, is the legal responsibility the camera owner has for the security of the feed. Installing a camera without establishing a secure portal can expose the resident (and a roommate) to hackers.

    Respondents to the survey pointed to potential advantages of cameras, as well, particularly as deterrents to abuse, and to use by the facilities themselves to inform about individual residents’ needs and as resources to help staff improve.

    Ultimately, Berridge and her co-authors say that while cameras may offer families some comfort, they aren’t the answer to preventing abuse, or a proxy for accountability. Rather, the focus should be on reform and increased funding for the long-term care system so that nursing homes and assisted living facilities are sufficiently staffed, with employees paid a living wage. Berridge points to a “culture change” movement in long-term care that aims to deinstitutionalize nursing homes and make them more home-like. This movement involves practices to improve care quality, enhance person-centeredness, and empower staff. In Washington, lawmakers this year passed the Long-Term Care Trust Act, which establishes a publicly funded source of long-term care insurance. The measure, which awaits Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature, may help people pay for in-home services as an alternative to nursing home care.

    Berridge recently received a four-year, nearly $500,000 grant from the National Institute on Aging to develop a self-administered tool to help people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia and their families understand and make decisions about the use of a range of technologies that remotely monitor people in their homes for their safety, including webcams. Unlike cameras in nursing home rooms that are aimed at potential abusers, technologies addressed in this study are used to monitor older adults’ activities and behaviors. It’s easy, Berridge explained, for adult children to overlook, or even dismiss, the concerns of a parent when it comes to issues of monitoring care, and the parent’s right to privacy and sense of freedom.

    “This tool will be the first of its kind to support families to navigate the complex technology landscape and guide them in balancing their perceived need for ongoing surveillance and the older adult’s dignity and wishes,” Berridge said.

    The Elder Law Journal article was funded by the Borchard Foundation Center on Law and Aging. Berridge conducted the survey while a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University through a National Research Service Award from the Agency for Health Research and Quality.

    Co-authors on the camera study were Jodi Halpern of the University of California, Berkeley and Karen Levy of Cornell University; Levy also led the Elder Law Journal article, along with Lauren Kilgour of Cornell.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

  • richardmitnick 7:32 am on May 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Arsenic-breathing life discovered in the tropical Pacific Ocean", , , , , U Washington   

    From University of Washington: “Arsenic-breathing life discovered in the tropical Pacific Ocean” 

    U Washington

    From University of Washington

    May 1, 2019
    Hannah Hickey

    Arsenic is a deadly poison for most living things, but new research shows that microorganisms are breathing arsenic in a large area of the Pacific Ocean. A University of Washington team has discovered that an ancient survival strategy is still being used in low-oxygen parts of the marine environment.

    “Thinking of arsenic as not just a bad guy, but also as beneficial, has reshaped the way that I view the element,” said first author Jaclyn Saunders, who did the research for her doctoral thesis at the UW and is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    The study was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Jaclyn Saunders (far right) fixes the line on a McLane instrument that pumps large volumes of seawater in order to extract the DNA. The instrument on the left measures properties such as temperature, salinity and depth and collects smaller samples of seawater. Noelle Held/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

    “We’ve known for a long time that there are very low levels of arsenic in the ocean,” said co-author Gabrielle Rocap, a UW professor of oceanography. “But the idea that organisms could be using arsenic to make a living — it’s a whole new metabolism for the open ocean.”

    The researchers analyzed seawater samples from a region below the surface where oxygen is almost absent, forcing life to seek other strategies. These regions may expand under climate change.

    “In some parts of the ocean there’s a sandwich of water where there’s no measurable oxygen,” Rocap said. “The microbes in these regions have to use other elements that act as an ‘electron acceptor’ to extract energy from food.”

    The most common alternatives to oxygen are nitrogen or sulfur. But Saunders’ early investigations suggested arsenic could also work, spurring her to look for the evidence.

    The team analyzed samples collected during a 2012 research cruise to the tropical Pacific, off the coast of Mexico. Genetic analyses on DNA extracted from the seawater found two genetic pathways known to convert arsenic-based molecules as a way to gain energy. The genetic material was targeting two different forms of arsenic, and authors believe that the pathways occur in two organisms that cycle arsenic back and forth between different forms.

    A purple arsenic atom surrounded by four oxygen atoms is arsenate (left). An arsenic atom surrounded by three oxygen atoms is arsenite (right). The study found evidence of marine organisms that can convert one to the other to get energy in oxygen-deficient environments.Wikimedia

    Results suggest that arsenic-breathing microbes make up less than 1% of the microbe population in these waters. The microbes discovered in the water are probably distantly related to the arsenic-breathing microbes found in hot springs or contaminated sites on land.

    “What I think is the coolest thing about these arsenic-respiring microbes existing today in the ocean is that they are expressing the genes for it in an environment that is fairly low in arsenic,” Saunders said. “It opens up the boundaries for where we could look for organisms that are respiring arsenic, in other arsenic-poor environments.”

    California’s Mono Lake is naturally high in arsenic and is known to host microbes that survive by breathing arsenic. The organisms that live in the marine environment are likely related to the ones on land. Pixabay

    Biologists believe the strategy is a holdover from Earth’s early history. During the period when life arose on Earth, oxygen was scarce in both the air and in the ocean. Oxygen became abundant in Earth’s atmosphere only after photosynthesis became widespread and converted carbon dioxide gas into oxygen.

    Early lifeforms had to gain energy using other elements, such as arsenic, which was likely more common in the oceans at that time.

    “We found the genetic signatures of pathways that are still there, remnants of the past ocean that have been maintained until today,” Saunders said.

    Arsenic-breathing populations may grow again under climate change. Low-oxygen regions are projected to expand, and dissolved oxygen is predicted to drop throughout the marine environment.

    “For me, it just shows how much is still out there in the ocean that we don’t know,” Rocap said.

    Saunders recently collected more water samples from the same region and is now trying to grow the arsenic-breathing marine microbes in a lab in order to study them more closely.

    “Right now we’ve got bits and pieces of their genomes, just enough to say that yes, they’re doing this arsenic transformation,” Rocap said. “The next step would be to put together a whole genome and find out what else they can do, and how that organism fits into the environment.”

    Co-author Clara Fuchsman collected the samples and led the DNA sequencing effort as a UW postdoctoral research scientist and now holds a faculty position at the University of Maryland. The other co-author is Cedar McKay, a research scientist in the UW School of Oceanography. The study was funded by a graduate fellowship from NASA and a research grant from the National Science Foundation.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

  • richardmitnick 9:12 am on April 17, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , U Washington, Z-pinch   

    From University of Washington via Science Alert: “Researchers Just Demonstrated Nuclear Fusion in a Device Small Enough to Keep at Home” 

    U Washington

    From University of Washington



    Science Alert

    17 APR 2019


    When it comes to the kinds of technology needed to contain a sun, there are currently just two horses in the race. Neither is what you’d call ‘petite’.

    An earlier form of fusion technology that barely made it out of the starting blocks has just overcome a serious hurdle. It’s got a long way to catch up, but given its potential cost and versatility, a table-sized fusion device like this is worth watching out for.

    While many have long given up on an early form of plasma confinement called the Z-pinch as a feasible way to generate power, researchers at the University of Washington in the US have continued to look for a way to overcome its shortcomings.

    A laboratory scale z-pinch device in operation with a Hydrogen plasma. Sandpiper at English Wikipedia

    Fusion power relies on clouds of charged particles you can squeeze the literal daylights out of – it’s the reaction that powers that big ball of hot gas we call the Sun.

    But containing a buzzing mix of superhot ions is extremely challenging – in the lab, scientists use intense magnetic fields for this task. Tokamaks like China’s Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak reactor swirl their insanely hot plasma in such a way that they generate their own internal magnetic fields, helping contain the flow.

    China’s Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak reactor (EAST)

    This approach gets the plasma cooking enough for it to release a critical amount of energy. But what it gains in generating heat it loses in long-term stability.

    Stellerators like Germany’s Wendelstein 7-X, on the other hand, rely more heavily on banks of externally applied magnetic fields. While this makes for better control over the plasma, it also makes it harder to reach the temperatures needed for fusion to occur.

    Wendelstein 7-AS built in built in Greifswald, Germany

    Both are making serious headway in our march towards fusion power. But those doughnuts holding the plasma are at least a few metres (a dozen feet) across, surrounded by complex banks of delicate electronics, making it unlikely we’ll see them shrink to a home or mobile version any time soon.

    In the early days of fusion research, a somewhat simpler method for squeezing a jet of plasma was to ‘pinch’ it through a magnetic field.

    A relatively small device known as a zeta or ‘Z’-pinch uses the specific orientation of a plasma’s internal magnetic field to apply what’s known as the Lorentz force to the flow of particles, effectively forcing its particles together through a bottleneck.

    In some sense, the device isn’t unlike a miniature version of its tokamak big brother. As such, it also suffers from similar stability issues that can cause its plasma to jump from the magnetic tracks and crash into the sides of its container.

    In fact, iterations of the Z-pinch led to the chunky tokamak technology that superseded it. Given this major limitation, the Z-pinch has all but become a relic of history.

    Hope remains that by going back to the roots of fusion, researchers might find a way to generate power without the need for complicated banks of surrounding machinery and magnets.

    Now, researchers from the University of Washington have found an alternative approach to stabilising the plasma in a Z-pinch not only works, but it can be used to generate a burst of fusion.

    To prevent the distortions in the plasma that cause it to escape the confines of its magnetic cage, the team manages the flow of the particles by applying a bit of fluid dynamics.

    Introducing what is known as sheared axial flow to a short column of plasma has previously been studied as a potential way to improve stability in a Z-pinch, to rather limited effect.

    Not to be deterred, physicists relied on computer simulations to show the concept was possible.

    Using a mix of 20 percent deuterium and 80 percent hydrogen, the team managed to hold stable a 50 centimetre (1.6 foot) long column of plasma enough to achieve fusion, evidenced by a signature generation of neutrons being emitted.

    We’re only talking 5 microseconds worth of neutrons here, so don’t clear space in your basement for your Z-Pinch 3000 Home Fusion Box quite yet. But the stability was 5,000 times longer than you’d expect without such a method being used, showing the principle is ripe for further study.

    Generating clean, abundant fusion energy is still a dream we’re all holding onto. A new approach to a less complex form of plasma technology could help remove at least some of the obstacles, if not prove to be a cheaper, more compact source of clean power in its own right.

    The race towards the horizon of limitless energy production is only just warming up, folks. And it really can’t come soon enough.

    This research was published in Physical Review Letters.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

  • richardmitnick 10:52 am on April 1, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Annals of the Former World-The Day the Dinosaurs Died", , Cretaceous period, , Paleogene period, Paleontologist Robert DePalma, , The colossal “Deccan” volcanic eruptions, The Hell Creek Formation, The KT boundary marks the dividing line between the Cretaceous period and the Tertiary period., The KT layer was laced with the rare metal iridium which they hypothesized was from the dusty remains of an asteroid impact-so geologist Walter Alvarez and his father Luis Alvarez, , The Tertiary has been redefined as the Paleogene, U Washington   

    From The New Yorker via U Washington: “Annals of the Former World-The Day the Dinosaurs Died” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    Rea Irvin

    From The New Yorker

    April 8, 2019
    Douglas Preston

    A field assistant, Rudy Pascucci, left, and the paleontologist Robert DePalma, right, at DePalma’s dig site. Of his discovery, DePalma said, “It’s like finding the Holy Grail clutched in the bony fingers of Jimmy Hoffa, sitting on top of the Lost Ark.”

    If, on a certain evening about sixty-­six million years ago, you had stood somewhere in North America and looked up at the sky, you would have soon made out what appeared to be a star. If you watched for an hour or two, the star would have seemed to grow in brightness, although it barely moved. That’s because it was not a star but an asteroid, and it was headed directly for Earth at about forty-five thousand miles an hour. Sixty hours later, the asteroid hit. The air in front was compressed and violently heated, and it blasted a hole through the atmosphere, generating a supersonic shock wave. The asteroid struck a shallow sea where the Yucatán peninsula is today. In that moment, the Cretaceous period ended and the Paleogene period began.

    A few years ago, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory used what was then one of the world’s most powerful computers, the so-called Q Machine, to model the effects of the impact.

    The ASCI Q machine at LANL.

    The result was a slow-motion, second-by-second false-color video of the event. Within two minutes of slamming into Earth, the asteroid, which was at least six miles wide, had gouged a crater about eighteen miles deep and lofted twenty-five trillion metric tons of debris into the atmosphere. Picture the splash of a pebble falling into pond water, but on a planetary scale. When Earth’s crust rebounded, a peak higher than Mt. Everest briefly rose up. The energy released was more than that of a billion Hiroshima bombs, but the blast looked nothing like a nuclear explosion, with its signature mushroom cloud. Instead, the initial blowout formed a “rooster tail,” a gigantic jet of molten material, which exited the atmosphere, some of it fanning out over North America. Much of the material was several times hotter than the surface of the sun, and it set fire to everything within a thousand miles. In addition, an inverted cone of liquefied, superheated rock rose, spread outward as countless red-hot blobs of glass, called tektites, and blanketed the Western Hemisphere.

    Some of the ejecta escaped Earth’s gravitational pull and went into irregular orbits around the sun. Over millions of years, bits of it found their way to other planets and moons in the solar system. Mars was eventually strewn with the debris—just as pieces of Mars, knocked aloft by ancient asteroid impacts, have been found on Earth. A 2013 study in the journal Astrobiology estimated that tens of thousands of pounds of impact rubble may have landed on Titan, a moon of Saturn, and on Europa and Callisto, which orbit Jupiter—three satellites that scientists believe may have promising habitats for life. Mathematical models indicate that at least some of this vagabond debris still harbored living microbes. The asteroid may have sown life throughout the solar system, even as it ravaged life on Earth.

    The asteroid was vaporized on impact. Its substance, mingling with vaporized Earth rock, formed a fiery plume, which reached halfway to the moon before collapsing in a pillar of incandescent dust. Computer models suggest that the atmosphere within fifteen hundred miles of ground zero became red hot from the debris storm, triggering gigantic forest fires. As the Earth rotated, the airborne material converged at the opposite side of the planet, where it fell and set fire to the entire Indian subcontinent. Measurements of the layer of ash and soot that eventually coated the Earth indicate that fires consumed about seventy per cent of the world’s forests. Meanwhile, giant tsunamis resulting from the impact churned across the Gulf of Mexico, tearing up coastlines, sometimes peeling up hundreds of feet of rock, pushing debris inland and then sucking it back out into deep water, leaving jumbled deposits that oilmen sometimes encounter in the course of deep-sea drilling.

    The damage had only begun. Scientists still debate many of the details, which are derived from the computer models, and from field studies of the debris layer, knowledge of extinction rates, fossils and microfossils, and many other clues. But the over-all view is consistently grim. The dust and soot from the impact and the conflagrations prevented all sunlight from reaching the planet’s surface for months. Photosynthesis all but stopped, killing most of the plant life, extinguishing the phytoplankton in the oceans, and causing the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere to plummet. After the fires died down, Earth plunged into a period of cold, perhaps even a deep freeze. Earth’s two essential food chains, in the sea and on land, collapsed. About seventy-five per cent of all species went extinct. More than 99.9999 per cent of all living organisms on Earth died, and the carbon cycle came to a halt.

    Earth itself became toxic. When the asteroid struck, it vaporized layers of limestone, releasing into the atmosphere a trillion tons of carbon dioxide, ten billion tons of methane, and a billion tons of carbon monoxide; all three are powerful greenhouse gases. The impact also vaporized anhydrite rock, which blasted ten trillion tons of sulfur compounds aloft. The sulfur combined with water to form sulfuric acid, which then fell as an acid rain that may have been potent enough to strip the leaves from any surviving plants and to leach the nutrients from the soil.

    Today, the layer of debris, ash, and soot deposited by the asteroid strike is preserved in the Earth’s sediment as a stripe of black about the thickness of a notebook. This is called the KT boundary, because it marks the dividing line between the Cretaceous period and the Tertiary period. (The Tertiary has been redefined as the Paleogene, but the term “KT” persists.) Mysteries abound above and below the KT layer. In the late Cretaceous, widespread volcanoes spewed vast quantities of gas and dust into the atmosphere, and the air contained far higher levels of carbon dioxide than the air that we breathe now. The climate was tropical, and the planet was perhaps entirely free of ice. Yet scientists know very little about the animals and plants that were living at the time, and as a result they have been searching for fossil deposits as close to the KT boundary as possible.

    One of the central mysteries of paleontology is the so-called “three-­metre problem.” In a century and a half of assiduous searching, almost no dinosaur remains have been found in the layers three metres, or about nine feet, below the KT boundary, a depth representing many thousands of years. Consequently, numerous paleontologists have argued that the dinosaurs were on the way to extinction long before the asteroid struck, owing perhaps to the volcanic eruptions and climate change. Other scientists have countered that the three-metre problem merely reflects how hard it is to find fossils. Sooner or later, they’ve contended, a scientist will discover dinosaurs much closer to the moment of destruction.

    Locked in the KT boundary are the answers to our questions about one of the most significant events in the history of life on the planet. If one looks at the Earth as a kind of living organism, as many biologists do, you could say that it was shot by a bullet and almost died. Deciphering what happened on the day of destruction is crucial not only to solving the three-­metre problem but also to explaining our own genesis as a species.

    On August 5, 2013, I received an e-mail from a graduate student named Robert DePalma. I had never met DePalma, but we had corresponded on paleontological matters for years, ever since he had read a novel I’d written that centered on the discovery of a fossilized Tyrannosaurus rex killed by the KT impact. “I have made an incredible and unprecedented discovery,” he wrote me, from a truck stop in Bowman, North Dakota. “It is extremely confidential and only three others know of it at the moment, all of them close colleagues.” He went on, “It is far more unique and far rarer than any simple dinosaur discovery. I would prefer not outlining the details via e-mail, if possible.” He gave me his cell-phone number and a time to call.

    I called, and he told me that he had discovered a site like the one I’d imagined in my novel, which contained, among other things, direct victims of the catastrophe. At first, I was skeptical. DePalma was a scientific nobody, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Kansas, and he said that he had found the site with no institutional backing and no collaborators. I thought that he was likely exaggerating, or that he might even be crazy. (Paleontology has more than its share of unusual people.) But I was intrigued enough to get on a plane to North Dakota to see for myself.

    DePalma’s find was in the Hell Creek geological formation, which outcrops in parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming, and contains some of the most storied dinosaur beds in the world.

    Hell Creek Formation near Ft. Peck Reservoir, Montana. Anky-man.

    At the time of the impact, the Hell Creek landscape consisted of steamy, subtropical lowlands and floodplains along the shores of an inland sea. The land teemed with life and the conditions were excellent for fossilization, with seasonal floods and meandering rivers that rapidly buried dead animals and plants.

    Dinosaur hunters first discovered these rich fossil beds in the late nineteenth century. In 1902, Barnum Brown, a flamboyant dinosaur hunter who worked at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York, found the first Tyrannosaurus rex here, causing a worldwide sensation. One paleontologist estimated that in the Cretaceous period Hell Creek was so thick with T. rexes that they were like hyenas on the Serengeti. It was also home to triceratops and duckbills.

    DePalma’s thesis adviser estimated that the site will keep specialists busy for half a century. “Robert’s got so much stuff that’s unheard of,” he said. “It will be in the textbooks.”
    Photograph by Richard Barnes for The New Yorker.

    The Hell Creek Formation spanned the Cretaceous and the Paleogene periods, and paleontologists had known for at least half a century that an extinction had occurred then, because dinosaurs were found below, but never above, the KT layer. This was true not only in Hell Creek but all over the world. For many years, scientists believed that the KT extinction was no great mystery: over millions of years, volcanism, climate change, and other events gradually killed off many forms of life. But, in the late nineteen-seventies, a young geologist named Walter Alvarez and his father, Luis Alvarez, a nuclear physicist, discovered that the KT layer was laced with unusually high amounts of the rare metal iridium, which, they hypothesized, was from the dusty remains of an asteroid impact. In an article in Science, published in 1980, they proposed that this impact was so large that it triggered the mass extinction, and that the KT layer was the debris from that event. Most paleontologists rejected the idea that a sudden, random encounter with space junk had drastically altered the evolution of life on Earth. But as the years passed the evidence mounted, until, in a 1991 paper, the smoking gun was announced: the discovery of an impact crater buried under thousands of feet of sediment in the Yucatán peninsula, of exactly the right age, and of the right size and geochemistry, to have caused a worldwide cataclysm. The crater and the asteroid were named Chicxulub, after a small Mayan town near the epicenter.

    One of the authors of the 1991 paper, David Kring, was so frightened by what he learned of the impact’s destructive nature that he became a leading voice in calling for a system to identify and neutralize threatening asteroids. “There’s no uncertainty to this statement: the Earth will be hit by a Chicxulub-size asteroid again, unless we deflect it,” he told me. “Even a three-hundred-metre rock would end world agriculture.”

    In 2010, forty-one researchers in many scientific disciplines announced, in a landmark Science article, that the issue should be considered settled: a huge asteroid impact caused the extinction. But opposition to the idea remains passionate. The main competing hypothesis is that the colossal “Deccan” volcanic eruptions, in what would become India, spewed enough sulfur and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to cause a climatic shift. The eruptions, which began before the KT impact and continued after it, were among the biggest in Earth’s history, lasting hundreds of thousands of years, and burying half a million square miles of the Earth’s surface a mile deep in lava. The three-­metre gap below the KT layer, proponents argued, was evidence that the mass extinction was well under way by the time of the asteroid strike.

    In 2004, DePalma, at the time a twenty-­two-year-old paleontology undergraduate, began excavating a small site in the Hell Creek Formation. The site had once been a pond, and the deposit consisted of very thin layers of sediment. Normally, one geological layer might represent thousands or millions of years. But DePalma was able to show that each layer in the deposit had been laid down in a single big rainstorm. “We could see when there were buds on the trees,” he told me. “We could see when the cypresses were dropping their needles in the fall. We could experience this in real time.” Peering at the layers was like flipping through a paleo-history book that chronicled decades of ecology in its silty pages. DePalma’s adviser, the late Larry Martin, urged him to find a similar site, but one that had layers closer to the KT boundary.

    Today, DePalma, now thirty-seven, is still working toward his Ph.D. He holds the unpaid position of curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History, a nascent and struggling museum with no exhibition space. In 2012, while looking for a new pond deposit, he heard that a private collector had stumbled upon an unusual site on a cattle ranch near Bowman, North Dakota. (Much of the Hell Creek land is privately owned, and ranchers will sell digging rights to whoever will pay decent money, paleontologists and commercial fossil collectors alike.) The collector felt that the site, a three-foot-deep layer exposed at the surface, was a bust: it was packed with fish fossils, but they were so delicate that they crumbled into tiny flakes as soon as they met the air. The fish were encased in layers of damp, cracked mud and sand that had never solidified; it was so soft that it could be dug with a shovel or pulled apart by hand. In July, 2012, the collector showed DePalma the site and told him that he was welcome to it.

    “I was immediately very disappointed,” DePalma told me. He was hoping for a site like the one he’d excavated earlier: an ancient pond with fine-grained, fossil-bearing layers that spanned many seasons and years. Instead, everything had been deposited in a single flood. But as DePalma poked around he saw potential. The flood had entombed everything immediately, so specimens were exquisitely preserved. He found many complete fish, which are rare in the Hell Creek Formation, and he figured that he could remove them intact if he worked with painstaking care. He agreed to pay the rancher a certain amount for each season that he worked there. (The specifics of the arrangement, as is standard practice in paleontology, are a closely guarded secret. The site is now under exclusive long-term lease.)

    The following July, DePalma returned to do a preliminary excavation of the site. “Almost right away, I saw it was unusual,” he told me. He began shovelling off the layers of soil above where he’d found the fish. This “overburden” is typically material that was deposited long after the specimen lived; there’s little in it to interest a paleontologist, and it is usually discarded. But as soon as DePalma started digging he noticed grayish-white specks in the layers which looked like grains of sand but which, under a hand lens, proved to be tiny spheres and elongated ­droplets. “I think, Holy shit, these look like microtektites!” DePalma recalled. Micro­tektites are the blobs of glass that form when molten rock is blasted into the air by an asteroid impact and falls back to Earth in a solidifying drizzle. The site appeared to contain micro­tektites by the million.

    As DePalma carefully excavated the upper layers, he began uncovering an extraordinary array of fossils, exceedingly delicate but marvellously well preserved. “There’s amazing plant material in there, all interlaced and interlocked,” he recalled. “There are logjams of wood, fish pressed against cypress-­tree root bundles, tree trunks smeared with amber.” Most fossils end up being squashed flat by the pressure of the overlying stone, but here everything was three-dimensional, including the fish, having been encased in sediment all at once, which acted as a support. “You see skin, you see dorsal fins literally sticking straight up in the sediments, species new to science,” he said. As he dug, the momentousness of what he had come across slowly dawned on him. If the site was what he hoped, he had made the most important paleontological discovery of the new century.

    In a century and a half of assiduous searching, almost no dinosaur remains have been found in the layers three metres, or about nine feet, below the KT boundary, a depth representing many thousands of years. Photograph by Richard Barnes for The New Yorker.

    DePalma grew up in Boca Raton, Florida, and as a child he was fascinated by bones and the stories they contained. His father, Robert, Sr., practices endodontic surgery in nearby Delray Beach; his great-uncle Anthony, who died in 2005, at the age of a hundred, was a renowned orthopedic surgeon who wrote several standard textbooks on the subject. (Anthony’s son, Robert’s cousin, is the film director Brian De Palma.)

    “Between the ages of three and four, I made a visual connection with the gracefulness of individual bones and how they fit together as a system,” DePalma told me. “That really struck me. I went after whatever on the dinner table had bones in it.” His family ­buried their dead pets in one spot and put the burial markers in another, so that he wouldn’t dig up the corpses; he found them anyway. He froze dead lizards in ice-cube trays, which his mother would discover when she had friends over for iced tea. “I was never into sports,” he said. “They tried to get me to do that so I would get along with the other kids. But I was digging up the baseball field looking for bones.”

    DePalma’s great-uncle Anthony, who lived in Pompano Beach, took him under his wing. “I used to visit him every other weekend and show him my latest finds,” DePalma said. When he was four, someone at a museum in Texas gave him a fragment of dinosaur bone, which he took to his great-uncle. “He taught me that all those little knobs and rough patches and protrusions on a bone had names, and that the bone also had a name,” DePalma said. “I was captivated.” At six or seven, on trips to Central Florida with his family, he started finding his own fossilized bones from mammals dating back to the Ice Age. He found his first dinosaur bone when he was nine, in Colorado.

    In high school, during the summer and on weekends, DePalma collected fossils, made dinosaur models, and mounted skeletons for the Graves Museum of Archaeology and Natural History, in Dania Beach. He loaned the museum his childhood fossil collection for display, but in 2004 the museum went bankrupt and many of the specimens were carted off to a community college. DePalma had no paperwork to prove his ownership, and a court refused to return his fossils, which numbered in the hundreds. They were mostly locked away in storage, unavailable for public display and enjoyment.

    Dismayed by what he called the “wasteful mismanagement” of his collection, DePalma adopted some unusual collecting practices. Typically, paleontologists cede the curation and the care of their specimens to the institutions that hold them. But DePalma insists on contractual clauses that give him oversight of the management of his specimens. He never digs on public land, because of what he considers excessive government red tape. But, without federal support for his work, he must cover almost all the costs himself. His out-of-pocket expenses for working the Hell Creek site amount to tens of thousands of dollars. He helps defray the expenses by mounting fossils, doing reconstructions, and casting and selling replicas for museums, private collectors, and other clients. At times, his parents have chipped in. “I squeak by,” he said. “If it’s a ­tossup between getting more PaleoBond”—an expensive liquid glue used to hold fossils together—“or changing the air-conditioning filter, I’m getting the PaleoBond.” He is single, and shares a three-bedroom apartment with casts of various dinosaurs, including one of a Nanotyrannus. “It’s hard to have a life outside of my work,” he said.

    DePalma’s control of his research collection is controversial. Fossils are a big business; wealthy collectors pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions, for a rare specimen. (In 1997, a T. rex nicknamed Sue was sold at a Sotheby’s auction, to the Field Museum of Natural History, in Chicago, for more than $8.3 million.) The American market is awash in fossils illegally smuggled out of China and Mongolia. But in the U.S. fossil collecting on private property is legal, as is the buying, selling, and exporting of fossils. Many scientists view this trade as a threat to paleontology and argue that important fossils belong in museums. “I’m not allowed to have a private collection of anything I’m studying,” one prominent curator told me. DePalma insists that he maintains “the best of both worlds” for his fossils. He has deposited portions of his collection at several nonprofit institutions, including the University of Kansas, the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History, and Florida Atlantic University; some specimens are temporarily housed in various analytical labs that are conducting tests on them—all overseen by him.

    In 2013, DePalma briefly made news with a paper he published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Four years earlier, in Hell Creek, he and a field assistant, Robert Feeney, found an odd, lumpy growth of fossilized bone that turned out to be two fused vertebrae from the tail of a hadrosaur, a duck-billed dinosaur from the Cretaceous period. DePalma thought that the bone might have grown around a foreign object and encased it. He took it to Lawrence Memorial Hospital, in Kansas, where a CT technician scanned it for free in the middle of the night, when the machine was idle. Inside the nodule was a broken tyrannosaur tooth; the hadrosaur had been bitten by a tyrannosaur and escaped.

    The discovery helped refute an old hypothesis, revived by the formidable paleontologist Jack Horner, that T. rex was solely a scavenger. Horner argued that T. rex was too slow and lumbering, its arms too puny and its eyesight too poor, to prey on other creatures. When DePalma’s find was picked up by the national media, Horner dismissed it as “speculation” and merely “one data point.” He suggested an alternative scenario: the T. rex might have accidentally bitten the tail of a sleeping hadrosaur, thinking that it was dead, and then “backed away” when it realized its mistake. “I thought that was absolutely preposterous,” DePalma told me. At the time, he told the Los Angeles Times, “A scavenger doesn’t come across a food source and realize all of a sudden that it’s alive.” Horner eventually conceded that T. rex may have hunted live prey. But, when I asked Horner about DePalma recently, he said at first that he didn’t remember him: “In the community, we don’t get to know students very well.”

    Without his Ph.D., DePalma remains mostly invisible, awaiting the stamp of approval that signals the beginning of a serious research career. Several paleontologists I talked to had not heard of him. Another, who asked not to be named, said, “Finding that kind of fossil was pretty cool, but not life-­changing. People sometimes think I’m dumb because I often say I don’t have the answers—we weren’t there when a fossil was formed. There are other people out there who say they do know, and he’s one of those people. I think he can overinterpret.”

    After receiving DePalma’s e-mail, I made arrangements to visit the Hell Creek site; three weeks later I was in Bowman. DePalma pulled up to my hotel in a Toyota 4Runner, its stereo blasting the theme to “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” He wore a coarse cotton work shirt, cargo pants with canvas ­suspenders, and a suède cowboy hat with the left brim snapped up. His face was tanned from long days in the sun and he had a five-day-old beard.

    I got in, and we drove for an hour or so, turning through a ranch gate and following a maze of bone-rattling roads that eventually petered out in a grassy basin. The scattered badlands of Hell Creek form an otherworldly landscape. This is far-flung ranching and farming country; prairies and sunflower fields stretch to the horizon, domed by the great blue skies of the American West. Roads connect small towns—truck stop, church, motel, houses and trailers—and lonely expanses roll by in between. Here and there in the countryside, abandoned farmhouses lean into the ground. Over millions of years, the Hell Creek layer has been heavily eroded, leaving only remnants, which jut from the prairie like so many rotten teeth. These lifeless buttes and pinnacles are striped in beige, chocolate, yellow, maroon, russet, gray, and white. Fossils, worked loose by wind and rain, spill down the sides.

    When we arrived, DePalma’s site lay open in front of us: a desolate hump of gray, cracked earth, about the size of two soccer fields. It looked as if a piece of the moon had dropped there. One side of the deposit was cut through by a sandy wash, or dry streambed; the other ended in a low escarpment. The dig was a three-foot-deep rectangular hole, sixty feet long by forty feet wide. A couple of two-by-fours, along with various digging tools and some metal pipe for taking core samples, leaned against the far side of the hole. As we strolled around the site, I noticed on DePalma’s belt a long fixed-blade knife and a sheathed bayonet—a Second World War relic that his uncle gave him when he was twelve, he said.

    He recalled the moment of discovery. The first fossil he removed, earlier that summer, was a five-foot-long freshwater paddlefish. Paddlefish still live today; they have a long bony snout, with which they probe murky water in search of food. When DePalma took out the fossil, he found underneath it a tooth from a mosasaur, a giant carnivorous marine reptile. He wondered how a freshwater fish and a marine reptile could have ended up in the same place, on a riverbank at least several miles inland from the nearest sea. (At the time, a shallow body of water, called the Western Interior Seaway, ran from the proto-­Gulf of Mexico up through part of North America.) The next day, he found a two-foot-wide tail from another marine fish; it looked as if it had been violently ripped from the fish’s body. “If the fish is dead for any length of time, those tails decay and fall apart,” DePalma said. But this one was perfectly intact, “so I knew that it was transported at the time of death or around then.” Like the mosasaur tooth, it had somehow ended up miles inland from the sea of its origin. “When I found that, I thought, There’s no way, this can’t be right,” DePalma said. The discoveries hinted at an extraordinary conclusion that he wasn’t quite ready to accept. “I was ninety-eight per cent con­vinced at that point,” he said.

    The following day, DePalma noticed a small disturbance preserved in the sediment. About three inches in diameter, it appeared to be a crater formed by an object that had fallen from the sky and plunked down in mud. Similar formations, caused by hailstones hitting a muddy surface, had been found before in the fossil record. As DePalma shaved back the layers to make a cross-­section of the crater, he found the thing itself—not a hailstone but a small white sphere—at the bottom of the crater. It was a tektite, about three millimetres in diameter—the fallout from an ancient asteroid impact. As he continued excavating, he found another crater with a tektite at the bottom, and another, and another. Glass turns to clay over millions of years, and these tektites were now clay, but some still had glassy cores. The microtektites he had found earlier might have been carried there by water, but these had been trapped where they fell—on what, DePalma believed, must have been the very day of the disaster.

    “When I saw that, I knew this wasn’t just any flood deposit,” DePalma said. “We weren’t just near the KT boundary—this whole site is the KT boundary!” From surveying and mapping the layers, DePalma hypothesized that a massive inland surge of water flooded a river valley and filled the low-lying area where we now stood, perhaps as a result of the KT-impact tsunami, which had roared across the proto-Gulf and up the Western Interior Seaway. As the water slowed and became slack, it deposited everything that had been caught up in its travels—the heaviest material first, up to whatever was floating on the surface. All of it was quickly entombed and preserved in the muck: dying and dead creatures, both marine and freshwater; plants, seeds, tree trunks, roots, cones, pine needles, flowers, and pollen; shells, bones, teeth, and eggs; tektites, shocked minerals, tiny diamonds, iridium-laden dust, ash, charcoal, and amber-smeared wood. As the sediments settled, blobs of glass rained into the mud, the largest first, then finer and finer bits, until grains sifted down like snow.

    “We have the whole KT event preserved in these sediments,” DePalma said. “With this deposit, we can chart what happened the day the Cretaceous died.” No paleontological site remotely like it had ever been found, and, if DePalma’s hypothesis proves correct, the scientific value of the site will be immense. When Walter Alvarez visited the dig last summer, he was astounded. “It is truly a magnificent site,” he wrote to me, adding that it’s “surely one of the best sites ever found for telling just what happened on the day of the impact.”

    When DePalma finished showing me the dig, he introduced me to a field assistant, Rudy Pascucci, the director of the Palm Beach Museum. Pascucci, a muscular man in his fifties, was sunburned and unshaven, and wore a sleeveless T-shirt, snakeproof camouflage boots, and a dusty Tilley hat. The two men gathered their tools, got down on the floor of the hole, and began probing the three-foot-high walls of the deposit.

    For rough digging, DePalma likes to use his bayonet and a handheld Marsh pick, popularized by the nineteenth-­century Yale paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh, who pioneered dinosaur-hunting in the American West and dis­covered eighty new species. The pick was given to him by David Burnham, his thesis adviser at Kansas, when he completed his master’s degree. For fine work, DePalma uses X-Acto knives and brushes—the typical tools of a paleontologist—as well as dental instruments given to him by his father.

    The deposit consisted of dozens of thin layers of mud and sand. Lower down, it graded into a more turbulent band of sand and gravel, which contained the heavier fish fossils, bones, and bigger tektites. Below that layer was a hard surface of sandstone, the original Cretaceous bedrock of the site, much of which had been scoured smooth by the flood.

    Paleontology is maddening work, its progress typically measured in millimetres. As I watched, DePalma and Pascucci lay on their stomachs under the beating sun, their eyes inches from the dirt wall, and picked away. DePalma poked the tip of an X-Acto into the thin laminations of sediment and loosened one dime-size flake at a time; he’d examine it closely, and, if he saw nothing, flick it away. When the chips accumulated, he gathered them into small piles with a paintbrush; when those piles accumulated, Pascucci swept them into larger piles with a broom and then shovelled them into a heap at the far end of the dig.

    Occasionally, DePalma came across small plant fossils—flower petals, leaves, seeds, pine needles, and bits of bark. Many of these were mere impressions in the mud, which would crack and peel as soon as they were exposed to the air. He quickly squirted them with PaleoBond, which soaked into the fossils and held them together. Or, us­ing another technique, he mixed a batch of plaster and poured it on the spec­imen before it fell apart. This would preserve, in plaster, a reverse image of the fossil; the original was too short-lived to be saved.

    When the mosquitoes got bad, DePalma took out a briar pipe and packed it with Royal Cherry Cavendish tobacco. He put a lighter to it and vigorously puffed, wreathing himself in sickly-­sweet smoke, then went back to work. “I’m like a shopaholic in a shoe store,” he said. “I want everything!”

    He showed me the impression of a round object about two inches wide. “This is either a flower or an echinoderm,” he said, referring to a group of marine life-forms that includes sea urchins and starfish. “I’ll figure it out in the lab.” He swiftly entombed it in Paleo­Bond and plaster. Next, he found a perfect leaf, and near that a seed from a pinecone. “Cretaceous mulch,” he said, dismissively; he already had many similar examples. He found three more small craters with tektites in them, which he sectioned and photographed. Then his X-Acto blade turned up a tiny brown bone—a jaw, less than a quarter inch in length. He held it up between his fingers and peered at it with a lens.

    “A mammal,” he said. “This one was already dead when it was buried.” Weeks later, in the lab, he identified the jaw as probably belonging to a mam­mal distantly related to primates—including us.

    In one fell swoop, DePalma may have filled in the gap in the fossil record. Photograph by Richard Barnes for The New Yorker.

    Half an hour later, DePalma discovered a large feather. “Every day is Christmas out here,” he said. He exposed the feather with precise movements. It was a crisp impression in the layer of mud, perhaps thirteen inches long. “This is my ninth feather,” he said. “The first fossil feathers ever found at Hell Creek. I’m convinced these are dinosaur feathers. I don’t know for sure. But these are primitive feathers, and most are a foot long. There are zero birds that big from Hell Creek with feathers this primitive. It’s more parsimonious to suggest it was a known dinosaur, most likely a theropod, possibly a raptor.” He kept digging. “Maybe we’ll find the raptor that these feathers came from, but I doubt it. These feathers could have floated from a long way off.”

    His X-Acto knife unearthed the edge of a fossilized fin. Another paddlefish came to light; it later proved to be nearly six feet long. DePalma probed the sediment around it, to gauge its position and how best to extract it. As more of it was exposed, we could clearly see that the fish’s two-foot-long snout had broken when it was forced—probably by the flood’s surge—against the branches of a submerged araucaria tree. He noted that every fish he’d found in the site had died with its mouth open, which may indicate that the fish had been gasping as they suffocated in the sediment-laden water.

    “Most died in a vertical position in the sediment, didn’t even tip over on their sides,” he said. “And they weren’t scavenged, because whatever would have dug them up afterward was probably gone.” He chipped away around the paddlefish, exposing a fin bone, then a half-dollar-size patch of fossilized skin with the scales perfectly visible. He treated these by saturating them with his own special blend of hardener. Because of the extreme fragility of the fossils, he would take them back to his lab, in Florida, totally encased in sediment, or “matrix.” In the lab, he would free each fossil under a magnifying glass, in precisely controlled conditions, away from the damaging effects of sun, wind, and aridity.

    As DePalma worked around the paddlefish, more of the araucaria branch came to light, including its short, spiky needles. “This tree was alive when it was buried,” he said. Then he noticed a golden blob of amber stuck to the branch. Amber is preserved tree resin and often contains traces of whatever was in the air at the time, trapping the atmospheric chemistry and even, sometimes, insects and small reptiles. “This is Cretaceous flypaper,” he said. “I can’t wait to get this back to the lab.”

    An hour later, he had chiselled all the way around the fish, leaving it encased in matrix, supported by a four-inch-tall pedestal of rock. “I’m pretty sure this is a species new to science,” he said. Because the soft tissue had also fossilized, he said, even the animal’s stomach contents might still be present.

    He straightened up. “Time to plaster,” he said. He took off his shirt and began mixing a five-gallon bucket of plaster with his hands, while Pascucci tore strips of burlap. DePalma took a two-by-four and sawed off two foot-long pieces and placed them like splints on either side of the sediment-encased fossil. One by one, he dipped the burlap strips in the plaster and draped them across the top and the sides of the specimen. He added rope handles and plastered them in. An hour later, when the plaster had cured, he chiselled through the rock pedestal beneath the fossil and flipped the specimen over, leaving the underside exposed. Back in the lab, he would go through this surface to access the fossil, with the plaster jacket acting as a cradle below. Using the rope handles, DePalma and Pascucci lugged the specimen, which weighed perhaps two hundred pounds, to the truck and loaded it into the back. Later, DePalma would store it behind a friend’s ranch house, where all his jacketed fossils from the season were laid out in rows, covered with tarps.

    DePalma resumed digging. Gusts of wind stirred up clouds of dust, and rain fell; when the weather cleared, the late-afternoon sun spilled across the prairie. DePalma was lost in another day, in another time. “Here’s a piece of wood with bark-beetle traces,” he said. Plant fossils from the first several million years after the impact show almost no signs of such damage; the insects were mostly gone. The asteroid had likely struck in the fall, DePalma speculated. He had reached this conclusion by comparing the juvenile paddlefish and sturgeon he’d found with the species’ known growth rates and hatching seasons; he’d also found the seeds of conifers, figs, and certain flowers. “When we analyze the pollen and diatomaceous particles, that will narrow it down,” he said.

    A core sample from DePalma’s site. The site may hold a precise geological transcript of the asteroid strike that almost wiped out life on the planet. Photograph by Richard Barnes for The New Yorker.

    It solves the question of whether dinosaurs went extinct at exactly that level or whether they declined before,” the paleontologist Jan Smit said. “And this is the first time we see direct victims.” Photograph by Richard Barnes for The New Yorker.

    In the week that followed, fresh riches emerged: more feathers, leaves, seeds, and amber, along with several other fish, three to five feet long, and a dozen more craters with tektites. I have visited many paleontological sites, but I had never seen so many specimens found so quickly. Most digs are boring; days or weeks may pass with little found. DePalma seemed to make a noteworthy discovery about every half hour.

    When DePalma first visited the site, he noted, partially embedded on the surface, the hip bone of a dinosaur in the ceratopsian family, of which triceratops is the best-known member. A commercial collector had tried to remove it years earlier; it had been abandoned in place and was crumbling from years of exposure. DePalma initially dismissed it as “trash” and decried the irresponsibility of the collector. Later, though, he wondered how the bone, which was heavy, had arrived there, very close to the high-water mark of the flood. It must have floated, he said, and to have done so it must have been encased in desiccated tissue—suggesting that at least one dinosaur species was alive at the time of the impact. He later found a suitcase-size piece of fossilized skin from a ceratopsian attached to the hip bone.

    At one point, DePalma set off to photograph the layers of the deposit which had been cut through and exposed by the sandy wash. He scraped smooth a vertical section and misted it with water from a spray bottle to bring out the color. The bottom layer was jumbled; the first rush of water had ripped up layers of mud, gravel, and rocks and tumbled them about with pieces of burned (and burning) wood.

    Then DePalma came to a faint jug-shaped outline in the wall of the wash. He examined it closely. It started as a tunnel at the top of the KT layer, went down, and then widened into a round cavity, filled with soil of a different color, which stopped at the hard sandstone of the undisturbed bedrock layer below. It looked as though a small animal had dug through the mud to create a hideout. “Is that a burrow?” I asked.

    DePalma scraped the area smooth with his bayonet, then sprayed it. “You’re darn right it is,” he said. “And this isn’t the burrow of a small dinosaur. It’s a mammal burrow.” (Burrows have characteristic shapes, depending on the species that inhabit them.) He peered at it, his eyes inches from the rock, probing it with the tip of the bayonet. “Gosh, I think it’s still in there!”

    He planned to remove the entire burrow intact, in a block, and run it through a CT scanner back home, to see what it contained. “Any Cretaceous mammal burrow is incredibly rare,” he said. “But this one is impossible—it’s dug right through the KT boundary.” Perhaps, he said, the mammal survived the impact and the flood, burrowed into the mud to escape the freezing darkness, then died. “It may have been born in the Cretaceous and died in the Paleocene,” he said. “And to think—sixty-­six million years later, a stinky monkey is digging it up, trying to figure out what happened.” He added, “If it’s a new species, I’ll name it after you.”

    When I left Hell Creek, DePalma pressed me on the need for secrecy: I was to tell no one, not even close friends, about what he’d found. The history of paleontology is full of tales of bribery, backstabbing, and double-­dealing. In the nineteenth century, ­Othniel C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, the nation’s two leading paleontologists, engaged in a bitter competition to collect dinosaur fossils in the American West. They raided each other’s quarries, bribed each other’s crews, and vilified each other in print and at scientific meetings. In 1890, the New York Herald began a series of sensational articles about the controversy with the headline “Scientists Wage Bitter Warfare.” The rivalry has since become known as the Bone Wars. The days of skulduggery in paleontology have not passed; DePalma was deeply concerned that the site would be expropriated by a major museum.

    DePalma knew that a screwup with this site would probably end his career, and that his status in the field was so uncertain that he needed to fortify the find against potential criticism. He had already experienced harsh judgment when, in 2015, he published a paper on a new species of dinosaur called a Dakotaraptor, and mistakenly inserted a fossil turtle bone in the reconstruction. Although rebuilding a skeleton from thousands of bone fragments that have commingled with those of other species is not easy, DePalma was mor­tified by the attacks. “I never want to go through that again,” he told me.

    For five years, DePalma continued excavations at the site. He quietly shared his findings with a half-dozen luminaries in the field of KT studies, including Walter Alvarez, and enlisted their help. During the winter months, when not in the field, DePalma prepared and analyzed his specimens, a few at a time, in a colleague’s lab at Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton. The lab was a windowless, wedge­like room in the geology building, lined with bubbling aquarium tanks and shelves heaped with books, scientific journals, pieces of coral, mastodon teeth, seashells, and a stack of .50-­calibre machine-gun rounds, dating from the Second World War, that the lab’s owner had recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. DePalma had carved out a space for himself in a corner, just large enough for him to work on one or two jacketed fossils at a time.

    When I first visited the lab, in April, 2014, a block of stone three feet long by eighteen inches wide lay on a table under bright lights and a large magnifying lens. The block, DePalma said, contained a sturgeon and a paddlefish, along with dozens of smaller fossils and a single small, perfect crater with a tektite in it. The lower parts of the block consisted of debris, fragments of bone, and loose tektites that had been dislodged and caught up in the turbulence. The block told the story of the impact in microcosm. “It was a very bad day,” DePalma said. “Look at these two fish.” He showed me where the sturgeon’s scutes—the sharp, bony plates on its back—had been forced into the body of the paddlefish. One fish was impaled on the other. The mouth of the paddlefish was agape, and jammed into its gill rakers were microtektites—sucked in by the fish as it tried to breathe. DePalma said, “This fish was likely alive for some time after being caught in the wave, long enough to gasp frenzied mouthfuls of water in a vain attempt to survive.”

    Gradually, DePalma was piecing together a potential picture of the disaster. By the time the site flooded, the surrounding forest was already on fire, given the abundance of charcoal, charred wood, and amber he’d found at the site. The water arrived not as a curling wave but as a powerful, roiling rise, packed with disoriented fish and plant and animal debris, which, DePalma hypothesized, were laid down as the water slowed and receded.

    In the lab, DePalma showed me magnified cross-sections of the sediment. Most of its layers were horizontal, but a few formed curlicues or flamelike patterns called truncated flame structures, which were caused by a combination of weight from above and mini-surges in the incoming water. DePalma found five sets of these patterns. He turned back to the block on his table and held a magnifying lens up to the tektite. Parallel, streaming lines were visible on its surface—Schlieren lines, formed by two types of molten glass swirling together as the blobs arced through the atmosphere. Peering through the lens, DePalma picked away at the block with a dental probe. He soon exposed a section of pink, pearlescent shell, which had been pushed up against the sturgeon. “Ammonite,” he said. Ammonites were marine mollusks that somewhat resemble the present-day nautilus, although they were more closely related to squid and octopi. As DePalma uncovered more of the shell, I watched its vibrant color fade. “Live ammonite, ripped apart by the tsunami—they don’t travel well,” he said. “Genus Sphenodiscus, I would think.” The shell, which hadn’t previously been documented in the Hell Creek Formation, was another marine victim tossed inland.

    He stood up. “Now I’m going to show you something special,” he said, opening a wooden crate and removing an object that was covered in aluminum foil. He unwrapped a sixteen-inch fossil feather, and held it in his palms like a piece of Lalique glass. “When I found the first feather, I had about twenty seconds of disbelief,” he said. DePalma had studied under Larry Martin, a world authority on the Cretaceous predecessors of birds, and had been “exposed to a lot of fossil feathers. When I encountered this damn thing, I immediately understood the importance of it. And now look at this.”

    From the lab table, he grabbed a fossil forearm belonging to Dakotaraptor, the dinosaur species he’d discovered in Hell Creek. He pointed to a series of regular bumps on the bone. “These are probably quill knobs,” he said. “This dinosaur had feathers on its forearms. Now watch.” With precision calipers, he measured the diameter of the quill knobs, then the diameter of the quill of the fossil feather; both were 3.5 millimetres. “This matches,” he said. “This says a feather of this size would be associated with a limb of this size.”

    There was more, including a piece of a partly burned tree trunk with am­ber stuck to it. He showed me a photo of the amber seen through a micro­scope. Trapped inside were two impact particles—another landmark discovery, because the amber would have preserved their chemical composition. (All other tektites found from the impact, exposed to the elements for millions of years, have chemically changed.) He’d also found scores of beautiful examples of lonsdaleite, a hexagonal form of diamond that is associated with impacts; it forms when carbon in an asteroid is compressed so violently that it crystallizes into trillions of microscopic grains, which are blasted into the air and drift down.

    Finally, he showed me a photograph of a fossil jawbone; it belonged to the mammal he’d found in the burrow. “This is the jaw of Dougie,” he said. The bone was big for a Cretaceous mammal—three inches long—and almost complete, with a tooth. After my visit to Hell Creek, DePalma had removed the animal’s burrow intact, still encased in the block of sediment, and, with the help of some women who worked as cashiers at the Travel Center, in Bowman, hoisted it into the back of his truck. He believes that the jaw belonged to a marsupial that looked like a weasel. Using the tooth, he could conduct a stable-isotope study to find out what the animal ate—“what the menu was after the disaster,” he said. The rest of the mammal remains in the burrow, to be researched later.

    DePalma says that he’s discovered more than a dozen new species of animals and plants, and identified the broken teeth and bones, including hatchling remains, of almost every dinosaur group known from Hell Creek. Photograph by Richard Barnes for The New Yorker.

    DePalma listed some of the other discoveries he’s made at the site: several flooded ant nests, with drowned ants still inside and some chambers packed with microtektites; a possible wasp burrow; another mammal ­burrow, with multiple tunnels and galleries; shark teeth; the thigh bone of a large sea turtle; at least three new fish species; a gigantic ginkgo leaf and a plant that was a relative of the banana; more than a dozen new species of animals and plants; and several other burrow types.

    At the bottom of the deposit, in a mixture of heavy gravel and tektites, DePalma identified the broken teeth and bones, including hatchling remains, of almost every dinosaur group known from Hell Creek, as well as pterosaur remains, which had previously been found only in layers far below the KT boundary. He found, intact, an unhatched egg containing an embryo—a fossil of immense research value. The egg and the other remains suggested that dinosaurs and major reptiles were probably not staggering into extinction on that fateful day. In one fell swoop, DePalma may have solved the three-metre problem and filled in the gap in the fossil record.

    By the end of the 2013 field season, DePalma was convinced that the site had been created by an impact flood, but he lacked conclusive evidence that it was the KT impact. It was possible that it resulted from another giant asteroid strike that occurred at around the same time. “Extraordinary discoveries require extraordinary evidence,” he said. If his tektites shared the same geochemistry as tektites from the Chicxulub asteroid, he’d have a strong case. Deposits of Chicxulub tektites are rare; the best source, discovered in 1990, is a small outcrop in Haiti, on a cliff above a road cut. In late January, 2014, DePalma went there to gather tektites and sent them to an independent lab in Canada, along with tektites from his own site; the samples were analyzed at the same time, with the same equipment. The results indicated a near-perfect geochemical match.

    In the first few years after DePalma’s discoveries, only a handful of scientists knew about them. One was David Burnham, DePalma’s thesis adviser at Kansas, who estimates that DePalma’s site will keep specialists busy for at least half a century. “Robert’s got so much stuff that’s unheard of,” Burnham told me. “Amber with tektites embedded in it—holy cow! The dinosaur feathers are crazy good, but the burrow makes your head reel.” In paleontology, the term Lagerstätte refers to a rare type of fossil site with a large variety of specimens that are nearly perfectly preserved, a sort of fossilized ecosystem. “It will be a famous site,” Burnham said. “It will be in the textbooks. It is the Lagerstätte of the KT extinction.”

    Jan Smit, a paleontologist at Vrije University, in Amsterdam, and a world authority on the KT impact, has been helping DePalma analyze his results, and, like Burnham and Walter Alvarez, he is a co-author of a scientific paper that DePalma is publishing about the site. (There are eight other co-authors.) “This is really a major discovery,” Smit said. “It solves the question of whether dinosaurs went extinct at exactly that level or whether they declined before. And this is the first time we see direct victims.” I asked if the results would be controversial. “When I saw his data with the paddlefish, sturgeon, and ammonite, I think he’s right on the spot,” Smit said. “I am very sure he has a pot of gold.”

    In September of 2016, DePalma gave a brief talk about the discovery at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, in Colorado. He mentioned only that he had found a deposit from a KT flood that had yielded glass droplets, shocked minerals, and fossils. He had christened the site Tanis, after the ancient city in Egypt, which was featured in the 1981 film “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. In the real Tanis, archeologists found an inscription in three writing systems, which, like the Rosetta stone, was crucial in translating ancient Egyptian. DePalma hopes that his Tanis site will help decipher what happened on the first day after the impact.

    The talk, limited though it was, caused a stir. Kirk Cochran, a professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at Stony Brook University, in New York, recalled that when DePalma presented his findings there were gasps of amazement in the audience. Some scientists were wary. Kirk Johnson, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, told me that he knew the Hell Creek area well, having worked there since 1981. “My warning lights were flashing bright red,” he told me. “I was so skeptical after the talk I was convinced it was a fabrication.” Johnson, who had been mapping the KT layer in Hell Creek, said that his research indicated that Tanis was at least forty-five feet below the KT boundary and perhaps a hundred thousand years older. “If it’s what it’s said to be,” Johnson said, “it’s a fabulous discovery.” But he declared himself “uneasy” until he could see DePalma’s paper.

    One prominent West Coast paleontologist who is an authority on the KT event told me, “I’m suspicious of the findings. They’ve been presented at meetings in various ways with various associated extraordinary claims. He could have stumbled on something amazing, but he has a reputation for making a lot out of a little.” As an example, he brought up DePalma’s paper on Dakotaraptor, which he described as “bones he basically collected, all in one area, some of which were part of a dinosaur, some of which were part of a turtle, and he put it all together as a skeleton of one animal.” He also objected to what he felt was excessive secrecy surrounding the Tanis site, which has made it hard for outside scientists to evaluate DePalma’s claims.

    Johnson, too, finds the lack of transparency, and the dramatic aspects of DePalma’s personality, unnerving. “There’s an element of showmanship in his presentation style that does not add to his credibility,” he said. Other paleontologists told me that they were leery of going on the record with criticisms of DePalma and his co-authors. All expressed a desire to see the final paper, which will be published next week, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, so that they could evaluate the data for themselves.

    After the G.S.A. talk, DePalma realized that his theory of what had happened at Tanis had a fundamental problem. The KT tsunami, even moving at more than a hundred miles an hour, would have taken many hours to travel the two thousand miles to the site. The rainfall of glass blobs, however, would have hit the area and stopped within about an hour after the impact. And yet the tektites fell into an active flood. The timing was all wrong.

    This was not a paleontological question; it was a problem of geophysics and sedimentology. Smit was a sedimentologist, and another researcher whom DePalma shared his data with, Mark Richards, now of the University of Washington, was a geophysicist. At dinner one evening in Nagpur, India, where they were attending a conference, Smit and Richards talked about the problem, looked up a few papers, and later jotted down some rough calculations. It was immediately apparent to them that the KT tsunami would have arrived too late to capture the falling tektites; the wave would also have been too diminished by its long journey to account for the thirty-­five-foot rise of water at Tanis. One of them proposed that the wave might have been created by a curious phenomenon known as a seiche. In large earthquakes, the shaking of the ground sometimes causes water in ponds, swimming pools, and bathtubs to slosh back and forth. Richards recalled that the 2011 Japanese earthquake produced bizarre, five-foot seiche waves in an absolutely calm Norwegian fjord thirty minutes after the quake, in a place unreachable by the tsunami.

    Richards had previously estimated that the worldwide earthquake generated by the KT impact could have been a thousand times stronger than the biggest earthquake ever experienced in human history. Using that gauge, he calculated that potent seismic waves would have arrived at Tanis six minutes, ten minutes, and thirteen minutes after the impact. (Different types of seismic waves travel at different speeds.) The brutal shaking would have been enough to trigger a large seiche, and the first blobs of glass would have started to rain down seconds or minutes afterward. They would have continued to fall as the seiche waves rolled in and out, depositing layer upon layer of sediment and each time ­sealing the tektites in place. The Tanis site, in short, did not span the first day of the impact: it probably recorded the first hour or so. This fact, if true, renders the site even more fabulous than previously thought. It is almost beyond credibility that a precise geological transcript of the most important sixty minutes of Earth’s history could still exist millions of years later—a sort of high-speed, high-resolution video of the event recorded in fine layers of stone. DePalma said, “It’s like finding the Holy Grail clutched in the bony fingers of Jimmy Hoffa, sitting on top of the Lost Ark.” If Tanis had been closer to or farther from the impact point, this beautiful coincidence of timing could not have happened. “There’s nothing in the world that’s ever been seen like this,” Richards told me.

    One day sixty-six million years ago, life on Earth almost came to a shattering end. The world that emerged after the impact was a much simpler place. When sunlight finally broke through the haze, it illuminated a hellish landscape. The oceans were empty. The land was covered with drifting ash. The forests were charred stumps. The cold gave way to extreme heat as a greenhouse effect kicked in. Life mostly consisted of mats of algae and growths of fungus: for years after the impact, the Earth was covered with little other than ferns. Furtive, ratlike mammals lived in the gloomy understory.

    But eventually life emerged and blossomed again, in new forms. The KT event continues to attract the interest of scientists in no small part because the ashen print it left on the planet is an existential reminder. “We wouldn’t be here talking on the phone if that meteorite hadn’t fallen,” Smit told me, with a laugh. DePalma agreed. For the first hundred million years of their existence, before the asteroid struck, mammals scurried about the feet of the dinosaurs, amounting to little. “But when the dinosaurs were gone it freed them,” DePalma said. In the next epoch, mammals underwent an explosion of adaptive radiation, evolving into a dazzling variety of forms, from tiny bats to gigantic titanotheres, from horses to whales, from fearsome creodonts to large-brained primates with hands that could grasp and minds that could see through time.

    “We can trace our origins back to that event,” DePalma said. “To actually be there at this site, to see it, to be connected to that day, is a special thing. This is the last day of the Cretaceous. When you go one layer up—the very next day—that’s the Paleocene, that’s the age of mammals, that’s our age.”

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  • richardmitnick 2:21 pm on January 30, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , The course was jointly designed by UW professors and PNNL researchers to produce a curriculum that reflected good pedagogical techniques in-depth contact with the process of collecting observational d, The students took ownership of their learning using the multiple scientists and engineers at the institution as resource experts, Training a New Generation of Data-Savvy Atmospheric Researchers, U Washington   

    From Eos: “Training a New Generation of Data-Savvy Atmospheric Researchers” 

    From AGU
    Eos news bloc

    From Eos

    Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Washington team up to teach students about state-of-the-art research instrumentation.

    The inaugural atmospheric research instrumentation class at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory toured the Atmospheric Measurements Laboratory’s “skystand” platform, which includes a group of radiometers measuring solar energy at different angles. Credit: Andrea Starr, PNNL


    Laura D. Riihimaki
    Robert A. Houze Jr.
    Lynn A. McMurdie
    Katie Dorsey

    Scientific discovery in the atmospheric sciences depends on data from field campaigns, surface observations, satellites, and other observational data sets. Many of these data sets and the tools used to collect them are stewarded by national laboratories and government agencies because of the scale of the infrastructure needed to support them. Although some graduate students in the atmospheric sciences have an opportunity to participate in data collection activities, many students graduate without appreciating where the data that they rely on for their research come from.

    In an effort to bridge that gap, 10 University of Washington (UW) graduate students traveled to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Wash., in September 2017 to participate in a 2-week intensive short course on instrumentation taught by PNNL scientists and engineers. The goal of the course was to enhance the future research careers of these students by exposing them to state-of-the-art atmospheric instrumentation and data collection techniques and thus help ensure that the next generation of scientists will understand the factors affecting strengths and limitations of observational data used in complex atmospheric studies.

    Surveys of university programs in atmospheric sciences show that the number of departments offering courses in instrumentation declined between 1964 and 2000, with fewer than 20% of departments offering graduate-level courses in instrumentation [Cohn et al., 2006]. There is a growing gap between the complexity of modern measurement technology and the ability of universities to provide adequate training to understand measurements. Several approaches to bridge this gap have been successful, such as partnerships between universities and national laboratories (e.g., Storm Peak Laboratory [Hallett et al., 1993; Borys and Wetzel, 1997]), designing courses in which students participate in research flights [Hallet et al., 1990; Fabry et al., 1995], and student-led field campaigns [Rauber et al., 2007].

    The approach we used was to offer an advanced graduate course for credit at the University of Washington and embed the course at a national laboratory instructed by instrument experts. The course was designed to develop data literacy in atmospheric researchers who will be using advanced data sets but are not necessarily planning careers in instrument development or operation. The rigor of a for-credit graduate course facilitated a depth of engagement beyond simple demonstrations or descriptions of instruments.

    Defining a Curriculum

    Jason Tomlinson, director of engineering for the PNNL’s ARM Aerial Facility, demonstrates aircraft sensors to the UW class. Credit: Robert A. Houze Jr.

    The course was jointly designed by UW professors and PNNL researchers to produce a curriculum that reflected good pedagogical techniques, in-depth contact with the process of collecting observational data, and hands-on experience.

    Twenty PNNL scientists and engineers worked together to teach the course, which included engagement with a range of instruments and measurement techniques used in atmospheric science, such as passive (radiometric) and active (radar and lidar) remote sensing, aircraft in situ measurements, and laboratory measurements in atmospheric chemistry and cloud formation (Table 1). To tie together these diverse topics and reinforce key factors relevant to any measurement effort, each instructor covered a common set of themes: calibration, accuracy and uncertainty, instrument sensitivity, the physics of how atmospheric parameters are sampled, performance in the field, and practical considerations related to siting or operations. The course also covered data logging and data management techniques, which are critical skills for making data sets useful for research.

    As a result, the students gained an understanding and appreciation of the full data life cycle, from designing experiments to installing and calibrating instruments, collecting quality observational data, interpreting the data, and archiving data for future use. As described by radar engineer Joseph Hardin, “we tried to present the students with information that went beyond textbooks and addressed the realities of working with these instruments in a research capacity.”

    Encouraging Student Engagement

    The students took ownership of their learning, using the multiple scientists and engineers at the institution as resource experts. A professor with teaching experience handled assessment and student coordination, but the course content was taught by instrumentation experts. We used three strategies to create this type of engagement.

    First, the course created an environment of immersive learning. Instructors gave at least 3–4 hours of consecutive instruction in the morning on each topic and then spent the second half of the day leading interactive activities such as experiments, demonstrations, data analysis, and tours. By capping the course enrollment at 10, interaction between students and instructors was extensive.

    Second, student presenters were responsible for summarizing the content of the previous day each morning. This method of assessment allowed further engagement on topics that weren’t clear and required students to take ownership of the information.

    Finally, after 2 weeks of instruction, each student designed an individual project with a PNNL mentor. The students were required to pick a project in an area different from their current research to help them engage with new material. We gave the students several weeks to complete analysis of observational data from areas they’d learned about in the class and prepare a short report summarizing their findings.

    Students chose to work with data from a wide range of instruments, including broadband and spectral radiometers, multifrequency radars, Raman lidars, and experiments measuring aerosols. Project topics included the utility of water vapor retrievals from Raman lidar for studying the remote marine boundary layer, calculating aerosol yield of isoprene from chamber experiments, and radar retrievals of median volume drop size diameter using observations from the Midlatitude Continental Convective Clouds Experiment.

    Training Future Leaders

    From the outset, students received the course with enthusiasm: It took only hours for 10 students to register for every available seat in the class. The students also had wide-ranging areas of study, from those who worked primarily with observational data to those who worked mainly with computer models.

    “I was really interested in getting a chance to learn some of the nuts and bolts of these observations and instruments I was using all the time,” said Sam Pennypacker, a third-year graduate student who analyzes data out of the Azores from the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program (ARM) User Facility. “Learning it from the experts, the instrument mentors, you can’t beat that. You can only get so much from reading documentation.”

    The students are eager to apply what they learned. Second-year graduate student Qiaoyun Peng will get that opportunity when she participates in a National Science Foundation–sponsored field campaign in 2018: The Western Wildfire Experiment for Cloud Chemistry, Aerosol Absorption and Nitrogen (WE-CAN) will use airborne instrumentation to study atmospheric chemical reactions within western U.S. wildfire plumes.

    “I feel much more confident to conduct a field experiment after the course,” Peng said. “It’s also a great opportunity for me to feel what it is like to work in a national lab and get in touch with top scientists in my field to design a small project together.”

    Jessica Haskins, a fourth-year graduate student who uses aircraft instrument data in her research, called the class an “unprecedented opportunity.”

    “This course was by far the one I’ve learned the most from in graduate school,” Haskins said.

    The students expressed that the class filled a missing element in their career preparation and that they would be more effective researchers armed with this newly gained appreciation for state-of-the-art measurement technology and challenges. The success of this effort has encouraged us to pursue this type of course with other graduate students in the coming years.


    Borys, R. D., and M. A. Wetzel (1997), Storm Peak Laboratory: A research, teaching and service facility for the atmospheric sciences, Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc., 78, 2,115–2,123, https://doi.org/10.1175/1520-0477(1997)0782.0.CO;2.

    Cohn, S. A., J. Hallett, and J. M. Lewis (2006), Teaching graduate atmospheric measurement, Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc., 87, 1,673–1,678, doi:10.1175/BAMS-87-12-1673.

    Fabry, F., B. J. Turner, and S. A. Cohn (1995), The University of Wyoming King Air educational initiative at McGill University, Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc., 76, 1,806–1,811, https://doi.org/10.1175/1520-0477-76.10.1806.

    Hallett, J., J. G. Hudson, and A. Schanot (1990), Student training in facilities in atmospheric sciences: A teaching experiment, Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc., 71, 1,637–1,644, https://doi.org/10.1175/1520-0477-71.11.1637.

    Hallet, J., M. Wetzel, and S. Rutledge (1993), Field training in radar meteorology, Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc., 74, 17–22, https://doi.org/10.1175/1520-0477(1993)0742.0.CO;2.

    Rauber, R. M., et al. (2007), In the driver’s seat: Rico and education, Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc., 88, 1,929–1,938, https://doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-88-12-1929.

    See the full article here .


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    Eos is the leading source for trustworthy news and perspectives about the Earth and space sciences and their impact. Its namesake is Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, who represents the light shed on understanding our planet and its environment in space by the Earth and space sciences.

  • richardmitnick 12:08 pm on January 29, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , One year into the mission autonomous ocean robots set a record in survey of Antarctic ice shelf, The first self-guided ocean robots to successfully travel under an ice sheet and return to report long-term observations, U Washington   

    From University of Washington: “One year into the mission, autonomous ocean robots set a record in survey of Antarctic ice shelf” 

    U Washington

    From University of Washington

    January 23, 2019
    Hannah Hickey

    A Seaglider, with the Getz Ice Shelf in the background, being prepared for deployment in January 2018 under the neighboring Dotson Ice Shelf.Jason Gobat/University of Washington

    A team of ocean robots deployed in January 2018 have, over the past year, been the first self-guided ocean robots to successfully travel under an ice sheet and return to report long-term observations.

    Beyond mere survival, the robotic mission — a partnership between the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, the UW Applied Physics Laboratory, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, the Korean Polar Research Institute and Paul G. Allen Family Foundation — has ventured 18 times under the ice shelf, repeatedly reaching more than 40 kilometers (25 miles) into the cavity, among the farthest trips yet into this treacherous environment.

    The instruments’ travel routes over the past year. Pink, orange and yellow tracks show the three self-navigating Seagliders. Teal tracks show the drifting floats. The background is a satellite image of Dotson Ice Shelf captured Feb. 28.Luc Rainville/University of Washington

    “This is the first time any of the modern, long-endurance platforms have made sustained measurements under an ice shelf,” said Craig Lee, a UW professor of oceanography and member of the Applied Physics Laboratory. “We made extensive measurements inside the cavity. Gliders were able to navigate at will to survey the cavity interior, while floats rode ocean currents to access the cavity interior.

    “It’s a major step forward,” Lee added. “This is the first time we’ve been able to maintain a persistent presence over the span of an entire year.”

    The project funded by Paul G. Allen Family Foundation seeks to demonstrate the technology and gather more data from the underside of ice shelves that are buttressing the much larger ice sheets. Direct observations of how warmer seawater interacts with the underside of ice shelves would improve models of ice sheet dynamics in Antarctica and Greenland, which hold the biggest unknowns for global sea level rise.

    “Some ice sheets terminate in large ice shelves that float out over the ocean, and those act as a buttress,” Lee said. “If the ice shelves collapse or weaken, due to oceanic melting, for example, the ice sheets behind them may accelerate toward the sea, increasing the rate of sea level rise.”

    This sketch shows how three self-driving Seagliders and four drifting floats tracked conditions below an Antarctic ice shelf. Inside these caves, warmer saltwater flows in on the bottom, carrying heat which may eat away at the ice, and fresher glacial meltwater flows out above. University of Washington

    “Most of the uncertainty in global sea level rise predictions for decades to centuries is from ice sheets, which could contribute from 1 foot to as much as 6 feet by 2100,” said Pierre Dutrieux, a research professor of oceanography at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “A key driver is interaction with the ocean heat and these new tools open tantalizing perspectives to improve on current understanding.”

    The mission set out in late 2017 to test a new approach for gathering data under an ice shelf, and on Jan. 24, 2018, devices were dropped from the Korean icebreaker R/V Araon. This week, two self-navigating Seagliders reached the milestone of one year of continuous operation around and under the ice shelf.

    Robot submarines operated by the British Antarctic Survey, known as Autosub3 and Boaty McBoatface, successfully completed 24- to 48-hour voyages in 2009, 2014 and 2018. These missions surveyed similar distances into the cavity but sampled over shorter periods due to the need for a ship support.

    A drifting robot known as an Electro-Magnetic Autonomous Profiling Explorer, or EM-APEX, is lowered into the ocean. This is one of four floats that traveled with currents under the Dotson Ice Shelf.Paul G. Allen Family Foundation

    By contrast, the U.S.-based team’s technology features smaller, lighter devices that can operate on their own for more than a year without any ship support. The group’s experimental technique first moored three acoustic beacons to the seafloor to allow navigation under the ice shelf. It then sent three Seagliders, swimming robots developed and built at the UW, to use preprogrammed navigation systems to travel under the ice shelf to collect data.

    The mission also deployed four UW-developed EM-APEX floating instruments that drift with the currents at preselected depths above the bottom, or below the top of the cavity, while periodically bobbing up and down to collect more data. All four of these drifting instruments successfully traveled deep under the ice shelf with the heavier, saltier water near the seafloor. Three were flushed out with fresh meltwater near the top of the ice cavity about six to eight weeks later. One float remained under for much longer, only to reappear Jan. 5.

    During the past year, the fleet of robots has reached several milestones:

    A Seaglider reached a maximum distance of 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the edge beneath Dotson Ice Shelf in West Antarctica;
    The Seagliders made a total of 18 trips into the cavity, with the longest trip totaling 140 kilometers (87 miles) of travel under the shelf;
    The Seagliders also made 30 surveys along the face of the ice shelf;
    After one year, two out of three Seagliders are reporting back;
    In the current Southern Hemisphere summer, one of the Seagliders has gone back under the ice shelf and has completed two roughly 100-kilometer (62-mile) journeys;
    Another Seaglider will begin its second year of sampling at the face of the ice shelf;
    Three drifting floats journeyed under the Dotson Ice Shelf and back out in early 2018;
    After 11 months under the ice, the fourth float reported home in mid-January 2019 close to the neighboring Crosson Ice Shelf.

    Researchers are now analyzing the data for future publication, to better understand how seawater interacts with the ice shelves and improve models of ice sheet behavior.

    Four months of data show three Seagliders dropped from the ship in late January, then traveling toward the Dotson Ice Shelf (white). Two Seagliders (pink and orange) venture under the ice sheet in summer, while a third (yellow) samples along the face. The gliders then spend the colder months sampling along the ice sheet’s edge. Meanwhile, the drifting floats are dropped closer to the ice edge in late February. The teal tracks show how they drift under the ice sheet and then get flushed out in late March. A fourth float drifted to the right of this image, reaching a neighboring ice sheet.

    Other members of the team are Knut Christianson, a UW assistant professor of Earth and space sciences who is currently in Antarctica on a separate project; Jason Gobat, Luc Rainville and James Girton at the Applied Physics Laboratory; and the Korean Polar Research Institute, or KOPRI.


    For more information on the Seaglider component, contact Lee at craiglee@uw.edu or 206-685-7656; on the drifting floats, contact Girton at girton@uw.edu; and for more general questions, contact Dutrieux at pierred@ldeo.columbia.edu or 845-365-8393.

    Images and video are available for download at http://bit.ly/AntarcticRobotsOneYear.

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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

  • richardmitnick 2:28 pm on January 12, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomers find signatures of a ‘messy’ star that made its companion go supernova, , , , , , It takes many astronomers and a wide variety of types of telescopes working together to understand transient cosmic phenomena, , SN 2015cp, , U Washington,   

    From University of Washington: “Astronomers find signatures of a ‘messy’ star that made its companion go supernova” 

    U Washington

    From University of Washington

    January 10, 2019
    James Urton

    An X-ray/infrared composite image of G299, a Type Ia supernova remnant in the Milky Way Galaxy approximately 16,000 light years away.NASA/Chandra X-ray Observatory/University of Texas/2MASS/University of Massachusetts/Caltech/NSF

    NASA/Chandra X-ray Telescope

    Caltech 2MASS Telescopes, a joint project of the University of Massachusetts and the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) at Caltech, at the Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins south of Tucson, AZ, Altitude 2,606 m (8,550 ft) and at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory at an altitude of 2200 meters near La Serena, Chile.

    Many stars explode as luminous supernovae when, swollen with age, they run out of fuel for nuclear fusion. But some stars can go supernova simply because they have a close and pesky companion star that, one day, perturbs its partner so much that it explodes.

    These latter events can happen in binary star systems, where two stars attempt to share dominion. While the exploding star gives off lots of evidence about its identity, astronomers must engage in detective work to learn about the errant companion that triggered the explosion.

    On Jan. 10 at the 2019 American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, an international team of astronomers announced that they have identified the type of companion star that made its partner in a binary system, a carbon-oxygen white dwarf star, explode. Through repeated observations of SN 2015cp, a supernova 545 million light years away, the team detected hydrogen-rich debris that the companion star had shed prior to the explosion.

    “The presence of debris means that the companion was either a red giant star or similar star that, prior to making its companion go supernova, had shed large amounts of material,” said University of Washington astronomer Melissa Graham, who presented the discovery and is lead author on the accompanying paper accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

    The supernova material smacked into this stellar litter at 10 percent the speed of light, causing it to glow with ultraviolet light that was detected by the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories nearly two years after the initial explosion. By looking for evidence of debris impacts months or years after a supernova in a binary star system, the team believes that astronomers could determine whether the companion had been a messy red giant or a relatively neat and tidy star.

    The team made this discovery as part of a wider study of a particular type of supernova known as a Type Ia supernova. These occur when a carbon-oxygen white dwarf star explodes suddenly due to activity of a binary companion. Carbon-oxygen white dwarfs are small, dense and — for stars — quite stable. They form from the collapsed cores of larger stars and, if left undisturbed, can persist for billions of years.

    Type Ia supernovae have been used for cosmological studies because their consistent luminosity makes them ideal “cosmic lighthouses,” according to Graham. They’ve been used to estimate the expansion rate of the universe and served as indirect evidence for the existence of dark energy.

    An image of SN 1994D (lower left), a Type Ia supernova detected in 1994 at the edge of galaxy NGC 4526 (center).NASA/ESA/The Hubble Key Project Team/The High-Z Supernova Search Team.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    Yet scientists are not certain what kinds of companion stars could trigger a Type Ia event. Plenty of evidence indicates that, for most Type Ia supernovae, the companion was likely another carbon-oxygen white dwarf, which would leave no hydrogen-rich debris in the aftermath. Yet theoretical models have shown that stars like red giants could also trigger a Type Ia supernova, which could leave hydrogen-rich debris that would be hit by the explosion. Out of the thousands of Type Ia supernovae studied to date, only a small fraction were later observed impacting hydrogen-rich material shed by a companion star. Prior observations of at least two Type Ia supernovae detected glowing debris months after the explosion. But scientists weren’t sure if those events were isolated occurrences, or signs that Type Ia supernovae could have many different kinds of companion stars.

    “All of the science to date that has been done using Type Ia supernovae, including research on dark energy and the expansion of the universe, rests on the assumption that we know reasonably well what these ‘cosmic lighthouses’ are and how they work,” said Graham. “It is very important to understand how these events are triggered, and whether only a subset of Type Ia events should be used for certain cosmology studies.”

    The team used Hubble Space Telescope observations to look for ultraviolet emissions from 70 Type Ia supernovae approximately one to three years following the initial explosion.

    “By looking years after the initial event, we were searching for signs of shocked material that contained hydrogen, which would indicate that the companion was something other than another carbon-oxygen white dwarf,” said Graham.

    In the case of SN 2015cp, a supernova first detected in 2015, the scientists found what they were searching for. In 2017, 686 days after the supernova exploded, Hubble picked up an ultraviolet glow of debris. This debris was far from the supernova source — at least 100 billion kilometers, or 62 billion miles, away. For reference, Pluto’s orbit takes it a maximum of 7.4 billion kilometers from our sun.

    In 2017, 686 days after the initial explosion, the Hubble Space Telescope recorded an ultraviolet emission (blue circle) from SN 2015cp, which was caused by supernova material impacting hydrogen-rich material previously shed by a companion star. Yellow circles indicate cosmic ray strikes, which are unrelated to the supernova. NASA/Hubble Space Telescope/Graham et al. 2019.

    By comparing SN 2015cp to the other Type Ia supernovae in their survey, the researchers estimate that no more than 6 percent of Type Ia supernovae have such a litterbug companion. Repeated, detailed observations of other Type Ia events would help cement these estimates, Graham said.

    The Hubble Space Telescope was essential for detecting the ultraviolet signature of the companion star’s debris for SN 2015cp. In the fall of 2017, the researchers arranged for additional observations of SN 2015cp by the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in New Mexico, the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope and NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, among others. These data proved crucial in confirming the presence of hydrogen and are presented in a companion paper lead by Chelsea Harris, a research associate at Michigan State University.

    Keck Observatory, Maunakea, Hawaii, USA.4,207 m (13,802 ft), above sea level,

    NRAO/Karl V Jansky Expanded Very Large Array, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA, at an elevation of 6970 ft (2124 m)

    ESO VLT at Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert, •ANTU (UT1; The Sun ),
    •KUEYEN (UT2; The Moon ),
    •MELIPAL (UT3; The Southern Cross ), and
    •YEPUN (UT4; Venus – as evening star).
    elevation 2,635 m (8,645 ft) from above Credit J.L. Dauvergne & G. Hüdepohl atacama photo, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level,

    NASA Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory

    “The discovery and follow-up of SN 2015cp’s emission really demonstrates how it takes many astronomers, and a wide variety of types of telescopes, working together to understand transient cosmic phenomena,” said Graham. “It is also a perfect example of the role of serendipity in astronomical studies: If Hubble had looked at SN 2015cp just a month or two later, we wouldn’t have seen anything.”

    Graham is also a senior fellow with the UW’s DIRAC Institute and a science analyst with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, or LSST.

    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile, a 2,682-meter-high mountain in Coquimbo Region, in northern Chile, alongside the existing Gemini South and Southern Astrophysical Research Telescopes, altitude 2,663 m (8,737 ft),

    “In the future, as a part of its regularly scheduled observations, the LSST will automatically detect optical emissions similar to SN 2015cp — from hydrogen impacted by material from Type Ia supernovae,” said Graham said. “It’s going to make my job so much easier!”

    Co-authors are Harris; Peter Nugent at the University of California, Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Kate Maguire at Queen’s University Belfast; Mark Sullivan and Mathew Smith at the University of Southampton; Stefano Valenti at the University of California, Davis; Ariel Goobar at Stockholm University; Ori Fox at the Space Telescope Science Institute; Ken Shen, Tom Brink and Alex Filippenko at the University of California, Berkeley; Patrick Kelly at the University of Minnesota; and Curtis McCully at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Las Cumbres Observatory. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the European Research Council and the U.K.’s Science and Technology Facilities Council.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

  • richardmitnick 10:03 am on December 26, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ocean acidification is changing the water’s chemistry and lowering its pH, Salmon may lose the ability to smell danger as carbon emissions rise, U Washington   

    From University of Washington: “Salmon may lose the ability to smell danger as carbon emissions rise” 

    U Washington

    From University of Washington

    December 18, 2018 [First appearance in social media.]
    Michelle Ma

    Coho salmon spawning on the Salmon River in northwestern Oregon. Bureau of Land Management

    The ability to smell is critical for salmon. They depend on scent to avoid predators, sniff out prey and find their way home at the end of their lives when they return to the streams where they hatched to spawn and die.

    New research from the University of Washington and NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center shows this powerful sense of smell might be in trouble as carbon emissions continue to be absorbed by our ocean.

    Ocean acidification is changing the water’s chemistry and lowering its pH. Specifically, higher levels of carbon dioxide, or CO2, in the water can affect the ways in which coho salmon process and respond to smells.

    A school of juvenile coho salmon. Alaska Sea Grant

    “Salmon famously use their nose for so many important aspects of their life, from navigation and finding food to detecting predators and reproducing. So it was important for us to know if salmon would be impacted by future carbon dioxide conditions in the marine environment,” said lead author Chase Williams, a postdoctoral researcher in Evan Gallagher‘s lab at the UW Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences in the School of Public Health.

    The study, published Dec. 18 in the journal Global Change Biology, is the first to show that ocean acidification affects coho salmons’ sense of smell. The study also takes a more comprehensive approach than earlier work with marine fish by looking at where in the sensory-neural system the ability to smell erodes for fish, and how that loss of smell changes their behavior.

    “Our studies and research from other groups have shown that exposure to pollutants can also interfere with sense of smell for salmon,” said Gallagher, senior co-author and a UW professor of toxicology. “Now, salmon are potentially facing a one-two punch from exposure to pollutants and the added burden of rising CO2. These have implications for the long-term survival of our salmon.”

    The research team wanted to test how juvenile coho salmon that normally depend on their sense of smell to alert them to predators and other dangers display a fear response with increasing carbon dioxide. Puget Sound’s waters are expected to absorb more CO2 as atmospheric carbon dioxide increases, contributing to ocean acidification.

    Researcher Chase Williams takes water samples to measure the pH in the tanks used in the study’s experiments. University of Washington.

    In the NOAA Fisheries research lab in Mukilteo, the research team set up tanks of saltwater with three different pH levels: today’s current average Puget Sound pH, the predicted average 50 years from now, and the predicted average 100 years in the future. They exposed juvenile coho salmon to these three different pH levels for two weeks.

    After two weeks, the team ran a series of behavioral and neural tests to see whether the fishes’ sense of smell was affected. Fish were placed in a holding tank and exposed to the smell of salmon skin extract, which indicates a predator attack and usually prompts the fish to hide or swim away. Fish that were in water with current CO2 levels responded normally to the offending odor, but the fish from tanks with higher CO2 levels didn’t seem to mind or detect the smell.

    In the behavioral tests shown in this video, juvenile salmon in two separate tanks were exposed to an odor that would normally prompt a fear response. In the first clip, fish smell the odor coming from the left side of each tank, and avoid or swim away from the smell. In the second clip, fish have been exposed to higher levels of CO2, which has impaired their sense of smell. The fish don’t react to the odor once it is introduced to both tanks, suggesting their ability to smell has been altered.

    After the behavioral tests, neural activity in each fish’s nose and brain — specifically, in the olfactory bulb where information about smells is processed — was measured to see where the sense of smell was altered. Neuron signaling in the nose was normal under all CO2 conditions, meaning the fish likely could still smell the odors. But when they analyzed neuron behavior in the olfactory bulb, they saw that processing was altered — suggesting the fish couldn’t translate the smell into an appropriate behavioral response.

    Finally, the researchers analyzed tissue from the noses and olfactory bulbs of fish to see if gene expression also changed. Gene expression pathways were found to be altered for fish that were exposed to higher levels of CO2, particularly in their olfactory bulbs.

    “At the nose level, we think the neurons are still detecting odors, but when the signals are processed in the brain, that’s where the messages are potentially getting altered,” Williams said.

    In the wild, the fish likely would become more and more indifferent to scents that signify a predator, Williams said, either by taking longer to react to the smell or by not swimming away at all. While this study looked specifically at how altered sense of smell could affect fishes’ response to danger, it’s likely that other critical behaviors that depend on smell such as navigation, reproduction and hunting for food would also take a hit if fish aren’t able to adequately process smells.

    The researchers plan to look next at whether increased CO2 levels could affect other fish species in similar ways, or alter other senses in addition to smell. Given the cultural and ecological significance of salmon, the researchers hope these findings will prompt action.

    “We’re hoping this will alert people to some of the potential consequences of elevated carbon emissions,” said senior co-author Andy Dittman, a research biologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. “Salmon are so iconic in this area. Ocean acidification and climate change are abstract things until you start talking about an animal that means a lot to people.”

    Other co-authors are Paul McElhany, Shallin Busch and Michael Maher of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center; and Theo Bammler and James MacDonald of the UW Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences.

    This study was funded by Washington Sea Grant and the Washington Ocean Acidification Center, with additional support from the UW Superfund Research Program, the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program and the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

  • richardmitnick 10:48 am on December 21, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: AMP-Adaptable Monitoring Package, , , R/V Light, U Washington   

    From University of Washington: “Underwater sensors for monitoring sea life (and where to find them)” 

    U Washington

    From University of Washington

    December 13, 2018
    Sarah McQuate

    Paul Gibbs, a mechanical engineer at the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory, inspects the newest Adaptable Monitoring Package, or AMP, before a test in a saltwater pool. AMPs host a series of sensors that allow researchers to continuously monitor animals underwater.Kiyomi Taguchi/University of Washington

    Harvesting power from the ocean, through spinning underwater turbines or bobbing wave-energy converters, is an emerging frontier in renewable energy.

    Researchers have been monitoring how these systems will affect fish and other critters that swim by. But with most available technology, scientists can get only occasional glimpses of what’s going on below.

    So a team at the University of Washington created a mechanical eye under the ocean’s surface, called an Adaptable Monitoring Package, or AMP, that could live near renewable-energy sites and use a series of sensors to continuously watch nearby animals. On Dec. 13, the researchers put the newest version of the AMP into the waters of Seattle’s Portage Bay for two weeks of preliminary testing before a more thorough analysis is conducted in Sequim, Washington.

    “The big-picture goal of the AMP when it started was to try to collect the environmental data necessary to tell what the risks of marine energy were,” said Brian Polagye, a UW associate professor of mechanical engineering and the director of the Pacific Marine Energy Center, a research collaboration between the UW, Oregon State University and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “But we ended up with a system that can do so much more. It’s more of an oceanographic Universal Serial Bus. This is a backbone, and you can plug whatever sensors you want into it.”

    Paul Gibbs and mechanical engineering doctoral student Emma Cotter watch the newest AMP during a preliminary test in a saltwater pool. Credit: Kiyomi Taguchi/University of Washington

    The newest member of the AMP family has the biggest variety of sensors yet, including an echosounder, which uses sonar to detect schools of fish. It also will contain the standard set of instruments that all previous AMPs have supported, including a stereo camera to collect photos and video, a sonar system, hydrophones to hear marine mammal activity and sensors to gauge water quality and speed. This new system also does more processing in real time than its predecessors.

    “We want the computer to not just collect data, but actually distinguish what it sees,” said Emma Cotter, a UW doctoral student in mechanical engineering. “For example, we’d like to program it to automatically save images if sea turtles swim by the AMP.”

    This new AMP will get its first taste of life outside while hanging off the UW Applied Physics Laboratory‘s research dock. That way, the team can check all the sensors for any potential problems before the AMP goes to the Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim for a suite of tests.

    “We’re going to be looking at quite a few different questions in Sequim,” Cotter said. “First we’ll look at how well we can track and detect fish. Then once a small tidal turbine is deployed, we’ll be monitoring that. Will we be able to discriminate targets close to it or detect animals interacting with the turbine?”

    The wave-powered AMP (top left) after nearly two months of operation at the Wave Energy Test Site in Hawaii.University of Washington

    The team also has developed additional AMPs that are more specific to other types of oceanographic research. Since early October, an AMP has been surveying sea life off the coast of Hawaii while riding aboard a yellow metal ring, called the BOLT Lifesaver, through a partnership with the Navy, the U.S. Department of Energy, University of Hawaii and the company Fred. Olsen.

    “They were interested in what happens if whales and sea turtles encounter the mooring lines that connect the Lifesaver to the seabed,” Cotter said. “The best way to answer that question is with an AMP.”

    The Lifesaver is a wave-energy converter — a device that converts the bobbing of waves into electricity — that powers this AMP. And for the days when the sea is calm, the team powers the AMP from a battery.

    “This is the first example of using wave energy to power oceanographic sensors,” Polagye said. “Previously people have collected wave energy and sent it back to shore. But this AMP is completely self-reliant. Marine energy is not just coming in the far future. It’s happening right now.”

    The research group is also working on a vessel-based version of the AMP, which will ride aboard APL’s newest research vessel, the R/V Light.

    R/V Light

    The team plans to test tidal turbines on the boat, so the vessel-based AMP will let the researchers see if anything happens to fish that are close by.

    Now the team hopes to commercialize the AMP platform through a UW spinout company called MarineSitu. That way people can purchase AMPs with sensor packages that are specific to their research goals.

    Other members of the AMP team include Andy Stewart, assistant director of defense and industry programs at APL; Robert Cavagnaro, Paul Gibbs and James Joslin, mechanical engineers at APL; and Paul Murphy and Corey Crisp, research engineers in the UW mechanical engineering department. This research was funded by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center and the U.S. DOE Water Power Technologies Office. Emma Cotter is supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

  • richardmitnick 10:52 am on December 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Early data suggest that Antarctica’s Dotson ice shelf has lost more than 390 feet (120 meters) in thickness since 2003, , Measuring the height of sea ice to within an inch, NASA ICEsat-2, U Washington   

    From University of Washington: “UW glaciologist gets first look at NASA’s new measurements of ice sheet elevation” 

    U Washington

    From University of Washington

    December 14, 2018
    Hannah Hickey

    The horizontal blue line is the travel path for ICESat-2. The lower line shows some of its first measurements. This satellite can capture steep terrain and measure elevation much more precisely than its predecessor. NASA’s Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens

    Less than three months into its mission, NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, is already exceeding scientists’ expectations, according to the space agency.

    NASA ICEsat-2

    The satellite is measuring the height of sea ice to within an inch, tracing the terrain of previously unmapped Antarctic valleys and measuring other interesting features in our planet’s elevation.

    Benjamin Smith, a glaciologist with the University of Washington and member of the ICESat-2 science team, shared the first look at the satellite’s performance at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting Dec. 11 in Washington, D.C.

    Mountain valleys “have been really difficult targets for altimeters in the past, which have often used radar instead of lasers and they tend to show you just a big lump where the mountains are,” Smith told the BBC. “But we can see very steeply sloping surfaces; we can see valley glaciers; we’ll be able to make out very small details.”

    With each pass of the ICESat-2 satellite, the mission is adding to the data sets that track Earth’s rapidly changing ice. Researchers are ready to use the information to study sea level rise resulting from melting ice sheets and glaciers, and to improve sea ice and climate forecasts.

    In topographic maps of the Transantarctic Mountains, which divide east and west Antarctica, there are places where other satellites cannot see, Smith said. Some instruments don’t orbit that far south, while others only pick up large features or the highest points and so miss minor peaks and valleys. Since launching ICESat-2, in the past three months scientists have started to fill in those details.

    “It’s spectacular terrain,” Smith said. “We’re able to measure slopes that are steeper than 45 degrees, and maybe even more, all through this mountain range.”

    As ICESat-2 orbits over Antarctica, the photons reflect from the surface and show high ice plateaus, crevasses in the ice 65 feet (20 meters) deep, and the sharp edges of ice shelves dropping into the ocean. These first measurements can help fill in the gaps of Antarctic maps, Smith said, but the key science of the ICESat-2 mission is yet to come. As researchers refine knowledge of where the instrument is pointing, they can start to measure the rise or fall of ice sheets and glaciers.

    Early data suggest that Antarctica’s Dotson ice shelf has lost more than 390 feet (120 meters) in thickness since 2003, Smith told the Associated Press.

    “Very soon, we’ll have measurements that we can compare to older measurements of surface elevation,” Smith said. “And after the satellite’s been up for a year, we’ll start to be able to watch the ice sheets change over the seasons.”

    Mission managers expect to release the data to the public in early 2019.

    The first ICESat satellite operated between 2003 and 2009. The more sophisticated ICESat-2 launched Sept. 15, 2018, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Its laser instrument, called ATLAS (Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System), sends pulses of light to Earth. The instrument then times, to within a billionth of a second, how long it takes individual photons to return to the satellite. ATLAS has fired its laser more than 50 billion times since going live Sept. 30, and all the metrics from the instrument show it is working as it should, NASA scientists say. IceBridge, an aircraft-based NASA campaign, operated between the two satellite missions.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

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