Friday, January 27, 2017

Sri Krishnaraj - Ananda Mandala

Human-Pig Hybrid Created in the Lab—Here Are the Facts

[National Geographic] In a remarkable—if likely controversial—feat, scientists announced today that they have created the first successful human-animal hybrids. The project proves that human cells can be introduced into a non-human organism, survive, and even grow inside a host animal, in this case, pigs.
This biomedical advance has long been a dream and a quandary for scientists hoping to address a critical shortage of donor organs.
Every ten minutes, a person is added to the national waiting list for organ transplants. And every day, 22 people on that list die without the organ they need. What if, rather than relying on a generous donor, you could grow a custom organ inside an animal instead?

That’s now one step closer to reality, an international team of researchers led by the Salk Institute reports in the journal Cell. The team created what’s known scientifically as a chimera: an organism that contains cells from two different species. (Read more about the DNA revolution in National Geographic magazine.)
In the past, human-animal chimeras have been beyond reach. Such experiments are currently ineligible for public funding in the United States (so far, the Salk team has relied on private donors for the chimera project). Public opinion, too, has hampered the creation of organisms that are part human, part animal.
But for lead study author Jun Wu of the Salk Institute, we need only look to mythical chimeras—like the human-bird hybrids we know as angels—for a different perspective. Read More

Italy earthquakes: Why the country gets so many of them, and how to survive one

[Independent] Once again, Italy has been shaken by deadly earthquakes. Dozens of guests and staff at the Hotel Rigopiano in the Abruzzo region are missing after multiple quakes triggered a massive avalanche. The luxury hotel, in the shadow of the Gran Sasso mountain, was engulfed by snow and rubble. As the rescue and recovery continues, questions have been raised about the dangers in one of the most seismically active regions of Europe.
How many earthquakes have there been in Italy recently?
Dozens, but most of them have been of fairly modest magnitude. There have been three of greater than 6.0 magnitude on the moment magnitude scale (a more sophisticated version of the Richter scale). The events were on 24 August (6.2), 26 October (6.1) and 30 October (6.6). They have all happened in a relatively small area of central Italy, about halfway between Rome and the Adriatic port of Ancona. 
These most recent earthquakes have occurred in the Apennines, the mountain range that forms the central spine of the country. They are being pulled very slowly apart, but the earth’s crust in this region is riven with geological faults. Typically, the stresses gradually build and then release catastrophically.
Why is Italy so susceptible to earthquakes?
“Italy is one of the countries in the Mediterranean with the highest seismic risk,” says the Italian Civil Protection Department. The reason: the country lies where the African and Eurasian tectonic plates converge. They are moving together at a rate of 4-10mm a year.
“The highest seismicity is concentrated in the central-southern part of the peninsula, along the Apennine ridge, in Calabria and Sicily and in some northern areas, like Friuli, part of Veneto and western Liguria,” says Protezione Civile.
The US Geological Survey adds: “The region's tectonic activity cannot be simply explained by the collision of the Eurasia and Africa plates. It has been suggested that deeper lithospheric processes are controlling some of the deformation observed at the surface. Read More

How to Spot a Lie

[Science Focus] Is the amount of misinformation in the world increasing?
Absolutely. Not just in raw numbers, but also as a proportion of the [total] information.
I think digital technology and the web have given people a platform who otherwise wouldn’t. It reminds me of my childhood in 1950s America, when every neighbourhood had a nutjob with a hand printing press. They would create their own little newspapers about the terrible conspiracies that were going on, handing them out or leaving them on people’s doormats. You’d know just by looking that they weren’t the work of a mainstream journalist.
Now some teenager in Macedonia can make a website look as real as the BBC. The internet is a double-edged sword: we have access to ideas we wouldn’t otherwise encounter, but that includes fringe theories, fake news and lies.
Isn’t it too ambitious, to prepare readers for any form of deception they might encounter?
Critical thinking is a dynamic process. I can teach you to identify one kind of distorted claim, but there’s an arms race between the liars and the truth-tellers. They’re always coming up with new ways to deceive! This book puts people in a mindset where they ask “How do I know this is true?”. Part of critical thinking is asking “Who’s a reliable source?” and “What makes a source reliable?” It’s a process I’m trying to teach, not a template.
How often are we lied to?
It depends on where you live, what you do and where you get your news. If you get all your news from Facebook, you’ll be lied to a lot more than someone who reads a mainstream newspaper. There are hierarchies of information sources, and we can’t treat all sources as equivalent. If a journalist in Syria says there’s been a gas attack by the Syrian government, I trust that more than someone with no experience of the situation.
Which is more tainted by untruth in our daily lives: words or numbers?
I haven’t done a study to quantify it, but my hunch is that it will vary. Many people think numbers are facts – they’re not. They’re collected by people who have their own biases and limitations, and then interpreted and contextualised; errors can creep in at any stage. The problem is that people encounter a number and think it must be true. I’m fascinated by framing effects – you can get people to believe all kinds of things if you frame them correctly.
What are some examples of framing effects?
In medicine, for example, if you say a procedure has a 70 per cent chance of saving you, people are more likely to choose it than if it has a 30 per cent chance of killing you. That’s framing. Read More

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Climate Change May Reduce Some U.S. Grain Harvests by Half

[AgWeb] Some of the most important U.S. crops, from wheat to soybeans, are at risk of substantial damage from climate change.
Higher temperatures may cut the wheat harvest by 20 percent by the end of the century without efficient carbon reductions, according to a study by researchers including the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the University of Chicago. Yield reduction could reach 40 percent for soybeans and almost 50 percent for corn, relative to non-elevated temperatures, the group said in a report released Thursday.
"The effects go far beyond the U.S., one of the largest crop exporters," the researchers said. "World market crop prices might increase, which is an issue for food security in poor countries."
For each day above 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit), corn and soybean harvests could lose about 5 percent, according to the findings. Those temperatures will be more common amid “unabated” climate change, and yields could be further lowered if temperatures are above 36 Celsius. The researchers ran a set of computer simulations of U.S. crop yields.
Without further pledges to curb emissions, world temperatures are set to rise by as much as 3.4 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels, according to a November report from the United Nations’ Environment Program. Scientific consensus is that any increase above 2 degrees would lead to catastrophic changes to the climate -- from extreme droughts and coastal flooding to disruptions to world food supplies.
In 2016, global temperatures were record hot for a third straight year, according to U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration figures released this week.
"Increased irrigation can help to reduce the negative effects of global warming on crops," the crop study’s researchers said. "This is possible only in regions where sufficient water is available. Eventually limiting global warming is needed to keep crop losses in check."
Not all climate research has found the same results. A study from the European Union’s Joint Research Centre last year said wheat yields may benefit from higher carbon-dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, while corn could suffer. The uncertain position of the Donald Trump administration is clouding the future of environmental research conducted by agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Trump takes office Friday.
Rising temperatures have yet to slow growth in U.S. crop yields. U.S. corn and soybean output has soared in recent years, aided by increased plantings of genetically modified seeds. Corn yields reached a record 174.6 bushels per acre in the 2016 season, up 37 percent from two decades prior, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. Soybean yields at 52.1 bushels an acre were also an all-time high. Read More

125,000 years of ocean warming in 50 years: What does it mean for sea levels?

[Christian Science Monitor] What do Boston, Miami, and New Orleans have in common? All three may be almost completely underwater someday, if the results of a recent research paper are accurate.
The last time surface ocean temperatures were as warm as they are today, sea levels were 20 to 30 feet higher, according to findings published Friday in the journal Science. Using data from a wide range of locations, the study was able to measure regional temperature changes and concluded that recent models may be underestimating warming trends.
Earth’s climate features cyclical ice ages, when temperatures drop and ice sheets spread, causing ocean levels to fall. We currently enjoy the mild climate of what’s known as an “interglacial period,” when warmer temperatures melt ice, raising the seas. To better understand how our climate may develop in the future, experts consider the last interglacial period, 129,000 years ago, to be of great importance.
Getting a snapshot of what was going on so long ago isn’t easy, but scientists have a few tricks up their sleeves, such as measuring the makeup of ancient ice cores. This study used the composition of plankton shells (which depends on surface temperature) found in ocean sediments from 83 sites worldwide to compare our current interglacial period to the last one.
While it took a tipping of the planet’s axis 125,000 years to raise ocean temperatures by 0.9 degrees F., as The Los Angeles Times explained, current conditions have seen similar warming in less than 50, the paper found. Read More

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Will a crucial ocean current shut down?

[Atlantic] Many Americans know AMOC as the Gulf Stream: the warm, surface-level current in the Atlantic Ocean that hugs the East Coast. You may have seen it in the old map by Ben Franklin, pictured above: It flows up the Carolinas, passes by New England and Nova Scotia, and then veers toward Europe. Eventually it arrives near the British isles and northwestern Europe.
The Gulf Stream is part of a much larger system, however. As that warm water flows northeast, it gradually cools, and in cooling, compresses and sinks. Eventually, in the Labrador and Greenland Seas, it becomes dense enough that it plunges down thousands of meters into the deep ocean. There it becomes a new current, running back south. It can remain in this deep-ocean current for many years until it eventually upwells at the equator or in the Southern Ocean.
This global conveyor belt of water is AMOC, and it is critical to the world’s climate. (Most scientists pronounce it as AY-mock.)
When AMOC is strong, it sends millions of cubic meters of ocean water north every day. A strong AMOC seems to shape the entire planet’s climate systems. It moderates the intensity of Atlantic hurricanes, lessens the risk of drought in North America, and assures the health of monsoons in India. AMOC also ferries warm weather from the equator to Western Europe, where it helps bring the region unusually mild winters. (Consider that temperate Berlin is about as far from the equator as the snowy Chilean city of Punta Arenas.)
Crucially, the entire AMOC system depends on cool, dense water “overturning” in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. Without cooled water plunging into the deep ocean near Greenland, and turning back south, the entire conveyor belt will stop.
About 30 years ago, climate researchers became concerned that AMOC could suddenly shut down as a result of anthropogenic climate change. The “paleoclimatic record”—that is, what the planet’s geology and fossil record reveal of previous global climates—showed that the AMOC has rapidly collapsed in the past. “Rapidly” here means “within the span of a human lifetime.”
The crumpling of AMOC could potentially cause big problems for the global economy. AMOC’s disappearance would quickly worsen sea-level rise on the U.S. East Coast and subject the Southeast to unusually intense tropical storms. It could upheave agriculture in India, Europe, and the African Sahel.
But as climate models improved, those fears dissipated. “No current comprehensive climate model projects that the AMOC will abruptly weaken or collapse in the 21st century,” wrote a team of NOAA researchers in 2008. “We therefore conclude that such an event is very unlikely.”
Thomas Delworth was the lead author of that report. Delworth is a researcher at the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and a professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at Princeton University. He says that scientists are now re-examining those old conclusions. Read More

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Predictions for 2017: Untangling 2017

by Lori Toye

Perhaps 2017 is one of the most important years we'll ever experience. And I say this with the knowledge that climate change and associated Earth Changes events are certainly accelerating alongside worldwide economic disparity and extreme political polarity. No doubt, we have entered the prophesied Time of Change, but what does that mean for us personally? Remember, this time is also about the great change within us and how our spiritual landscape helps to shape our external realities. Vedic Astrology offers revealing insights into the coming year's transformational changes—those we may experience and witness.

   Before we explore the upcoming movements of the planets, I’d like to share some important background regarding the astrological terminology that defines 2017 as a time of significant spiritual challenge, karmic entanglement, and hopefully release and resolve into personal and global redemption and healing.

   Gandanta is a Sanskrit term used in Vedic Astrology that is identified by certain degrees that planets transit as they egress from water signs and ingress into fire signs. The connection of water and fire houses signals a subtle connection where solar and lunar forces gather, and creates timely periods of spiritual growth for the soul that is usually significant and inordinately karmic. The etymology of gandanta is divided into two parts: gand means “knot” and anta means “the end.” So this literally represents a tightly wound knot located at the end of a string of karmic actions, and the more one engages in loosening the entanglement, the more rigid and unyielding the knot becomes. Planets transiting through or placed (natally) in these positions create spiritual crisis, and in order to move forward and loosen the knot, one must face the personal traumas and turmoil that led to the creation of an often deep and sometimes hidden inner struggle. Confronting life’s problems is far from easy, but through this process the soul awakens and transforms. This new level of conscious awareness releases the knot and often leads one to an entirely new cycle of spiritual growth and evolution.

   There are different viewpoints of gandanta among Vedic Astrologers and some claim that the experience of a gandanta planet creates a feeling of being totally out of control, so much that one is “nearly drowning” in their tangled psychology. Some interpretations are not positive at all; in fact it is considered an “evil condition” that portends suffering, even death. Yet from a transformative point of view, it defines a spiritual death of sorts, and depicts the necessary shedding of one’s skin in order to grow, change, and evolve. Gandanta contains two distinct movements based on an everyday knowledge of the elements. When water encounters fire, water sputters and boils—astrologers describe this as a form of spiritual steam that intensifies certain events and incites our spiritual growth. Reversely, when a planet is moving in retrograde motion (a backwards movement) from fire to water, our spiritual passion is doused and we become drenched in inertia and an inability to move in any direction whatsoever. Read More

The Day After Tomorrow' could become a reality: Climate change could cause ocean currents to collapse

[Daily Mail] In the 2004 film, 'The Day After Tomorrow', ocean currents around the world stop as a result of global warming, leading to a catastrophic storm which wipes out major cities around the world.
And experts believe that the terrifying plot could soon become a reality.
A new study suggests that ocean circulation patterns could collapse in the near future, plunging the Northern hemisphere into an ice age.
Previous studies have estimated that carbon dioxide levels will double to 700 ppm by 2100. If this is the case, ocean currents could collapse by the year 2400. 
Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego have shown that climate models may be drastically underestimating the possibility of ocean circulations collapsing.
They found that a bias in most climate models exaggerates the stability of a pattern, called the Atlantic Meridonial Overturning Circulation (AMOC).
When the researchers removed this bias, they predicted that circulation could collapse in the future, setting off large-scale cooling in the North Atlantic.
The collapse would stop the AMOC, which delivers warm water towards Greenland then sinks as it cools and flows back towards the equator. Read More

How much would it cost to geoengineer thicker Arctic sea ice?

[Arstechnica] There are a couple different ways to come at the problem of climate change—you can focus on eliminating the cause, or on mitigating the symptoms. The latter approach includes obvious things like preventing flooding from rising sea levels. But it also ranges into “geoengineering” schemes as radical as injecting sunlight-reflecting aerosol droplets into the stratosphere. Such schemes are band-aids rather than cures, but band-aids have their uses.
One worrying change driven by the climate is the loss of Arctic sea ice. The late-summer Arctic Ocean is on track to become ice-free around the 2030s. The rapid warming of the Arctic has serious implications for local ecosystems, but it also influences climate elsewhere in ways we’re still working to fully understand. One frequently mentioned effect is the increased absorption of sunlight in the Arctic as reflective snow and ice disappears—a positive feedback that amplifies warming.
What if we could slap a sea ice band-aid on the Arctic? In a recent paper, a group of Arizona State researchers led by astrophysicist Steven Desch sketch out one hypothetical band-aid—a geoengineering scheme to freeze more ice during the Arctic winter.
The idea is simple enough: wind turbines on the sea ice could pump water from below onto the surface, where it quickly freezes, thickening the ice in winter. In the right places, that could mean the difference between sea ice disappearing or surviving through the end of summer. But like any back-of-a-napkin solution to the world’s problems, reality is substantially more challenging than it might initially appear.
A good chunk of the paper is dedicated to the physics of freezing seawater. While the Arctic Ocean is actually slightly colder than a bucket of ice water, the saltiness of seawater lowers the freezing point to about -1.8°C. Because the air above the Arctic Ocean can be much, much colder than that, ice seasonally forms at the ocean's surface.
Existing sea ice forms a barrier between the seawater and the frigid air, and any new ice forms on the bottom of that ice sheet. So thickening is inhibited by the need to transfer the heat released during freezing from the bottom of the ice to the atmosphere. Though the wind turbine scheme brings water up to freeze on top of the ice, the thickening at the bottom is still a significant factor. The researchers calculate that pumping enough water to add a meter of ice would actually only result in a net thickening of 0.7 meters because the “natural” addition of ice to the underside would be reduced.
That aside, could a scheme like this actually halt the loss of sea ice? The annual average thickness of sea ice in the Arctic, which is now about 1.4 meters, is decreasing by almost 0.6 meters per decade. The researchers focus on a scenario where their turbines cover 10 percent of the Arctic ice, thickening it by a meter over each winter. Because the additions can carry over somewhat from year to year if you choose your locations well, this would actually be more than enough to counter the downward trend.
Geoengineering doesn’t come cheap, and this is no exception. As the researchers put it, “[I]t is reasonable to ask whether such an endeavor is financially feasible or even logistically possible.” Covering “just” 10 percent of the Arctic would require a staggering 10 million wind turbine pumps like those currently used on farmland. Mounting 12-meter-tall turbines on steel buoys brings you to about 10 tons of steel each. Read More