Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Changes in Earth's Orbit and Climate Made Us Intelligent

[Daily Galaxy] The wobbles and variations in the orbit of the Earth as it goes round the Sun have caused many periods of rapid and violent climate change. About two million years ago, something extraordinary started happening in the Great Rift Valley in East Africa. Our ape ancestors began to evolve from animals with brain power close to that of a chimpanzee, to apes that would ultimately become human - able to talk, and construct complex tools, from spears to spaceships. Recent scientific evidence suggests that this evolutionary leap was driven by the impact of climate change on the Great Rift Valley (below) caused by the way that the Earth moves through space, as it orbits the Sun.
That may only have happened because gravity of the Sun, Moon, and other planets in our Solar System makes the Earth's orbit change how elliptical it is, over thousands of years, which in turn affects our planet's climate. Our early ancestors' increases in brain size occurred when the Earth's orbit was at its most elliptical, a time of rapid and violent climate change, when adaptability and intelligence would have been a huge evolutionary advantage.
A few large evolutionary leaps, such as bigger brains and complex tool use, seem to coincide with significant climate change. “I think, to be fair, all we have at the moment is coincidence,” said paleoclimatologist Peter B. deMenocal of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. But he and other researchers are exploring several lines of evidence, from ancient teeth to seafloor sediments, to see if a more concrete link can be supported.
The theory that climate change drove the evolution of human intelligence is based on the latest evidence of how the landscape changed in the Great Rift Valley over hundreds of thousands of years. Apes with bigger brains were able to construct more advanced tools and weapons, giving them an advantage when hunting, or butchering meat. This could have created an evolutionary pressure for brains to get larger, which could have helped our ancestors form more complex social groups that were able to co-operate when times got tough. Read More

Melting ice and satellites: how to measure the Earth’s ‘wiggle’

[The Conversation] In a driverless future, it will be vital that our cars know exactly where they are on the road, down to the millimetre. We’ve found that our current methods of measuring location may not be up to scratch. Changes on Earth’s surface, including polar ice melt, may alter its centre of mass, throwing our calculations out of whack.
Accurately pinpointing a location with a global positioning system (GPS) can only be done relative to Earth’s centre. Because we can’t reach the centre ourselves, scientists have to use satellite sensing to indirectly measure its location, and how it moves.
It’s a complicated task because the globe is not a perfect sphere nor uniformly made of the same material. Significant changes on its surface, such as melting snowpack, may also shift its centre of mass.
This means the centre of Earth essentially “wiggles”, but current measurement methods don’t accurately measure season-to-season variations that occur due to water movement. They also assume that its long-term motion can be described by the fit of a straight line. We believe that much more work needs to be done.
The centre of Earth’s mass may not necessarily be close to its geometric centre.
To put it another way, while a cannonball’s centre of mass will be at its exact geometric centre, a pineapple’s centre of mass is closer to its heavier end.
It’s the same for Earth’s centre of mass: it will be closer to heavier loads on the surface and within Earth itself.
Water can be a “heavier load”, both in the oceans, rivers and atmosphere, and in its solid form as ice sheets, glaciers and snow. High water levels in the Northern Hemisphere due to massive snowfall and rain over Canada and Europe during the winter, for example, change as the seasons transition into summer.
This matters when measuring Earth’s centre of mass. Take a ridiculously heavy cyclist, for example. As the cyclist travels over the surface of the Earth, the centre of Earth’s mass moves, as a balancing act. In the same way, as snow melts in the Northern Hemisphere spring and flows into the oceans, the Earth’s centre of mass may move away from the Northern Hemisphere.
As we monitor changes to land ice in Antarctica and Greenland, as well as the smaller mountain glaciers, we can also see changes in the motion of Earth’s centre of mass.
As some of this ice melt is due to human activity warming the atmosphere and ocean, humans may be indirectly changing the centre of mass of the entire planet. Read More

The Big One is going to happen, no matter how much you want to deny it, California scientists say

[MSN] Fear of earthquakes is part of life in California. But people experience this anxiety in different ways. For some, the fear prompts them to take steps to protect themselves: strapping down heavy furniture, securing kitchen cabinets and retrofitting homes and apartments.
For others, the fear prompts denial — a willful ignorance of the dangers for years until the ground starts shaking.
Seismologist Lucy Jones has spent her career trying to understand public attitudes about earthquakes, with a focus on moving people past paralysis and denial.
Jones said the way experts like her used to talk about earthquakes wasn't very effective. They tended to focus on the probability of a major earthquake striking in the next 30 years — the length of a typical home mortgage. They also took pains to say what they didn't know, which she now believes allowed the public to tune out and hope for the best.
Now she is making a dramatically different point. She said that in a keynote speech to international scientists in Japan on May 21, she emphasized that a devastating earthquake will definitely happen, and that there is much the public can do to protect themselves.
Denial may be getting a bit harder these days. Over the last several years, a few California cities have taken dramatic steps to require retrofits of thousands of vulnerable buildings. And next year, scientists and the U.S. Geological Survey are expected to unveil the first limited public phase of an earthquake early-warning system that would eventually offer seconds and perhaps more than a minute of warning through smartphones and computers.Read More

Alaska’s Erupting Bogoslof Volcano Triggers Highest Aviation Alert

[Huffington Post] Authorities issued the highest danger alert for aircraft after the Bogoslof Island volcano erupted in Alaska.
The eruption of the state’s most active volcano lasted for 55 minutes Sunday and sent a massive plume of ash up to 45,000 feet into the atmosphere. 
Planes flying between North America and Asia use the route above the volcano that’s in the Aleutian Islands chain as a key flight path, though there were no reports of problems with aircraft following this eruption.
Seismic activity on the island has been low since Sunday, but another eruption could occur at any time without warning, noted monitors at the Alaska Volcano Observatory
“Bogoslof Volcano remains at a heightened state of unrest and in an unpredictable condition,” said a statement from the observatory. “Activity may ramp back up with additional explosions producing high-altitude volcanic clouds with little precursory activity.”
Monitors were tracking a cloud of white-gray ash from Sunday’s eruption that was drifting north. Authorities lowered the alert level later that day from red to orange.
Aircraft engines can suck in volcanic ash, which can melt and coat the mechanisms, ultimately leading to engine failure. A major eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland in April 2010 caused Europe’s largest air-traffic shutdown since World War II.
This current sequence of seismic activity of frequent eruptions and volcanic lightning started on Bogoslof in December 2016. There were 36 eruptions from January to March on the island, which is less than a half mile wide. Read More

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Scientists Have Found Over 28,000 Plants Beat Diseases Like Cancer and Diabetes

[The Homestead] In many parts of the world, most people still rely on traditional plant-based medicine for their primary healthcare. This is especially so in many rural communities of Africa, Asia, Central and South America.
This interactive website has just released its second annual State of the World’s Plants report, and it tells us that a shocking 28,187 species of plants are actively used as medicine by the world’s peoples.
From diabetes and cancer, to the common cold, using plant medicine is the go-to for much of the world, and it’s been that way for centuries.
The knowledge of plant species and their traditional uses are not yet lost to modernization in these areas. This makes plant remedies the most accessible and affordable.
In modernized culture, the knowledge and lore of plant-based healing with herbs and natural foods is sadly becoming a lost art. Not many people today are studying herbal and natural healing, and naturopathic medicine is dwarfed by conventional medicine’s influence.
Further, what many people don’t realize is that a fair number of our pharmaceutical drugs are actually derived from these types of medicinal plants, including Schedule 1 substances such as Marijuana.
The report says that “since 1981, 1,130 new therapeutic agents have been approved for use as pharmaceutical drugs, of which 593 are based on compounds from natural sources.”
…So WHY aren’t we hearing more about the power of plants-based medicine? Read More

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Future of Agriculture: Vertical Farms to Sustainable Aquaculture

New maps show the risk of sea level rises to Australian cities

[] SAY sayonara to Sydney airport, farewell to Fremantle and bye to Byron Bay.
A series of maps has graphically illustrated how Australia could be affected by climate change and rising sea levels. And it looks like many of our major towns and cities could be getting a lot soggier.
Hobart Airport would be underwater, Melbourne’s Southbank submerged and the WACA in Perth would be inundated.
Famous sea side resorts like Byron Bay, Port Douglas, Noosa and the Gold Coast are in danger of seeing the sea get a whole lot closer for comfort.
A climate expert has said rising sea levels globally could displace “tens of millions of people”.
The new maps come from Costal Risk Australia run by Western Australia business management consultants NGIS. The data is fished from the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA to show which areas will be at risk from a “business as usual” scenario of a 2 metre sea-level rise by 2100.
Just by putting in your suburb name into the Coastal Risk Australia, you can see if you area is at risk of flooding.
Website co-creator Nathan Eaton said that with more than 80 per cent of Australians living near the coast, it was critical for people to appreciate what rising sea levels in the decades to come could mean for their communities.
However, in some areas its likely even a 2 metre sea rise will be surpassed. Climate scientists have pointed to parts of northern and Western Australia where rises could be higher.
The Torres Strait Islands have experienced regular king tides, an area which rarely got any of the monster tides in the past.
Professor John Church from the University of NSW’S Climate Change Research Centre said flooding to the measure forecast would cause catastrophic problems for many Australians. Read More

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Arctic Doomsday Seed Vault Flooded. Thanks, Global Warming

[Wired] It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel.
The vault is on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. When it was opened in 2008, the deep permafrost through which the vault was sunk was expected to provide “failsafe” protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters”.
But soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling. “It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault.
“A lot of water went into the start of the tunnel and then it froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in,” she told the Guardian. Fortunately, the meltwater did not reach the vault itself, the ice has been hacked out, and the precious seeds remain safe for now at the required storage temperature of -18°C.
But the breach has questioned the ability of the vault to survive as a lifeline for humanity if catastrophe strikes. “It was supposed to [operate] without the help of humans, but now we are watching the seed vault 24 hours a day,” Aschim said. “We must see what we can do to minimise all the risks and make sure the seed bank can take care of itself.” Read More

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Gratitude Spoken Meditation | Ho Ľoponopono Ancient Hawaiian Prayer

Research: Political Polarization Is Changing How Americans Work and Shop

[Harvard Business Review] After the bruising and contentious 2016 U.S. presidential election, it’s not surprising that Americans’ evaluations of members of the opposite political party have reached an all-time low. According to data from the Pew Research Center, 45% of Republicans and 41% of Democrats think the other party is so dangerous that it is a threat to the health of the nation. This animus has spilled over into social networks: According to a HuffPost/YouGov poll, nearly half of Americans got into an argument with someone (a friend, family member, coworker, etc.) about the election last year. Fifty years ago few people expressed any anger when asked how they would feel if their child married someone from the other party. Today, one-third of Democrats and nearly half of Republicans would be deeply upset. On item after item, Americans not only disagree on the issues but also increasingly personally dislike those from the other party.
This is a phenomenon scholars call affective polarization. Political scientists have attributed a number of important consequences to the increase of affective polarization in the United States, chief among them increased gridlock and dysfunction in Washington, DC. But much less is known about whether affective polarization changes how we interact outside of politics. Do these partisan sentiments affect economic exchanges between individuals from opposing parties?
This question is especially timely given recent, post-election discussions of American consumers either supporting or boycotting companies for their association with the opposing party. For example, the group Grab Your Wallet has suggested that people boycott several companies over their ties to the Trump administration, including L.L. Bean and Macy’s, and the #DeleteUber hashtag spread after Uber failed to support New York taxi drivers’ protest of the administration’s travel ban. Ivanka Trump’s brand has been a political football used by both the left and the right. Are these simply highly publicized but isolated incidents, or do they represent a broader trend of partisanship shaping how people make economic decisions even in the absence of a public campaign calling for a specific boycott? Read More

Century-Long Glacier Study May Help Us Crack Climate Change

A scientist restarts longest glacier study with sketched maps and bear mace. See how the landscape has changed in that time.

[National Geographic] It's not often an ecologist gets to play sleuth in so adventurous a fashion—picking through musty papers in the Midwest for 100-year-old hand-drawn maps that lead through dense Alaskan underbrush populated by wolves and brown bears. But that's how scientist Brian Buma tracked down the work of a legend—a godfather of modern ecology so prominent in his field that the Ecological Society of America has an award named after him.
Buma, a University of Alaska, Southeast, assistant professor, was hunting for nine tiny patches of land in the enormous wilderness of Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park. These square-meter-sized plots first mapped in 1916 by botanist William Skinner Cooper were central to one of the longest-running natural experiments in science, and to our understanding one of the most-studied and dynamic places in the country.
Cooper knew the rich history of Glacier Bay, had read the expedition diaries of Capt. George Vancouver from the 18th century, had followed naturalist John Muir's canoe trips, when Muir compared its geology to Yosemite Valley's. Cooper even had led the charge to have the region declared a national monument, 55 years before it became a national park in 1980.
But the hidden patches where Cooper had done groundbreaking work that still makes it into college textbooks somehow had been lost to time. Buma aimed to find it.
"I grew up with Indiana Jones and I've always liked discovery and finding old things, chasing down forgotten places, pushing the boundaries," Buma says. "This had it all."
So, last summer, a century after Cooper began, Buma carted historical photos, a metal detector, and bear mace, and, funded by a National Geographic grant, he uncovered Cooper's worksites. Now he's using them to reframe our thinking about the surprising ways plant communities may shift with climate change. In a paper published Thursday by the Ecological Society of America, he showed, as Cooper before him, that as glacial ice in the bay recedes faster than almost anywhere on Earth, new shrubs and forests are springing up, just not as simply and uniformly as one might expect. Read More