RT, May 21
The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused an unprecedented number of fatal diseases in roughly 1,300 dolphins over the course of five years, according to a new study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Up to now, the link between oil spill exposure and dolphin deaths has been inconclusive, but this study changes that. The results are from a forensic investigation that was part of NOAA’s long-term ecological analysis of the Deepwater incident that began in 2013. The spill itself leaked 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf over five months in 2010.
“No feasible alternatives remain that can reasonably explain the timing, location and nature of this increase in death,” co-author Stephanie Venn-Watson of the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego said in a Wednesday press conference.
RT, May 15
Why does matter exist in the universe? It’s not a simple question, but NASA’s Fermi space telescope may be on its way to an answer. The instrument has detected gamma rays which could provide scientists with clues surrounding the mystery of matter.
Researchers believe the telescope’s detection of the gamma rays (high-energy light) has provided the answer as to why the universe is filled with matter, instead of anti-matter.
Tanmay Vachaspati, a professor of physics at Arizona State University, and his colleagues think they have found a clue to that mystery, believing a signal in the Fermi gamma ray data suggests an overwhelming production of matter – but not anti-matter – in the early universe.
The team claims to have identified a “twisting” of the gamma rays detected by the telescope. They believe the twisted rays are evidence of a magnetic field that has existed in the universe since less than a second after the Big Bang occurred.
The gamma rays, sensitive to the effect of a magnetic field, carried a spiral pattern imprint from the field. Analysis of the imprint and its properties showed the field is predominately left-handed.
The left-hand orientation is evidence of the overwhelming production of matter. Vachaspati and his team say that anti-matter would have produced a right-hand orientation.
The researchers did, however, point out that there is a 0.3 percent chance that the results aren’t what they seem.
RT: 12bn suns, 13bn light years away: Ancient black hole blows scientists’ minds, February 26
Washington Post, By Chelsea Harvey, May 14
It’s one of the most basic biology facts we’re taught in school growing up: Birds and mammals are warm-blooded, while reptiles, amphibians and fish are cold-blooded. But new research is turning this well-known knowledge on its head with the discovery of the world’s first warm-blooded fish — the opah.
In a paper published today in Science, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describe the unique mechanism that enables the opah, a deepwater predatory fish, to keep its body warm. The secret lies in a specially designed set of blood vessels in the fish’s gills, which allows the fish to circulate warm blood throughout its entire body.
Scientists already suspected the opah was special, says Heidi Dewar, a researcher at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center and one of the paper’s authors. Most fish who live where the opah does — that is, hundreds of feet deep, in some of the ocean’s darkest and coldest places — are sluggish, thanks to the low temperatures. At these depths, even predatory fish tend to be slow-moving, waiting patiently for prey to come by rather than actively chasing it down. But the opah, which spends all its time in these deep places, has many features usually associated with a quick-moving, active predator, such as a large heart, lots of muscle and big eyes. These characteristics made the opah “a curiosity,” Dewar says.
RT, May 8
British scientists have discovered that a series of rapid frosts and thaws could have been a “vital spark” for life to originate on Earth. They now believe that living cells naturally evolved from a biochemical soup at the early days of our planet.
A group of researchers from the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge found out that simple forms of DNA assemble themselves from small biochemical building blocks when repeatedly frozen and thawed, Chemistry World reports.
The latest study shows that, under certain conditions, short fragments of RNA – a type of single-strand DNA – can form long chains similar to enzymes that, according to many scientists’ beliefs, could have triggered the first biochemical reactions eventually leading to the emergence of living cells.
“To the best of our knowledge this is the first time that complex ribozymes (long RNA chains) have been assembled from RNA pieces short enough to be prebiotically plausible,” Mutschler said.
“Our work indicates that very primitive assemblers might have been present in the original pool of short RNAs created by prebiotic chemistry and could bootstrap themselves towards more complex catalytic functions by the formation of assembly networks.”
UK researches published the results of their study in the journal Nature Chemistry and it is already being hailed as a breakthrough in understanding a key step for the evolution of life.
RT, April 23
A major earthquake – the Big One – is statistically almost certain in California in the coming decades, and there is even worse news below the ground: it is likely to be followed by a series of similar-sized temblors, according to a leading seismologist.
The current relatively quiet seismic period – in which “far less” energy is being released in earthquakes than it is being stored from tectonic plate motions “cannot last forever,” said University of Southern California earth sciences professor James Dolan while delivering a new paper during the Seismological Society of America conference in Pasadena.
“At some point, we will need to start releasing all of this pent-up energy stored in the rocks in a series of large earthquakes,” Dolan stressed.
RT, April 14
New measurements of Martian weather and soil conditions suggest the soil is damp with liquid brine, which can remain liquid when temperatures drop below freezing. The finding contradicts theories that it’s too arid and cold for water on the Red Planet.
The measurements, based on a full year’s study of the planet’s temperature and humidity by NASA’s Curiosity rover, indicate that conditions at the Gale Crater are “favorable for small quantities of brine to form.” The brine is created when the salt perchlorate absorbs water vapor from the atmosphere and then lowers the freezing point of water. When mixed with calcium perchlorate, liquid water can exist down to around -70 Celsius.
“Liquid water is a requirement for life as we know it, and a target for Mars exploration missions,” said the report’s author, Javier Martin-Torres of the Spanish Research Council, in a statement. “Conditions near the surface of present-day Mars are hardly favorable for microbial life as we know it, but the possibility for liquid brines on Mars has wider implications for habitability and geological water-related processes.”
NBC News, By Alan Boyle, April 5
Researchers have begun circulating beams of protons in the Large Hadron Collider after a two-year shutdown for upgrades — and they expect to ramp up quickly to reach uncharted frontiers in particle physics.
“Beam went smoothly through the whole machine. It’s fantastic to see it going so well after two years and such a major overhaul of the LHC,” Rolf Heuer, the director general of Europe’s CERN particle physics center, said Sunday in a statement.
The LHC’s control team sent waves of protons in both directions around the 17-mile-round (27-kilometer-round) ring, situated 300 feet (100 meters) beneath the French-Swiss border near Geneva. In the days ahead, the team will increase the energy of the proton beams and smash them together in the LHC’s detectors.
During its first run, the LHC’s collisions hit a top energy of 8 trillion electron volts, or 8 TeV. This time around, they’re due to rise to 13 TeV, close to the machine’s maximum design level.
CERN: Proton beams are back in the LHC
The LHC is entering its second season of operation. Thanks to the work done in the last two years, it will operate at unprecedented energy – almost double that of season 1 – at 6.5 TeV per beam. With 13 TeV proton-proton collisions expected before summer, the LHC experiments will soon be exploring uncharted territory.
Washington Post, By Chris Mooney, March 23
Welcome to this week’s installment of “Don’t Mess with Geophysics.”
Last week, we learned about the possible destabilization of the Totten Glacier of East Antarctica, which could unleash over 11 feet of sea level rise in coming centuries.
And now this week brings news of another potential mega-scale perturbation. According to a new study just out in Nature Climate Change by Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a group of co-authors, we’re now seeing a slowdown of the great ocean circulation that, among other planetary roles, helps to partly drive the Gulf Stream off the U.S. east coast. The consequences could be dire – including significant extra sea level rise for coastal cities like New York and Boston.
Australian scientists have uncovered what is believed to be the largest asteroid impact zone ever found on Earth, in central Australia.
ABC (AU), By Clarissa Thorpe, March 24
A team lead by Dr Andrew Glikson from the Australian National University (ANU) said two ancient craters found in central Australia were believed to have been caused by one meteorite that broke in two.
“They appear to be two large structures, with each of them approximately 200 kilometres,” Dr Glikson said.
“So together, jointly they would form a 400 kilometre structure which is the biggest we know of anywhere in the world.
“The consequences are that it could have caused a large mass extinction event at the time, but we still don’t know the age of this asteroid impact and we are still working on it.”
The Amazon rainforest is losing its ability to absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as trees are dying, which could have negative implication on climate change across the globe.
A study led by the University of Leeds revealed that tree growth in the Amazon rainforest has declined by one-third since the 1980s and that the net uptake of carbon dioxide in the rainforest has dropped by half.
For the first time in history, carbon dioxide absorption by the Amazon rainforest has been surpassed by fossil fuel emissions in Latin America, the study found. Historically, the rainforest absorbed about 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.
Truthout, By William Rivers Pitt, March 8
Sen. James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma since 1994, took to the floor of the Senate the other day with a snowball in a bag. Because it was cold in Washington DC, he said, because there was snow on the ground, that proves climate change is a hoax. “In case we had forgotten,” he said, pulling the snowball from the sack, “because we keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record, I ask the chair, do you know what this is? It’s a snowball, just from outside here. It’s very, very cold out.” He went on to denounce what he called the “hysteria on global warming,” and then threw the snowball at the presiding officer.
James Inhofe – who believes snow in DC disproves climate change – is the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, because of course he is. He won with 57 percent of the vote in his last re-election campaign, because of course he did.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky since 1984, has been urging state officials all across the US to refuse to comply with the new EPA rule on carbon emissions that was championed by the Obama administration. The rule requires existing power plants to cut their carbon emissions by 30 percent, based on the 2005 requirements, by the year 2030. Senator McConnell is having none of it. “Think twice,” he said, “before submitting a state plan, which could lock you in to federal enforcement and expose you to lawsuits, when the administration is standing on shaky legal ground and when, without your support, it won’t be able to demonstrate the capacity to carry out such political extremism.”
Sydney Morning Herald, By Peter Hannam, March 6
Unusual warming of waters in the central equatorial Pacific has prompted the US government to declare an El Nino event and predict a better-than-even chance that it will linger through the middle of the year.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the above-average sea-surface temperatures had exceeded key thresholds, triggering the declaration of the “long-anticipated” El Nino.
However, the location of the main warming – about 10 degrees west of the International Dateline rather than to the east – and its timing early in the year are puzzling climate experts looking for similar events.
“Climate scientists are monitoring this with amazement,” said Cai Wenju, a principal CSIRO research scientist who has published widely on the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate pattern. “We only understand what we have seen.”
As the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) gears up for its revamped second run, hurling particles together with more energy than ever before, physicists there are impatient. They want this next round of collisions to shake their discipline to its core.
BBC, By Jonathan Webb, March 4
“I can’t wait for the switch-on. We’ve been waiting since January 2013 to have our proton beams back,” says Tara Shears, a particle physics professor from the University of Liverpool.
Prof Shears is raising her voice over the occasional noise of fork-lift trucks and tools, as well as the constant hum of the huge experimental apparatus behind her: LHCb, one of four collision points spaced around the LHC’s 27km circumference.
New York Times, By John Noble Wilford, March 4
On the morning of Jan. 29, 2013, Chalachew Seyoum was climbing a remote hill in the Afar region of his native Ethiopia, his head bent, eyes focused on the loose sediment. The site, known as Ledi-Geraru, was rich in fossils. Soon enough, he spotted a telltale shape on the surface — a premolar, as it turned out. It was attached to a piece of a mandible, or lower jawbone. He collected other pieces of a left mandible, and five teeth in all.
Mr. Seyoum, a graduate student in paleoanthropology at Arizona State University, had made a discovery that vaulted evolutionary science over a barren stretch of fossil record between two million and three million years ago. This was a time when the human genus, Homo, was getting underway. The 2.8-million-year-old jawbone of a Homo habilis predates by at least 400,000 years any previously known Homo fossils.
More significant, scientists say, is that this H. habilis lived only 200,000 years after the last known evidence of its more apelike predecessors, Australopithecus afarensis, the species made famous by “Lucy,” whose skeleton was found in the 1970s at the nearby Ethiopian site of Hadar.
William H. Kimbel, director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State, said the Ledi-Geraru jaw “helps narrow the evolutionary gap between Australopithecus and early Homo,” adding that it was an excellent “transitional fossil in a critical time period in human evolution.”
Salon.com, Joanna Rothkopf, March 3
Two bills are up for a vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, both of which could significantly impact the way the Environmental Protection Agency is allowed to use science to come up with regulations. The Secret Science Reform Act and the Science Advisory Board Reform Act both require the EPA to consider only publicly available, easily reproducible data when making policy recommendations. Scientific organizations and environmental groups, as well as a number of Democrats, disapprove of the bills, arguing that they favor industry over real science.
Over 50 scientific organizations spoke out in opposition to the Secret Science bill, noting that large-scale public health studies would be ineligible for consideration because large sample sizes could not be easily reproduced.