Wednesday Morning Science Supplement is an Open Thread
|From Yahoo News Science|
1 Encyclopedia of Life grows; clues on ageing, pests
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent, Reuters
Sun Aug 23, 10:11 am ET
|OSLO (Reuters) – An online encyclopedia aiming to describe every type of animal and plant on the planet has reached 170,000 entries and is helping research into aging, climate change and even the spread of insect pests.
The “Encyclopedia of Life” (http://www.eol.org), a project likely to cost $100 million launched in 2007, says it wants to describe all the 1.8 million known species from apples to zebras within a decade.
“We’re picking up speed,” James Edwards, EOL Executive Director based at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, said Sunday of the 170,000 entries with content in a common format vetted by experts. A year ago, it had 30,000 entries.
2 Study finds people who multitask often bad at it
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, AP Science Writer
Mon Aug 24, 9:38 pm ET
|WASHINGTON – The people who multitask the most are the ones who are worst at it. That’s the surprising conclusion of researchers at Stanford University, who found multitaskers are more easily distracted and less able to ignore irrelevant information than people who do less multitasking.
“The huge finding is, the more media people use the worse they are at using any media. We were totally shocked,” Clifford Nass, a professor at Stanford’s communications department, said in a telephone interview.
The researchers studied 262 college undergraduates, dividing them into high and low multitasking groups and comparing such things as memory, ability to switch from one task to another and being able to focus on a task. Their findings are reported in Tuesday’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
3 Research finds higher acidity in Alaska waters
By DAN JOLING, Associated Press Writer
Mon Aug 24, 3:21 pm ET
|ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Erosion threatens to topple coastal Alaska villages. Melting ice threatens polar bears. Now, a marine scientist says the state’s marine waters are turning acidic from absorbing greenhouse gases faster than tropical waters, potentially endangering Alaska’s $4.6 billion fishing industry.
The same things that make Alaska’s marine waters among the most productive in the world – cold, shallow depths and abundant marine life – make them the most vulnerable to acidification, said Jeremy Mathis, a chemical oceanographer at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“Ecosystems in Alaska are going to take a hit from ocean acidification,” he said. “Right now, we don’t know how they are going to respond.”
4 Companies’ CO2 cuts fall short of scientific needs: study
Tue Aug 25, 4:01 pm ET
|PARIS (AFP) – The world’s 100 largest companies are failing to meet scientific recommendations on cutting CO2 emissions to contain global warming, a new study released Tuesday warned.
“We are facing a Carbon Chasm,” said the study by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), an independent organisation based in London.
“To cut emissions in developed economies by the required 80 percent by 2050, we need to see a minimum annual global reduction rate of 3.9 percent” per year, it said.
5 Top UN climate scientist backs ambitious CO2 cuts
by Marlowe Hood, AFP
Tue Aug 25, 8:19 am ET
|PARIS (AFP) – Barely 100 days before the world hopes to seal a global climate treaty, the UN’s top climate scientist has given his personal endorsement to hugely ambitious goals for slashing emissions.
“As chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) I cannot take a position because we do not make recommendations,” said Rajendra Pachauri when asked if he supported calls to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations below 350 parts per million (ppm).
“But as a human being I am fully supportive of that goal. What is happening, and what is likely to happen, convinces me that the world must be really ambitious and very determined at moving toward a 350 target,” he told AFP in an interview.
6 ‘Cyber-traffic’ endangering primates in Cameroon
by Reinnier Kaze, AFP
Mon Aug 24, 3:28 am ET
|YAOUNDE (AFP) – Advertisements on the Internet to woo buyers into taking “playful primates” from Cameroon into their homes have become one of the primary means of further threatening already endangered species.
Such sales would be illegal, since dealing in primates is forbidden in the central African country. In the past three years, however, the Internet has led to a flourishing trade in endangered species, according to an environmental activist in the front line.
Ofir Drori directs a small non-governmental organisation, the Last Great Ape Organization (Laga-Cameroon), which works in conjunction with the Cameroonian ministry of forestry and wildlife to try to stem the lucrative trade in beasts both dead and alive.
7 Despair as drought cripples ‘Australia’s Mississippi’
by Neil Sands, AFP
Mon Aug 24, 12:27 am ET
|COBRAM, Australia (AFP) – Farmer Mazzareno Bisogni fights back tears as he stands among the remains of trees he planted 35 years ago, victims of a drought hitting “Australia’s Mississippi”.
Bisogni’s orchard lies in the heart of the once-mighty Murray-Darling river system which irrigates Australia’s food bowl, the vast southeastern corner responsible for 40 percent of agricultural output.
The eight-year ‘big dry’, the worst drought in a century, has devastated the region, an area covering 1.06 million square kilometres (410,000 square miles) — the size of France and Spain combined.
8 Radioactive wreckage, landmines blight Iraq: minister
by Aubrey Belford, AFP
Sun Aug 23, 8:04 pm ET
|BAGHDAD (AFP) – Radioactive wreckage and tens of millions of landmines still blight Iraq after decades of war and the deadly violence that engulfed the nation after the 2003 invasion, the environment minister has said.
Narmin Othman Hasan told AFP in an interview that a lack of funding and Iraq’s fragile security situation is hampering efforts to clean up contaminated sites across the country.
She said the only a fraction of tanks and other wartime vehicles contaminated with depleted uranium have been successfully treated and disposed of by the Iraqi authorities.
9 Diamond mining is not forever, SAfrica learns
by Fran Blandy, AFP
Sun Aug 23, 3:04 am ET
|KLEINZEE, South Africa (AFP) – The glittering diamonds are almost gone and as the lustre fades on South Africa’s Diamond Coast, desperate ghost towns are left clinging to the last signs of life.
The heyday of diamond mining may be over, but the restoration of a once-pristine landscape along the country’s west coast should turn this wasteland of scarred earth into a tourist paradise.
Isolated under strict security for 80 years of mining, towering mine dumps reach hundreds of metres into the air along the coast, the site of one of the most ambitious mining restoration projects to date.
10 Asia-Pacific quakes herald a disaster? Experts say no
by Arlina Arshad, AFP
Sat Aug 22, 10:01 pm ET
|JAKARTA (AFP) – Powerful earthquakes that have jolted Asia recently do not presage a disaster, although it is only a matter of time before the next catastrophe befalls the quake-prone region, seismologists say.
From India to Japan, Indonesia and as far south as New Zealand, the region has been rattled by what appear to be a connected spate of strong quakes in the past few weeks.
Luckily they have caused little damage and few casualties, but for people living in countries straddling the so-called “Pacific Ring of Fire” of major fault-lines, each new tremor raises the question: when will the “big one” hit?
11 End of civil war opens up Angolan ‘Jurassic Park’
by Louise Redvers, AFP
Fri Aug 21, 1:47 am ET
|LUANDA (AFP) – Angola is best known for oil and diamonds, but dinosaur hunters say the country holds a “museum in the ground” of rare fossils — some actually jutting from the earth — waiting to be discovered.
“Angola is the final frontier for palaeontology,” explained Louis Jacobs, of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, part of the PaleoAngola project which is hunting for dinosaur fossils.
“Due to the war, there’s been little research carried out so far, but now we’re getting in finally and there’s so much to find.
12 Putin calls for mass checks after dam tragedy
by Alissa de Carbonnel, AFP
Thu Aug 20, 4:46 pm ET
|CHERYOMUSHKY, Russia (AFP) – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday called for checks on all Russia’s major infrastructure as hopes faded of finding any survivors of an accident at the country’s largest hydroelectric plant.
His comments at a government meeting in Moscow came as concern mounted that the authorities had yet to pinpoint the cause of the flood that engulfed the turbine room at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric plant on Monday.
“There is a need to conduct serious inspections of all strategic and vitally important objects of infrastructure,” Putin said at a government meeting in Moscow.
13 Northwest fears that invasive mussels are headed its way
By Les Blumenthal, McClatchy Newspapers
Sun Aug 23, 6:00 am ET
|WASHINGTON – Highly invasive mussels are lurking on the Northwest’s doorstep, threatening to gum up the dams that produce the region’s cheap electricity, clog drinking water and irrigation systems, jeopardize aquatic ecosystems and upset efforts to revive such endangered species as salmon.
Despite efforts to stop them, the arrival of zebra and quagga mussels may be inevitable.
Some scientists say the mussels could arrive within five years. Others say the mussels’ larvae already may be spreading undetected, though no one is sure whether they’ll survive or thrive in the Northwest’s rivers, streams and lakes.
14 Alaska’s Rat Island apparently rid of its namesake pest
By Erika Bolstad, McClatchy Newspapers
Mon Aug 24, 6:00 am ET
|WASHINGTON – After two centuries of an epic infestation, Alaska’s Rat Island finally may merit a name change. The island, part of a national wildlife refuge in the sprawling Aleutian chain, appears to be pest-free for the first time since rats overran it after a Japanese sailing ship wrecked there in the late 1700s.
Scientists stopped by in early August to check on the progress of the $3 million eradication. So far, “no sign of rats whatsoever,” said Steve MacLean , the polar marine program director for The Nature Conservancy in Alaska , one of the partners in the rat-ridding effort.
No gnawing was apparent on the waxy, peanut butter-infused bait blocks that, if bitten, would signal that rats are still present nearly a year after crews dropped 700 pounds of poison-laced pellets. A research team will return next year to be sure they killed all the rats, but MacLean said it wouldn’t be unreasonable to consider calling the island by what’s thought to be its original name, Howadax, which means “entry” or “welcome” in the Aleut language.
15 The Enduring Mystery of Saturn’s Rings
Jeremy Hsu, Special to SPACE.com
Mon Aug 24, 7:00 am ET
|Saturn’s rings have fascinated scientists ever since Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei first spotted them through one of his telescopes in the 17th century. But just how the icy rings came into being remains a mystery that has only deepened with each new scientific finding.
Astronomers now know that the planet hosts multiple rings that consist of roughly 35 trillion-trillion tons of ice, dust and rock. The Cassini spacecraft and its Voyager predecessors have also spotted changing ring patterns, partially formed ring arcs and even a moon spewing out icy particles to form a new ring. All of this suggests that the rings have constantly evolved over time.
Cassini also imaged a more recent event near the time of recent Saturn equinox, when an object apparently punched through one of the rings and left a scarred wake of debris that again points to a dynamic, ever-changing system of rings.
16 Sales of Sold Out COLBERT Patches Soar as Crew Patch Error Becomes Collectible
Robert Z. Pearlman, SPACE.com
Mon Aug 24, 6:32 pm ET
|Two embroidered patches designed for space shuttle Discovery’s mission to the International Space Station beginning this week have gone from being simple souvenirs sold at NASA-themed gift shops to rare collector items selling for as much as 35 times their retail price.
One of the patches, the STS-128 crew’s official mission insignia, became more collectible after it was discovered that its depiction of the station was missing a module: the European Space Agency’s (ESA) “Columbus” lab, which was particularly notable given the inclusion of a European astronaut on-board Discovery.
The other patch features the face of comedian Stephen Colbert, whose name was lent to the astronauts’ treadmill launching with STS-128. Now sold out after its production run was cut short due to licensing issues, second-hand sales and auctions are commanding astronomical results.
17 Mars Canyon Formed When Plug Was Pulled, Study Suggests
Andrea Thompson, Senior Writer SPACE.com
Tue Aug 25, 11:31 am ET
|Mars’ great canyon complex, Valles Marineris, dwarfs the size and splendor of Earth’s own Grand Canyon. But while geologists have a formed a fairly complete picture of how the Grand Canyon formed, the mechanisms that carved out Valles Marineris and its component canyons have been a longstanding mystery, with explanations ranging from massive floods to tectonic processes like those that cause earthquakes and build mountains on Earth.
“How did these gigantic canyons really form? Were they all formed by floods, or were other things going on?” asks John Adams of the University of Washington in Seattle and lead author of a new study that seeks to answer the questions. “These have been controversial questions going back to the very first Mariner pictures of Mars. And they’re still controversial questions, which means we don’t really fully understand what’s going on yet.”
The answer for how at least parts of the canyon complex formed may lie in Hebes Chasma, a 190-mile-long (310-kilometer) scar cut into the Martian surface and connected to the main body of Valles Marineris.
18 Gigantic Lightning Jets Shoot from Clouds to Space
Andrea Thompson, Senior Writer LiveScience.com
Sun Aug 23, 1:26 pm ET
|Strokes of lightning flashing down towards the ground are a familiar sight during summer thunderstorms, but scientists have capture an image of a rare lightning bolt shooting out upwards from a cloud, almost to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere.
These bolts of upwards lightning, one type among a variety of electrical discharges now known to occur above thunderstaorms, are called gigantic jets, and were only first discovered in 2001.
Since then, only about 10 gigantic jets have been observed, said Steven Cummer, who was part of the team that photographed this most recent jet. Gigantic jets are essentially the same as cloud-to-ground lightning, only they go the opposite way.
19 The Appendix: Useful and in Fact Promising
Charles Q. Choi, Special to LiveScience
Mon Aug 24, 10:30 am ET
|The body’s appendix has long been thought of as nothing more than a worthless evolutionary artifact, good for nothing save a potentially lethal case of inflammation.
Now researchers suggest the appendix is a lot more than a useless remnant. Not only was it recently proposed to actually possess a critical function, but scientists now find it appears in nature a lot more often than before thought. And it’s possible some of this organ’s ancient uses could be recruited by physicians to help the human body fight disease more effectively.
In a way, the idea that the appendix is an organ whose time has passed has itself become a concept whose time is over.
20 New Theory Questions Why We Sleep
Charles Q. Choi, Special to LiveScience
Tue Aug 25, 2:05 pm ET
|The purpose of sleep remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in science. Although we spend roughly one-third of life asleep, researchers still do not know why.
While sleep is often thought to have evolved to play an unknown but vital role inside the body, a new theory now suggests it actually developed as a method to better deal with the outside world.
Sleep is often seen as bad for survival. Sleeping animals might be vulnerable to predators and cannot eat, mate, scout for prey, care for relatives or perform other behaviors key to getting by. As such “it’s been thought that sleep must serve some as-yet unidentified physiological or neural function that can’t be accomplished when animals are awake,” said sleep researcher Jerome Siegel at the University of California at Los Angeles.
21 Heat Waves Getting Worse
Tue Aug 25, 5:06 pm ET
|Heat waves out West are getting worse as the climate changes, a new study finds.
One example: From mid July to early August 2006, a heat wave swept through the southwestern United States. Temperature records were broken at many locations and unusually high humidity levels were recorded.
The event included extreme muggy heat that is part of a trend of increasing nighttime heat wave activity observed over the last six decades, the researchers said in a statement today. This trend has accelerated since the 1980s and has become especially prevalent in this decade, they conclude.