Archive for August, 2010

Global Warming Dissenter Bjorn Lomborg (Sort of) Has a Change of Heart

By Joseph Calamia | August 31, 2010 6:07 pm

LomborgHas climate skeptics’ favorite Danish statistician, Bjørn Lomborg, changed his stance? In the forthcoming book edited by Lomborg, Smart Solutions to Climate Change, he calls climate change one of the world’s “chief concerns” and suggests investing $100 billion annually on climate change solutions.

The suggestion certainly comes as a surprise. In his previous books, like The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It, Lomborg argues that anthropogenic climate change is real but that it isn’t a “catastrophe”–that the associated “hysteria” was causing us to spend money trying to curb the globe’s warming where it would have been better spent, say, feeding the hungry or curing HIV.

Understandably, that stance has made his work appealing to climate skeptics who don’t want to spend money on curbing emissions–and unpopular among those who see Lomborg as a distraction who misrepresents the science and confuses the issue. In his new book, the statistician apparently reorders his priorities, now arguing that climate change solutions should get more cash.

What’s not a surprise: opinions vary as to the merits of this new book and as to whether it’s a shift, a drastic shift, not a shift, or a publicity stunt. Here, we share some.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment

Scientist Smackdown: No Proof That a Comet Killed the Mammoths?

By Andrew Moseman | August 31, 2010 4:02 pm

MammothWhen it comes to explaining why the woolly mammoths died out, “death from above” could be down for the count.

Nearly 13,000 years ago, North American megafauna like the mammoths and giant sloths—and even human groups like the people of the Clovis culture—disappeared as the climate entered a cold snap. As DISCOVER has noted before, there’s been a controversial hypothesis bubbling up saying that a comet impact caused it all, but other scientists have been shooting holes in that idea of the last couple years. In a study in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team led by Tyrone Daulton pooh-poohs what may be the last major evidence that supports the impact idea.

That evidence takes the shape of nano-diamonds in ancient sediment layers, a material said to form during impacts only.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins, Living World

To Study Storms, NASA Flies a Plane Into Hurricane Earl

By Joseph Calamia | August 31, 2010 2:35 pm

hurricane-earlAs Tropical Storm Earl grew into Hurricane Earl this past weekend, NASA had a plan: Fly a plane into it. A DC-8 aircraft, used for NASA’s new Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) project, darted around the storm to trace the movement of atmospheric aerosols–particles suspended in the air–and to drop weather sensors, giving NASA researchers data on how such storms form and strengthen.

NASA’s DC-8 aircraft left Fort Lauderdale at 10:05 a.m. EDT on Saturday heading for St. Croix for a multi-day deployment that targeted (at that time) Tropical Storm Earl…. On Sunday, August 29, the DC-8 completed an 8.5-hour science flight over (then) Hurricane Earl west of St. Croix. The research aircraft flew at altitudes of 33,000 feet and 37,000 feet and descended to 7,000 feet northwest of the storm area to collect measurements of atmospheric aerosols. The flight originated in St. Croix but diverted to land in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., due to the degrading weather forecast for St. Croix associated with the approaching hurricane. [NASA]

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment

Have Archaeologists Found Evidence of an Ancient Funeral Feast?

By Andrew Moseman | August 31, 2010 11:14 am

CavePeople come together for ceremonial feasts. They do it now, they did it a hundred years ago, they did it a thousand years ago, and they may have done it even 12,000 years ago, archaeologists argue in a new study.

But the question is: If ancient humans devour tortoises in a cave and there are no scientists there to see it, is it a ceremonial occasion, or just a big meal?

The ancient eaters belonged to a culture called the Natufian, according to Natalie Munro and Leore Grosman, who authored the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In a burial cave in Israel, the researchers turned up a slew of tortoises shells and bones of cattle, and the remains suggest the Natufians butchered and cooked them.

According to Munro, a feast of so many animals could have fed 35 people.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins

Ending Smallpox Vaccinations May Have Opened the Door for Monkeypox

By Andrew Moseman | August 31, 2010 9:41 am

MonkeypoxFrom Ed Yong:

In 8 May 1980, the World Health Organisation declared that “the world and its peoples have won freedom from smallpox.” Through decades of intense vaccination, this once fatal disease had been wiped out. It was a singular victory and having won it, countries around the world discontinued the vaccination programmes. After all, why protect against a disease that no longer exists (save in a few isolated stocks)?

Unfortunately, this is not a rhetorical question. The smallpox vaccine did more than protect against smallpox. It also reduced the risk of contracting a related illness called monkeypox, which produces the same combination of scabby bumps and fever. It’s milder than smallpox but it’s still a serious affliction. In Africa, where monkeypox originates from, it kills anywhere from 1-10% of those who are infected. And more and more people are becoming infected.

Read the rest of this post at Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: A Killer Pox in the Congo
DISCOVER: Whatever Happened To… Smallpox?
80beats: Did the Eradication of Smallpox Accidentally Help the Spread of HIV?

Image: U.S. Air Force

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

Can Endangered Bluefin Tuna Be Saved by Fish Farming?

By Joseph Calamia | August 30, 2010 5:43 pm

bluefinBluefin tuna–they’re so delicious, they’re on the brink of extinction. The human appetite for this majestic fish has spurred overfishing that has endangered the wild population, so researchers and aquaculture companies are trying to breed the fish in captivity. But so far bluefin tuna have proved very difficult to farm, since it’s impossible to replicate their natural reproductive cycle–researchers think the fish travel hundreds of miles to their traditional spawning grounds. The best results so far have come from an Australian company that is using hormone injections to get the big fish to breed.

Now researchers associated with a European project called Selfdott (an odd acronym for “self-sustained aquaculture and domestication of thunnus thynnus”) say they can successfully raise fish in captivity without using hormones. The New York Times reports that the first batch of fish, raised in floating cages, died after a matter of weeks or months, but researchers still think that with better food and parents more adjusted to captivity, the next group of fish will survive.

“If the results of this research can ultimately be commercialized, it can improve food supplies and contribute to economic growth and employment while also helping to ensure a sustainable management of bluefin tuna,” Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the European Union’s commissioner for research, said this week. [New York Times]

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment

Quantum Fridge: The Quest to Build the World's Smallest Refrigerator

By Joseph Calamia | August 30, 2010 4:36 pm

fridgePhysicists have designed the world’s smallest refrigerator, small enough that it can’t hold any of your food. The fridge consists of three qubits–quantum particles that act as on-off switches. These quantum particles could be ions, atoms, or subatomic particles.

Other small systems have been created, but this is the first that doesn’t rely on external mechanisms, such as sophisticated lasers. “The whole guts of the fridge, it’s all accounted for and not hidden in some macroscopic object which is really doing the work,” [coauthor Noah] Linden says. [Science News]

Kitchen refrigerators work by shuttling heat away from one area (where you store your food) and dumping it somewhere else (the coils behind). This transfer isn’t news. Fans of thermodynamics have built devices to wick away heat from one source and dump it somewhere else since the nineteenth century. The device proposed in a paper to appear in Physical Review Letters uses the same basic technique but at a much smaller scale–on the size of three qubits, connected to two “baths,” one cold (or around room temperature) and one hot.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math

Study: Canada’s Oil Sands Mining Sends Toxins Into Rivers

By Andrew Moseman | August 30, 2010 2:06 pm

Oil_Sands_mapMercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium, nickel, zinc—they’re all getting into the waters of northern Canada in dangerous amounts because of mining in the oil sands, according to a study coming out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Canada‘s oil sands hold an estimated 13 percent of the proven oil reserves in the world, and the United States grows increasingly reliant upon them to meet our petroleum needs. However, the process of extracting and refining the oil is energy-intensive, and dirty. An industry-led group called Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP) oversees the pollution coming from oil sands exploration, and it has maintained that elevated levels of toxins in the nearby Athabasca River system come from natural oil seepage. However, the University of Alberta’s Erin Kelly and David Schindler say in their study that no, it’s the oil exploration that’s increasing the concentration of these elements in the water.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment

Five Years Later, Could New Orleans Withstand Another Major Hurricane?

By Andrew Moseman | August 30, 2010 11:07 am

Hurricane_Katrina_FloodingThe city of New Orleans’ defenses are certainly better than they were five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina breached the levees and flooded the city. With the five-year anniversary of that disaster upon us, however, the question that hangs in the air is: Would those refurbished barriers stand up to another Katrina, or something worse?

Better Barricades

In the last five years, the federal government has invested about $15 billion to revamp the New Orleans levee system.

This time, tougher foundation material like a mixture of construction clay and cement, is being used in the soil to hold structural sections of wall designed as an inverted T instead of their previous I-shape. The new design is considered stronger, allowing steel pillars to bracket each end into the ground. Total completion is expected in June 2011. [Christian Science Monitor]

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology

Google's Latest Moves: Free Phone Calls & Real-Time Search

By Andrew Moseman | August 27, 2010 2:23 pm

googleGoogle took its two newest steps on the march toward world domination this week, first rolling out a feature that lets people make free phone calls from Gmail, and then introducing real-time searching of fast-updating information, like tweets.

The first initiative is off to a hot start. Gmail users placed more than a million phone calls through Google on the service’s first day Wednesday.

Calling from within Gmail, by contrast, requires nothing more than installing a small plug-in program (available for Windows XP or newer, Mac OS X 10.4 or newer and some versions of Linux) and logging into Gmail. Click the “Call phone” link to the left of your inbox, type in a number, click the big blue “Call” button and things proceed as if you had just finished spinning a Bell System phone’s rotary dial [Washington Post].

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology
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