Two Studies Confirm that Human Activities Are Making Storms Worse

By Roni Dengler | November 14, 2018 12:00 pm
hurricane harvey destruction

Damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in Rockport, Texas. (Credit: AMFPhotography/Shutterstock)

The death toll from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria numbers in the thousands. Excessive rain and flooding from the Atlantic hurricane season led to damages that cost at least $265 billion. Now, two new studies show how human activity is at fault.

“Tropical cyclones can have really strong impacts on people’s lives,” Christina Patricola, a climate scientist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in California, who led one of the new studies, said. “I wanted to be able to develop a better understanding of what drives changes in these events with the ultimate goal of being able to provide more reliable information that could be used to advance resilience to extreme weather events.”

Climate Influence

Climate change is a potential culprit for the destructive storms, but scientists have not yet reached a consensus on whether the changing climate has had an influence on tropical cyclones. Part of the problem is that the storm record only goes back so far.

Nowadays, scientists use satellites to monitor tropical cyclone activity, but before the technology provided such vast coverage, researchers observed storms by ship, which meant they often missed many of them. The incomplete record makes it challenging for scientists to see if trends in storm activity are from climate change or are due to natural fluctuations. Because of these kinds of uncertainty, scientists turn to climate models.

In the new research, Patricola and colleagues used high-resolution climate simulations to determine what hurricanes Katrina, Irma and Maria might have looked like if they had happened in pre-industrial climates. Climate change did not affect the storms’ wind speeds, Patricola found, but it enhanced rainfall from the hurricanes. Total storm rainfall for the hurricanes increased by 4% to 9%, the researchers report today in the journal Nature. The finding means climate change is already influencing tropical cyclones.

Urban Impact

But climate change is only one way humans are intensifying tropical storms. Gabriele Villarini, a civil and environmental engineer at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, found urbanization plays a role, too. When Hurricane Harvey dumped more than four feet of rain on the city of Houston within five days in 2017, the urbanized environment helped worsen the effects of the deluge. Villarini compared simulations of the hurricane falling on Houston to ones of the storm happening over croplands. The side-by-side revealed that the city’s topography exacerbated both the total amount of rainfall and the extent of flooding from the tropical cyclone, he reports in a separate study also out today in Nature.

The work “highlights a need to better understand the risk associated with the interconnection of the built environment and hurricanes,” Villarini said.

Patricola agrees that there is more work to be done. She wants to know how climate change affects tropical cyclone numbers, their landfall rate and location, how quickly the storms move and their storm surge — considerations that could help cities improve their resilience against future storms.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

There’s a Frozen Super-Earth Orbiting Barnard’s Star, The Second Closest Star System

By Chelsea Gohd | November 14, 2018 12:00 pm
An artist’s illustration shows what of the exoplanet orbiting Barnard's Star might look like on the surface. (Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

An artist’s illustration shows what of the exoplanet orbiting Barnard’s Star might look like on the surface. (Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

Just six light-years from Earth, the second closest star system to our sun hosts a frozen super-Earth, according to new findings by an international team of researchers.

Barnard’s Star is a small, ancient kind of sun called a red dwarf. And while it’s not easily visible without a telescope, Barnard’s Star has long attracted astronomer’s gaze as the fastest moving star in the night sky. Astronomers now say it’s also home to a frozen exoplanet at least three times as massive as Earth, making it a super-Earth. A collaborative team of researchers from the Red Dots and CARMENES projects, both efforts to find planets around nearby red dwarfs, used a variety of telescopes to discover this exoplanet, known as Barnard’s Star b, and explore its features. The Red Dots team was also involved in the recent discovery of planets around Earth’s nearest star system, Proxima Centauri. These latest findings were published Wednesday (Nov. 14) in the journal Nature. 

Frozen Super-Earth

Barnard’s Star b has a few major differences from Earth. The exoplanet orbits its star in about 233 days, far less than Earth’s 365 day orbit, but longer than many of the other known exoplanets discovered to date. The exoplanet is also much closer to its star than Earth, at just 0.4 times the distance between Earth and the sun. But, despite being so close to its star, light from Barnard’s Star provides the exoplanet with only 2 percent of the energy that the sun provides Earth. This means that, even though the exoplanet is close to its star, it’s still cold enough that water freezes. The researchers found that the exoplanet likely has a temperature of about -274 degrees Fahrenheit (-170 degrees Celsius).

There are still many mysteries surrounding this newly discovered exoplanet. “I think a big unknown is whether it has an atmosphere or not,” said Johanna Teske, a Carnegie Science researcher and study author. “If this planet had an atmosphere, maybe that could keep the surface temperature warmer,” Teske added.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

LISTEN: Scientists Have Turned A Martian Sunrise Into A Song

By Alison Klesman | November 14, 2018 10:31 am

What does a martian sunrise sound like? Now you can find out, as researchers have “sonified” (or turned into sound) an image of the Opportunity rover’s 5,000th sunrise on Mars. The data have been used to create a unique, two-minute piece of music, titled “Mars Soundscapes” — check it out below:

To turn the photo into sound, researchers scanned across the image from left to right. They combined brightness and color from each individual pixel with information about the terrain’s elevation, then assigned each value a pitch and melody. As the image grows from dark to light from the edge to the center, the pitch of the music rises to “show” the bright disk of the Sun rising in the sky.

“Image sonification is a really flexible technique to explore science and it can be used in several domains, from studying certain characteristics of planet surfaces and atmospheres, to analyzing weather changes or detecting volcanic eruptions,” said Domenico Vicinanza of Anglia Ruskin University, one of the scientists responsible for the track, in a press release.“In health science, it can provide scientists with new methods to analyse the occurrence of certain shapes and colors, which is particularly useful in image diagnostics.”

Sonification is also a great way to listen to gravitational waves, which rise in pitch from low to high and end in a sudden chirp! as two black holes or neutron stars collide. Additionally, sonification could allow those with visual difficulties to enjoy astronomical — and everyday — images in a way previously inaccessible to them.

Together with fellow researcher Genevieve Williams of the University of Exeter, Vicinanza will present the new track at this week’s Supercomputing SC18 Conference in Dallas, Texas. They will play it using both audio speakers and vibrational transducers, which will allow listeners to “feel” the sunrise as well.

In a way, the piece is bittersweet — the Opportunity rover, which took the image February 15, 2018, remains silent following this summer’s massive Mars-encircling dust storm. Engineers continue to prompt the rover via radio signal, now that the skies above it have cleared to their pre-storm conditions and its solar panels should once again be able to receive sunlight.


[This story originally appeared on]

MORE ABOUT: solar system

‘Ghost’ Dwarf Galaxy Found Hiding at the Edge of the Milky Way

By Chelsea Gohd | November 13, 2018 4:35 pm
The Ant 2 "ghost" galaxy is a massive, dim dwarf galaxy that scientists have discovered near the edge of the Milky Way. While low in mass, Ant 2 is about the same size as the Large Magellan Cloud (LMC). (Credit: V. Belokurov and A. Smith (Cambridge, UK and CCA, New York, US) based on the images by Marcus and Gail Davies and Robert Gendler)

The Ant 2 “ghost” galaxy is a large, dim dwarf galaxy that scientists have discovered near the edge of the Milky Way. While low in mass, Ant 2 is about the same size as the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). (Credit: V. Belokurov and A. Smith (Cambridge, UK and CCA, New York, US) based on the images by Marcus and Gail Davies and Robert Gendler)

An international team of astronomers can’t fully explain the “ghost” galaxy that they discovered about 130,000 light-years from the edge of the Milky Way.

Finding a Ghost

This galaxy, named Antlia 2 (or Ant 2), is described as a “ghost” because of how strangely dim it is. Ant 2 is rather large for a dwarf galaxy – it’s about the same size as the 7,000 light-year-wide Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), which is the Milky Way’s largest satellite galaxy. Yet it’s 10,000 times fainter than the LMC. So Ant 2 gives off very little light. The researchers also found that Ant 2 has an unexpectedly low mass for its large size, according to a statement.

The research team thinks that this low mass stems from Ant 2 being torn apart by the Milky Way’s gravitational field, co-author Sergey Koposov from Carnegie Mellon University said in the statement. “What remains unexplained, however, is the object’s giant size. Normally, as galaxies lose mass to the Milky Way’s tides, they shrink, not grow,” Koposov said.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Amazon Villagers Bring Giant Turtle Species Back From The Brink

By Roni Dengler | November 13, 2018 3:06 pm
giant south american river turtle

The giant South American river turtle stands on the banks of the Tabuleiro do Embaubal Wildlife Refuge in Brazil. (Credit: Tarcisio Schnaider/shutterstock)

A group of community members living in the Brazilian Amazon have created biodiversity hotspots by working to protect a single species, the giant South American river turtle. That’s according to a new study out Tuesday. The finding showcases the power of local conservation efforts, particularly in places that lack financial resources, the researchers say.

“Our research highlights the valuable conservation service currently provided by local communities, not just for turtles but for the wider ecosystem,” Joseph Hawes, an ecologist at Anglia Ruskin University in the United Kingdom and one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “Recognizing the importance of their work shows the potential for effective conservation action, even outside existing formally protected areas.”
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

How Ants and Plants Forged A Lasting Partnership

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 13, 2018 2:40 pm
ant plant

A plant that evolved hollow thorns for ants to shelter in. In exchange, the ants defend the plant from attacks from other insects and mammals. (Credit: Field Museum, Corrie Moreau)

As alliances go, the one that exists between ants and plants is impressively robust. Symbiotic relationships exist between many species of flora and Formicidae fauna, and it’s evolved past simple you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours deals. Some plants have been living and working with ants for so long, and the partnership has been so beneficial, that they’ve actually grown special structures to variously feed or house species of helpful ants.

As the saying goes: A good friend will help you move, but a true friend will help you move a body. But what do we say about a friend who literally changes their body for you? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

SNAPSHOT: Researchers Put a Bat in a Wind Tunnel to Study its Flight

By Alison Mackey | November 13, 2018 1:49 pm
bat in wind tunnel

(Credit: Anders Hedenström)

This little bat is chasing snacks for science. And in the process, he’s teaching us more about aerodynamics. This guy is one of two brown long-eared bats (P. auritus) trained to fly in a wind tunnel by scientists at Sweden’s Lund University.

It turns out there’s still a lot we don’t know about bat flight, particularly when it comes to turning in midair. To investigate this, the research team created a unique experimental setup combining a wind tunnel, high speed cameras, and a mealworm attached a sliding device.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals

The Small Magellanic Cloud Is Running Out of Gas — Fast

By Alison Klesman | November 13, 2018 1:25 pm
Small Magellanic Cloud Hydrogen Gas

About 200,000 light-years from Earth, the SMC is a dwarf galaxy only about 7,000 light-years in diameter. This radio image shows hydrogen gas in the SMC, which is losing such gas at a higher rate than it is currently forming stars. (Credit: Naomi McClure-Griffiths et al, CSIRO’s ASKAP telescope)

Just as each successive smartphone companies release includes a higher-resolution camera for sharper, more detailed photos, each new instrument astronomers build reveals the universe in ever-finer detail. In this case, that new instrument is the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO) Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) array, containing 36 radio antennas whose data is combined into a single wide-field image of the sky. Researchers have now used the ASKAP array to image the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), one of the Milky Way’s small satellite galaxies, in three times more detail than ever before. The new view has allowed them to see that the tiny galaxy is quickly losing hydrogen — and with it, its ability to form new stars.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: solar system

WHO Report Finds Large Gap In Global Antibiotic Use

By Roni Dengler | November 12, 2018 5:39 pm
antibiotic usage like Amoxicillin

The richest countries use as much as 16 times more antibiotics, like Amoxicillin, than poor countries. (Credit: PureRadiancePhoto)

The World Health Organization (WHO) released a new report Monday that finds large disparities in antibiotic consumption worldwide. Consumption rates documented in the report vary by as much as 16 times between countries. The discovery suggests some countries are likely overprescribing whereas others may not have appropriate access to the medicines.

“Overuse and misuse of antibiotics are the leading causes of antimicrobial resistance,” Suzanne Hill, Director of the Department of Essential Medicines and Health Products at WHO, said in a statement. “Without effective antibiotics and other antimicrobials, we will lose our ability to treat common infections like pneumonia.”

Stepping Up Surveillance

Since 2016, WHO has helped countries track their antibiotic consumption. Such surveillance can monitor how and why the medicines are being used, which can then facilitate campaigns to contain resistance to the drugs. But little is known about antibiotic use in low-income countries.

For the new report, countries submitted data from import and production records, insurance and reimbursement records, physician prescription records and dispensing data from pharmacies. WHO validated submissions and used estimates of the aggregated data as a proxy for antibiotic use.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: Vaccines & drugs

A ‘Dark Matter Hurricane’ is Storming Past Earth. It Could Help Scientists Detect the Strange Substance

By Chelsea Gohd | November 12, 2018 4:44 pm
Milky Way collides with another galaxy

The Milky Way is shown on a collision course with a smaller galaxy in this simulation. (Credit: Koppelman, Villalobos; Helmi, Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, University of Groningen, The Netherlands)

There’s a “dark matter hurricane” blowing through our corner of the Milky Way galaxy. Right this second, it’s passing over Earth. And this fast-moving stream could reveal major details about dark matter, a new study finds.

The dark matter is traveling in what is known as the S1 stream. Scientists think that streams like this one are the cosmic debris leftover when small galaxies stray too close to the Milky Way. Our gravitational forces tear the smaller galaxy apart, leaving behind a traveling, elliptical stream of stars, dark matter and other debris.

Dark Matter Hurricane

Dark matter is an elusive material that scientists think, if the Standard Model is correct, exists in large quantities throughout space. Scientists still don’t know what dark matter actually is — there are a number of leading theories, but no one knows for sure. But the S1 stream is predicted to be blowing dark matter past us at about 310 miles per second (500 km/s) right this moment, and that could provide an opportunity for detection.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

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