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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Earth’s Population Will Reach 11 Billion by 2100, United Nations Experts Say

Earth’s Population Will Reach 11 Billion by 2100, United Nations Experts Say | Amazing Science |
The world’s population, now 7.3 billion, is expected to reach the 11 billion mark by 2100, according to the United Nations (UN) Population Division.

“According to models of demographic change derived from historical experience, it is estimated the global population will be between 9.5 and 13.3 billion people in 2100,” UN Population Division Director John Wilmoth said August 10 at the 2015 Joint Statistical Meetings.

“In the United States, the population is projected to add 1.5 million people per year on average until the end of the century, pushing the current count of 322 million people to 450 million.”

The primary driver of global population growth is a projected increase in the population of Africa. The continent’s current population of 1.2 billion people is expected to rise to between 3.4 billion and 5.6 billion people by the end of this century. The growth is due to persistent high levels of fertility and the recent slowdown in the rate of fertility decline.

The total fertility rate (TFR) has been declining on the continent over the past ten years, but has been doing so at one-quarter of the rate at which it declined in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean in the 1970s.

In some African countries, the TFR decline appears to have stalled. For instance, in Nigeria – the continent’s most-populous country – the high fertility rate would result in a more than fourfold projected increase in total population by 2100, from 182 million to 752 million people.

“Although there is considerable uncertainty about these future trends, there is a 90 percent chance Nigeria’s population will exceed 439 million people in 2100, which is nearly 2.5 times its current size,” Wilmoth said.

Asia, with a current population of 4.4 billion, is likely to remain the most populous continent, with its population expected to peak around the middle of the century at 5.3 billion, and then to decline to around 4.9 billion people by 2100.

The report also examines the level of population aging in different countries. One such measure is the potential support ratio (PSR), which is equal to the number of people aged 20 to 64 divided by the number of people aged 65 or over and is frequently considered the number of workers per retiree. Japan currently has the lowest PSR at 2.1, followed by Italy at 2.6.

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Speed of glacier retreat worldwide 'historically unprecedented', says report

Speed of glacier retreat worldwide 'historically unprecedented', says report | Amazing Science |

Researchers have recorded rapid rises in meltwater and alarming rates of glacial retreat, which are accelerating at a pace double that of a decade ago.

The world’s glaciers are in retreat. The great tongues of ice high in the Himalayas, the Andes, the Alps and the Rockies are going back uphill at ever greater speeds, according to new research. And this loss of ice is both accelerating and “historically unprecedented”, say scientists who report in the Journal of Glaciology.

In the past year or so, researchers have identified rapid rises in meltwater and alarming cases of glacial retreat in Greenland, West Antarctica, the Canadian and Alaskan coastal mountains, in Europe and in the Himalayan massif. They have also watched glaciers pick up speed downhill. One satellite-based study, confirmed by on-the-ground measurements, of the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland, confirms that the river of ice is now moving at the rate of 46 metres a day, 17 kilometres a year, which is twice the speed recorded in 2003, which in turn was twice as fast as measured in 1997.

The World Glacier Monitoring Service, based at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and with partners in 30 countries, has been compiling data on changes in glaciers over the last 120 years. And it has just compared all known 21st century observations with data from site measurements, aerial photography and satellite observations and evidence from pictorial and written sources. Altogether, the service has collected 5,000 measurements of glacier volume and changes in mass since 1850, and 42,000 records of variations in glacier fronts from records dating back to the 16th century.

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Fossil Fuel Burning Obscures Radiocarbon Dates

Fossil Fuel Burning Obscures Radiocarbon Dates | Amazing Science |
A T-shirt made in 2050 could look exactly like one worn by William the Conqueror a thousand years earlier to someone using radiocarbon dating if emissions continue under a business-as-usual scenario. By 2100, a dead plant could be almost identical to the Dead Sea scrolls, which are more than 2,000 years old.

These well-known “aging” properties of atmospheric carbon were pinpointed for different emissions scenarios in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences yesterday. It describes how fossil fuel emissions will make radiocarbon dating, used to identify archaeological finds, poached ivory or even human corpses, less reliable.

As scrolls, plant-based paints or cotton shirts age over thousands of years, the radioactive carbon-14 that naturally appears in organic objects gradually decays. The amount of carbon-14 decreases relative to the amount of normal carbon. Radiocarbon dating seizes on that fraction, which decreases over time, to estimate age. A lower fraction indicates an older object.

The problem is that the fraction can decrease not only as carbon-14 decays but also as normal carbon increases. That is what is happening with the burning of fossil fuels, which are so old they do not contain any carbon-14. Nonradioactive carbon is now flooding the atmosphere, which creates a dilution effect.

Though this dilution effect is well-known, its precise scale under different emissions scenarios was not, until now. Heather Graven, the atmospheric scientist at the Imperial College London who wrote the paper, was surprised at how much emissions could “age” the atmosphere if pollution continues at its current rate.

“If you think of parts of the deep ocean that are quite old, that have been sequestered for thousands of years, in the business-as-usual scenario, then the atmosphere would have the same radiocarbon fraction as the oldest part of the ocean,” she said. “It really is kind of backward. It’s very, very low.”

The risk to researchers is that the old could become indistinguishable from the new if it is artificially aged by extra atmospheric carbon. The periods of history that archaeologists might confuse with the present-day change based on the different scenarios. In the best-case scenario, which would keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius by the turn of the century, the extra aging effect would be null.
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Continued destruction of Earth's plant life places humans in jeopardy

Continued destruction of Earth's plant life places humans in jeopardy | Amazing Science |
Unless humans slow the destruction of Earth's declining supply of plant life, civilization like it is now may become completely unsustainable, according to a paper published recently by University of Georgia researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"You can think of the Earth like a battery that has been charged very slowly over billions of years," said the study's lead author, John Schramski, an associate professor in UGA's College of Engineering. "The sun's energy is stored in plants and fossil fuels, but humans are draining energy much faster than it can be replenished."

Earth was once a barren landscape devoid of life, he explained, and it was only after billions of years that simple organisms evolved the ability to transform the sun's light into energy. This eventually led to an explosion of plant and animal life that bathed the planet with lush forests and extraordinarily diverse ecosystems.

The study's calculations are grounded in the fundamental principles of thermodynamics, a branch of physics concerned with the relationship between heat and mechanical energy. Chemical energy is stored in plants, or biomass, which is used for food and fuel, but which is also destroyed to make room for agriculture and expanding cities.

Scientists estimate that the Earth contained approximately 1,000 billion tons of carbon in living biomass 2,000 years ago. Since that time, humans have reduced that amount by almost half. It is estimated that just over 10 percent of that biomass was destroyed in just the last century.

"If we don't reverse this trend, we'll eventually reach a point where the biomass battery discharges to a level at which Earth can no longer sustain us," Schramski said.

If human beings do not go extinct, and biomass drops below sustainable thresholds, the population will decline drastically, and people will be forced to return to life as hunter-gatherers or simple horticulturalists, according to the paper.

"I'm not an ardent environmentalist; my training and my scientific work are rooted in thermodynamics," Schramski said. "These laws are absolute and incontrovertible; we have a limited amount of biomass energy available on the planet, and once it's exhausted, there is absolutely nothing to replace it."

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NASA: The Global Warming "Pause" Never Actually Happened

NASA: The Global Warming "Pause" Never Actually Happened | Amazing Science |

There’s been much debate these past few years over the cause of the so-called global warming “hiatus”—a pause in the overall uptick up of Earth’s temperature due to cooling at the surface of the Pacific Ocean since the early 2000s. Did climate warming stop? Nope, we just weren’t looking deep enough.

Earth’s extra heat, you see, has spent the last 10 years sinking into the vast depths of the equatorial Pacific and Indian Oceans. That’s the conclusion of a new study, conducted by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and published today in the journal Science. The study, which examines two decades of observational data, offers the most definitive evidence to date that Earth’s largest ocean has been massively redistributing heat since 2003. Specifically, cooling in the top 100 meter layer of the Pacific Ocean has been compensated by warming in the 100 to 300 meter layer of both the Pacific and Indian Oceans, which together cover over 40% of our planet’s surface.

The global average ocean surface temperature has been rising since 2003 by +0.001ºC per year,according to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That temperature rise is notably slower than century-timescale warming of +0.006ºC per year since 1880. For the last few years, climate scientists have been trying to understand whether the hiatus was the result of a redistribution of heat within the ocean, or less overall heat uptake at the ocean’s surface.

Over the last few years, a likely scenario has begun to emerge. Modeling studies show that the cooling of the surface of the Pacific is probably being balanced by more rapid warming in deeper parts of the Atlantic or the Pacific. What’s more, a recent paper in Nature Climate Change used observational data and models to demonstrate increased heat transport from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean over the last decade. Clearly, the pathways by which Earth’s oceans process heat seem to be changing.

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The U.S. just recorded its first confirmed measles death in 12 years

The U.S. just recorded its first confirmed measles death in 12 years | Amazing Science |

[Everything you need to know about measles]

Health officials on Thursday confirmed the country's first measles death since 2003, and they believe the victim was most likely exposed to the virus in a health facility in Washington state during an outbreak there.

The woman died in the spring; a later autopsy confirmed that she had an undetected measles infection, the Washington State Department of Health said in a statement. The official cause of death was announced as "pneumonia due to measles."

The woman was at a Clallam County health facility "at the same time as a person who later developed a rash and was contagious for measles," the health department statement read. "The woman had several other health conditions and was on medications that contributed to a suppressed immune system. She didn’t have some of the common symptoms of measles such as a rash, so the infection wasn’t discovered until after her death."

The release did not provide any other identifying details, including the woman’s age. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 178 people from 24 states and the District were reported to have measles from Jan. 1 through June 26 of this year. Two-thirds of the cases, the CDC noted, were "part of a large multi-state outbreak linked to an amusement park in California."

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Underwater farmers grow strawberries in balloon gardens

Underwater farmers grow strawberries in balloon gardens | Amazing Science |

This is a snapshot of life at one of the world's strangest farms. In the eerie blue light, a diver drifts between underwater greenhouses, where the first seeds of the year – basil, strawberry, lettuce and beans – were planted last week. The transparent "biospheres" beneath the Bay of Noli, in Savona, Italy, are part of the three-year-old Nemo's Garden project, which aims to find innovative ways of growing crops in places that lack freshwater or fertile soil.

Resembling large balloons, the air-filled structures are anchored to the sea floor and float between 5 and 10 meters below the surface. Inside, water condenses on the roof of the spheres, dripping back down to keep the plants watered, while the warm, near-constant sea temperature nurtures the plants.

The site is equipped with four cameras that stream back live video, allowing the unusual farmers to be watched in action online. Sensors collecting live data can also be monitored from a website, revealing for example the humidity and air temperature in the greenhouses. It's not the only unlikely garden around. An island of green was built in the middle of a sea of garbage in Djenné, Mali.

Lorraine Chaffer's curator insight, July 4, 2015 9:03 PM
Innovative ideas for future food production?
Eric Larson's curator insight, July 7, 2015 12:58 PM

One way to grow strawberries.

Anaëlle Tanquerey-Cado's curator insight, July 9, 2015 7:08 AM

Des fraises cultivées dans des ballons d'air, sous la mer... Un moyen de valoriser les surfaces sans eau potable ni sol fertile.

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Study shows how Ebola evolved during the outbreak in West Africa

Study shows how Ebola evolved during the outbreak in West Africa | Amazing Science |

The 2013–2015 Western African Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemic, caused by the Ebola virus (EBOV) Makona variant (Kuhn et al., 2014), is the largest EVD outbreak to date, with 26,648 cases and 11,017 deaths documented as of May 8, 2015 (WHO, 2015). The outbreak, first declared in March 2014 in Guinea and traced back to the end of 2013 (Baize et al., 2014), has also devastated the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia, with additional cases scattered across the globe. Never before has an EBOV variant been transmitted among humans for such a sustained period of time.

Published EBOV Makona genomes from clinical samples obtained early in the outbreak in Guinea (three patients) and Sierra Leone (78 patients) (Baize et al., 2014Gire et al., 2014) demonstrated that near-real-time sequencing could provide valuable information to researchers involved in the global outbreak response. Analysis of these genomes revealed that the outbreak likely originated from a single introduction into the human population in Guinea at the end of 2013 and was then sustained exclusively by human-to-human transmissions.

Genomic sequencing further allowed the identification of numerous mutations emerging in the EBOV Makona genome over time. As a consequence, the evolutionary rate of the Makona variant over the time span of the early phase of the outbreak could be estimated and predictions made about the potential of this new EBOV variant to escape current candidate vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics (Kugelman et al., 2015a).

While the insights gleaned from sequencing early in the outbreak informed public health efforts (Alizon et al., 2014Stadler et al., 2014Volz and Pond, 2014), the continued human-to-human spread of the virus raises questions about ongoing evolution and transmission of EBOV. Scientific teams in Sierra Leone, at Kenema (Kenema Government Hospital [KGH]) and at Bo (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]), continued to perform active diagnosis and surveillance in Sierra Leone following our initial study (Gire et al., 2014). After a 6-month delay of sample shipment due to regulatory uncertainty about inactivation protocols, they again began to determine EBOV genome sequences. They have sequenced samples at high depth and with technical replicates to characterize genetic diversity of EBOV both within (intrahost) and between (interhost) individuals. To support global outbreak termination efforts, the scientists publicly released these genomes prior to publication as they were generated, starting with a first set of 45 sequences in December 2014 and continuing with regular releases of hundreds of sequences through May 2015.

Now, they provide an analysis of 232 new, coding-complete EBOV Makona genomes from Sierra Leone. They  compared these genomes to 86 previously available genomes: 78 unique genomes from Sierra Leone (Gire et al., 2014), 3 genomes from Guinea (Baize et al., 2014), and 5 from healthcare workers infected in Sierra Leone and treated in Europe. They use this combined data set obtained from 318 EVD patients during the height of the epidemic in Sierra Leone and Guinea to better understand EBOV transmission within Sierra Leone and between countries. In addition, they use it to understand viral population dynamics within individual hosts, the impact of natural selection, and the characteristics of the now hundreds of new mutations that have emerged over the longer course of the epidemic.

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MRSA contamination found in supermarket sausages and minced pork

MRSA contamination found in supermarket sausages and minced pork | Amazing Science |

A survey carried out earlier this year has found the first evidence of the 'superbug' bacteria Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in sausages and minced pork obtained from supermarkets in the UK. However, researchers stress that this does not pose a significant immediate risk to the public.

In February, a team of researchers funded primarily by the Medical Research Council (MRC) bought and analyzed a total of 103 (52 pork and 51 chicken) pre-packaged fresh meat products, labelled as being of UK farm origin, from supermarkets in five different locations across in England.

All of the meat products were frozen at -20?°C and sent to the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge for testing. After thawing, researchers disinfected the exterior packaging before removing the meat. They then tested a 10g sample of meat from each packet and screened for MRSA. Two of the pork samples -- one from sausages, one from minced pork -- tested positive for MRSA; the sausage sample contained two strains of the bacteria.

In collaboration with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute an analysis of the genetic make-up of the bacteria and confirmed the presence of antibiotic resistant genes. The analysis showed that the bacteria belonged to a type of MRSA known as LA-MRSA CC398, which has emerged over the last few years in continental Europe, particularly in pigs and poultry, but was not previously believed to be widely distributed in the UK.

In many countries, LA-MRSA CC398 represents an occupational risk for those in close contact with livestock, particularly pigs and veal calves. Humans in contact with pigs (farm workers, abattoir workers and veterinarians, etc.) have significantly higher rates of the bacteria in their nasal carriage, according to epidemiological studies, for example. Other studies have revealed an association between clinical disease resulting from LA-MRSA CC398 infection and recent contact with pigs or pig farms. As with other MRSA, this type may be responsible for serious illness following wound or surgery site infections, although many people will carry MRSA on their skin or in their noses without showing signs of disease.

The researchers stress that adequate cooking (heating above 71°C) and hygienic precautions during food preparation should minimize the likelihood of transmission to humans via contaminated pork. However, they argue that the discovery of MRSA in pork identifies a potential way that the bacteria can spread from farms to the wider population.

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When a forest is burned, what comes back may not resemble what was lost

When a forest is burned, what comes back may not resemble what was lost | Amazing Science |
Chance plays a big role in forest regrowth

When a forest is burned or cut down and farmed temporarily, that land tends to undergo a series of changes. Some pioneer plants will quickly take hold, gradually changing the landscape—how much the ground is shaded and the soil composition—such that a new set of plants will thrive there. This in turn creates yet another set of conditions that eventually allows for the return of the forest.

For a long time, ecologists have thought this process, called succession, followed a fairly preordained course such that the same trees ultimately dominated the landscape once again. But they have been limited by imperfect evidence. Not likely to get funding for a 200-year-long study, plant ecologists have examined succession by studying regrowth in plots where original forests that had been cut down at different times, an approach called chronosequencing.

Robin Chazdon, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, wasn’t sure such work captures a true picture, however. So with her postdoc Natalia Norden and colleagues, she amassed data from several long-term studies of regrowing forests in Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, and Nicaragua. These studies had actually tracked in real time the changes in the kinds of trees present (species diversity), the density of trees, and how well the trees were growing (by measuring each tree’s diameter and from that forest’s growth over time). Norden then teamed up with a hydrologist to build a mathematical model that explored how these characteristics affected each other to set the trajectory of regrowth.

The model revealed that chance plays a big role in determining that trajectory, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In Brazil, for example, among several plots studied as the land recovered from pasture, there was a great deal of variation in the density of trees and number of species present even at just 10 years of regrowth. The size of the cleared land, the plants that were present before farming or grazing began, the amount of time before the land was abandoned, and, perhaps more importantly, what seeds happen to sprout first all shape what happens next in the early stages of secondary forest growth, Norden suggests.

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Sorry, “skeptics”: Global warming may not be so great for plant life after all

Sorry, “skeptics”: Global warming may not be so great for plant life after all | Amazing Science |

Climate change is already a heavily charged issue, fraught with political tension. But complicating the mix are a slew of misconceptions about exactly how it will affect the planet and its inhabitants.

One confusion involves plant growth. Some skeptics have argued that rising carbon dioxide levels could actually benefit agriculture, and in fact, research shows that rising temperatures and more carbon dioxide can be a boon to plants — up to a point. But that’s not the whole story, according to researcherCamilo Mora, a professor of geography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. And in a new paper, published today in the journal PLOS Biology, he and his colleagues attempt to set the record straight.

The study examines not only the effects of rising temperatures, but also how solar radiation and water availability impact plant productivity — specifically, their effects on the number of “suitable growing days” for plants worldwide. The researchers looked at these variables under several different climate change scenarios: The worst of these is the “business-as-usual” trajectory, which is the amount of warming the planet will experience if humans do nothing to cut down on carbon emissions. The scientists also evaluated scenarios where there was a strong or moderate reduction in emissions.

The results indicate that climate change may not be the net positive to plants that some prior research has suggested. If humans allow global warming to go on unmitigated under a business-as-usual scenario, the Earth could lose a significant number of suitable growing days per year by the end of the century. And that’s bad news for people as well as plants, with the potential for widespread food shortages and economic downturns.

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Deepest known hydrothermal vents discovered in the Pacific Ocean

Deepest known hydrothermal vents discovered in the Pacific Ocean | Amazing Science |

In spring 2015, MBARI researchers discovered a large, previously unknown field of hydrothermal vents in the Gulf of California, about 150 kilometers (100 miles) east of La Paz, Mexico. Lying more than 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) below the surface, the Pescadero Basin vents are the deepest high-temperature hydrothermal vents ever observed in or around the Pacific Ocean. They are also the only vents in the Pacific known to emit superheated fluids rich in both carbonate minerals and hydrocarbons. The vents have been colonized by dense communities of tubeworms and other animals unlike any other known vent communities in the in the eastern Pacific.

Like another vent field in the Gulf that MBARI discovered in 2012, the Pescadero Basin vents were initially identified in high-resolution sonar data collected by an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). MBARI’s yellow, torpedo-shaped seafloor-mapping AUV spent two days flying about 50 meters above the bottom of the Basin, using sound beams to map the depth and shape of the seafloor.

The AUV team, led by MBARI engineer David Caress, pored over the detailed bathymetric map they created from the AUV data and saw a number of mounds and spires rising up from the seafloor. Data from the AUV also showed slightly warmer water over some of the spires, which implied that they might be active hydrothermal-vent chimneys. A team of geologists led by David Clague then used a tethered underwater robot, the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts, to dive down to the seafloor, fly around the vents, and collect video and samples of rocks and hot water spewing from the chimneys.

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World's first ocean cleaning system will be deployed by 2016

World's first ocean cleaning system will be deployed by 2016 | Amazing Science |

Deployment will become longest floating structure in world history.

Boyan Slat, 20-year old founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup, today announced that the world’s first system to passively clean up plastic pollution from the world’s oceans is to be deployed in 2016. He made the announcement at Asia’s largest technology conference, Seoul Digital Forum, in South-Korea.

The array is projected to be deployed in Q2 2016. The feasibility of deployment, off the coast of Tsushima, an island located in the waters between Japan and South-Korea is currently being researched.

The system will span 2000 meters, thereby becoming the longest floating structure ever deployed in the ocean (beating the current record of 1000 m held by the Tokyo Mega-Float). It will be operational for at least two years, catching plastic pollution before it reaches the shores of the proposed deployment location of Tsushima island. Tsushima island is evaluating whether the plastic can be used as an alternative energy source.

The scale of the plastic pollution problem, whereby in the case of Tsushima island, approximately one cubic meter of pollution per person is washed up each year, has led the Japanese the local government to seek innovative solutions to the problem.

The deployment will represents an important milestone in The Ocean Cleanup’s mission to remove plastic pollution from the world’s oceans. Within five years, after a series of deployments of increasing scale, The Ocean Cleanup plans to deploy a 100km-long system to clean up about half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, between Hawaii and California.

Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup: “Taking care of the world’s ocean garbage problem is one of the largest environmental challenges mankind faces today. Not only will this first cleanup array contribute to cleaner waters and coasts but it simultaneously is an essential step towards our goal of cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This deployment will enable us to study the system’s efficiency and durability over time."

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Scientists hope computer modelling can help predict flu outbreaks

Scientists hope computer modelling can help predict flu outbreaks | Amazing Science |

There’s no shortage of experts monitoring influenza outbreaks around the globe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks flu activity in the United States year-round and produces weekly flu activity reports between the peak months of October to May. Likewise, the World Health Organisation constantly gathers epidemiological surveillance data, and releases updates on outbreaks taking place anywhere, anytime.

Still, despite the monitoring and the annual push to administer flu vaccines, influenza sickens millions of people around the world each year, leading to as many as 500,000 deaths annually. Young children and the elderly in particular are at risk. But what if we were better at predicting – and preparing for – seasonal outbreaks.That’s the impetus driving a team of researchers trying to show that it is possible to predict the timing and intensity of flu outbreaks in subtropical climates, such as Hong Kong, where flu seasons occur at irregular intervals throughout the year. The group, which includes scientists from Columbia University and the University of Hong Kong, has created a computer model to run various simulations of an outbreak and predict its magnitude and peak, according to a study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology.

As a test case, the researchers gathering flu data from dozens of outpatient clinics and lab reports in Hong Kong between 1998 and 2013, then explored whether their system could accurately predict how outbreaks played out during those years. They said the program did remarkably well at predicting the peak of an outbreak several weeks in advance.

That’s not to say it was perfect. Researchers said the accuracy of the predictions varied, depending on the strength of an outbreak and how far in advance they tried to make a prediction. In addition, forecasts for specific strains of influenza proved more reliable than those for overall epidemics, and it was easier to predict the peak and magnitude of an outbreak than exactly when it would begin or how long it might last.

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Beautiful Maps Show the World's Oceans in Motion

Beautiful Maps Show the World's Oceans in Motion | Amazing Science |
These maps from NASA show ocean currents around the world.

The world's oceans are in constant motion, and this series of maps published by the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio helps provide us with a nice illustration of this movement. The maps, which were created at various times in past years, show the many warm and cold ocean currents responsible for transporting water across long distances throughout the world's oceans.

In addition to the ocean currents, you can also see swirly features, known as ocean eddies, on the maps. An ocean eddy is formed when currents sometimes pinch off into sections, creating the circular current. Sometimes significant eddies are given names, according to NOAA.

Below we have selected a few of the maps from NASA's collection, accompanied by a brief explanation of what you are seeing.

In addition to a large-scale view of ocean circulations and eddies across the world, you can also see water temperatures in this image. The orange and red shadings in the middle of the map correspond to the warmer waters in tropics. Cooler waters depicted in green and blue are located north and south of this as you head towards the poles.

Via Bonnie Bracey Sutton, Suvi Salo, Mark E. Deschaine, PhD, Jocelyn Stoller
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New Study Suggests that Plankton Keeps Our Planet Cool

New Study Suggests that Plankton Keeps Our Planet Cool | Amazing Science |

Those microscopic organisms that float in the oceans and are known as plankton may be helping our planet against the damaging effects of climate change by keeping it cool, a new study suggests. According to the researchers who conducted the study, plankton can help with cloud formation and helps sunlight reach space, thus cooling Earth.

The new research was conducted by a team of scientists from the University of Washington in collaboration with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The researchers believe that the microscopic organisms that drift in the oceans can produce organic matter and airborne gases that can trigger cloud droplets. This leads to brighter clouds and more sunlight gets reflected.

The scientists wrote a paper in which they wrote about their findings and published it last week in the journal Science Advances.

According to the paper, the scientists studied the Southern Ocean region which covers latitudes between 35 degrees and 55 degrees south. By analyzing this area, the researchers said they found some pretty interesting information about the current climate conditions of our planet.

Their findings revealed that the increased brightness reflects approximately 4W of solar energy per square meter on a yearly average. Daniel McCoy, expert in atmospheric sciences, and one of the lead authors of the study, explained that the plankton blooms help the clouds which form over the Southern Ocean reflect more sunlight during the summer season. McCoy added that the plankton helps the clouds create twice as many droplets than they would normally produce if the oceans didn’t have any microscopic organisms living in them.

According to the researchers, they decided to analyze the Southern Ocean mainly because ocean live in other parts of the planet are obstructed by aerosols created by forests or heavy pollution. That’s why it would have been far more difficult for them to study and measure things in the Northern Hemisphere.

The scientists analyzed data collected by NASA’s satellites to measure the cloud droplets that form in the sky. They explained that the dimethyl sulfide created by the phytoplankton gets carried into the atmosphere at high altitudes, and then it transforms and helps produce the aerosols that move downwind. The study suggests that this happens more often in the northern part of the region they studied.

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Global trends show that seabird populations dropped 70 percent since 1950s

Global trends show that seabird populations dropped 70 percent since 1950s | Amazing Science |
UBC research shows world's monitored seabird populations have dropped 70 per cent since the 1950s, a stark indication that marine ecosystems are not doing well.

Michelle Paleczny, a UBC master's student and researcher with the Sea Around Us project, and co-authors compiled information on more than 500 seabird populations from around the world, representing 19 per cent of the global seabird population. They found overall populations had declined by 69.6 per cent, equivalent to a loss of about 230 million birds in 60 years.

"Seabirds are particularly good indicators of the health of marine ecosystems," said Paleczny. "When we see this magnitude of seabird decline, we can see there is something wrong with marine ecosystems. It gives us an idea of the overall impact we're having."

The dramatic decline is caused by a variety of factors including overfishing of the fish seabirds rely on for food, birds getting tangled in fishing gear, plastic and oil pollution, introduction of non-native predators to seabird colonies, destruction and changes to seabird habitat, and environmental and ecological changes caused by climate change.

Seabirds tend to travel the world's oceans foraging for food over their long lifetimes, and return to the same colonies to breed. Colony population numbers provide information to scientists about the health of the oceans the birds call home.

Albatross, an iconic marine bird that lives for several decades, were part of the study and showed substantial declines. Paleczny says these birds live so long and range so far that they encounter many dangers in their travels. A major threat to albatross is getting caught on longline fishing hooks and drowning, a problem that kills hundreds of thousands of seabirds every year.

"Our work demonstrates the strong need for increased seabird conservation effort internationally," said Paleczny. "Loss of seabirds causes a variety of impacts in coastal and marine ecosystems"
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Ocean acidification study calls for 'immediate and substantial' reduction of CO2 emissions

Ocean acidification study calls for 'immediate and substantial' reduction of CO2 emissions | Amazing Science |

The oceans play a key role in absorbing carbon dioxide, but international climate talks have only "minimally considered" the impact the gas is having as it turns these bodies of water acidic, scientists say in a new study.

More than 20 marine scientists worked to analyze two potential futures.

One involves meeting the target set out by the UN-established Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of limiting the rise in global warming to 2 C through CO2 cuts (the RCP2.6 scenario). The other (RCP8.5) reflects the current trajectory of business-as-usual CO2 emissions.

The study, published last week in the journal Science, calls for negotiators at climate talks to stress the impact CO2 is having on ocean acidification.

They say their goal is to speak directly to policymakers, adding the study has the backing of the Oceans 2015 Initiative.

That group of experts says that each day, more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activity is absorbed by the oceans. Without this dynamic, the effects of climate change would be far greater.

By 2100, scientists predict that the oceans' pH level will have fallen by 0.4 units — or an increase of 150 per cent in ocean acidity — compared to its mid-19th-century level. That corresponds to a three-fold increase in the water's acidity.

Acidification makes it more difficult for marine animals to produce skeletons and shells, and puts the essential ocean habitat, coral reefs, at risk of eroding faster than they can be rebuilt.

pdeppisch's comment, July 7, 2015 1:23 PM
I don't think meaningful CO2 reduction will happen any time soon! We are headed for "big time" trouble! Humanity usually only acts after catastrophe! It will be the same here. The planet will survive! Humanity will survive! And humanity will be back in the stone age!
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Nationwide study measures short-term spike in July 4 particulate matter due to fireworks

Nationwide study measures short-term spike in July 4 particulate matter due to fireworks | Amazing Science |

From our nation's founding, the Fourth of July has been synonymous with fireworks. While many grew up learning that fireworks can be dangerous to the eyes and hands if not handled properly, fireworks also produce air pollutants, including particulate matter, that are linked to short-term or long-term health effects.

NOAA scientist Dian Seidel and Abigail Birnbaum, a student intern at NOAA, have authored a new study appearing in the journal Atmospheric Environment that quantifies the surge in fine particulate matter -particles that are two and one half microns in diameter (PM2.5) -on July 4, using observations from the 315 U.S. air quality monitoring sites that operated from 1999 to 2013. While scientists have known that fireworks displays produce a surge in fine particulates, the new study is the first nationwide quantitative analysis of the effects.

"We chose the holiday, not to put a damper on celebrations of America's independence, but because it is the best way to do a nationwide study of the effects of fireworks on air quality," said Seidel, a senior scientist at NOAA's Air Resources Laboratory in College Park, Maryland. "These results will help improve air quality predictions, which currently don't account for fireworks as a source of air pollution. The study is also another wake up call for those who may be particularly sensitive to the effects of fine particulate matter."

PM2.5 are microscopic particles that can affect health because they travel deep into a person's respiratory tract, entering the lungs. Both long- and short-term exposures to fine particles are linked to a range of health effects - from coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, to asthma attacks, heart attack and stroke, and premature death in people with heart or lung disease. People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children are among those most at risk from particle pollution exposure. For more information on risks, go online to the Environmental Protection Agency at:

The new research shows that hourly concentrations of fine particulate matter typically reach their highest levels, when compared to the days before and after July 4, on the evening of July 4. Levels drop back down by noon on July 5, according to the research. On average, the increases are largest from 9-10 p.m. on the holiday. Average concentrations over the 24-hour period starting at 8 p.m. on July 4 are 42 percent greater than on the days preceding and following the holiday.

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Rapidly Acidifying Arctic Ocean Threatens Many Species

Rapidly Acidifying Arctic Ocean Threatens Many Species | Amazing Science |

Parts of the Arctic Ocean within the next 10 years could reach levels of ocean acidification that would threaten the ability of marine animals to form shells, new research suggests.

Die-offs in such creatures could have ramifications up the food chain in some of the most productive fisheries in the world and provide a preview of what is in store for the rest of the world’s oceans down the road.

“The Arctic can be a great indicator” of future issues, oceanographer Jeremy Mathis, of the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, said.

Ocean acidification is a process happening in tandem with the warming of the planet and is driven by the same human-caused increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is trapping excess heat. The oceans absorb much of that excess CO2, where it dissolves and reacts with water to form carbonic acid.

As CO2 emissions have continued to grow, so has the amount of carbonic acid in the oceans, decreasing their pH. The ocean generally has a pH of 8.2, making it slightly basic (a neutral pH is 7, while anything above is basic and anything below is acidic). An ocean that is becoming less basic is a problem for the creatures like shellfish and coral that depend on specific ocean chemistry to have enough of the mineral calcium carbonate to make their hard shells and skeletons.

Small snails the size of a human fingernail in polar coastal waters can react very quickly to increased acidity, with their shells dissolving. Such tiny creatures are often the linchpins of marine ecosystems, causing a domino effect up the food chain when they collapse. That’s a major concern in an area that has some of the globe’s most productive fisheries, especially the Bering Sea.

The polar oceans are particularly threatened by ocean acidification, as cold water is better at absorbing CO2 than warm water is. And in regions near the coast, this process is helped along by glacier melt and river runoff that also shift the water’s chemistry toward increased CO2 absorption.

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DNA from elephant tusks reveals poaching routes

DNA from elephant tusks reveals poaching routes | Amazing Science |

A key to saving elephants may be their own dung. Researchers have demonstrated a new way of identifying where the pachyderms are being slaughtered by analyzing DNA from confiscated ivory and matching it to excrement sampled from nature reserves. The technique could provide clues to the mysterious smuggling routes used by international criminal networks.

Tracing the origin of seized ivory is “a really critical piece of the puzzle,” says conservation biologist George Wittemyer of Colorado State University, Fort Collins, who was not involved in the study.

African elephants are in crisis, facing an onslaught of poaching for the valuable ivory in their tusks. More than 50,000 were likely killed in 2013, according to conservation biologist Samuel Wasser of the University of Washington, Seattle. This number is a significant toll on the continent-wide population of about 434,000 elephants. Last year, a study suggested that 75% of elephant populations in Africa are shrinking due to poaching.

DNA is a useful tool in fighting the trade in illegal wildlife. It has been used to confirm the identity of many kinds of contraband from rare and endangered species, such as fins harvested from protected great white sharks.

In 2003, Wasser figured out how to extract DNA from ivory. The hope was to help identify where elephants were being killed. Working with Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, Wasser and colleagues have now sampled DNA from 28 large seizures of African ivory—each more than a half-ton—that police and custom officers had confiscated in Africa and Asia between 1996 and 2014. Large shipments like these make up 70% of ivory that is seized. “We are talking about the majority of ivory being moved around the world,” Wasser said at a press teleconference. “It is really staggering, the extent.”

To figure out where the ivory came from, the team matched its DNA to a database of DNA samples from African elephants, which took about 15 years to create. Wasser and his colleagues had gathered samples from the field, in some cases relying on trained dogs to locate dung. Other researchers contributed samples, too. All told, they had DNA from 1001 savanna elephants and 349 forest elephants from 29 countries. “It’s really a herculean effort,” Wittemyer says. By analyzing small stretches of DNA, called microsatellites, Wasser’s team found representative patterns for individual nature reserves on the scale of a few hundred kilometers, they report in Science.

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Here's where the world is running out of groundwater

Here's where the world is running out of groundwater | Amazing Science |

Some of the world's most important farming regions rely on freshwater from large underground aquifers that have filled up slowly over thousands of years. Think of the Central Valley aquifer system in California. Or the Indus basin in Pakistan and India. This groundwater is particularly valuable when rain is scarce or during droughts.

But that groundwater won't necessarily last forever. New data from NASA's Grace satellites suggests that 13 of the world's 37 biggest aquifers are being seriously depleted by irrigation and other uses much faster than they can be recharged by rain or runoff. And, disturbingly, we don't even know how much water is left in these basins. That's according to a new paper in Water Resources Research.

The map below gives an overview. In all, there were 21 major groundwater basins — in red, orange, and yellow — that lost water faster than they could be recharged between 2003 and 2013. The 16 major aquifers in blue, by contrast, gained water during that period.

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Fluid Injection's Role in Man-Made Earthquakes Revealed | Caltech

Fluid Injection's Role in Man-Made Earthquakes Revealed | Caltech | Amazing Science |

Usually small though occasionally damaging earthquakes are a side-effect of industrial processes such as geothermal energy and oil-gas production that involve injecting water underground. But scientists have been unclear about the exact role of fluid injection in triggering these man-made earthquakes.

Now, for the first time, researchers at Caltech and other institutions in the United States and France have observed how fluid injection sets off microearthquakes on a sizable, subterranean fault. The findings could lead to better seismic risk management through improved understanding of fluid flow on faults, while also illuminating the mechanics of natural earthquakes.

"At the moment, a major issue for industry is that there is no established theory to evaluate the seismic hazard associated with fluid injections," says paper coauthor Jean-Philippe Avouac, a professor of geophysics at the University of Cambridge, as well as the Earle C. Anthony Professor of Geology at Caltech, and the former director of Caltech's Tectonics Observatory (now closed), where the research began. "With experiments such as ours, we can build much-needed models that would help assess the possible location, magnitude, and likelihood of earthquakes."

The research, led by Yves Guglielmi, a professor at the European Center for Research and Education in Environmental Geosciences (CEREGE) at Aix-Marseille University in France, appears in the June 12 issue of Science.

"One of the challenges in my field is to relate deformation of rock on the scale we can simulate in the lab with what we observe in nature, which reflects deformation to scales that are many orders of magnitude larger," says Avouac. "There is a very large gap in scale."

The new study helps to fill that gap. Avouac and his colleagues ran a fluid-injection experiment on a fault running more than a quarter of a mile through limestone. The fault is accessible thanks to its location adjacent to the Laboratoire Souterrain à Bas Bruit (LSBB), a former underground military facility in southeastern France now available to scientists.

The research team drilled a hole into the fault at a depth of about 925 feet. They then lowered a five-foot-long canister outfitted with sensors called the Step-Rate Injection Method for Fracture In-Situ Properties, or SIMFIP, into the hole. The SIMFIP was designed to measure pressure, water flow rate, rock movement, and other key data while suspended in the fault zone."

The SIMFIP probe opens the way to characterizing fault properties, which are critical for seismic hazard studies and understanding the physics of earthquakes," says paper coauthor Frédéric Cappa, a professor at the Géoazur Earth and Planetary Sciences Laboratory at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis in France. Cappa, who developed the experiments and models jointly with Guglielmi and Avouac, was a visiting professor at the Tectonics Observatory during the preparation of the study.

"The SIMFIP technology is a breakthrough," says Avouac. "We hope to see this or similar technologies used in the future to study faults in a variety of geological contexts."

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South Korean MERS outbreak is not a global threat

South Korean MERS outbreak is not a global threat | Amazing Science |

The world is watching as the largest outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outside the Middle East continues in South Korea. According to the most recent figures from the World Health Organization, 30 people have been infected, two of whom have died. Hundreds of schools have been closed. The causal coronavirus, MERS-CoV, is one of many viruses that are considered potential pandemic threats. But experts do not consider this outbreak, in which all cases are hospital-associated, to have pandemic potential or even expect it to spread further within South Korea. Here are some of the reasons why:

• MERS-CoV is not a human virus

• MERS-CoV mainly spreads in hospitals

• South Korea is doing a great job

• MERS is not SARS

• This outbreak is not that big

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Climate Model Suggests 99% of Everest Glaciers Could Disappear By End of Century

Climate Model Suggests 99% of Everest Glaciers Could Disappear By End of Century | Amazing Science |

By the end of this century, the landscape around Mount Everest may drastically change. As the planet continues to warm, the Everest region of Nepal could lose most of its glaciers, according to a study published in the journal The Cryosphere.

“We did not expect to see glaciers reduced at such a large scale,” said Joseph Shea, a glacier hydrologist at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal and lead author of the new report. “The numbers are quite frightening.”

Dr. Shea and his colleagues found that moderate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could result in a 70 percent loss of glaciers around Mount Everest, while a business-as-usual scenario in which emissions remain at the same levels could result in a 99 percent loss.

To arrive at these findings, Dr. Shea and his colleagues used a computer model for glacier melt, accumulation and redistribution. They customized the model with data on temperature and precipitation, measurements from the field and remote-sensing observations collected over 50 years from the Dudh Koshi basin, which includes Mount Everest and several of the world’s other highest peaks.

The model took into account how much mass glaciers gain from snowfall, as well as the way that mass is redistributed by continual downward movement. The researchers applied the model to eight future climate scenarios, from moderate emissions reductions to none at all.

The results do not bode well for the glaciers around Everest. Even if emissions are reduced by midcentury and rain in the region increases, the model predicts that the majority of the glaciers will probably disappear by 2100.

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