Science & Technology


Study: Changing storm dynamics causing greater risk of flooding; nearly 40% of U.S. population at risk

© Adrees Latif/Reuters
Changing storm dynamics are causing a greater risk of flooding than they were 50 years ago, particularly on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, putting nearly 40 percent of the US population in harm's way, according to a new study from a Florida university.

In the study, Florida researchers used records of rainfall, sea levels and hurricanes for more than 30 American cities along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts to assess the relationship between heavy rainfall on land and abnormal rises in water levels occurring during a storm or storm surge.

For both the East and West coasts, they found that, currently, weather events blowing water towards the coast are more likely to cause heavy rainfall over the land and lead to flooding than weather events that took place in the 1950s.


Younger Dryas climate episode due to cosmic impact say researchers

© YDB Research Group
The researchers studied the impact spherules in 18 sites in nine countries on four continents for this study.
At the end of the Pleistocene period, approximately 12,800 years ago—give or take a few centuries—a cosmic impact triggered an abrupt cooling episode that earth scientists refer to as the Younger Dryas.

New research by UC Santa Barbara geologist James Kennett and an international group of investigators has narrowed the date to a 100-year range, sometime between 12,835 and 12,735 years ago. The team's findings appear today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers used Bayesian statistical analyses of 354 dates taken from 30 sites on more than four continents. By using Bayesian analysis, the researchers were able to calculate more robust age models through multiple, progressive statistical iterations that consider all related age data.

"This range overlaps with that of a platinum peak recorded in the Greenland ice sheet and of the onset of the Younger Dryas climate episode in six independent key records," explained Kennett, professor emeritus in UCSB's Department of Earth Science. "This suggests a causal connection between the impact event and the Younger Dryas cooling."


Parasitic flatworms may hold keys for understanding global biodiversity patterns

© HealthDay
The odds of being attacked and castrated by a variety of parasitic flatworms increases for marine horn snails the farther they are found from the tropics. A Smithsonian-led research team discovered this exception to an otherwise globally observed pattern—usually biodiversity is greatest in the tropics and decreases toward the poles. The study, published in Ecology, makes a case for using host-parasite relationships as a tool to understand why there are typically more species—and more interactions between species—in the tropics than anywhere else in the world.

"Unlike free-living species, parasites must use hosts as their habitats," said co-author Osamu Miura, former postdoc at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and associate professor at Kochi University in Japan. "Wide-ranging hosts provide a nearly constant habitat for the parasites, regardless of latitude."

Such host-parasite systems are thus particularly useful for testing hypotheses about global biodiversity trends. Generations of scientists have tried to explain why biodiversity decreases from the tropics to the poles—a pattern known as the latitudinal diversity gradient. Suggested hypotheses include greater seasonal stability, more complex food webs, faster speciation rates and lower extinction rates in the tropics relative to higher latitudes. Because many of these variables influence each other, it is hard to test the effects of one factor independent of the rest.

Comment: For more on the bizarre world of parasites, check out:


Texbooks due for a rewrite? New discovery of blood, collagen in dinosaur bones

© Reuters / Vincent West
Tyrannosaurus Rex
An amazing discovery could rewrite textbooks, after a paleontologist accidentally found blood and soft tissue preserved in tattered dinosaur fossils. If proven, science expects answers to age-old questions, including: "Can we resurrect dinosaurs?"

The red blood cells and collagen fibers were discovered by chance when Imperial College London's Sergio Bertazzo and Susannah Maidment were examining the buildup of calcium in human blood vessels. Bertazzo wanted to perform a few tests using electronic microscopes and ended up asking the Natural History Museum for some fossils to test his findings, according to the IB Times.

They received eight pieces, all estimated at 75 million years old.

What the pair found could prove we've consistently been looking at dinosaurs in the wrong way: it suggests that nearly every fossil science studied in the past century could contain similarly well-preserved blood and tissue samples, answering questions on dinosaur evolution, physiology, behavior, and whether their DNA could also be intact. From there on in, we're entering sci-fi territory.

The accompanying study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Most of the fossils studied by the pair were very poorly-preserved fragments, including toes and claws from what could be several different species.


Spain and Chile will host the world's most powerful gamma-ray observatory by 2016

The Cherenkov Telescope Array
Sites in Spain and Chile have been chosen to host the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA) - a huge, very high energy gamma-ray observatory 10 times more sensitive than existing instruments, which will study supernova explosions, binary star systems and active galactic nuclei. Astronomers working on the project expect they will get approval at the end of the year to start building the arrays. It is hoped that the CTA will begin taking data at both locations by the end of 2020, with full operations by 2023.

© Wikipedia
Cherenkov radiation glowing in the core of the Advanced Test Reactor.
High-energy gamma rays are generated in the most energetic events in the universe, and studying these messengers can reveal important information about the violent processes that created them. When a gamma ray interacts with a particle in the Earth's atmosphere, it produces a shower of lower-energy particles. These particles travel through the atmosphere faster than the speed of light in the atmosphere, creating a cone of blue light akin to a sonic boom. Telescopes on the ground collect this Cherenkov radiation, which scientists then analyse to determine the energy of the original gamma ray and from what direction it came.
On IOP Physicsworld, a user cdib posted the following comment to this article:

The Cherenkov radiation itself is actually visible light [blue], so it travels at the speed of light in the medium (air in this case). What must travel faster than the speed of light in air is the charged particle that generates the Cherenkov radiation. Typically these charged particles are electrons.
The CTA will consist of two arrays. The smaller array - consisting of 15 telescopes 12 m in diameter and four at 23 m - will study the northern sky from the Spanish island of La Palma, which is off the Atlantic coast of North Africa. The larger observatory will have 70 telescopes at 4 m diameter, 25 at 12 m and four at 23 m. It will look toward the southern sky from Paranal in Chile's Atacama Desert, and the first few small telescopes are likely to be deployed to the Chile site in mid-2016.

Comment: See also:

Grey Alien

Can you hear me now? China building world's largest 500-meter radio telescope

© Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters
China is assembling what has been hailed as the world's largest radio telescope, state media reported. The 500-meter tool will boast a dish the size of 30 football pitches, overtaking Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory, "only" 305 meters in diameter.

With a perimeter of about 1.6km, it will take up to 40 minutes to walk around the single-aperture spherical telescope, which is called "FAST". It will be constructed deep in the mountains of the southwestern Guizhou Province, built on a naturally formed bowl-shaped valley, Xinhua reports.

"There are three hills about 500 meters away from one another, creating a valley that is perfect to support the telescope," Sun Caihong, chief engineer of FAST's construction, told the news agency.

Comment: Happy hunting.


'Big surprise': Pluto's hazy atmosphere, flowing nitrogen ice glaciers stun scientists

Pluto never ceases to amaze scientists: A new batch of images released by NASA's New Horizons mission reveal an incredibly hazy atmosphere cast over the dwarf planet, as well as ice flowing on its surface - as glaciers flow on Earth.

The new set of high-resolution images of the planet's surface reveal ice made of nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane, flowing on Sputnik Planum, the flat plains on the western hemisphere of Pluto's Tombaugh Regio.

"With flowing ices, exotic surface chemistry, mountain ranges, and vast haze, Pluto is showing a diversity of planetary geology that is truly thrilling," said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate.


Astronomers find earth-like planet orbiting a close cousin of our sun

This NASA artist's concept obtained July 23, 2015 compares Earth (L) to the new planet, called Kepler-452b, which is about 60 percent larger in diameter
Astronomers hunting for another Earth have found what may be the closest match yet, a potentially rocky planet circling its star at the same distance as the Earth orbits the Sun, NASA said Thursday.

Not only is this planet squarely in the Goldilocks zone—where life could exist because it is neither too hot nor too cold to support liquid water—its star looks like an older cousin of our Sun, the US space agency said.

That means the planet, which is 1,400 light-years away, could offer a glimpse into the Earth's apocalyptic future, scientists said.

Known as Kepler 452b, the planet was detected by the US space agency's Kepler Space Telescope, which has been hunting for other worlds like ours since 2009.

"Kepler 452b is orbiting a close cousin of our Sun, but one that is 1.5 billion years older," NASA said in a statement.

Arrow Up

This amazing tree can grow 40 different kinds of fruit!

This professor harnessed the ancient technique of "chip grafting" and produced a tree capable of bearing 40 different kinds of fruit!

© Screen capture via YouTube
Technology is only as limited as the human mind, and when one can conceive a grand vision, it will no doubt be made manifest at some point or another.

Such statement applies to the enchanting-looking tree (pictured below) which is capable of bearing 40 different types of stone fruit, including peaches, nectarines, apricots, and almonds. Artist and Syracuse University professor Sam Van Aken is responsible for this magnificent wonder and achieved it by harnessing an ancient technique called "chip grafting."

As National Geographic shares, the process is one of patience. Over a period of several years, Van Aken tediously spliced branches with buds of various varieties into a base branch called the "working tree."

Cloud Lightning

Lightning deaths the last decade, mapped


Lightning Death By State

The numbers on the map indicate the number of deaths in each state from 2005-2014. The states are color coded by their rank.
Two maps of lightning fatalities, using data from 2005-2014, offer interesting insight to where the greatest risk is of being killed by lightning.

The data was collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the maps were compiled by Vaisala Inc., operators of the National Lightning Detection Network, which detects cloud-to-ground lightning strikes anywhere in the continental U.S.

The rankings include all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

This first map plots the number of deaths for each state from 2005-2014. The states are color coded based on their ranking.

Not surprisingly, Florida, with 47 deaths, is the state with the highest total number of deaths due to lightning over the past 10 years. Second place goes to Texas with 20 deaths, and Colorado is third with 17 deaths.