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Wed, 07 Dec 2016
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New Zealand's 'unusual' earthquake raises complex questions

© Google Earth/ GNS Science
Map showing location of the M7.8 epicenter (star), M > 3.0 aftershocks up until 04:20 NZ time on the 18th November (n = 1,782).

A devastating earthquake has hit New Zealand, but this unusual event, with long duration slip on several faults, will also provide an astounding data set for understanding a complex tectonic region.

New Zealand was rocked by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on Monday 14th November. This event had unusual aspects of slip distribution, duration, and kinematics, from which we will learn a lot about earthquake mechanics as data are collected. The event that started ~100 km north of Christchurch with displacements less than 1 m, propagated northward, creating the largest surface displacements (so far observed) near the northern termination of the earthquake rupture, at the northeast tip of the South Island.

At this early stage, based on preliminary data released by the New Zealand monitoring partnership GeoNet, I find three properties of the earthquake particularly intriguing:

1. Slip distribution.

The large surface displacement at the northern end of the rupture explains why aftershocks are concentrated in the north, and why areas north of the rupture, such as Wellington, experienced more damage than Christchurch, which is closer to but south of the epicenter.

The earthquake adds insight to the discussion of whether an earthquake knows its size when it nucleates - this earthquake started small, and only reached large slip late in its propagation. The USGS estimates the greatest displacements were over 100 km from the epicenter.

Therefore, as suggested in recent findings by Meier et al., there seems to have been no way to expect the large size of this earthquake from its small early slip. The question remains, why did the earthquake start small and get larger?

Comment: See also:


Three UAE detection stations declared fully operational after meteor hits Abu Dhabi

© The National
Detection stations on line in UAE.
Three meteor detection stations have been set up across the Emirates, the UAE Space Agency said on Sunday.

The UAE Astronomical Camera Network (UACN) is designed to track coordinates of meteors and orbital debris, calculating trajectories in case of local impact, and it monitored one such meteorite that landed on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi in September. The camera network will also contribute to discovering new meteor showers and following the movements of those already anticipated.

The first meteor detection station, dubbed UACN1, was setup in the Remah area of Al Ain in January. UACN2 was established in the Razeen area, 100km east of Abu Dhabi, and went into operation in August. The last station was completed in October, after which the network became fully operational. Its location has not been disclosed.

According to the UAE Space Agency, each station contains 17 astronomical cameras that automatically start recording video and taking imagery upon detection of meteors.

Eye 1

Newly discovered photoreceptor is 50 times more efficient than the human eye

© Josiah Garber/Fotolia
A new receptor protein, LITE-1, was found among a family of taste receptors in invertebrates, meaning that these animals may actually have a taste perception of light.
An international team of scientists led by the University of Michigan has discovered a new type of photoreceptor -- only the third to be found in animals -- that is about 50 times more efficient at capturing light than the rhodopsin in the human eye.

The new receptor protein, LITE-1, was found among a family of taste receptors in invertebrates, and has unusual characteristics that suggest potential future applications ranging from sunscreen to scientific research tools, the team noted in findings scheduled to be published Nov. 17 in the journal Cell.

"Our experiments also raise the intriguing possibility that it might be possible to genetically engineer other new types of photoreceptors," said senior study author Shawn Xu, a faculty member of the U-M Life Sciences Institute, where his lab is located.

The LITE-1 receptor was discovered in the eyeless, millimeter-long roundworms known as nematodes, a common model organism in bioscience research.

"LITE-1 actually comes from a family of taste receptor proteins first discovered in insects," said Xu, who is also a professor in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology at the U-M Medical School. "These, however, are not the same taste receptors as in mammals."

Xu's lab previously demonstrated that although they lack eyes, the worms will move away from flashes of light. The new research goes a step further, showing that LITE-1 directly absorbs light, rather than being an intermediary that senses chemicals produced by reactions involving light.

"Photoreceptors convert light into a signal that the body can use," Xu said. "LITE-1 is unusual in that it is extremely efficient at absorbing both UV-A and UV-B light -- 10 to 100 times greater than the two other types found in the animal kingdom: opsins and cryptochromes. The next step is to better understand why it has these amazing properties."


Studies indicate pull on Pluto's 'icy heart' shifted dwarf planet's axis

Contents of a large crater on Pluto could be the reason for a "gravitational anomaly" which sees a heart shaped region on the dwarf planet line up almost exactly opposite its largest moon, scientists believe.

The icy dwarf planet's enchanting heart-shaped Sputnik Planitia plain, a suspected impact zone, has fascinated astronomers and scientists for decades.

Two separate studies using data from the NASA New Horizons exploratory mission and published in the journal Nature suggest that what lies inside the unusual heart-shaped formation has been caught in a gravitational pull, shifting Pluto's axis.

Blue Planet

Nature bites back: More unforeseen consequences of neonicotinoid pesticides

© Stuart Wilson /Science Source / Getty
A red velvet spider mite. Spider mites have been found to proliferate on crops treated with neonicotinoid pesticides.
The widely used neonicotinoid pesticide is more harmful than most people think, and alternatives need to be found if we want to better preserve and protect our beneficial insects—bumble bees and honey bees included.

The pesticide has garnered negative attention recently, in part because of a spider mite outbreak it caused in New York. In 2005, neonicotinoid pesticides were sprayed on the trees in Central Park to combat the invasive Asian long-horned beetles living in the elm trees, as well as emerald ash borers, another invasive insect.

The insecticide did kill the invasive insects, but had the unforeseen consequence of causing a boom in spider mites, red plant eating mites that eat hundreds of species of plants. Mites poke holes in leaves to feed, and they did this to the trees in the park so much that they began to drop leaves.

Ada Szczepaniec, an agricultural etymologist at Texas A&M University, investigated the outbreak. Her study found that it was not just the elms, but also crops such as corn and soybeans that had been sprayed by the pesticide also showed spider mite outbreaks. When investigating soybeans, she found that exposure to the neonicotinoid pesticides altered their genes involved with the cell wall and defense against pests, and changed them in such a way that the plant became more vulnerable to infestation. Other researchers noticed correlation as well, and recorded spider mite outbreaks on corn and other crops.


Dutch theoretical physicist's new theory of gravity does away with dark matter

Let's be honest. Dark matter's a pain in the butt. Astronomers have gone to great lengths to explain why it must exist and exist in huge quantities, yet it remains hidden. Unknown. Emitting no visible energy yet apparently strong enough to keep galaxies in clusters from busting free like wild horses, it's everywhere in vast quantities. What is the stuff - axions,WIMPS, gravitinos,Kaluza Klein particles?

Estimated distribution of matter and energy in the universe.
It's estimated that 27% of all the matter in the universe is invisible, while everything from PB&J sandwiches to quasars accounts for just 4.9%. But a new theory of gravity proposed by theoretical physicist Erik Verlinde of the University of Amsterdam found out a way to dispense with the pesky stuff.

Unlike the traditional view of gravity as a fundamental force of nature, Verlinde sees it as an emergent property of space. Emergence is a process where nature builds something large using small, simple pieces such that the final creation exhibits properties that the smaller bits don't. Take a snowflake.

The complex symmetry of a snowflake begins when a water droplet freezes onto a tiny dust particle. As the growing flake falls, water vapor freezes onto this original crystal, naturally arranging itself into a hexagonal (six-sided) structure of great beauty.

The sensation of temperature is another emergent phenomenon, arising from the motion of molecules and atoms.

So too with gravity, which according to Verlinde, emerges from entropy. We all know about entropy and messy bedrooms, but it's a bit more subtle than that. Entropy is a measure of disorder in a system or put another way, the number of different microscopic states a system can be in. One of the coolest descriptions of entropy I've heard has to do with the heat our bodies radiate. As that energy dissipates in the air, it creates a more disordered state around us while at the same time decreasing our own personal entropy to ensure our survival. If we didn't get rid of body heat, we would eventually become disorganized (overheat!) and die.

Cell Phone

Portrait of owner's lifestyle can be created through trace molecules on phone and other personal items

© Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
New research carried out by US scientists has discovered exactly what the molecular data that you leave on your cell can tell about you. And the answer is - well, almost everything.

Scientists at University of California's San Diego School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences say they can now build a comprehensive lifestyle profile for a phone's owner, including details about their diet, health, use of cosmetics, and even the places they've visited.

The results of the study have been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The cutting-edge technology could be useful for criminal investigations, airport screenings, environmental studies, and medicine, to name just a few applications.However, the study's authors think its potential use in forensics is its primary strength.

"Imagine a scenario where personal belongings such as pens, keys, phones, or handbags are found at an investigative site. It is often valuable to the investigative team that is trying to trace back the belongings to an individual to understand their personal habits, even when DNA evidence is also available," the abstract of the study says.

"Such information could help a criminal investigator narrowing down the owner of an object found at a crime scene, such as a suspect or missing person," it adds.

Snow Globe

Global freezing: 15-year ice age predicted to hit in only 4 years as sun prepares to 'hibernate'

The world could be facing a 15 year winter
A 15-YEAR long mini ice age could be due to hit the Northern hemisphere in just FOUR years as the sun prepares for 'hibernation' - triggering a barrage of cataclysmic events.

A team of experts have warned that huge seismic events, including volcanic eruptions, plunging global temperatures and destabilization of the Earth's crust will become more common after worrying changes to the surface of the Sun were recorded.

It could take up to 15 years for solar activity to return to normal with extreme weather and freezing temperatures continuing until 2035.

The warning will infuriate environmental campaigners who argue by 2030 the world faces increased sea levels and flooding due to glacial melt at the poles.

Solar activity, measured by the appearance of sun spots, has been declining at a greater rate than at any other time in history, it has emerged.

The Sun is now without spots for the first time in five years after 21 days of minimal activity were observed through the course of 2016.

Comment: And It seems as though we are well along in this process as per this climate science blog:
Record Global Cooling Over The Last Eight Months

Over the last eight months, global temperatures over land have cooled a record 1.2 C. November is seeing record cold in Russia and South Australia, so we should see the record cooling trend continue.


As temperatures cool at a record pace, experts say global warming is now unstoppable.

Climate change may be escalating so fast it could be 'game over', scientists warn | The Independent

People in Russia might tend to disagree with this assessment.


Brain implant allows paralyzed ALS patient to operate speech computer with her mind

© UMC Utrecht
At UMC Utrecht, a brain implant has been placed in a patient enabling her to operate a speech computer with her mind. The researchers and the patient worked intensively to get the settings right. She can now communicate at home with her family and caregivers via the implant. That a patient can use this technique at home is unique in the world. This research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Because she suffers from ALS disease, the patient is no longer able to move and speak. Doctors placed electrodes in her brain, and the electrodes pick up brain activity. This enables her to wirelessly control a speech computer that she now uses at home.

"This is a major breakthrough in achieving autonomous communication among severely paralyzed patients whose paralysis is caused by either ALS, a cerebral hemorrhage or trauma," says Professor Nick Ramsey, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht. "In effect, this patient has had a kind of remote control placed in her head, which enables her to operate a speech computer without the use of her muscles."

Comment: Medical breakthrough: Brain implant allows paralyzed man to regain sense of touch

Cell Phone

Apps responsible for the biggest spike in traffic deaths in 50 years

© Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times
Brett Hudson installed a Bluetooth system in his 2002 Chevy TrailBlazer to allow hands-free phone calling, but he concedes that the setup is not risk-free. Credit
The messaging app Snapchat allows motorists to post photos that record the speed of the vehicle. The navigation app Waze rewards drivers with points when they report traffic jams and accidents. Even the game Pokémon Go has drivers searching for virtual creatures on the nation's highways.

When distracted driving entered the national consciousness a decade ago, the problem was mainly people who made calls or sent texts from their cellphones. The solution then was to introduce new technologies to keep drivers' hands on the wheel. Innovations since then — car Wi-Fi and a host of new apps — have led to a boom in internet use in vehicles that safety experts say is contributing to a surge in highway deaths.

After steady declines over the last four decades, highway fatalities last year recorded the largest annual percentage increase in 50 years. And the numbers so far this year are even worse. In the first six months of 2016, highway deaths jumped 10.4 percent, to 17,775, from the comparable period of 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"This is a crisis that needs to be addressed now," Mark R. Rosekind, the head of the agency, said in an interview.