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Posts Tagged ‘science

[ISL] “Sand disappears from popular Burin Peninsula beach”

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CBC Newfoundland explains why and how all the sand disappeared off a beach on that island. Photos and more are at the link.

Despite concerns from locals, [Norm] Catto, head of the geography department at Memorial University, says the province’s beaches are dynamic and constantly changing, and this is just an example of that process.

“This is a natural fluctuation,” he says.

“It occurs in response to storm events, particularly storms out of the southwest.”

So where did all that sand go? Catto believes it is just off the shore at the bottom of Shoal Cove, and will return over time as conditions change and the winds calm down.

Some residents say they can already see the sand slowly migrating back up the beach, especially at low tide.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 22, 2015 at 10:22 pm

[LINK] “How Syrians Saved an Ancient Seedbank From Civil War”

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Lizzie Wade of Wired shared this encouraging story from Syria.

When civil war erupted in Syria, Ahmed Amri immediately thought about seeds.

Specifically, 141,000 packets of them sitting in cold storage 19 miles south of Aleppo. They included ancient varieties of wheat and durum dating back nearly to the dawn of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent, and one of the world’s largest collections of lentil, barley, and faba bean varieties—crops that feed millions of people worldwide every day. If these seeds were decimated, humanity could lose precious genetic resources developed over hundreds, or in some cases thousands, of years. And suddenly, with the outbreak of violence, their destruction seemed imminent.

[Ahmed] Amri is the director of genetic resources at the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), one of 11 international genebanks charged with conserving the world’s most vital crops and their wild relatives. Each center has a speciality—you’ll find the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, for example, while the International Potato Center is based in Peru—and this one focuses on preserving and protecting crops from arid regions, mostly in developing countries. The Center’s crown jewel is its genebank, where its samples are identified and stored for future use, either by the center’s scientific staff or plant breeders around the world.

[. . .]

At the beginning of Syria’s civil war, the fighting was concentrated in the south, far from the Center’s headquarters in the north. But Amri knew it wouldn’t take guns or bombs to destroy the genebank. All it would take was a power outrage that knocked out the facility’s air conditioning. The seeds, preserved in cold rooms for decades, would warm quickly and become unusable. The bank had backup generators, but how long would they last? What if it became impossible to buy fuel? What if the generators were stolen, or commandeered by soldiers?

Luckily, the Center had been preparing for its own destruction since day one. It already had sent emergency backups of about 87 percent of its collection to genebanks in other countries. Even under the best political conditions, “you worry about fire, you worry about earthquakes,” the Center’s director general Mahmoud Solh says in this video interview. Creating emergency backups is standard practice for international genebanks, from Mexico to Nigeria.

But that left 13 percent of the Syrian collection—more than 20,000 samples—that hadn’t been backed up. As soon as the fighting started in the spring of 2011, the genebank’s staff switched gears from collecting and distributing seed samples to devising a rescue plan. People there became very familiar with northern Syria’s back roads as they drove the seeds out of the country.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 20, 2015 at 10:57 pm

[LINK] “Bill Nye’s Lightsail solar sailing spacecraft wins on Kickstarter”

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The Kickstarter campaign described by the Planetary Society’s Richard Chute for a solar sail craft was a huge success. CBC reports.

A campaign to launch a small spacecraft propelled through space by ultra-thin solar sails has crowdfunded enough in just one day to build the spacecraft.

The private, non-profit Planetary Society and its CEO Bill Nye had raised $200,000 on Kickstarter by Wednesday afternoon, just a day after they launched their campaign to help fund their LightSail spacecraft.

The bread loaf-sized spacecraft is powered by solar sails, designed to capture the momentum from solar energy photons using large, mirrored surfaces. The small, continuous acceleration allows a spacecraft propelled by solar sails to reach high speeds over time without carrying or burning any fuel.

The money raised on Kickstarter will cover construction of the spacecraft used in the primary mission, which will launch in 2016. A low-altitude test flight is scheduled to launch May 20.

Altogether, the project is expected to cost $5.46 million. The Planetary Society says it has $1.2 million left to raise.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 15, 2015 at 11:31 pm

[LINK] “Canadian-backed telescope construction delayed as Hawaiians defend Mauna Kea’s sacred summit”

The National Post‘s Lauren Strapagiel looks at how a Canadian-backed telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea has become a major issue for indigenous Hawaiian activists.

The construction of what will be one of the world’s largest observatories — a project to which Canada has pledged $243 million — is on hold amid passionate protest by indigenous Hawaiians.

The $1.5 billion Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will sit on top of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island and the highest peak in the state. At 4,205 metres above sea level, scientists say its summit provides unrivalled conditions for cosmic observation from TMT’s 30-metre wide primary mirror.

For some Native Hawaiians, however, Mauna a Wākea is a sacred place — a home to deities and buried ancestors. Traditionally, access to its summit is forbidden to all but chiefs and spiritual leaders.

Though the volcano is already home to 13 observatories, protesters have said TMT crosses a line, citing concerns for Mauna Kea’s unique flora and fauna as well as the peak’s cultural significance. Protesters have clashed with construction crews since they broke ground on the observatory last fall and 31 protesters opposing the project were arrested earlier this month.

Lawsuits have been filed by indigenous groups and an online petition opposing TMT has surpassed 51,000 signatures. On April 11, Hawaii’s governor David Ige announced the non-profit building the telescope has placed a moratorium on construction until at least April 20.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 20, 2015 at 9:49 pm

[LINK] On the recent inbreeding but continued survival of the mountain gorilla

The Dragon’s Tales linked recently to the online paper “Mountain gorilla genomes reveal the impact of long-term population decline and inbreeding”. The abstract is below.

Mountain gorillas are an endangered great ape subspecies and a prominent focus for conservation, yet we know little about their genomic diversity and evolutionary past. We sequenced whole genomes from multiple wild individuals and compared the genomes of all four Gorilla subspecies. We found that the two eastern subspecies have experienced a prolonged population decline over the past 100,000 years, resulting in very low genetic diversity and an increased overall burden of deleterious variation. A further recent decline in the mountain gorilla population has led to extensive inbreeding, such that individuals are typically homozygous at 34% of their sequence, leading to the purging of severely deleterious recessive mutations from the population. We discuss the causes of their decline and the consequences for their future survival.

One commentary suggests the extended survival of the mountain gorilla as a small population over millennia augurs well for the species’ survival in the near term.

By analysing the variations in each genome, researchers also discovered that mountain gorillas have survived in small numbers for thousands of years. Using recently-developed methods, researchers were able to determine how the size of the population has changed over the past million years. According to their calculations, the average population of mountain gorillas has numbered in the hundreds for many thousands of years; far longer than previously thought.

“We worried that the dramatic decline in the 1980s would be catastrophic for mountain gorillas in the long term, but our genetic analyses suggest that gorillas have been coping with small population sizes for thousands of years,” says Dr Yali Xue, first author from the Sanger Institute. “While comparable levels of inbreeding contributed to the extinction of our relatives the Neanderthals, mountain gorillas may be more resilient. There is no reason why they should not flourish for thousands of years to come.”

It is hoped that the detailed, whole-genome sequence data gathered through this research will aid conservation efforts. Now that a genome-wide map of genetic differences between populations is available, it will be possible to identify the origins of gorillas that have been illegally captured or killed. This will enable more gorillas to be returned to the wild and will make it easier to bring prosecutions against those who poach gorillas for souvenirs and bush meat.

“Our dedicated programme of clinical monitoring and intervention in cooperation with the Rwanda Development Board, the Institut Congolese pour la Conservation du Nature and local communities is helping to ensure the health and sustainability of endangered mountain gorillas,” says Dr Mike Cranfield, Co-Director of Gorilla Doctors. “Detailed genetic data help us trace where confiscated gorillas came from, and allows the assessment of the genetic health of the population as well as their susceptibility to certain health issues.”

Written by Randy McDonald

April 14, 2015 at 10:31 pm

Posted in Science

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[LINK] “Two mysterious bright spots on dwarf planet Ceres are not alike”

New Scientist‘s Jacob Aron reports on the latest mystery to emerge from Ceres.

The unidentified bright spots on dwarf planet Ceres have become more mysterious. The spots on the surface were first glimpsed close-up just a month ago, and now infrared images reveal that they have different thermal properties.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is currently in orbit around the dwarf planet, which sits in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Mission scientists presented the latest results from the spacecraft at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna, Austria, today.

Two spots on the surface, labelled feature one and feature five, show up in visible light images as very bright in comparison to the rest of Ceres’s dull grey, leading to speculation that they could be the sites of watery volcanoes on the dwarf planet, also known as cryovolcanoes.

Now Federico Tosi, who works on Dawn’s Visible and Infrared Spectrometer, has presented infrared images of the two spots, measuring their thermal properties. “What we have found is that bright spot number one corresponds to a dark spot in the thermal image,” he said at a press conference today. In other words, the bright spot is much cooler than its surroundings.

In comparison, feature five, which appears as two separate bright spots next to each other in visible images, didn’t show up in the infrared images. “Spot number five shows no distinct thermal behaviour,” he said, meaning it is the same temperature as its surroundings. At the moment Dawn is too far away from Ceres to determine whether this is due to the bright spots being made from different stuff, or due to a different structure on the ground.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 14, 2015 at 10:17 pm

[CAT] “What type of music is best for relaxing cats during surgery? (Hint: it’s not heavy metal.)”

Discover‘s Seriously Science reported on a recent paper that claimed that cats in the stressful situation of impending surgery are more relaxed after listening to classical music, compared to other genres.

Influence of music and its genres on respiratory rate and pupil diameter variations in cats under general anaesthesia: contribution to promoting patient safety

“Objectives The aims of the study were to recognise if there is any auditory sensory stimuli processing in cats under general anaesthesia, and to evaluate changes in respiratory rate (RR) and pupillary diameter (PD) in anaesthetised patients exposed to different music genres, while relating this to the depth of anaesthesia.
Methods A sample of 12 cats submitted for elective ovariohysterectomy were exposed to 2 min excerpts of three different music genres (classical [CM], pop [PM] and heavy metal [HM]) at three points during surgery (T1 = coeliotomy; T2 = ligature placement and transection of the ovarian pedicle; T3 = ligature placement and transection of the uterine body). A multiparametric medical monitor was used to measure the RR, and a digital calliper was used for PD measurement. Music was delivered through headphones, which fully covered the patient’s ears.
Results Statistically significant differences between stimuli conditions for all surgical points were obtained for RR (T1, P = 0.03; T2, P = 0.00; and T3, P = 0.00) and for PD (T1, P = 0.03; T2, P = 0.04; and T3, P = 0.00). Most individuals exhibited lower values for RR and PD when exposed to CM, intermediate values to PM and higher values to HM.
Conclusions and relevance The results suggest that cats under general anaesthesia are likely to perform auditory sensory stimuli processing. The exposure to music induces RR and PD variations modulated by the genre of music and is associated with autonomic nervous system activity. The use of music in the surgical theatre may contribute to allowing a reduced anaesthetic dose, minimising undesirable side effects and thus promoting patient safety.”

Written by Randy McDonald

April 11, 2015 at 11:57 pm

Posted in Assorted

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