A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘science

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • Centauri Dreams looks at evidence that Ceres’ Occator Crater, an apparent cryovolcano, may have been recently active.
  • Crooked Timber’s John Quiggin wonders what would have happened had Kerensky accepted the German Reichstag’s proposal in 1917.
  • Dangerous Minds looks at some fun that employees at a bookstore in France got up to with book covers.
  • Cody Delistraty describes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s utter failure to fit into Hollywood.
  • A Fistful of Euros hosts Alex Harrowell’s blog post taking a look at recent history from a perspective of rising populism.
  • io9 reports on a proposal from the Chinese city of Lanzhou to set up a water pipeline connecting it to Siberia’s Lake Baikal.
  • Imageo notes a recent expedition by Norwegian scientists aiming at examining the winter ice.
  • Strange Maps links to an amazing graphic mapping the lexical distances between Europe’s languages.
  • Window on Eurasia argues that Russia is on the verge of a new era of population decline, and shares a perhaps alarming perspective on the growth of Muslim populations in Russia.

[ISL] “Graves hidden for decades could hold key to peace in Cyprus”

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CBC News’ Nil Köksal reports on the continuing, sad, and politically necessary search in Cyprus for the graves of the many Cypriots killed in that island’s recent history of ethnic war.

There were 84 skeletons, all in one place.

It wasn’t the first, or the last, mass grave Ceren Ceraloglu would search, but the feeling of standing over that particular pit, with its staggering number of victims, has stayed with her.

A field archaeologist with the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) in Cyprus, Ceraloglu has been sifting through the most painful parts of her island’s past.

It’s not the kind of work this mother of triplets imagined she’d be doing when she was studying archaeology in university. But it’s become a calling.

Not just because the excavations aim to return the remains of those killed in the conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots to their families, but because scientists from both communities work side by side, every day.

There is no room for conflict here.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 5, 2017 at 9:30 pm

[LINK] “Skulls found in China were part modern human, part Neanderthal — and could be a new species”

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The National Post carries Ben Guarino’s Washington Post article reporting on the exciting finds of mysterious hominid skulls in China. Could these actually be, as some speculate, remnants of the Denisovans, or of another still more obscure human population?

Modern humans outlasted the Neanderthals by about 40,000 years and counting. But don’t pat yourself on the back too firmly for outliving those troglodytes. Neanderthals crafted tools and tamed fire. They cared for their dead. Animal horns and blackened fire pits encircling the remains of a Neanderthal toddler suggest a 42,000-year-old funeral rite. If a Neanderthal indeed wore a talon necklace, as a collection of polished eagle claws indicate, they beat us to jewelry, too. Perhaps one of your ancient ancestors found the claw necklaces sexy: Some scientists theorize humans gave Neanderthals genital herpes and tapeworm parasites.

Their proportions, however, remained distinctly Neanderthal. Neanderthal bodies were shorter and stockier, more Gimli son of Gloin than Gigi Hadid. Their skulls were built differently, too, with a few features – like heavy brow ridges – particularly unlike ours.

Which makes a pair of newly-described skulls something of a wonder. The partial skulls have features up to this time unseen in the hominid fossil record, sharing both human and Neanderthal characteristics.

“It is a very exciting discovery,” as Katerina Harvati, an expert in Neanderthal evolution at the University of Tübingen in Germany who was not involved with the research, told The Washington Post. “Especially because the human fossil record from East Asia has been not only fragmentary but also difficult to date.”

Excavators dug up the skull cap fragments in 2007 and 2014, in Lingjing, located within China’s Henan province. The diggers discovered two partial skulls in a site thought to be inhabited 105,000 to 125,000 years ago, during an epoch called the Pleistocene. The owners of the skulls were good hunters, capable of fashioning stone blades from quartz. Ancient bones of horses and cattle, as well as extinct woolly rhinoceros and giant deer, were found strewn nearby the skull remains.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 5, 2017 at 9:15 pm

[LINK] “Get ready for a Canadian Arctic research boom”

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Meagan Campbell of MacLean’s examines how the Canadian Arctic is on the verge of a boom in scientific exploration.

“The first moment, you don’t even believe it.” Jonathan O’Neil, a geologist at the University of Ottawa, is referring to his research team’s recent discovery of evidence that the oldest known life on Earth may, in fact, be embedded in rocks in Quebec’s far north. “You say, ‘That can’t be.’ So you reanalyze it, and you get the same result. You redo it again, again, again, and you come back with the same results, and you start to believe it.”

The breakthrough, which gained international attention when it was published in the journal Nature in early March, could be one of many discoveries soon to come from the Canadian Arctic. Opening this summer in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, is the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS), a Plexiglas, quarter-billion-dollar wonder of the northern world. Firs announced in 2007 under Stephen Harper, the station has so far attracted 200 research applicants from countries as far afield as Argentina, South Korea and Australia, all hoping to explore what lies beneath the tundra.

“They’re lining up at the door,” says David Scott, president of Polar Knowledge Canada, the government agency overseeing the project. “Growth chambers” for cultivating specimens, wet labs with cranes for lifting mammals, a dive centre for filling scuba tanks, triplexes for housing researchers—the station cost eight times more to erect than the Perimeter Institute, a science hub in Waterloo, Ont. One popular research area will be geology, as the Arctic holds rock formations rich with information about climate change and, in the case of the Hudson Bay area where O’Neil did his research, the history of life on Earth. O’Neil dated the fossils of ancient bacteria at 4.3 billion years old (although skeptics say they don’t look a day over three billion), suggesting that life existed before the planet had oxygen or oceans, and that life could just as easily have started in other barren parts of the universe.

Aside from prompting research, CHARS is a chance for Canada to stake its claim to the Arctic. The station is opening in a year when the Arctic Council, which negotiates land rights between eight Arctic countries, is looking for a new chair—the United States will step down in May after holding the position for two years. It also comes just before Canada submits a claim for the Arctic continental shelf in 2018 (competing with Russian and Danish claims). While the Canadian Forces have already boosted their presence with exercises in Nunavut including at Alert, the government will emphasize that “We the North” by opening the all-inclusive station for nerds.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 5, 2017 at 9:00 pm

[LINK] “How geologists found the world’s oldest fossils in Canada”

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In an interview with the discoverers, Meagan Campbell of MacLean’s explores how fossils 3.8 billion years old were found in a rock formation in northern Québec.

The oldest proof we have of life on Earth is in Quebec, according to a team of international researchers. On the edge of the Hudson Bay, geologists and biologists from England, Australia, the United States and Canada collected fossils of microscopic lifeforms. On March 1, they published an article in the journal Nature, suggesting that these lifeforms existed 3.7 to 4.3 billion years ago, before the planet had oxygen or oceans—meaning life could begin in other barren parts of the universe, too. For a look behind the scenes of the discovery, Maclean’s spoke with Jonathan O’Neil, a geologist at the University of Ottawa who dated the fossils.

Q: Can you describe the moment of discovery?

A: I was with some of my colleagues at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington. The first moment, you don’t even believe it. You say, “that can’t be.” So you reanalyze it, and you get the same result. You redo it again, redo it again, redo it again, and you start coming back with the same data, same results, same numbers, and you start to believe it. It’s a weird feeling. It pushes everything back.

Q. Why is the finding controversial?

A: Rocks are always dated with radioactivity. We use that as a timer. The golden standard for us is we’re trying to date a certain mineral, a Zircon. We’re excellent at it. We can get super nice and precise and robust dates. The only drawback is you need Zircons to do it. These rocks from northern Quebec, they don’t have them. We used a different clock. It’s only good for rocks that are 4 billion years old. We’ve done it for some rocks from the moon, but it’s the first time we’ve done it on Earth.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 2, 2017 at 10:30 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “So long, normal weather: Toronto just had the warmest February on record”

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CBC News’ Kate McGillivray reports that this February just past is the warmest Toronto has been ever recorded as experiencing.

It’s official — Toronto just lived through the warmest February in at least 80 years, says Dave Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment Canada.

“It also had the warmest February temperature ever, up to 17.7 C on the 23rd,” which broke records going back to the 1840s, he told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.

The month didn’t start off this way.

“We had temperatures at -12 C,” said Phillips. “We had a month’s worth of snow in the first ten days.”

After that, the jet stream, a narrow band of strong wind, moved “almost into a summer position, well north of us in Northern Ontario. It allowed the warm air to just flood into Southern Ontario,” he said.

All that warm air led to 12 days in a row with melting record temperatures. “So clearly, the look and the feel of winter disappeared in February,” Phillips said.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 1, 2017 at 8:15 pm

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • Antipope’s Charlie Stross wonders if the politics of Trump might mean an end to the British nuclear deterrent.
  • Centauri Dreams shares Andrew LePage’s evaluation of the TRAPPIST-1 system, where he concludes that there are in fact three plausible candidates for habitable status there.
  • Dangerous Minds shares the gender-bending photographs of Norwegian photographers Marie Høeg and Bolette Berg.
  • The Everyday Sociology Blog takes a look at the 1980s HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States.
  • The Extremo Files looks at the human microbiome.
  • Language Hat links to an article on Dakhani, a south Indian Urdu dialect.
  • The LRB Blog looks at policing in London.
  • The Map Room Blog notes that 90% of the hundred thousand lakes of Manitoba are officially unnamed.
  • Marginal Revolution looks at the remarkable Akshardham Temple of New Delhi.
  • The Planetary Society Blog notes how citizen scientists detected changes in Rosetta’s comet.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer provides a visual guide for New Yorkers at the size of the proposed border wall.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog links to a paper taking a look at the history of abortion in 20th century France.
  • Torontoist looks at the 1840s influx of Irish refugees to Toronto.
  • Understanding Society takes a look at the research that went into the discovery of the nucleus of the atom.
  • Window on Eurasia reports on Belarus.
  • Arnold Zwicky shares photos and commentary on the stars and plot of Oscar-winning film Midnight.