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 on: Feb 10, 2016, 06:37 AM 
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CS Monitor

As drought becomes the norm, where can US turn for lessons in adaptation?

A new study found that the southwestern American region will be drier going forward. Regardless of the reasons why, there is plenty of innovation out there to help the region adapt to this new reality.

By Lonnie Shekhtman, Staff February 10, 2016   

It’s official: the southwestern United States will likely never be the same again. A new analysis of the past 35 years of weather patterns concluded that what is now considered a normal year of rain and snow in the Southwest is one-quarter drier than it was before the 1970s.

And the climate conditions that bring the region most of its rain and snow will become even more rare in the future, according to a federally funded study posted online Thursday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

"This is something we expect from global warming," said study lead author Andreas Prein of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. "We see that in observations. It's happening already."

Regardless of whether the conditions that led to drought are naturally derived or caused by mankind, the future of water distribution and consumption in the American Southwest will look quite different than it does today. And that doesn't have to be in a gloom-and-doom kind of way.

The future of water in drought-stricken regions will look smarter and more efficient, much like it does in other parts of the world that have been grappling with a dearth of water for decades.

Take Israel, for example, where the inhospitable Arava desert, drawing one inch of rain a year, was turned into a veritable garden oasis by pioneers to the region in the 1960s, as The Christian Science Monitor reported this summer.

    They grew roses when others said it was impossible. They created naturally air-conditioned greenhouses by setting up “wet curtains” – honeycombed walls that allowed water to seep through slowly. They planted flowers in trenches of volcanic ash instead of the sandy soil. Later they switched to dates and peppers, using an Israeli-invented drip irrigation system.

Through technological and governance innovations, the tiny strip of land along the country’s border with Jordan produces 65 percent of Israel’s vegetable exports and helps feed the state itself. It’s productivity is so impressive, the region has become an international model.

“Israel is very much a beta test site for solving these problems in a small country,” Glenn Yago, founder of the Financial Innovation Lab at the California-based Milken Institute, told the Monitor in June. Dr. Yago is encouraging Israel’s investment in water projects in California.

“Drip irrigation, desalination, wastewater recycling, and aquifer remediation – those are problems that can be tested in the global laboratory that Israel is and then scaled elsewhere,” he said.

More recently, Australia also has become a model of water management after weathering a 12-year drought from 1997 to 2009.

As the Monitor reported in October, Melbourne residents on average each use 41 gallons of water a day, one-quarter of what each resident of Los Angeles uses.

The country successfully mobilized its public around conservation and stopped classifying droughts as isolated incidents of natural disaster, instead drought as a normal condition to encourage long-term planning. It did away with its system of water rights based on property ownership, as is common in the American west, particularly in California, Australia developed an open market for water trading.

“The Australians learned that what got them through the drought was massive conservation, but what sustains them going forward is that they implemented steps that make them resilient,” David Feldman, chair of the department of planning, policy and design at the University of California in Irvine told the Monitor.

California's existing water rights system may make it difficult for the state to mirror the path taken by Australia, Professor Feldman says, but the broader lessons could help the state and the greater Southwest weather their new climate.


Return of the Dust Bowl? Climate change study highlights how West must adapt.

A new study forecasts severe, generation-long droughts in parts of the American West this century. Cities and farms have already vastly improved water conservation, but they'll likely have to do more.

By Pete Spotts, Staff writer February 13, 2015   

A prolonged period of Dust Bowl-like conditions in the second half of this century could severely test strides made toward conserving scarce water supplies in the Western United States and central Plains, according to a new study.

If greenhouse-gas emissions aren't brought to heel, the study suggests, these regions face an 80 percent risk of seeing a severe drought lasting a generation or more.

The results are the latest in a growing body of research suggesting that farmers and city-dwellers alike are going to have to double down on efforts to use water more efficiently, says Brian Richter, chief scientist of water markets for The Nature Conservancy in Arlington, Va.

Cities and farms in many parts of the Western United States and central Plains, mired in a prolonged period of stubborn droughts, have already made progress, with some of these efforts dating back to the 1960s and '70s. Indeed, water use in the US today is about the same – or is slightly lower – than it was in 1980, despite a growing population and rising farm production, according to a US Geological Survey report issued earlier this year.

“Clearly we're doing something right,” says Mr. Richter.

But it's equally clear that the efforts aren't enough, he adds, particularly in the country's semiarid regions. There, populations are expected to rise and the snowpacks that provide crucial summer meltwater are expected to shrink.

Many of the tools needed to cope are familiar, such as landscaping around homes with native vegetation. Some are more technological, such as desalination plants in coastal communities or facilities that wring potable water from human waste.

The current drought in California is just a taste of what the new study, released Thursday in the open-source, online journal Science Advances, says is likely to be in store. But strides made in the Southwest in recent years point to how regions can adapt – and hint at what might lie ahead. 

The current drought "puts the Southwest in a very unique position to play a leadership role" in charting a path toward coping with megadroughts, said Toby Ault, a climate scientist at Cornell University and a member of the team conducting the study.

Even without global warming, the issue of dwindling water resources in parts of the West and central Plains have been coming to a head. Underground aquifers have are being drained at an unsustainable rate to support farms and, to a lesser extent, urban growth. During the course of the past century more water has been allocated to states drawing from the Colorado River than the river can deliver. And populations have risen.

Moreover, past research has shown that, in the distant past, the western US has endured droughts more severe and longer than any experienced since Columbus's arrival in the New World. An unusually warm period between 1100 and 1300 AD saw at least three "megadroughts" in the climate system. These droughts were due to natural variability, notes Benjamin Cook, a researcher at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and the lead author of the study.

The new study simulates two separate scenarios: one that assumes a modest reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions and one that assumes no change to current policy.

The study found the changes in rain and snowfall in semiarid regions such as the Southwest and central Plains fit a more global pattern of the wet getting wetter and the dry getting drier. But evaporation also increased markedly. Even in spots that got more precipitation than expected, according to the results, evaporation would offset the extra moisture.

Under both emissions scenarios the researchers considered, "using their definition of drought we fall off a cliff," says Peter Gleick, president and co-founder of the Pacific Institute, which focuses on water-resource issues. "Our cities will survive, our industries will survive, but our agricultural systems are going to be devastated. And probably, unless we're smart, our ecosystems will be devastated."

Historically, cities in the West and Plains have coped with a scarcity of water by drawing down ground or surface water, then by looking for more-distant sources.

But "we're running out of reach in terms of new sources to be raided to try to balance the water equation in the West," Mr. Richter explains, referring to proposals to pipe water from Alaska or Canada to the West.

He says he is reluctantly coming to accept the possibility of desalination plants as one answer, though they are expensive, energy intensive, and produce large quantities of concentrated brine that requires disposal.

Given projections for population growth, balancing the water equation will require more intense efforts to shift water resources from farming to urban areas, he says.

Cutting those deals will require bridging significant cultural and social divides.

Given the history of conflicts over water in the region, "there's great fear in the agricultural community that the cities are so politically and financially powerful that they're going to figure out some way to wrest water out of the agricultural areas," Richter explains. Farmers "are very skeptical and very suspicious about even entering into a partnership" with cities.

Yet successful examples exist. For example, San Diego inked a deal with farming interests in the Imperial Valley under which the city pays the farmers to adopt conservation measures, such as reducing water losses due to unlined irrigation canals. In exchange, the city gets the water saved.

The approach, in place since 1998, is expected to provide 40 percent of the city's water by 2020, according to a study on water conservation approaches published two years ago in the journal Water Policy.

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 06:31 AM 
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CS Monitor

Is Australia's retreat from climate change research start of a global trend?

The Australian federal science agency responsible for climate change research is shifting its focus, asserting that climate change is proven and so needs no more research. Does this make sense, and is it a sign of things to come?

By Jason Thomson, Staff February 10, 2016   

Australia’s federal science research agency has announced deep cuts to its climate-change research arm, prompting reaction from scientists across the globe.

The move, based on the belief that climate change is proven and so requires no further research, represents a shift in Australian government policy. Going forward, the country will instead focus on climate change mitigation, adaptation, and commercial ventures.

While the international scientific community has reacted with almost universal dismay to the announcement by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), a fundamental question remains: does this represent the start of a broader shift, or is Australia an outlier?

“I believe this is the start of a global trend,” says David Carlson, director of the World Climate Research Program (WCRP), Geneva, in a telephone interview with The Christian Science Monitor.

“Because of Paris [United Nations Conference on Climate Change, 2015], people will begin to relax their guard. The worry is that Australia is just the first.”

The WCRP is a part of the United Nations and, as such, rarely comments on the activities of particular countries. But this situation is very unusual, an “extraordinary event," says Mr. Carlson.

“My steering committee really lit up about this on Friday. We know so many of the [affected] scientists personally.”

In fact, the WCRP released a statement Monday expressing its concern, outlining the new goals as expressed by CSIRO, in areas such as “biodiversity and sustainability of agriculture, soils, and water” and “science to keep (our) people healthier," going on to say:

“One can hardly imagine a worse and more backward step toward any of those laudable goals than ignoring climate and discarding climate research.”

But what of the science, what of the basis for these changes?

In an email to staff February 3, CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall wrote, "the question [of climate change] has been answered, and the new question is what do we do about it, and how can we find solutions for the climate we will be living with," as the Monitor reported.

The notion that climate change is proven and so needs no further research is “absurd," says Carlson. “I wish that were true!”

“I completely agree we need to adapt, but without continuing research, we won’t understand how.”

Australia’s climate change research is of particular value, and so any reduction of particular concern, because CSIRO is “the most advanced institution of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere,” as The Independent notes.

“The organization creates one of the only high resolution pictures of the Southern Hemisphere’s climate – and the models that data is used in are among the most important for studying how climate change will affect the world.”

Not only is Australia so important for the global understanding of climate change, positioned as it is in a key location, but it is also especially vulnerable, surrounded by vast oceans with such major processes.

“I can understand the political impulse for relaxation,” concludes Carlson, “but I think that’s dangerous for the planet because we don’t have the information we need.”

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 06:29 AM 
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CS Monitor

Does time run backward inside black holes?

Using the 'holographic principle,' a new study suggests that the ever decreasing entropy of black holes could means that thermodynamic time may go backward near black holes.

By Cathaleen Chen, Staff

Time, at least defined thermodynamically, might not always run forward, at least not inside black holes.

Recent research published in Physical Review Letters may have discovered a new area law in general relativity that describes the geometry of black holes as curved "holographic screens."

In their study, Raphael Bousso, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Netta Engelhardt, a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, developed an alternative explanation of a black hole's event horizon, the point-of-no-return that separates a black hole from its observers.

In 1974, Stephen Hawking proposed that, due to quantum effects around the event horizon, black holes are slowly evaporating, eventually taking with them all of the information dragged into them by their extreme gravity. 

The apparent destruction of this information is problematic for certain principles within quantum physics, which hold that information about a system cannot be permanently destroyed. To resolve this apparent paradox, scientists in the 1990s developed the so-called holographic principle, which held that the information is actually preserved as part of surface fluctuations of the event horizon itself.

The principle states that the facts of the existence of black holes in three-dimensional space is transcribed on a two-dimensional surface – in the same way that flat holographic pictures create 3D illusions

In their report, Engelhardt and Bousso developed a new area law that indicates the direction of increase for holographic screens. There are two types – a “future holographic screen” and a “past holographic screen” – and they correspond to different gravitational fields.

"Holographic screens are in a sense a local boundary to regions of strong gravitational fields," Engelhardt said. "Future holographic screens correspond to gravitational fields which pull matter together … whereas past holographic screens correspond to regions which spread matter out."

This means that the direction of time is also different for the screens. In the latter, time goes forward. Our universe, for instance, is a past holographic screen, so by default, we understand thermodynamic time as always going forward. In future holographic screens on the other hand, time runs backwards.

As black holes have the type of gravitational field that Engelhardt first describes – one that intensely pulls matter together, reaching a point of infinite density – they epitomize a past holographic screen. Therefore, inside the perpetually disappearing darkness of the black hole, time runs backwards.

The authors make it clear that they're not suggesting that an astronaut inside a black hole's event horizon could somehow 'see' into the future.

“The event horizon is defined with respect to infinite future elapsed time, so by definition it 'knows' about the entire fate of the universe," Ms. Engelhardt told "In general relativity, the black hole event horizon cannot be observed by any physical observer in finite time, and there isn't a sense in which the black hole as an entity knows about future infinity. It is simply a convenient way of describing black holes."

The Standard Model of Physics is the theoretical framework that predicts interactions of subatomic particles. It describes the functions of components of quantum phenomena, including quarks and leptons, but it is at odds with Einstein's general theory of relativity – that time can go forward and backward.

But this theory of holographic screens offers a way of bridging the gap.

"Our area law holds in the absence of quantum effects, and we hope in the future to prove a more generalized area law which will hold more generally in the presence of certain quantum effects," Engelhardt said.

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 06:27 AM 
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CS Monitor

Scientists may have discovered gravitational waves. Should you care?

Yes, because the discovery would open a whole new world of physics.

By Lonnie Shekhtman, Staff February 10, 2016

In a couple of days, the world likely will learn what some astrophysicists have been anxiously anticipating for months: that a pair of extraordinarily sensitive laser detectors confirmed the existence of gravitational waves first predicted a century ago by Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity.

And, perhaps even more importantly, rumors based in part on an e-mail posted to Twitter from a Canadian physicist to his colleagues and students claim that researchers behind the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) experiment, which has been looking for the ripples of gravity caused by violent explosions in far-off space, will announce Thursday that they’ve detected these waves emanating from two black holes on a collision course.

“This is just from talking to people who said they've seen the paper, but I've not seen the paper itself," Clifford Burgess, the author of the e-mail and theoretical physicist at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, told Science magazine.

"I've been around a long time, so I've seen rumors come and go. This one seems more credible," said Dr. Burgess, who signed off on the e-mail to his colleagues with a “Woohoo! (I hope).”

Finding these undulations traveling through space at the speed of light, “will truly open a new window on the Universe,” say LIGO researchers.

Because they are produced by unobservable cataclysmic events, such as black holes colliding or stars exploding, that are too far away to detect with current technologies that look for sparks of light, they will help astrophysicists learn more about these phenomena.

“We are very confident that universe is filled with black holes and neutron stars, but since they don’t shine, we have no way to see them,” Marc Kamionkowski, a theoretical physicist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore tells The Christian Science Monitor.

Though astrophysicists already expect that almost every galaxy that we know of has a massive black hole at its center that is a millions times the mass of the Sun, they have no idea where those come from, what gases circulate around them, how they form, and if they behave like general relativity says they should, explains Dr. Kamionkowski.

Being able to prove that they exist through the gravitational waves they generate will set scientists on a more direct path to understanding the universe in new ways.

“It's one thing to have a theory, it’s another thing to actually see it,” says Kamionkowski. “In some sense, this experiment is going to show us the money.”

LIGO’s super sensitive laser interferometers in Hanford, Wash., and Livingston, La. since September have been sensing invisible waves traveling in every direction through the fabric of spacetime.

If on Thursday it turns out that they truly did sense these waves coming from black holes, it will be a remarkable scientific achievement, since the detectors are looking for “unimaginably small movement,” as LIGO describes it.

Like the waves formed by a small object tossed into a lake, the farther the geavitational waves travel from their source, the smaller the ripples become. By the time they reach Earth from as far as 225 million light years away, the waves are a billionth the diameter of an atom, says LIGO.

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 06:20 AM 
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CS Monitor

'Teddy bear' no longer endangered: What's behind the 'rewilding' of America?

Once down to just three small breeding groups in 1992, the Louisiana black bear has clambered back from the brink of extinction. From bald eagles to mountain lions, some of America's rarest beasts have once again found sure footing.

By Patrik Jonsson, Staff writer

Atlanta — The Louisiana black bear, the inspiration for the “teddy bear,” has clambered back from the brink of extinction, out of the Atchafalaya bottomlands, and promptly up into suburban neighborhood trees.

This month alone, three of the bears have had to be chased out of Louisiana neighborhoods, underscoring why the US Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday began proceedings to “de-list” the bear from the endangered species list, where it has been since 1992. In fact, the Louisiana black bear bear joins species as far ranging as alligators and armadillos, bald eagles and coyotes, that have seen populations explode and ranges expand amid a concerted, and sometimes controversial, American effort to return the backwoods to the beasts.

A potent combination of collaborative wildlife management techniques, cultural shifts in how Americans view large birds and mammals, the tenacity of the species themselves, and a cleaner overall environment have resulted in a record number of species being taken off the endangered species list in the Obama era, even as lawmakers start coming to terms with what it means to manage a country where raw, fanged wilderness now sniffs and grunts at the city limit.

“There is a rewilding of America going on, which is extraordinarily heartening,” says Andrew Wetzler, the director of the Land and Wildlife Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in Chicago.

The fact that a hunting and fishing state like Louisiana could turn around the plight of the black bear through teamwork, collaboration, and cooperation suggests to wildlife experts that air and water quality laws, as well as the Endangered Species Act, have dovetailed into a profound cultural shift that has turned the United States into a global model for species and habitat conservation.

“I think [environmental laws passed in the 1970s] worked, but there was also a huge, fundamental cultural shift that came with it,” says David Muth, director of the Gulf Restoration Program at the National Wildlife Federation’s office in New Orleans. “Bald eagles, ospreys, and a whole host of species that live on fish have come back in a spectacular way, and it’s in part because of laws, but it’s also because the people have changed.”

The creeping but undeniable expansion of wildlife in America overshadows to an extent the fact that many animals, including the Florida panther and California condor, continue to struggle for purchase on the continent. Habitat loss and climate change remain stark challenges for long-term success, even survival, for a wide range of species.

But it only takes a short walk into the woods to sense a new presence. It was only 30 years ago when many of America’s wild animals were in deep trouble, reeling from unchecked pollution, massive habitat loss, and mass predation by Americans with guns. The bald eagle was nearly gone, victim of DDT pesticides. Coyotes were rare, and the now ubiquitous white-tailed deer was an exceedingly rare sight.

But from New England’s kaleidoscopic fall forests to Louisiana’s wild swamps, nature – and her furry and winged cohorts – is on the march.

Once nearly completely cleared, New England’s dramatic reforestation has been followed by an influx of wild animals. Not long ago, Vermont had a handful of black bears, and it now has 6,000. In a 2013 story for the Boston Globe, correspondent Colin Nickerson noted that, “Also newly abundant are gray seals, eagles, and once-rare pileated woodpeckers that now rat-a-tat on old-growth trees right at the edge of Boston. Dive-bombing hawks are an almost ho-hum suburban spectacle.”

The American alligator was once hunted to nearly extinction, and is now back with a vengeance controlled only by a month-long annual hunt. Chicago is benefiting from some 200 rodent-eating coyotes prowling inside the city limits. And after being extinct east of the Mississippi, mountain lions are again expanding their range eastward.

The sudden abundance of animals that once were largely invisible – from roseate spoonbills to spawning herring – can now be glimpsed on short excursions into the wild.

During a jaunt through the Oconee National Forest in Greene County, Ga., it’s not unusual to see fox squirrels, turkey, coyote, and, majestically, large numbers of ospreys. Georgia counted a record 163 active bald eagle nests this year, and it doesn’t take much luck to see one glide down to grip a careless catfish. Stay up late and you’re liable to witness family groups of armadillos scrounging through the underbrush, nose-poking for grubs.

“It feels almost like we’re entering an age of miracles,” John Banks, director of natural resources for the Penobscot Nation, a tribe in Maine, told the Globe. “Great birds are again bold in the sky.”

The recovery of the Louisiana black bear is an illustrative tale of how this all happened. In 1902, President Teddy Roosevelt spared one during a hunting expedition in Mississippi. The story, relayed at the time in a Washington Post editorial cartoon, inspired the "teddy bear" phenomenon. But the great outdoorsman’s reluctance to fire at an animal that was once routinely killed on sight is perhaps the most enduring legacy from that day.

The bear recovery happened in part through moving some surviving bears around to improve the dwindling genetic stock. But the key to the project was allowing big patches of contiguous farm and timber land to return to a natural state along the lower Mississippi and Atchafalaya Basin – to, in effect, rebuild the bear's natural range.

According to US Fish and Wildlife field coordinator Debbie Fuller, it took everyone from timber companies to biologists, state wildlife managers to bee keepers, to help the bears recover after the population dwindled to three small breeding groups in 1992. Today, there are at least 750 animals, and Louisianans are having to reacquaint themselves with the soft-eyed bears.

“A lot of people didn’t grow up with a lot of bears, so they’re going through all kinds of changes as they get used to seeing them and living around them again,” says Ms. Fuller.

The rewilding of America is both a success story and cautionary tale, bound up in Washington politics over how best to conserve species, and even a deeper question: Who determines which species are important, which species are at full capacity, or the extent to which successful wildlife conservation plays a role in broader scientific concerns about global extinction events and climate change?

Such questions are being debated in Washington, D.C., as congressional Republicans push to weaken the Endangered Species Act, which is seen by some as an unnecessary federal intrusion that punishes responsible corporate players in the oil and timber industries. The Obama administration hopes changes to the program, including giving state wildlife managers greater say in the listing process, will help convince Republicans that the success of the law is no reason to scrap it.

“The attack on the Endangered Species Act is in full swing right now in Congress, and the Obama administration response has been to show that the act is working by delisting as many as species as we can, as fast as we can,” says Pat Parenteau, an environmental law professor at the University of Vermont in South Royalton. “The danger there is, if you’re wrong about the viability about some of these populations, then we’re going to be back where we were 20, 30, 40 years ago and be forced to either relist the species or watch them go.”

One such test case is the sage grouse. Most people have never heard of the largest American grouse, and many have never seen it, maybe because its population dropped by half between 2007 and 2013. Republicans in the Senate, who have vowed to reform the 1973 act for being too imposing on states, are blocking an attempt to have the bird listed as endangered.

Despite the congressional politics, however, the sage grouse is being helped. The US Department of Agriculture has devoted $425 million for its Sage Grouse Initiative, which helps pay landowners for conservation easements on their land. And the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is accommodating the birds on some 50 million acres. States and conservation groups are also on board, setting aside “core areas” to the bird’s survival.

But at least in the case of the Louisiana black bear, its rebound had less to do with its listing as endangered and more to do with an ensuing collaborative mindset that proved wildlife conservation doesn’t have to come with economic losses or hardship. Indeed, prominent among those who helped save the “teddy bear” were those whose forbears once hunted it to near-extinction.

“Build it and they will come, that’s what’s happening with black bears,” says NWF's Mr. Muth. “But it’s also that people more broadly value the wildlife. There are a lot of people out there, including deer hunters prowling one of the great deer hunting areas of the world, who could’ve all taken a shot at one of these black bears, and they didn’t.”

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 06:17 AM 
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CS Monitor

How the fox squirrel got off the endangered species list

Fox squirrels rebound: Federal officials, local authorities, and politicians from three states celebrated the 3-pound, short-eared rodent's recovery. 

By Molly Jackson, Staff

Conservationists in Delaware declared a "major victory" for the Endangered Species Act this week, after nearly 50 years of interstate cooperation to pull a species back from near-extinction.

The Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel, a larger, fluffier, and blessedly quieter cousin to the common gray squirrel, was one of the first creatures listed on the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1967, the predecessor of the ESA. At that time, it had lost 90 percent of its wooded habitat on the Delmarva Peninsula, the 170 mile-long stretch of land between Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic that is also home to counties in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

After a five year review, the US Fish and Wildlife Service says the fox squirrel, now 20,000 strong, is safe from extinction. It will be removed from the Threatened and Endangered Wildlife before 2016.
Recommended: Name that animal!

As a federal endangered species, fox squirrels were protected from hunters for the last few decades, nearly tripling their habitat, far from humans: they've been found in 135,000 of the Peninsula's acres, up from 32,000 in 1990.

For years, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has been relocating squirrels to new areas within their historic habitat, hoping new communities would take hold. Unlike gray squirrels, fox squirrels prefer to stay close to the ground; they're less "agile" than grays, better built for 'ambling' than 'leaping,' according to the FWS.

"The natural world is amazingly resilient, especially when a broad collection of partners works together to help it," Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) said on Friday at the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Milton, Delaware, announcing the squirrel's recovery alongside a bevy of officials from the Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, and local officials and politicians.

"We could not have reached this point without the many citizen-conservationists who changed the way they managed their forest lands to make this victory possible, and I am deeply appreciative of their efforts," he said.

Friends of the squirrels are relying on continued support from states to make sure fox squirrels can stay off the endangered list: most of their habitat is made of privately-owned forests, not public land. None of the squirrel's three home states plan to remove it from no-hunting lists any time soon; now that the critters have made it off of the federal endangered list, it's up to them to make sure the squirrels can stay off.

The fox squirrels' victory is "the latest in a string of success stories that demonstrate the Endangered Species Act’s effectiveness," Department of the Interior representative Michael Bean said in Milton.

The squirrels join about two dozen other species such as the peregrine falcon and bald eagle, which were also de-listed as endangered. While another 10 have been delisted because they've gone extinct, some research suggests more than half of the more than 2,100 species on the endangered or threatened lists have remained stable or improved since being placed on the list.

In total, more than 99 percent of the list's original members have been saved from extinction.

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 06:11 AM 
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CS Monitor

Can we save the California Spotted Owl?

The Center for Biological Diversity is pushing for the California Spotted Owl's designation as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, following on the heels of the well-known bald eagle success story.

By Lucy Schouten, Staff

Bird-watchers reveled in four bald eagle sightings during a weekend event in San Bernardino county, California, the Associated Press reported.

For wildlife advocates, such sightings are a satisfying reminder that efforts to pull a species back from the brink of extinction can work. After a major comeback from a population of a few hundred in the 1950s, the bald eagle is not only a poster child for the Endangered Species Act, but also a model for progress within it.

The bald eagle had declined precipitously both because of direct human intervention and the pesticide DDT that weakened eagle eggshells. Bald eagles received a spot on the Endangered Species Act list, nationwide concern, and decades of work, and they became ubiquitous once more. They returned to California to the delight of bird-watchers and conservationists.

“This news is very gratifying,” Peter Sharpe, an ecologist working for eagle restoration with the Institute for Wildlife Studies, said in a news release. “I expect to see bald eagles return to all eight of the California Channel Islands within a few years, which will mark yet another milestone in their successful recovery."

Threats to the all-American bird involved DDT, rather than habitat reduction, but Justin Augustine of the Center for Biological Diversity says another native bird species, the California Spotted Owl, could benefit from the focused effort the Endangered Species Act provides.

"There’s a difference in terms of the threats, so it wouldn’t necessarily follow exactly the same blueprint of recovery as the bald eagle, but that’s exactly the point of the Endangered Species Act,"  Mr. Augustine says in a phone interview.

The number of California Spotted Owls has been declining in its habitat in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and it competes with an invasive barred owl species. The California Spotted Owl has some legal protection currently that prevents logging in the Sierra Nevada conifer forests during its nesting months, but Augustine says the difference between owl populations in national park land (where logging is not permitted) and national forests or private lands (where clear-cutting sometimes occurs) is striking.

The bald eagle's path to recovery also had advantages the owl may not find, and no species receives the "endangered" designation lightly. The Center for Biological Diversity filed an intent to sue on Monday because the US Fish and Wildlife Service had exceeded the 12-month time limit for deciding whether the California Spotted Owl is endangered. The notice puts pressure on the government agency to review the case, but formal designation and protection are still a year out after that, Augustine says.

The owl is entering a crowded playing field for conservation, and the Fish and Wildlife Service could choose to designate the owl "warranted but precluded." This would mean that while the owl's situation deserves protection, it falls behind too many other species in need to receive any more of the government's limited resources.

Some groups would also oppose designating another owl endangered, as the species' cousin, the Northern Spotted Owl, already holds a controversial listing on the Endangered Species Act. Protection for the spotted owl caused losses to the timber industry that crippled the economy in parts of California and left some residents feeling that Ammon Bundy and his anti-federal militia in Oregon are not too far off, according to the Sacramento Bee.

“We either have to quit and go do something else, or we need to fight it,” said Jerry Kresge, a California cattle rancher. He told the Sacramento Bee he disagreed with Bundy's tactics but appreciated the sentiment after the spotted owl controversy. “I think most folks I know are to the point where they’ll fight.”

Although the California Spotted Owl will not "follow exactly the same blueprint of recovery," Augustine says the bald eagle remains an example of how the American conservation process works and holds out hope for the owl.

"It took a while for the bald eagle, but it did eventually happen," Augstine says. "That’s what we would hope for the owl."

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 06:08 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

CS Monitor

Volunteers find extremely rare albino turtle hatchling

Volunteers in Australia found an albino turtle hatchling. Despite the odds, the turtle appears to have made it to the ocean.

By Corey Fedde, Staff February 10, 2016   

Volunteers surveying turtle nests in Australia made a surprising discovery when they noticed a baby green sea turtle that wasn't green.

Volunteers with Coolum and North Shore Coast Care were counting the empty turtle shells on Castaways Beach to estimate how many green sea turtles, also known as Pacific sea turtles, had hatched and made it to the ocean. The workers expected the nest to hatch on Friday, but when they arrived they found a small albino hatchling on its back.

"None of us had ever experienced or seen anything like that before, so we were all a little bit taken aback," volunteer group president Linda Warneminde told ABC News Australia.
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Warneminde described the hatchling as looking normal, except with a white shell and small white flippers. A hue of slight pink could be seen under its flippers.

"He wasn't sick, he was just white," she told the BBC.

Albino turtles are extremely rare. Dr. Col Limpus, chief scientist of the Queensland's Government's Threatened Species Unit estimated to ABC News that albino hatchlings occur at a rate of “one in many hundreds of thousands of eggs.”

Despite the early triumph, the albino hatchling has a tough life ahead.

In general, green sea turtles have a survival to maturity rate of about one in 1,000 hatchlings, according to Werneminde. The animals have to overcome a range of hurdles from predators to plastic debris to fishing humans. And albino green turtles have an even lower rate of survival.

"Normally they don't survive coming out of the nest and when they do they're abnormal and not well suited to the environment, which means the chance of survival is very slim," Dr. Limpus told ABC.

The albino straggler appears to be off to a good start, despite the odds. Warneminde noted to CNN that the hatchling “was quite vigorous while walking from the nest to the ocean.”

The green sea turtle can weigh up to 700 pounds when fully grown, and have nonretractable, relatively small heads.

Green turtles have long migrations from feeding grounds to nesting areas. They mate every two to four years in shallow waters. When it is time to nest, the mother will leave the sea and dig a pit in the sand before laying her eggs. A typical nest is filled with 100 to 200 eggs.

“The most dangerous time of a green turtle’s life is when it makes the journey from nest to sea. Multiple predators, including crabs and flocks of gulls, voraciously prey on hatchlings during this short scamper,” National Geographic writes.

The albino hatchling found in Australia was one of 122 hatchlings. According to witnesses on the beach, despite obstacles and being two days behind the other hatchlings, it reached the sea.

"I just hope he survives out in the big sea. He was very fast, very keen to get in the water," Jayne Walton, a volunteer on the beach, told the BBC.

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 06:05 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
February 10, 2016

Cyanobacteria perceive light by using same principles as human eyes

by Brett Smith
Red Orbit

In probably the most primitive example of vision, single-celled pond slime is known for being the able to sense light and move toward it.

Now, a new study published in the journal eLife has revealed how the tiny organisms see by useing their entire spherical body to bend light and focus it in one side of the cell. The microorganism then moves its body in the direction opposite the bright spot.
In their report, the study team said the finding means these single-celled organisms are "probably the world's smallest and oldest example" of a lens.

"It has a way of detecting where the light is; we know that because of the direction that it moves. But we were puzzled about this because the cells are very, very small," study author Conrad Mullineaux, from Queen Mary University of London, told BBC News.

Mullineaux said a bit of luck led to his team making the discovery.

"We noticed it accidentally, because we had cells on a surface and we were shining light from one side, in order to watch the movement towards the light,” he said. “We suddenly saw these focused bright spots and we thought, 'bloody hell!'. Immediately, it was pretty obvious what was going on."

Mullineaux said for all the study this microorganism has been through, it was amazing that nobody had seen the phenomenon before.

"It seemed really, really obvious afterwards,” he said.

Follow the light

Along with investigating the bacteria's focusing ability with various kinds of microscopes, the team used a laser beam to delve into exactly how such concentrated light impacted the bugs' behavior.

With the laser beam focused steadily on the middle of a dish, the team put a bigger, separate light on the pond slime cells from one side.

This attracted the microorganisms across the surface of the dish in the usual way, dragging themselves towards the light with small tentacles. The usual bright "image" of the light was seen on their trailing side. However, the second any of the bugs strayed into the laser beam, there was a rapid reverse of direction.

Put simply, bright light centered on one side of the bacterium drove it the other way - which under normal conditions takes it towards the light source.

The researchers said their findings likely apply to many other bacteria species, yet additional work is necessary to see if the system works in non-spherical microorganisms, such as rod-shaped cyanobacteria.

 on: Feb 10, 2016, 06:02 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
February 10, 2016

Scientists recreate Big Bang ‘primordial soup’ with LHC

by Susanna Pilny
Red Orbit

CERN has recreated the primordial soup that composed the universe a few billionths of a second after the Big Bang in order to understand it better—with some surprising results.

The recipe for such a soup is simple. It requires a few lead nuclei; a 16.8-mile-long Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator; and sprinkle of 5.02 tera electron volts (TeV), the highest amount of energy ever used in such an experiment. What comes out is known as quark-gluon plasma, an extremely hot and dense material composed of the most fundamental particles, but especially (surprise) quarks and gluons.

This isn’t the first time this soup has been made by humans—that honor falls to CERN in June of 2015. But more than recreating the quark-gluon plasma, researchers have now been able to discover properties of the primordial soup that they couldn’t determine before.

"The analyses of the collisions make it possible, for the first time, to measure the precise characteristics of a quark-gluon plasma at the highest energy ever and to determine how it flows," said You Zhou, a postdoc in the ALICE research group at the Niels Bohr Institute and a member of the international team tasked with examining the soup, in a statement.

Behaving like a liquid

In fact, the researchers have been hard at work studying the plasma’s collective properties—which has revealed that it actually behaves more like a liquid than a gas, even at its highest energy densities. Further, they were able to determine the viscosity of this fluid with high precision.

In order to discover such things, the researchers shot the spherical lead nuclei at each other so that they hit off-center, forming primordial soup in the shape of a very tiny football. Because of its non-spherical shape, the difference in pressure between the center of the “football” and the surface varies along the different axes. Further, the pressure differential pushes the “football” to expand and flow, meaning one can measure a characteristic variation in the number of particles produced in the collisions as a function of the angle.

"It is remarkable that we are able to carry out such detailed measurements on a drop of 'early universe', that only has a radius of about one millionth of a billionth of a meter,” said Jens Jørgen Gaardhøje, professor and head of the ALICE group at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen.

“The results are fully consistent with the physical laws of hydrodynamics, i.e. the theory of flowing liquids and it shows that the quark-gluon plasma behaves like a fluid. It is however a very special liquid, as it does not consist of molecules like water, but of the fundamental particles quarks and gluons.”

These results have been submitted to Physical Review Letters, the top scientific journal for nuclear and particle physics but the researchers aren’t stopping with these results. According to Jens Jørgen Gaardhøje, the team is now aiming to map the quark-gluon plasma with even more precision—and to study it even farther back in time.

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