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May 21, 2018, 06:39 PM
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 on: May 18, 2018, 04:27 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
The challenge of space gardening: One giant ‘leaf’ for mankind

Agence France-Presse
18 May 2018 at 07:14 ET                   

It’s not easy having a green thumb in space.

Without gravity, seeds can float away. Water doesn’t pour, but globs up and may drown the roots. And artificial lights and fans must be rigged just right to replicate the sun and wind.

But NASA has decided that gardening in space will be crucial for the next generation of explorers, who need to feed themselves on missions to the Moon or Mars that may last months or years.

Necessary nutrients, like vitamins C and K, break down over time in freeze-dried foods. Without them, astronauts are increasingly vulnerable to infections, poor blood clotting, cancer and heart disease.

So the US space agency has turned to professional botanists and novice gardeners — high school students, in fact — to help them practice.

“There are tens of thousands of edible plants on Earth that would presumably be useful, and it becomes a big problem to choose which of those plants are the best for producing food for astronauts,” explained Carl Lewis, director of the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, which is leading the effort.

“And that is where we come in.”

– Useful foibles –

The Miami-based garden has identified 106 plant varieties that might do well in space, including hardy cabbages and leafy lettuces.

They have enlisted 15,000 student botanists from 150 schools to grow plants in space-like conditions in their own classrooms.

The four-year project is about midway through, and is paid for by a $1.24 million grant from NASA.

Using trays rigged with lights that mimic the grow boxes used in space, students must tend to the plants and record data on their progress, which eventually gets shared with NASA.

“We’re not using typical gardening equipment,” said Rhys Campo, a 17-year-old high school student who tried her hand at growing red romaine lettuce this year.

“We have setups that are a lot more high-tech.”

Still, some plants get overwatered, some classrooms are hotter or colder than others, and holiday breaks may leave the grow boxes unattended.

In Campo’s class, the lettuce dried up, and students were unable to taste it.

Such foibles have turned out to be an unexpected but useful part of the project, said NASA plant scientist Gioia Massa.

“If you have a plant that does well in all that variability, chances are that plant will do well in space,” she told AFP.

– New textures –

Astronauts living at the space station, 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth have encountered their share of failures while gardening in orbit, too.

The first portable growing box for space, equipped with LED lights, called Veggie, was tested at the orbiting outpost in 2014.

Some of the lettuce didn’t germinate, and some died of drought.

But astronauts kept trying, and finally took their first bite of NASA-approved space-grown lettuce in 2015.

Now, there are two Veggie grow boxes at the ISS, along with a third, called the Advanced Plant Habitat.

The food being grown is only occasionally harvested, and amounts to just a leaf or two per astronaut, but it’s worth it, said NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold, during a live video downlink with students at Fairchild last month.

“The textures of food are all kind of very similar,” he said of the freeze-dried fare available on board the ISS.

“When we are able to harvest our own lettuce here, just having a different texture to enjoy is a really nice diversion from the standard menu.”

– The ideal space veggie –

Plants don’t need gravity in order to grow. They just orient themselves to the light.

According to Massa, a good space plant has to be compact and produce a lot of edible food.

Plants also have to do well in a spaceship like the ISS, which has a temperature of 71 degrees Fahrenheit (22 Celsius), 40 percent relative humidity, and high carbon dioxide — some 3,000 parts per million.

“That is something plants aren’t adjusted to,” said Massa. “On Earth it is about 400 ppm.”

Under a system Massa described as akin to hydroponics but not exactly the same, space plants also have to germinate from a plant pillow with only a small amount of dirt, do well under LED lights, and be microbially fairly clean, because it is hard to wash vegetables in space.

Some of the student-tested crops are expected to launch in coming months, including dragoon lettuce and extra dwarf pak choi.

By next year, tomatoes could be on the menu.

– Connection to Earth –

NASA is looking into the possibility of robotic space gardening, to automate the process so crew can focus on other tasks.

But many astronauts say they like tending to plants, because it helps them maintain a connection to Earth.

“The psychological benefits can be important for astronauts,” said NASA research scientist Trent Smith.

Besides — as many gardeners know — having a plot dry up or be devoured by mold isn’t the end of world.

“The thing that the students learn is that making mistakes is okay,” said JoLynne Woodmansee, a teacher at BIOTech High School in Miami.

“The whole process of science is all about building. You can’t learn something new without making a mistake.”

 on: May 18, 2018, 04:24 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Investors urge fossil fuel firms to shun Trump's Arctic drilling plans

Oil extraction in Alaskan wilderness area would be an ‘irresponsible business decision’, trillion-dollar investors say

Damian Carrington Environment editor
18 May 2018 19.00 BST

Investors managing more than $2.5tn have warned oil firms and banks to shun moves by the US president, Donald Trump, to open the Arctic national wildlife refuge (ANWR) to drilling.

Companies extracting oil and gas from the wilderness area in Alaska would face “enormous reputational risk and public backlash”, the investors say in a letter sent on Monday to 100 fossil fuel companies and the banks that finance them.

Exploiting the area would also be an “irresponsible business decision”, the group argues, as global action on climate change will reduce oil demand and mean such projects have a high risk of losing money. An accompanying letter from the indigenous Gwich’in people say it would be “deeply unethical” to destroy their homelands.

The 19m-acre refuge is one of wildest places left on Earth and the largest area of publicly owned land in the US. It is home to a huge range of animals, including polar bears, snowy owls and the porcupine caribou on which the Gwich’in rely for food.

In April, the Trump administration began the process of opening the ANWR for oil and gas drilling, the first such move since 1980. Significant oil and gas reserves are thought to lie under the ANWR coastal plain and Prudhoe Bay, a major oil centre, lies close to the refuge’s western boundary. The Gwich’in name for the coastal plain is “Sacred place where life begins”, as it is the breeding ground of the caribou.

“Drilling in the ANWR is an exceedingly high-risk gamble that companies and investors should avoid,” said New York state comptroller, Thomas P DiNapoli, trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, one of the investors that signed the letter. “A global low-carbon economy is emerging, driven by the growing opportunities for cleaner energy. We want the companies [we invest in] to help build that future, not destroy one of America’s last truly wild places.”

“There is no longer any doubt that climate change poses an acute risk not only to our collective way of life, but also to investments made in outdated and highly precarious forms of energy,” said Thibaud Clisson at BNP Paribas Asset Management, another signatory.

Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in steering committee, said: “We call on oil companies and the banks that fund them to stand with the Gwich’in and leave this pristine and fragile place intact. The survival of my people depends on it.”

However, Alaska’s congressional representatives, who are all Republican, strongly support the drilling plan, suggesting it could bring in $1bn to state and federal governments in the next decade. When the plan to open the ANWR for oil and gas exploitation was announced, senator Lisa Murkowski said it was “the single-most important step we can take to strengthen our long-term energy security and create new wealth”.

Murkowski, also chairman of the Senate committee on energy and natural resources, said: “Responsible development is limited to just 2,000 federal acres – just one ten-thousandth of all of ANWR.”

But the letter from the Gwich’in steering committee says: “This place was originally set aside by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 as a refuge, not for development. Roads, pipelines, gravel mines, airstrips and other facilities that would be developed to support exploration and development on the coastal plain would undermine the wilderness character of the Refuge, fragment habitat and displace wildlife. And oil spills, which already occur on the North Slope, would harm fish and wildlife.”

 on: May 18, 2018, 04:21 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Race is on to set up Europe's electric car charging network

New Europe

MUNICH  — Charging an electric car away from home can be an exercise in uncertainty — hunting for that one lonely station at the back of a rest-area parking lot and hoping it's working. In Europe, some of the biggest automakers are out to remove such anxieties from the battery-only driving experience and encourage electric-vehicle sales by building a highway network of fast charging stations. The idea is to let drivers plug in, charge in minutes instead of hours, and speed off on their way — from Norway to southern Italy and Portugal to Poland.

Much is at stake for the automakers, which include Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler and Ford. Their joint venture, Munich-based Ionity, is pushing to roll out its network in time to service the next generation of battery-only cars coming on the market starting next year. They're aiming to win back some of the market share for electric luxury car sales lost to Tesla, which has its own, proprietary fast-charging network.

Despite a slower-than-expected start, Ionity CEO Michael Hajesch told The Associated Press in an interview he's "confident" the company will reach its goal of 400 ultra-fast charging stations averaging six charging places each by 2020.

The idea is "to be able to drive long distances with battery electric vehicles, across Europe and to have the same experience at each station, meaning a very easy and comfortable customer journey," Hajesch said, speaking at the company's Munich headquarters near the 1972 Olympic stadium.

The idea is to break electric cars out of the early adopter niche, in which they are charged slowly overnight at home and used for short commutes. "The sites we are looking for are really the A-sites," he said, "directly at the autobahn. Not down the road, not driving five kilometers into the next industrial area and finding a charging station somewhere, without light, or any amenities around, but right at the autobahn."

"If you're going from Hamburg to Munich, because it's a weekend trip to friends, typically you do not have much time," he said. So what counts will be "the speed of recharging your vehicles, and at the same time finding maybe some amenities: maybe a coffee, getting a newspaper or whatever."

Ionity opened its first station April 17 at a rest stop off the A61 highway near the small town of Niederzissen, 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Bonn in western Germany. The six high-speed chargers are operating in "welcome mode," meaning they're free until May 31. After that, Ionity plans to charge for the power, which it seeks to obtain from renewable sources.

Ionity has agreements for some 300 sites, working with fueling station and rest stop landlords. The average distance between stations will be 120 kilometers (75 miles). More charging availability is what it will take to get an environmentally aware car buyer like Rainer Hoedt to choose a battery-only vehicle. The 58-year-old Berlin geography teacher is a proud owner of a Mitsubishi Outlander, a plug-in hybrid that combines internal combustion with a battery he can charge overnight. The battery-only range of 50 kilometers (30 miles) lets him drive emissions free for daily trips at home.

But a family vacation of more than 200 kilometers (120 miles) to the Baltic Sea was a different story. Hoedt had to drive on internal combustion before finding a lone charging station as he approached his destination, using the goingelectric.de website.

"It was right next to the highway, there was one charging station and we were lucky that it was free," he said. But he couldn't find a charging station he could use by the seashore. On the way back, he was able to charge at a rest stop, but only by asking a non-electric car owner to move his vehicle away from the lone charging pole. A battery-only car might never have made it home.

And he couldn't use one to visit his cousin 650 kilometers (400 miles) away in Rosenheim. "I looked at the option... The infrastructure is still so bad, I just don't want to risk that I get stranded," he said. "Once the infrastructure gets better, that might be my next car."

Tesla has shown how charging infrastructure can drive vehicle sales. It has 1,229 stations with 9,623 fast chargers in Europe alone, where it has cut into Mercedes and BMW's sales of luxury cars. But it has its own proprietary plug. Ionity is using the CCS plug backed by the European Union as a common standard for all.

In both the U.S. and Europe, the situation is roughly similar: More chargers available in jurisdictions where government strongly backs electric vehicles, such as California, Norway or the Netherlands. Elsewhere, chargers get can harder to find for long stretches along rural highways.

Volkswagen, which agreed to invest in low-emission driving to settle charges it cheated on diesel emissions, is building 300 highway charging sites in the U.S. by June 2019 through its Electrify America unit. Japan has 40,000 charging points, exceeding its 34,000 gas stations, according to Nissan — but many of those are private garages.

Ionity is counting on the large 350-kilowatt capacity of its publicly available chargers — almost three times the 120 kilowatts per vehicle of Tesla's Superchargers. No car currently on the market can make full use of 350 kilowatt charging capacity. But they're coming: in 2019 Porsche plans to introduce the Mission E. Porsche says that the sleek, low-slung sports car will take 15 minutes to charge for 400 kilometers (250 miles) more driving.

Tesla and its founder, Elon Musk, "showed it's not enough to just build electric cars" without also building charging infrastructure, said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the CAR Center Automotive Research at the University of Duisberg-Essen.

The automakers "are late, but it's better than it was... it remains the case that without Elon Musk the carmakers would not have realized this," he said.

 on: May 18, 2018, 04:18 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Extreme botany: How far should we go to save a plant species?

Self-described extreme botanist Steve Perlman goes where no man – nor goat – has gone before to find and save the rarest plants in Hawaii.   

Eva Botkin-Kowacki

July 5, 2017 Waimea Canyon State Park, Kauai, Hawaii—Steve Perlman doesn't let anything, even hundreds of feet of vertical cliff, get in the way of his efforts to find and save endangered plants in the wild.

If he encounters a steep drop while traipsing through the most rugged vegetation in Hawaii or on other Pacific islands, Mr. Perlman simply pulls out ropes and rappels down to where he wants to go. Once you're out there, he says casually, "you just want to keep going. You don't want to be stopped by a waterfall, you want to see what plants are on those steep cliffs." And at 69, he's still roping into uncharted territory looking for rare plants.

Perlman’s brand of extreme botany, as he calls it, is just one example of heroic conservation efforts going on around the globe. But not everyone agrees on the best way to save the vast amount of the natural world that is under threat. Some say conservationists should use some sort of triage system to prioritize which species or ecosystems get attention, while others suggest that every species is valuable and deserves conservation attention.

For Hugh Possingham, chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy, it’s a matter of saving as many species as possible, with limited resources.

“I suppose the question is not how far should we go to save a single plant species, it is what can we do with the resources we have,” says Dr. Possingham.

Acknowledging the limits on time and financial resources, Possingham has developed a formula for prioritizing conservation projects that also takes into consideration the number of species that could potentially benefit from each project and the probability of success.

“The system favors those species that are most in danger of extinction,” Possingham says, “but it is countered by the fact that sometimes those species that are most in danger of extinction are the ones that are harder to save, or more expensive to save.”

Perlman and Possingham bookend an ideological spectrum of views in the conservation world. Both are profoundly dedicated to preserving biodiversity but approach the problem from vastly different perspectives. Where Possingham finds clarity in careful cost-benefit analysis, Perlman functions in a perpetual race against time.

Divergent models of conservation

In Hawaii, where Perlman works as a statewide specialist for the University of Hawaii’s Plant Extinction Prevention Program (PEPP), there are 238 known plant species teetering on the brink of extinction, each with fewer than 50 individuals left in the wild. To Perlman and his colleagues at PEPP, each one of those species deserves saving. And he is willing to do whatever it takes to try to save them: fencing off plants to keep out goats, pigs, and other grazers; rappelling off cliffs to collect seeds and pollen; and even hand pollinating the last few individuals of a species.

But on a global scale, nurturing each individual species back to health is a more weighty proposition. One in five of the world's plant species is threatened with extinction, according to the annual State of the World's Plants report from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. That's a lot of plants that need tender love and care – and money – to keep them from going extinct.

That’s where Possingham’s formula comes in. In New Zealand, for instance, where nearly a third of the archipelago’s indigenous plants are threatened, Possingham’s calculated approach has enabled conservationists to make educated decisions about where to allocate funds. In some cases, his formula has helped Kiwis stretch conservation dollars to save more species.

On the other end of the ideological spectrum, however, conservationists like Stuart Pimm worry that the triage-based approach not only dooms species that potentially could have been saved, it also stymies innovation.

“As a scientist, I think triage is such a bad idea because it doesn't advance the field,” says Professor Pimm, a conservation ecologist at Duke University in Durham, N.C., whose research is behind the widely cited figure suggesting that species are going extinct as much as 1,000 times faster than the background rate of extinction.

When biologists are fighting to save the last few individuals of a species from extinction, they are driven to innovate, he says. And through this process, “We are getting very, very much better at saving species from the brink of extinction,” he says. “We have forced ourselves not to write species off.”

What’s at stake?

One risk of extinction is that when a species disappears, its absence could disrupt other parts of the ecosystem if, say, it was the primary food source for a particular animal. But even if other species can fill the newly extinct species' ecological niche, something specific will still be lost: its genetics.

“Every species that is lost, I think it's fair to say, is a treasure that is gone forever,” says Ruth Shaw, a professor of ecology, evolution, and behavior at the University of Minnesota. Each species is genetically unique, she says, and “the diversity that we have came about through just awe-inspiring expanses of time, and is not replaceable in any kind of a time frame that we can understand.”

Preserving one-of-a-kind genetics is one of the reasons that Perlman and other botanists around the world collect seeds and cuttings of rare plants that can be stored in seed banks, tissue preservation facilities, or at least grown in captivity.

But the value of the genetics of the world's flora goes beyond simply being impressed by the feat of evolution that led up to today. Having a variety of plant genetics to draw from could be useful to scientists in the future who want to innovate in agriculture, pharmaceuticals, or to produce other plant-based products, says Stuart Thompson, a senior lecturer in plant biochemistry at the University of Westminster.

Large seed banks, like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, contain many seeds from agricultural crops, as the world's population is currently at about 7.5 billion and is expected to continue rising quickly. With many mouths to feed, Dr. Thompson says, scientists may need to breed new genetics into agricultural crop species to make them more resilient or more productive. But if key genetic diversity is lost, that won't be possible.

Furthermore, he adds, "we could potentially be making use of non-agricultural species to facilitate agricultural innovation." As such, scientists might not know what plant species should be preserved. Some inedible plant could perhaps contain the genetics to revolutionize agriculture, but researchers need its genetics to be able to figure that out.

In that sense, the potential benefits of preserving a species is immeasurable. And so, day in and day out, Perlman heads for the cliffs, following his intuition and clues offered by the natural world to save as many species as he can access.

As a young botanist, Perlman noticed that goats and other grazers that were ravaging Hawaiian plants couldn't reach the steepest cliffs. He surmised that those cliff faces might harbor some of the islands’ rarest species. And so Perlman and his field partner Kenneth Wood have become pioneers of extreme exploratory botany, armed with deep reverence for every species they encounter – and little regard for their own safety.

“I'm not really thinking that I'm going to be dying because I'm on the cliffs,” Perlman says.

For him, saving plant species is all about responsibility. “I don't want to lose any of these species that are unique and so beautiful,” he says. “It's part of my responsibility to try and keep them all alive.”

 on: May 18, 2018, 04:14 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Leaked report warns Cambodia's biggest dam could 'literally kill' Mekong river

Government-commissioned report says proposed site at Sambor reach is the ‘worst possible place’ for hydropower due to impact on wildlife

Tom Fawthrop in Kratie, Cambodia
18 May 2018 07.00 BST

A Chinese-backed plan to build Cambodia’s biggest dam could “literally kill” the Mekong river, according to a confidential assessment seen by the Guardian which says that the proposed site at Sambor is the “worst possible place” for hydropower.

The report, which was commissioned by the government in Phnom Penh, has been kept secret since it was submitted last year, prompting concerns that ministers are inclined to push ahead regardless of the dire impact it predicts on river dolphins and one of the world’s largest migrations of freshwater fish.

The proposed hydropower plant would require a 33km-wide concrete barrier across the river at Sambor, Kratie province. This quiet rural district is best known as a place for watching Irrawaddy dolphins, whose critically low numbers have just shown their first increase in 20 years.

To examine the environmental impact of the dam and the 82km-long reservoir that would form behind it, the Cambodian government commissioned the National Heritage Institute, a US-based research and consultancy firm, to undertake a three-year study in 2014.

But it has refused to make public the results of the Sambor Hydropower Dam Alternatives Assessment, despite numerous appeals from civil society organisations. A copy has now been leaked to the Guardian.

In its key findings the report notes: “The impact on fisheries would be devastating as it would block fish migration from the Tonle Sap (Cambodia’s Great Lake), a vital tributary to the Mekong and the spawning grounds upstream.”

The Mekong is the world’s most productive inland fisher y, sustaining the food security of 60 million people. The Mekong River Commission puts the value of wild-capture fish at $11b n, shared between the four member states of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The stakes are very high for a country where 80% of Cambodians count on fish as their main source of protein.

It is also a potential game-changer for other species in the Mekong’s ecosystem. Marc Goichot, WWF’s water resources specialist, said: “After 15 years WWF and our Cambodian partners are finally winning the battle to conserve Mekong dolphins with 15 new calves born since 2015. A Sambor dam would ruin all those efforts. Together with the plight of the dolphins, fisheries, livelihoods and nutrition of rural communities would all suffer, as well as precipitating the sinking of the Mekong delta in Vietnam.”

The plan for the dam dates back to a memorandum of understanding signed with China Southern Power Grid in 2006. Widespread opposition prompted the Chinese investor to withdrew from the project in 2008.

The country’s chronic energy shortage, high prices and its 50% import dependency prompted the government to revive the Sambor project in 2016, after Laos had already launched two controversial dams upstream - the Xayaburi and the Don Sahong dams.

In the executive summary, the report declares “a dam at this site could literally kill the river, unless sited, designed and operated sustainably. The Sambor reach is the worst possible place to build a major dam.”

Cambodia’s deputy minister of energy, Ith Praing , said: “It is a very sensitive issue and too early to publish any kind of information on Sambor.”

The survey team looked at 10 alternative locations for a Sambor dam site by deploying the world’s most advanced mitigation technology. The project director, Gregory Thomas, said: “Even the most advanced mitigation measures still pose high risks. There is no evidence that any large dam on a tropical river has ever been successful in the use of the latest fish mitigation technology.”

In place of a new dam, the study recommends integrating floating solar photovoltaic panels into the already operational Lower Sesan 2 dam , and operating the reservoir as a single integrated hybrid facility. Power capacity would be doubled to more than 800MW. This technique of augmenting existing hydropower facilities with solar photovoltaics plants has been widely developed in China and India.

According to the report, “solar energy is the only option with a positive net economic benefit after all costs and benefits are taken into account, and the cost of solar would be cheaper than the best possible mitigated dam”.

Cambodia’s Energy Ministry has so far taken only small steps in the direction of solar energy, and has given a tepid response to the 400MW solar proposal, which suggests it is still batting for a mitigated dam.

Praing said no decision would be taken until after July’s general election. If the dam is approved, the leading candidate to build it is China’s Hydrolancang International Energy Company.

 on: May 18, 2018, 04:13 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Glyphosate shown to disrupt microbiome 'at safe levels', study claims

Study on rats said to show that the chemical, found in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, poses ‘a significant public health concern’

Arthur Neslen
18 May 2018 09.30 BST

A chemical found in the world’s most widely used weedkiller can have disrupting effects on sexual development, genes and beneficial gut bacteria at doses considered safe, according to a wide-ranging pilot study in rats.

Glyphosate is the core ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and levels found in the human bloodstream have spiked by more than a 1,000% in the last two decades.

The substance was recently relicensed for a shortened five-year lease by the EU. But scientists involved in the new glyphosate study say their results show that it poses “a significant public health concern”.

One of the report’s authors, Daniele Mandrioli, at the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy, said significant and potentially detrimental effects from glyphosate had been detected in the gut bacteria of rat pups born to mothers, who appeared to have been unaffected themselves.

“It shouldn’t be happening and it is quite remarkable that it is,” Mandrioli said. “Disruption of the microbiome has been associated with a number of negative health outcomes, such as obsesity, diabetes and immunological problems.”

Prof Philip J Landrigan, of New York’s Icahn School of Medicine, and also one of the research team, said: “These early warnings must be further investigated in a comprehensive long-term study.” He added that serious health effects from the chemical might manifest as long-term cancer risk: “That might affect a huge number of people, given the planet-wide use of the glyphosate-based herbicides.”

Controversy has raged around glyphosate since a World Health Organisation agency – the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – judged it to be a “probable human carcinogen” in 2015.

However, US and European regulators subsequently deemed it acceptable for use, a move campaigners condemned because of regulators’ use of secret industry papers and experts with alleged ties to Monsanto.

The US firm, which recently merged with Bayer in a deal worth more than $60bn, argues that it is being unfairly targeted by activist scientists with ulterior motives.

Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s VP for global strategy told the Guardian: “The Ramazzini Institute is an activist organisation with an agenda that they have not disclosed as part of their crowdfunding efforts. They wish to support a ban on glyphosate and they have a long history of rendering opinions not supported by regulatory testing agencies.”

“This is not about genuine research,” he added. “All the research to date has demonstrated that there is no link between glyphosate and cancer.”

In 2017, the Ramazinni Institute was criticised by members of the US Congress, which has provided it with funding. US congress members have also probed funding for the IARC.

The new crowdfunded pilot study which the Ramazzini Institute compiled with Bologna University and the Italian National Health Institute observed the health effects of glyphosate on Sprague Dawley rats, which had been dosed with the US EPA-determined safe limit of 1.75 micrograms per kilo of body weight.

Two-thirds of known carcinogens had been discovered using the Sprague Dawley rat species, Mandrioli said, although further investigation would be needed to establish long-term risks to human health.

The pilot research did not focus on cancer but it did find evidence of glyphosate bioaccumulation in rats– and changes to reproductive health.

“We saw an increase in ano-genital distance in the formulation that is of specific importance for reproductive health,” Mandrioli said. “It might indicate a disruption of the normal level of sexual hormones.”

The study’s three peer-reviewed papers will be published in Environmental Health later in May, ahead of a €5m follow-up study that will compare the safe level against multiple other doses.

 on: May 18, 2018, 04:11 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Wind power overtakes nuclear for first time in UK across a quarter

News of milestone comes as MPs say policy changes have caused collapse in investment in renewables

Adam Vaughan
18 May 2018 06.01 BST

Britain’s windfarms provided more electricity than its eight nuclear power stations in the first three months of 2018, marking the first time wind has overtaken nuclear across a quarter.

The renewable energy industry hailed the milestone as a sign the UK was well on its way to an electricity system powered by cheap, domestic green energy.

Across the first quarter, wind power produced 18.8% of electricity, second only to gas, said a report by researchers at Imperial College London.

At one point overnight on 17 March, wind turbines briefly provided almost half of the UK’s electricity. Wind power helped during the cold snaps, too, supplying 12-43% of electricity during the six subzero days in the first three months of the year.

Two nuclear plants were temporarily offline for routine maintenance, while another was shut because of seaweed in the cooling system.

While wind together with solar supplied more power than nuclear in the final three months of 2017, thiswas the first time wind has managed the feat alone.

Dr Rob Gross, one of the authors of the Drax Electric Insights report, said: “There’s no sign of a limit to what we’re able to do with wind in the near future.”

The opening in December of a new power cable between Scotland and north Wales also helped unlock electricity from Scottish windfarms, some of which would normally be turned off to help National Grid cope.

The Western Link connection has drastically cut the amount of money paid by National Grid to windfarm owners for that curtailment. The company paid £100m in 2017 for curtailment. This year payments are already down by two-thirds.

Emma Pinchbeck, the executive director at industry group RenewableUK, said: “It is great news for everyone that rather than turning turbines off to manage our ageing grid, the new cable instead will make best use of wind energy.”

News of the quarterly milestone came as MPs said UK emissions targets were threatened by government policy changes, which had caused a collapse in clean energy investment since 2015, including a 56% fall in 2017.

Mary Creagh, Labour MP and chair of the environmental audit committee, said: “Billions of pounds of investment is needed in clean energy, transport, heating and industry to meet our carbon targets. But a dramatic fall in investment is threatening the government’s ability to meet legally binding climate change targets.”

Separately, the spending watchdog concluded that £23bn spent on a government subsidy scheme for low-carbon heating had been poor value for money and did not deliver its aims.

The public accounts committee said the renewable heat incentive had “wildly optimistic” goals and that the government failed to understand what consumers wanted.

 on: May 18, 2018, 04:09 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

One man's race to capture the Rocky Mountains glaciers before they vanish

Garrett Fisher spent much of his summer in 2015 flying over places like Yellowstone taking stunning pictures of retreating glaciers

Oliver Milman
18 May 2018 11.00 BST

After hearing that the glaciers of the Rocky Mountains are rapidly vanishing, financial consultant Garrett Fisher took a novel course of action – he flew a light aircraft, built in 1949, low and alone over the mountains in order to photograph them.

Fisher spent much of his summer in 2015 flying over places such as Yellowstone, Glacier National Park and Grand Teton National Park, taking stunning pictures of retreating glaciers for a new book.

Fisher said the enormity of the loss was apparent from his plane, where he took in whole ecosystems such as the Wind River Range in Wyoming, which contains several major rivers that provide water for a large surrounding area.

“I’m completely resigned that they will all disappear; I was basically racing to see them before they are gone,” Fisher said. “There’s a bit of bleakness that our planet is going into unchartered territory.”

Glaciers, which are vast masses of snow and ice that move under their own weight, are receding at varying rates around the world due to rising global temperatures. Glacier National Park in Montana has seen some of the most dramatic recorded losses, with glaciers set to disappear from the park as early as 2030.

Globally, glaciers have lost around 400bn tons in mass a year since 1994, which is raising concerns for the millions of people and animals that rely upon glaciers for melt water. The retreat of huge glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland is also driving sea level rise.

The decline of glaciers has previously been illustrated by comparative pictures showing how the modern ice masses looked several decades previously, and more recently. But individual images of modern glaciers can also contain evidence of retreat, according to Lisa McKeon, a physical scientist at the US Geological Society.

“Pictures don’t really show the loss in ice volume but they can show the loss of area,” she said. “You can see previous moraines, which are rocks pushed by a glacier’s movement, far from the current edge of the glacier.”

McKeon has previously exhibited her own collection of comparative photos of glacier retreat at various galleries, where she left a comment book for visitors to log their thoughts.

“I’ve perused the comment book for the past two years or so, there’s a lot of sadness there,” she said. “It’s change. It evokes a sense of loss.”

Fisher’s book contains 177 pictures, many of them taken in precarious conditions, as the wind tossed the 69-year-old Piper PA11 plane that Fisher’s grandfather refurbished after he found it in a dilapidated condition in a North Carolina barn in the 1980s.

“I learned to fly in this plane,” said Fisher, who is from New York state but has spent a lot of time in Colorado and studied Rocky Mountain National Park there. “There is no heat, the door had to be open when taking pictures so there was an ungodly cold. The plane only has 100 horsepower but when you get to 15,000ft it only has around half of that. I would just go off on my own and hope the engine didn’t fail.”

Flying over Glacier National Park, in Montana, was the most challenging because of the “most absurd terrain, the extreme wind, the concentration of grizzly bears if I did have to land – I really didn’t want to go down there,” Fisher said.

 on: May 18, 2018, 04:04 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Tiny Brains of Extinct Human Relative Had Complex Features

By Nicholas St. Fleur
May 18, 2018
NY Times

What makes humans so smart? For a long time the answer was simple: our big brains.

But new research into the tiny noggins of a recently discovered human relative called Homo naledi may challenge that notion. The findings, published Monday, suggest that when it comes to developing complex brains, size isn’t all that matters.

In 2013 scientists excavating a cave in South Africa found remains of Homo naledi, an extinct hominin now thought to have lived  236,000 to 335,000 years ago. Based on the cranial remains, the researchers concluded it had a small brain only about the size of an orange or your fist. Recently, they took another look at the skull fragments and found imprints left behind by the brain. The impressions suggest that despite its tiny size, Homo naledi’s brain shared a similar shape and structure with that of modern human brains, which are three times as large.

“We’ve now seen that you can package the complexity of a large brain in a tiny packet,” said Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at Wits University in South Africa and an author of the paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Almost in one fell swoop we slayed the sacred cow that complexity in the hominid brain was directly associated with increasing brain size.”

Not every scientist agrees with their interpretation.

Since its remains were first retrieved, Homo naledi has puzzled scientists. From head to toe the ancient hominin displays a medley of primitive, apelike features and more advanced, humanlike characteristics.

“It’s this mosaic that is unlike anything we have seen or expected,” said Dr. Berger who first discovered Homo naledi in the Dinaledi Chamber in South Africa’s Rising Star cave system. So far, researchers have found more than 2,000 fossils belonging to the human relatives which have provided a portrait of what the species once looked like.

Homo naledi had small teeth like a human’s, but their shape more closely resembles that of an ape’s. Its shoulders are also apelike, but the arms, wrists and hands more humanlike. The fingers, though, were long and curved, and the thumbs appeared particularly strong. The spine was a combination of primitive and Neanderthal-like, the pelvis resembled that of another more distant human relative, Australopithecus afarensis (dubbed Lucy), and the thighs also looked primitive. But below the knee, the legs were long and thin like a human’s and the feet were nearly identical to our own.

Now, researchers have found that Homo naledi’s similarities with modern humans extend into the brain. After examining the imprints, or endocasts, from five Homo naledi skull fragments, the team found that the species had a frontal lobe that was very similar to that of modern humans and unlike that of an ape’s. The scientists also found that Homo naledi had an asymmetrical brain, with the left brain appearing more forward than the right, which is also seen in humans. Asymmetry in the brain is associated with higher levels of behavioral complexity, the team said.

Based on the regions of the brain that Homo naledi shared with modern humans, the authors suggested that it may have exhibited complex behavior. But what they did not say was what those behaviors may have been, said John Hawks, an paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an author on the paper.

“Is that aspect of the brain evolution central to talking or stone tool making? We don’t know enough to say that,” he said. He added that the finding does not mean that brain size is not important to creating a complex brain — it is. Rather, size alone does not tell the whole story. “There’s something about shape that actually matters too,” he said.

“These new fossil hominids show that the evolution of hominins is much more complex than we thought before,” said Ralph Holloway, a paleoanthropologist at Columbia University and lead author of the paper. 

Emiliano Bruner, a paleoneurobiologist at Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana in Spain, said the finding still needs to be confirmed from a wider fossil record of the species that comes from outside the Dinaledi Chamber fossil site. That would help with understanding any variation that appears within the species.

Simon Neubauer, a physical anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, said the finding did support the idea that both brain size and brain organization are important to human evolution. But he added that because of its age, the tiny-brained Homo naledi might be an outlier in a general hominin trend toward increasing brain sizes.

Dr. Bruner agreed.

“It is not reasonable to forget all that evidence because of a couple of outliers,” he said. “Exceptions are, as always, expected. But this does not break the rule.”

 on: May 17, 2018, 10:32 AM 
Started by Deva - Last post by Barbara1
Yes Deva, NP, meaning the natal Pluto. Thank you Deva!!!!

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