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 on: Dec 03, 2016, 06:33 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Women the world over have shown the US how to deal with sexism and racism

Yifat Susskind

From Liberia to Colombia and beyond, women have compiled a vast archive of methods to combat threats to their rights. The US need only follow their lead

Friday 2 December 2016 12.00 GMT

Many in the US are emerging from their initial shock at the outcome of the presidential election to confront its likely impacts: a legitimation of right-wing identity politics, worsening climate change and militarism, assaults on women’s rights and LGBT rights, and the gutting of basic public services.

A litany like this can feel overwhelming, but none of these threats are actually new. Just ask the indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock, or women in the 89% of US counties without an abortion provider, or people of colour targeted by racist law enforcement policies.

What is new is the painful dislocation felt by those in the US who had always believed that, however imperfectly, their government represented them. For many, that belief ended on 9 November, a loss being mourned in the numerous post-election catalogues of the stages of grief. The analogy is an ominous one: the last stage of grief is acceptance.

What’s needed now, however, is the opposite of acceptance. Fortunately, many in the US recognise that this moment requires them to act in new ways. They are grappling, some for the first time, with what resistance might look like. Americans will need to reclaim and invent their own modes of resistance. For inspiration and role models, they can turn to women’s rights activists worldwide, especially women who know all too well what it means to have a government that actively targets their rights and communities.

In Nicaragua in the 1980s, villages were under siege from Contra militias sponsored by the Reagan administration, and armed fighters targeted women with rape as a weapon of war (pdf). Women formed committees to bring urgent humanitarian aid to their communities and to denounce that violence before the world.

These women shepherded their country back to peace, and pushed for a change in international law to recognise the violations they faced (pdf).

In Liberia, peace talks to end the civil war in the 1990s were going nowhere. Women who had survived the worst of the violence decided they’d had enough. They organised peaceful protests, stood up to warlords and powerful politicians, and forced action to negotiate peace.

Today, Leymah Gbowee, one of the activists who led that movement, is a Nobel peace laureate. The civil war is over, and Liberia has its first elected female president.

War gripped Colombia for decades, forcing millions of women and families to flee their homes and sowing divisions that seemed insurmountable. Through all this, female activists mobilised community peace enclaves, where arms were not allowed and where violence could not trespass.

When peace talks finally began, these women demanded a seat at the table. Now, they are determined to enact the best of Colombia’s newly renegotiated accord.

In each of these cases, and in countless others, women saw the threats arrayed against them and took action together. In doing so, they became the curators of a global library of activist strategies.

Here are some borrowings from that library for those seeking to resist the destruction that the next US president promises to unleash.

Like the Women in Black or the women of Argentina’s Plaza de Mayo, who made it a routine to take to the streets when their government shut out their voices, we must be relentless in our protests. And like the grandmothers of Standing Rock who block the advance of the Dakota access pipeline with their bodies, we must pair protest with grassroots organising to change policies and public opinion.

Like women in Haiti and Kenya, or in US cities like Detroit or Flint, Michigan, who have provided clean water to their communities when their government couldn’t or wouldn’t, we must take stock of people’s basic needs and be ready to meet them ourselves.

Like womenof colour in the US – who have long mobilised to defend their communities against state violence and mass incarceration, against the denial of civil rights and systematic economic marginalisation – we must act from an understanding of the ways that sexism, racism and other oppressions combine to affect people’s lives.

Like women in Iraq, who rejected both US-led occupation and the religious fundamentalists who posed as its alternative, we must forge a third way between neoliberalism and nationalism and fight for a feminist, anti-racist politics that prioritises human rights for all.

Like women in Nicaragua, who threw parties even as the Contra war raged, we have to know how to embrace the best in our lives when facing the worst. Like women in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, we have to know when a joyous song is an antidote to despair.

Our choice does not have to be between cowed acceptance and protracted despair. The energy we need to resist is a renewable resource, which we produce when we treat each other with respect and kindness, even if those qualities are not forthcoming from our government. We produce this energy when we stretch ourselves to extend a blanket of protection to those most at risk, wherever they are in the world; when we have the courage to act, especially when it’s scary or seems impossible. Resistance is sustainable if we create the conditions for it in our lives. And doing that will be its own reward.

The writer and organiser Grace Paley once said: “The only recognisable feature of hope is action.” We live in keeping with the world we want to build until, eventually, we realise that the last stage of grief is not acceptance. It’s transformation.

 on: Dec 03, 2016, 06:29 AM 
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Skilled, determined and broke: Africa's female football pioneers

Despite social and sporting progress, even the best teams at the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations struggle to fund friendlies

Maeve Shearlaw in Cameroon

Shortly after the opening ceremony of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, the hosts declared that when it came to football there was “no distinction” in the support given to men and women.

Despite this goal, female players report that as in many areas of life, there is still a stark divide in opportunities, and players at the tournament say the game is suffering from neglect. Africa’s best women’s team doesn’t have enough money for friendlies, and players describe having fought patriarchy at every level to get where they are today.

James Meller, from the Right to Dream football academy, based in Ghana, says that gender inequality remains magnified in football and that “women’s and girls’ football is underinvested in and undervalued at all levels”.

Nigeria, the highest ranked team in Africa, “have won the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations nine times, [but] don’t even have enough money to play friendlies”, says sports journalist Jessica Chisaokwu.

She adds that the Super Falcons, as they are known, rely on social media support from their fans “who know that the girls don’t get the type of support they should”.

And while President Muhammadu Buhari was one of the fans who offered his support on Twitter, in the month leading up to the tournament it emerged that the team coach, Florence Omagbemi, had been working without pay for the best part of a year.

More than half of the eight countries which competed in Cameroon have professional female leagues at home, but few sponsorship opportunities mean that most players have to balance the game with other work commitments.

Wendy Achieng and her team-mate Ann Aluoch play for Spedag Ladies in Mombasa, the only team in Kenya’s new league to offer limited financial support and travel costs.

Aluoch, 26, who had a baby as a teenager but took up the sport again in her 20s, says that playing and having a family is difficult but, like any job, “it’s just a matter of how you juggle your time”.

Both players coach young players to stay financially solvent and have come to regard football as a calling.

Like the majority of her Malian team-mates, defender Aichata Dounbia is enrolled in the army, one of the only institutions in the country that is helping women’s football develop.

“There isn’t a sports structure in Mali,” adds her team-mate Aminata Doucouré, 21, describing the regimented coaching, training and facilities she has become accustomed to while playing in France.

Others face stigma and misogynistic abuse for participating in the game. South African defender Nothando Vilakazi was trolled by people speculating about her gender during this summer’s Rio Olympics after a picture of her covering her groin went viral. A few months earlier the Nigerian football federation blamed the team’s poor performance on “lesbian players”.

    Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums)

    Suspicious looking women at the Olympics between South Africa and Brazil.
    August 11, 2016

The comments, strongly condemned by Fifa, were indicative of a “deeply homophobic” nation, says Nigerian commentator Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, adding that it isn’t uncommon to see “silly stories about women getting cancer because of balls hitting their breasts”.

In countries such as Ghana, which fielded one of the best teams in the tournament, women still face discrimination in many aspects of society. “By the time a girl is 12, she is expected to concentrate on her role within the family, looking after siblings and contributing to the running of the household,” says Meller, whose academy helps develop the potential of talented west African children.

A number of players at the tournament described having to hide playing football from their families when they were younger. Dounbia, 31, used to play secretly with the boys after her uncle forbade her from joining in.

Kenyan captain Wendy Achieng, 23, was told that “football was a men’s game. They wanted me to stop and get a job, but then they realised I had the passion and accepted it,” she says.

Dounbia says things have changed dramatically in Mali since she was young. “Before a woman’s place was in the home … now people are more understanding that you can play football and have a family at the same time.”

“Culturally it’s not a problem to play football,” says Cameroon national player Ngo Mback Batoum. “My family and people in my region are very proud of me.”

The striker has also been promoting football as a way of preventing early marriage among Cameroonian schoolgirls.

    Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari)

    Our Super Falcons have made Nigeria proud again. The entire country looks forward to the #AWCON2016 Final on Saturday.
    November 29, 2016

Vilakazi, the player trolled over her gender, agrees that her sport doesn’t get the recognition or support it deserves but says she has been encouraged by pockets of progress at home. These include an initiative by fellow South African player Amanda Dlamini, who relinquished the captaincy in 2013 to set up a football academy for young girls from rural areas.

In Cameroon, Batoum explains that the priority is still for girls to get a good education, but people also know that football has the capacity to “change a life”. Her government wants one of the legacies of the tournament to be a national women’s league to encourage more players to stay in the country.

For some players, such as Gaëlle Deborah Enganamouit, the star striker who is making waves in the Swedish league, the lure of playing football in Europe or the US will always loom.

Mali’s sports minister, Adoum Garoua, says it can be a challenge to work around the schedules of such players but that seeing players from humble beginnings make it abroad provides extra impetus for young girls to take up the sport. Both of the Malian players say those who “follow the dream” to play in Europe will only help insert professionalism into the national game.

 on: Dec 03, 2016, 06:25 AM 
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The week in wildlife – in pictures

A baby slow loris, a ‘walking shark’ and caribou in Alaska are among this week’s pick of images from the natural world

Eric Hilaire
Friday 2 December 2016 14.00 GM

Click to see all:

 on: Dec 03, 2016, 06:23 AM 
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A tiny wasp could save Christmas Island’s spectacular red crabs from crazy ants

In what could be the most closely scrutinised biological control project in Australia, a 2mm wasp is being released to control a deadly ant infestation

Saturday 3 December 2016 00.00 GMT

Have you heard the one about the wasp that kills the bug that feeds the ants that kill the crabs that keep the forests healthy on Christmas Island?

If not, that’s because it hasn’t happened yet, but it is a tale worth telling.

In the coming weeks, Parks Australia will release a 2mm wasp on Christmas Island to control the island’s yellow crazy ant infestation. Crazy ants are a big threat to the island’s wildlife, including its famous red crabs.

Biological control – when we use one species to control another – is infamous for giving Australia its cane toad invasion. So, how do we know this one will work?

Christmas Island and its crabs

Christmas Island is a unique natural habitat with many endemic species. The national park covers two-thirds of the island, which has been referred to as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean.

Many people are aware of the red crabs whose mass migration to the sea has been described as one of the wonders of the natural world.

Christmas Island has many other species of crabs, including the impressive robber crabs. These may be the largest land-dwelling arthropod (the group that insects and crustaceans belong to) on earth.

Together these abundant land crabs clear the forests of leaf litter and maintain burrows that prevent soil becoming compacted, creating an open and diverse forest.

But this thriving natural system was disrupted when an invasive ant species became abundant on the island.

The ants

In the early 20th century, yellow crazy ants (Anoplolepis gracilipes) found their way to Christmas Island. These ants now form super-colonies, with billions of individuals across hundreds of hectares.

The crazy ants spray formic acid in the eyes and leg joints of the crabs, which immobilises them. The crabs soon die and become food for the ants.

In some cases, crabs that live in areas free of crazy ants are killed during their annual migration and so never return to their original forest. This creates crab-free zones even where the ants do not live.

With fewer crabs, the forest has become less diverse, with a dense understory and compacted soils due to the collapse of crab burrows. Other invasive species such as the giant African land snail have become common where crabs declined.

Parks Australia has been trying lots of different methods from aerial to hand-baiting to reverse the impact of yellow crazy ants on red crabs.

The impact was so severe that a chemical control program targeting the super-colonies began in 2001. This program has slowed the decline of crab populations but is expensive and time-consuming, so researchers began to look into other options, including using other species.

The bug: a scale insect

Super-colonies of yellow crazy ants require a reliable food source and this is provided by yet another invasive species: the yellow lac scale insect (Tachardina aurantiaca).

Scale insects (a type of true bug) suck the sap of trees and produce a sweet secretion from their anal pore called honeydew, which ants then harvest.

It seems that the super-colonies of these crazy ants could not survive without the carbohydrate-rich honeydew provided by abundant scale insects in a patch of forest.

There is evidence that the scale insects increase ant reproduction and make them more likely to attack other species. One large field experiment demonstrated that if we stopped the ants getting access to the scale insects, ant activity on the ground fell by 95% in just four weeks.

The scale insects may need the ants as much as the ants need the scale insects. Some ants protect the scale insects in the same way that humans protect their livestock, by chasing away other predators.

The interaction between these two invasive species has allowed them to build their populations to extremely high densities, something known as invasional meltdown.

The good news is that scale insects, unlike ants, are amenable to biological control. For instance, Australian lady bugs were spectacularly successful in controlling the cottony cushion scale in North America.

The wasp

The search began to find a species that could control the scale insect on Christmas Island. And we found it: a tiny wasp known as Tachardiaephagus somervillei, which attacks the yellow lac scale insect in its native Southeast Asia.

This wasp lays its eggs in mature female scale insects and kills them from the inside, producing more wasps that then lay eggs in more females. This wasp (and other predators) are so effective that the yellow lac scale insect is rare in its native habitat.

Obviously, we had to test that the wasp wouldn’t attack other species. Researchers did this in the field in Malaysia, an unusual approach that yielded excellent results. The scientists exposed eight closely related scale insects to the wasp, and none were harmed.

This proves that no other scale insect population on Christmas Island is at risk if the wasp is introduced, with the possible exception of another introduced scale insect that is a pest in its own right.

Researchers also checked that the wasps would still work when the scale insects are being tended by yellow crazy ants – and they still attacked. After years of research it is exciting to be on the verge of releasing this wasp on Christmas Island.

We all know the biological control stories that went wrong. The introduction of cane toads to control cane beetles in Australia backfired spectacularly. In Hawaii, the introduction of mongooses to control rats failed because mongooses are active during the day and the rats were active at night. In both those cases, those species were introduced without sufficient research.

But these examples changed the rules and laws around introducing species. Today governments are much more aware of the risks of invasive species. Rigorous experiments and risk assessments are required before any introduction can occur.

In this case, researchers from La Trobe University have worked closely with Parks Australia and the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia to collect enough data to satisfy the Australian government.

We believe that this is the most closely scrutinised biological control project in Australia. When the wasps arrive on Christmas Island in a few weeks, we are confident that this will set an example for best-practice conservation.

Fewer ants means more crabs, healthier trees, fewer African snails and better soil. And it will save money being spent on expensive conservation efforts for years to come.

• Parks Australia has produced a special animation on the program –

• Susan Lawler is senior lecturer, department of ecology, environment and evolution, La Trobe University

• Peter Green is head of the department, college of science, health and engineering, school of life sciences, La Trobe University

 on: Dec 03, 2016, 06:19 AM 
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Boris Johnson makes 'save African elephant' plea

Foreign secretary, who backs ban on ivory trade, breaks off London speech to make plea for ‘magnificent’ vulnerable animal

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor
Friday 2 December 2016 14.21 GMT

Boris Johnson has interrupted a sweeping speech on the UK’s geopolitical future to make a passionate plea to save the African elephant, saying they are on the brink of extinction as they “get turned into umbrella stands and billiard balls”.

In the midst of a speech at Chatham House to ambassadors and foreign policy advisers, the UK foreign secretary said he was “obsessed with the tragic fate of the African elephant”.

“It is mankind’s privilege to share the planet with these magnificent and curious creatures, these throwbacks from a different age,” he said.

Johnson backs a total ban on ivory trading, in line with the Conservative manifesto, but Theresa May’s government has refused to go that far, instead allowing trade in antique ivory.

He has in the past chastised the EU for failing to adopt a united front to back such a ban.

“It is heartbreaking that their numbers have shrunk from 1.3m in the 1990s to a mere 415,000 today,” Johnson told his Chatham House audience. “That is 110,000 elephants gone since 2006.

“In our lifetimes they could be gone for ever. Animals that filled our imaginations since our childhood and whose every attribute is a walking metaphor – even if you do not care they all get turned into umbrella stands and billiard balls, and even if you do not mind your great-grandchildren grow up in a world without elephants, I do mind deeply.”

“The death of the elephant is a disaster that proceeds from other disasters,” he said, claiming they were the victims of a wider contest for global resources reflected in human trafficking, poaching and a population explosion likely to reach 11 billion by 2050.

Johnson has said in the past that it was dismaying that the EU had found itself unable to unite on an ivory ban, and therefore unable to speak up properly at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

At its latest conference in South Africa, Cites was unable to gather a two-thirds majority to upgrade the level of protection for elephants, largely due to the EU voting as a bloc and refusing to back the toughest measures.

Johnson has said: “By taking back control of our conservation strategy we in Britain will once again be able to show a global lead.”

The UK government’s official position has been to describe the outcome of the Cites conference as a success for elephant conservationists since counter-efforts to liberalise the ivory trade were defeated.

But the UK government has also so far resisted the appeal of a total ban on the ivory trade in the UK. It has instead decided to increase the burden of proof for those trading in old ivory so that dealers will in the future have to provide clear evidence that the objects they are selling are more than 70 years old.

 on: Dec 03, 2016, 06:17 AM 
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The hare's death-scream tells of a history soon over

Lampeter: The vixen jump-dives over the low wall, forepaws thudding down on him, jaws worrying at his throat

Jim Perrin
21/3/2016 20.59 GMT

My footsteps creak in the snow as I head down the lane from Sarn Helen. For a week or two each summer the families throng in from Chiswick, Highgate or Primrose Hill. In winter, all is silent here. An east wind has pasted ice around moss-grown trunks of coppiced hazel, holly, ash and alder in the field that came with one of the Londoners' houses. Drains blocked. It was left to revert. In summer you can scarcely see 10 yards beyond the wall. Now, trees bare, tussocks and twisting channels through the mire give a ruched and dimpling texture to the underbrush. I peer along the wall that separates this little wilderness from adjoining pastureland and catch sight of the fox.

I'm 20 yards away but she does not see me. Her haunches on a moss-dome by the wall, ears swivelled forward, she sits upright and intent. A dark hill-fox of Wales. I follow her gaze across to where "the hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass".

His feet plunge into soft drifts. He drags himself along on his belly. Wind thin and cold as an assassin's knife carries his scent to the vixen's nostrils. Dry-stone division cuts the split-screen action. He arrives in the dip between scalloped white and piled stone, sharp face above him ferociously intent. She jump-dives over the low wall, forepaws thudding down on him, jaws worrying at his throat. Snow flurries as he parries, she thrusts. He kicks and writhes, she rips and shakes. His death-scream tells of a history soon over.

I have never seen a fox take a hare before, and suspect it seldom happens. She was patient, circumstance against him, his speed useless. She drags him to the top of a drift and on to the wall, leaps over and pulls him after her, his blood a dark trail. He's torn open, warm viscera gulped down. I turn for home. Registering, she bestows a brief glare. The moon climbs. Tonight she will howl and mate.

 on: Dec 03, 2016, 06:12 AM 
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CS Monitor

No more smog city? Four world capitals plan to ban diesel vehicles

Mayors of four major cities – Paris, Mexico City, Madrid, and Athens – have pledged to remove all diesel-fueled vehicles from the roads by 2025.

By Zhai Yun Tan, Staff December 3, 2016

Smog-filled cityscapes have become a common scene around the world, a problem that some metropolises have battled for decades. On Friday, four mayors from major cities – Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens – decided to take a drastic action: They want to eliminate all diesel vehicles from their roads by 2025.

The pledge, made during the 2016 C40 Mayors Summit that was held in Mexico City the last week in November, is part of a global effort by city leaders to tackle climate change issues. The proactive approach is driven by need: Cities disproportionately suffer from alarming air pollution levels and host more than half of the world's population. In recent years, the United Nations has also held global conferences convening city leaders to discuss climate issues, declaring that the battle for sustainable development will be “won or lost in cities.”

“Mayors have already stood up to say that the climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face,” Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris and chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, said in a Friday statement. “Today, we also stand up to say we no longer tolerate air pollution and the health problems and deaths it causes – particularly for our most vulnerable citizens. Big problems like air pollution require bold action, and we call on car and bus manufacturers to join us.”

Cities are also responsible for most of the world's pollution, as the Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass previously reported: Urban centers cover less than 2 percent of the Earth's surface but use up nearly 80 percent of energy, and produce 60 percent of all CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations.

Diesel-powered vehicles may be a popular regulations target because of their pollutants, linked to a variety of environmental and health impacts.

"The scientific basis for understanding that there are both cardiovascular and respiratory effects from traffic-related air pollution is stronger and consistent, and it warrants creative approaches to reduce those impacts," Joel Kaufman, interm dean and professor at University of Washington's School of Public Health tells the Monitor in a phone interview.

Diesel-powered vehicles were at first touted as a more efficient, low-carbon emission source. But subsequent research found that it also emits particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides, both substances with links to various respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

The most obvious impact, however, may just be how the pollution obscures the view and makes the air difficult to breathe. Paris, for instance, has seen its famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower, shrouded in a smog in recent years. In response, Ms. Hidalgo implemented a measure to ban diesel vehicles made before 2011 from entering the city by 2020. India took similar steps in Delhi just this month, while Seoul will start to implement diesel-lowering restrictions in 2017. In the United States, regulations are in place to limit the sulfur present in diesel fuel.

Some environmental groups say the mayors' 2025 deadline is too far away, although many applaud them for leading the way, perhaps inspiring other cities to adopt similar initiatives.

Other solutions suggested by attendees of the C40 summit include a transition to electric, hydrogen, and hybrid vehicles, as well as further investment in walking and cycling infrastructure.

“It is no secret that in Mexico City, we grapple with the twin problems of air pollution and traffic,” said the mayor of Mexico City, Miguel Ángel Mancera. “By expanding alternative transportation options like our Bus Rapid Transport and subway systems, while also investing in cycling infrastructure, we are working to ease congestion in our roadways and our lungs.”

 on: Dec 03, 2016, 06:08 AM 
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ESA reaffirms commitment to Mars after disappointing lander crash

After the ESA's Schiaparelli lander crashed to the surface of the Red Planet in October, there may have been doubts about the project's future. But experts say they can fix the problem – and renewed funding is a sign of confidence.

By Ellen Powell, Staff December 3, 2016

The Schiaparelli lander may have crashed, but that doesn't mean Europe is giving up on Mars.

In a show of confidence, member states on Friday approved 450 million euros ($480 million) in funding for the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission. Numerous other projects, including several related to the International Space Station, were also given the go-ahead as part of a 10.3 billion euro ($11 billion) budget approved by the ESA’s 22 members during a two-day meeting in Lucerne, Switzerland.

The renewed funding should answer any lingering questions about the future of ExoMars, a joint project between the ESA and Russia’s Roscosmos. And plans to send a rover in 2020 must proceed on schedule, ESA Director General Jan Woerner said.

"It's not an easy thing, but we are confident we will succeed," Dr. Woerner said, emphasizing that delaying the mission beyond 2020 was not an option.

The ExoMars mission sent the Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli test lander to Mars earlier this year. The Trace Gas Orbiter is orbiting the planet, looking for gases such as methane that may indicate the possibility for life on the planet. The Schiaparelli lander, meanwhile, crashed in October: a software glitch caused the lander to detach its parachute more than 2 miles above the planet’s surface, thinking it was already on the ground.

While the crash was certainly a disappointment, experts remain optimistic about the future of the project.

“As it is, we have one part that works very well and one part that didn’t work as we expected,” Jorge Vago, project scientist for ExoMars, told Nature after the first photos of the crash site were released. “The silver lining is that we think we have in hand the necessary information to fix the problem.”

The first photos from the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), released on Tuesday, have only added to that enthusiasm. Onboard the orbiter is the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS), which takes high-definition images of the planet’s surface as the TGO orbits the planet every four days.

The photos are “absolutely spectacular,” said Nicolas Thomas, CaSSIS team leader, at the University of Bern's Center of Space and Habitability in Switzerland. And soon, CaSSIS may produce 3D maps of the surface of Mars.

At the Lucerne meeting, ESA member states also extended their commitment to participate in the International Space Station (ISS) until 2024. This will allow the agency to send more European astronauts into space. France’s first astronaut, Thomas Pesquet, arrived at the ISS in November.

Other programs received less support. The Asteroid Impact Mission, intended to investigate ways of deflecting an asteroid approaching Earth, will be cancelled, though asteroid-defense study will continue, Woerner said. Asteroid-deflection was the subject of a recent NASA exercise.

The Trace Gas Orbiter is intended to remain in orbit around Mars for seven years, and ESA plans to put a rover on the Red Planet’s surface by 2020.

 on: Dec 03, 2016, 06:06 AM 
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CS Monitor

Move over Copernicium, there's a new heavy metal band on the periodic table

Four new elements have taken up permanent residence on the periodic table, though each of the synthetic metals can only exist in reality for fractions of a second.

By Story Hinckley, Staff December 2, 2016

Nihonium (Nh), moscovium (Mc), tennessine (Ts), and oganesson (Og): Welcome to the periodic table.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) approved the names and symbols for four new elements earlier this week. After verifying their discovery last December, the IUPAC suggested names for these four elements in June, pending a five-month review period for public comment.

Nh, Mc, Ts, and Og – officially designated as elements 113, 115, 117, and 118, respectively – will complete the seventh period (or row) on the table, making them some of the heaviest metals on the table. These elements are synthetic, or man-made, and they only exist for fractions of a second in a lab before breaking apart into other elements.

These are the first elements added to the centuries-old periodic table since 2011, when heavy metal band members livermorium (element 116) and flerovium (element 114) were added to the table. Adding new names to the table is not something scientists – or the general public – take lightly, as the five-month process suggests.

“Overall, it was a real pleasure to realize that so many people are interested in the naming of the new elements, including high-school students, making essays about possible names and telling how proud they were to have been able to participate in the discussions,” said Jan Reedijk, president of the Inorganic Chemistry Division at IUPAC, in a press release. “It is a long process from initial discovery to the final naming, and IUPAC is thankful for the cooperation of everyone involved.”

However, the naming process is not entirely open to the public.

Although numerous comments and petitions were received, the suggestions “could not be accepted,” IUPAC explains, because only the elements' discoverers “have the right to propose names and symbols.”

The four new elements follow IUPAC’s guidelines, which dictate that all elements be named after a place, scientist, property, mineral, or mythological concept. Oganesson honors Armenian nuclear physicist and element hunter Yuri Oganessian, who is also known as “the grandfather of superheavy elements.”

Nihonium, moscovium, and tennessine are all named for the locations where they were discovered: Japan (Nihon is a way to say Japan in Japanese), Moscow, and the US state of Tennessee.

“It used to be that when a discovery was made, when you thought you had one, you named it something,” Janan Hayes, professor emeritus at Merced College in California and former chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of History of Chemistry, told The Christian Science Monitor’s Lisa Suhay. “But this was very confusing because you could end up with three or four names for an element as three or four different groups or laboratories claimed discovery. What makes the naming important internationally is that the name is accepted internationally.”

And considering that new elements come along so infrequently, it makes sense that chemists take their naming seriously.

“Biologists get to do all those sorts of things, more whimsical namings, because they have so much more to work with,” added Dr. Hayes. “In chemistry, we have so little that we really need to put deeper thought into it every time.”

 on: Dec 03, 2016, 06:04 AM 
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CS Monitor

Is climate change causing more extreme tornado outbreaks?

Climate models predict that conditions just right for tornado outbreaks should be increasing with rising temperatures, but do the data agree?

By Eva Botkin-Kowacki, Staff writer December 3, 2016

As global temperatures warm, climate scientists expect to see more tornadoes reaching their long, swirling bodies down to Earth. But the data isn't exactly cooperating in a straightforward manner.

Scientists have reported that, over the last 50 years, the average number of tornadoes that touch down in the United States each year has not risen. But analysis of this data suggests that the most extreme outbreaks, when several twisters appear as part of a single weather event, are on the rise.

Surely climate change is playing a role in the rise of those extreme events, a team of researchers at Columbia University expected. But when they analyzed the data they didn't find the signs they expected, they report in a paper published Thursday in the journal Science.

No, that doesn't mean climate change isn't behind the rise of extreme tornado outbreaks across the country, study lead author Michael Tippett, a mathematician at Columbia University, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. "We're just saying that it's not playing the role that we expected."

There are two ingredients that make for conditions conducive to tornadoes, Dr. Tippett explains. One is the propensity of air to rise, called the convective available potential energy (CAPE), and the other is vertical wind shear. Warmer, moist air near the surface of the Earth particularly tends to rise, so climate projections predicted an increased CAPE with climate change and therefore more of one of the key ingredients for tornadoes.

As such, Tippett and his colleagues expected to see an increased CAPE in the environments where extreme tornado outbreaks were occurring. But when they dug into the data, that wasn't the case. In fact, wind shear seems to have increased.

"The lack of a change in CAPE that correlates with the change in tornadoes is a significant result," Harold Brooks, a researcher at the National Severe Storms Laboratory who was not involved in the research, writes in an email to the Monitor.

"Increases in CAPE are, in the convective storms world, the thing we’re most confident in as the planet warms. It’s a fairly direct connection between surface warming and higher CAPE. The fact that they can explain the tornado changes by storm relative helicity (related to shear) changes is, in one aspect, not surprising (it’s a much better predictor of whether a storm will make a tornado than CAPE is), but, in another aspect, difficult to explain. We don’t really have a good conceptual model for why high SRH values should increase as the planet warms."

Tippett agrees that his research poses more questions than it answers, particularly when it comes to the role global warming may be playing in tornado trends.

"One possibility is that there are aspects of climate change that we don't understand yet," Tippett says. "The other possibility is it's not climate change."

The data Tippett and his colleagues are working off might not be the full story, Charles Konrad, director of the Southeast Regional Climate Center who was not involved in the study, points out. The methods and technologies for cataloguing tornado events greatly improved in the 1960s and 1970s, a few decades into the time period they focus on.

"We don't have a clear grasp early in the period of tornado intensity or exactly how many tornadoes," he says in a phone interview with the Monitor.

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University who was also not involved in the research, disagrees. "The trend analysis in the tornado data seems sound, but not especially novel – the increase that is found is consistent with other previous work," he writes in an email to the Monitor.

But, Dr. Mann says, "the climate change interpretation is fatally flawed."

"We published an article in Science only last year showing that the simple procedures used by the current authors (assuming that the climate change component of a time series is reflected by a simple linear trend) are entirely unsound and produce profound artifacts when trying to separate anthropogenic trends from natural variability. In fact, we have published four articles demonstrating this, back to 2006," he writes.

So could this mean Tippett and his colleagues' conclusions that the CAPE is not rising are flawed? "Yep," Mann says.

One challenge with this data, Tippett says, is that climate trends are assessed on the scale of centuries, not decades. So 50 years is a relatively short period for looking at climate signals.

"To do that only using the data is very challenging, so we would like to move to using numerical models which simulate the environment" and allow scientists to manipulate the data to include or exclude climate change or other variables, he explains, "so we can try to isolate what's going on."

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