Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shadowy costs of coal mining killing Appalachian region

The coal industry drives $8 billion each year to the Appalachian region (in jobs, taxes, etc). But premature deaths caused by coal mining (from pollution, for example) are costing the region $42 billion each year. (Climate Progress)

Lame. This example demonstrates "the Ponzi scheme our US economy is built on."

'Stunning' images show volcano blowing a hole in the sky

High above a remote Russian island in the North Pacific, the international space station captured this image of a volcano blowing a hole through the clouds (Daily Mail)…

The initial shockwave from the eruption probably blew the hole in the cloud-deck where the five mile-high mushroom cloud emerged.

The international space station orbits about 220 miles above the ground.

Salt water on Saturn moon may indicate underground ocean

NASA's Cassini probe (currently in the midst of a truly remarkable mission to the Saturn system) has detected evidence of sodium in the water vapor streaming from cracks at the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus. (BBC) So? "Liquid water that is in prolonged contact with rock will leach out sodium - in exactly the same way as Earth's oceans have become salty over time."

30 pct of shark species 'threatened with extinction'

Global warming? Nope. Overfishing is to blame for threatening shark species, according to the first International Union for Conservation of Nature study looking at open ocean sharks. (BBC) Thirty percent of sharks are "threatened with extinction", 24 percent are "near threatened."

Sharks are particularly vulnerable since they take years to mature and don't have many offspring.

What can you do? Don't eat tuna or swordfish. "Many sharks are caught in high seas tuna and swordfish fisheries."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Images from a doomed Japanese lunar probe

Japan's first lunar orbiter, Kaguya, ended its two year mission this week with a suicide swan dive into the moon's surface. As the probe descended, it sent back some very cool images (Popular Science)…

Kaguya's objective was to learn more about the moon's origin and evolution, to measure its magnetic and gravitational fields, and set the stage for an unmanned moon lander in the next decade. (MSNBC) After that, Japan expects to land a manned spacecraft on the moon by 2025.

In case you missed it, here's a remarkable, high-def update of the Apollo-era Earthrise shot by Kaguya (
MSNBC)…

Scientist slowly unravel 'mystery of quiet sun'

The sun has been strangely "dead" for the last year. Sunspot activity on the sun's surface reached a 95-year low, and other solar activity (solar wind, flares and eruptions) have been practically non-existent. What's going on? Two new studies (reported at New Scientist) shed light on how, but not why this is happening.

One study shows "jet stream" activity slightly below the sun's surface has slowed. (No, the study doesn't say why jet stream activity is down.) The second study reveals more details on the "arrangement of the intense magnetic tangles" within sunspots, and suggests low sunspot activity is due to a low inclination of the sun's magnetic field.

Construction begins on world's first commercial spaceport

Work began on the first commercial spaceport in the world this week, "Spaceport America." (Reuters) Where? The same state where the Roswell UFO incident happened, of course: New Mexico. The New Mexico government is funding the $198 million dollar project, and Virgin Galactic plans on using the facility to send tourists into space for $200,000 a seat.

Pound360 wonders if the seatbacks on the Virgin Galactic flights will have video screens like they do aboard Virgin America's. That way, passengers can play Duke Nukem and practice slaying aliens, giving them a fighting chance in case they are caught in a tractor beam and boarded by hostile ETs.

Standard theories cannot explain the size of many exoplanets

The size of many exoplanets (planets discovered outside our solar system) defy explanation by standard theories. (New Scientist) But a new theory by Princeton University astronomer Laurent Ibgui suggests elliptical orbits are the cause for some unusually large gas giants.

Following an elliptical orbit, a gas giant would be "squeezed and stretched" as they get closer and then move away from their stars (the gas would expand when the planet is closer, warmer). This would result in "tidal heating", an effect than can last for a billion years, goes the theory.

The United States returns to the moon

On Thursday, an Atlas rocket carrying the (unmanned) Lunar Reconnaissance Oribiter (LRO) took off from Cape Canaveral, kicking off NASA's mission to return astronauts to the moon around 2020. (Reuters) LRO's mission is to pave the way for astronauts by scouting landing sites (one of LRO's camera's can see objects as small as 20 inches) and creating a detailed temperature map. And check this out, LRO is carrying a patch of synthetic human skin to track how radiation out there may affect astronauts.

Exoplanet discoveries slows to a trickle

According to a chart at Wikipedia, it's been a very slow year for exoplanet discovery. So far this year, just nine planets have been discovered outside of our solar system. During each of the last two years, 62 planets were detected. Three hundred have been found since 2000. The total list of exoplanets is 330 strong.

New Scientist: 'Grey hair may be protecting us from cancer'

Japanese researchers suggest the process that produces grey hair may be protecting us from cancer. (New Scientist) Hair color is maintained by cells called melanocytes, which are created by stem cells. As we age, the stem cells eventually, permanently turn into melanocytes (perhaps when their DNA is mutated), no longer capable of creating more melanocytes.

"A cancer researcher at Harvard Medical School, suggests such processes may help protect us from cancer, by discouraging the proliferation of stem cells with damaged DNA, which could pass on mutations."

200 million climate refugees expected by 2050

Global warming may create 200 million refugees looking for food and work by 2050 according to a CARE International report. (CNN) This could wipe out gains in the fight against poverty.

One solution is to, you know, stop pumping so much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. But we all know how likely that is (not very). Another solution is to convince at-risk populations to change their livestock and agricultural practices. That's not very likely either. Recommended changes are raising ducks instead of chickens in flood-prone regions of Bangladesh, and having farmers switch from "water-craving crops to more resilient foods."

Doctors "startled" by results of recent prostate cancer test

Researchers testing the effect of immune drug "ipilimumab" on prostate cancer were startled recently by the results. (BBC) In three men with advanced (usually terminal) prostate cancer, the tumors shrank to the point where surgeons could operate.

"Our surgeons had never seen this happen before," said one researcher. "The pathologist (who was working during surgery) asked if we were sending him samples from the same patient."

Further testing is required to see whether or not the results can be reproduced or if they were just a, you know, miracle.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Scientists identify 'gangsta gene'

Males with the MAOA gene are twice as likely to join a gang. (New Scientist) Gang members with "these mutations" are also more likely to use weapons. What do you do with this info? Throw anyone in jail that has the MAOA gene? That would be a little too Minority Report-ish, a little absurd. But there is a practical application here. You "can alter the environment" in a way that would "blunt that genetic effect," said one researcher.

PETA 'miffed', 'condemns' Obama fly 'execution'

According to news sources around the web, a miffed PETA is condemning President Obama for swatting and killing a fly on camera. Wow, for serious?

Responding to what they call an "
execution", PETA said of Obama, "He isn't the Buddha, he's a human being, and human beings have a long way to go before they think before they act… we believe that people, where they can be compassionate, should be, for all animals." (Reuters)

To save more flies from being killed by the President, PETA "sent Obama a device that traps a fly so it can then be released outside."

Of all the battles to pick, Pound360 wonders why PETA chose this one. Then again, here we are blogging about it, and look at all the press.

First-ever public health emergency declared by EPA

For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency has declared in a health emergency. (New York Times) The location: Libby, Montana. The problem: asbestos contamination. For decades, townspeople worked an asbestos mine near Libby. Now, 200 are dead and hundreds (in the town of just 2,600) are sick. Mine executives (of the WR Grace & Company) were acquitted of any wrong doing recently, though they've agreed to contribute $250 million to cleanup of the site.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Would human society exist if we were natural meat eaters?

A recent article at Alternet suggests "eating meat is not natural" (for humans), based on the scientific evidence. One reason, "most of us (hopefully) lack the instinct that would drive us to chase and then kill animals and devour their raw carcasses." Interesting idea. And it made Pound360 think, if we did have these instincts, could we ever develop (mostly) peaceful societies?

Why do we have fingerprints? It's (probably) not what you think.

Why did humans evolve fingerprints? Ask (almost) anyone, and they'd probably tell you it's friction. Fingerprints increase the surface area on your finger tips, which would naturally increase friction, making it easier for people to grip things. But no. According to a Manchester University study, finger prints actually decrease surface area and decreases friction (on smooth surfaces). (Science Friday)

So what are fingerprints doing on our fingers, the fingers of other primates, Koala bears and the tails of South American primates? It probably has something to do with climbing around in trees. And fingerprints may increase friction on rough surfaces (like branches), but more tests are needed.

But if tests show fingerprints do not increase friction on rough surfaces? The University of Manchester's Roland Ennos suggests fingerprints protect from blisters.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Found! ' First unambiguous evidence of shorelines on Mars'

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recently snapped shots of Martian beaches along a canyon that was probably once a lake. (Reuters) The finding represents "the clearest evidence yet of a standing lake on the surface of Mars," and at a time when scientists believe standing water had already disappeared from the Red Planet.

So what? First, "water is key to life." Second, explorers could use water reserves when surveying, colonizing Mars.

Global warming is 'real, serious and getting worse'

Some of the country's finest believe global warming is a hoax. That may be true, but "a major government report… says the effects of global warming in this country are already with us. They're real, they're serious and they're getting worse"…

Another glacier defies global warming

Despite shedding "icebergs the size of apartment buildings," and the whole global warming thing (which of course is a hoax), Argentina's Perito Moreno glacier is still growing. (AP) Scientists don't know why the glacier, "nourished by Andean snowmelt" isn't retreating.

Further north, Mt. Shasta is home to the
last growing glaciers in the US. The mountain is lucky to receive more precipitation from a warming Pacific Ocean.

Humans are not natural carnivores

We at Pound360 hear it all the time. All the time. "Being a vegetarian is unhealthy. You need to eat meat. It's natural." Well, "that’s simply not true, scientifically." (Alternet)

You may love eating meat, and that's fine. Do it. But be careful, "when we kill animals to eat them, they end up killing us, because their flesh, which contains cholesterol and saturated fat, was never intended for human beings, who are natural herbivores.”

What about lions and tigers? They eat meat and they seem perfectly healthy. They are. But that's because in nature, "carnivores have short intestines so they can quickly get rid of all that rotting flesh they eat."

Oh, but humans have canine teeth for devouring prey, right? No. "[human canines] bear little resemblance to the canines of carnivores

So how did we end up as "behavioral omnivores"? Early humans may have scavenged meat from animals killed by carnivores during times of scarcity, developed a taste for it, and started herding animals about 10,000 years ago.

Can decoding the human mind unlock secrets of the universe?

Before we spend any more time trying to understand the universe, biomedical researcher Robert Lanza suggests we figure out how the human mind works in his new, controversial book "Biocentrism." (MSNBC) Why? Until we know how the human mind interprets (twists?) facts and stimuli (vision, sound, etc), we may never be able to connect all the dots.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Earth is only habitable for another 2.3 billion years

That's it and the party's over. Life has 2.3 billion years to figure out a way off this rock so the flame of reason isn't extinguished from the universe, according to a new report by Caltech. (Wired)

Previous studies predicted the Earth would only be inhabitable for a billion years before the sun got too bright, the atmosphere too hot for life to survive (assuming, of course, that life doesn't evolve to survive in higher temperatures). However, earlier studies neglected the role of atmospheric pressure in regulating temperature.

"The world's oceans will be empty of fish" by 2048

Last year, Pound360 mentioned a study (referenced by the NY Times) that predicted commercial fish stocks would be wiped out by 2048 thanks to overfishing.

But it's worse than that. It actually predicts "the world's oceans will be empty of fish… due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change." (
CBS News)

The study was lead by the University of Halifax, Nova Scotia and included scientists from the US, UK, Sweden and Panama.

Human ancestors may have evolved in Europe, moved to Africa

A fossil found in Spain suggests "our hominid ancestors lived in Europe and only later migrated to Africa, where modern humans evolved." (New Scientist) The fossil appears to occupy a juncture in the hominid family tree that led to gorillas, chimps and humans.

"This 'into Africa' scenario is likely to be controversial," reports New Scientist. Ya think?

Before you laugh too hard, remember that, earlier this year, the "most complete fossil primate ever discovered" turned up in - - not Ethiopia, Tanzania or Nairobi -- but Germany.

Is it time to re-think the cradle of human kind?

'Unconventional' natural gas may help slash CO2 emissions

An "explosion in unconventional gas supply" (so-called "shale gas") may drastically reduce CO2 emissions in the US. (Climate Progress) How? The more natural gas we have, the less we have to rely on burning coal. "Natural gas is the cheapest, low-carbon baseload power around."

If the current rate of shale gas discovery continues, it "may be the single biggest game changer for climate action in the next two decades."

"There are plenty of reasons to feel guilty about prolific meat eating"

Blog fight over eating meat! In one corner, Good Magazine blogger Morgan Clendaniel says vegetarians "should give up trying to guilt people into not eating any meat." In the other corner, ScienceBlogs' Jennifer Jacquet says, "there are plenty of reasons to feel guilty… this guilt is justified and, if anything, understated."

Sorry meat eaters, Pound360 takes Ms. Jacquet's side and we've got
a dozen or so posts to back her up.

Good's Clendaniel complains, "vegans seem to deny the entire course of human existence, as if generations of humans hadn’t raised meat and then ate it." Really? Which ones? Nobody in their right mind denies that. For Pound360, it's not the simple act of eating meat that's disastrous,
it's the way modern society goes about it.

And so what if people used to eat meat? There's a lot of
stuff in human history that should stay in the past.

Are mass extinction fears over-blown?

Pound360 has regularly blogged on how it appears we're living through a mass-extinction of Earth's species due to climate change. For example, a University of Leeds study in 2004 predicted 25 percent of all species would be wiped out by climate change by 2050. (Wired) And an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report from 2007 suggested 20 - 30 percent of species would be killed off by warming.

But
according to Wired, those studies "are based on models in which creatures don’t alter their habits when weather changes." What if they do? According to a recent Florida Museum of Natural History report, "a dietary analysis of ancient teeth suggests that animals may prove more adaptable than expected." This gives Pound360 some (very small amount of) hope that our grandkids will actually see living giraffes, buffalo, tigers and other creatures.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Research shows plants can communicate with each other

A joint UCSD and Kyoto University study found sagebrush plants were able to communicate to others when they were in danger. (Discover) Basically, researchers simulated the damage an herbivore (like a locust) would make to one plant in a colony, and then watched over time as the other plants would "prepare themselves for an herbivore attack."

How did the plants communicate? That remains a mystery. But researchers think "it might have been through chemical signals."

Individuals can tap "the wisdom crowds" on their own

You've heard of "the wisdom of crowds," where averaging responses to questions from a crowd of people leads to the correct answer. Well, new research (to be published in Psychological Science) suggests individuals can make decisions as well as the crowd if they're trained properly. (Scientific American)

How? It's called "dialectical bootstrapping." First, you make a guess about something. Then, you assume you're wrong, search for new evidence and come up with a second guess. Average the two out and -- bam -- you're a genius.

Largest mass-stranding of whales on record: 835

The recent stranding of 55 whales, while pretty surprising to Pound360, pales in comparison to the largest mass-straining of all time, 835. (Scientific American) Why do whales strand themselves? On an individual basis, it's pretty clear that sick or mortally wounded creatures will strand themselves. But when it comes to groups, we don't seem to know what's going on. It could be military sonar or "anomalies in the magnetic field," but a definitive answer remains a mystery.

We do know that mass-strandings do have natural causes. They date back, at least, to the time of Aristotle. And Puritain colonies in New England reported mass strandings in the same places they occur today. However, noted an expert, "back then, it was a BBQ instead of a disaster."

(By the way, that
mass stranding of 835 whales was a group of pilot whales that turned up in 1946 on a beach at Mar del Plata, Argentina.)

Catastrophic ocean CO2 levels "could be irreversible for tens of thousands of years"

The oceans do us the favor of absorbing everyone's favorite greenhouse gas, CO2, from the atmosphere. Problem is, too much CO2 leads to acidity in the ocean that's disastrous for marine ecosystems. Unless something is done to slow CO2 emissions, warns a group of science acadamies from 70 nations, parts of the ocean will be corrosive to clams (and other shelled creatures) by 2060, and coral reefs will begin dissolving. (NY Times)

The acidity levels could cause an "underwater catastrophe" that's simply "irreversible for tens of thousands of years."

This is now the second major study this year (
the other one is here) warning of disastrous ocean acidity thanks to CO2 emissions.

Long-neck dinosaurs likely had swan-like posture

Typically, long-necked dinosaurs (sauropods) are shown in museums and text books with their necks bent at a 45-degree angle. But "this view of sauropods is simply incorrect, based on everything we know about living animals." (Cosmos)

More likely, sauropods stood with a "swan-like 's' curve" to their necks, heads held high.

The only catch is the blood pressure needed to pull this off. "The blood pressures, and hence heart sizes, required are quite large."

Some deep-sea fish may have ability to "see with sound"

Like owls that locate prey using their hearing alone, "some deep-sea fish have evolved unique, specialised ear structures that allow them to 'hear' the environment around them rather than see it." (Cosmos)

Scientists believe this explains why some deep see fish have "very thick and rigid" inner-ear structures, which would allow them to "pick up limited vibration."

Biblical 'storm of meteorites' may have prepared Earth for life

How did the Earth end up wet enough, warm enough to support life? New evidence suggests "a storm of meteorites that pounded Earth" about 4 billion years ago may have done it. (BBC)

The "storm", otherwise know as the "Late Heavy Bombardment" (LHB), is a mysterious period where tens of thousands of meteors pummeled the Earth.
According to Wikipedia, the Bombardment would have left 22,000 impact craters smaller than 20 km, 40 craters around 1,000 km and several at 5,000 km. That's insane huge.

What causes the bombardment? Scientists don't know. Jupiter and Saturn may have rearranged their orbits, stirring the asteroid belt. And there may have been a fifth planet in the inner solar system (called "Planet V") that broke up somehow.

Whatever caused the bombardment,
an Imperial College London study suggests all those meteors may have created enough water and CO2 to create the "global warming, liquid oceans" needed to create "a more habitable environment" for life.

How do they know? They heated meteorites up to 20,000C and measured the water vapor and CO2 released, and the meteor storm during the LHB would have created 10 billion tons of water and CO2 per year.

By the way, around the time of the LHB, there's evidence the earth was warm and wet when
it should have been a frozen wasteland.

New policies accelerating blue fin tuna extinction

The organization that's supposed to protect blue fin tuna, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), approved a blue fin catch of 22,000 tons this year. Who cares? The ICCAT's own scientists recommended no more than 8,500 to 15,000 tons. (Independent)

The World Wildlife Fund called the ICCAT's actions a "disgrace." Pound360 agrees. That's because "blue fin is imminently at risk of commercial extinction." Earlier this year the WWF warned blue fin would
disappear from the Mediterranean if severe over-fishing was not contained. Last year, we blogged about a study predicting commercial fish stocks would be wiped out by 2048.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Russia wins claim to majority of Arctic natural gas

We've always know there was a lot of fossil fuel trapped under the North Pole. What's been in dispute is how much, and especially, who it belongs to. Canada, the United States, Norway, Denmark, Russia? All players have "sought some jurisdiction," but only the Russians (surprise, surprise) have actually sent subs to the regions and planted "a titanium canister containing the Russian flat." (Discover)

As the Arctic thaws thanks to global warming, we're learning now (according to an assessment of USGS data) that 30 percent of the Earth's undiscovered natural gas (1.5 trillion cubic feet) and 13 percent of the undiscovered oil (83 billion barrels) is up there. The oil "is not enough to challenge the dominance of the oil-rich Persian Gulf states," but the natural gas, "concentrated in marine territory claimed by Russia," ensures their dominance in the market.

'Staggering' environmental damage shown in time-lapse video

NASA's earth observatory is sending back striking, time-lapse video evidence of how "we've ravaged Earth's surface with staggering feats of deforestation, irrigation and urbanization." (Wired) Here's what it looks like when people wipe out Brazilian rain forest…



This is what it looks like when people drain the Aral Sea…

Pound360 Archive

About Me

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.