Earth

Scientists Can Now Blame Individual Natural Disasters On Climate Change (scientificamerican.com) 318

In 2003, the predominant view in the scientific community was that there was no way to determine the exact influence of climate change on any individual event. "There are just too many other factors affecting the weather, including all sorts of natural climate variations," reports Scientific American. But Myles Allen, a climate expert at the University of Oxford, believes scientists can blame individual natural disasters on climate change. Scientific American reports of how extreme event attribution is one of the most rapidly expanding areas of climate science: Over the last few years, dozens of studies have investigated the influence of climate change on events ranging from the Russian heat wave of 2010 to the California drought, evaluating the extent to which global warming has made them more severe or more likely to occur. The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society now issues a special report each year assessing the impact of climate change on the previous year's extreme events. Interest in the field has grown so much that the National Academy of Sciences released an in-depth report last year evaluating the current state of the science and providing recommendations for its improvement. And as the science continues to mature, it may have ramifications for society. Legal experts suggest that attribution studies could play a major role in lawsuits brought by citizens against companies, industries or even governments. They could help reshape climate adaptation policies throughout a country or even the world. And perhaps more immediately, the young field of research could be capturing the public's attention in ways that long-term projections for the future cannot.

In 2004, Allen and Oxford colleague Daithi Stone and Peter Stott of the Met Office co-authored a report that is widely regarded as the world's first extreme event attribution study. The paper, which examined the contribution of climate change to a severe European heat wave in 2003 -- an event which may have caused tens of thousands of deaths across the continent -- concluded that "it is very likely that human influence has at least doubled the risk of a heat wave exceeding this threshold magnitude." Before this point, climate change attribution science had existed in other forms for several decades, according to Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford University climate scientist and attribution expert. Until 2004, much of the work had focused on investigating the relationship between human activity and long-term changes in climate elements like temperature and precipitation. More recently, scientists had been attempting to understand how these changes in long-term averages might affect weather patterns in general.

Earth

It's So Cold Outside That Sharks Are Actually Freezing to Death (vice.com) 424

An anonymous reader writes: As climate change ushers in another year of extreme global temperatures -- a phenomenon President Trump seems a little confused about -- cities up and down the East Coast are facing record-breaking snowfall and subzero temperatures. But while city dwellers might be able to hide indoors and crank up the heat, some animals aren't so lucky. According to the Cape Cod-based Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, it's gotten so cold that sharks in the area have been washing up on the shore and essentially freezing to death. This week, the organization responded to three thresher sharks that likely suffered "cold shock" in the surrounding waters. Organisms suffer cold shock when they're exposed to extreme dips in temperature and can sometimes experience muscle spasms or cardiac arrest. Scientists believe the sharks swimming off the coast of Cape Cod -- where temperatures have dropped to 6 degrees -- suffered cold shock in the water, and then wound up getting stranded on the shore, where they likely suffocated. "If you've got cold air, that'll freeze their gills up very quickly," Greg Skomal, a marine scientist, told the New York Times. "Those gill filaments are very sensitive and it wouldn't take long for the shark to die."
Earth

UK 'Faces Build-up of Plastic Waste' (bbc.com) 308

The UK's recycling industry says it doesn't know how to cope with a Chinese ban on imports of plastic waste. From a report: Britain has been shipping up to 500,000 tonnes of plastic for recycling in China every year, but now the trade has been stopped. At the moment the UK cannot deal with much of that waste, says the UK Recycling Association. Its chief executive, Simon Ellin, told the BBC he had no idea how the problem would be solved in the short term. "It's a huge blow for us... a game-changer for our industry," he said. "We've relied on China so long for our waste... 55% of paper, 25% plus of plastics. "We simply don't have the markets in the UK. It's going to mean big changes in our industry." China has introduced the ban from this month on "foreign garbage" as part of a move to upgrade its industries.
Space

The Biggest Rocket Launches and Space Missions We're Looking Forward To in 2018 (theverge.com) 112

Loren Grush, writing for The Verge: Next year is already overflowing with exciting missions to space. NASA is launching a new lander to Mars, as well as a spacecraft that will get closer to the Sun than ever before. And two of NASA's vehicles already in space will finally arrive at their intended targets: one will rendezvous with a nearby asteroid, while another will pass by a distant space rock billions of miles from Earth. But it's not just NASA that has a busy year ahead; the commercial space industry has a number of significant test flights planned, and the launch of one of the world's most anticipated rockets, the Falcon Heavy, is slated for early 2018. And if all goes well, people may finally ride to space on private vehicles. Here's the complete list.
Earth

UK Enjoyed 'Greenest Year For Electricity Ever' in 2017 (bbc.com) 72

The UK has achieved its greenest year ever in terms of how the nation's electricity is generated, National Grid figures reveal. From a report: The rise of renewable energy helped break 13 clean energy records in 2017. In June, for the first time, wind, nuclear and solar power generated more UK power than gas and coal combined. Britain has halved carbon emissions in the electricity sector since 2012 to provide the fourth cleanest power system in Europe and seventh worldwide. In April, the UK had its first 24-hour period without using any coal power since the Industrial Revolution. The government is committed to phasing out unabated coal by 2025 as part of efforts to cut the UK's greenhouse gas emissions in line with legal obligations. Separate findings from power research group MyGridGB show that renewable energy sources provided more power than coal for 90% of 2017, figures up to 12 December show.
Education

The Last Man on Earth To Speak His Language (axios.com) 177

From a report: An elderly man in Peru named Amadeo Garcia Garcia is the last person on earth to speak his native language, Taushiro, the NY Times' Nicholas Casey reports in a remarkable long-read. A combination of disease and exploitation have led the Taushiro, a tribe of hunter-gatherers in the Amazon, to the verge of extinction. In the last century, at least 37 languages have disappeared in Peru alone, lost in the steady clash and churn of national expansion, migration, urbanization and the pursuit of natural resources.
Science

Flying in Airplanes Exposes People To More Radiation Than Standing Next To a Nuclear Reactor (businessinsider.com) 275

Traveling the skies by jet lifts us far from the hustle and bustle of the world below. From a report: But many flyers don't know that soaring miles above Earth also takes us out of a vital protective cocoon -- and a little closer to a place where our cells can be pummeled by radiation from colliding stars, black holes, and more. You can't see these high-energy charged particles, but at any given moment, tens of thousands of them are soaring through space and slamming into Earth's atmosphere from all directions. Also called cosmic rays or cosmic ionizing radiation, the particles are the cores of atoms, such as iron and nickel, moving at nearly light-speed. They can travel for millions of years through space before randomly hitting Earth. These rays don't pose much of a risk to humans on Earth's surface, since the planet's atmosphere and magnetic field shield us from most of the threat.
Businesses

Cash Might Be King, but They Don't Care (nytimes.com) 679

In Midtown and some other neighborhoods across New York City, cashless is fast on its way to becoming normal, The New York Times reports, sharing anecdotes where merchants have refused to accept bills from customers (the link may be paywalled). From the report: Cashless businesses were once an isolated phenomenon, but now, similarly jarring experiences can be had across the street at Sweetgreen, or two blocks up at Two Forks, or next door to Two Forks at Dos Toros, or over on 41st Street at Bluestone Lane coffee. In the future, when dollar bills are found only in museum display cases, we will look back on this moment of transition and confusion with the same head-shaking smile with which we regard customs on the Isle of Yap in Micronesia, where giant stone discs are still accepted as payment for particularly big-ticket items. Some people already live in this cashless future. They find nothing strange about paying for a pack of gum with a swipe of a card. If you are one of these people and you are still somehow reading this article, you may be thinking, "What on earth is the big deal?" At Two Forks on 40th Street, where the lunch offerings have cheery names like Squash Goals, Kristin Junco, a 34-year-old auditor for the state Education Department, said she had not used cash for about a week and much prefers a cashless establishment to its opposite. "We travel a lot for work," she said, gesturing to a colleague, "and if they don't take credit cards that makes things difficult." [...] Not surprisingly, the credit card companies, who make a commission on every credit card purchase, applaud the trend. Visa recently offered select merchants a $10,000 reward for depriving customers of their right to pay by the method of their choice. A Visa executive described this practice to CNN as offering shoppers "freedom from carrying cash."
Earth

UFO Existence 'Proven Beyond Reasonable Doubt', Says Former Head of Pentagon Alien Program (newsweek.com) 300

An anonymous reader shares a Newsweek report: The existence of UFOs had been "proved beyond reasonable doubt," according the head of the secret Pentagon program that analyzed the mysterious aircrafts. In an interview with British broadsheet The Telegraph published on Saturday, Luis Elizondo told the newspaper of the sightings, "In my opinion, if this was a court of law, we have reached the point of 'beyond reasonable doubt.'" "I hate to use the term UFO but that's what we're looking at," he added. "I think it's pretty clear this is not us, and it's not anyone else, so no one has to ask questions where they're from." Elizondo led the U.S. Defense Department's Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, investigating evidence of UFOs and alien life, from 2007 to 2012, when it was shuttered. Its existence was first reported by The New York Times this month.
Earth

Should Plant-Based Meat Replace Beef Completely? (pbs.org) 669

Long-time Slashdot reader tcd004 writes: Is beef still "what's for dinner?" Plant-based meat substitute startups say they could provide enough protein to feed the world using only 2% of the land on Earth, dramatically reducing the resources required to create beef products. And adopting plant-based burgers could help reduce heart disease, protect water resources, and stop deforestation. But Beef producers say no laboratory can beat a steer's ability to turn plant-based nutrition into tasty protein, and animals are the best source for natural fertilizer to grow crops. There's a coming war for your dinner plate. Who will prevail?
Space

Can We Get Global Broadband From Low-Earth Orbit Satellites? (blogspot.com) 134

"The internet is unavailable to and/or unaffordable by about 50% of the world population," writes Larry Press (formerly of IBM), who's now an information systems professor at California State University. But he's also long-time Slashdot reader lpress, and reports on new efforts to bring cheap high-speed internet to the entire world. SpaceX, Boeing, OneWeb, Telesat, and Leosat are investing in very large projects to deliver global, high-speed Internet service [using low-earth orbit satellites]. This could be a significant option for developing nations, rural areas of developed nations, long-haul links, Internet of things, and more by the mid-2020s.
Parts of Alaska could see internet-via-satellite as soon as 2020, according to Larry's article, which adds that the technology could even be used to bring high-speed internet access to ships at sea.
Earth

Experts Cast Doubt on 'Alien Alloys' in the New York Times' UFO Story (scientificamerican.com) 206

What to make of a Las Vegas building full of unidentified alloys? The New York Times published a stunning story last week revealing that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) had, between 2007 and 2012, funded a $22 million program for investigating UFOs (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). The story included three revelations that were tailored to blow readers' minds: 1. Many high-ranking people in the federal government believe aliens have visited planet Earth. 2. Military pilots have recorded videos of UFOs with capabilities that seem to outstrip all known human aircraft, changing direction and accelerating in ways no fighter jet or helicopter could ever accomplish. 3. In a group of buildings in Las Vegas, the government stockpiles alloys and other materials believed to be associated with UFOs. From a Scientific American report: Points one and two are weird, but not all that compelling on their own: The world already knew that plenty of smart folks believe in alien visitors, and that pilots sometimes encounter strange phenomena in the upper atmosphere. Point No. 3, though -- those buildings full of alloys and other materials -- that's a little harder to hand wave away. Is there really a DOD cache full of materials from out of this world? Here's the thing, though: The chemists and metallurgists Live Science spoke to -- experts in identifying unusual alloys -- don't buy it. "I don't think it's plausible that there's any alloys that we can't identify," Richard Sachleben, a retired chemist and member of the American Chemical Society's panel of experts, told Live Science. "My opinion? That's quite impossible." Alloys are mixtures of different kinds of elemental metals. They're very common -- in fact, Sachleben said, they're more common on Earth than pure elemental metals are -- and very well understood.
China

China Is Building a Solar Power Highway (electrek.co) 131

China is building roadways with solar panels underneath that may soon have the ability to charge cars wirelessly and digitally assist automated vehicles. "This second solar roadway project -- part of the Jinan City Expressway -- is a 1.2 mile stretch," reports Electrek. "The building technique involves transparent concrete over a layer of solar panels." From the report: Construction is complete and grid connection is pending, but is expected to be complete before the end of the year. The Jinan City solar highway is formed with three layers. The top layer is a transparent concrete that has similar structural properties with standard asphalt. The central layer is the solar panels -- which are pointed out as being "weight bearing." The bottom layer is to separate the solar panels from the damp earth underneath. The road will be durable enough to handle vehicles as large as a medium sized truck. It was noted by engineers that wireless vehicle charging could soon be integrated and automated car functions could take advantage of the inherent data in this this already wired roadway. No details were given on which solar panels being used. Two separate sizes could be seen from the images. It looks like the solar panels are covered with a film to protect them from workers moving over them. Notice in one picture there is an individual sitting down with wires showing between the solar panels connecting them.
Earth

Faced With Rising Temperatures, People May Seek Asylum (axios.com) 210

Europe is already struggling to absorb an influx of refugees from war-torn Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Africa. Germany alone has taken in more than a million people since 2015. This wave of immigration has led to political upheaval, with the rise of right-wing political parties in Germany, Poland, Austria, and Hungary, among others. Now a new study, published in the journal Science, shows that the current surge in refugees may just be a preview of what's to come due in large part to global warming. From a report: At an average growing season temperature of about 68 Fahrenheit, which is the optimum one for agriculture, the number of applications for asylum was lowest. As the average temperature rose, so did the number of people from Somalia, Bangladesh and other warmer climate countries seeking asylum. But when cooler countries -- such as Serbia and Peru -- got warmer, fewer applications were received. The acceptance rate for asylum application to the EU is less than 10%. But when there was a spike in applications tied to weather fluctuations, the admittance rate rose to about 30%, suggesting agencies who evaluate the applicants find their cause worthy.
NASA

NASA Advances Missions To Land a Flying Robot on Titan or Snatch a Piece of a Comet (washingtonpost.com) 49

Sarah Kaplan, writing for the Washington Post: NASA's newest mission will either land a quadcopter-like spacecraft on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan or collect a sample from the nucleus of a comet. (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source.) The two proposals were selected from a group of 12 submitted to the New Frontiers program, which supports mid-level planetary science missions. The first, called Dragonfly, would be an unprecedented project to send a flying robot to an alien moon. Equipped with instruments capable of identifying large organic molecules, the quadcopter would be able to fly to multiple locations hundreds of miles apart to study the landscape on Titan. This large, cold moon of Saturn features a thick atmosphere and lakes and rivers of liquid methane, and scientists believe that a watery ocean may lurk beneath its frozen crust. [...] The Comet Astrobiology Exploration SAmple Return, or CAESAR, mission would circle back to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which was visited by the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft from 2014 to 2016. After rendezvousing with the Mount Fuji-size space rock, CAESAR would suck up a sample from its surface and send it back to Earth, where it would arrive in November 2038 (mark your calendars!).
Earth

France Passes Law To Ban All Oil, Gas Production By 2040 (cbsnews.com) 259

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBS News: France's parliament has approved a law banning all exploration and production of oil and natural gas by 2040 within the country and its overseas territories. Under that law that passed a final vote on Tuesday, existing drilling permits will not be renewed and no new exploration licenses will be granted. The French government claims the ban is a world first. However, it is largely symbolic since oil and gas produced in France accounts for just 1 percent of domestic consumption. The rest is imported. French President Emmanuel Macron responded to the approval of the law on Twitter, saying in part: "Very proud that France has become the first country in the world today to ban any new oil exploration licenses with immediate effect and all oil extraction by 2040."
Earth

Scientists Confirm There Was Life On Earth 3.5 Billion Years Ago (qz.com) 176

Paleobiologists have confirmed today that life forms existed some 3.5 billion years ago. The new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, uses the latest techniques to date the most aged remains available. Quartz reports: The research, led by paleobiologist William Schopf of the University of California-Los Angeles and geoscientist John Valley of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been in the works for what seems a long time to most, but which the academics know is merely a blink of the eye in terms of life on Earth. The specimens in question, mostly now-extinct bacteria and microbes, were found in 1982 at the Apex Chert, a rock formation in Western Australia, in a piece of rock. In 1993, based on radiometric analyses of the rock, and the shape of fossils, Schopf dated them as biological beings that existed 3.45 billion years ago. The rock held the earliest direct evidence of life, Schopf thought, and inferred from it that creatures existed over a billion years earlier than anyone previously believed. But some scientists argued that this claim was too speculative and that the microfossils, invisible to the naked eye, were really just weirdly-shaped bits of rock, strange minerals that only seem to contain biological specimens but do not.

Since then, technology has improved and Schopf and Valley teamed up to devise a new way to analyze the rock specimen, which now lives in the London Museum of Natural History. Valley spent 10 years developing a method to analyze the individual species that are shaped like tiny cylinders and filaments. Any type of organic substance (including both rock and microbe) contains a characteristic mix of carbon isotopes. Using a secondary ion mass spectrometer (a very rare tool, one of which is housed at the University of Wisconsin), the scientists were able to separate the carbon in each fossil into isotopes. That way, they could measure the carbon-isotope makeup of each fossil, and compare those to fossil-less rocks from the same era. [...] After analyzing the microfossils individually, they identified five species, concluding that two were photosynthesizers, two were methane-consuming organisms, and one produced methane.

Earth

Flat Earther Now Wants To Launch His Homemade Rocket From a Balloon (themaineedge.com) 314

A Maine alternative newsweekly just interviewed self-taught rocket scientist "Mad" Mike Hughes, who still believes that the earth is a flat, Frisbee-shaped disc. ("Think about this. Australia -- which is supposedly on the other side of the planet -- is upside down yet they're holding the waters in the ocean. Now how is that happening?") And Mike's got a new way to prove it after his aborted launch attempt in November. An anonymous reader writes: "One thing I want to clarify is that this rocket was never supposed to prove that the Earth is flat," Hughes tells an interviewer. "I was never going to go high enough to do that." But he will prove it's flat -- with an even riskier stunt. "I have a plan to go 62 miles up to the edge of space. It's going to cost $1.8 million and that could happen within 10 months."

"I'm going to have a balloon built at about $250,000 with $100,000 worth of hydrogen in it. It will lift me up about 20 miles... If I'm unconscious, they can use the controls to bring the balloon back." But if he's still conscious? "Then I'll fire a rocket through the balloon that will pull me up by my shoulders through a truss for 42 miles at 1.5 g's."

It's an awesome plan "if I don't burn up coming back through the atmosphere."

The interviewer asks Hughes a reasonable question. "Wouldn't it be cheaper and less deadly to just try to drill through the Earth to the other side to prove your point?"

"You can't," Hughes answers. "That's another fallacy. The deepest hole ever drilled is seven-and-a-half miles and it was done in Russia. It took 12 years. You cannot drill through this planet. It dulls every drill bit. All the stuff that you learned in school -- that the core is molten nickel -- it's all lies. No one knows what's in the center of the Earth or how deep it is. I'm no expert at anything, but I know that's a fact."
Space

Space Is Not a Void (slate.com) 285

An anonymous reader shares an article: When President Kennedy announced the Apollo Program, he famously argued that we should go to the moon because it is hard. Solving the technical challenges of space travel is a kind of civilizational achievement on its own, like resolving an interplanetary Rubik's Cube. The argument worked, perhaps all too well. As soon as we landed on the moon, humanity's expansion into the cosmos slowed and then stopped (not counting robots). If you were to draw a graph charting the farthest distance a human being has ever been from the surface of Earth, the peak was in 1970 with Apollo 13. With the successful moon landings, we solved all of the fundamental challenges involved in launching humans into orbit and bringing them back safely. The people watching those early feats of exploration imagined we would soon be sending astronauts to Mars and beyond, but something has held us back. Not know-how, or even money, but a certain lack of imagination. Getting to space isn't the hard part -- the hard part is figuring out why we're there. Sure, we can celebrate the human spirit and the first person to do this or that, but that kind of achievement never moves beyond the symbolic. It doesn't build industries, establish settlements and scientific research stations, or scale up solutions from expensive one-offs to mass production. Furthermore, as five decades of failing to go farther than our own moon have demonstrated, that kind of symbolism can't even sustain itself, much less energize new activity.
Earth

Almost 45 Million Tons of E-waste Discarded Last Year (apnews.com) 177

A new study claims 44.7 million metric tons (49.3 million tons) of TV sets, refrigerators, cellphones and other electrical good were discarded last year, with only a fifth recycled to recover the valuable raw materials inside. From a report: The U.N.-backed study published Wednesday calculates that the amount of e-waste thrown away in 2016 included a million tons of chargers alone. The U.S. accounted for 6.3 million metric tons, partly due to the fact that the American market for heavy goods is saturated. The original study can be found here (PDF; Google Drive link).

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