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Update December 2017


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Science & Nature
 

Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 - Jan. 5, 2018

Good night, night: Light pollution increasing around globe

This photo combo of images provided by NASA’s Earth Observatory/Kyba, GFZ shows photographs of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, taken from the International Space Station on Dec. 23, 2010, left, where residential areas are mainly lit by orange sodium lamps; and on Nov. 27, 2015, right, where many areas on the outskirts are newly lit compared to 2010, and many neighborhoods have switched from orange sodium lamps to white LED lamps. (NASA’s Earth Observatory/Kyba, GFZ via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) - The world’s nights are getting alarmingly brighter - bad news for all sorts of creatures, humans included.

A German-led team reported Wednesday that light pollution is threatening darkness almost everywhere. Satellite observations during five Octobers show Earth’s artificially lit outdoor area grew by 2 percent a year from 2012 to 2016. So did nighttime brightness.

Light pollution is actually worse than that, according to the researchers. Their measurements coincide with the outdoor switch to energy-efficient and cost-saving light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. Because the imaging sensor on the polar-orbiting weather satellite can’t detect the LED-generated color blue, some light is missed.

The observations, for example, indicate stable levels of night light in the United States, Netherlands, Spain and Italy. But light pollution is almost certainly on the rise in those countries given this elusive blue light, said Christopher Kyba of the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences and lead author of the study published in Science Advances.

Also on the rise is the spread of light into the hinterlands and overall increased use. The findings shatter the long-held notion that more energy efficient lighting would decrease usage on the global - or at least a national - scale.

“Honestly, I had thought and assumed and hoped that with LEDs we were turning the corner. There’s also a lot more awareness of light pollution,” he told reporters by phone from Potsdam. “It is quite disappointing.”

The biological impact from surging artificial light is also significant, according to the researchers.

People’s sleep can be marred, which in turn can affect their health. The migration and reproduction of birds, fish, amphibians, insects and bats can be disrupted. Plants can have abnormally extended growing periods. And forget about seeing stars or the Milky Way, if the trend continues.

About the only places with dramatic declines in night light were in areas of conflict like Syria and Yemen, the researchers found. Australia also reported a noticeable drop, but that’s because wildfires were raging early in the study. Researchers were unable to filter out the bright burning light.

Asia, Africa and South America, for the most part, saw a surge in artificial night lighting.

More and more places are installing outdoor lighting given its low cost and the overall growth in communities’ wealth, the scientists noted. Urban sprawl is also moving towns farther out. The outskirts of major cities in developing nations are brightening quite rapidly, in fact, Kyba said.

Other especially bright hot spots: sprawling greenhouses in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Photos taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station also illuminate the growing problem.

Franz Holker of the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin, a co-author, said things are at the critical point.

“Many people are using light at night without really thinking about the cost,” Holker said. Not just the economic cost, “but also the cost that you have to pay from an ecological, environmental perspective.”

Kyba and his colleagues recommend avoiding glaring lamps whenever possible - choosing amber over so-called white LEDs - and using more efficient ways to illuminate places like parking lots or city streets. For example, dim, closely spaced lights tend to provide better visibility than bright lights that are more spread out.

The International Dark-Sky Association, based in Tucson, Arizona, has been highlighting the hazards of artificial night light for decades.

“We hope that the results further sound the alarm about the many unintended consequences of the unchecked use of artificial light at night,” Director J. Scott Feierabend said in a statement.

An instrument on the 2011-launched U.S. weather satellite, Suomi, provided the observations for this study. A second such instrument - known as the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS - was launched on a new satellite Saturday by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This latest VIIRS will join the continuing night light study.


Saturday, Dec. 23 - Dec. 29, 2017

New dinosaur looks like odd mix of duck, croc, ostrich, swan

This illustration provided by Lukas Panzarin, with Andrea Cau for scientific supervision, shows a Halszkaraptor escuilliei dinosaur. The creature, about 18 inches (45 centimeters) tall, had a bill like a duck but teeth like a croc’s, a swan-like neck and killer claws. (Lukas Panzarin via AP)

Seth Borenstein

Washington (AP) - With a bill like a duck but teeth like a croc’s, a swanlike neck and killer claws, a new dinosaur species uncovered by scientists looks like something Dr. Seuss could have dreamed up.

It also had flippers like a penguin, and while it walked like an ostrich it could also swim. That’s the first time swimming ability has been shown for a two-legged, meat-eating dinosaur.

The tiny creature, only about 18 inches (45 centimeters) tall, roamed 75 million years ago in what is now Mongolia. Its full curled-up skeleton was found in a sandstone rock.

“It’s such a peculiar animal,” said Dennis Voeten, a paleontology researcher at Palacky University in the Czech Republic. “It combines different parts we knew from other groups into this one small animal.”

In a study released Wednesday by the journal Nature, Voeten and coauthors named it Halszkaraptor escuilliei (HAHL-shka-rap-tor ES-key-lay-ee) or “Halszka” after the late Polish paleontologist Halszka Osmolska.

Paleontologist Kristi Curry Rogers of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, who didn’t participate in the study, called it “a pretty crazy chimera: a swan neck and dinosaur body, but with a mouthful of tiny teeth and hands and feet that look like they might be good for swimming.”

Its mashup body let it run and hunt on the ground and fish in fresh water, said study co-author Paul Tafforeau. He’s a paleontologist at the ESRF, known as the European Synchrotron in Grenoble, France, a powerful X-ray generator where numerous tests were made on the fossil.

Lead author Andrea Cau, a paleontologist at the Geological Museum Capellini in Bologna, Italy, said he was at first highly suspicious about the fossil’s authenticity, both because of its appearance and the fact that the rock containing the skeleton had been smuggled out of Mongolia and left in a private collector’s hands.

“I asked myself, ‘Is this a real, natural skeleton, or an artifact, a chimera? If this is a fake, how could I demonstrate it?’” Cau said in an email. “Assuming it was a fake instead of starting assuming that the fossil is genuine was the most appropriate way to start the investigation of such a bizarre fossil.”

So researchers used the Synchrotron to create three-dimensional images of the fossil, which showed the creature was indeed a single animal and not a concoction built up from several sources. For example, an arm hidden in the rock perfectly matched the visible left arm, and lines indicating growth matched up across the bones.

Even though the creature wasn’t dreamed up by Dr. Seuss, it got a blessing from a Dr. Sues.

Hans Sues, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution who wasn’t part of the research, praised the work and said it “shows again how amazingly diverse dinosaurs were.”


Archaeologists may have discovered St. Nick’s bones

Ankara, Turkey (AP) - Turkish archaeologists believe they may have discovered the remains of St. Nicholas - from whom the legend of Santa Claus emerged - beneath a church at his birthplace in southern Turkey, an official said Thursday, Oct 5.

St. Nicholas was born and served as a bishop of what is now the Turkish Mediterranean town of Demre, near Antalya, in the 4th century. He was buried in the area formerly known as Myra, but his bones were believed to have been stolen and taken to the southern Italian town of Bari.

Archaeologists, however, have recently discovered what they think is a temple below the church and now believe his remains may be lying there, Cemil Karabayram, the head of Antalya’s Reliefs and Monuments authority, told The Associated Press by telephone.

Archaeologists are looking for a way into the temple without harming the 11th-century Church of St. Nicholas, Karabayram said.

Karabayram said the temple was discovered through geo-radar surveys of the church that were conducted as part of a restoration project.

“It is a temple that is intact, has not been touched but may have been affected by an earthquake,” he said.

“This is an important find both culturally and for Turkey’s tourism,” Karabayram said.

St. Nicholas was known for his generosity. His legend spread around the world and became interwoven with mythical stories of the gift-giving Santa Claus.

Karabayram said that the bones that were smuggled to Bari may have been the remains of another priest.


Saturday, Dec. 16 - Dec. 22, 2017

Reporter’s Notebook: Fukushima face-lift masks morass inside

This combination of photos shows the Unit 3 building of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, top in Feb. 28, 2012 and bottom in Aug. 2, 2017, at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. The tsunami-hit Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant has had a major face-lift since the 2011 meltdowns, at least above ground. Inside and underground, it remains largely a morass. (AP Photo)

Mari Yamaguchi

Okuma, Japan (AP) - Above ground, the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant has had a major face-lift since the 2011 disaster. Inside and underground remains largely a morass.

A stylish new office building was the first thing that came into view during a tour for foreign media last month. Another building has a cafeteria and a convenience store. It’s easy to forget you’re in the official no-go zone, where access is restricted.

We first went through automated security checks and radiation measurement at the new building, where 1,000 employees of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s decommissioning unit work. A sign prohibits games such as Pokemon Go.

Visitors no longer must put on hazmat suits and full-face charcoal-filter masks, or plastic shoe covers, unless they are going to the most contaminated areas. We donned the gear for low-dose areas: a helmet, double socks, cotton gloves, surgical mask, goggles, and a vest with a personal dosimeter.

There was little reminder of the devastation from 6 ˝ years earlier. The highly contaminated debris and mangled vehicles are gone. The feeble-looking plastic hoses mended with tape and the outdoor power switchboard that rats got into, once causing a blackout, have been replaced with proper equipment.

A new curved cover has been built over the Unit 3 reactor, whose roof was blown off, leaving a mess of girders, concrete and cables. A horizontal smudge high up on a nearby waste-storage building marks the height of the tsunami: 17 meters, or 56 feet.

The 900 huge tanks built to store a growing volume of radioactive water tower over visitors. A water management team monitored the contaminated water at what was once the crisis command center. Strings of good-luck, folded-paper cranes still hang in the hallway.

The tanks underscore the challenges that remain, in the basements of the reactor buildings, where the water collects, and deep inside the three reactors that had meltdowns.

Remote-controlled robots provided a limited view of the melted fuel earlier this year, in areas where it is too dangerous for humans to go. The exact location of the fuel remains largely unknown. It was an early step in the still-uncertain, decades long plan to decommission the plant.


Saturday, Dec. 9 - Dec. 15, 2017

Thanksgiving tribe reclaims language lost to colonization

In this Oct. 12, 2017 photo a child in a combined pre-kindergarten and kindergarten Wampanoag language immersion class removes kernels from an ear of corn at the Wampanoag Tribe Community and Government Center, in Mashpee, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

In this Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, photo Massachusetts Institute of Technology archivist Nora Murphy places a second edition of the Eliot Indian Bible on a table at the MIT rare book collection, in Cambridge, Mass. The second edition of the Eliot Indian Bible, translated into Wampanoag, is dated 1685. Experts have relied on extensive written records in Wampanoag to reclaim the language, including 17th century phonetic translations of the King James Bible. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Philip Marcelo

Mashpee, Mass. (AP) - The Massachusetts tribe whose ancestors shared a Thanksgiving meal with the Pilgrims nearly 400 years ago is reclaiming its long-lost language, one schoolchild at a time.

“Weesowee mahkusunash,” says teacher Siobhan Brown, using the Wampanoag phrase for “yellow shoes” as she reads to a preschool class from Sandra Boynton’s popular children’s book “Blue Hat, Green Hat.”

The Mukayuhsak Weekuw - or “Children’s House” - is an immersion school launched by the Cape Cod-based Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, whose ancestors hosted a harvest celebration with the Pilgrims in 1621 that helped form the basis for the country’s Thanksgiving tradition.

The 19 children from Wampanoag households that Brown and other teachers instruct are being taught exclusively in Wopanao­tooaok, a language that had not been spoken for at least a century until the tribe started an effort to reclaim it more than two decades ago.

The language brought to the English lexicon words like pumpkin (spelled pohpukun in Wopanaotooaok), moccasin (mahkus), skunk (sukok), powwow (pawaw) and Massachusetts (masachoosut), but, like hundreds of other native tongues, fell victim to the erosion of indigenous culture through centuries of colonialism.

“From having had no speakers for six generations to having 500 students attend some sort of class in the last 25 years? It’s more than I could have ever expected in my lifetime,” says Jessie “Little Doe” Baird, the tribe’s vice chairwoman, who is almost singularly responsible for the rebirth of the language, which tribal members refer to simply as Wampanoag (pronounced WAHM’-puh-nawg).

Now in its second year, the immersion school is a key milestone in Baird’s legacy, but it’s not the only way the tribe is ensuring its language is never lost again.

At the public high school, seven students are enrolled in the district’s first Wampanoag language class, which is funded and staffed by the tribe.

Up the road, volunteers host free language learning sessions for families each Friday at the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum.

And within the tribe’s government building - one floor up from the immersion school - tribal elders gather twice a week for an hour-long lesson before lunch.

“Sometimes it goes in one ear and out the other,” confesses Pauline Peters, a 78-year-old Hyannis resident who has been attending the informal sessions for about three years. “It takes us elders a while to get things. The kids at the immersion school correct us all the time.”

The movement to revitalize native American languages started gaining traction in the 1990s and today, most of country’s more than 550 tribes are engaged in some form of language preservation work, says Diana Cournoyer, of the National Indian Education Association.

But the Mashpee Wam­panoag stand out because they’re one of the few tribes to have brought back their language despite not having any surviving adult speakers, says Teresa McCarty, a cultural anthropologist and applied linguist at the University of California Los Angeles.

“Imagine learning to speak, read, and write a language that you have never heard spoken and for which no oral records exist,” she says. “It’s a human act of brilliance, faith, courage, commitment and hope.”

Jessie Baird was in her 20s, had no college degree and zero training in linguistics when a dream inspired her to start learning Wampanoag in the early 1990s.

Working with linguistic experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other tribal members, Baird developed a dictionary of Wampanoag and a grammar guide.

She and others drew on historical documents written in Wampanoag - including personal diaries of tribal members, Colonial-era land claims and a version of the King James Bible printed in 1663 that is considered one of the oldest ever printed in the Western hemisphere.

To fill in the gaps, they turned to words, pronunciations and other auditory cues from related Algonquian languages still spoken today.

The work landed Baird at MIT, where she earned a graduate degree in linguistics in 2000 and a prestigious MacArthur Foundation genius grant in 2010.

Nearly three decades on, the tribe is still in need of more adults fluent in the language to continue expanding its immersion school and other youth-focused language efforts - the keys to ensuring the language’s survival, says Jennifer Weston, director of the tribe’s language department.

The school currently enrolls pre-K and kindergarten-age children but hopes to ramp up to middle school within five years.

“The goal is really to have bilingual speakers emerge from our school,” Weston says. “And we’ve seen from other tribal communities that if you want children to retain the language, you have to invest in elementary education. Otherwise the gains just disappear.”


Update Saturday, Dec. 2 - Dec. 8, 2017

Ocean meeting raises over $7 billion for marine protection

This undated file photo provided by NOAA shows a humpback whale entangled in fishing line, ropes, buoys and anchors in the Pacific Ocean off Crescent City, Calif. (Bryant Anderson/NOAA Fisheries MMHSRP Permit# 18786-01 via AP, File)

Raf Casert

Brussels (AP) - A global conference to better protect marine life has raised more than $7 billion and won commitments to protect huge swathes of the Earth’s oceans.

The European Union, which organized the Our Ocean conference in the Maltese capital of Valletta, its 28 member states and its EIB investment bank gave almost half those financial commitments, about $3.4 billion.

Representatives from businesses, almost 100 countries and others pushed the total up to the unprecedented level.

The conference focused on funding and leading projects as varied as combating plastics pollution to countering illegal fishing and looking at the effects of climate change.

The Our Ocean conference has accumulated some 8.7 billion euros ($10.2 billion) since it started in 2014 but the efforts in 2017 exceeded expectations.

“We are beginning to see leaders in government, civil society and the private sector standing up to be counted to make tangible commitments to conservation, which is most encouraging,” said Demetres Karavellas, head of the delegation for the WWF wildlife group.

On top of the financial commitments, nations also promised to add new Marine Protected Areas spanning more than 2.5 million square kilometers, which the EU said translates to over half its territory.

The efforts to better protect marine life came in in all shapes. Five top global insurance industry companies committed to refuse insurance to vessels internationally blacklisted for illegal or unregulated fishing.

“Today is a major breakthrough, with leading insurers committing to deny a financial lifeline to pirate-fishing vessels,” said Lasse Gustavsson, the executive director of Oceana Europe.

The mission to protect marine life is urgent, said the Vatican, pointing to the rapid decay in important sites like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

“We witness a marvelous marine world being transformed into an underwater cemetery, bereft of color and life,” said Vatican Secretary of State Piero Cardinal Parolin.
 


DAILY UPDATE

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Back to Main Page

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Good night, night: Light pollution increasing around globe


New dinosaur looks like odd mix of duck, croc, ostrich, swan

Archaeologists may have discovered St. Nick’s bones


Reporter’s Notebook: Fukushima face-lift masks morass inside


Thanksgiving tribe reclaims language lost to colonization


Ocean meeting raises over $7 billion for marine protection

 



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