Month: July, 2017

How Big Is The Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

marine debris

Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of in the North Pacific Ocean. Marine debris is litter that ends up in oceans, seas, and other large bodies of water.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific trash vortex, spans waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan. The patch is actually comprised of the Western Garbage Patch, located near Japan, and the Eastern Garbage Patch, located between the U.S. states of Hawaii and California.

These areas of spinning debris are linked together by the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, located a few hundred kilometers north of Hawaii.




This convergence zone is where warm water from the South Pacific meets up with cooler water from the Arctic. The zone acts like a highway that moves debris from one patch to another.

The entire Great Pacific Garbage Patch is bounded by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. An ocean gyre is a system of circular ocean currents formed by the Earth’s wind patterns and the forces created by the rotation of the planet.

The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is created by the interaction of the California, North Equatorial, Kuroshiro, and North Pacific currents. These four currents move in a clockwise direction around an area of 20 million square kilometers (7.7 million square miles).

turtle

The area in the center of a gyre tends to be very calm and stable. The circular motion of the gyre draws debris into this stable center, where it becomes trapped.

The amount of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch accumulates because much of it is not biodegradable. Many plastics, for instance, do not wear down; they simply break into tinier and tinier pieces.

For many people, the idea of a “garbage patch” conjures up images of an island of trash floating on the ocean. In reality, these patches are almost entirely made up of tiny bits of plastic, called microplastics. Microplastics can’t always be seen by the naked eye.

plastic debris

Even satellite imagery doesn’t show a giant patch of garbage. The microplastics of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch can simply make the water look like a cloudy soup. This soup is intermixed with larger items, such as fishing gear and shoes.

The seafloor beneath the Great Pacific Garbage Patch may also be an underwater trash heap. Oceanographers and ecologists recently discovered that about 70% of marine debris actually sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

No one knows how much debris makes up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is too large for scientists to trawl. In addition, not all trash floats on the surface.

Denser debris can sink centimeters or even several meters beneath the surface, making the vortex’s area nearly impossible to measure.

north pacific

 

About 80% of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia. Trash from the coast of North America takes about six years to reach the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, while trash from Japan and other Asian countries takes about a year.

The remaining 20% of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from boaters, offshore oil rigs, and large cargo ships that dump or lose debris directly into the water.

The majority of this debris—about 705,000 tons—is fishing nets. More unusual items, such as computer monitors and LEGOs, come from dropped shipping containers.

seal

While many different types of trash enter the ocean, plastics make up the majority of marine debris for two reasons. First, plastic’s durability, low cost, and malleability mean that it’s being used in more and more consumer and industrial products. Second, plastic goods do not biodegrade but instead break down into smaller pieces.

Marine debris can be very harmful to marine life in the gyre. For instance, loggerhead sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellies, their favorite food.

Albatrosses mistake plastic resin pellets for fish eggs and feed them to chicks, which die of starvation or ruptured organs. Marine debris can also disturb marine food webs in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

As microplastics and other trash collect on or near the surface of the ocean, they block sunlight from reaching plankton and algae below.

albatross

Algae and plankton are the most common autotrophs, or producers, in the marine food web. Autotrophs are organisms that can produce their own nutrients from oxygen, carbon, and sunlight.

If algae and plankton communities are threatened, the entire food web may change. Animals that feed on algae and plankton, such as fish and turtles, will have less food.

If populations of those animals decrease, there will be less food for apex predators such as tuna, sharks, and whales. Eventually, seafood becomes less available and more expensive for people.

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Study Suggests That House Dust May Spur Growth Of Fat Cells

dust

Could something as simple as household dust be contributing to America’s obesity epidemic?

Small amounts of household dust appear to contain many of the compounds that can spur fat cells to accumulate more fat at least in lab settings, according to research published this week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.




The researchers took samples of indoor dust from 11 North Carolina homes, and tested extracts from those samples in a mouse pre-adipocyte cell model.

According to the researchers, extracts from seven of the samples triggered the cells to develop mature fat cells and accumulate fat.

dust

Extracts from nine samples spurred the cells to divide, creating a bigger pool of precursor fat cells. Only one sample showed no effects. The researchers concluded that house dust is a likely source of chemicals that can derail metabolic health.

The study, which is notably small, suggests that the conversation around reducing obesity, which is often anchored in questions of diet and exercise, needs to expand to incorporate a better understanding of environment and pollution.

dust

It doesn’t take much dust to see a negative impact, at least under lab conditions: dust amounts as small as 3 micrograms showed measurable effects, according to the researchers.

Looking beyond simple household dust, environmental pollution poses a deadly threat to children worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.7 million children under the age of 5 die annually due to the effects of living in polluted environments.

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Take A Virtual Tour Of The International Space Station

google_iss

Ever wondered what it’s like to be an astronaut aboard the International Space Station? Now, thanks to the French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Google, you can find out.

Pesquet returned to Earth in June after six months as a European Space Agency astronaut on the ISS.

During his trip, he made an exhaustive photographic survery of the interior of the station and sent the images down to Google engineers on Earth.




They in turn stitched the photos together into 360-degree panoramas that can be navigated using the Google Street View interface.

So what’s it like? Words like “cramped”, “cluttered” and “claustrophobic” spring to mind for this armchair astronaut, though the explanatory notes are fascinating and the views out the window are truly superb.

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Largest Dark Web Market Closed In Massive Government Take-down

cyber crime

Adios, AlphaBay. US and European law enforcement agencies have slammed shut a booming online trade in drugs, weapons and stolen identities. Two of the three largest dark web markets are closed for business.

The Department of Justice and Europol announced Thursday that they have shut down AlphaBay and Hansa, two massive marketplaces on the dark web that served hundreds of thousands of customers trying to get their hands on illegal goods online.




While you or I can easily buy groceries, electronics and clothes online, when it comes to finding drugs, weapons and stolen identities, things can get a little more complicated.

Merchants of contraband hide out on the dark web, a hidden part of the internet that you can only access through special browsers like Tor. There, buyers and sellers are anonymous, and so is the currency, with most transactions happening through bitcoin.

AlphaBay alone had 200,000 customers and more than 40,000 sellers peddling illegal goods, making it the largest takedown for a dark web marketplace ever.

cyber crime

The website had 100,000 listings for sale when the governments took it down. In comparison, Silk Road, one of the most notorious dark web markets, had 14,000 listings when the FBI shut down the site four years ago. Hansa was the third largest dark web market when it shut down.

The website made $1 billion in sales before it was shut down in a joint operation of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, Dutch police and Europol.

Visitors first noticed AlphaBay was down on July 5, when Alexandre Cazes, better known as Alpha02, the website’s creator and admin, was arrested in Thailand.

cyber crime

On July 12, he was found dead while in custody there, in an apparent suicide. Frequent AlphaBay users were concerned that the shutdown was an “exit scam,” in which a market owner takes the money and runs.

Terbium Labs had been following the dark web for months, specifically in marketplaces like AlphaBay. After the fallout in early July, Wilson said former moderators and well-known users were left in confusion.

After AlphaBay’s shutdown, its users flocked to Hansa, increasing the dark market’s traffic in eightfold, Wainwright said. Dutch police took over Hansa last month and have been collecting thousands of user’s information in an undercover operation.

anonymous

Wainwright said officers are tracking down Hansa buyers and sellers through their usernames and passwords.

But that’s just one chapter in the fight against illegal online transactions. Just as AlphaBay rose and became 10 times larger than Silk Road, FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe predicts there will be another dark web market to fill the void.

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North Sea Cod Is Now Sustainable And Can Be Eaten With A ‘Clear Conscience’

fish

It’s good news for people who love nothing more than tucking into battered cod and chips at the seaside, because the much-loved fish has been classified as sustainable by a global fishing standards body.

After a decade of being under threat, The Marine Stewardship Council has advised eco-friendly diners that North Sea stocks can be consumed with a ‘clear conscience’.




The popular fish has been on careful watch after stocks fell to 36,000 tonnes in 2006 – down from 270,000 tonnes in the 1970s.

But a carefully managed cross-industry ‘rescue plan’ has helped to encourage cod numbers to recover exponentially on the east coast.

The MSC made the decision to award Scottish cod the ‘blue tick’ eco label, after emergency measures were brought in to stop the industry collapsing.

fish

These included introducing new nets with bigger holes that allow young cod to escape, closing spawning areas to fishing and managing fishing practices.

When customers purchase North Sea cod in the supermarket from now on, they will see the organisation’s eponymous blue label, which assures shoppers that the fish has been responsibly caught by a certified sustainable fishery.

The cod stock has now recovered to 167,711 tonnes – the highest it has been since 1982 – and this marks the first time that North Sea cod has ever been approved by the MSC in the organisation’s 20-year history.

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The Fermi Paradox, Cyborgs, And Artificial Intelligence – My Interview With Isaac Arthur

Isaac Arthur runs the YouTube channel Science and Futurism With Isaac Arthur, where he goes into incredibly deep dives on subjects like megastructures, future space colonies, aliens, and little things like farming black holes (like you do). Here we touch on a few of those topics and do a little shop talk about life as YouTubers.

If you enjoy this episode, check out Isaac’s channel at www.isaacarthur.net

SpaceX Says It Plans to Send A Spacecraft to Mars

red-dragon-mars

Today, Elon Musk suggested that SpaceX will abandon its plans to land the company’s Dragon capsule on Mars — a mission the company had been aiming to do as early as 2020.

SpaceX will not fully develop the landing technique it was going to use to land the Dragon on Mars. Known as the Red Dragon mission, the capsule was meant to lower itself to solid ground using engines embedded in its hull.

And then touch down gently on landing legs in a method known as propulsive landing. But Musk said the company will come up with another way to land vehicles on the Martian surface.




“There was a time when I thought that the Dragon approach to landing on Mars… would be the right way to land on Mars,” Musk said at the ISS R&D Conference in Washington, DC today.

“But now I’m pretty confident that is not the right way. There’s a far better approach. That’s what the next generation of SpaceX rockets and spacecraft is going to do.”

Musk did not explain what that approach would be, though, or which vehicles the company would try to land on Mars in the future.

Later, Musk tweeted that SpaceX is still going to try to do a propulsive landing on Mars at some point, just with a bigger vehicle.

red-dragon-mars

The decision means SpaceX’s Dragon capsules will stick to landing with parachutes here on Earth, too.

That’s the current method SpaceX uses to land its cargo Dragon capsule, a version of the vehicle used to deliver supplies to and from the International Space Station.

The company has been working on an updated version of the capsule called Dragon 2 that will eventually carry people back and forth from the ISS, and SpaceX hoped to have that vehicle land propulsively with people on board.

Safety concerns prompted SpaceX to abandon the concept for Dragon 2. Specifically, Musk said that “it would have taken a tremendous amount of effort to qualify that for safety” with NASA.

red-dragon-mars

But it’s not clear if safety was the main reason for not landing the Dragon on Mars, too. The propulsive landing technique may have simply been too difficult to develop for carrying a crew on the Dragon, so SpaceX decided to just go with parachutes. It wouldn’t then make sense to use the Dragon to land on Mars.

Musk said the Dragon 2 will still be capable of landing propulsively, though. That’s because the engines it would need to do the landing will still be installed on the capsule.

The engines are crucial for the Dragon’s abort system: they can fire up if there’s an emergency during launch and carry the capsule and its crew up and away to safety.

mars

However without landing legs, landing with the engines would be extra difficult to pull off. “You’d have to land it on some pretty soft landing pad,” he said.

Musk also announced that he may update his Mars colonization plans at the upcoming International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, this September.

He didn’t say much about what has changed except that the huge rocket SpaceX hopes to build for the endeavor is going to be a little bit smaller than its original design.

spaceX

Musk also brought up another rocket that SpaceX has been working on for many years: the Falcon Heavy. The vehicle, which is essentially three Falcon 9 cores strapped together, is supposed to fly for the first time later this year.

But Musk made sure to lower people’s expectations about the rocket’s first flight. He’d consider the flight a success if it doesn’t burn up the launchpad; the Falcon Heavy likely won’t reach orbit during its maiden voyage, according to Musk.

He also had an adjective for the customers whose payloads are slated to fly on the Falcon Heavy’s first flight: “brave.”

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New Research Suggests At Least 75% Of The Human Genome Is Junk DNA After All

DNA

At least three quarters of the human genome consists of non-functional, ‘Junk DNA‘, according to a new study, and the actual proportion is likely to be even greater than that.

Ever since Watson and Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA back in the 1950s, scientists have been debating what extent of the genome is responsible for making you you and now an evolutionary biologist says the answer to the riddle lies in some basic math.




Dan Graur from the University of Houston calculates that the functional portion of the human genome probably constitutes only about 10 to 15 percent of our overall DNA, with an upper limit of 25 percent.

The rest of our genome somewhere between around 75 to 90 percent of our DNA – is what’s called junk DNA: not necessarily harmful or toxic genetic matter, but useless, garbled nucleotide sequences that aren’t functional in terms of encoding proteins that spur all the important chemical reactions going off inside our bodies.

The rationale for Graur’s model is based on the way mutations creep into DNA, and how as a species we weed these mutations out for the benefit of all.

DNA

These kinds of genetic variants, called deleterious mutations, appear in our genome over time, subtly shifting or reordering the four chemical bases that make up DNA adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine in parts of our genetic code.

When mutations take place in junk DNA, they’re considered neutral since that genetic code doesn’t do anything, anyway but when mutations occur to our functional, defining DNA, they can often be harmful and even ultimately lethal, as they mess up the instructions that code for healthy tissue and biological processes.

In Graur’s calculations, given the risk of deleterious mutations to the survival of the species on one hand and the known stability of population and reproduction rates throughout human history on the other the limit of functional DNA has to be very low.

Otherwise dangerous mutations would keep stacking up, meaning we’d have to produce impossibly huge numbers of offspring for the small percentage of healthy bubs to survive.

DNA

That study was controversial partly because many scientists claimed that the ENCODE definition of ‘functional‘ was too broad.

In Graur’s use of the term where functional DNA is code that’s evolved to be useful in terms of its evolutionary effects the 80 percent figure just doesn’t add up.

It’s more likely then that only about 10 to 25 percent isn’t junk DNA, Graur thinks.

While his is unlikely to be the last word on the subject the new results do coincide somewhat neatly with the findings of a separate 2014 study and could help focus vital scientific efforts on researching a smaller window of uncontested, ‘functional‘ DNA.

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Tanzanian Volcano Is Preparing To Erupt

Tazmanian volcano

The East African peak looms over a modern city as well as three major sites featuring signs of early humans.

An active volcano in northeastern Tanzania known to the Maasai as the “Mountain of God” has been quietly rumbling and it is showing signs that an eruption is imminent.

Known as Ol Doinyo Lengai, the 7,650-foot-tall peak is the only known active volcano that belches out lava rich with a type of rock called carbonatite. This thin, silvery lava can flow faster than a person can run.




The volcano is some 70 miles from the city of Arusha and is known for its proximity to some of the world’s most important paleoanthropological sites.

Ol Doinyo Lengai is less than 70 miles from the famed Olduvai Gorge, a collection of 3.6-million-year-old hominin footprints at a site called Laetoli, and a “dance hall” of ancient Homo sapiens footprints at a site called Engare Sero.

Typically, the volcano’s activity is confined to its summit. But occasionally, the Mountain of God can roar to life in more dramatic fashion: On September 4, 2007, the volcano belched out a plume of ash that extended at least 11 miles downwind. Lava running down the north and west flanks ignited burn scars that were visible from space.

Tazmanian volcano

Dr. Sarah Stamps, a geophysicist at Virginia Tech, has been partnering with local academics to try and predict the next major eruption. In June 2016, she and her colleagues installed five positioning sensors around Ol Doinyo Lengai in the hopes of tracking how magma’s underground churn is deforming the volcano’s surface.

In concert with Tanzania’s Ardhi University and South Korea’s KIGAM, Stamps has set up a monitoring system that collects data on the volcano’s activity in real time.

On January 17, 2017, Stamps saw a shudder in the data streaming from one monitoring station—a sign that, far from merely rumbling, parts of the volcano were lifting upward.

Tazmanian volcano

Based on the data they are seeing, Stamps and her colleagues warn that an eruption seems to be on the horizon.

“Imminent in our case means in one second, in a few weeks, a couple of months, or a year or more,” she says in an email.

“There are increased ash emissions, earthquakes, uplift at small volcanic cones, and an ever widening crack at the top of the volcano on the west side,” she adds.

“These are all signs of volcanic deformation that will likely lead to an eruption sooner rather than later.”

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We have 100 Years To Colonize Another Planet According To Stephen Hawking

stephen-hawking

Mankind needs to colonize another planet in the next 100 years or face extinction, world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has warned.

A new BBC documentary called “Stephen Hawking: Expedition New Earth” will show Hawking presenting “his predictions that the human race only has 100 years before we need to colonize another planet,” a news release said.




Hawking, 75, attributes our planet’s imperilment to a variety of forces, including “climate change, overdue asteroid strikes, epidemics and population growth,” the release said, calling Earth an “increasingly precarious” place to live.

Hawking previously estimated that humanity had around 1,000 years left before it would become extinct.

“Although the chance of disaster to planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, and becomes a near certainty in the next thousand or ten thousand years,” Hawking said in a BBC interview.

space

“By that time we should have spread out into space, and to other stars, so a disaster on Earth would not mean the end of the human race,” he said.

“However, we will not establish self-sustaining colonies in space for at least the next hundred years, so we have to be very careful in this period.”

space

He said advances in science and technology will create “new ways things can go wrong.”

In the documentary series Hawking enlists science and engineering experts, who travel the world to figure out if and how humans can move to other planets.

“Science fact is closer to science fiction than we ever thought,” the release said.

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