December 5, 2013

   

A Temporary Solution to Global Warming

Ocean's crust might store many centuries of industrial CO2

Like deep-water gas detectives, researchers from the University of Southampton were able to pinpoint parts of the ocean crust where a boat-load of carbon dioxide might be stored. If their calculations are correct, fossil fuels found in this amount—many centuries worth— might forestall further increases in global warming, Science Recorder reports.

But wait, how? According to the University of Southampton, the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas has resulted in dramatic increases in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere which cause climate change and ocean acidification. If the newly-discovered pieces of the ocean crust actually exist, scientists hope they might capture CO2 and put it there for, um, safe keeping.

The study, which was originally published in Geophysical Research Letters found five potential locations beneath the ocean's crust ranging in size from 2,000 square miles to nearly 1.5 million square miles.

But how do they know it might be there? Chiara Marieni, a PhD student based at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton figured out that in high pressures and low temperatures like those found in the darkest depths of the big blue, CO2 is denser and heavier than seawater and exists in liquid form. The basalt rock which makes up a large portion of the Earth's crust, may also react with CO2, effectively trapping the gas into a solid calcium carbonate beneath the surface and preventing the carbon dioxide's release into the oceans or atmosphere.

With this new understanding of the properties of CO2, Marieni and her colleagues were able to generate a global map of the Earth’s ocean floor that otherwise wouldn’t have been made. That’s some deep research.

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Reed Timmer     Photo: Dick McGowan

The Second Act of Reed Timmer, Extreme Storm Chaser

The daredevil meteorologist launches a new web series about some of his hairiest weather outings.

The Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers show has been off the air for two years now, but its most flamboyant star, Reed Timmer, is still hard at work. Along with producer Ken Cole—director of the PBS documentary Tornado Glory—he’s launched his own independent web-based series called Tornado Chasers. “It’s being made on a very intimate level,” says Cole. “We want to put people in the passenger seat and make them feel like they’re part of the team.”

The show, now in its second season, was funded by a Kickstarter campaign that asked for $75,000 and ended up raising $135,000, in part by promising to put some of the backers in the passenger seat of Timmer’s Dominator tornado-chasing vehicles. I rode along with the show for a week last June while reporting a story on storm chasing.

About half of the second season’s episodes have been broadcast, but the most interesting ones will begin rolling out next week. These include the EF 5 tornado that flattened Moore, Oklahoma, the EF 4 monster that sat in a field near Bennington, Kansas, for an hour, and of course El Reno, the storm that killed chaser Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and their colleague Carl Young.

One of the most striking things about the series is that it reveals just how valuable tornado footage is for media outlets. During the most severely forecast storms leading up to the deadly May 20 Moore tornado, both ABC News meteorologist Ginger Zee (Timmer’s ex) and Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel rode along with Timmer’s Tornado Chasers crew. The Weather Channel is partly owned by NBC, which means that these two network giants were able to overlook exclusivity to get a piece of the tornado action.

The episodes themselves are short, loose, and watchable, offering both harrowing disaster footage and also a look behind the scenes of the newsmaking process.

“In all honesty,” says Cole of the new show, “it’s a better series.”

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A Tough Mudder obstacle.     Photo: 621st Contingency Response Wing/

New Study Examines Tough Mudder Injuries

How do you train for electroshock?

A new study on Tough Mudder and obstacle races takes a closer look at the injuries sustained during these events. "Unique Obstacle Race Injuries at an Extreme Sports Event: A Case Series," published by the Annals of Emergency Medicine in November, looks closely at five patients who suffered injuries from a June 2013 Tough Mudder race in Pennsylvania. Of the five patients, four experienced injuries associated with the electrical obstacles, a unique feature of Tough Mudder and other obstacle races. 

The 5 cases begin as follows:

Case 1:  An 18-year-old man arrived by emergency medical services (EMS) for chest discomfort. He self-reported that it began immediately after he received 13 electrical shocks during the last obstacle in a Tough Mudder race.

Case 2: A 28-year-old man arrived by EMS for severe headache and altered mental status. He sustained multiple electrical shocks to the head while running through the water in an obstacle and experienced syncope and altered mental status there after.

Case 3: A 31-year-old man arrived by EMS for right-sided weakness and altered mental status. At the scene, he was witnessed to have had possible seizure activity, details unknown. He had completed 20 of 22 obstacles when he developed sudden onset of speech difficulty, confusion, and inability to move his entire right side.

Case 4: A 41-year-old man arrived by EMS, complaining of facial and head injury after syncope. On the last course obstacle, he was struck by two electric cords in the head. The jolt caused him to lose consciousness and land face first in a hard mound of dirt.

Case 5: A 25-year-old woman arrived by EMS. At the last obstacle, just before the finish line, she was shocked on the right side of the chest. She felt light headed and near-syncopal, and she was handed a beer to drink. According to EMS personnel, during transport the patient stated that she was anxious, felt as if her heart were racing and she might pass out, and was incontinent of urine in the ambulance. 

All of the patients were discharged from the hospital in four days or fewer.

Although the study concludes without any decisive evidence or claims against these races, it illuminates the unique set of obstacles participants are faced with and their inability to train for experiences like electroshock. Unlike a marathon or other endurance races, Tough Mudder participants cannot likely improve their performance in obstacles involving electroshock or a 9-foot jump through training, according to the study. This research points to the lack of training as a possible cause for this particular pattern of injuries.

Of the 22,000 participants in the June 1 Tough Mudder race, 38 injuries were reported.

In 2010, 41,000 people entered obstacle races across 20 U.S. events. This year, a predicted 1.5 million people will enter in some 150 events.

For more on the dangers of obstacle races, see Outside's January feature A Death at Tough Mudder.

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    Photo: Images courtesy of Sploid

Purebred Dogs: Then and Now

1915 vs. 2013

You might never look at pure breeds the same way again. Science of Dogs has collected a number of photos from the 1915 book, Breeds of All Nations, and compared the breeds to their modern-day descendants. The results are surprising, and in many cases, saddening, as a century of breeding for aesthetic qualities alone has instilled many of these breeds with endemic health problems and shorter lifespans.

The good folks over at Sploid have graciously spliced a number of the photos into startling before/after gifs, a few of which you can see here (text via Science of Dogs).

Take the modern boxer for example...

A shorter face means a host of problems. The modern Boxer not only has a shorter face but the muzzle is slightly upturned. The boxer – like all bracecyphalic dogs – has difficulty controlling its temperature in hot weather, the inability to shed heat places limits on physical performance. It also has one of the highest cancer rates.

...the Dachshund...

The Dachshund used to have functional legs and necks that made sense for their size. Backs and necks have gotten longer, chest jutted forward and legs have shrunk to such proportions that there is barely any clearance between the chest and floor. The dachschund has the highest risk of any breed for intervertebral disc disease which can result in paralysis; they are also prone to achondroplastic related pathologies, PRA and problems with their legs.

...or the English bulldog.

They suffer from almost every possible disease. A 2004 survey by the Kennel Club found that they die at the median age of 6.25 years (n=180). There really is no such thing as a healthy bulldog. The bulldog’s monstrous proportions makes them virtually incapable of mating or birthing without medical intervention.

Check out more breed comparisons at Science of Dogs or more gifs over at Sploid.

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An orchid mantis     Photo: Courtesy of James O'Hanlon

Orchid Mantis Lures Prey with Beauty

First known flower-like predator

With petal-like legs and attractive coloring, the orchid mantis uses its flower resemblance for hunting, researchers say, confirming years of speculation.

Native to the forests of Southeast Asia, the orchid mantis lures pollinators, such as butterflies and bees, to snatch them out of the air when they draw too near.

"They can attract even more pollinators than some flowers," James O'Hanlon, evolutionary biologist at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, told LiveScience.

The orchid mantis is not the first predator to use mimicry in predation. For example, a species of bolas spider attracts male moths by simulating female moth sex pheromones. But the mantis is the first insect observed to take an aggressive approach to the same camouflaging method as used by the predator-evading stick insect.

"There are other animals that are known to camouflage amongst flowers and ambush prey items, but they do not actually attract the pollinators themselves," says O'Hanlon, "the flowers they sit on are the attractive stimulus."

This research confirms years of speculation—since the 1800s, when Alfred Russel Wallace, who conceived of evolution independently of Darwin, first suggested the orchid mantis had adapted this way.

The researchers overcame the obstacle of access by traveling to Malaysia and consulting the Orang Asli tribe for help locating the insect.

"We knew almost nothing about them and had to start from complete scratch," says O'Hanlon, who mentions it is possible the orchid mantis also uses its disguise to avoid predatory birds and lizards.

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Okene Harrison, the Jascon 4 shipwreck's sole survivor, when rescue divers first discovered him. The tugboat capsized on May 26, 2013 off the coast of Nigeria and video of the rescue was released on Monday.     Photo: Storyful/Youtube

He's Alive!

Video shows dramatic rescue of shipwreck survivor

When divers approached a shipwreck 100 feet below the ocean surface, they normally expect to find bodies, but in May divers were shocked to find a survivor in a small pocket of air in the bathroom.

Okene Harrison, the ship's cook and only survivor, had been living in a four-foot bathroom with just a tiny pocket of air for two days before rescuers inadvertently found him in May. And video footage from the DNC Diving rescue team was uploaded to Youtube on Monday. The video shows divers uncovering a visibly shaken Harrison and transporting him back to the surface.

But how did Harrison survive for three days?

Given that the oxygen in air pocket Okene was trapped in was slowly being replaced with the carbon dioxide, Okene would have been unconscious in about 79 hours, according to an article posted by National Geographic. Luckily, Okene was rescued after 60 hours. After ten minutes of prepping Okene, they were able to get him to the surface. The video ends with the unidentified operator telling Harrison, "You're a survivor!"

 

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