Once Written Off for Dead, the Aral Sea Is Now Full of Life ( 47

Years ago, the Aral Sea was the world's fourth-largest freshwater lake with an area of some 26,000 square miles. But in the 1950s, it became the victim of the Soviet Union's agricultural policies. Water from its two river sources -- the Amu Darya and Syr Darya -- was intentionally diverted for cotton cultivation. The Aral Sea began to disappear and nearly completely vanished. But things have changed for good. From a report: This rapid collapse over less than three decades -- which environmental scientists say is one of the planet's worst ecological disasters -- is marked today by the sea's reduced size. Its total area of water, straddling Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, is now a tenth of its original size. What's left has broken into two distinct bodies: the North and South Aral Seas. In Uzbekistan, the entire eastern basin of the South Aral Sea is completely desiccated, leaving merely a single strip of water in the west.

But Kazakhstan's North Aral Sea has seen a happier outcome, thanks to a nearly $86 million project financed in large part by the World Bank. Along with repairs to existing dikes around the basin to prevent spillage, an eight-mile dam was constructed just south of the Syr Darya River. Completed in the summer of 2005, this dam, named Kokaral, surpassed all expectations. It led to an 11-foot increase in water levels after just seven months -- a goal that scientists initially expected would take three years. This turnaround in the North Aral Sea's fate has meant that the fish stocks have returned to its waters, injecting new life into the local communities. Just as government policies had doomed the Aral Sea, careful planning and research helped revive at least part of it.


Can Problems From Climate Change Be Addressed With Science? ( 248

Slashdot reader bricko shares an article from Scientific American about two "ecomodernists" who argue that the problems of climate change can be addressed through science and technology. In his Breakthrough essay, Steven Pinker spells out a key assumption of ecomodernism. Industrialization "has been good for humanity. It has fed billions, doubled lifespans, slashed extreme poverty, and, by replacing muscle with machinery, made it easier to end slavery, emancipate women, and educate children. It has allowed people to read at night, live where they want, stay warm in winter, see the world, and multiply human contact. Any costs in pollution and habitat loss have to be weighed against these gifts...."

We can solve problems related to climate change, Pinker argues, "if we sustain the benevolent forces of modernity that have allowed us to solve problems so far, including societal prosperity, wisely regulated markets, international governance, and investments in science and technology... Since 1970, when the Environmental Protection Agency was established, the United States has slashed its emissions of five air pollutants by almost two-thirds. Over the same period, the population grew by more than 40 percent, and those people drove twice as many miles and became two and a half times richer. Energy use has leveled off, and even carbon dioxide emissions have turned a corner."

The essay also cites ecomodernist Will Boisvert, who believes climate change will be cataclysmic but not apocalyptic, bringing large upheaval but a small impact on human well-being. "Global warming won't wipe us out or even stall our progress, it will just marginally slow ordinary economic development that will still outpace the negative effects of warming and make life steadily better in the future, under every climate scenario.... Our logistic and technical capacities are burgeoning, and they give us ample means of addressing these problems."

Researchers Claim They Can Predict Where Lightning Is Likely To Strike ( 37

Long-time Slashdot reader conner_bw shared an article from the CBC: A study by researchers at the University of Calgary's Schulich School of Engineering suggests it's possible to predict where lightning will strike and how often.They say satellite data and artificial intelligence can help foresee where lightning poses a greater risk to spark wildfires... "Those events don't just randomly happen," said Dr. Xin Wang, one of three researchers involved in the study. "They also have spatial and temporal patterns."
One of the paper's authors says their analysis can predict areas with a high chance of wildfires with an accuracy greater than 90%.

Microplastics Found In 93 Percent of Bottled Water Tested In Global Study ( 174

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The bottled water industry is estimated to be worth nearly $200 billion a year, surpassing sugary sodas as the most popular beverage in many countries. But its perceived image of cleanliness and purity is being challenged by a global investigation that found the water tested is often contaminated with tiny particles of plastic. The research was conducted on behalf of Orb Media, a U.S-based non-profit journalism organization with which CBC News has partnered. Professor Sherri Mason, a microplastics researcher who carried out the laboratory work at the State University of New York, and his team tested 259 bottles of water purchased in nine countries (none were bought in Canada). Though many brands are sold internationally, the water source, manufacturing and bottling process for the same brand can differ by country. The 11 brands tested include the world's dominant players -- Nestle Pure Life, Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, San Pellegrino and Gerolsteiner -- as well as major national brands across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Researchers found 93 per cent of all bottles tested contained some sort of microplastic, including polypropylene, polystyrene, nylon and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

Orb found on average there were 10.4 particles of plastic per liter that were 100 microns (0.10 mm) or bigger. This is double the level of microplastics in the tap water tested from more than a dozen countries across five continents, examined in a 2017 study by Orb that looked at similar-sized plastics. Other, smaller particles were also discovered -- 314 of them per liter, on average -- which some of the experts consulted about the Orb study believe are plastics but cannot definitively identify. The amount of particles varied from bottle to bottle: while some contained one, others contained thousands.


No, Space Did Not Permanently Alter 7 Percent of Scott Kelly's DNA ( 50

Several stories this week have proclaimed that the DNA of former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly changed during his year living on the International Space Station. The stories say that 7 percent of his genes did not return back to normal when he came back to Earth. It makes it seem as if the space environment permanently altered his genetic code. The problem? That's not true. From a report: The mistake stems from an inaccurate interpretation of NASA's ongoing Twins Study. When Scott went to space in 2015, his identical twin Mark -- also a former NASA astronaut -- stayed on the ground. The idea was that Mark would serve as a control subject -- a nearly identical genetic copy that NASA could use to figure out how the space environment changed Scott's body. Some fascinating results have come out of the experiment. For one thing, Scott's gut bacteria changed significantly while he was in space. And yes, he did experience genetic changes. The protective caps on the ends of his DNA strands -- known as telomeres -- increased while in space. But space didn't permenantly alter 7 percent of his DNA. [...] NASA also confirmed this in a statement to The Verge: "Scott's DNA did not fundamentally change," a NASA spokesperson said. "What researchers did observe are changes in gene expression, which is how your body reacts to your environment. This likely is within the range for humans under stress, such as mountain climbing or SCUBA diving."

NASA's Planet-Hunting Kepler Space Telescope Is Running Out of Fuel ( 83

Charlie Sobeck, the system engineer for the Kepler space telescope mission, said in a NASA statement that Kepler is running low on gas. According to Sobekc, it only has "several months" before it reaches the end of the its life. Mashable reports: NASA's Kepler spacecraft has been peering deep into the Milky Way galaxy for nearly a decade. It has spotted over 2,500 confirmed planets orbiting distant stars, and over 2,500 more possible worlds are waiting to be confirmed. Thirty of these confirmed planets live inside their host stars' habitable zones, places where liquid water could exist like it does on Earth. NASA placed the Kepler telescope 94 million miles away from Earth, in an orbit around the sun. This way, Earth's gravity and reflected light don't interfere with Kepler's precise measurements of distant planets. Out there, in the void, it's extremely unlikely that Kepler will become a threatening piece of space junk that could pose collision hazards to other satellites. Although Kepler will soon be spent and left to its long, lonely orbit in space, the spacecraft will soon be replaced by another exoplanet-hunting space telescope, NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). TESS is set to launch into space on April 16.

How Amazon Became Corporate America's Nightmare ( 242

Zorro shares a report from Bloomberg that details Amazon's rapid growth in the last three years: Amazon makes no sense. It's the most befuddling, illogically sprawling, and -- to a growing sea of competitors -- flat-out terrifying company in the world. It sells soap and produces televised soap operas. It sells complex computing horsepower to the U.S. government and will dispatch a courier to deliver cold medicine on Christmas Eve. It's the third-most-valuable company on Earth, with smaller annual profits than Southwest Airlines Co., which as of this writing ranks 426th. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is the world's richest person, his fortune built on labor conditions that critics say resemble a Dickens novel with robots, yet he has enough mainstream appeal to play himself in a Super Bowl commercial. Amazon was born in cyberspace, but it occupies warehouses, grocery stores, and other physical real estate equivalent to 90 Empire State Buildings, with a little left over. The company has grown so large and difficult to comprehend that it's worth taking stock of why and how it's left corporate America so thoroughly freaked out. Executives at the biggest U.S. companies mentioned Amazon thousands of times during investor calls last year, according to transcripts -- more than President Trump and almost as often as taxes. Other companies become verbs because of their products: to Google or to Xerox. Amazon became a verb because of the damage it can inflict on other companies. To be Amazoned means to have your business crushed because the company got into your industry. And fear of being Amazoned has become such a defining feature of commerce, it's easy to forget the phenomenon has arisen mostly in about three years.
United States

Extreme Winter Weather In the US Linked To a Warming Arctic ( 219

A new study shows how global climate change can have ripple effects at the local level. According to the research, extreme winter weather is two to four times more likely in the eastern U.S. when the Arctic is unusually warm. The Verge reports: Researchers analyzed a variety of atmospheric data in the Arctic, as well as how severe winter weather was in 12 cities across the U.S. from 1950 to 2016. Since 1990, as the Arctic has been warming up and losing ice, extreme cold snaps and heavy snow in the winter have been two to four times more frequent in the eastern U.S. and the Midwest, while in the western U.S., their frequency has decreased, according to a study published today in Nature Communications. The study, however, only shows there might be a correlation -- not a direct causal link -- between the warming Arctic and severe winters in the U.S. And it doesn't show how exactly the two are connected, so it doesn't really add much to what scientists already knew, according to several experts.

Today's study focuses on the Arctic as the main culprit for the extreme winter weather. Previous research has suggested that the warming Arctic may disrupt the polar vortex, a ring of swirling cold air circling the North Pole. Think of the polar vortex as a river, says study co-author Judah Cohen, a climatologist and director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research. The fast flow of this river locks up the cold air over the Arctic. But as the Arctic warms -- especially in some areas like the Barents-Kara seas north of Europe and Russia -- a boulder springs up in this river, disrupting the polar vortex and allowing the freezing Arctic air to flow south, Cohen says.


Google's New 'Plus Codes' Are An Open Source, Global Alternative To Street Addresses ( 183

Google has developed a "simple and consistent addressing system that works across India and globally." Called "Plus Codes," the location-based digital addressing system is designed for people with addresses that are not easily located through conventional descriptors like street names or house numbers. That's half of the world's urban population, according to a World Bank estimate. 9to5Google reports: Notably, this open source solution composed of 10 characters works globally and can be incorporated by other products and platforms for free, with a developer page available here. It works offline and on print when overlaid as a grid on existing maps. Places that are close together share similar plus codes, while the system is identifiable by the "+" symbol in every address. "This system is based on dividing the geographical surface of the Earth into tiny 'tiled areas,' attributing a unique code to each of them," reports Google. "This code simply comprises a '6-character + City' format that can be generated, shared and searched by anyone -- all that's needed is Google Maps on a smartphone."

The first four characters are the area code, describing a region of roughly 100 x 100 kilometers. The last six characters are the local code, describing the neighborhood and the building, an area of roughly 14 x 14 meters -- about the size of one half of a basketball court. The area code is not needed when navigating within a town, while another optional character can be appended to provide additional accuracy down to a 3 x 3 meter region. Users of Google Maps in India will be able to easily find the plus code for any area in the app, while the mapping service along with Search will support the entry of the new coordinate system. Plus codes for any location can also be found with this tool.


China's Anti-Pollution Initiative Produces Stellar Results ( 84

hackingbear writes: China has declared war on its pollution -- one of the worst on the planet -- and now appears to be winning. Popular Mechanics reports: "Over the past four years, pollution in China's major cities has decreased by an average of 32 percent, with some cities seeing an even bigger drop, according to professor Michael Greenstone of the Energy Policy Institute. This decline comes after several aggressive policies implemented by the Chinese government, including prohibiting the building of new coal plants, forcing existing plants to reduce their emissions, lowering the amount of automobile traffic, and closing down some steel mills and coal mines. Some cities, like Beijing, have achieved even greater reductions in air pollution. Beijing has seen a 35 percent drop in particulates, while the city of Shijiazhuang saw a 39 percent drop. China has prioritized pollution reduction in these cities, with the government spending over $120 billion in Beijing alone."

Media Reports About a Massive Geomagnetic Storm Hitting Earth on March 18 Are Inaccurate, NOAA Says ( 50

Several news outlets this week are reporting that Earth is expecting a "massive magnetic storm" on March 18. Yeah, so that's not happening, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) told Newsweek and other outlets. From a report: And they would know: Not only does NOAA help people build forecasts for weather here on Earth, they also predict space weather events like geomagnetic storms. "This story is not plausible in any way, shape or form," Bob Rutledge, who leads NOAA's Space Weather Forecast Center, told Newsweek via e-mail. "Things are all quiet for space weather, and the sun is essentially spotless." The magnetic storm's "imminent" arrival was one of Monday morning's top science news stories, according to Google News. But most coverage appeared to be based on a misinterpretation of a chart posted on Russia's Lebedev Institute's website showing a minor uptick in geomagnetic activity on the 18th. That elevated activity is expected to be a minor storm at most.

What Image Should Represent All of Humanity On Wikipedia? ( 349

An anonymous reader writes: If aliens ever do come across the Pioneer spacecraft and make assumptions about the entire human species based on the man and woman etched onto the plaque it carries, this is what they will think of us: We all look like white people; we all look about 30ish years old; we do not wear clothes. It's a problem you encounter anytime you have to choose a few individuals to represent an entire group, and it's one that the editors of Wikipedia have debated for years: What image should grace the top of the "human" entry in the online dictionary?

The photo that's there now, after years of feverish debate, is of an Akha couple from a region of Thailand along the Mekong river. "The photo of the Akha couple remain humanity's type specimens on Wikipedia," writes author Ellen Airhart. "Just as a shriveled northeastern leopard frog at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology represents its whole species, so this couple stands for all of us."

Such musing about the taxonomic representation of the human species could actually have a big impact on our digital future. "Future scientists will have to teach computers, not aliens, to recognize the human image. Right now, software engineers program artificial intelligence to recognize people by feeding them millions of pictures of faces," she writes. "But whose faces? Computer scientists run into the same questions about gender, race, and culture that the Wikipedia editors encountered. Being able to use more than one photo expands the conversation but does not necessarily make it easier."


Scientists Unsure Where Chinese Space Station Will Crash To Earth 78

In 2016, the Chinese space agency lost control of its Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace, spacecraft, five years after it blasted into orbit. Scientists have determined that it will come crashing down to Earth in the coming weeks, be they do not know exactly where on Earth it will hit. The Guardian reports: The defunct module is now at an altitude of 150 miles and being tracked by space agencies around the world, with the European Space Agency's center in Darmstadt predicting a fiery descent for it between March 27 and April 8. Hurtling around the Earth at about 18,000mph, the module ranks as one of the larger objects to re-enter the atmosphere without being steered towards the ocean, as is standard for big and broken spacecraft, and cargo vessels that are jettisoned from the International Space Station (ISS), to reduce the risk to life below. The spacecraft's orbit ranges from 43 degrees north to 43 degrees south, which rules out a descent over the UK but includes vast stretches of North and South America, China, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, parts of Europe -- and great swaths of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Western analysts cannot be sure how much of the spacecraft will survive re-entry, because China has not released details of the design and materials used to make Tiangong-1. But the spacecraft may have well-protected titanium fuel tanks containing toxic hydrazine that could pose a danger if they land in populated areas.

Pockets of Water May Lay Deep Below Earth's Surface ( 68

sciencehabit writes: Small pockets of water exist deep beneath Earth's surface, according to an analysis of diamonds belched from hundreds of kilometers within our planet. The work, which also identifies a weird form of crystallized water known as ice VII, suggests that material may circulate more freely at some depths within Earth than previously thought. Geophysical models of that flow, which ultimately influences the frequency of earthquakes driven by the scraping of tectonic plates at Earth's surface, may need to be substantially tweaked, scientists say. Such models also help scientists estimate the long-term rates of heat flow through Earth's surface and into space.

The Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy Returns With the Original Cast ( 84

Jonathan M. Gitlin reports via Ars Technica: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy deserves a special place in the geek pantheon. It's the story of hapless BBC radio editor Arthur Dent, his best friend Ford Prefect, and the adventures that result when Prefect saves Dent when the Earth is unexpectedly destroyed to make way for a galactic bypass. Written by the late, great Douglas Adams, THGTTG first appeared as a radio series in the UK back in 1978. On Thursday -- exactly 40 years to the day from that first broadcast -- it made its return home with the start of Hexagonal Phase, a radio dramatization of the sixth and final book of an increasingly misnamed trilogy.

Although Adams died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2001, the universe he gave birth to lived on. Beginning in 2004, the original radio cast was reunited to dramatize the third, fourth, and fifth books. In 2005, a film adaptation was released, and then in 2009 came a final novel in the "trilogy," And Another Thing..., written by the novelist Eoin Colfer. It's this story that the BBC is now dramatizing, again using many of the original cast, along with newcomers like Jim Broadbent, Lenny Henry, and Stephen Hawking. Yes, that Stephen Hawking.


Florida Lawmakers Approve Year-Round Daylight Saving Time ( 393

JustAnotherOldGuy writes: It seems like we're seeing a sudden outbreak of common sense from one of the most unlikely places. Florida might become the third state -- after Hawaii and Arizona -- to be done with the hassle of changing their clocks twice a year. Yesterday, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the Sunshine Protection Act in under one minute, with only two dissenters. The House had already passed it 103-11 last month. Now it has to be signed by Gov. Rick Scott. If Scott passes it, however, it still has to go through Congress before Florida has Daylight Savings Time all year long.

NASA Spacecraft Reveals Jupiter's Interior In Unprecedented Detail ( 52

NASA's Juno spacecraft has revealed that Jupiter's iconic striped bands, caused by immensely powerful winds, extend to a depth of about 3,000km below the surface. The findings also provide a partial answer to the question of whether the planet has a core, "showing that the inner 96% of the planet rotates 'as a solid body,' even though technically it is composed of an extraordinarily dense mixture of hydrogen and helium gas," reports The Guardian. From the report: The findings are published in four separate papers in the journal Nature, describing the planet's gravitational field (surprisingly asymmetrical), atmospheric flows, interior composition and polar cyclones. A crucial question was whether the bands on Jupiter, caused by air currents that are five times as strong as the most powerful hurricanes on Earth, were a "weather" phenomenon comparable to the Earth's jet streams or part of a deep-seated convection system. Juno's latest observations point to the latter, showing the jets continued to around 3,000km beneath the surface -- deep enough to cause ripples and asymmetries in the planet's gravitational field that were perceptible to detectors on the spacecraft. On Earth, the atmosphere represents about a millionth of the mass of the whole planet. The latest work suggests that on Jupiter the figure is closer to 1%. The new findings, based on extremely sensitive gravitational measurements, also begin to paint a picture of the internal structure of the planet.

2M Americans Lost Power After 'Bomb Cyclone' ( 129

An anonymous reader quotes the Associated Press: Tens of thousands of utility workers in the Northeast raced to restore power to more than 1.5 million homes and businesses just days after a powerful nor'easter caused flooding and wind damage from Virginia to Maine... Flood waters had receded in most areas, but Friday's storm had taken huge chunks out of the coastline in Massachusetts and other states... Residents in other areas, meanwhile, bailed out basements and surveyed the damage while waiting for power to be restored, a process that power companies warned could take days in some areas.

Power outages on the East Coast dipped by about 500,000 from a peak of 2 million earlier Saturday, but officials said lingering wind gusts were slowing repair efforts. The storm's aftermath also was still affecting travel, with airports from Washington, D.C. to Boston reporting dozens of delays and cancellations, while service was slowly returning to normal on rail systems throughout the region... The death toll from the storm increased by four, with authorities saying at least nine people had lost their lives.

Airlines canceled more than 2,800 flights, according to the Associated Press, while Amtrak suspended service along the northeast corridor (though it's saying they should all return to service on Sunday).

CNN reported roughly 1 in 4 Americans were in the storm's path, facing winds as high as 50 mph, while the Associated Press reports gusts up to 90 mph on Cape Cod.

Scientists Find Life In 'Mars-Like' Chilean Desert ( 54

An anonymous reader writes: In 1938, CBS radio aired Orson Welles' dramatization of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds ; the broadcast was livened up by periodic "news bulletins" reporting strange activity on Mars and in New Jersey. There may or may have not been men on Mars at the time, and later opinions also differ on whether the broadcast caused widespread panic across the U.S. Eighty years later, scientists are again claiming to have found evidence on earth of Martian life. Well, not exactly Martian life... Washington State University reports: "For the first time, researchers have seen life rebounding in the world's driest desert, demonstrating that it could also be lurking in the soils of Mars. Led by Washington State University planetary scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an international team studied the driest corner of South America's Atacama Desert, where decades pass without any rain. Scientists have long wondered whether microbes in the soil of this hyperarid environment, the most similar place on Earth to the Martian surface, are permanent residents or merely dying vestiges of life, blown in by the weather. Billions of years ago, Mars had small oceans and lakes where early lifeforms may have thrived. As the planet dried up and grew colder, these organisms could have evolved many of the adaptations lifeforms in the Atacama soil use to survive on Earth, Schulze-Makuch said. 'We know there is water frozen in the Martian soil and recent research strongly suggests nightly snowfalls and other increased moisture events near the surface,' he said. 'If life ever evolved on Mars, our research suggests it could have found a subsurface niche beneath today's severely hyper-arid surface.'" The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Nokia, Vodafone To Bring 4G To the Moon ( 80

According to Reuters, the moon will get its first mobile phone network next year, enabling high-definition streaming from the landscape back to earth. "Vodafone Germany, network equipment maker Nokia and carmaker Audi said on Tuesday they were working together to support the mission, 50 years after the first NASA astronauts walked on the moon." From the report: Vodafone said it had appointed Nokia as its technology partner to develop a space-grade network which would be a small piece of hardware weighing less than a bag of sugar. The companies are working with Berlin-based company PTScientists on the project, with a launch scheduled in 2019 from Cape Canaveral on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Vodafone said. One executive involved said the decision to build a 4G network rather than a state-of-the-art 5G network was taken because the next generation networks remain in the testing and trial stage and are not stable enough to ensure they would work from the lunar surface.

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