Sea Level Rise in the SF Bay Area Just Got a Lot More Dire ( 291

An anonymous reader writes: San Francisco Bay Area residents have long been aware of the threat that sea level rise poses to their coastal existence -- but things suddenly look a lot more serious. A new study examines the simultaneous phenomena of rising sea levels and subsiding coastal land, and as Wired reports, the situation is pretty dire. Models that factor in just sea level rise predict that at least 20 square miles could be underwater by 2100. Once you add in subsiding land, that jumps to nearly 50 square miles, and could get as bad as 165 square miles. Or, put another way, by the end of the century, half of the runways and taxiways at San Francisco Airport could be submerged.

The study found that most of the Bay's coastline is sinking at a rate of less than 2 millimeters a year -- and while that may not sound like a lot, the millimeters can add up fast. "You talk to someone about, 'Oh the land is going down a millimeter a year,' and that can be kind of unimpressive," says William Hammond, a researcher at the University of Nevada Reno who studies subsidence (but was not involved in this particular project). "But we know as scientists that these motions, especially if they come from plate tectonics, that they are relentless and they will never stop, at least as long as we're alive on this planet."

United States

Researchers Provide Likely Explanation For the 'Sonic Weapon' Used At the US Embassy In Cuba ( 112

An anonymous reader quotes a report from IEEE Spectrum: Last August, reports emerged that U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Cuba had suffered a host of mysterious ailments. Speculation soon arose that a high-frequency sonic weapon was to blame. Acoustics experts, however, were quick to point out the unlikeliness of such an attack. Among other things, ultrasonic frequencies -- from 20 to 200 kilohertz -- don't propagate well in air and don't cause the ear pain, headache, dizziness, and other symptoms reported in Cuba. Also, some victims recalled hearing high-pitched sounds, whereas ultrasound is inaudible to humans. The mystery deepened in October, when the Associated Press (AP) released a 6-second audio clip, reportedly a recording of what U.S. embassy staff heard. The chirping tones, centered around 7 kHz, were indeed audible, but they didn't suggest any kind of weapon. Looking at a spectral plot of the clip on YouTube, Kevin Fu, a computer scientist at the University of Michigan, noted some unusual ripples. He thought he might know what they meant.

Fu's lab specializes in analyzing the cybersecurity of devices connected to the Internet of Things, such as sensors, pacemakers, RFIDs, and autonomous vehicles. To Fu, the ripples in the spectral readout suggested some kind of interference. He discussed the AP clip with his frequent collaborator, Wenyuan Xu, a professor at Zhejiang University, in Hangzhou, China, and her Ph.D. student Chen Yan. Yan and Xu started with a fast Fourier transform of the AP audio, which revealed the signal's exact frequencies and amplitudes. Then, through a series of simulations, Yan showed that an effect known as intermodulation distortion could have produced the AP sound. Intermodulation distortion occurs when two signals having different frequencies combine to produce synthetic signals at the difference, sum, or multiples of the original frequencies. Having reverse engineered the AP audio, Fu, Xu, and Yan then considered what combination of things might have caused the sound at the U.S. embassy in Cuba. "If ultrasound is to blame, then a likely cause was two ultrasonic signals that accidentally interfered with each other, creating an audible side effect," Fu says. "Maybe there was also an ultrasonic jammer in the room and an ultrasonic transmitter," he suggests. "Each device might have been placed there by a different party, completely unaware of the other."


132-Year-Old Science Experiment Washes Ashore In Australia ( 55

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): A message in a bottle was tossed off the side of a German ship on June 12, 1886, as it sailed through the Indian Ocean, the date and location penned carefully in script on the scroll inside. In January, more than 131 years after the bottle was set adrift, an Australian woman walking on the beach noticed the thick, discolored glass of an old bottle poking through the sand. The bottle -- and the message -- had been found. It is believed to be the oldest known message in a bottle ever recovered. The woman, Tonya Illman, discovered the tokens from another era while walking on a beach near Wedge Island, in Western Australia.

The Illmans took their discovery to the Western Australian Museum, which verified that the bottle and the note date back to the 19th century. The museum contacted experts in the Netherlands and Germany for more information, and confirmed that the bottle had been dropped from a German vessel called the Paula. A search of German archives uncovered the Paula's original Meteorological Journal, and in a captain's entry from June 12, 1886, researchers discovered a reference to the bottle, thrown overboard as the ship was sailing from Cardiff, Wales, to Makassar, Indonesia. The date and the coordinates matched. The bottle had been tossed into the Indian Ocean from the ship as part of a decades-long experiment by the German Naval Observatory to understand ocean currents. Thousands of bottles were thrown into the ocean around the world from German ships between the 1860s and the 1930s, each with a form bearing the date and location where it had been tossed into the sea, the name of the ship, its home port and the travel route, the Western Australian Museum said.


Amazon Launches a Low-Cost Version of Prime For Medicaid Recipients ( 88

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Amazon announced this morning it will offer a low-cost version of its Prime membership program to qualifying recipients of Medicaid. The program will bring the cost of Prime down from the usual $12.99 per month to about half that, at $5.99 per month, while still offering the full range of Prime perks, including free, two-day shipping on millions of products, Prime Video, Prime Music, Prime Photos, Prime Reading, Prime Now, Audible Channels, and more. The new program is an expansion on Amazon's discounted Prime service for customers on government assistance, launched in June 2017. For the same price of $5.99 per month, Amazon offers Prime memberships to any U.S. customer with a valid EBT card -- the card that's used to disburse funds for assistance programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program (WIC). Now that same benefit is arriving for recipients of Medicaid, the public assistance program providing medical coverage to low-income Americans. To qualify for the discount, customers must have a valid EBT or Medicaid card, the retailer says.

Adult Human Brains Do Not Produce New Neurons, Study Suggests ( 76

Rich Haridy reports via New Atlas: New research from scientists at UC San Francisco is challenging half a century of conventional wisdom by suggesting the human brain may cease producing new neurons beyond childhood. While the divisive study may prove a blow to some research aimed at birthing new neurons to battle neurodegenerative disorders, it offers a new perspective on how the human brain can adapt in later life without such a capability. The team generated its data by studying brain specimens of 59 subjects, from babies to the elderly. The strategy was to look for the presence of young neurons or dividing cells by using certain antibodies that bind to those cells of interest. The focus was on the hippocampus region of the brain, known to be crucial for memory, and a comprehensively studied area previously suggested to be a key location for neurogenesis. The results were fairly comprehensive. Young or immature neurons were identified in plentiful volumes in prenatal and newborn samples but the rate consistently declined over childhood. The oldest sample that immature neurons were found in was 13 years of age, and adult samples displayed no evidence of new neurons. The study has been published in the journal Nature.

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.

Researcher Admits Study That Claimed Uber Drivers Earn $3.37 An Hour Was Not Correct ( 101

Last week, an MIT study using data from more than 1,100 Uber and Lyft drivers concluded they're earning a median pretax profit of just $3.37 per hour. Uber was less than pleased by their findings and used a blog post to highlight problems with the researchers' methodology. "Now the lead researcher behind the draft paper has admitted that Uber's criticism was actually pretty valid -- while also asking Uber and Lyft to make more data available, in order to improve his analysis," reports Fortune. From the report: The issue with the draft paper from MIT's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR), Uber's chief economist Jonathan Hall said, was this: The researchers asked drivers how much money they made on average each week from such services, but then asked "How much of your total monthly income comes from driving" -- without specifying that such income must relate to on-demand services. Of course, many people driving for Uber and Lyft also earn money from regular jobs and other income sources. And this, Hall alleged, skewed the researchers' results.

"Hall's specific criticism is valid," wrote Stephen Zoepf, the executive director of Stanford's Center for Automotive Research, who led the MIT study, on Monday. "In re-reading the wording of the two questions, I can see how respondents could have interpreted the two questions in the manner Hall describes." Zoepf said he would be updating the CEEPR paper, but in the meantime he recalculated the figures using a methodology suggested by Hall, and found that the median profit was $8.55 per hour, rather than $3.37, and only 8% of drivers lose money on on-demand platforms. Using another methodology, he added, the median rises to $10 per hour and only 4% of drivers lose money.


Diabetes Is Actually Five Separate Diseases, Research Suggests ( 114

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: Scientists say diabetes is five separate diseases, and treatment could be tailored to each form. Diabetes, or uncontrolled blood sugar levels, is normally split into type 1 and type 2. But researchers in Sweden and Finland think the more complicated picture they have uncovered will usher in an era of personalized medicine for diabetes. The study, by Lund University Diabetes Centre in Sweden and the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland, looked at 14,775 patients including a detailed analysis of their blood. The results, published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, showed the patients could be separated into five distinct clusters:

Cluster 1 - severe autoimmune diabetes is broadly the same as the classical type 1 -- it hit people when they were young, seemingly healthy and an immune disease left them unable to produce insulin
Cluster 2 - severe insulin-deficient diabetes patients initially looked very similar to those in cluster 1 -- they were young, had a healthy weight and struggled to make insulin, but the immune system was not at fault
Cluster 3 - severe insulin-resistant diabetes patients were generally overweight and making insulin but their body was no longer responding to it
Cluster 4 - mild obesity-related diabetes was mainly seen in people who were very overweight but metabolically much closer to normal than those in cluster 3
Cluster 5 - mild age-related diabetes patients developed symptoms when they were significantly older than in other groups and their disease tended to be milder


Videogame Lobbyists Join Scientists To Fight 'Gaming Disorder' Classification ( 72

Remember when the World Health Organization moved to define a new disease called "gaming disorder"? An anonymous reader quotes Motherboard: Multiple video game lobbying groups from around the world have banded together to push back against the classification, and 36 academics, scientists, doctors, and researchers have drafted a paper that called the WHO's methodology and motives into question. The professionals will publish the paper, titled "Weak Basis for Gaming Disorder," in an upcoming issue of Journal of Behavioral Addictions. The article is a collection of well reasoned arguments against classifying "gaming disorder" as a disease, complete with references to extant research...

"We agree that there are some people whose play of video games is related to life problems," said the article's abstract. "However, moving from research construct to formal disorder requires a much stronger evidence base than we currently have"... To be clear, the article doesn't argue that something isn't going on and that gaming addiction isn't real and isn't a problem. It just thinks that rushing to define it and put it in the the ICD is a bad idea.


Stars Billions Of Years Old Drop Big Clue To Early Universe ( 20

Astronomers have picked up a radio signal from the moment the lights went on in the universe billions of years ago, and they've discovered some surprises embedded in it. No, not aliens, but potential evidence of something just as mysterious and elusive. From a report: Using a sensitive antenna only about the size of a table in the Australian desert, scientists managed to isolate the very faint signal of primordial hydrogen, part of the cosmic afterglow from the Big Bang. But the ancient signal from this basic building block of the universe also carries the imprint of some of the first light from the very first stars ever. "This is the first real signal that stars are starting to form, and starting to affect the medium around them," Alan Rogers, a scientist at MIT's Haystack Observatory, said in a statement. "What's happening in this period is that some of the radiation from the very first stars is starting to allow hydrogen to be seen. It's causing hydrogen to start absorbing the background radiation, so you start seeing it in silhouette, at particular radio frequencies." Rogers is a co-author of a paper on the work published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

IBM's Watson Is Going To Space ( 59

Yesterday, IBM announced it would be providing the AI brain for a robot being built by Airbus to accompany astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). "The robot, which looks like a flying volleyball with a low-resolution face, is being deployed with Germany astronaut Alexander Gerst in June for a six month mission," reports The Next Web. "It's called CIMON, an acronym for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, and it's headed to space to do science stuff." From the report: It'll help crew members conduct medical experiments, study crystals, and play with a Rubix cube. Best of all, just like "Wilson," the other volleyball with a face and Tom Hanks' costar in the movie Castaway, CIMON can be the astronauts' friend. According to an IBM blog post: "CIMON's digital face, voice and use of artificial intelligence make it a 'colleague' to the crew members. This collegial 'working relationship' facilitates how astronauts work through their prescribed checklists of experiments, now entering into a genuine dialogue with their interactive assistant."

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.

Microbes Found in Earth's Deep Ocean Might Grow on Saturn's Moon Enceladus ( 69

Life as we know it needs three things: energy, water and chemistry. Saturn's icy moon Enceladus has them all, as NASA spacecraft Cassini confirmed in the final years of its mission to that planet. From a report: Scientists have successfully cultivated a few of these tiny organisms in the lab under the same conditions that are thought to exist on the distant moon, opening up the possibility that life might be lurking under the world's surface. Enceladus is one of the most intriguing places in the Solar System since it has many crucial ingredients needed for life to thrive. For one, it has lots of water. NASA's Cassini spacecraft -- which explored the Saturn system from 2004 to 2017 -- found that plumes of gas and particles erupt from the south pole of Enceladus, and these geysers stem from a global liquid water ocean underneath the moon's crust. Scientists think that there may be hot vents in this ocean, too -- cracks in the sea floor where heated rock mingles with the frigid waters. This mixing of hot and cold material seems to be creating a soup of chemical compounds that might support life.

Relying on Renewables Alone Significantly Inflates the Cost of Overhauling Energy ( 248

A growing number of US cities and states have proposed or even passed legislation that would require producing all electricity from renewable energy sources like solar and wind within a few decades. That might sound like a great idea. But a growing body of evidence shows it's not. From a report: It increasingly appears that insisting on 100 percent renewable sources -- and disdaining others that don't produce greenhouse gases, such as nuclear power and fossil-fuel plants with carbon-capture technology -- is wastefully expensive and needlessly difficult. In the latest piece of evidence, a study published in Energy & Environmental Science determined that solar and wind energy alone could reliably meet about 80 percent of recent US annual electricity demand, but massive investments in energy storage and transmission would be needed to avoid major blackouts. Pushing to meet 100 percent of demand with these resources would require building a huge number of additional wind and solar farms -- or expanding electricity storage to an extent that would be prohibitively expensive at current prices. Or some of both.

Children Struggle To Hold Pencils Due To Too Much Tech, Doctors Say ( 314

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Children are increasingly finding it hard to hold pens and pencils because of an excessive use of technology, senior pediatric doctors have warned. An overuse of touchscreen phones and tablets is preventing children's finger muscles from developing sufficiently to enable them to hold a pencil correctly, they say. "Children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had 10 years ago," said Sally Payne, the head pediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust. "Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not be able to hold it because they don't have the fundamental movement skills. "To be able to grip a pencil and move it, you need strong control of the fine muscles in your fingers,. Children need lots of opportunity to develop those skills." Payne said the nature of play had changed. "It's easier to give a child an iPad than encouraging them to do muscle-building play such as building blocks, cutting and sticking, or pulling toys and ropes. Because of this, they're not developing the underlying foundation skills they need to grip and hold a pencil."

Math Shows Some Black Holes Erase Your Past and Give You Unlimited Futures ( 190

dmoberhaus writes: An international team of mathematicians has found that there are theoretical black holes that would allow an observer to survive passage through the event horizon. This would result in the breakdown of determinism, a fundamental feature of the universe that allows physics to have predictive power, and result in the destruction of the observer's past and present them with an infinite number of futures. The findings were detailed in a report published last week in Physical Review Letters.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot May Soon Disappear ( 80

The Great Red Spot has been a fixture of Jupiter 's cloudy visage for centuries and is among the most recognizable features in the solar system. But it won't always be there. In fact, the Great Red Spot is shrinking, and recently, news stories reported that it could vanish within the next 10 or 20 years . From a report: Older observations, from the late 1800s, suggest the storm once spanned more than 30 degrees in longitude and was more of a "Great Red Sausage," says Glenn Orton of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But the storm's shape is changing, most significantly in width, and as time marches on it's becoming less oval and more circular. Way back when, the storm stretched more than 25,000 miles across. When the Voyager spacecraft flew by in the 1970s, scientists estimated that the Spot was just 14,500 miles wide. In 2014, a Hubble Space Telescope observation put the Spot at just 10,250 miles across, and by last spring, it spanned just 10,140 miles. So when will it disappear entirely? Truth is, scientists have no idea. But if you measure the rate at which the Great Red Spot has been shrinking, and extrapolate linearly from that, it looks like the spot will vanish completely in about 70 years, says Amy Simon of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Problem is, "we know for certain it doesn't work like that at all," she says.

Scientists Say Space Aliens Could Hack Our Planet ( 293

Scientists are worried that space aliens might send messages that worm their way into human society -- not to steal our passwords but to bring down our culture. "Astrophysicists Michael Hippke and John Learned argue in a recent paper that our telescopes might pick up hazardous messages sent our way -- a virus that shuts down our computers, for example, or something a bit like cosmic blackmail: 'Do this for us, or we'll make your sun go supernova and destroy Earth,'" reports NBC News. "Or perhaps the cosmic hackers could trick us into building self-replicating nanobots, and then arrange for them to be let loose to chew up our planet or its inhabitants." From the report: The astrophysicists also suggest that the extraterrestrials could show their displeasure (what did we do?) by launching a cyberattack. Maybe you've seen the 1996 film "Independence Day," in which odious aliens are vanquished by a computer virus uploaded into their machinery. That's about as realistic as sabotaging your neighbor's new laptop by feeding it programs written for the Commodore 64. In other words, aliens that could muster the transmitter power (not to mention the budget) to try wiping us out with code are going to have a real compatibility problem.

Yet there is a way that messages from space might be disruptive. Extraterrestrials could simply give us some advanced knowledge -- not as a trade, but as a gift. How could that possibly be a downer? Imagine: You're a physicist who has dedicated your career to understanding the fundamental structure of matter. You have a stack of reprints, a decent position, and a modicum of admiration from the three other specialists who have read your papers. Suddenly, aliens weigh in with knowledge that's a thousand years ahead of yours. So much for your job and your sense of purpose. If humanity is deprived of the opportunity to learn things on its own, much of its impetus for novelty might evaporate. In a society where invention and discovery are written out of the script, progress and improvement would suffer.

Data Storage

Putting Civilization in a Box For Space Means Choosing Our Legacy ( 92

When SpaceX's record-breaking Falcon Heavy rocket made its first test launch in early February , the craft didn't just hurl Elon Musk's shiny red roadster and spacesuit-clad mannequin to space. It had another, smaller payload, which at first glance seems much less impressive: a 1-inch-wide (2.5 centimeters) quartz disc with Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" trilogy encoded in laser-etched gratings . From a report: The famous science fiction series is only the beginning of the discs' planned contents. At a time when traditional hard drives are just breaking into the terabyte range, the quartz medium can hold up to 360 terabytes per disc. It also boasts a life span of 14 billion years. That's longer than the current age of the universe. This disc was symbolic; future devices will contain much more, and more useful, information. But the technology speaks to grander issues that humanity is now pondering: becoming a multiplanetary civilization, storing information for thousands or millions of years, and contacting and communicating with other intelligences (alien and Earthling).

So how should we record our knowledge and experiences for posterity? How should we ensure that this information is understandable to civilizations that may be quite different from our own? And, most importantly, what should we say? Humans have faced challenges like these before. Ancient civilizations built monuments like the pyramids and left artifacts and writing, sometimes deliberately. Later researchers have used this material to try to piece together ancient worldviews. However, in the modern era, we've set our sights much further: from centuries to millennia, from one planet to interstellar space, and from one species to many.

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