Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What, Me Worry? Algae: A key player in mass extinctions?

CLEMSON, S.C. - U.S. scientists say although supervolcanoes and meteors are usually blamed for mass extinctions, algae may be behind the world's great species annihilations.
Clemson University research James Castle and Professor John Robers said anywhere there is water, there can be toxic algae in small concentrations. But a sudden warming in the water or an injection of dust or sediment from land can trigger a bloom that kills thousands of fish, poisons shellfish or even humans.
The researchers say they believe the same thing happened during the five largest mass extinctions in Earth's history. Each time a large die off occurred, they found a spike in the number of fossil algae mats called stromatolites strewn around the planet.
Castle said nutrient-rich fallout from a volcano eruption or meteor impact lands in the water and becomes food for algae. The algae explode in population, releasing chemicals that can act as anything from skin irritants to potent neurotoxins, he said. Plants on land then can pick up the compounds in their roots, and pass them on to herbivorous animals.
Castle and Rodgers said if their theory is correct, it answers a lot of questions about how species became extinct in the ancient world. It also raises concerns for how today's algae might damage the ecosystem in a warmer world.
The research was presented this week in Portland, Ore., during the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

How long do dead bodies remain intact in the ocean?

On Tuesday, Brazilian authorities recovered 16 bodies from the Air France crash in the Atlantic Ocean, bringing the total to 24.

The Airbus 330 jet took off from Rio de Janeiro on its way to Paris on May 31 when it disappeared during intense thunderstorms. Investigators are currently considering the possibility that the plane's airspeed sensors were iced over. Meanwhile the Brazilian navy is conducting an all-out search for the bodies.

Finding survivors lost at sea is a race against time because of the possibility of starvation or hypothermia. But none of the 228 people on board Flight 447 were expected to have survived the plane's impact.

So how long can a body remain intact at sea, to be recovered?

The Australian Museum has an informative Web site,, on how human remains change after death. On land, bacteria and other microbes in the body will rapidly multiply and break down the soft tissue. Shortly after death, flies and other insects consume the soft tissue. Vultures, dogs or other large mammals may also take pieces of the decomposing flesh, sometimes reducing the corpse into a skeleton in under two weeks.

On the open ocean, however, flies and other insects are largely absent. And if the body is floating in water less than 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) for about three weeks, the tissues turn into a soapy fatty acid known as "grave wax" that halts bacterial growth. The skin, however, will still blister and turn greenish black. Finally, crabs and small fish may feed on the soft parts of the face like the eyes and lips, according to the book Forensic Taphonomy: The Postmortem Fate of Human Remains, by William D. Haglund and Marcella H. Sorg.

A 2002 study in the journal Legal Medicine examined nine bodies that had drifted hundreds of kilometers in cold waters off the coast of Portugal and Spain. Bodies recovered in the first week were in good condition, but the beginning signs of decomposition were present on a body recovered after eight days. The two bodies recovered after 20 days were highly decomposed and could only be identified through DNA analysis or dental records. As for warmer water, A 2008 study on two human bodies recovered following aircraft accidents found one body off of Sicily to be partially skeletonized after 34 days and a second body off of Namibia to be completely skeletonized after three months.*

Of course, sharks are an important scavenger in warm waters, like those off of Brazil, and can quickly reduce a body to shreds. "Sharks, like any predator, are opportunistic feeders, and they'll take advantage of a resource that's given to them," says George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville and the curator of the International Shark Attack File.

Low-frequency noises caused by a ship sinking or a plane crashing travel great distances underwater and can attract the animals. However, he says, "The idea that the…[seas]…are carpeted with sharks…is a misconception."

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Daniel Goleman Ecological Intelligence.

Ecological Intelligence

The bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership now brings us Ecological Intelligence.
Dara O'Rourke and Gregory A. Norris join Daniel Goleman to talk about
—revealing the hidden environmental consequences of what we make and buy, and how with that knowledge we can drive the essential changes we all must make to save our planet and ourselves.

We buy herbal shampoos that contain industrial chemicals that can threaten our health or contaminate the environment. We dive down to see coral reefs, not realizing that an ingredient in our sunscreen feeds a virus that kills the reef. We wear organic cotton t-shirts, but dont know that its dyes may put factory workers at risk for leukemia. In Ecological Intelligence, Daniel Goleman reveals why so many of the products that are labeled green are a mirage, and illuminates our wild inconsistencies in response to the ecological crisis.

Drawing on cutting-edge research, Goleman explains why we as shoppers are in the dark over the hidden impacts of the goods and services we make and consume, victims of a blackout of information about the detrimental effects of producing, shipping, packaging, distributing, and discarding the goods we buy.
This event took place on May 14, 2009

Alva Noe "Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain"

Alva Noe visits Google's San Francisco, CA office to discuss his book "Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness." This event took place on April 16, 2009, as part of the Authors@Google series.

The notion that consciousness is confined to the brain, like software in a computer, has dominated science and philosophy for close to two centuries. Yet, according to this incisive review of contemporary neuroscience from Berkeley philosopher Nöe, the analogy is deeply flawed. In eight illuminating, mercifully jargon-free chapters, he defines what scientists really know about consciousness and makes a strong case that mind and awareness are processes that arise during a dynamic dance with the observers surroundings. Nöe begins with a sharp critique of scientists, such as DNA co-discoverer Francis Crick, who insist that nothing but neurons determines our daily perceptions and sense of self. He then examines studies of human and animal behavior that demonstrate an inextricable link between identity and environment. Nöe regrettably limits his treatise by ignoring considerable research from transpersonal psychology suggesting that consciousness transcends physicality altogether. Still, the resulting book is an invaluable contribution to cognitive science and the branch of self-reflective philosophy extending back to Descartes famous maxim, I think, therefore I am.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight

Jill Bolte Taylor got a research opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: She had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions -- motion, speech, self-awareness -- shut down one by one. An astonishing story.

Kamal Meattle: How to grow your own fresh air

Global warming¹ simply no longer happening

Shocker: ‘Global warming’ simply no longer happening
Temperatures dropping, fewer hurricanes, arctic ice growing, polar bear population up

March 23, 2009
by Ron Miller
World Net Daily
WASHINGTON – This may come as bad news for Al Gore.

The modest global warming trend has stopped – maybe even reversed itself.
And it’s not just the record low temperatures experienced in much of the world this winter.

For at least the last five years, global temperatures have been falling, according to tracking performed by Roy Spencer, the climatologist formerly of NASA.

“Global warming” was going to bring more and more horrific hurricanes, climate change scientists and the politicians who subscribed to their theories said. But since 2005, only one major hurricane has struck North America.

A new study by Florida State University researcher Ryan Maue shows worldwide cyclone activity – typhoons, as well as hurricanes – has reached at least a 30-year low.

Two more studies – one by the Leibniz Institute of Marine Science and the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology in Germany and another by the University of Wisconsin – predict a slowing, or even a reversal of warming, for at least the next 10 to 20 years. The Arctic sea ice has grown more on a percentage basis this winter than it has since 1979. The number of polar bears has risen 25 percent in the past decade. There are 15,000 of them in the Arctic now, where 10 years ago there were 12,000.

“The most recent global warming that began in 1977 is over, and the Earth has entered a new phase of global cooling,” says Don Easterbrook, professor of geology at Western Washington University in Bellingham, confidently. He maintains a switch in Pacific Ocean currents “assures about three decades of global cooling. New solar data showing unusual absence of sun spots and changes in the sun’s magnetic field suggest … the present episode of global cooling may be more severe than the cooling of 1945 to 1977.”

Climatologist Joe D’Aleo of the International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project, says new data “show that in five of the last seven decades since World War II, including this one, global temperatures have cooled while carbon dioxide has continued to rise.”

“The data suggest cooling not warming in Earth’s future,” he says.

© 2009 World Net Daily