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February 27 2014

Science Podcast - Treating Down Syndrome and a news roundup (28 Feb 2014)

Treatment trials for Down Syndrome; roundup of daily news with David Grimm.

Saving Primate Lemurs

Mother lemur and her offspring by Tambako on Flickr CC-BY-2.0

Mother lemur and her offspring by Tambako on Flickr CC-BY-2.0

A group of researchers from Madagascar, Canada, UK and USA published a detailed report in Science that alerts on the possible extinctions of 90% of the known lemurs of Madagascar following the prolonged political crisis in the country.  One of the researcher, Christoph Schwitzer,  explains to the Scientific American the dire consequences of such threat:

lemurs have important ecological and economic roles, and are essential to maintaining Madagascar’s unique forests through seed dispersal and attracting income through ecotourism.

Another researcher, Ian Colquhoun, explains what can be done to protect the unique Malagasy ecosystem in which the lemurs can thrive:

We highlight three key ways to save lemurs: community-based conservation management, the long-term presence of researchers at field sites, and ecotourism.

NASA's New Photo of North Korea

Any international readers interested in North Korea would probably come across at least once this famous photo of Korean peninsula from NASA demonstrating a stark difference in the light emission of two Koreas at nighttime. NASA finally updated a new satellite image and it is ‘even more dramatic than the monochrome NASA satellite image of old', writes North Korea Tech blog. The blog also introduces a video version of the image which shows North Korea in context with the rest of East Asia. 

February 20 2014

Science Podcast - Analyzing soundscapes and a news roundup (21 Feb 2014)

Eavesdropping on ecosystems; roundup of daily news with David Grimm.

February 18 2014

Adapting to Extreme Climate Change in Mali and Madagascar

Forest in the Kayes Region in Mali CC-NC-2.0

Forest in the Kayes region of Mali CC-NC-2.0

Mali and Madagascar have faced many similar challenges over the past five years. Political turmoil punctuated by coup d'états that saw the removal of their president-elects before the end of their terms. As a consequence, both economies had steep dives in terms of GDP. Today, Madagascar and Mali are both trying to rebuild their broken political systems via newly elected executive branches.

A lesser known challenge that both countries face is their struggle against extreme climate change. Fragile countries are often more vulnerable to extreme weather, but that adage could not be more evident than in the recent evolution of the ecosystem in Madagascar and Mali.

An undeniable impact

In Mali, the forest is slowly given way to the Sahara desert in the north. The Kayes region is symptomatic of the seemingly unstoppable progression of the desert in a region that used to host a buoyant forest and is now home to vast areas of sands and rocks.

Adrien de Chaisemartin and his colleagues from the McKinsey's Johannesburg office reported on the impact of climate change in the Malian region:

Mali is a mostly dry nation, subject to frequent droughts. Increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall tell of a shift in climate zones as the desert moves south over productive land. In these regions, farmers dependent on agriculture and livestock already face trying periods of drought and have few options to overcome them. Many are moving to the cities, others to the country’s less arid south.

Kayes region  in Mali at the border with Senegal via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Kayes region in Mali at the border with Senegal via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Here is how they assess the current situation and the potential economic loss for the country:

The climate zone shift—the combined effect of rising average temperatures and declining average rainfall—has already pushed the country’s agroecological zones to the south over the past 50 years, with average rainfall down by about 200 millimeters and average temperatures up by 0.5°C over the same period. [..] The pessimistic high-change scenario could involve losses of about $300 million annually (some 15 percent of the value of agriculture and livestock); the optimistic scenario, losses of $120 million annually (6 percent)

In Madagascar, the impact of climate change was even more dramatic. Following two consecutive cyclones (Giovanna in 2012 and Haruna in 2013) that made landfall on the island and displaced at least 100,000 people, the southern region was plagued by a locust invasion. How those events are related is explained by Emmanuel Perrin on maxisciences [fr]:

Le cyclone Haruna a touché l’île de Madagascar. Or, son passage a créé les conditions d'humidité favorables à la prolifération de criquets migrateurs. Les autorités n’ont pas réagi à temps et, aujourd’hui, leur population atteint 500 milliards d’individus, estime une récente mission de comptage.

Cyclone Haruna hit the island of Madagascar and its landfall has created the humid conditions that favors the massive proliferation of locusts. The authorities did not react in time, and today their population reached 500 billion in the most recent estimates.

Locust invasion in down town Fianaratsoa, Madagascar

Locust invasion in downtown Fianaratsoa, Madagascar

The World Food Programme states that 60 percent of rice production will be affected by the locust invasion. Cyclone Haruna's direct impact was also dramatically felt by southern farmers as 6,351 hectares of their crop fields were flooded. Raw footage of the floods can be seen in this video from YouTube user ongbelavenir:

How to adapt

So what can local population do to withstand the climate assault on their way of life? Here are a few ideas by Michael Kleine and his fellow scientists or researchers from the International Union of Forest Research Organizations solutions (IUFRO):

New modes of governance should enhance effective stakeholder and community participation, transparent and accountable decision-making, and the equitable sharing of benefits. And strategies for adapting forests to climate change must be coordinated with those of other sectors and integrated into national and regional development programmes and strategies.

In the field, new strategies are dependent on the local context and the type of activities in the region. For instance, declining crop yields can be countered with the following measures: increase crop diversification and plant early maturing crop varieties such as the NERICA rice variety. 

Dr. Balgis Osman Elasha emphasized the importance of grasping the local context and gaining buy-ins from community leaders to implement the new measures:

The same policy could yield contrasting results ,for different sectors or different activities in the same sector, e.g. removing subsides on inputs, from agriculture produced positive impact on traditional rain fed sector (using minimum inputs), and negative impacts on mechanized irrigated agriculture (using intensive inputs) [..] Community Leaders are key players in the policy process , they possess a wealth of indigenous knowledge regarding the wise use and conservation of natural resources, moreover, customary rules and orders issued by them , are considered sacred by their local community. 

February 14 2014

Ending Illegal Logging and Launching Forest Carbon Credits in Madagascar

 Illegally logged rosewood from Masoala and Marojejy in Antalaha, Madagascar via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Illegally logged rosewood from Masoala and Marojejy in Antalaha, Madagascar via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

The new administration in Madagascar is seemingly making a concerted effort to curb down deforestation in Madagascar. First, new president Hery Rajaonarimampianina has made ending illegal logging of Madagascar rosewood a priority at his first executive meeting[fr]. Second, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced that the Government of Madagascar has approved carbon sales with Microsoft and its carbon offset partner, The CarbonNeutral Company, and Zoo Zurich. The funds from carbon sales will be used by Makira REDD+ Project for conservation, capacity building, and enforcement activities related to conservation of Madagascar's rainforest. It is yet to be seen whether these measures will be implemented in the field. 

February 13 2014

Science Podcast - Termite-inspired robots and cells with lots of extra genomes (14 Feb 2014)

Termite-inspired builder robots; why some mammalian cells have so many copies of their chromosomes.

February 11 2014

Remembering Dr Alison Jolly, Lemurs of Madagascar Expert

Dr. Alison Jolly, Primatologist  1937-2014- Public Domain

Dr. Alison Jolly, Primatologist 1937-2014- Public Domain

After leading a distinguished career as a primatologist at the Berenty Reserve of Madagascar, Dr. Alison Jolly has died at home in Lewes, East Sussex, aged 76. Dr. Jolly, a PhD researcher from Yale, made her name as the first scientist to do an in-depth account of the behaviour of the ring-tailed lemur, L. catta, beginning field work in 1962. David Attenborough recently wrote : ‘not only they but the people and land of Madagascar captured her heart’. 

February 06 2014

Science Podcast - Tracing autism's roots in developlement and a rundown of stories from our daily news site (7 Feb 2014)

Tackling the role of early fetal brain development in autism; daily news stories with David Grimm.

February 01 2014

Pire que l'autre, la nouvelle science économique

Nourrie de psychologie, l'économie dite comportementale étudie donc nos réactions et nos décisions afin de les anticiper. Et de les influencer par des incitations subtiles. / Économie, Entreprise, Finance, Idées, Idéologie, Publicité, Science, Marketing, Néolibéralisme, Université - (...) / Économie, Entreprise, Finance, Idées, Idéologie, Publicité, Science, Marketing, Néolibéralisme, Université - 2013/07

January 30 2014

Science Podcast - Quantum cryptography, salt's role in ecosystems, and a rundown of stories from our daily news site (31 Jan 2014)

Should we worry more about quantum decryption in the future or the past, how salt's role as a micronutrient may effect the global carbon cycle, and a daily news roundup.

Four short links: 30 January 2014

  1. $200k of Spaceships Destroyed (The Verge) — More than 2,200 of the game’s players, members of EVE’s largest alliances, came together to shoot each other out of the sky. The resultant damage was valued at more than $200,000 of real-world money. [...] Already, the battle has had an impact on the economics and politics of EVE’s universe: as both side scramble to rearm and rebuild, the price of in-game resource tritanium is starting to rise. “This sort of conflict,” Coker said, “is what science fiction warned us about.”
  2. Google Now Has an AI Ethics Committee (HufPo) — sorry for the HufPo link. One of the requirements of the DeepMind acquisition was that Google agreed to create an AI safety and ethics review board to ensure this technology is developed safely. Page’s First Law of Robotics: A robot may not block an advertisement, nor through inaction, allow an advertisement to come to harm.
  3. Academic Torrentsa scalable, secure, and fault-tolerant repository for data, with blazing fast download speeds built on BitTorrent.
  4. Hack Schools Meet California Regulators (Venturebeat) — turns out vocational training is a regulated profession. Regulation meets disruption, annihilate in burst of press releases.

January 27 2014

Mise en données du monde, le déluge numérique

Amitiés, pensées, échanges, déplacements : la plupart des activités humaines donnent désormais lieu à une production massive de données numérisées. Pour le meilleur ou pour le pire. / États-Unis, Droits humains, Économie, Industrie, Information, Informatique, Internet, Science, Services secrets, (...) / États-Unis, Droits humains, Économie, Industrie, Information, Informatique, Internet, Science, Services secrets, Technologies de l'information, Technologie, Télécommunications, Électronique, Commerce - 2013/07

January 23 2014

Science Podcast - The genome of a transmissible dog cancer, the 10-year anniversary of Opportunity on Mars, and a rundown of stories from our daily news site (24 Jan 2014)

The genome from a cancerous cell line that's been living for millenia, Opportinty's first 10 years on Mars, and a daily news roundup.

January 21 2014

Four short links: 21 January 2014

  1. On Being a Senior Engineer (Etsy) — Mature engineers know that no matter how complete, elegant, or superior their designs are, it won’t matter if no one wants to work alongside them because they are assholes.
  2. Control Theory (Coursera) — Learn about how to make mobile robots move in effective, safe, predictable, and collaborative ways using modern control theory. (via DIY Drones)
  3. US Moves Towards Open Access (WaPo) — Congress passed a budget that will make about half of taxpayer-funded research available to the public.
  4. NHS Patient Data Available for Companies to Buy (The Guardian) — Once live, organisations such as university research departments – but also insurers and drug companies – will be able to apply to the new Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) to gain access to the database, called care.data. If an application is approved then firms will have to pay to extract this information, which will be scrubbed of some personal identifiers but not enough to make the information completely anonymous – a process known as “pseudonymisation”. Recipe for disaster as it has been repeatedly shown that it’s easy to identify individuals, given enough scrubbed data. Can’t see why the NHS just doesn’t make it an app in Facebook. “Nat’s Prostate status: it’s complicated.”

January 17 2014

Four short links: 17 January 2014

  1. Making Remote WorkThe real­ity of a remote work­place is that the con­nec­tions are largely arti­fi­cial con­structs. Peo­ple can be very, very iso­lated. A person’s default behav­ior when they go into a funk is to avoid seek­ing out inter­ac­tions, which is effec­tively the same as actively with­draw­ing in a remote work envi­ron­ment. It takes a tremen­dous effort to get on video chats, use our text based com­mu­ni­ca­tion tools, or even call some­one dur­ing a dark time. Very good to see this addressed in a post about remote work.
  2. Google Big Picture Group — public output from the visualization research group at Google.
  3. Using CMOS Sensors in a Cellphone for Gamma Detection and Classification (Arxiv) — another sense in your pocket. The CMOS camera found in many cellphones is sensitive to ionized electrons. Gamma rays penetrate into the phone and produce ionized electrons that are then detected by the camera. Thermal noise and other noise needs to be removed on the phone, which requires an algorithm that has relatively low memory and computational requirements. The continuous high-delta algorithm described fits those requirements. (via Medium)
  4. Affordable Arduino-Compatible Centimeter-Level GPS Accuracy (IndieGogo) — for less than $20. (via DIY Drones)

January 16 2014

Science Podcast - The modern hunter-gatherer gut, fast mountain weathering, and a rundown of stories from our daily news site (17 Jan 2014)

Hunter-gatherer gut microbes, fast moving mountains, and a daily news roundup.

January 11 2014

PHOTOS: Mount Sinabung Eruption Displaced 20,000 in Indonesia

Mount Sinabung erupted when a cloud of dust and heat to form an image of human skull. Photo by Abdullah Arief Siregar, Copyright @Demotix (1/9/2014)

Mount Sinabung erupted when a cloud of dust and heat to form an image of human skull. Photo by Abdullah Arief Siregar, Copyright @Demotix (1/9/2014)

Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung, located in North Sumatra, has erupted more than 200 times since last year and has already displaced more than 20,000 villagers. The volcano has been dormant since the 1600s.

Volcano Discovery provides the latest volcanic activity of Sinabung:

The actively growing lava dome, being a mass of unstable, moderately viscous lava, frequently collapses in parts and produces hot bloack and ash avalanches (pyroclastic flows) that reached up to 4.5 km distance. According to the latest figures, the number of refugees from the 5-7 km exclusion zone has reached approx. 25,000.

Indonesia, located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, has more than 100 active volcanoes. But Carl believes Sinabung will only lead to medium size eruption:

The magmatic system under Sinabung does not in any way contain enough magma for a supereruption.

Since so little is known about this volcano it is probably a good idea to look at the surrounding volcanoes to get an idea of what might be in store. Just a few kilometers away is the double volcano system of Mount Sibayak/Mount Pinto, and that might give a good clue at what might be in store.

Evacuations have been ordered by authorities who also assured affected residents that aid will be delivered promptly to those who are in temporary shelters. But aside from displacing villagers, the eruption of Sinabung made a tremendous negative impact on the local agriculture.

Utami Irawati expressed solidarity to those affected by the eruption:

The photo below from Demotix shows Mount Sinabung throwing ash and lava in the air.

Mount Sinabung ejected lava and hot clouds over Berastepu and Bakerah villages. Photo by by Abdullah Arief Siregar, Copyright @Demotix (1/5/2014)

Mount Sinabung ejected lava and hot clouds over Berastepu and Bakerah villages. Photo by by Abdullah Arief Siregar, Copyright @Demotix (1/5/2014)

Farmers harvest tomatoes covered in a thick layer of ash from the eruption of Mt. Sinabung. Photo by Ahmad Ridwan Nasution, Copyright @Demotix (1/6/2014)

Farmers harvest tomatoes covered in a thick layer of ash from the eruption of Mt. Sinabung. Photo by Ahmad Ridwan Nasution, Copyright @Demotix (1/6/2014)

The eruption of Mount Sinabung on November 24, 2013 ejected ash in the air with a height of about 10,000km. Photo by Abdullah Arief Siregar, Copyright @Demotix (11/24/2013)

The eruption of Mount Sinabung on November 24, 2013 ejected ash in the air with a height of about 10,000km. Photo by Abdullah Arief Siregar, Copyright @Demotix (11/24/2013)

January 10 2014

No Girls Allowed at New Cosmology Public School in Japan

Photo taken at Jaxa Space Center in Tsukuba by Phil Knall (CC BY-NC)

Photo taken at Jaxa Space Center in Tsukuba by Phil Knall (CC BY-NC)

In collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), a new public school specialized in cosmology education in the southernmost peninsula of Kagoshima prefecture is set to recruit students from all over Japan.

The school sits 20 kilometers away from Uchinoura Space Center and will educate from 7th grade to 12th grade starting from the April of 2015. It is going to be the first public school to require all students to live in a dormitory.

Reaction to the news among Web users has been very positive. Twitter user ririri, who is a student, commented with excitement:

A school that teaches “cosmology”, that's awesome. Sounds exciting. I hope a school like this will help Japan lead the future of the space age! 

Some users drew connection between the school and a comic book series called Twin Spica, a science fiction story of a group of Japanese high school students training to become astronauts. In the comic book, main character Asumi Kamogawa, a female student, enters the Tokyo Space Academy:

TwinSpica

Cover art of the first Twin Spica manga volume featuring lead character Asumi Kamogawa (image from Wikipedia, ©mediafactory)

It reminds me of Twin Spica.

Looks like many people were reminded of the Twin Spica like me. 

However, there is one significant difference between the school in the sci-fi comic book and the new public school: The latter will be only open to boys.  

Twitter user APICa wondered [ja] in disappointment:

The school is so romantic, but why does it have to be only for boys when we have female astronauts, and there are other high schools that have co-ed dormitories?

Hatena bookmark user Unimmo commented [ja] with suspicion whether the school is intentionally discriminating against women:

女性は宇宙にふさわしくないとでも?

Are you saying that space is not for women?

Yuki pondered if the decision was less about gender and more about economics:

It's sad when there are female astronauts out there. Maybe it's only for boys due to cost?

The news, however, did not fuel a gender issues debate online, though many users did continue to express their disappointment with the limitation. Despite the boys-only rule, the unique school will likely carry on gaining the attention of space-loving netizens.

The post including the headline was sub-edited by L.Finch

January 09 2014

Science Podcast - Abundant bacterial vesicles in the ocean and a rundown of stories from our daily news site (10 Jan 2014)

Ocean-going vesicles; stories from our daily news site.
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