September 24, 2012 5:53 pm
“We’re very pleased. It’s a good number; 110 is a large number to retire,” said Wayne A. Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, which advocates ending all invasive medical research on chimpanzees.
In 2009, the group released a video made at New Iberia documenting what Pacelle calls unacceptable treatment of chimpanzees. “Some of the chimps had gone mad; they were obviously emotionally disturbed from long-term isolation and throwing themselves around cages,” Pacelle said. The video also showed chimpanzees being anaesthetized with dart guns and falling from tables onto the floor.
The NIH isn’t giving up on chimpanzee research entirely. In the same article, NIH director Francis Collins said that some animals would be kept for research in the event of extenuating circumstances, such as an outbreak that affects both chimpanzees and humans.
Ten chimpanzees of the 110 will be moved to a sanctuary in Louisiana, while the other 100 will go into a semi-retirement in the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio. Scientific American reported that while these 100 “will be off limits for invasive research but accessible for behavioral studies and research using information collected through routine veterinary care.”
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September 24, 2012 5:11 pm
Scientists are starting to speak publicly about a lurking menace. This danger hovers in the background, silently stealing valuable resources from medical machinery.
The dastardly culprit? Helium balloons.
Yes, the innocuous brightly-colored harbingers of joy that adorn birthday parties are, according to some scientists, a public menace.
While helium is used in medical machines like MRIs as well as industrial tools, like welders, people are most familiar with it as force behind levitating party decorations. But with helium reserves running low, some scientists are calling for drastic measures, including the reduction of balloon use.
“The reason that we can do MRI is we have very large, very cold magnets – and the reason we can have those is we have helium cooling them down.”You’re not going into an MRI scanner because you’ve got a sore toe – this is important stuff.” When you see that we’re literally just letting it float into the air, and then out into space inside those helium balloons, it’s just hugely frustrating. It is absolutely the wrong use of helium.”
Helium is mined as a byproduct of natural gas production. Pockets of the gas have gathered in the crust over millions of years, but like any finite resource, they are slowly running out. The U.S. has a large portion of these reserves, but our supply isn’t unlimited.
An article from the Deseret News explains the history of helium storage in the United States:
“The Federal Helium Reserve currently supplies 42 percent of the nation’s helium and about one-third of the world’s demand…
The U.S. Navy began storing billions of cubic feet of helium in the Federal Helium Reserve decades ago at a time when dirigibles and barrage balloons were major military assets. In 1996, Congress passed the Helium Privatization Act that gave the BLM management authority over the helium reserve. The agency was directed to begin selling the gas to private industry, a move aimed at paying off $1.3 billion in debt associated with the helium reserve.”
And a future without helium-filled balloons isn’t that far away. The shortage is already having a significant impact on small businesses. The owner of a party story in Cumbria, U.K., lamented the shortage to a local newspaper:
“Helium is massively important to the business, a party without balloons is like roast beef without Yorkshire pudding.”
In Ohio, party stores are setting limits on the number of balloons customers can buy. In Boardman, Ohio, a store limits customers to 12 balloons per visit, and in Springboro, store owner Mark Specht laments to the Dayton Daily News that prices have gone up by 145 percent in the past five months:
“I’ve done this for 24 years and this is the worst it has ever been,” Specht said. “When we do corporate or wedding décor, we’re trying to promote air-filled designs and products because helium is just getting so darn expensive.”
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September 21, 2012 5:05 pm
Weather Underground’s resident weather historian Christopher Burt posted a fantastic description of how an international group of scholars disproved a 90-year-old thermometer reading, which registered the hottest temperature ever recorded.
This might seem like an impossible task at the best of times: The temperature (136.4 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded in Libya in 1922, and all the records were in Libya. But the research was made even more difficult by the timing. The scholars were conducting their investigation at the same time the recent revolution was ramping up in Libya.
Khalid Ibrahim El Fadli, the director of the climate department at the Libyan National Meteorological Center, located the records but was unable to talk to his international collaborators for six months during 2011, as the Libyan government had shut down outside communication.
From Burt’s post:
We didn’t hear again from El Fadli until August 2011 when the revolutionary forces closed in on Tripoli. One of our committee members, Dr. Manola Brunet (WMO chair of the Open Programme Area Group on Monitoring and Analysis of Climate Variability and Change), who knew El Fadli personally, had up until then been unable to contact him by phone or email. Then on August 13, 2011, we received our first email from El Fadli.
It turned out that all through this period, El Fadli had had access to the Internet through his office’s satellite connection. “But using such posed serious dangers, if anyone discovered me I would probably lose my life. Hence, I never used that connection,” he wrote to his collaborators. At the same time, he was dealing with shortages of basic supplies and the dangers of the security situation—at one point, he wrote, his car came under fire.
Fortunately, El Fadli survived, and once the records were analyzed, the World Meteorological Association found that the reading was invalid. The investigators think that the culprit was an observer who didn’t know how to read the thermometer.
From the paper:
“This committee identified five major concerns with the 1922 El Azizia temperature extreme record, specifically (a) potentially problematical instrumentation, (b) a probable new and inexperienced observer at time of observation, (c) unrepresentative microclimate of the observation site, (d) poor correspondence of the extreme to other locations and (e) poor comparison to subsequent temperature values recorded at the site. Based on these concerns, the WMO World Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes has rejected this temperature extreme of 58°C as the highest temperature officially recorded on the planet. The WMO assessment is that the highest recorded surface temperature of 56.7°C (134°F) was measured on 10 July 1913 at Greenland Ranch (Death Valley) CA USA.”
That might not be the end of the story though. Burt expresses skepticism at the Death Valley measurement as well. A detective’s work is never done.
Thanks to Highly Allochthonous for tweeting about the blog post.
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September 21, 2012 1:19 pm
A long time ago, in a place not that far away, there was a tree. It was just a normal tree, hanging out in the forest with its tree friends, not doing much except photosynthesizing, imbibing in groundwater and growing. Pretty typical tree activities.
Then the world exploded.
A column of magma had worked its way up from the mantle and drilled its way to the surface, bedazzling itself with diamonds that it picked up along the way. It reached the surface in an explosion that blew up the tree’s happy home and sucked the tree itself (or the bits of it that were left) down 984 feet beneath the surface of the earth before entombing it, along with diamonds in a matrix of kimberlite.
53 million years later, a piece of that tree was recovered from that carrot-shaped deposit in remarkable condition. A group of geologists described the find in a study published in PLoS ONE. There was enough of the tree left, including beautifully preserved cell walls, for the scientists to determine that it was a type of tree called a metasequoia.
The piece of wood also contained amber (fossilized tree resin), and, even more exciting, cellulose. The authors believe that it is the “oldest verified instance of α-cellulose preservation to date,” which is pretty incredible, considering how long ago the tree lived (and died).
By looking at the wood, they were able to draw conclusions about the climate that the tree lived in:
“In the Early Eocene, immediately following peak Cenozoic warmth driven by enhanced greenhouse gas forcing , the subarctic latitudes of the Slave Province harbored Metasequoia in forests developed under conditions 12–17°C warmer and four times wetter than at present.”
It makes sense that there would be arctic redwood forests at that period, given that around the same time, there were palm trees in Antarctica. But determining the paleo-climates of the Canadian north is made more difficult by the fact that most of the evidence left in the area has been scraped away by repeated glaciations, making the diamond mines of the northwest precious to geologists in more ways than one.
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September 21, 2012 8:05 am
On September 16, sea ice reached record lows in the Arctic. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) announced that sea ice in the region reached its annual minimum, covering an area of just 3.41 million square kilometers or 1.32 million square miles.
That might seem like a lot, but the NSIDC says that the amount is, in fact the “lowest summer minimum extent in the satellite record.” (Record-keeping began in 1979.)
Their findings are preliminary, and there won’t be a full report until October, so there is the potential that the area of sea ice could decrease even further.
“Overall there was a loss of 11.83 million square kilometers (4.57 million square miles) of ice since the maximum extent occurred on March 20, 2012, which is the largest summer ice extent loss in the satellite record, more than one million square kilometers greater than in any previous year.”
In a NASA press release, they explain why this year has been particularly bad:
This year, a powerful cyclone formed off the coast of Alaska and moved on Aug. 5 to the center of the Arctic Ocean, where it churned the weakened ice cover for several days. The storm cut off a large section of sea ice north of the Chukchi Sea and pushed it south to warmer waters that made it melt entirely. It also broke vast extensions of ice into smaller pieces more likely to melt.
“The storm definitely seems to have played a role in this year’s unusually large retreat of the ice”, [climate scientist Claire] Parkinson said in a statement. “But that exact same storm, had it occurred decades ago when the ice was thicker and more extensive, likely wouldn’t have had as prominent an impact, because the ice wasn’t as vulnerable then as it is now.”
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