Greenhouse gases make high temps hotter in China

Greenhouse gases make high temps hotter in China
AP SCIENCE | APRIL 12, 2013
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WASHINGTON (AP) — China, the world’s largest producer of carbon dioxide, is directly feeling the man-made heat of global warming, scientists conclude in the first study to link the burning of fossil fuels to one country’s rise in its daily temperature spikes.

China emits more of the greenhouse gas than the next two biggest carbon polluters — the U.S. and India — combined. And its emissions keep soaring by about 10 percent per year.

While other studies have linked averaged-out temperature increases in China and other countries to greenhouse gases, this research is the first to link the warmer daily hottest and coldest readings, or spikes.

Those spikes, which often occur in late afternoon and the early morning, are what scientists say most affect people’s health, plants and animals. People don’t notice changes in averages, but they feel it when the daily high is hotter or when it doesn’t cool off at night to let them recover from a sweltering day.

The study by Chinese and Canadian researchers found that just because of greenhouse gases, daytime highs rose 0.9 degree Celsius (1.7 degrees Fahrenheit) in the 46 years up to 2007. At night it was even worse: Because of greenhouse gases, the daily lows went up about 1.7 degrees Celsius (3 degrees Fahrenheit).

China is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal, which is the largest source of man-made carbon dioxide emissions. While the country has made huge investments in alternative energy such as wind, solar and nuclear in recent years, its heavy reliance on coal is unlikely to change any time soon.

About 90 percent of the temperature rise seen by the researchers could be traced directly to man-made greenhouse gases, the study said. Man-made greenhouse gases also include methane and nitrous oxide, but carbon dioxide is considered by far the biggest factor.

The study appeared online in late March in the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The study uses the accepted and traditional method that climate scientists employ to attribute a specific trend to man-made global warming or to rule it out as a cause.

Researchers ran computer simulations trying to replicate the observed increase in daily and nighttime high temperatures in China between 1961 and 2007. They first plugged in only natural forces — including solar variation — to try to get the heat increase. That didn’t produce it.

The only way the computer simulations came up with the increase in daily high and low temperatures that occurred was when the actual amounts of atmospheric heat-trapping greenhouse gases were included.

“It is way above what you would expect from normal fluctuations of climate,” study author Xuebin Zhang of the climate research division of Canada’s environmental agency said in a telephone interview. “It is quite clear and can be attributed to greenhouse gases.”

China did not become the largest emitter of greenhouse gases until 2007; for much of the period studied, it had a smaller economy. Because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for about a century, China and its defenders maintain that the U.S. and other developed nations bear more responsibility for climate change.

Outside experts praised the research as using proper methods and making sense. An earlier study didn’t formally blame the proliferation of U.S. heat records to a rise in greenhouse gases but noted that they were increasing substantially with carbon dioxide pollution.

“The study is important because it formalizes what many scientists have been sensing as a gut instinct: that the increase in extreme heat that we’ve witnessed in recent decades, and especially in recent years, really cannot be dismissed as the vagaries of weather,” said Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann.

China has rapidly grown from a nation of subsistence farmers at the end of the 1970s into the world’s second-largest economy behind the U.S., and the environmental costs of such change are often visible.

Beijing is no longer dominated by bicycles but by cars, and the skyline is barely visible at times because of thick pollution. More people are living in cities, buying air conditioners and other energy-hungry home electronics and consuming more energy for transportation and heating.

China passed the United States as the No. 1 carbon dioxide emitter about six years ago and “the gap is widening, it’s huge,” said Appalachian State University professor Gregg Marland, who helps track worldwide emissions for the U.S. Energy Department.

When developed countries around the world in 1997 agreed to limit their greenhouse gas emissions, developing countries, including China, were exempted.

U.S. Energy Department statistics say that China gets 70 percent of its energy from coal, compared with 20 percent in the United States. China is also a world leader in the production of cement, a process that also causes greenhouse emissions.

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A Harvard Neuroscience Scheme To Change Decisions In Your Brain

A Harvard Neuroscience Scheme To Change Decisions In Your Brain
POPULAR SCIENCE – NEW TECHNOLOGY, SCIENCE NEWS, THE FUTURE NOW | APRIL 11, 2013
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This week at the British Neuroscience Association, Harvard scientist Gabriel Kreiman described a rather diabolical-sounding experiment: He wants to reverse someone’s decision to push a button before the person is even aware they were going to press it.

Kreiman has already demonstrated he can predict decisions before volunteers become conscious of making them. Back in 2011, he used brain imaging to measure the activity of individual neurons in the brains of 12 people with epilepsy (they already had electrodes implanted to identify the source of seizures.) The volunteers were told they could press a button whenever they liked and to remember the position of a clock’s second hand at the moment they decided to act.

Five seconds before the volunteers reported they had decided to press the button, Kreiman noticed electrical activity in the area of the brain involved in initiating movement, called the supplementary motor area, as well as in the brain region that controls motivation and attention, called the anterior cingulate cortex.

Now, Kreiman is taking that experiment a step further. As soon as he sees the telltale brain activity that signals a decision to push the button, he flashes a “stop” sign on a screen in front of the volunteer. “So far all we have is people saying, ‘that was weird, you read my mind’,” Kreiman says.

So, no mind control yet—just a bit of harmless mind reading. Kreiman says that figuring out the mechanisms of volition could eventually help people with Parkinson’s or other diseases in which people lose voluntary movement.

UFO Film Promises Proof of Pint-Size Aliens

UFO Film Promises Proof of Pint-Size Aliens
DISCOVERY NEWS | APRIL 8, 2013
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An upcoming documentary film about UFOs claims it will offer evidence of aliens, including cutting-edge scientific analysis of a recovered body.

The film, which premieres April 22, is titled Sirius and showcases the claims of Steven Greer, a prominent UFO researcher who has dedicated years of his life — and a small fortune — to proving that the U.S. government is actively covering up hard evidence of extraterrestrial life.

SETI Fail: No Alien Life Found

The project has taken several years, and money to fund it was raised from donors and UFO buffs. In an urgent, breaking news update to the crowdfunding project, Greer asked his donors for more money because:

There is a chance that we may be able to include in the film “Sirius” the scientific testing of a possibleExtraterrestrial Biological Entity (EBE) that has been recovered and is deceased. This EBE is in the possession of a cooperative institute desiring further scientific evaluation of the possible ET. We cannot reveal at this time the location of this being or the name of the person or persons who possess it….I have actually visited the group that possesses this EBE and have personally and professionally examined the being. It is indeed an actual deceased body, and most certainly is not plastic or man-made. It has a head, 2 arms and 2 legs and is humanoid. We have seen and examined X-Rays of the being. Its anatomy however is not homo sapien (modern human) or any known hominid (predecessors to humans). As you can imagine, the security and scientific issues surrounding the further testing of this potentially explosive and world-changing evidence are mind-boggling. However, we feel we simply must proceed expeditiously but cautiously. The cost of doing proper MRI testing, full and dispositive forensic-level DNA testing and carbon dating with other isotope testing are considerable and certainly not currently funded.

The cute little EBE alien-thing is about half a foot long. It looks like something you might stir your coffee with if you broke off one of its bony little arms. It was recovered not from Area 51 nor a hidden base near Roswell, N.M, but instead, supposedly, from Chile’s Atacama Desert several years ago.

This revelation raises all sorts of questions: If ETs aren’t much larger than your cell phone then why are their spacecraft so big? If the thing really is an alien body found in a South American desert years ago, why are we only finding out about it now? Why didn’t it make international news at the time, and why weren’t the scientific tests that will supposedly prove its extraterrestrial origins done years ago? What would a single alien body — without a spaceship, other occupants or even any G.I. Joe-scale helmet or ray gun — be doing alone in the desert? And why is all this suddenly being brought up when Greer is trying to raise money and publicity to complete a movie?

Actually I think I know the answer to that last question.

This is of course not the first time that a “documentary” has surfaced promising definitive proof of extraterrestrial life. If the whole alien autopsy theme seems familiar, it should be. It was done back in 1995 and broadcast on the Fox network as Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction.

UFO Memo Tops FBI’s Most-Viewed List

The show centered around 17 minutes of supposedly top-secret grainy black and white footage filmed by the military and showing a post-mortem dissection of an alien body. To much of the public it looked credible, though skeptics pointed out many signs that it was a hoax. Those suspicions were soon verified, and the filmmakers admitted the footage had been staged.

So what is the Latin American, alien-leprechaun thing that Greer found? It looks a lot like a sculpted model, and fairly realistic faked aliens, animals and other creatures are widely available, including on eBay. Maybe all the questions will be answered when the film premieres, and scientists will finally have the “potentially explosive and world-changing evidence” they need to confirm extraterrestrial life.

Climate Change May Lead To Bumpier Airplane Rides, Study Finds

Climate Change May Lead To Bumpier Airplane Rides, Study Finds
POPULAR SCIENCE – NEW TECHNOLOGY, SCIENCE NEWS, THE FUTURE NOW | APRIL 8, 2013
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The first study of global warming’s effects on clear-air turbulence offers some uncomfortable predictions.

By 2050, plane trips between the U.S. and Europe could take longer, use more fuel and be subject to more turbulence, according to a new study.

The study investigated clear-air turbulence, or turbulence that occurs in clear sky instead of inside clouds or near mountains. Clear-air turbulence is impossible for pilots to spot or radar to detect, but models do exist to predict where and when it will occur. Two climate researchers in the U.K. combined different models to come up with a calculation for how a doubling in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, compared to pre-industrial levels, could affect clear-air turbulence. (In one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s four possible future scenarios for climate change, carbon dioxide levels double by the middle of the 21st century.)

In the new hybrid model, twice as much carbon dioxide in the air would increase median clear-air turbulence strength along common transatlantic routes by 41 percent. Turbulence of at least moderate severity would happen 40 percent to 170 percent more often. Carbon dioxide increases strengthen jet streams, which are a major driving factor in clear-air turbulence.

Airline passengers won’t necessarily feel these exact numbers, as what passengers feel is mostly that stomach-dropping, up-and-down turbulence, which doesn’t always increase linearly with overall turbulence. Nevertheless, New York-to-London will probably get bumpier. The U.K. researchers cited two observational studies that suggested that transatlantic flights are already more turbulent than they used to be.

The researchers said avoiding increased turbulence spots could account for increased passenger jet fuel use and flight times.

This is the first time anyone has studied how global warming will affect clear-air turbulence, the researchers wrote in their paper,published today in the journal Nature Climate Change

Space station could test ‘spooky’ entanglement over record distance

Space station could test ‘spooky’ entanglement over record distance
TECHNOLOGY & SCIENCE | APRIL 8, 2013
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“Spooky” quantum entanglement connects two particles so that actions performed on one reflect on the other. Now, scientists propose testing entanglement over the greatest distance yet via an experiment on the International Space Station.

Until now, entanglement has been established on relatively small scales in labs on Earth. But now physicists propose sending half of anentangled particle pair to the space station, which orbits about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the planet.

“According to quantum physics, entanglement is independent of distance,” physicist Rupert Ursin of the Austrian Academy of Sciences said in a statement. “Our proposed Bell-type experiment will show that particles are entangled, over large distances — around 500 kilometers — for the very first time in an experiment.”

Ursin and his colleagues detail the proposed experiment on Monday in the New Journal of Physics, published by the Institute of Physics and the German Physical Society.[Wacky Physics: The Coolest Little Particles in Nature]

Tests of quantum entanglement are called Bell tests after the late Northern Irish physicist John Bell, who proposed real-world checks of quantum theories in the 1960s. Entanglement is one of the weirdest quantum predictions, positing that entangled particles, once separated, can somehow “communicate” with each other instantly. The notion unsettled Albert Einstein so much he famously called it “spooky action at a distance.”

To better understand entanglement and test its limits, the researchers suggest flying a small device called a photon detection module to the International Space Station, where it could be attached to an existing motorized Nikon 400mm camera lens, which observes the ground from the space station’s panoramic Cupola window.

Once the module is installed, the scientists would entangle a pair of light particles, called photons, on the ground. One of these would then be sent from a ground station to the device on the orbiting lab, which would measure the particle and its properties, while the other would stay on Earth. If the particles keep their entangled state, a change to one would usher in an instant change to the other. Such a long-range test would allow the physicists to probe new questions about entanglement.

“Our experiments will also enable us to test potential effects gravity may have on quantum entanglement,” Ursin said.

The project should be relatively quick to perform during just a few passes of the space station over the ground lab, with each experiment lasting just 70 seconds per pass, the researchers said.

“During a few months a year, the ISS passes five to six times in a row in the correct orientation for us to do our experiments,” Ursin said.”We envision setting up the experiment for a whole week and therefore having more than enough links to the ISS available.”

The researchers also proposed a related experiment to try sending a secret key used for quantum information encryption over the farthest distance yet via theInternational Space Station. Until now, quantum encryption keys have been sent over only relatively short distances on Earth. If the key can be transferred via the researchers’ proposed method, it could help to enable more practical quantum encryption.

Do Brain Games Work?

Do Brain Games Work?
BEST OF SCIENCE | APRIL 8, 2013
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image?link=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.popsci.com%2Ffiles%2Fimagecache%2Farticle_image_large%2Farticles%2Fbrain-exercising.jpgExercising the Brain Idaho Commission for Libraries

A few new studies, including one meta-analysis, suggest brain games don’t make you any better at anything but playing brain games.

Think you can make yourself smarter with brain-training software? New studies suggest that so-called brain games don’t improve players’ thinking or IQ, they just make you better at playing the games, the New Yorker reported.

The studies come after of a decade of spotty research suggesting that brain games do work–and the launch of companies such as Cogmed, Lumosity, Jungle Memory and CogniFit that sell brain games for kids, older adults and everyone in between. The New Yorker talked with Cogmed executives, who insisted the new research was flawed. Meanwhile, the researchers involved in the skeptical studies say it’s unethical to sell software that doesn’t work, especially to vulnerable audiences such as kids with learning disorders or older adults worried about cognitive decline.

The skeptical studies include:

  1. A study comparing dual n-back training–a favorite training program among avid self-improvers in Silicon Valley–with a placebo game and with not playing any games at all in healthy young adults. The researchers, from three different U.S. universities, found the games improved people’s ability in the games.. but not in independent tests of fluid intelligence, crystallized intelligence, multitasking or other capabilities.
  2. A study that tried to replicateprevious research showing that certain mental exercises improved fluid intelligence, which is important to learning and is associated with professional success. The newer study wasn’t able to reproduce the effects of the previous experiments.
  3. A so-called “meta-analysis” thatreviewed 23 previous studies of brain games, weighting the studies by how rigorous they were and how many study participants they included. Like the other skeptical studies, the meta-analysis found that people just got better at the games they played, but their skills didn’t transfer elsewhere, such as people’s verbal and nonverbal ability, arithmetic, or attention.

The New Yorker covered the objections brain-game company Cogmed had with the studies’ conclusions. Neuroscientist Torkel Klingberg, who led a brain-games study in 2002 that showed the games did work for children and is now a paid Cogmed consultant, also said the meta-analysis was poorly done, though reporter Gareth Cook pointed out that it the analysis was published in one of the field’s top journals.

One thing that the New Yorker piece doesn’t do is distinguish between how brain games work for normally developing kids, kids with learning disabilities, normally developing adults, and adults with diagnosed cognitive decline. The stakes are different for each group, so it’d be helpful to know if there are differences. It may be that the science doesn’t yet exist for such a detailed breakdown: Skeptical Studies No. 1 and No. 2 were performed in normally developing adults, while the meta-analysis looked at studies about brain games performed in all kinds of people.

Skimming the Surface: The Return of Tesla’s Surface Waves

Skimming the Surface: The Return of Tesla’s Surface Waves
POPULAR MECHANICS | APRIL 8, 2013
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A hundred years ago, electrical pioneer Nikola Tesla was working on a radical new type of radio using waves that skim the surface of the earth rather than radiate into space. Tesla believed he could transmit signals across the Atlantic using these surface waves but never succeeded in his lifetime, and the idea faded into relative obscurity. Today it’s back, with the promise of a new system for high-speed data transmission that would combine the benefits of wired and wireless communication.

Surface waves, or electromagnetic waves, which tend to follow the contours of a surface, had been proven to exist mathematically in Tesla’s time. But their practical use was debated. Because they follow the curvature of the earth, surface waves can reach a distant receiver on the ground that is beyond the horizon. “An inexpensive instrument, not bigger than a watch, will enable its bearer to hear anywhere, on sea or land, music or song, the speech of a political leader, the address of an eminent man of science, or the sermon of an eloquent clergyman,” Tesla wrote in 1908.

Tesla’s attempt at long-range radio failed, apparently because the theoretical physicists neglected a factor that meant the waves could cancel themselves out. But these days, thanks to different wavelengths and materials, scientists are overcoming those problems and creating radio transmissions that can reach over the horizon.

At high frequencies, a type of surface wave called Zenneck waves can propagate along a surface. They travel better on some materials than others, but performance is best with a conductor covered in a dielectric material. As with wires, these surfaces can carry high bandwidth, are secure, do not cause interference, and require little power. But as with wireless communication, physical contact is not required.

Janice Turner and colleagues atRoke Manor Research of Romsey, U.K., have developed a Zenneck wave demo unit. This can transmit high-definition video over a length of conductor covered with dielectric with a bandwidth of up to 1.5 gigabits per second. Because Zenneck waves do not extend far from the surface there is no interference with electronics and no frequency-licensing issues as there are with other radio-frequency systems. Turner says that tears or breaks in a surface do not cut the connection, making it more robust than wiring, and it’s inexpensive to manufacture.

One of the first applications for Roke Manor’s waves is likely to be onboard communications on aircraft and satellites. For example, sensors embedded in an aircraft wing could easily communicate with a central computer via surface waves that travel along the wing and fuselage. Satellite components could send data to each other at high speed without the need for complex connectors. Ships are another likely market, because their metal walls block wireless communication.

Turner’s team is also looking at wearable wireless gadgets. A lapel camera or a pulse-sensing wristband could connect to a smartphone in your pocket. Such gadgets already exist, but communicate with a phone via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. This approach has lower power requirements and higher bandwidth, Turner says. They have also had enquiries about using surface waves to recharge devices wirelessly, and this is possible—in principle.

Meanwhile, surface waves are also proving valuable for long-range radar, like the new High Frequency Surface Wave Radar (HFSWR) that the defense contractor Raytheon is developing. Some of the first radar operated via surface waves, and the U.S. Navy used surface-wave radar in the 1950s, but the technology ultimately lost out to other types—in particular, the sky-wave radar in which the signal is reflected back from the ionosphere.

However, normal radar has a serious limitation: It operates within line of sight, which makes objects close to the surface difficult to spot. This is why airborne radar was developed, to prevent intruders from slipping in below the radar. But maintaining continuous radar coverage from the air is expensive and requires a lot of manpower.

Surface-wave radar provides an alternative, because the signal clings to the sea surface and follows the curvature of the earth. Tony Ponsford, technical director for HF Radar at Raytheon Canada, says that that latest version can track ships at about 230 miles from land. (The surface waves work best over a conductive surface, so this type of radar has a much longer range over salt water than over fresh water or land.) Raytheon is building the device for the Canadian government to help manage the country’s exclusive economic zone, a region that extends to that distance out to sea. It will undergo operational evaluation later this year.

Raytheon’s HFSWR incorporates a number of features to operate safely in the crowded high-frequency band. If it detects another signal on the same wavelength, such as a radio transmission, it automatically switches to a different wavelength. Raytheon says its patented set of algorithms removes clutter so shipping can be picked out more easily.

This type of radar can be used to track cargo vessels, watch for illegal trawling or dumping, and help with search-and-rescue operations. It can also track smugglers, as it is capable of picking up small go-fast boats. It can even detect icebergs; although obviously nonmetallic, they create a disturbance that shows up “like a hole in the sea,” Ponsford says.

Beyond what Raytheon and Roke Manor are doing in the field, there is also some classified military work on surface waves. Some of this appears to be focusing on covert communications, using the unique properties of surface waves to send a signal that cannot be intercepted, over either land or water.

Although scientists have known about them for more than a century, these are in some ways still early days for surface waves. They have so far been exploited in only very limited ways compared to other forms of radio wave, but that may be set to change. Perhaps Tesla’s faith in surface waves was simply a sign that he was ahead of his time.