Newsletter 230


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Newsletter 230

  1. 1. SOUTH AMERICA ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND HEALTH NEWSLETTER 230t h issue, July 15, 2013 We Need to Act: President Barack Obama on Climate Change “On Christmas Eve, 1968, the astronauts of Apollo 8 did a live broadcast from lunar orbit. So Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, William Anders -- the first humans to orbit the moon -- described what they saw, and they read Scripture from the Book of Genesis to the rest of us back here. And later that night, they took a photo that would change the way we see and think about our world. It was an image of Earth -- beautiful; breathtaking; a glowing marble of blue oceans, and green forests, and brown mountains brushed with white clouds, rising over the surface of the moon. And while the sight of our planet from space might seem routine today, imagine what it looked like to those of us seeing our home, our planet, for the first time. Imagine what it looked like to children like me. Even the astronauts were amazed. “It makes you realize,” Lovell would say, “just what you have back there on Earth.” And around the same time we began exploring space, scientists were studying changes taking place in the Earth’s atmosphere. Now, scientists had known since the 1800s that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide trap heat, and that burning fossil fuels release those gases into the air. That wasn’t news. But in the late 1950s, the National Weather Service began measuring the levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, with the worry that rising levels might someday disrupt the fragile balance that makes our planet so hospitable. And what they’ve found, year after year, is that the levels of carbon pollution in our atmosphere have increased dramatically. That science, accumulated and reviewed over decades, tells us that our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on all of humankind. The 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years. Last year, temperatures in some areas of the ocean reached record highs, and ice in the Arctic shrank to its smallest size on record -- faster than most models had predicted it would. These are facts. Now, we know that no single weather event is caused solely by climate change. Droughts and fires and floods, they go back to ancient times. But we also know that in a world that’s warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by a warming planet. The fact that sea level in New York, in New York Harbor, are now a foot higher than a century ago -- that didn’t cause Hurricane Sandy, but it certainly contributed to the destruction that left large parts of our mightiest city dark and underwater. The potential impacts go beyond rising sea levels. Here at home, 2012 was the warmest year in our history. Midwest farms were parched by the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, and then drenched by the wettest spring on record. Western wildfires scorched an area larger than the state of Maryland. Just last week, a heat wave in Alaska shot temperatures into the 90s. And we know that the costs of these events can be measured in lost lives and lost livelihoods, lost homes, lost businesses, hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency services and disaster relief. [...]” Read full transcript: The information contained herein was gathered from news sources from across the region, and the views expressed below do not necessarily reflect those of the Regional Environmental HUB Office or of our constituent posts. Addressees interested in sharing any ESTH-related events of USG interest are welcome to do so. For questions or comments, please contact us at * Free translation prepared by REO staff.  We Need to Act: President Barack Obama on Climate Change  Health: Nerve Cells Re- Grown in Rats After Spinal Injury.  Conservation: New Maps Highlight Global Conservation Priorities.  Health: Mental Decline at Age 90 is Less Than a Decade Ago  Antarctica: Giant Iceberg Breaks Off Antarctic Glacier.  Climate Change: Some Trees Use Less Water Amid Rising Carbon Dioxide.  Science: Massive Stellar Womb Caught Birthing Monstrous Star in Milky Way.  August 19-23, 2013 10th Latin American Congress of Private Nature Reserves, Chile congreso-latino-agosto- 2013.html Next events: In this issue: President Barack Obama.
  2. 2. U.S. scientists say they have made progress in repairing spinal cord injuries in paralyzed rats. Rats regained some bladder control after surgery to transplant nerve cells into the spinal cord, com- bined with injections of a cocktail of chemicals. The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, could raise hopes for one day treating paralyzed patients. But UK experts say it will take several years of research before human clinical trials can be consid- ered. Scientists have tried for decades to use transplants of nerve cells to restore function in paralyzed animals by bridging the gap in the broken spinal cord. However, coaxing the cells to grow and form new connections has proved elusive. One problem is the growth of scar tissue as the body's responds to injury, which seems to block cell regeneration. U.S. scientists carried out complex surgery to transplant nerves from the rodents' ribs into the gap in the middle of their spinal cord. They also used a special "glue" that boosts cell growth together with a chemical that breaks down scar tissue in an attempt to encourage the nerve cells to regenerate and connect up. The researchers found for the first time that injured nerve cells could re-grow for "remarkably long distances" (about 2cm). They said that while the rats did not regain the ability to walk, they did recover some bladder function. Lead author Dr Jerry Silver of Case Western Reserve Medical School, Cleveland, Ohio, said: "Although animals did not regain the ability to walk, they did recover a remarkable measure of urinary control." Co-author Dr Yu-Shang Lee of the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, added: "This is the first time that significant bladder function has been restored via nerve regeneration after a devastating cord injury." The findings may help future efforts to restore other functions lost after spinal cord injury. They also raise hope that similar strategies could one day be used to restore bladder function in people with severe spinal cord injuries. Dr Silver said further animal experiments will be needed to see if the technique could work in humans. Read more at: What region of the world has the most imperiled mammals? Where are the most bird species found? And where are new amphibians being discovered? Indonesia and Malaysia is the answer to the first question; the Amazon, the second; and the Andes, the third. A new study in the Proceed- ings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has used global data on 21,000 mammals, birds, and amphibians to create magnificent maps that highlight missing priorities for conservation. "Identifying the most important areas for biodiversity is essential for directing conservation re- sources. We must know where individual species live, which ones are vulnerable, and where human actions threaten them," explains lead author Clinton Jenkins at North Carolina State University. "We have better data than in the past—and better analytical methods. Now we have married them for conservation purposes." The result is a series of stunning maps at scales of 10 kilometers by 10 kilometers: 100 times finer than anything ever produced before. The scien- tists hope that the new maps can point conservationists and policy-makers to new areas for protection—before they are lost. The finer scale is especially important because, according to the paper, it is "comparable with regional decisions on where to place protected areas." The scientists created a series of maps highlighting different themes, including total diversity within each taxonomic group (mammals, birds, amphibians), threatened species, species dependent on small-ranges (i.e. particularly vulnerable to extinction), and newly discovered species. The maps found that when combining all the vertebrate species, the most biodiverse areas were the Amazon, southeastern Brazil, and Central Africa. While these regions cover only about 7.2 percent of land area, they contain around half of the world's species. Looking at diversity of each taxonomic group, the research found that "for birds and mammals, these areas are nearly identical: the moist forests of the Amazon, Brazilian Atlantic Forest, Congo, Eastern Arc in Africa, and the Southeast Asian mainland and islands house the greatest numbers of bird and mammal spe- cies. The pattern for amphibians is similar, but amphibians have exceptional diversity in the Neotropics." Birds and mammals living in small-ranges were located primarily in the Andes, Madagascar, and Southeast Asian islands. Since most amphibians are small-ranged species already, few hotspots were located. However, 93 percent of the world's small-ranged mammals, birds, and amphibians are found in just 8.3 percent of the land area. Some if these areas—such as Papua New Guinea, the eastern coast of Australia, the west Coast of North America, and smatterings of China—are not included in current ecological hotspots designation crafted by Norman Meyers in 1988. The paper concludes that the best way to protect the world's biodiversity is to focus on these highly-diverse small-ranged species hotspots. Read more at: HEALTH: Nerve Cells 'Re-Grown' in Rats After Spinal Injury By Helen Briggs CONSERVATION: New Maps Highlight Global Conservation Priorities By Jeremy Hance Photo’s author: unknown. Under Wikimedia Commons License. Selected priority ecoregions based on small-ranged vertebrates. Maps courtesy of Jenkins et al.
  3. 3. A study of two large groups of the very elderly suggests that the mental performance of people who reach their 90s may be improving. Getting very old does not necessarily come with the absolute decline in mental and physical functioning that is commonly expected, new research shows. A large-scale study of two groups of nonagenarians — people in their 90s — in Denmark finds that those born in 1915 not only lived longer than people born a decade earlier, but they also scored significantly better on measures of cognitive ability and activities of daily living. Even after adjusting for increases in education in a decade, people born in 1915 "still performed better in the cognitive measures, which suggests that changes in other factors such as nutrition, burden of infec- tious disease, work environment, intellectual stimulation and general living conditions also play an impor- tant part in the improvement of cognitive functioning," says the study, published online today by the science journal The Lancet. The findings challenge speculation that improving longevity "is the result of the survival of very frail and disabled elderly people," says lead re- searcher Kaare Christensen,professor of epidemiology at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense and director of the Danish Aging Re- search Center. "That's not to say that everyone in the later cohort was healthy, smart and functioning well, but compared to those who were born 10 years ear- lier, not only were more living to a higher age, but they were functioning better," Christensen says. Using the Danish Civil Register System, Christensen and colleagues identified all nonagenarians living in Denmark at the time that they were con- ducting their surveys. A total of 2,262 men and women born in 1905 were assessed in 1998 when they were ages 92 to 93. A smaller number, 1,584 men and women born in 1915, were assessed in 2010 when they were ages 94 to 95. No one was excluded from the studies based on health, residence or cognitive status. When mental or physical handicap prevented a participant from responding (about 20%), someone else answered on his or her behalf. Along with an interview, the assessment consisted of physical tests (including grip strength, chair stand and gait speed) and cognitive measurements of attention, verbal memory and word fluency. Results showed that the chance of surviving to age 93 years was 28% higher among those born in 1915; their chance of reaching 95 was 32% higher. The two groups performed equally on tests measuring physical performance, but those born in 1915 outperformed those born in 1905 in activi- ties of daily living such as walking inside and outside, getting out of bed and maneuvering up and down stairs. They also achieved better average test scores than those born in 1905, and a substantially higher proportion achieved maximum scores on cognition tests, even though they were older at the time of testing — leading to the suggestion that more people are living to older ages with better overall functioning. Read full article at: A massive iceberg, larger than the city of Chicago, broke off of Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier on Monday (July 8), and is now floating freely in the Amundsen Sea, according to a team of German scientists. The newborn iceberg measures about 278 square miles (720 square kilome- ters), and was seen by TerraSAR-X, an earth-observing satellite operated by the German Space Agency (DLR). Scientists with NASA's Operation IceBridge- first discovered a giant crack in the Pine Island Glacier in October 2011, as they were flying over and surveying the sprawling ice sheet. At that time, the fissure spanned about 15 miles (24 km) in length and 164 feet (50 meters) in width, according to researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany. In May 2012, satellite images revealed a second rift had formed near the northern side of the first crack. "As a result of these cracks, one giant iceberg broke away from the glacier tongue," Angelika Humbert, a glaciologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute, said in a statement. [Photo Gallery: Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier Cracks] Read full article at: HEALTH: Mental Decline at Age 90 is Less Than a Decade Ago By Michelle Healy Photo by Amos Oliver Doyle. Under Wikimedia Commons License. The newly formed iceberg with a size of 720 square kilometers is visible. CREDIT: DLR ANTARCTICA: Giant Iceberg Breaks Off Antarctic Glacier By Denise Chow
  4. 4. The fate of the world’s forests on a warming planet has long been one of the great unanswered questions about climate change. Now, new research is complicating the picture further, suggesting that big shifts are already under way in how forests work. A paper published Wednesday suggests that trees in at least some parts of the world are having to pull less water out of the ground to achieve a given amount of growth. Some scientists say they be- lieve that this may be a direct response to the rising level of carbon dioxide in the air from human emissions, though that has not yet been proved. If the research holds up, it suggests some potential benefits for forests. They might be able to make do with less water, for instance, becoming more resilient in the face of drought and higher temperatures as climate change proceeds. But the new finding also has potential downsides, scientists said. The immense volume of water that trees pull out of the ground winds up in the atmosphere, helping supply moisture to farming areas downwind of forests. So if trees use less water, that could ultimately mean less rain for thirsty crops in at least some regions of the world. Several scientists predicted that the new research would set off a flurry of efforts to clarify whether trees are really using less, and what the implications might be, not only for forests but for the human and ecological systems that depend on existing patterns of moisture flow. Read full article at: Probing a distant cloud 11,000 light-years away, astronomers have discovered what may be the largest stellar womb yet found in our galaxy. With a mass of 500 suns, this massive body is feeding an embryonic star that may become a rare behemoth in the Milky Way. This star birth, to be described in the journal Astronomy and Astro- physics, sheds light on how such giants are formed. Such massive stars are extremely rare; roughly one in 10,000 stars in the Milky Way gathers this much bulk. (A star is considered massive if it’s at least about 10 times the mass of the sun.) Astronomers aren’t sure how massive stars form. One idea suggests that many small star cores coalesce out of a dark gas cloud; another theory argues that the entire cloud core begins to collapse inward to form one or two really big star cores. To try and answer this question, a team of European scientists decided to look at the Spitzer Dark Cloud, a mysterious body filled with dense filaments of gas and dust that was discovered using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory. The scientists used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile, a radio telescope that can pick up long wavelengths of light that can punch through the dark cloud. They discovered just two embryonic stellar cores – one of them so big that they predict it will form at least one star that’s 100 solar masses when it fully develops. The observation supports theory No. 2 – that such massive stars are formed by a dramatic collapse of a cloud core. It’s a fast proc- ess as the material races inward – so the scientists were lucky to catch this process in the act, they said. Read full article at:,0,3202849.story CLIMATE CHANGE: Some Trees Use Less Water Amid Rising Carbon Dioxide, Paper Says By Justin Gillis Photo by Nevit Dilmen. Under Wikimedia Commons License.a SCIENCE: Massive Stellar Womb Caught Birthing Monstrous Star in Milky Way By Amina Khan Milky Way.. Photo by Forest Wander. Under Wikimedia Commons License.