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Instant Geology and Undersea Activity

first_imgWe’re accustomed to thinking of geological processes as slow and gradual, except for volcanoes, earthquakes and landslides, but some recent stories are surprising for the speed and extent of active processes.Run: The Earth Is Splitting Apart:  Geologists were amazed to find a rift in the Afar desert east of Ethiopia opening up 8 meters wide and 60 kilometers long in just three weeks, reported BBC News.  They call this a rapid episode in the slow formation of a new ocean basin, a process that normally takes millions of years.  This rapid change was called “unprecedented in scientific history.”Springs of the Sea:  Hydrothermal vents are popping up everywhere, wherever scientists look.  USA Today said they ocean floor is covered with them; MSNBC News said they are not just along tectonic plate boundaries like the pacific Ring of Fire, as previously assumed.Wow, at 8 meters every 3 weeks, that ocean basin would be 82,000 miles wide in a million years, bigger than the whole earth!  Just kidding, of course.  Nobody is saying that is a typical or uniform rate.  It does illustrate, however, that big things can happen in a short time if the conditions are right.  Faster rates than that could be envisioned, and must have been the case for certain large-scale, catastrophically-formed regions.    It’s time to relegate Lyell to the history books where he belongs.  His uniformitarian gradualism was useful to Darwin in the Victorian age.  Darwin became obsessed with the vision of how large changes could occur by the accumulation of small variations over long eons of time.  That vision has seen too many challenges to be assumed in our day.    By the way, how did the ancient philosopher Job know about hydrothermal vents?  “Have you entered the springs of the sea?  Or have you walked in search of the depths?” (Job 38:16).  He must have been told by someone who knew.  There’s another source of data too often overlooked by moderns: direct testimony from the Architect.(Visited 28 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

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Dealing with Light at the Extremes

first_img“Light is the most important variable in our environment,” wrote Edith Widder, a marine biologist.  The inhabitants of two different ecosystems have to deal with either too little or too much. Let your light so shine:  A thousand meters below the sea surface, all sunlight is extinguished.  Yet for thousands of meters more, creatures live in the perpetual darkness by manufacturing their own light.  Bioluminescence is everywhere, reported Mark Schrope in Nature,1 “Eventually, the lightshow grows into a veritable fireworks display against an ever blacker background.”  The light comes from everything alive: bacteria, microorganisms called dinoflagellates, jellyfish, anemones, shrimp, vertebrate fish, and more.    Edith Widder is co-founder of the Ocean Research and Conservation Association in Fort Pierce, Florida.  With a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), her team uses a deep ocean submersible craft called Eye-in-the-Sea to understand creatures who can only be studied in their own space.  The submersible is equipped with an LED flasher that tries to beckon organisms and study their behaviors.  They were actually able to get a distant organism to flash its light back.  They also got a squid to respond to their light signal, thinking it had discovered lunch.    Possible uses of biological light include decoy, defense, camouflage, mimicry, sexual attraction and alarm.  Though red light is the first to be extinguished in the depths, and most dark-adapted organisms see in the blue-green range, some organisms appear to emit red light that could be visible only among their own.  To do this, they must transfer the blue-green light from their photophores to red-fluorescent proteins, which seems inefficient.  “My physics head says, ‘No,’” commented Justin Marshall, an Australian participant in the Deep Scope project, “But my biology head says, ‘Well, Why not?’ Biology is weird, so it could be.”    The fact that organisms can emit light by intricate processes of bioluminescence presupposes that they also contain sensitive organs to detect it.  Many deep-sea fish have large eyes tuned to the blue-green light of photophores.    A new version of Eye-in-the-Sea is being prepared for deployment in early 2008 in Monterey, California.  This will provide the first undersea observatory of the dark depths, “the first effective, long-term study of true deep-sea bioluminescent behaviour.”  It may shed new light on an ecosystem that communicates in the language of photons.Too much of a good thing:  On topside, some organisms have the opposite problem: too much light.  Plants harvest sunlight to make nutrients from the soil, but like sunbathers know, too much can burn.  Within leaves are elaborate mechanisms to shunt away excess light from the photosynthetic factories.  Science Daily reported on a paper in Nature2 where researchers from University of Sheffield and Queen Mary, University of London learned more about “photoprotection” in plant leaves: “They were able to show how a small number of certain key molecules, hidden among the millions of others in the plant leaf, change their shape when the amount of light absorbed is excessive; and they have been able to track the conversion of light energy to heat that occurs in less than a billionth of a second.”  The original paper stated, “it is experimentally demonstrated that a change in conformation of LHCII occurs in vivo, which opens a channel for energy dissipation by transfer to a bound carotenoid.  We suggest that this is the principal mechanism of photoprotection.”  The excess energy is thus shunted to a heat sink by an extremely rapid switch.    What they are learning may help increase crop yields and improve photovoltaic cells.  Plants already know how to adjust for the dim light of a cloudy day to the scorching radiation under a midsummer sun at noon.  “Many plant species can successfully inhabit extreme environments where there is little water, strong sunlight, low fertility and extremes of temperature by having highly tuned defence mechanisms, including photoprotection.”  See also the 06/23/2006 and 01/24/2005 entries about photoprotection, “One of Nature’s supreme examples of nanoscale engineering.”  (That’s Nature as in the real world, not the artificial journal.)Light just right, but que pasa?:  We humans, too, have to not only be able to harvest light, but process it as information.  The brain has a mechanism for making sense of a scene – deciding what is foreground, and what is background.  A “neural machine,” described in Science Daily, sorts this all out faster than the blink of an eye.  A portion of the visual cortex called V2 makes a preliminary judgment of what part of the field is the background, and what part is the foreground.    Rudiger von der Heydt, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University, described what happens: “What we found is that V2 generates a foreground-background map for each image registered by the eyes.  Contours are assigned to the foreground regions, and V2 does this automatically within a tenth of a second.”    This first-pass interpretive filter helps us make instant sense of a complex scene, even though its decision can be overridden by the conscious mind, or tricked by optical illusions.  Paintings by artist M.C. Escher, for instance, owe their popularity to tricks with the mind, fooling our eyes with contradictions about which way is up, or which part is the foreground and which is the background.    Van der Heydt continued, “Because of their complexity, images of natural scenes generally have many possible interpretations, not just two, like in Escher’s drawings.  In most cases, they contain a variety of cues that could be used to identify fore- and background, but oftentimes, these cues contradict each other.  The V2 mechanism combines these cues efficiently and provides us immediately with a rough sketch of the scene.”    The neuroscientist commented on the wonders of this system.  “We can do all of this without effort, thanks to a neural machine that generates visual object representations in the brain,” he said.  He admitted that how it works is still a mystery to us.  “But discovering this mechanism that so efficiently links our attention to figure-ground organization is a step toward understanding this amazing machine.”Look at your eyes in a mirror.  Using an eye to see the eye: fascinating.  There’s enough in that self-reflexive activity to keep biologists, neuroscientists, physicists and philosophers busy for millennia.1.  Mark Schrope, “Marine biology: Lights in the deep,” Nature 450, 472-474 (2007) | doi:10.1038/450472a.2.  Ruban et al, “Identification of a mechanism of photoprotective energy dissipation in higher plants,” Nature 450, 575-578 (22 November 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature06262.As with every natural resource in every ecological environment, light is used efficiently and effectively by a multitude of organisms well equipped to manage with feast or famine.  What other physical resources are utilized via similar feats of nanoengineering by living organisms?  Water (vapor, liquid, and solid), oxygen, nitrogen, iron, magnetism – no matter the physical resource, living things know how to harvest it for highest and best use.  Organisms daily exhibit a declaration of intelligent design; they have been endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rightly elegant constitutions.(Visited 11 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

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Scientific Discoveries Can Cast Doubt on Long-Held Beliefs

first_imgYou have to look beneath the surface veneer of bluffing in science news to see how the sausage is made before it gets packaged to the press.At best, science is tentative. Any consensus is vulnerable to overthrow by new findings. This may sound like a recipe for progress, but the new findings themselves are vulnerable to overthrow down the road. Obviously some progress is being made, particularly in engineering: that’s why cell phone cameras keep getting better. The more remote from reproducibility a scientific theory is, though, the more vulnerable to overhaul or replacement. Here are some examples of long-held beliefs coming under doubt.The amyloid hypothesis on trial (Nature). In a special series on Alzheimer’s Disease, Nature finds that long-held hypotheses about amyloid tangles causing the malady are ripe for reconsideration. “As the development of treatments for Alzheimer’s disease continues to stumble, is it time for researchers to broaden their list of the condition’s potential causes?”Yosemite granite ‘tells a different story’ story [sic] about Earth’s geologic history: Finding upends scientific understanding of how granites form (Science Daily). Explaining granite has long been a challenge, but the best hypotheses fail to account for one of America’s most famous national parks, Yosemite. The repercussions extend to the whole globe, and to what geologists think they know:A team of scientists including Carnegie’s Michael Ackerson and Bjorn Mysen revealed that granites from Yosemite National Park contain minerals that crystallized at much lower temperatures than previously thought possible. This finding upends scientific understanding of how granites form and what they can teach us about our planet’s geologic history. …“These granites tell a different story,” Ackerson added. “And it could rewrite what we think we understand about how Earth’s continents form.”These findings could influence our understanding of the conditions in which the Earth’s crust first formed during the Hadean and Archean. They could also explain some recent observations about the temperature at which volcanic magmas exist before eruption and the mechanisms through which economically important ore deposits form.Discovery of a silicate rock-boring organism and macrobioerosion in fresh water (Nature Communications). Fossil hunters are going to have to give up one of their diagnostic instruments. “In paleontology, the presence of rocks with boreholes and fossil macroboring assemblage members is one of the primary diagnostic features of shallow marine paleo-environments,” this paper warns: “…Our findings highlight that rocks with macroborings are not an exclusive indicator of marine paleo-ecosystems, but may also reflect freshwater habitats.”Yellowstone super-volcano has a different history than previously thought (Science Daily). Perhaps you’ve seen the diagrams of Yellowstone’s caldera migrating across a mantle plume. Now a Virginia Tech geoscientist offers a different story: “Yellowstone super-volcano eruptions were produced by gigantic ancient oceanic plate.” Researchers indirectly found a structure under the volcano that contradicts the plume theory. “In this research, there was no evidence of heat coming directly up from the Earth’s core to power the surface volcano at Yellowstone,” one author said. Were you told that this? “It has always been a problem there, and scientists have tried to come up with different ways to explain the cause of Yellowstone volcanoes, but it has been unsuccessful.”Local Winds Play Key Role in Some Megafires (Jet Propulsion Laboratory). Before blaming wildfires on climate change, look what scientists at JPL found about one of the biggest recent megafires, the 2014 King Fire in the Sierra Nevadas:Although drought and overgrown forests are often blamed for major fires in the western United States, new research using unique NASA before-and-after data from a megafire site indicates that highly localized winds sometimes play a much larger role — creating large, destructive fires even when regional winds are weak….“This brings into question several widely held and largely unquestioned assumptions, such as very large fires being caused by the accumulation of vegetation, persistent dry conditions, or requiring extreme conditions,” said NCAR scientist Janice Coen, the lead author of the study. In the King Fire, she pointed out, “Small-scale winds and winds generated by the fire had a much greater impact on this fire, and potentially others like it, than any of the other factors.“High glucose spikes are common in ‘healthy’ people (Science Daily). Are ‘sugar highs’ a bad thing, a warning sign of diabetes? In some people they are, but Stanford researchers were surprised to find, when they monitored glucose levels over time, “that ‘normal’ blood glucose levels are often not normal at all—they stray much farther from the healthy ranges than we assumed.” Results in 57 individuals showed large fluctuations and spikes in normal people. “We were very surprised to see blood sugar in the prediabetic and diabetic range in these people so frequently” said Michael Snyder, PhD, Professor and Chair of Genetics at Stanford and senior author of the study.Cross species transfer of genes has driven evolution (Phys.org). The implications of this article for evolutionary theory are inestimable. If what they say is correct, that organisms are borrowing genetic information, what happens to all those stories about mutations, natural selection and survival of the fittest?Far from just being the product of our parents, University of Adelaide scientists have shown that widespread transfer of genes between species has radically changed the genomes of today’s mammals, and been an important driver of evolution.In the world’s largest study of so-called “jumping genes”, the researchers have traced two particular jumping genes across 759 species of plants, animals and fungi. These jumping genes are actually small pieces of DNA that can copy themselves throughout a genome and are known as transposable elements.They have found that cross-species transfers, even between plants and animals, have occurred frequently throughout evolution.Along this line, Evolution News has been reporting on a new paper by Winston Ewert in the ID journal Bio-Complexity that explains the nested hierarchy of organisms far better than Darwin’s “tree of life” concept. The new Dependency Graph Hypothesis, which includes shared modules, fits the actual genomic data better than Darwinism by orders of magnitude, Cornelius Hunter says. The paper is creating quite a stir in ID circles, the fallout of which remains to be seen.Humans did not stem from a single ancestral population in one region of Africa (Science Daily). We’re so accustomed to hearing “everything you know is wrong” about human evolution, this one may not rise above the din. It complicates the “Out of Africa” hypothesis that has been taught as fact for decades, though. Darren Curnoe at The Conversation says that the story of human origins is getting “dizzyingly complicated” with the realization that hybridization has probably occurred often between groups. Chris Stringer comments, “As with the material culture, we do see a continental-wide trend towards the modern human form, but different modern features appear in different places at different times, and some archaic features are present until remarkably recently.” How is that a trend?In his book Darwin Retried, journalist Norman Macbeth discovered a new logical fallacy he termed the “best-in-field fallacy.” Noticing how often Darwinists rationalized their contradictions with the excuse that Darwinism was the “best theory we have” for origins, he noted that the “best” theory may not be a “good” theory. It may the best of the worst, the least lame horse in the race.Some of the most common words we find in our science reporting: overturn, challenge, upend, question, complicated, remarkable, rewrite, assumptions, radical, and other such words that weaken the feeling citizens should have about scientific “understanding.” Remember how long Ptolemy’s neat system was unquestioned by scientists? About 1,500 years. (Visited 650 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

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The President’s Award for active citizenship

first_imgAbout 100-150 people from different backgrounds took part in the “20th year of democracy” workshop, which was held at Merensky High School in Tzaneen, LimpopoThe President’s Award for Youth Empowerment helps young South Africans realise their potential through developing their self-esteem, to become active citizens involved in improving their communities.The workshop, themed “20th year of democracy – how can Award participants be involved in realising the National Development Plan through active citizenship?” was held at Merensky High School in Tzaneen, in Limpopo Province, and involved a face-to-face interactive question-and-answer session.It aimed to raise awareness of the National Development Plan among school pupils; promote volunteerism; inspire and guide young people to address their communities’ needs; and create a networking platform for youngsters from different backgrounds.Goitse Konopi, assistant researcher at the National Planning Commission, delivered the key note address on the NDP and answered questions from the participantsGoitse Konopi, assistant researcher at the National Planning Commission, and Peter Tsheole, from the Department of Economic Development and Environmental Affairs, were on hand to answer audience members’ questions.Konopi delivered the keynote address and outlined the National Development Plan (NDP), the broad aims of which are to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. According to the plan, South Africa can realise these goals by “drawing on the energies of its people, growing an inclusive economy, building capabilities, enhancing the capacity of the state, and promoting leadership and partnerships throughout society”.Tsheole spoke about how implementing the NDP in line with caring for the environment is important.“As the youth you are accountable for the environment you want to live in,” he said.Martin Scholtz, chief executive officer for The President’s Award, said: “We are excited about giving the opportunity for young people in more rural parts of South Africa … to engage in discussion around active citizenship and its implications on the future development of this country.“We need more young people to be actively involved in their communities and in their own development. The framework of the award programme does this in a very tangible way.”Willie Stevens, deputy principal of Merensky High School in Tzaneen, welcomed everyone to the workshop (Images: Ray Maota)Willie Stevens, deputy principal at the school, welcomed attendees, saying: “You will be confronted with choices in life and some will be good while some will be bad but the choice of being part of the President’s Award is one of the good ones you have already made.”THE PRESIDENT’S AWARDThe President’s Award for Youth Empowerment celebrated 30 years of effective and sustained youth development in South Africa in 2013.There are currently more than 15 000 active participants drawn from schools, community youth groups, residential youth facilities and correctional centres in the organisation’s programme.The President’s Award encourages members to take up a new skill, participate in physical recreation, and embark on an “adventurous journey”.Palesa Matuludi, project manager for The President’s Award, said young people should leave the workshop understanding active citizenship, to help make South Africa a better place.The President’s Award for Youth Empowerment is open to all young South Africans aged 14 to 25, regardless of their financial status or background.last_img read more