Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ancient plants back to life after 30,000 frozen years - Scientists in Russia have grown plants from fruit stored away in permafrost by squirrels over 30,000 years ago. The fruit was found in the banks of the Kolmya River in Siberia, a top site for people looking for mammoth bones. The Institute of Cell Biophysics team raised plants of Silene stenophylla - of the campion family - from the fruit. This is the oldest plant material by far to have been brought to life.
Prior to this, the record lay with date palm seeds stored for 2,000 years at Masada in Israel.
The team found about 70 squirrel hibernation burrows in the river bank. "All burrows were found at depths of 20-40m from the present day surface and located in layers containing bones of large mammals such as mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, bison, horse, deer, and other representatives of fauna from the age of mammoths, as well as plant remains." The squirrels appear to have stashed their store in the coldest part of their burrow, which subsequently froze permanently, presumably due to a cooling of the local climate.
Back in the lab, near Moscow, the team's attempts to germinate mature seeds failed. Eventually they found success using elements of the fruit itself, which they refer to as "placental tissue" and propagated in laboratory dishes. The fruits grew into healthy plants, though subtly different from modern examples of the species. Silene stenophylla still grows on the Siberian tundra; and when the researchers compared modern-day plants against their resurrected cousins, they found subtle differences in the shape of petals and the sex of flowers, for reasons that are not evident. "This is by far the most extraordinary example of extreme longevity for material from higher plants... it is a surprise to me that they're finding viable material from this placental tissue rather than mature seeds."
The Russian team's theory is that the tissue cells are full of sucrose that would have formed food for the growing plants. Sugars are preservatives; they are even being researched as a way of keeping vaccines fresh in the hot climates of Africa without the need for refrigeration. So it may be that the sugar-rich cells were able to survive in a potentially viable state for so long.
Perhaps the most enticing suggestion is that it might be possible, using the same techniques, to raise plants that are now extinct - provided that Arctic ground squirrels or some other creatures secreted away the fruit and seeds. "We'd predict that seeds would stay viable for thousands, possibly tens of thousands of years - I don't think anyone would expect hundreds of thousands of years. [So] there is an opportunity to resurrect flowering plants that have gone extinct in the same way that we talk about bringing mammoths back to life, the Jurassic Park kind of idea."

**Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.**
George Washington

This morning -

Yesterday -
2/20/12 -


Bolivian volcano Uturuncu is now an object of international scientific fascination. Satellite measurements show that the hill has been rising more than half an inch a year for almost 20 years, suggesting that the volcano, which last erupted more than 300,000 years ago, is steadily inflating. “The size and longevity of the uplift is UNPRECEDENTED." Taken together with other new research, the inflation means “we COULD BE WITNESSING THE DEVELOPMENT OF A NEW SUPERVOLCANO.” [The potential hazard is perhaps tens of thousands of years away.]
Such a volcano could produce an eruption of ash, rock and pumice 1,000 times the strength of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state, the worst volcanic event in modern American history, and 10,000 times that of the Icelandic eruptions in 2010 that paralyzed global air traffic for weeks. Luckily, while the planet has 30 to 40 supervolcanoes — 10 of them potentially active — supereruptions occur only every 100,000 years or so. The last one, that of the Toba Volcano in Sumatra about 74,000 years ago, is thought to have spewed enough ash to cause a 6- to 10-year “volcanic winter,” a 1,000-year global cooling period and a loss of life so vast that it may have changed the course of human evolution.
“We see no evidence for an imminent supervolcanic eruption anywhere on Earth,” said a research geologist and geochemist with the United States Geological Survey, who specializes in one of the best-known of the world’s supervolcanoes — Yellowstone, in Wyoming. About Uturuncu, he said that while “its rise over 20 years is certainly significant,” there wasn’t enough evidence to call it a supervolcano in the making. Other researchers agree. But they say Uturuncu’s steady inflation makes it fertile ground for study. “It’s like a tumor growing within the earth, and we have to understand whether it is benign or malignant.” Uturuncu was already considered potentially active. Eighteen thousand feet up its slopes small holes in the ground called fumaroles leak scorching sulfur gases. These may date 10,000 years and are evidence of a heat source close to the surface. Also telling is the white soil near the summit (from a distance it looks deceptively like snow) that results from thermal changes below. Data from 20 days of fieldwork in November using magnetotellurics, a remote radio-wave-sensing method similar to CT scanning in the human body suggested a zone of low electrical resistance far below the surface “that is likely a magma chamber." The magma chamber is growing by one cubic meter (35 cubic feet) per second, though its total volume is not known.
Uturuncu is nestled in one of the planet’s largest supervolcanic regions, which has six supervolcanoes across Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Though it was long thought to be separate from those supervolcanoes, new Plutons findings reveal that magma from Uturuncu’s last eruption is more similar to the supervolcanoes’ than to that of the region’s more common volcanoes. Bolivia has 198 recognized volcanoes; 18 are considered potentially active. The country’s last volcanic eruption was 10,000 years ago.

Scientists believe they've discovered why the moon has no active volcanoes, despite containing plenty of liquid magma. The answer, they say, is that the magma is so dense that it's simply too heavy to bubble to the surface. The European scientists copied the composition of moon rocks collected by the Apollo missions, and melted them at the extremely high pressures and temperatures found inside the moon. They then measured their densities using X-rays. "We had to use the most brilliant X-ray beam in the world for this experiment because the magma sample is so tiny and confined in a massive, highly absorbing container. Without a bright beam of X-rays, you cannot measure these density variations." Nearly all the lunar magmas were found to be less dense than their solid surroundings, similar to the situation on Earth. However, there was one important exception: small droplets of titanium-rich glass first found in Apollo 14 mission samples produced liquid magma as dense as the rocks found in the deepest parts of the lunar mantle today. This magma would be too heavy to move towards the surface, says the team.
Previous research has shown that titanium-rich rocks were formed soon after the formation of the Moon at shallow levels, close to the surface. It now seems that, early in the history of the moon, such titanium-rich rocks descended from near the surface all the way to the core-mantle boundary. "After descending, magma formed from these near-surface rocks, very rich in titanium, and accumulated at the bottom of the mantle – a bit like an upside-down volcano. Today, the Moon is still cooling down, as are the melts in its interior. In the distant future, the cooler and therefore solidifying melt will change in composition, likely making it less dense than its surroundings. This lighter magma could make its way again up to the surface forming an active volcano on the moon – what a sight that would be! – but for the time being, this is just a hypothesis to stimulate more experiments."

In the Indian Ocean -
- Tropical cyclone 12s (Giovanna) was located approximately 410 nm southeast of Antananarivo, Madagascar. This is the final warning on this system by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. The system will be closely monitored for signs of regeneration.
- Tropical cyclone 13s (Hilwa) was located approximately 410 nm east of port Louis, Mauritius.

Deadly Cyclone Giovanna Likely to Hit Again. - The powerful cyclone that hit the Madagascar was again threatening to touch down, just days after killing eight people and displacing about 40,000 others. The cyclone made landfall Monday in the sugar-producing district of Brickaville in eastern Madagascar, causing massive damage there before going through the central islands and exiting in the south-west. Humanitarian efforts have since been under way and a new storm would further complicate ongoing relief efforts being co-ordinated by the National Office for Disaster Preparedness.
Meteorologists have since issued further warnings of a second landfall. The cyclone is said to have intensified in severity after heading towards southern Mozambique.
The category four storm was first sighted nine days ago at 1,650 kilometres in the Indian Ocean and was 1,000 kilometres in diameter. Strong winds and heavy rainfall destroyed about 8,475 houses, with 4,230 completely crushed. Over 100 schools, hospitals, churches and offices were also damaged. Landslides ripped trees.
Damaged bridges, especially those on the road serving linking the capital city Antananarivo and the eastern port city of Toamasina, have paralysed transport.
Madagascar is one of Africa's most exposed countries to tropical cyclones, being hit by around 60 per cent of the storms formed in the Indian Ocean basin. An annual average of 3-4 intense tropical cyclones with winds of up to 200 kilometres have made landfall since the 1990s. Computer modelling shows around 263 cyclones are expected to hit the island nation by 2100. Cyclone Geralda, one of the worst to hit the island, touched down in 1994.
Cyclone Giovanna Struck With Little Warning - In a cyclone-prone country like Madagascar being prepared for disaster makes all the difference. The Malagasy National Disaster Office organizes annual simulation exercises in vulnerable areas to test the preparedness of local authorities and communities. However, in Brickaville, on the east coast of Madagascar, power lines had been down for two weeks - a regular occurrence in the island's outlying provinces - and news that the town lay directly in the path of Cyclone Giovanna, a category-four tropical storm, could not reach the people in time. The cyclone destroyed and damaged thousands of homes and killed at least 23 people, but this number is expected to rise as more remote locations are reached.
"By the time the administrator of the district came to warn us about the cyclone, it was already here. All we could do was run to the church for cover." Nearly a week after Giovanna struck on 14 February, esidents are trying to rebuild their houses, which were among the 70 percent damaged by the storm. The water pump was damaged and people have resorted to drinking water from an untreated well. Food is also in short supply. "We need rice, oil and soap. On the other side of town, aid workers have given out supplies, but we didn't get any yet." "The [aid] supplies come in waves. We managed to get drinking water to the first 2,000 flood victims, but it's not enough. We have materials for 5,000 people, but after our evaluation there might be as many as 50,000 victims who need supplies." "We thought we needed food rations for 4,000 people, but by now we have discovered that it is much closer to 6,000, so we have new rations coming in." Giovanna was much worse than Geralda, the 1994 cyclone, which all but destroyed the town. "My house is completely broken and I'll need to raise about 100,000 Ariary (US$50) to rebuild it."
In neighbouring Manambato, villagers did not believe reports about an impending cyclone, even after the village leader received a cellphone text message. "The day of the cyclone it was very hot and sunny, so we didn't think there would be a storm. When we came out in the morning, everything was destroyed."
There was much less damage in places where schoolteachers had been trained in disaster preparedness. "We saw how the [trained] school teachers told children how to prepare for the cyclone. They had some very simple, but important messages like, 'Weigh down the roofs with sandbags, reinforce the walls, put important belongings in plastic bags, and store water'. When people don't have this knowledge they will sit and wait for the disaster to come, and afterwards they'll wait for help to arrive...We went through one village where they had weighted down the roofs and reinforced the walls, but apart from this you saw that there was an empowerment, an increased awareness. People were able to mitigate the damage."
In Brickaville the storm would have come as a complete surprise if aid workers from neighbouring towns had not travelled there to warn people. "I showed local officials the [satellite] pictures of Giovanna. We had just a few hours left, so from three o'clock in the afternoon until the storm hit at 8 p.m. we went around warning people, cutting trees, and setting up shelters. We contacted all the district heads in the surroundings towns and told them to get their post-storm reports to us as soon as possible. Then we turned off the electricity and waited." Giovanna raged all night. "I've been through three cyclones so far, and this is the worst one yet. It went on the whole night. When we came out in the morning, everything was flooded, our shelters were filled with people, and there was no communication. The UNICEF team is now headquartered in Vatomandry, another coastal town hard hit by the storm, trying to collect data from the surrounding communities. "There are 19 communes surrounding this town, and right now we have news from four of them. Some are as far as 85km away, and there is no road." A local education official said there was a total of 774 classrooms in the area and so far he had counted 275 that had been destroyed, and 107 that had been damaged. "We don't have a budget for reconstruction at all."


Serbia - Boats sink in Belgrade as thaw causes Danube ice chaos. A rapid thaw has brought chaos to the River Danube in the Serbian capital Belgrade, where ice damaged boats, pontoons and floating restaurants. The thick ice covered one of Europe's busiest waterways during the recent freeze, but began to break up on Sunday as temperatures rose.
In Belgrade, boats crashed into each other but there were no immediate reports of casualties. One boat owner said the ice had moved so fast, boats could not be saved. "The damage will be hundreds of thousands of euros for sure." Only a "handful" of boats remained intact out of about 100 moored in the Serbian capital's Kapetanija marina.
Debris was scattered among the breaking ice for hundreds of metres along the river, and several floating restaurants, barges and boats were beached on river banks after the ice snapped anchor lines. Belgrade emergency services said there was no ice risk to bridges and other infrastructure in the city, and there was no threat of flooding. The Danube flows 2,860km (1,777 miles) through nine countries and is vital for transport, power and industry. It has been almost entirely frozen from Austria to the Black Sea. Ice more than 30cm (11in) thick in places broke up over the weekend as temperatures rose.
Belgrade river officials advised boat owners to constantly monitor their property but not to try to recover it from the water as of Monday morning. "We have not seen weather like this in a long time. People were relaxed, the boats stayed there, the icebreakers did not remove the ice on time." At least 20 people have died from the cold in Serbia in recent weeks and economists say damage from the cold snap may cost Serbia as much as 500m euros (£415m; $660m). Some 3,300 people remain stranded by snow and ice in rural areas, where they can only be reached by helicopter.