Super Volcano under Yellowstone

Photo

The Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park, a large hot spring known for its vibrant coloration. Beneath the park is a powerful supervolcano which drives the spring and other geological activity. CreditMarie-Louise Mandl/EyeEm, via Getty Images

Beneath Yellowstone National Park lies a supervolcano, a behemoth far more powerful than your average volcano. It has the ability to expel more than 1,000 cubic kilometers of rock and ash at once — 250,000 times more material than erupted from Mount St. Helens in 1980, which killed 57 people. That could blanket most of the United States in a thick layer of ash and even plunge the Earth into a volcanic winter.

Yellowstone’s last supereruption occurred 631,000 years ago. And it’s not the planet’s only buried supervolcano. Scientists suspect that a supereruption scars the planet every 100,000 years, causing many to ask when we can next expect such an explosive planet-changing event.

To answer that question, scientists are seeking lessons from Yellowstone’s past. And the results have been surprising. They show that the forces that drive these rare and violent events can move much more rapidly than volcanologists previously anticipated.

The early evidence, presented at a recent volcanology conference, shows that Yellowstone’s most recent supereruption was sparked when new magma moved into the system only decades before the eruption. Previous estimates assumed that the geological process that led to the event took millenniums to occur.

To reach that conclusion, Hannah Shamloo, a graduate student at Arizona State University, and her colleagues spent weeks at Yellowstone’s Lava Creek Tuff — a fossilized ash deposit from its last supereruption. There, they hauled rocks under the heat of the sun to gather samples, occasionally suspending their work when a bison or a bear roamed nearby.

Ms. Shamloo later analyzed trace crystals in the volcanic leftovers, allowing her to pin down changes before the supervolcano’s eruption. Each crystal once resided within the vast, seething ocean of magma deep underground. As the crystals grew outward, layer upon layer, they recorded changes in temperature, pressure and water content beneath the volcano, much like a set of tree rings.

“We expected that there might be processes happening over thousands of years preceding the eruption,” said Christy Till, a geologist at Arizona State, and Ms. Shamloo’s dissertation adviser. Instead, the outer rims of the crystals revealed a clear uptick in temperature and a change in composition that occurred on a rapid time scale. That could mean the supereruption transpired only decades after an injection of fresh magma beneath the volcano.We’ll bring you stories that capture the wonders of the human body, nature and the cosmos.

“It’s shocking how little time is required to take a volcanic system from being quiet and sitting there to the edge of an eruption,” said Ms. Shamloo, though she warned that there’s more work to do before scientists can verify a precise time scale.

Dr. Kari Cooper, a geochemist at the University of California, Davis who was not involved in the research, said Ms. Shamloo and Dr. Till’s research offered more insights into the time frames of supereruptions, although she is not yet convinced that scientists can pin down the precise trigger of the last Yellowstone event. Geologists must now figure out what kick-starts the rapid movements leading up to supereruptions.

“It’s one thing to think about this slow gradual buildup — it’s another thing to think about how you mobilize 1,000 cubic kilometers of magma in a decade,” she said.

As the research advances, scientists hope they will be able to spot future supereruptions in the making. The odds of Yellowstone, or any other supervolcano erupting anytime soon are small. But understanding the largest eruptions can only help scientists better understand, and therefore forecast, the entire spectrum of volcanic eruptions — something that Dr. Cooper thinks will be possible in a matter of decades.

Deafening mystery grows in Cuba

Physics of injuries, methods don’t add up, officials say
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday the Trump administration is considering closing the U.S. embassy in Havana. (Desmond Boylan/AP 2015)
By Josh Lederman, Michael Weissenstein and Matthew Lee Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The blaring, grinding noise jolted the American diplomat from his bed in a Havana hotel. He moved just a few feet, and there was silence. He climbed back into bed. Inexplicably, the agonizing sound hit him again. It was as if he’d walked through some invisible wall cutting straight through his room.
Soon came the hearing loss, and the speech problems, symptoms both similar and altogether different from others among at least 21 U.S. victims in an astonishing international mystery still unfolding in Cuba.

The top U.S. diplomat has called them “health attacks.” New details learned by The Associated Press indicate at least some of the incidents were confined to specific rooms or even parts of rooms with laser-like specificity, baffling U.S. officials who say the facts and the physics don’t add up.
“None of this has a reasonable explanation,” said Fulton Armstrong, a former CIA official who served in Havana long before America re-opened an embassy there. “It’s just mystery after mystery after mystery.”
Suspicion initially focused on a sonic weapon, and on the Cubans. Yet the diagnosis of mild brain injury, considered unlikely to result from sound, has confounded the FBI, the State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies involved in the investigation.
Some victims now have problems concentrating or recalling specific words, several officials said, the latest signs of more serious damage than the U.S. government initially realized. The United States first acknowledged the attacks in August — nine months after symptoms were first reported.
It may seem the stuff of sci-fi novels, of the cloak-and-dagger rivalries that haven’t fully dissipated despite the historic U.S.-Cuban rapprochement two years ago that seemed to bury the weight of the two nations’ Cold War enmity.

But this is Cuba, the land of poisoned cigars, exploding seashells and covert subterfuge by Washington and Havana, where the unimaginable in espionage has often been all too real.
The Trump administration still hasn’t identified a culprit or a device to explain the attacks, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials, Cuban officials and others briefed on the investigation. Most weren’t authorized to discuss the probe and demanded anonymity.
“The investigation into all of this is still under way. It is an aggressive investigation,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said last week. “We will continue doing this until we find out who or what is responsible for this.”
On Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Trump administration is considering closing down the U.S. embassy in Havana. Tillerson’s comments were the strongest indication to date that the United States might mount a major diplomatic response, potentially jeopardizing the historic restart of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
“We have it under evaluation,” Tillerson said of a possible embassy closure. “It’s a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered.”
Investigators have tested several theories about an intentional attack — by Cuba’s government, a rogue faction of its security forces, a third country like Russia, or some combination thereof.

Yet they’ve left open the possibility an advanced espionage operation went horribly awry, or that some other, less nefarious explanation is to blame.
Aside from their homes, officials said Americans were attacked in at least one hotel, a fact not previously disclosed. An incident occurred on an upper floor of the recently renovated Hotel Capri, a 60-year-old concrete tower steps from the Malecon, Havana’s iconic, waterside promenade.
The cases vary deeply: different symptoms, different recollections of what happened. That’s what makes the puzzle so difficult to crack.
In several episodes recounted by U.S. officials, victims knew it was happening in real time, and there were strong indications of a sonic attack.
Some felt vibrations, and heard sounds — loud ringing or a high-pitched chirping similar to crickets or cicadas. Others heard the grinding noise. Some victims awoke with ringing in their ears and fumbled for their alarm clocks, only to discover the ringing stopped when they moved away from their beds.
The attacks seemed to come at night. Several victims reported they came in minute-long bursts.
Yet others heard nothing, felt nothing. Their symptoms came later.
The scope keeps widening. Last week, the State Department disclosed that doctors had confirmed another two cases, bringing the total American victims to 21. Some have mild traumatic brain injury, known as a concussion, and others permanent hearing loss.
Even the potential motive is unclear. Investigators are at a loss to explain why Canadians were harmed. Fewer than 10 Canadian diplomatic households in Cuba were affected, a Canadian official said. Unlike the U.S., Canada has maintained warm ties to Cuba for decades.
Sound and health experts are equally baffled. Targeted, localized beams of sound are possible, but the laws of acoustics suggest such a device would probably be large and not easily concealed. Officials said it’s unclear whether the device’s effects were localized by design or due to some other technical factor.
And no single, sonic gadget seems to explain such an odd, inconsistent array of physical responses.
“Brain damage and concussions, it’s not possible,” said Joseph Pompei, a former MIT researcher and psychoacoustics expert. “Somebody would have to submerge their head into a pool lined with very powerful ultrasound transducers.”
Other symptoms have included brain swelling, dizziness, nausea, severe headaches, balance problems and tinnitus, or prolonged ringing in the ears. Many victims have shown improvement since leaving Cuba and some suffered only minor or temporary symptoms.
After the U.S. complained to Cuba’s government earlier this year and Canada detected its own cases, the FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police traveled to Havana to investigate.
FBI investigators swept the rooms, looking for devices. They found nothing, several officials briefed on the investigation said.
In May, Washington expelled two Cuban diplomats to protest the communist government’s failure to protect Americans serving there. But the U.S. has taken pains not to accuse Havana of perpetrating the attacks.
Cuba’s government declined to answer specific questions about the incidents, pointing to a previous Foreign Affairs Ministry statement denying any involvement, vowing full cooperation and saying it was treating the situation “with utmost importance.”
“Cuba has never, nor would it ever, allow that the Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic agents or their families, without exception,” the Cuban statement said.

BLACK HOLE NEWS

More Gravitational Waves Detected

LISTEN:  source          Science in Action

 

The first detection of gravitational waves, announced February 2016, was a milestone in physics and astronomy, it was quickly followed by another find. Now teams working on the LIGO detector have just announcedtheir third new detection. Gravitational waves are ‘ripples’ in the fabric of space-time caused by some of the most violent and energetic processes in the Universe. All three signals are thought to be caused by two black holes merging. This time the spin might give clues as to where the original stars formed.

Safer Gold Extraction
Many gold mines separate the precious metal dust from the rock using toxic substances like cyanide and mercury, but scientists at the University of Leicester have used rock samples from a gold mine in Scotland to prove they can do the job a different way, using a mixture of vitamin B4 and urea.

Genetics of Ancient Egyptian Mummies
Ancient Egyptian mummies give up their genetic secrets. Mitochondrial DNA from mummified remains show how much ancient Egyptians interbred with populations from Asia, Africa and Europe.

 

Biggest Dinosaur Footprints Found

March 27     source
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Where can you see dinosaur tracks in the U.S. ?
http://dinosaurstop.com/listings-by-state/
Search on DINOSAUR TRACKS yields information for various sites around the country.
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More than 100 million years ago, on a muddy stretch of land that is now Australia, nearly two-dozen species of dinosaur once roamed.

There were duck-billed ornithopods, which left long, three-toed tracks in their wake. Heavy armored dinosaurs pressed large, tulip-shaped prints into the soil. Predators scratched the ground with their talons. And the feet of gigantic, long-necked sauropods created bathtub-sized depressions in the dirt.

Asteroids struck, continents moved, sea levels rose and fell. What was once a damp, forested environment surrounded by shallow seas became the hot, rugged coastline of northwestern Australia.

But the dinosaurs’ tracks remained. The footprint assemblage, which contains evidence of 21 species, is the most diverse in the world, researchers reported Friday in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

One of those tracks is the largest dinosaur print ever recorded: a 5-foot-9-inch print from a sauropod, or long-necked dinosaur. The tracks also provide the first evidence that spiky tailed stegosaurs lived in the land down under.

“The tracks provide a snapshot, a census if you will, of an extremely diverse dinosaur fauna,” lead author Steve Salisbury, a paleontologist at the University of Queensland, told Gizmodo. “Twenty-one different types of dinosaurs all living together at the same time in the same area. We have never seen this level of diversity before, anywhere in the world. It’s the Cretaceous equivalent of the Serengeti. And it’s written in stone.”

There are thousands of marks along the 15-mile stretch of coastline, called Walmadany by the indigenous Goolarabooloo people and labeled James Price Point on most maps. Salisbury likened the region to “Australia’s own ‘Jurassic Park.’ ”

The Goolarabooloo have known about the fossil trackways for millennia. The massive markings, which are visible only at low tide, are featured in Goolarabooloo oral histories, or “song cycles,” Salisbury told the BBC.

“They relate to a creation mythology, and specifically the tracks show the journey of a creation being called Marala — the emu man. Wherever he went he left behind three-toed tracks that now we recognize as the tracks of meat-eating dinosaurs,” he said.

In 2008, Walmadany was selected as the preferred site for a natural gas plant. Worried that the sacred and scientifically significant site would be lost, the Goolarabooloo reached out to paleontologists and asked them to look into the tracks.

“We needed the world to see what was at stake,” Goolarabooloo leader Phillip Roe said in a statement.

The area was listed as a natural heritage site in 2011, and plans for the natural gas plant fell apart two years later.

Working alongside the Goolarabooloo, who are considered the region’s “traditional custodians,” Salisbury and his colleagues spent 400 hours investigating the markings. Each one was measured with three-dimensional photogrammetry, a technique used to build a 3-D reconstruction of an object by taking photographs from a variety of angles. For some tracks, the scientists also made casts out of flexible silicon, which can later be used to produce museum replicas of the prints.

According to Salisbury, most other Australian dinosaur fossils come from the continent’s eastern side and date back to the mid-Cretaceous, about 90 to 115 million years ago. These tracks, which are between 127 and 144 million years old, represent the only fossil evidence from the early Cretaceous and are some of the oldest dinosaur remains in Australia, he said.

 

Goverment Twists Fracking Report

 

Image result for photos fracking

 

EPA’s late changes to fracking study downplay risk of drinking water pollution

Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking.
Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

This story was reported in conjunction with APM Reports.

Top officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year made critical changes at the eleventh hour to a highly anticipated, five-year scientific study of hydraulic fracturing’s effect on the nation’s drinking water. The changes, later criticized by scientists for lacking evidence, played down the risk of pollution that can result from the well-drilling technique known as fracking.

Documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that in the six weeks before the study’s public release, officials inserted a key phrase into the executive summary that said researchers did not find evidence of “widespread systemic impacts” of fracking by the oil and gas industry on the nation’s drinking water.

Earlier draft versions emphasized more directly that fracking has contaminated drinking water in some places.

The documents also show that the news release accompanying the scientific study was changed on June 3, 2015, the day before it was made public. A draft displayed a conclusion that the EPA had identified “potential vulnerabilities” to drinking water. But the final release dated June 4, concluded: “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.

In a conference call with reporters about the study on the day it was released, the EPA’s deputy administrator, Tom Burke, highlighted the lack of “widespread, systemic impacts” as the agency’s top finding.

In fact, scientists had found evidence in some places that fracking activity had polluted drinking water supplies.

In all, the agency identified more than two dozen instances in which hydraulic fracturing had an impact on water resources. The agency also identified hundreds of other spills, many of which reached soil and water.

It’s not clear precisely who inserted or ordered the new phrasing. But emails acquired via the Freedom of Information Act show EPA officials, including press officers, met with key advisers to President Obama to discuss marketing strategy a month before the study’s release. The emails also show EPA public relations people exchanging a flurry of messages between 4 and 11 p.m. on the eve of the study’s release.

The authenticity of the documents — before and after the changes — was confirmed independently by three people with knowledge of the study.

In interviews with 19 people familiar with the research, some characterized the “(no) widespread, systemic” language as a “bizarre conclusion” and “irresponsible.” Others said they were “surprised and disappointed” that top EPA officials used the phrase and said they had no idea it would become the headline until it came out.

The revised summary was quickly embraced by the oil and gas industry, which for nearly a decade had been fighting off environmentalists’ attacks and negative news coverage about fracking’s alleged harm to the environment.

Industry representatives cheered the findings, touting them as validation that fracking is safe.

Media organizations big and small highlighted the conclusion in headlines and sound bites. In a 140-character information ecosystem, suddenly the industry had the benefit of government assurance that fracked wells did not pose a significant threat to water supplies.

Those reports won the day, dominating the news cycle despite the EPA report noting that fracking activities, including chemical spills and faulty well construction, did have an impact on drinking water resources.

It’s not unusual for government agency reports to be edited and crafted in a way that provides positive context for a preferred policy. When research is mischaracterized by policy-makers, however, it raises concerns about the politicization of government science.

“There’s not really a wall between science and politics,” said Dominic DiGiulio, a former EPA scientist. “In my opinion, that statement was put in there to ensure that there would not be blowback from the oil and gas industry.”

The oil and gas industry, along with Republican allies in Congress, has regularly criticized the EPA for investigations into fracking, arguing that state regulators have primary responsibility over the oil and gas sector. Even as it was conducting the broad study, in three instances the EPA withdrew abruptly from investigations into landowner complaints over water contamination related to fracking.

Agency scientists are revising the study, a standard process with all EPA research that involves input from the public and the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, a peer review group that provides scientific advice to the agency.

EPA officials say they hope to release the final version of the $29 million study by the end of the year.

Burke and his boss, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, declined requests for interviews. Asked about the late changes in the news release, Tom Reynolds, who ran the agency’s communications office when the study was released, declined to comment.

The revelations come as Republican President-elect Donald Trump is set to take office on a pledge to abolish the EPA and eliminate regulations on oil and gas activities to boost energy exploration. It might be difficult for Trump to eliminate the agency, but even slight reductions could have a major effect on an agency that already has been hit by budget cuts.

Areas where hydraulic fracturing is being used to extract oil or natural gas. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Areas where hydraulic fracturing is being used to extract oil or natural gas. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. – APM Reports

Between 2010 and 2016, the EPA’s budget was reduced $2.1 billion, or 20 percent. There are also 1,902 fewer EPA employees than in 2010.

Congress called for study

The oil and gas industry has used hydraulic fracturing for decades. The process sends a mix of water, chemicals and sand into the subsurface at high pressure.

In the past 20 years, its use has dramatically increased as technology has combined with horizontal drilling techniques to produce vast amounts of affordable fossil energy from shale rock formations.

Gas, thought to have fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal, has been replacing coal steadily for U.S. electricity generation for more than a decade. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. 
Gas, thought to have fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal, has been replacing coal steadily for U.S. electricity generation for more than a decade. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.  – APM Reports

The number of hydraulically fractured wells drilled nationwide has jumped from 24,000 in 2000 to 300,000 in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

As natural gas production has grown over that decade, the portion that is coming from fracked wells has grown to two-thirds. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.
As natural gas production has grown over that decade, the portion that is coming from fracked wells has grown to two-thirds. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. – APM Reports

Fracking has been the linchpin in the nation’s energy economy for the past decade. It has unearthed huge amounts of oil and gas, reducing the nation’s dependence on coal for electricity generation and its reliance on foreign oil.

The government reported in May that hydraulically fractured wells provided two-thirds of U.S. natural gas production in 2015 – nearly 10 times the amount produced in 2000.

Natural gas is also seen by many, including the Obama administration, as a cleaner-than-coal bridge to a time when most electricity will come from renewable sources. In addition to making the U.S. less dependent on foreign sources of oil and natural gas, fracking has delivered an economic boost to many parts of the country.

But like many industries relying on natural resources, the prospect of jobs has collided with environmentalists and residents worried about clean air and clean water.

Landowners in many states, including Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Wyoming, have complained that their drinking water was contaminated after fracking activity occurred near them.

Concerned about the complaints and potential impacts, Congress in 2009 urged the EPA to study fracking’s impact on drinking water. Supporters of the congressional action cited a 2004 EPA study that said fracking was safe; they claimed the study politicized the science and played down negative findings.

So EPA scientists spent years evaluating scientific reports from academics, industry, non-governmental organizations and government agencies. They took their own water samples, conducted laboratory analysis, did computer modeling of potential contamination, interviewed residents reporting water quality changes and negotiated with oil and gas companies to acquire proprietary well drilling data.

The study was highly anticipated and in the months before its release in June 2015, a draft assessment was shared with top policymaking and public information officials, according to internal emails.

A gas well pad in Dimock, PA.
A gas well pad in Dimock, PA. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Meetings involved White House advisers Candace Vahlsing and Dan Utech and officials from the Energy and Interior departments. Vahlsing and Utech declined to comment, a White House spokesman said.

White House Assistant Press Secretary Frank Benenati also was involved in the study’s “messaging,” according to the emails. Benenati, now the EPA’s director of communications, didn’t respond to specific questions about his involvement with the study.

A former EPA official involved in the study defended the controversial line about no “widespread systemic impacts,” saying the lack of a definitive conclusion required the agency to give a nuanced view of fracking. “In this area, there’s incomplete information,” said Ken Kopocis, who was the deputy assistant administrator for water at the EPA. “And so scientists will introduce some element of judgment in drawing their conclusions.”

Kopocis also said it’s common for the White House to be involved in meetings discussing major scientific reports because it’s necessary to inform other agencies involved in oil and gas issues.

The EPA report did note a number of instances in which fracking activity, including poorly designed well construction, chemical spills, well blowouts and direct drilling into formations containing water, had a “documented impact” on drinking water.

The findings included a 2010 chemical spill in Kentucky that killed threatened fish, a well blowout in North Dakota that resulted in chemicals potentially reaching a nearby aquifer and direct drilling into drinking water resources in Wyoming.

The report concluded that 9.4 million people lived within a mile of a hydraulically fractured well between 2000 and 2013.

The agency also reported 457 spills related to fracking in 11 states between 2006 and 2012. In 324 of those cases, the EPA said spills reached soil, surface water or ground water. A spreadsheet of those spills was included in the study.

On the day of the release, when asked to quantify the risks of fracking, Burke demurred. “The study was not, nor was it intended to be, a numerical catalog of all episodes of contamination,” he said.

The examples of documented contamination were overshadowed by the last-minute changes that shifted the tenor of the report.

Some experts in hydraulic fracturing say the late edit exonerated the practice in the public eye.

“It’s not Watergate, but it completely alters the take-home message of the report,” said Rob Jackson, a researcher at Stanford University, who believes hydraulic fracturing can be done safely.

He worries that the EPA’s decision to minimize the vulnerabilities has reduced the urgency for government regulators and oil and gas companies to push to make the process safer. “It’s still making a big, big difference because it supports the narrative that there aren’t problems,” Jackson said.

DiGiulio, after leaving his job as an EPA scientist, joined Jackson in a research project at Stanford that found fracking had a “clear impact” on drinking water in Pavillion, Wy.

The agency had earlier abandoned its research into problems at Pavillion and turned the investigation over to the state. It was one of the three instances in which the EPA withdrew from investigating suspected contamination incidents in the past four years. The others were in Dimock, Pa., and Parker County, Texas. The agency did not include water testing data from those cases in its national study on drinking water.

The EPA’s Science Advisory Board, however, suggested the agency “should include and critically analyze” findings from those three locations. The advisory board also rebuked the EPA’s conclusion of no “widespread systemic impacts.”

Calling the phrase “ambiguous” and inconsistent with the observational data, the advisory board directed the EPA to show the underlying data to back up its claim of no “widespread, systemic impacts”.

“We suggested that they provide a definition of ‘systemic,’ a definition of ‘widespread’ and then provide quantitative data to support the conclusion,” said Peter Thorne, a University of Iowa environmental scientist who chairs the Science Advisory Board. “That is all a way of asking them to put that kind of scientific rigor behind a statement as broad as that.”

Near Dimock, Pa.
Near Dimock, Pa. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Study took pressure off industry

McCarthy, the head of the EPA, said at the National Press Club last week that the agency will soon release the final study. She also said her agency is balancing the requests of the 30-member Science Advisory Board with the study’s limitations. During her remarks, McCarthy noted that the four board members with oil and gas ties dissented from the criticism of the phrase.

This was one science advisory board that was as fractured as the subject matter,” McCarthy said. “While I can’t tell you the direction it is going to take, we are going to listen to all sides in terms of what the members thought, and we’ll come to the best decision that we can.

The EPA has the authority to manage drinking water impacts to water resources and to oversee drinking water impacts through several federal laws, including the Clean Water Act and the Safe Water Drinking Act.

But states largely oversee oil and gas development.

The industry, heavily invested in continuing the practice, has steadily battled the EPA. The companies and their industry groups have also repeatedly said there have been no confirmed cases of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing.

That’s why the outcome of the EPA study was important.

If the study had emphasized major problems with the practice, it could have meant increased oversight by state regulators, a call for banning fracking in certain communities and even calls for additional federal oversight.

Instead, the draft study took pressure off the industry.

When the federal Environmental Protection Agency says that technology causes no widespread, systemic risk, that’s a big deal,” said Kevin Book, head of the research team at ClearView Energy Partners, which advises oil and gas investors. “That reinforces the sense that there’s nothing to see here, folks. Move on.”

How the language changed

The documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that on April 24, 2015, an executive summary was circulated that said “hydraulic fracturing activities have contaminated drinking water resources in a variety of documented cases. Despite these risks, the number of documented impacts is quite low.”

Nowhere did the draft state that there was no widespread, systemic impact on water.

On May 4, EPA officials met with key advisers to Obama, officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy to make sure they were “clear on messaging,” according to public documents.

By May 12, the executive summary had changed to include the phrase: “We did not find evidence of widespread, systemic impacts.”

And on May 20, another change deleted a sentence that said “a low rate of documented impacts does not minimize the effects experienced by citizens whose drinking water resources have been impacted.”

The agency’s news release also was altered in the days before the draft study was released.

A version circulated internally in early June featured a headline emphasizing vulnerabilities to drinking water.

But the news release issued publicly on June 4 featured a less forceful headline and a smaller, second headline saying that fracking had not “led to widespread, systemic impacts” and that the study “identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”

Within a day, the Marcellus Shale Coalition from Pennsylvania put together a collection of TV news reports, all emphasizing the lack of impact and largely ignoring the vulnerabilities.

Industry has battled EPA

Today the oil and gas industry continues to use the study to advance drilling around the world.

The Maryland Petroleum Council is highlighting the research as it pushes to allow fracking in that state. And earlier this month, the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group, urged the EPA to keep the language in the study. It said the report could affect New York’s statewide ban on fracking and influence whether other countries adopt the practice.

The American Petroleum Institute released its own industry-backed study confirming that hydraulic fracturing has led to no widespread, systemic impact to drinking water.

“It has plenty of supporting evidence for its conclusion, yet hydraulic fracturing and its peer-reviewed studies continue to face misinformed attacks on scientific conclusions that support the value and safety of the process,” said Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute.

Milito also said he believes the EPA’s Science Advisory Board raised questions about the report because it was swayed by the testimony of landowners who were complaining about their drinking water.

In addition to requesting supporting evidence, several members of the board characterized the phrase as a “value statement,” not a scientific one.

Board member Thomas Young, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California-Davis, said he believes the phrase is misleading because the federal agency may not have found a widespread impact, but impacts could still be occurring.

“When you say that there’s no impact, people leap to the conclusion that there is no way in which this material is making it to water resources,” he said. “And I do not think that has been proven.”

Young said he was unaware that the EPA had made last-minute changes to the study or the news release. He said he would have chosen different wording but understood the push to put a conclusion on a multiyear study that cost millions.

Congress, the oil and gas industry and environmental groups would not have settled for a report simply calling for additional research, Young said. “Most people don’t really want to spend millions of tax dollars on a study that comes up with the answer of ‘more study is needed.’”

The study ran into a number of difficulties when it began five years ago.

The EPA, for example, tried to work with oil and gas companies to conduct testing on sites before, during and after a fractured well is drilled. Called “baseline testing,” it would have allowed scientists to see whether the process resulted in any contamination of groundwater. Despite pledges of cooperation from the industry, the EPA could never reach agreement with any company to conduct the tests.

“Initially, industry was very supportive of working together with the EPA to do some field studies,” said Robert Puls, a scientist who oversaw the study in 2010 and 2011. “As the details for doing those studies got closer and closer to actual implementation, their resistance seemed to grow.”

Puls said he left his position at the EPA in 2011 partly because he was frustrated with resistance by oil and gas companies to work with the EPA on the study.

“They didn’t protect my water”

The Science Advisory Board isn’t the only group questioning how EPA officials could make the general claim that fracking caused no “widespread, systemic impacts” without scientific basis.

Many landowners who believe their water was harmed by hydraulic fracturing say the EPA let them down by minimizing the impact.

“They’re supposed to protect my water,” said Bill Ely, who owns land in Dimock, Pa., and settled a lawsuit with Cabot Oil and Gas over tainted water. “I pay them to protect my water. They didn’t protect my water or these people in this area here.”

Bill Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009.
Bill Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

A spokesman for Cabot did not return messages. Company officials have said that any problems with the water in Dimock occurred long before the company drilled in the area.

Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009.

The complaints from landowners placed Dimock at the center of the fight over the environmental safety of fracking. Movie stars and environmentalists visited the small, northeastern Pennsylvania town and called for the practice to be banned. Industry groups countered with analysis that the practice is safe and brings money and jobs to an economically depressed area.

Since the first incident occurred in 2009, state and federal regulators became heavily involved in Dimock.

In 2010, Pennsylvania regulators announced a settlement with Cabot Oil and Gas that required the company to pay $4.1 million to residents for drilling violations. Regulators said Cabot’s drilling practices allowed combustible methane to contaminate drinking water. And this year two families also won a $4.2 million court case against the company for negligence and creating a nuisance. More than a dozen other families settled with the company for an undisclosed sum.

Cabot has not disclosed terms of its settlement with landowners. Attorneys for Cabot said in court that the methane leaking from the wells was occurring naturally and was a problem before the company drilled in the area.

In 2012, the EPA conducted a study of private water wells of 64 homes in Dimock. The agency eventually determined “that there are not levels of contaminants present that would require action by the agency.”

But another federal agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, looked at the same data and concluded in June 2016 that chemicals in the water wells in 27 of the 64 homes were high enough to affect human health.

Some landowners are still pushing for the government to do more.

Every few weeks, Ray Kemble, who said he has one of those 27 homes, has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water. The tanks, which sit in a shed outside his home, ensure he has clean water. His property, which sits across the street from a well pad, is covered with anti-fracking signs.

Ray Kemble has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water every few weeks to ensure he has a constant supply of clean water. His home is one of the 27 in Dimock that have a high concentration of harmful chemicals in their water wells.
Ray Kemble has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water every few weeks to ensure he has a constant supply of clean water. His home is one of the 27 in Dimock that have a high concentration of harmful chemicals in their water wells. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Kemble has been questioning the EPA’s conclusion of no widespread, systemic impact, including publicly testifying before the Science Advisory Board. He said he’s disappointed that regulators, including the EPA, didn’t do more for him.

“Why do we have to fight the government when the government was supposed to be protecting us?” he said. “Those agencies were put there to protect the people from stuff like this from happening.”

Drilling provides economic boost

Though some landowners in the Dimock area are unhappy with fracking in the community, it has provided an economic boost.

Cabot has a major presence in the community and says it has invested $1.5 billion in Dimock and surrounding areas in Susquehanna County. Cabot trucks can be seen regularly throughout the rural community and the company has a new corporate office in nearby Montrose.

Cabot is among many companies to tap into the energy rich Marcellus Shale Formation that lies under parts of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Landowners are paid monthly, and drilling has increased employment in rural parts of the country. Jobs in the oil and gas extraction sector grew nationally by 33,600 between 2006 and 2016, government figures show.

Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community. He wouldn’t say how much he’s being paid for his mineral rights but said a majority of landowners are happy with the natural gas activity in the area.

“We’ve had a shot in the arm,” he said. “It’s probably the best thing that’s happened to this community in 50 years.”

Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community. 
Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community.  – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Obama’s embrace of fracking has forced him to walk a fine line.

He acknowledges that the fracking process, along with transporting and storing oil and gas, could release methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. The outgoing administration this month issued rules to prevent methane leaks on federal lands. But Obama has said that gradually transitioning from coal to natural gas has reduced U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  “We’re going to have to straddle between the world as it is and the world as we want it to be and build that bridge,” he said in October.

The specifics of Trump’s approach are unknown. Last Monday, Trump issued a video statement saying that energy issues, including fracking, will be a top priority when he takes office.

“I will cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy, including shale energy and clean coal – creating many millions of high-paying jobs. That’s what we want. That’s what we’ve been waiting for,” he said.

Trump has appointed Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic, to lead the transition at the EPA. The president-elect also has pledged to further deregulate the oil and gas industry, but his position on fracking has been contradictory. In September, he vowed to expand natural gas production from fracking and coal production, two competing energy resources.

In August, Trump told a Colorado TV station that he was willing to let voters have a say on fracking bans, but in April he criticized New York state’s ban on the practice.

The disagreement over the environmental impact of fracking will continue in the Trump administration. In addition to finishing the study on hydraulic fracturing’s impact on drinking water, the EPA will continue to pay for research on fracking.

In September, it announced a $2 million study that will examine how oil and gas development is affecting water quality and its impact on human health. The study is focused on an area that includes Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

Some scientists, landowners and environmental advocates believe that the EPA lacks credibility to research fracking’s impact on drinking water. They have grown suspicious about how the EPA handles fracking issues.

“They don’t know who to trust,” said Raina Rippel, who directs the Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, which tracks health impacts on people in high-fracking areas. “They don’t necessarily feel that the state regulatory agencies or the federal regulatory agencies are listening. They feel so severely betrayed right now.”

Correction: The original text inaccurately named the Clean Water Act. It has been corrected.

Follow Scott Tong at @tongscott.

Good Things to Do With Your Body

Donating body for research

People’s reasons and science’s uses are many

Students from Texas State University’s Forensic Anthropology Center search for the remains of a missing person. ( Texas State University)
Image 1 of 4

By Kay Manning  Chicago Tribune 10.26.16

Patricia Kelly had to watch her husband, William, descend into dementia, but he never wavered from a desire to give his body to science, and what followed his donation inspired her — and now their daughter — to not only pledge to do the same but to become fierce advocates of the idea.

When William Kelly died in 2011 and Patricia Kelly in 2015, they became part of an unusual program at the Indiana University Northwest in Gary, which teaches anatomy while encouraging communication with donor families through letters, visits and a memorial service.

Her mom cherished the letters she received from International Human Cadaver Prosection Program students, said daughter Susan Ellingsen, of Munster, Ind., “taking a big magnifying glass (she was legally blind) and reading them over and over. They were very personal and told us all they discovered about my dad.”

“My mother made a video to let students know why she donated her body and what hope she had for them to be the best they could be and to always take their patients’ lives and families seriously,” she said.

Ernest Talarico, who runs the prosection program, said he was troubled in medical school when all he knew about a cadaver was a number and maybe a cause of death. Fellow students disrespectfully named bodies, he said.

“The tradition in anatomy lab is to focus on the science, not to get too attached,” Talarico said. “What we do is a new paradigm. And research shows it makes better doctors.”

Many bodies donated for research have poignant back stories. William Kelly had a number of ailments and wanted science to more fully explore them.

Judy Clemens, of Hebron, Ind., had a progressive form of multiple sclerosis that so frustrated her that she took her life, but not before asking that her body be studied to better understand the disease.

Other donors are educators, scientists and members of law enforcement who know the importance of hands-on learning to solve crimes, find missing people or bodies, and bring closure to aggrieved families. They even designate that their corpses be used for such studies as how fast vultures decimate a body, or how cold or hot weather affects decomposition. Still others specify that their remains be used to train cadaver dogs.

Some bodies are donated by families seeking to save money since many programs pay for transportation and stage a memorial service for the deceased or return the cremated remains.

A future purpose for donated bodies involves recomposition, the turning of human bodies into nutrient-rich compost. A prototype for what the project director sees as an environmentally friendly alternative to burial and cremation is expected to be built in Seattle in the spring and will accept bodies for a pilot program to fully test the process.

“There’s scientific value to donating your body, but there’s a huge educational value,” said Cheryl Johnston, director of an outdoor facility at Western Carolina University, where eight bodies are in various stages of decomposition. The training they afford “is benefiting people by applying things in the real world.”

Daniel Wescott runs the largest so-called body farm in the country at Texas State University, where researchers and cameras document the rate of decay of 70 bodies above and below ground, bodies clothed, unclothed and wrapped in tarps, bodies protected by wire cages and bodies left vulnerable to scavengers. When reduced to skeletons, the bones become part of a permanent research collection.

The Forensic Anthropology Center simulates conditions under which bodies or people may be found if they are victims of crime, or are missing after wandering off or a natural disaster, such as a flood. A decomposed body produces soil that’s darker in color and vegetation that reflects light differently, allowing a drone to pinpoint a location to be searched. That saves time and money, Wescott said, and then experts can determine how long a body might have been there, leading to quicker identification and finding or eliminating suspects in criminal cases.

“It’s all for justice, not just for law enforcement, but to keep somebody from going to jail if innocent,” he said.

Decomposition research and technology have better prepared Texas to handle the border-crossing deaths of immigrants, Wescott said. Bodies are buried without names, leaving loved ones uncertain as to the refugees’ fate. The facility is trying to identify some 80 corpses, but “the very, very slow process” has led to only 10 names so far, he said.

Donated bodies also help train dogs that can detect human remains. Lisa Briggs, a professor of criminology at Western Carolina University, started training her golden retriever Laila at 7 1/2 weeks, and the 2-year-old has found three bodies and several people alive.

Briggs said she feels fortunate to have whole bodies with which to teach Laila because using synthetic versions of decomposed remains or even a single body part such as teeth or a placenta, as some trainers have to do, is inadequate.

“Drug dogs are trained on one scent — maybe marijuana — but with humans, there are so many variables, such as what they had on, whether it was cold or hot, medicines they were taking, if they drowned,” Briggs said. “No one can understand how important it is” for dogs to be exposed to all those factors.

She said she remembers an instance in which Laila was looking for two people presumed by police to be dead. The dog found the bodies in water by smelling the gases bubbling to the surface, Briggs said, adding she can be asked to help on up to 20 cases a year.

She’s seen the pain families go through when a loved one is missing. “I can only imagine what it’s like not knowing,” she said.

Brittany Winn said she knew her adopted “nana,” Clemens, was donating her body to Indiana University Northwest in hopes that something could be learned about multiple sclerosis. But Winn was unprepared for Clemens’ suicide in 2011 and the quick disappearance of her body.

“We didn’t know where her remains were. It was heart-wrenching for us,” Winn said.

Months later, a Manila envelope arrived from Talarico’s program, and his students’ first contacts with the family “had us in tears,” said Winn, who has gone on to participate in the program for four years as a student and team leader and is working as a medical scribe for a Fort Wayne, Ind., endocrinologist. She wants prosectors to understand the donor and those closest to him or her.

“It’s not just a cadaver but a person who meant the world to my family,” Winn said. “Words from the prosectors are the beginning of closure. And seeing that they get everything they can from the program makes me feel better. What they learned will be with them for life.”

She has registered as a donor, she said, but donations also can be arranged after death. Requirements vary, but programs generally will not take the bodies of severe accident victims, those with infectious diseases or bodies that have been autopsied, embalmed or had organs removed. Some have weight limitations; some will take cremated remains and body parts, such as amputated limbs.

Katrina Spade, founder and executive director of the Seattle-based Urban Death Project, started searching as an architecture student for a new way to look at death, out of concern that the existing options of burial and cremation are expensive, harmful to the environment and often shortchange traditional rituals surrounding a death. She realized the method used to compost dead livestock could be adapted for humans.

“All of nature is based on dead material being turned into new life,” Spade said. “It’s a renewal, but we’ve destroyed it through cremation or by pumping bodies full of chemicals and burying them in concrete boxes. It couldn’t be farther from what nature wants to do.”

She envisions nonprofit recomposition facilities being built in urban areas where land is scarce and there are unused structures such as churches or warehouses. Bodies could be carried by family members in a quiet candlelit ceremony or to the accompaniment of a brass band, she said, and then covered in wood chips to begin the transformation into soil.

“It’s a really beautiful way to treat bodies after death,” Spade said.

Kay Manning is a freelancer.

SUGAR VS. FAT=FRAUD

A newly discovered cache of internal documents reveals that the sugar industry downplayed the risks of sugar in the 1960s.  Luis Ascui/Getty Images

50 Years Ago, Sugar Industry Quietly Paid Scientists To Point Blame At Fat

National Public Radio   source
In the 1960s, the sugar industry funded research that downplayed the risks of sugar and highlighted the hazards of fat, according to a newly published article in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The article draws on internal documents to show that an industry group called the Sugar Research Foundation wanted to “refute” concerns about sugar’s possible role in heart disease. The SRF then sponsored research by Harvard scientists that did just that. The result was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, with no disclosure of the sugar industry funding.
Sugar Shocked?

The Rest Of Food Industry Pays For Lots Of Research, Too
The sugar-funded project in question was a literature review, examining a variety of studies and experiments. It suggested there were major problems with all the studies that implicated sugar, and concluded that cutting fat out of American diets was the best way to address coronary heart disease.

The authors of the new article say that for the past five decades, the sugar industry has been attempting to influence the scientific debate over the relative risks of sugar and fat.

“It was a very smart thing the sugar industry did, because review papers, especially if you get them published in a very prominent journal, tend to shape the overall scientific discussion,” co-author Stanton Glantz told The New York Times.

Money on the line
How The Food Industry Manipulates Taste Buds With ‘Salt Sugar Fat’
In the article, published Monday, authors Glantz, Cristin Kearns and Laura Schmidt aren’t trying make the case for a link between sugar and coronary heart disease. Their interest is in the process. They say the documents reveal the sugar industry attempting to influence scientific inquiry and debate.

The researchers note that they worked under some limitations — “We could not interview key actors involved in this historical episode because they have died,” they write. Other organizations were also advocating concerns about fat, they note.

There’s no evidence that the SRF directly edited the manuscript published by the Harvard scientists in 1967, but there is “circumstantial” evidence that the interests of the sugar lobby shaped the conclusions of the review, the researchers say.

For one thing, there’s motivation and intent. In 1954, the researchers note, the president of the SRF gave a speech describing a great business opportunity.

If Americans could be persuaded to eat a lower-fat diet — for the sake of their health — they would need to replace that fat with something else. America’s per capita sugar consumption could go up by a third.
In ‘Soda Politics,’ Big Soda At Crossroads Of Profit And Public Health
But in the ’60s, the SRF became aware of “flowing reports that sugar is a less desirable dietary source of calories than other carbohydrates,” as John Hickson, SRF vice president and director of research, put it in one document.

He recommended that the industry fund its own studies — “Then we can publish the data and refute our detractors.

The next year, after several scientific articles were published suggesting a link between sucrose and coronary heart disease, the SRF approved the literature-review project. It wound up paying approximately $50,000 in today’s dollars for the research.

One of the researchers was the chairman of Harvard’s Public Health Nutrition Department — and an ad hoc member of SRF’s board.

“A different standard” for different studies

Glantz, Kearns and Schmidt say many of the articles examined in the review were hand-selected by SRF, and it was implied that the sugar industry would expect them to be critiqued.

Obesity And The Toxic-Sugar Wars
13.7: COSMOS AND CULTURE
Obesity And The Toxic-Sugar Wars
In a letter, SRF’s Hickson said that the organization’s “particular interest” was in evaluating studies focused on “carbohydrates in the form of sucrose.”

“We are well aware,” one of the scientists replied, “and will cover this as well as we can.”

The project wound up taking longer than expected, because more and more studies were being released that suggested sugar might be linked to coronary heart disease. But it was finally published in 1967.

Hickson was certainly happy with the result: “Let me assure you this is quite what we had in mind and we look forward to its appearance in print,” he told one of the scientists.

The review minimized the significance of research that suggested sugar could play a role in coronary heart disease. In some cases the scientists alleged investigator incompetence or flawed methodology.

“It is always appropriate to question the validity of individual studies,” Kearns told Bloomberg via email. But, she says, “the authors applied a different standard” to different studies — looking very critically at research that implicated sugar, and ignoring problems with studies that found dangers in fat.

Epidemiological studies of sugar consumption — which look at patterns of health and disease in the real world — were dismissed for having too many possible factors getting in the way. Experimental studies were dismissed for being too dissimilar to real life.

One study that found a health benefit when people ate less sugar and more vegetables was dismissed because that dietary change was not feasible.

Another study, in which rats were given a diet low in fat and high in sugar, was rejected because “such diets are rarely consumed by man.”

The Harvard researchers then turned to studies that examined risks of fat — which included the same kind of epidemiological studies they had dismissed when it came to sugar.

Citing “few study characteristics and no quantitative results,” as Kearns, Glantz and Schmidt put it, they concluded that cutting out fat was “no doubt” the best dietary intervention to prevent coronary heart disease.

Sugar lobby: “Transparency standards were not the norm”

In a statement, the Sugar Association — which evolved out of the SRF — said it is challenging to comment on events from so long ago.

“We acknowledge that the Sugar Research Foundation should have exercised greater transparency in all of its research activities, however, when the studies in question were published funding disclosures and transparency standards were not the norm they are today,” the association said.

“Generally speaking, it is not only unfortunate but a disservice that industry-funded research is branded as tainted,” the statement continues. “What is often missing from the dialogue is that industry-funded research has been informative in addressing key issues.”

The documents in question are five decades old, but the larger issue is of the moment, as Marion Nestle notes in a commentary in the same issue of JAMA Internal Medicine:

“Is it really true that food companies deliberately set out to manipulate research in their favor? Yes, it is, and the practice continues. In 2015, the New York Times obtained emails revealing Coca-Cola’s cozy relationships with sponsored researchers who were conducting studies aimed at minimizing the effects of sugary drinks on obesity. Even more recently, the Associated Press obtained emails showing how a candy trade association funded and influenced studies to show that children who eat sweets have healthier body weights than those who do not.”
As for the article authors who dug into the documents around this funding, they offer two suggestions for the future.

“Policymaking committees should consider giving less weight to food industry-funded studies,” they write.

They also call for new research into any ties between added sugars and coronary heart disease.

 

MIDDLE EAST
Department Of Defense Investigating U.S.-Led Coalition Airstrike In Syria
Mike Pence speaks to Republicans at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Si

 

 

Eating Deer, Elk, and People Spreads Disease

A sign said DEPOSIT DEER AND ELK HEADS HERE at a government building next door to our hotel in Fort Collins, Colorado.  The heads were to be used in the study of chronic wasting disease which is related to mad cow disease and kuru.  RJN

___________________________________________

WHEN PEOPLE ATE PEOPLE, A STRANGE DISEASE EMERGED

In 1962, a local leader in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea asks Fore men to stop the sorcery that he believes is killing women and children.  Courtesy Shirley Lindenbaum

Most of the world didn’t know anyone lived in the highlands of Papua New Guinea until the 1930s, when Australian gold prospectors surveying the area realized there were about a million people there.

When researchers made their way to those villages in the 1950s, they found something disturbing. Among a tribe of about 11,000 people called the Fore, up to 200 people a year had been dying of an inexplicable illness. They called the disease kuru, which means “shivering” or “trembling.”

Once symptoms set in, it was a swift demise. First, they’d have trouble walking, a sign that they were about to lose control over their limbs. They’d also lose control over their emotions, which is why people called it the “laughing death.” Within a year, they couldn’t get up off the floor, feed themselves or control their bodily functions.

Many locals were convinced it was the result of sorcery. The disease primarily hit adult women and children younger than 8 years old. In some villages, there were almost no young women left.

“They were obsessed with trying to save themselves because they knew demographically that they were on the brink of extinction,” says Shirley Lindenbaum, a medical anthropologist with the City University of New York.

But what was causing it? That answer eluded researchers for years. Afterruling out an exhaustive list of contaminants, they thought it must be genetic. So in 1961, Lindenbaum traveled from village to village mapping family trees so researchers could settle the issue.

But Lindenbaum, who continues to write about the epidemic, knew it couldn’t be genetic, because it affected women and children in the same social groups, but not in the same genetic groups. She also knew that it had started in villages in the north around the turn of the century, and then moved south over the decades.

Lindenbaum had a hunch about what was going on, and she turned out to be right. It had to do with funerals. Specifically, it had to do with eating dead bodies at funerals.

In many villages, when a person died, they would be cooked and consumed. It was an act of love and grief.

As one medical researcher described, “If the body was buried it was eaten by worms; if it was placed on a platform it was eaten by maggots; the Fore believed it was much better that the body was eaten by people who loved the deceased than by worms and insects.”

Women removed the brain, mixed it with ferns, and cooked it in tubes of bamboo. They fire-roasted and ate everything except the gall bladder. It was primarily adult women who did so, says Lindenbaum, because their bodies were thought to be capable of housing and taming the dangerous spirit that would accompany a dead body.

“So, the women took on the role of consuming the dead body and giving it a safe place inside their own body — taming it, for a period of time, during this dangerous period of mortuary ceremonies,” says Lindenbaum.

But women would occasionally pass pieces of the feast to children. “Snacks,” says Lindenbaum. “They ate what their mothers gave them,” she says, until the boys hit a certain age and went off to live with the men. “Then, they were told not to touch that stuff.”

Finally, after urging from researchers like Lindenbaum, biologists came around to the idea that the strange disease stemmed from eating dead people. The case was closed after a group at the U.S. National Institutes of Health injected infected human brain into chimpanzees, and watched symptoms of kuru develop in the animals months later. The group, whichwon a Nobel Prize for the findings, dubbed it a “slow virus.”

But it wasn’t a virus — or a bacterium, fungus, or parasite. It was an entirely new infectious agent, one that had no genetic material, could survive being boiled, and wasn’t even alive.

As another group would find years later, it was just a twisted protein, capable of performing the microscopic equivalent of a Jedi mind trick, compelling normal proteins on the surface of nerve cells in the brain to contort just like them. The so-called “prions,” or “proteinaceous infectious particles,” would eventually misfold enough proteins to kill pockets of nerve cells in the brain, leaving the cerebellum riddled with holes, like a sponge.

The process was so odd that some compared it to Dr. Jekyll’s transformation to Mr. Hyde: “the same entity but in two manifestations — a ‘kind’, innocuous one and a ‘vicious’, lethal one.”

The epidemic likely started when one person in a Fore village developed sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a degenerative neurological disorder similar to kuru. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in a million people in the U.S. develop CJD the difference is that others rarely come into contact with infected human tissue.

Though the Fore stopped the practice of mortuary feasts more than 50 years ago, cases of kuru continued to surface over the years, because the prions could take decades to show their effects.

According to Michael Alpers, a medical researcher at Curtin University in Australia who tracked kuru cases for decades, the last person with kuru died in 2009. His team continued surveillance until 2012, when the epidemic was officially declared over. “I have followed up a few rumoured cases since then but they were not kuru,” he wrote in an email.

When Shirley Lindenbaum visited a South Fore village in 2008, one man said excitedly, “See how many children we have now?”  Courtesy Shirley Lindenbaum

But while they remain rare, transmissible prion diseases did not die out with the last kuru case, as people have found repeatedly in recent decades. People have developed variant CJD after eating the meat of cattle infected with mad cow disease. Dr. Ermias Belay, a prion diseaseresearcher with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says that’s the only scenario in which there is “definitive evidence” that humans can develop a prion disease after eating the infected meat of another species.

But, he says, there are still a lot of open questions about how and why humans get prion diseases.

For one, it’s still a mystery why animals, including humans, have those proteins in the first place — the Jekylls that can be so easily turned into Hydes. One leading hypothesis, described recently in the journal Nature, is that they play an important role in the protective coating around nerves.

But here’s the bigger question, says Belay: “How many of these diseases actually jump species and affect humans?”

Kuru showed that people could get a prion disease from eating infected people. Mad cow disease showed that people can get a prion disease from eating infected cow. But what about other prion diseases in other animals? Could, say, hunters get sick from eating infected deer? That’s what researchers in North America, including Belay, are trying to find out right now.

Chronic wasting disease in North America is spreading fast,” says Belay. The disease causes infected wild deer and elk to starve to death. “In early 2000, we had about three states that reported CWD in the wild in deer and elk. Today, that number is 21.”

Belay says the disease is “a little bit concerning” because, unlike mad cow disease and kuru, where infectious prions were concentrated in the brain and nervous system tissue, in an animal with chronic wasting disease, the misfolded prions show up all over the body. They can even be found in saliva, feces and urine, which could explain how the disease is spreading so quickly among wild deer and elk.

The CDC is working with public health authorities in Wyoming and Colorado to monitor hunters for signs of prion disease.

“Unfortunately, because these diseases have long incubation periods, it’s not easy to monitor transmission,” says Belay. He says he and his colleagues have yet to find any evidence that hunters have picked up chronic wasting disease from the meat of infected wild animals.

“And that, in itself, is good news for us,” he says.

But, as with kuru, it will take years — maybe even decades — before he can know for sure.

 

“Adorable” Little Purple Squid

 

Adorable Stubby Squid Found Off the Coast of Southern California
Researchers aboard the E/V Nautilus happened across a particularly cute stubby squid

By Jason Daley
SMITHSONIAN.COM 
AUGUST 17, 2016

VIDEO at source

Scientists try to maintain their composure when conducting research. But researchers aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus couldn’t help but get excited when they happened upon a goofy-looking, googly eyed purple squid while mapping the seafloor off southern California last week.

The creature was a stubby squid, Rossia pacifica, a species that lives in the Pacific ocean from Japan to southern California. The creature was just sitting out in the open on the sea floor when the crew spotted it. “It looks so fake,” one of the researchers says in a video of the encounter. “It looks like some little kid dropped their toy.”

The creature does look strange, like its eyes were painted on its bright purple body by a child. But Samantha Wishnak, a science communication fellow aboard the E/V Nautilus, tells Kacey Deamer at Live Science that things only get weirder from there. “They actually have this pretty awesome superpower, they can turn on a little sticky mucus jacket over their body and sort of collect bits of sand or pebbles or whatever they’re burrowing into and make a really nice camouflage jacket,” she says. “When they go to ambush something and prey on something, they’re able to sort of turn off that mucus jacket.”

The researchers were lucky, says Wishnak, to see the little squid out in the open since the nocturnal predator typically hides in the sediment in its jacket waiting for prey. She also says most of the scientists watching the feed from the ROV were geologists and ecologists unfamiliar with deep sea species, so they were much more excited to see the crazy-looking creature than seasoned marine biologists. Biologists watching the video feed on shore identified the little squid.

The E/V Nautilus is a research vessel funded by Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard’s nonprofit Ocean Exploration Trust. Its mission is to map and research little-explored regions of Earth’s oceans, often streaming live footage of their research to scientists and ocean lovers around the world.

The Nautilus, along with NOAA’s deep sea research vessel, the Okeanos Explorer, has provided a steady stream of images and video, capturing spectacular deep sea creatures in recent months. Just two weeks ago, Nautilus made headlines by discovering a strange purple orb in California’s Channel Islands, which may be a new species of pleurobranch, a genus of sea slugs. Researchers also documented a ghost-like octopus in Hawaii. And in May, the Okeanos ventured to the Challenger Deep, the deepest spot in the ocean, and found dozens of new and interesting species, including an animated-looking glowing jellyfish.

The Nautilus is now leaving southern California for the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary outside San Francisco where it will explore the wreck of the aircraft carrier USS Independence as well as venture through deep sea habitats and coral.

___________________________________

Description

The stubby squid is a small species growing to a maximum mantle length of about 5 cm (2.0 in) and a total length of 11 cm (4.3 in), with females being larger than males. The head bears eight short arms, a pair of retractable tentacles and two large eyes. The first pair of arms is shorter than the others and the third pair the longest. The arms are circular in cross-section and each bears up to four rows of suckers on the middle section and two rows elsewhere. In the male the tips of the first pair of arms are hypercotyli, secondary reproductive structures which are modified for handling spermatophores (bundles of sperm). The tentacles have club-shaped tips with suckers and retract into pits in the head. They can be as long as the body when fully extended. The mantle (body) is not fused to the head and is flattened dorso-ventrally and rounded at the back. It does not contain the cuttlefish bone typical of cuttlefish in the family Sepiidae. There are two large semi-circular fins with wide bases on either side of the mantle. The upper surface of this bobtail squid is normally a reddish-brown colour with a scattering of small brown or yellowish spots, but can change to greyish-green when the animal is startled.  Wikipedia

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/adorable-stubby-squid-found-southern-california-180960160/#ZFUCuLrVKMjMgLbf.99

Meteor Showers Soon

One  Autumn weekend we stayed at the Lion Inn on the Penn State campus for Alice’s  alumni board meeting.  I was time for the Leonid meteor showers!  On our last night there in very good weather we crossed the road into the golf course (with a good number of others) to look up into a fairly dark sky.

It was a good shower–meteors zipping around up there at maybe 3-5 a minute.  Even the next morning when left  we were seeing shooting stars until the sun was well up.

Another time, we joined an Adler Planetarium boat trip to see  the Perseid showers. That was after midnight of course, with a clear sky over Lake Michigan.  After a couple hours of watching, there a few people who thought they had seen a shooting star, maybe.

Image result for meteor shower photography

Chicago Tribune  7.28.16

Ask Tom (Skillings)

Dear Tom,

Where in Illinois or Wisconsin is the best place to see the Perseid meteor shower?

Dear Eva,

We posed your question to Dan Joyce, astronomer at Triton College’s Cernan Earth and Space Center, and he informed us that the best viewing will be after midnight between Aug. 11-13.

Joyce emphasized that there is no need to travel great distances to see the meteor showers, just any dark rural location away from light pollution.

The Perseid meteor shower is visible each summer starting in mid-July and ending in mid- to late-August as the Earth passes through the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle.

Typically up to 80 meteors an hour are visible, but Joyce said that this year’s frequency could double that, with “outbursts” in excess of 150 meteors an hour at peak intensity.