Thursday, February 5, 2009

Melting Ice Shelf Could Flood Washington D.C.

People often talk about political powers endangering the seat of our government, but the faster than ever disappearing ice of Antarctica might actually be the biggest threat to Washington D.C.

Scientists predict Washington as one of many cities in the U.S. that will be several feet under water if the 6000 feet Wedst Antarctic Ice Sheet melts. This huge ice sheet that holds several glaciers in place would obviously have catastrophic effects if it disappeared completely, but certain coastal areas could be at risk if even part of it melts. Some states could be completely submerged.

Estimates place a sea level rise at around 16 feet in the case of a major ice shelf collapse. The rise would not be uniform, and strange gravitational effects could result from the lack of pull at the poles.

This meltdown could occur anywhere from decades to centuries, or it may not happen at all.

Melting and reformation of ice in polar regions is normal and part of natural patterns, but resarchers are concerned to see ice in both polar regions disappearing faster than in any other time in history. While there is evidence that global warming may be part of a naturally occuring cycle, other evidence suggests that the abnormally high melt is partially the fault of human activity.

Whether the melt is natural or not, scientists are concerned because it will have major effects on human life either way.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bats Dying as Mysterious Disease Spreads

It wasn't too long ago that a few bats were discovered in a New York cave, dead from a mysterious condition known as white-nose syndrome. Now scientists are alarmed over what appears to be a spread of the deadly disease to at least 6 other states in the northeastern U.S.

The disease causes bats to use up their fat stores, resulting in hibernation ending early, often during a time of year when insects and food sources are almost unavailable. The cause is a type of fungus that spreads along the skin of bats, creating a white nosed appearance.

White-nose syndrome is not a threat to humans, but a decrease in the number of bats could be dangerous for the balance of ecological systems. Insect numbers could increase as bats die off, contributing to crop disease and other ecological issues.

In the 2 years since the disease was first discovered near Albany, it has possibly spread as far as West Virginia and killed up to hundreds of thousands of bats in 6 states, including bats that are currently considered endangered species.

Researchers are investigating by tracking brown bats with radio transmitters, as well as trying to come up with methods of combating the disease before it spreads even further. What little time they have left will tell how successful they are.

The original article:

Monday, February 2, 2009

New South American Species Found!

This image, credited to Yahoo News, shows a glass frog, one of 10 new species discovered last week in Colombia. The discoveries include 4 types of frogs, some poisonous) and a type of salamander.

All new discoveries were amphibians, welcome news to conservationists that have been worried about their recent disappearing numbers. Amphibians are particularly sensitive to climate change and ecological effects due to the type of skin they possess.

Extinction of amphibians would have many extreme effects on the world, including a rise in disease, as the insects that carry certain pathogens would increase without their predators.

Deforestation is currently a threat to the area in which they were discovered, and conservationists are working with locals to preserve the area for the benefit of both the animals and humans.

The original article:

"Hobbit Bones" Continue to Fascinate

If you keep up with science news, I'm sure you remember the exciting headlines a few years ago over the "Hobbit bones" that were discovered in Indonesia. Maybe you even kept up with the unfolding story. The latelst is that scientists are arguing over whether the bones belonged to tiny humans or a seperate species.

Those that missed the original story can read about it and view pictures here:

Some researchers suggest that the tiny brains (around a third the size of our own) were due to pathological causes, such as microencephaly.
You can learn about microencephaly here:

Others argue that the beings had features more in line with a different species, despite a few striking similarities with humans.

Skull asymmetry in the specimen could be the result of either pathology or a natural occurance from being buried 10 feet underground for so long.

Some researchers argue that the dozens of similar tiny bones (although without skulls) uncovered in the same area is enough to disprove the pathology theory.

New papers have been released featuring details such as the tiny creatures' diets, based on animal remains found in the same cave as the tiny bones. They most likely ate pygmy elephants, komodo dragons, and giant storks. There was no evidence of sea creatures in their diets.

The one thing we know from the arguments is that the bones are still a mystery. Hopefully we'll know more someday.

Original article

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Alaska's Mount Redoubt Set To Erupt "Within Days"

Preperations are being made for an explosive, ash spewing eruption of Mount Redoubt, which is likely to come at any time over the next few days. The massive 10,197 foot volcano, located 100 miles from Anchorage, is currently rumbling and displaying signs of seismic activity.

Depending on weather conditions, it could possibly carry ash plumes directly towards Alaska's largest city. The last eruption, almost 2 decades ago, covered Anchorage with a fine layer of ash and darkened the skies, temporarily halting air traffic.

Volcanic ash, made up of rock and miniscule glass shards, can be very harmful or even deadly in some circumstances. Residents of Anchorage and surrounding areas have been advides to avoid leaving their houses in the case of an eruption, and to wear protective gear when venturing out. Sales of dust masks and respirators have increased.

If you live in Anchorage or anywhere near the volcano, good luck and stay safe.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gene Therapy Cures?

Gene therapy might promise an end to the fatal "Bubble Boy" disease, possibly curing 8 out of 10 children suffering from the disorder. The 8 kids who received treatment for the rare but deadly condition were able to discontinue their expensive and sometimes ineffective medications during the 4 year follow-up period.

Bubble Boy disease, which affects up to 100 babies born in the U.S. alone, is the result of severe immune system deficiency; most babies affected don't survive past childhood. One of the most famous cases was that of Houston's David Vetter, who lived most of his 12 years behind plastic to cut down on his exposure to germs.

Gene therapy, from the studies done in Italy and Israel, was used on patients under the age of 2. The "researchers removed marrow cells from the patients, equipped the cells with working copies of the gene for the enzyme, and injected the cells back into the patients." (Malcolm Ritter, AP Science, Wednesday January 28)

There are 2 seperate forms of the disorder, and gene therapy seems to show promising results for both, but with a leukemia risk as a side effect for one form. None of the kids in the study showed any signs of leukemia or any other negative side effects.

The study is important because it shows promise as a possible cure not only for this rare disease, but for more common conditions such as sickle cell disease and related blood conditions.

Read about stem cells reversing paralysis in rats:

Here's Your Chance to Vote on New Hubble Image!

The Hubble Space Telescope team is poised to take a new image of something we've never seen before, and it's up to us to decide what exactly it's going to be.

The image choices in the running include unseen nebulae in our own galaxy, three distant galaxies, or an interaction between 2 galaxies.

You can vote until May 1st, and the winning image will be chosen the first week of April. While you're voting, you can also enter a contest to be one of 100 lucky people to win a photo print of the winning image.

You can go here to cast your vote:

More info about the space images, as well as an interesting video relating to a Hubble discovery: