‘Lost’ tectonic plate found beneath California

By Stephanie Pappas

Published March 19, 2013


  • Farallon-130318

    The Isabella anomaly in California is in line with known remnants of the long-gone Farallon plate. (Forsyth lab/Brown University)

A tectonic plate that disappeared under North America millions of years ago still peeks out in central California and Mexico, new research finds.

The Farallon oceanic plate was once nestled between the Pacific and North American plates, which were converging around 200 million years ago at what would become the San Andreas fault along the Pacific coast. This slow geological movement forced the Farallon plate under North America, a process called subduction.


‘This work has radically changed our understanding of the make-up of the west coast of North America.’

– Study co-author Brian Savage of the University of Rhode Island


Much of the Farallon plate got pushed down into the mantle, the gooey molten layer below the Earth’s crust. Off the coast, parts of the plate fragmented, leaving some remnants at the surface, stuck to the Pacific plate.

Now, new research published Monday, March 18, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that these pieces of Farallon plate are attached to much larger chunks at the surface. In fact, part of the Baja region of Mexico and part of central California near the Sierra Nevada mountains sit upon slabs of Farallon plate.

The finding solves a mystery of California geology. Earth scientists use seismic waves (either recorded from earthquakes or created with dynamic charges or other methods) to map out the region beneath the Earth’s surface. Softer and hotter materials slow seismic waves down. The waves move faster through stiffer, cooler material.

In California, these seismic surveys revealed a large mass of cool, dry material 62 miles to 124 miles below the surface. This strange spot was dubbed the “Isabella anomaly.” [7 Ways the Earth Changes in the Blink of an Eye]

Despite many theories, no one had nailed down exactly what caused the Isabella anomaly. Then researchers discovered another anomaly (where the researchers saw a change in seismic wave speed where one wasn’t expected) under the Baja Peninsula, directly east of some of the known remains of the Farallon plate. The proximity led Brown University geophysicists Donald Forsyth and Yun Wang (now at the University of Alaska) to suspect they might be related.

Near the eastern edge of the anomaly, the researchers found volcanic rock deposits called high-magnesium andesites. These are usually linked to the melting of oceanic crust, suggesting that this is the spot where the Farallon plate broke off and subducted, melting into the mantle.

A re-examination of the Isabella anomaly found that it, too, lined up with known Farallon fragments.

“This work has radically changed our understanding of the make-up of the west coast of North America,” study co-author Brian Savage of the University of Rhode Island said in a statement. “It will cause a thorough rethinking of the geological history of North America and undoubtedly many other continental margins.”

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/03/19/lost-tectonic-plate-found-beneath-california/?intcmp=features#ixzz2O3RDlXxO

Neanderthals doomed by vision-centered brains

By Tia Ghose

Published March 13, 2013


  • modern-human-neanderthal

    Neanderthals had a characteristic “bun head” shaped skull which allowed for expanded visual processing in the back of the brain. That left them less head space for the frontal lobe, which governs social cognition. (Neanderthal Museum (Mettmann, Germany))

Neanderthals’ keen vision may explain why they couldn’t cope with environmental change and died out, despite having the same sized brains as modern humans, new research suggests.

The findings, published Tuesday, March 12, in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggest that Neanderthals developed massive visual regions in their brains to compensate for Europe’s low light levels. That, however, reduced the brain space available for social cognition.

“We have a social brain, whereas Neanderthals appear to have a visual brain,” said Clive Gamble, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton, who was not involved in the study.

As a result, the extinct hominids had smaller social and trading networks to rely on when conditions got tough. That may have caused Neanderthals to die off around 35,000 years ago.

Brain size riddle
Just how smart Neanderthals were has been a long-standing debate.

“Either they get regarded as lumbering brutes, or the other side says, ‘No, they weren’t that stupid. They had enormous brains, so they must have been as smart as we are,'” said study co-author Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford.

To help solve the riddle, Dunbar and his colleagues looked at 13 Neanderthal skull fossils dating from 25,000 to 75,000 years ago and compared them with 32 anatomically modern human skeletons. The researchers noticed that some of the Neanderthal fossils had much larger eye sockets, and thus eyes, than do modern humans. [10 Odd Facts About the Brain]

Low lighting
The team concluded that Neanderthals used their oversized eyes to survive in the lower-light levels in Europe, where the northern latitude means fewer of the sun’s rays hit the Earth. (Modern humans also tend to have slightly bigger eyes and visual systems at higher latitudes than those living in lower latitudes, where light levels are higher.) The researchers hypothesized that Neanderthals must, therefore, also have had large brain regions devoted to visual processing.

And in fact, Neanderthal skulls suggest that the extinct hominids had elongated regions in the back of their brains, called the “Neanderthal bun,” where the visual cortex lies.

“It looks like a Victorian lady’s head,” Dunbar told LiveScience.

Anatomically modern humans, meanwhile, evolved in Africa, where the bright light required no extra visual processing, leaving humans free to evolve larger frontal lobes.

By calculating how much brain space was needed for other tasks, the team concluded that Neanderthals had relatively less space for the frontal lobe, a brain region that controls social thinking and cultural transmission.

Isolated and dying
The findings explain why Neanderthals didn’t ornament themselves or make art, Gamble told LiveScience.

These results may also help explain the Neanderthals’ extinction, Dunbar said.

Smaller social brain regions meant smaller social networks. In fact, artifacts from Neanderthal sites suggest they had just a 30-mile trading radius, while human trade networks at the time could span 200 miles, Dunbar said.

With competition from humans, a bitter ice age and tiny trading networks, the Neanderthals probably couldn’t access resources from better climates, which they needed in order survive, he said.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/03/13/neanderthals-doomed-by-vision-centered-brains/?intcmp=features#ixzz2NRS4pJ3I

Florida researchers develop medically safer hybrid grapefruit

Published March 12, 2013


  • Grapefruit

Grapefruit fans who gave up the fruit to avoid potentially dangerous interactions with their prescription medications may soon be able to indulge in the tangy fruit without risk.

Tests on a new hybrid grapefruit developed in Florida found very low levels of the organic chemical compounds implicated in what is known as the “grapefruit juice effect,” said Fred Gmitter, a University of Florida citrus researcher and breeder.

More than 85 drugs may interact with standard grapefruit, 43 with serious side effects, and the number is growing, according to a recent report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Among the drugs which may interact with grapefruit are certain cholesterol-lowering statins, some cancer and heart drugs and antibiotics.

The problem with grapefruit, according to Gmitter, is a family of organic chemical furanocoumarins believed to inhibit enzymes from breaking down certain medication, leading to drugs entering the blood stream in higher concentrations than intended, causing an overdose.

Potential adverse effects include sudden death and kidney or respiratory failure, according to the medical journal.

Gmitter said chemical analysis of the hybrid grapefruit, known for now as UF914, found levels of furanocoumarins at a small fraction of the level in standard grapefruit.

Subsequent tests of the juice in human cell cultures indicated the fruit would not produce harmful side effects, he said. Human clinical trials would be needed to stake an absolute claim that the hybrid has solved the problem of fruit and drug interactions, he added.

As word began to spread about the hybrid to people on medications who had been warned away from grapefruit, Gmitter said, “I’ve gotten phone calls from all around the country … saying, oh my gosh, I miss my Florida grapefruit, when can I have this grapefruit, I miss grapefruit so much.”

The University of Florida is in the process of commercializing the hybrid, a cross between pomelos and red grapefruit, with large-scale production likely five to seven years from now. Discovery of the lower levels of furanocoumarins was a serendipitous bonus in a breeding project Gmitter said was intended to create a sweeter and less bitter variety.

In focus groups the hybrid, which is seedless, and larger, juicier, sweeter and less bitter than a standard grapefruit, won approval from people who liked and didn’t like grapefruit, he said.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/03/12/florida-researchers-develop-medically-safer-hybrid-grapefruit/?intcmp=HPBucket#ixzz2NLSupHMx

Aggressive Florida mosquito set to spoil summer, scientist says

Published March 10, 2013


  • Mosquito Bite

If you live in Florida, a large, aggressive mosquito with a painful bite may soon be coming to a place near you.

One scientist at the University of Florida is predicting that another wave of Psorophora ciliate, sometimes called gallinippers, could be coming along with the summer’s rains.

The species is around a half an inch long with a black and white color pattern, the University of Florida News reports.

“The bite really hurts, I can attest to that,” said Phil Kaufman, an entomologist at the school.

Flooding from Tropical Storm Debbie unleashed huge numbers of the mosquitos throughout Florida last June, according to the University of Florida News.

Click for more from the University of Florida News.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/03/10/aggressive-mosquito-may-spread-throughout-florida-in-summer-scientist-says/?intcmp=HPBucket#ixzz2NJSukkBk

EXCLUSIVE: Inside the last Manhattan Project facility in Manhattan


War Games

Published February 28, 2013




Terrible Beauty: Remembering the Manhattan Project

In late 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt and the United States government developed a top-secret plan: The Manhattan Project. See more historic photos in the full gallery at Life.com. 


The last remaining Manhattan Project facility still located in Manhattan was officially transformed into a modern new laboratory Wednesday — part of an ongoing commitment to keep Americans safe from radiological threats.

The lab, which quietly goes about its business in a trendy, downtown section of the city, was part of the Medical Division of the Atomic Energy Commission, founded in 1947. That group was one part of the massive research and development effort that led to the development of the atomic bomb.

With fallout from nuclear tests a national concern, the Medical Division assessed radiation levels using a network of monitoring stations and taking measurements in food products. During the Cold War, this network expanded worldwide and included samples from soil, water and air filters on the ground and in the stratosphere.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the lab was transferred from the Energy Department to the Department of Homeland Security and its name changed to the National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL).

At this point, its mission changed as well, to preventing terrorist attacks and other hazards in American cities. Yet it continues to leverage its nuclear roots.

On Wednesday, NUSTL exclusively revealed to FoxNews.com its new state-of-the-art laboratory.

Chief Edward Kilduff, the city’s highest ranking uniformed firefighter, and Richard Daddario, the deputy commissioner for counterterrorism at the New York Police Department, represented the FDNY and NYPD at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Also in attendance were Acting Director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office Huban Gwodia, S&T’s Director of the Office of National Labs Jamie Johnson and Director of S&T’s First Responder Group Bob Griffin, who joined NUSTL Director Adam Hutter and DHS S&T Under Secretary Dr. Daniel Gerstein.

Reading the City’s Radiation
Opening day at the revamped center revealed a piece of recovered World Trade Center steel on display in the reception area. “It’s a sobering reminder of the lives lost, and a motivation for why we come to work every day,” Hutter told FoxNews.com.

In a massive departure from the lab of the past half a century, the modern lab was designed with collaboration in mind to bring together sponsors, developers and first responders who will use the technology.

The Gamma Room, Neutron Room, Health and Physics Room were just a few of the technical work areas and modern labs.

While scientists in the Gamma Room may not yet have produced an Incredible Hulk or Fantastic Four just yet, they have pioneered gamma detection, leading to the deployment of approximately 25 threat detection devices throughout the city.

In a new Training and Assessments Center, first-responder focus groups can evaluate technologies and report on the results. In a Health and Physics room, NUSTL studies natural radiological sources, which can be found in surprising places.

“Kitty litter,” they explained, accounts for about 30 percent of radiological hits.

“We can better protect people by partnering with Feds and others … NUSTL is critical,” Kilduff told FoxNews.com.

Mission: Securing Against Nuclear Threats
Since 2009, NUSTL’s team has tested thousands of radiation detection systems to ensure they are functioning effectively. Every single piece of such equipment used by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut authorities is tested here prior to distribution to the law enforcement community.

“With even relatively low-technology consumer products, not everything works right out of the box,” Hutter said. “The situation is more severe with highly complex technologies.”

Developed, tested and transitioned by NUSTL, the Radiological Emergency Management System is a gamma radiation detection network that monitors radiation levels throughout the city.

Already fully deployed, it provides a single picture of the radiological threat for emergency managers within moments of  an incident.

Immediate knowledge of radiation levels is important because emergency management officials can then deploy resources effectively.

This sort of information is essential to provide correct advice on whether the public should shelter in place or evacuate. When used with meteorological data and plume modeling, REMS can predict the path of radioactive plumes and provide early warnings to areas that will become affected.

Tech Testing and Technical Advice
NUSTL ensures that first responders who must regularly face danger are covered by technology that is not only cutting-edge, but reliable.

The lab performs rigorous performance testing to make sure that the tools and technologies that are purchased actually work as designed. It also ensures that technologies will translate into operational capabilities.

“There is great need to apply tech tools in the field,” the NYPD’s Richard Daddario told FoxNews.com. “NUSTL provides an opportunity to bring us together on important tech issues.”

Utilizing licensed radioactive sources, NUSTL supported training courses and exercises for more than 350 state and local first responders.

Its strategic location in New York City means the lab can support first responders in the area as well as the national homeland-security community.

New York City is an urban test bed, in other words, for the diverse technologies and systems being developed to prepare and protect the nation.

Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at wargames@foxnews.com or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2013/02/28/inside-last-manhattan-project-facility-in-manhattan/?intcmp=features#ixzz2MMULVlqn

Are your hot air balloon travel excursions safe?

Published February 26, 2013


  • egypt_hotairballoon_ap.jpg

    An aerial view of the balloon launch site near Luxor in Egypt, prior to a hot air balloon explosion which killed 18 tourists Tuesday Feb. 26, 2013. (AP)

The tragic hot air balloon accident in Egypt that killed at least 19 people and injured two others has thrust the safety of hot air balloons into the international spotlight and has shaken the public’s trust of tour operators.

While hot air balloon accidents rare, accidents like the one in Eqypt have resulted in a number of fiery deaths over the years.

In August 2012 six people were killed and 26 injured when a hot air caught fire and crashed near the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana. Earlier that year, a hot air balloon struck power lines near Carterton, New Zealand and exploded, killing all 11 people on board. And in 2009 four Dutch tourists were killed in Guangxi, China, after pilots lost control and their hot air balloon burst into flames and crashed.

“Most of the time balloon accidents are not fatal. Most of the time they’re high wind incidents resulting in broken arm or leg,” Michael Gerred, the president of balloon operator Light Flight in Maryland, told FoxNew.com.

Initial reports from Egypt say the accident occurred after a cable got caught around a helium tube while the balloon was landing. A fire erupted, according to an investigator with Egypt’s state prosecutor’s office, which caused the balloon to shoot up in the air in a fiery ball and then plunge some 1,000 feet to the ground.

While it’s too early to say who’s at fault, some industry experts caution that in countries like Egypt and Burma where hot balloon rides over the ancient temples and rivers are the cornerstone of the tourist trade, highly experienced pilots from the U.K. or the U.S. are increasingly being replaced by locals who may not have the same level of experience.

There are no international standards that regulate the ballooning industry, and tour companies must adhere only to safety regulations imposed by each country. In developing countries, the regulations are more lax than those in the U.S. or the U.K., although most large operators follow the stricter U.S. and U.K. safety guidelines.

But if you’re considering a hot air balloon excursion, how do you know if a company you’re booking is trustworthy or not?

Gerred says one of the biggest obstacles when booking a hot air balloon trip overseas is finding the tour company’s safety record and information about the pilots.“To find the level of experience is next to impossible. The best thing to do is go through a reputable company.”

Austin-Lehman Adventures owner and founder Dan Austin says one thing you can do is to look for a fully insured tour operator. They must have a crisis management plan for emergency scenarios–and practice it regularly—a requirement for the top insurance company.

If you’re booking a hot air balloon excursion in the U.S. finding information about an outfit or pilot is much easier. The Federal Aviation Administration, which licenses and regulates all balloon pilots, has a database which enables users to look up pilots by name. In addition, the National Transportation Safety Board keeps accident records that are available to the public.

Austin says to start your research by first creating a short list of potential tour operators. “Google is your friend. Pour through your travel magazines. They often list the ‘best of the best’ in special annual editions. Look for them online.”

Gerred says not to be afraid to pick up and phone and ask the company about its safety record and if it ever had an accident. He advises looking for a company that has multiple pilots who’ve had five or more years’ experience.

Some good questions to ask are:

How long they’ve been in business.

Do they run their own tours or outsource them to others?

What is the average group size (there are regulations on the amount of people you can have in the basket at one time)?

Do they own their own equipment or rent it?

Also ask them to give you referrals, and find out about deposit and cancellation policies.

Austin says the key is to track all interactions. ”If a company fails to get back to you in a timely manner and/or answer your questions accurately and thoroughly, do you really want to trust your vacation to them?” Bottom line, they should handle their customers like their business.

And one final bit of advice, consider a good travel insurance plan. While situations beyond your control do arise, making sure you have access to a medical evacuation if you need it will give you peace of mind.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2013/02/26/are-your-air-balloon-travel-excursions-safe/?intcmp=features#ixzz2M4L0HRXa

‘Lost’ continent discovered beneath Indian Ocean

Published February 25, 2013


  • New continent indian ocean.jpg

    Beneath the waters of the Indian Ocean lies a hidden “micro-continent,” scientists say. (Google / FoxNews.com)

  • New continent indian ocean 2.jpg

    The numbers in the circles are ages in millions of years. The areas with topography just below the sea surface are now regarded as continental fragments, scientists say. (GFZ/Steinberger)

Hidden beneath the brilliant blue waters of the Indian Ocean lies a secret, scientists say: an entire micro-continent that detached itself some 60 million years ago.

And they found it through a few handfuls of sand.

The islands Reunion and Mauritius, both well-known tourist destinations off the south-eastern coast of Africa, are hiding the micro-continent, a fragment known as Mauritia that detached while Madagascar and India drifted apart during the Precambrian era, scientists said.

It had been hidden under huge masses of lava. A group of geoscientists from Norway, South Africa, Britain and Germany published a study that suggests, based on the study of lava sand grains from the beach of Mauritius, the existence of further fragments.

The sand grains contain semi-precious zircons aged between 660 million and 1.9 billion years, which is explained by the fact that the zircons were carried by the lava as it pushed through subjacent continental crust of this age.

“We found zircons that we extracted from the beach sands, and these are something you typically find in a continental crust. They are very old in age,” professor Trond Torsvik, from the University of Oslo, Norway, told the BBC.

Three-quarters of a billion years ago, the surface of the Earth looked very different than it does today; the planet’s continents were joined in a vast supercontinent called Rodina. And at the time, India nestled up against the island of Madagascar.

It seems Mauritia was sandwiched between the two.

And it may not have been alone: Such micro-continents in the oceans seem to occur more frequently than previously thought, according to Torsvik’s study.

The break-up of continents is often associated with mantle plumes: giant bubbles of hot rock that rise from the deep mantle and soften the tectonic plates from below, until the plates break apart at the hotspots.

Eastern Gondwana — another early supercontinent — broke apart about 170 million years ago in just such a process, the scientists say. At first, one part was separated, which in turn fragmented into Madagascar, India, Australia and Antarctica, which then migrated to their present position.

Plumes currently situated underneath the islands Marion and Reunion appear to have played a role in the emergence of the Indian Ocean.

This dating method was supplemented by a recalculation of plate tectonics, which explains exactly how and where the fragments ended up in the Indian Ocean. Bernhard Steinberger of the GFZ German Research Centre helped calculate the hotspot trail.

“The continent fragments continued to wander almost exactly over the Reunion plume, which explains how they were covered by volcanic rock,” he said.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/02/25/lost-continent-discovered-beneath-indian-ocean/?intcmp=features#ixzz2M4Iy4nWB

Hundreds of vultures swarm North Carolina neighborhood

 Image result for Hundreds of vultures swarm North Carolina neighborhood

Published February 18, 2013


A group of North Carolina neighbors say they are on edge because hundreds of vultures have been swarming their neighborhood.

WSOC reports the birds have been scaring children and pets as they travel in packs around the neighborhood, and are so numerous they completely covered one of the homes.

“It makes me feel kind of creepy,” resident Ann McEntire told WSOC.

The station reports the birds may be hanging around North Carolina because the mild winter is dissuading them from migrating.

State agricultural agents say the vultures are likely attracted to the neighborhood because it has many dead trees, and getting rid of those could be the first step to get rid of the birds.

Click for more from WSOC. 

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/02/18/hundreds-vultures-swarm-north-carolina-neighborhood/?intcmp=HPBucket#ixzz2LJkNoqqq