Tag Archives: scientists

A scary volcano!

Yellowstone National Park in the United States is home to a very large and famous volcano. If it ever woke up it would simply plunge earth into a volcanic winter, creating serious consequences for humanity. And now it seems that scientist have discovered that the forces that drive these events can move more rapidly than previously anticipated. Bad news for us.

Previously it was assumed that new magma entering the system would take milleniums to provoke an eruption, but in fact it could take only decades. A big time difference.

Scientists analyzed crystals that were left in the volcanic leftovers from the last eruption. Each crystal was once inside the magma underground and as they grow layers outwards they record changes in water content, temperature and pressure similar to tree rings. And the crystals recorded a clear up tick in temperature and a change in composition on a rapid time scale. I’m crossing my fingers and hope nothing happens as I type this….



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The ice is melting faster!

Scientists in the U.K have just determined that an increase in sunshine in the past 20 years is having an effect on the ice melt in Greenland. This could literally affect millions of people worldwide. If the Greenland ice sheet melted we could see global sea levels rise by 6 meters.

It has been estimated that 25 per cent of global sea level rise can be attributed to the melting of the ice sheet on Greenland. Since 1995 Greenland has lost about 4.000 gigatons of ice.

Scientists believe that as the Arctic is warming faster, it is affecting the weather over Greenland. There are less clouds and more clear skies in now. This increase in sunlight explains about two-thirds of the ice melt in Greenland since the 1990’s. Since 2003 ice loss has nearly doubled.

No doubt that things could simply go on towards the day when the ice sheet in Greenland is no more, and millions of people who live by the shore will be severely affected. Just slowing the rate of melt will be difficult. Perhaps we should prepare people for what seems inevitable, a global rise in sea levels in the next 25 years that could be catastrophic.

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Don’t swat that fly, it may have a conscience!

Are insects conscious? Are they aware of what is going on around them? Apparently some scientists and some philosophers are toying with this idea. It seems that now, the question is not whether these insects have some sort of consciousness, but where does this end. Some scientists believe that there could be various degrees of consciousness.

It is possible that at the basic level there is simply awareness. For example, a robot vacuum responds to information from the external world but it does not feel anything. This basic awareness may be present in the honeybee.

There are strong reasons for this argument. In part of the human brain there is something called the mid-brain and this area of the brain gives someone basic awareness of its surroundings. The insect brain does the exact same thing as the mid-brain in humans, absorbing information of the external world and sending it to the body where it can organize and act.

There could be far reaching consequences if this theory is correct; it would mean that a robot built with artificial intelligence that can integrate sensory data, memory and body awareness would have the capacity for a minimal amount of consciousness.

In the case of the honeybee, it has about one million neurons while plants do not have what it takes for consciousness. The brains of bees and flies have circuitry that is denser than the celebrated neocortex which is central to human thinking. The implication is that the honeybee may have a low form of awareness.

Other scientists thinks that the argument is possible but argue that there could be several kinds of awareness, and that insects may be aware of motion but not for feeling pain, unlike the octopus and the crab.

In short, insects may have a subjective experience of what they area but without ethical considerations. Next time you see a fly, think that it may be pondering what you are, and what that big hand of yours is about to do. Or not. They may simply register an object that is about to land on their head and not connect the dots, that a smack on the head equals oblivion.

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How green are fish farms?

I always thought that eating fish was better for the environment, at least much better than meat. It now seems that in the case of fish farms it may not always be the case. At the very least, fish farms may make fish less healthy to eat as well as having a negative impact on the environment.

The problem is this; the feed given to the fish in these farms is often other fish that had been fished in the wild. Most farmed fish in Canada are fish such as the Atlantic salmon and these are carnivores. The feed given to them is usually other fish as well as fish oil. Many environmental organizations have said that these wild fishes could be used to feed people and that this practice was unsustainable in the long run.

Most scientists would agree that if the feed for these farm fishes come from plant based ingredients it is a good thing, in theory. In practice, the environmental footprint gets larger as the scale needed to furnish those fish farms grow larger.

As a consumer of fish, the worst aspect of this change of diets for the fish is that the healthy omega-3 fatty acids in the fish could be reduced and make fish such as salmon less tasty as well as less healthy.

Now salmon farmers are aware of this problem and are trying to avoid it but for fish that are omnivorous such as Tilapia that already eat more plant material this could mean that they would end up with even less omega-3.

The best advice given to consumers seems to eat a variety of seafood and to demand that the fish that we eat has been fished in a sustainable way, whether it comes from a farm or fished. Still, lets not forget that even if these fish farms might do more harm to the environment, it would still be far less that the raising of livestock such as beef and its heavy demand on water resources. In fact, most people agree that if one industry should be favoured if they use plant-based ingredients in its feed then it should be the fish farms.

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