. Scientific Frontline

Monday, December 12, 2022

True giant wombat gives Diprotodon podium a wobble

Ramsayia reconstruction (r) next to a modern wombat.
Illustration Credit: Eleanor Pease, CC BY-NC

If you thought Australia was home to only one ancient ‘giant wombat’, think again.

While the Diprotodon – the extinct megafauna species that is distantly related to wombats but was the size of a small car – is commonly (but incorrectly) thought of as Australia’s ‘giant wombat’, researchers from Griffith University have shed light on a large species that does belong in the modern-day wombat family.

The complete skull of this true fossil giant wombat, found in a Rockhampton cave in Queensland and estimated to be around 80,000 years old, has been described for the first time by a team led by Associate Professor Julien Louys from Griffith’s Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution.

Precise solar observations fed millions in ancient Mexico

Rising sun Mount Tlaloc in Mexico.
Photo Credit: Ben Meissner

Without clocks or modern tools, ancient Mexicans watched the sun to maintain a farming calendar that precisely tracked seasons and even adjusted for leap years.

Before the Spanish arrival in 1519, the Basin of Mexico’s agricultural system fed a population that was extraordinarily large for the time. Whereas Seville, the largest urban center in Spain, had a population of fewer than 50,000, the Basin, now known as Mexico City, was home to as many as 3 million people.

To feed so many people in a region with a dry spring and summer monsoons required advanced understanding of when seasonal variations in weather would arrive. Planting too early, or too late, could have proved disastrous. The failure of any calendar to adjust for leap-year fluctuations could also have led to crop failure.

Though colonial chroniclers documented the use of a calendar, it was not previously understood how the Mexica, or Aztecs, were able to achieve such accuracy. New UC Riverside research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrates how they did it. They used the mountains of the Basin as a solar observatory, keeping track of the sunrise against the peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

“We concluded they must have stood at a single spot, looking eastwards from one day to another, to tell the time of year by watching the rising sun,” said Exequiel Ezcurra, distinguished UCR professor of ecology who led the research.

SwRI Study Describes First Ultraviolet Imaging of Sun's Middle Corona

Video Credit: Courtesy of SwRI/NOAA A

A team of researchers from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), NASA and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) have discovered web-like plasma structures in the Sun’s middle corona. The researchers describe their innovative new observation method, imaging the middled corona in ultraviolet (UV) wavelength, in a new study published in Nature Astronomy. The findings could lead to a better understanding of the solar wind’s origins and its interactions with the rest of the solar system.

Since 1995, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has observed the Sun’s corona with the Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO) stationed aboard the NASA and European Space Agency Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft to monitor space weather that could affect the Earth. But LASCO has a gap in observations that obscures our view of the middle solar corona, where the solar wind originates.

Researcher takes aim at turning yellow into green by recycling urine

Urine recycling is the goal of WVU researcher Kevin Orner’s study of a wastewater treatment system that can attach directly to a toilet, extracting valuable nutrients used as fertilizers.
Illustration Credit: Sheree Wentz / West Virginia University

The waste flushed down toilets could be a valuable source of resources and profits — and easier on the environment, according to a West Virginia University engineer’s research.

Kevin Orner, a Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources assistant professor is developing a technology that can treat urine on site rather than at a remote, centralized wastewater treatment facility. The technology could reside underneath a toilet, enabling urine treatment to happen quickly and promoting the recovery of nitrogen, a nutrient that can be sold as a fertilizer.

Orner’s findings, published in the journal Environmental Technology, make urine recycling more feasible in terms of integration into existing infrastructure and could reduce the amount of nutrients that enter lakes and rivers. Excessive nutrient discharge can put aquatic ecosystems at risk by promoting the growth of algae that consume dissolved oxygen in the water.

The goal is to transform waste collection and treatment from an environmentally harmful service that costs money to an environmentally beneficial service that makes money.

El Niño ‘flavors’ help unravel past variability, future response to climate change

Stream in Hilo.
Photo Credit: Pascal Debrunner

As with many natural phenomena, scientists look to the climate of the past to understand what may lie ahead as Earth warms. By assessing so-called ‘flavors’ of El Niño events in historical records and model simulations, researchers have a clearer picture of El Niño patterns over the past 12,000 years and are able to more accurately project future changes and impacts of this powerful force. The study, by scientists at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and University of Colorado Boulder, was published in Nature Communications.

The new set of climate model simulations developed and analyzed by Christina Karamperidou, lead author of the study and associate professor at UH Mānoa, and co-author Pedro DiNezio, associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, are the first to allow the study of changes in the frequency of El Niño flavors during the past 12,000 years.

This work offers new knowledge on how El Niño may respond to climate change and thus can help reduce these uncertainties in global climate models and offer more accurate predictions of El Niño impacts.

All West Coast Abalones at Risk of Extinction on the IUCN Red List

A red abalone is surrounded by a barren of purple sea urchins.
Photo Credit: Katie Sowul/California Department of Fish and Wildlife

All seven of the United States’ abalone species that live on the West Coast are now listed as Critically Endangered or Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, Red List of Threatened Species. These listings were based on a West Coast abalones assessment led by Laura-Rogers Bennett of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, or CDFW, and University of California, Davis.

Six species — red, white, black, green, pink and flat abalone — are listed by IUCN as critically endangered. The northern abalone, also known as threaded or pinto abalone, is listed as endangered.

The IUCN Red List is considered the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of species. While the listing does not carry a legal requirement to aid imperiled species, it helps guide and inform global conservation and funding priorities.

Internet treatment for anger works

Two emotion regulation strategies, mindful emotion awareness and cognitive reappraisal, can help people with problems in managing anger.
Photo Credit: Obie Fernandez

Problems with managing anger can have severe consequences for the afflicted individual and their loved ones. A new study from the Centre for Psychiatry Research at Karolinska Institutet shows that four weeks of therapy delivered over the internet can help people with anger and aggression. The results have been published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

The study, which the researchers have chosen to call the “anger study”, is the first to compare different internet-mediated emotion regulation strategies against anger. The results are expected to be important for understanding emotion regulation and for the dissemination of evidence-based methods.

Studies find Omicron related hospitalizations lower in severity than Delta and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine remains effective in preventing hospitalizations

Photo Credit: Fernando Zhiminaicela

Adult hospitalizations from Omicron-related SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) were less severe than Delta and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (also known as Comirnaty and BNT162b2*) remains effective in preventing not only hospitalization, but severe patient outcomes associated with COVID-19, two new research studies have found.

The University of Bristol-led research, funded and conducted in collaboration with Pfizer Inc., as part of AvonCAP, is published in The Lancet Regional Health – Europe.

AvonCAP records adults who are admitted to Bristol’s two hospital Trusts – North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT) and University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust (UHBW) with possible respiratory infection.

In the first paper ‘Severity of Omicron (B.1.1.529) and Delta (B.1.617.2) SARS-CoV-2 infection among hospitalized adults: a prospective cohort study in Bristol, United Kingdom’ researchers assessed whether Delta SARS-CoV-2 infection resulted in worse patient outcomes than Omicron SARS-CoV-2 infection, in hospitalized patients

The study aimed to provide more detailed data on patient outcomes, such as the need for respiratory support.

Sandia, Intel seek novel memory tech to support stockpile mission

Developed at Sandia National Laboratories, a high-fidelity simulation of the hypersonic turbulent flow over a notional hypersonic flight vehicle, colored grey, depicts the speed of the air surrounding the body, with red as high and blue as low. The turbulent motions that impose harsh, unsteady loading on the vehicle body are depicted in the back portion of the vehicle. Accurately predicting these loads are critical to vehicle survivability, and for practical applications, billions of degrees of freedom are required to predict physics of interest, inevitably requiring massive computing capabilities for realistic turnaround times. The work conducted as part of this research and development contract targets improving memory performance characteristics that can greatly benefit this and other mission applications.
Simulation Credit: Cory Stack

In pursuit of novel advanced memory technologies that would accelerate simulation and computing applications in support of the nation’s stockpile stewardship mission, Sandia National Laboratories, in partnership with Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national labs, has announced a research and development contract awarded to Intel Federal LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Intel Corporation.

Funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Advanced Simulation and Computing program, the three national labs will collaborate with Intel Federal LLC on the project.

“ASC’s Advanced Memory Technology research projects are developing technologies that will impact future computer system architectures for complex modeling and simulation workloads,” said ASC program director Thuc Hoang. “We have selected several technologies that have the potential to deliver more than 40 times the application performance of our forthcoming NNSA Exascale systems.”

Sandia project lead James H. Laros III, a Distinguished Member of Technical Staff, said “this effort will focus on improving bandwidth and latency characteristics of future memory systems, which should have a direct impact on application performance for a wide range of ASC mission codes.”

What is driving the high suicide rate among farmers?

Mental health outreach programs geared toward farmers also need to provide services for their teens, who have similar rates of anxiety and depression, said agricultural and biological engineering professor Josie Rudolphi. The co-director of the North Central Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Center, Rudolphi is conducting a five-year study on the mental health needs of people who live and work on farms. 
Photo Credit: Fred Zwicky

Josie Rudolphi is a professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign whose research examined suicide among farmers and ranchers, as well as the mental health of their children. She is the co-director of the North Central Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Center, a 12-state, 15-partner collaborative based in Illinois Extension that offers stress management and mental health interventions. Rudolphi spoke with News Bureau research editor Sharita Forrest about the mental health needs of people in the farming industry.

Recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that farmers are twice as likely as people in other occupations to die by suicide. What are the unique stressors affecting the mental health of farmers?

While most farmers in the Midwest had a good harvest this year and commodity prices are strong, they are faced with incredibly high input costs. Unpredictable commodity prices have so much impact on the viability of a farm. There’s a lot to celebrate, but the future is so uncertain.

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