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Humans are causing massive changes in water all over Earth, NASA says

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A 14-year NASA mission has confirmed that a massive redistribution of freshwater is occurring across the Earth, with middle-latitude belts drying and the tropics and higher latitudes gaining water supplies.

The results, which are probably a combination of the effects of climate change, vast human withdrawals of groundwater and simple natural changes, could have profound consequences if they continue, pointing to a situation in which some highly populous regions could struggle to find enough water in the future.

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“To me, the fact that we can see this very strong fingerprint of human activities on the global water redistribution, should be a cause for alarm,” said Jay Famiglietti, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and one of the authors of a new study published in Nature on Wednesday.

The results emerge from the 2002-2016 GRACE mission, which is short for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, supplemented with other additional data sources. The GRACE mission, which recently ended but will soon be replaced by a “Follow-On” endeavor, consisted of two twin satellites in orbit that detected the tug of the Earth’s gravity below them – and monitored mass changes based on slight differences in measurements by the two satellites.

Among all the very massive features on the Earth, water and ice are the ones that change most regularly. Thus, the GRACE data have been used to detect anything from the vast losses of ice in Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska, to changes in ocean currents, to the scale of the California drought.

The new research, led by NASA’s Matthew Rodell, pulls together these and other findings to identify 34 global regions that either gained or lost more than 32 billion tons of water between 2002 and 2016. As the study notes, 32 billion tons is about the amount of water contained in Lake Mead. So all 34 areas saw very large changes.

The resulting map of the findings shows an overall pattern, in which ice sheets and glaciers lose by far the most mass at the poles, but at the same time, middle latitudes show multiple areas of growing dryness even as higher latitudes and the tropical belt tend to see increases in water.

The study emphasizes that the 34 separate changes that it detects do not all have the same cause – not even close.

There’s very strong suspicion that the melting of glaciers and ice sheets is tied to climate change. On land, it’s possible that some droughts and rainfall increases may be also, though the study is cautious about that, noting that natural variability can also be a major factor here.

Still, the idea of mid-latitude drying and higher- and lower-latitude wetting is a common feature of climate change models. “We only have 15 years of data from GRACE, but it sure as heck matches that pattern, it matches it now,” said Famiglietti. “That’s cause for concern.”

Further data from a new launch of the GRACE “Follow-On” mission will contribute to a longer data record that may help better identify trends, Famiglietti said.

And then there are other human induced changes, relating not to climate change but rather to direct withdrawals of water from the landscape.

Thus, in northern India, the northern China plain, the Caspian and Aral Seas, among other regions, human withdrawals for agriculture have subtracted enormous amounts of water mass from the Earth. The changes in the Aral Sea region, previously documented by NASA, have been particularly intense.

There are also some major cases of humans increasing water storage in the landscape, particularly in China, where massive dam construction has created enormous reservoirs.

Mainly, though, what’s striking about the map is the way that a combination of human-driven water withdrawals and droughts seem to be punishing the central latitudes of the northern hemisphere in particular, but also the southern hemisphere to a significant extent.

“I think we have forgotten, society has forgotten, how much water it takes to produce food,” Famiglietti said. “We’ve taken its availability for granted. And you know, now we’re at a point in many of these aquifers where we can’t take it for granted any more. Population is too great, groundwater levels are too low . . . we’re at tipping points.”

Still, it’s important to bear in mind that, while the GRACE data have given a new panoptic view of the changing distribution of water around the globe, the data remain coarse and the causes behind the trends in many cases remain a matter of interpretation, cautioned Peter Gleick, an expert on climate change and water who is president emeritus the Pacific Institute.

“Without a doubt the GRACE system proved that we can see very significant changes in water storage around the planet,” said Gleick. “Figuring out what drives those changes, is a harder thing.”

The next GRACE satellite mission will provide still better data, he agreed.

“We’re in this transition between not really having a global overview, and someday having an incredibly high-resolution sophisticated remote sensing overview,” Gleick said. “That’s where we are.”

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Psychedelic drugs are making a medical comeback over 50 years after the heyday of research on them — here's what …

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shrooms magic mushrooms psilocybinBy the end of the 1960s, most legitimate psychedelic research stopped because researchers and regulators struggled to balance the work with recreational use.Shutterstock

  • Scientific publications are making a case for researching psychedelic drugs such as LSD, peyote cactus, and mushrooms. 
  • Until recently, psychedelics’ potential medical benefits have been overshadowed by a reputation of danger or risk. 
  • Psychedelics could offer creative and potentially therapeutic benefits for mental health, including helping with depression and addiction.
  • There’s also evidence that mushrooms significantly reduces anxiety in patients with life-threatening illnesses like cancer and that ecstasy improves outcomes for people suffering from PTSD.

Psychedelic science is making a comeback.

Scientific publications, therapeutic breakthroughs and cultural endorsements suggest that the historical reputation of psychedelics — such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), mescaline (from the peyote cactus) and psilocybin (mushrooms) — as dangerous or inherently risky have unfairly overshadowed a more optimistic interpretation.

Recent publications, like Michael Pollan’s How to Change your Mind, showcase the creative and potentially therapeutic benefits that psychedelics have to offer — for mental health challenges like depression and addiction, in palliative care settings and for personal development.

Major scientific journals have published articles showing evidence-based reasons for supporting research in psychedelic studies. These include evidence that pscilocybin significantly reduces anxiety in patients with life-threatening illnesses like cancer, that MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetaminecan; also known as ecstasy) improves outcomes for people suffering from PTSD and that psychedelics can produce sustained feelings of openness that are both therapeutic and personally enriching.

Other researchers are investigating the traditional uses of plant medicines, such as ayahuasca, and exploring the neurological and psychotherapeutic benefits of combining Indigenous knowledge with modern medicine.

I am a medical historian, exploring why we now think that psychedelics may have a valuable role to play in human psychology, and why over 50 years ago, during the heyday of psychedelic research, we rejected that hypothesis. What has changed? What did we miss before? Is this merely a flashback?

Healing trauma, anxiety, depression

peyote cactusPeyote cactus is native to southern North America.LM Otero/AP

In 1957, the word psychedelic officially entered the English lexicon, introduced by British-trained and Canadian-based psychiatrist Humphry Osmond.

Osmond studied mescaline from the peyote cactus, synthesized by German scientists in the 1930s, and LSD, a laboratory-produced substance created by Albert Hofmann at Sandoz in Switzerland. During the 1950s and into the 1960s, more than 1,000 scientific articles appeared as researchers around the world interrogated the potential of these psychedelics for healing addictions and trauma.

But, by the end of the 1960s, most legitimate psychedelic research ground to a halt. Some of the research had been deemed unethical, namely mind-control experiments conducted under the auspices of the CIA. Other researchers had been discredited for either unethical or self-aggrandizing use of psychedelics, or both.

Timothy Leary was perhaps the most notorious character in that regard. Having been dismissed from Harvard University, he launched a recreational career as a self-appointed apostle of psychedelic living.

Drug regulators struggled to balance a desire for scientific research with a growing appetite for recreational use, and some argued abuse, of psychedelics.

In the popular media, these drugs came to symbolize hedonism and violence. In the United States, the government sponsored films aimed at scaring viewers about the long-term and even deadly consequences of taking LSD. Scientists were hard-pressed to maintain their credibility as popular attitudes began to shift.

Now that interpretation is beginning to change.

A psychedelics revival

LSD AcidLSD was first made in 1938 by Swiss scientist, Albert Hofmann.Psychonaught via Wikimedia Commons

In 2009, Britain’s chief drug adviser, David Nutt, reported that psychedelic drugs had been unfairly prohibited. He argued that substances such as alcohol and tobacco were in fact much more dangerous to consumers than drugs like LSD, ecstasy (MDMA) and mushrooms (psilocybin).

He was fired from his advisory position as a result, but his published claims helped to reopen debates on the use and abuse of psychedelics, both in scientific and policy circles.

And Nutt was not alone. Several well-established researchers began joining the chorus of support for new regulations allowing researchers to explore and reinterpret the neuroscience behind psychedelics. Studies ranged from those looking at the mechanisms of drug reactions to those revisiting the role of psychedelics in psychotherapy.

In 2017, Oakland, California, hosted the largest gathering to date of psychedelic scientists and researchers. Boasting attendance of more than 3,000 participants, Psychedelic Science 2017 brought together researchers and practitioners with a diverse set of interests in reviving psychedelics — from filmmakers to neuroscientists, journalists, psychiatrists, artists, policy advisers, comedians, historians, anthropologists, Indigenous healers and patients.

The conference was co-hosted by the leading organizations dedicated to psychedelics — including the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and The Beckley Foundation — and participants were exposed to cutting-edge research.

Measuring reaction, not experience

As a historian, however, I am trained to be cynical about trends that claim to be new or innovative. We learn that often we culturally tend to forget the past, or ignore the parts of the past that seem beyond our borders.

For that reason, I am particularly interested in understanding the so-called psychedelic renaissance and what makes it different from the psychedelic heyday of the 1950s and 1960s.

The historic trials were conducted at the very early stages of the pharmacological revolution, which ushered in new methods for evaluating efficacy and safety, culminating in the randomized controlled trial (RCT). Prior to standardizing that approach, however, most pharmacological experiments relied on case reports and data accumulation that did not necessarily involve blinded or comparative techniques.

Historically, scientists were keen to separate pharmacological substances from their organic cultural, spiritual and healing contexts — the RCT is a classic representation of our attempts to measure reaction rather than to interpret experience. Isolating the drug from an associated ritual might have more readily conveyed an image of progress, or a more genuine scientific approach.

Today, however, psychedelic investigators are beginning to question the decision to excise the drug from its Indigenous or ritualized practices.

Over the past 60 years, we have invested more in psychopharmacological research than ever before. American economists estimate the amount of money spent on psychopharmacology research to be in the billions annually.

Rethinking the scientific method

Modern science has focused attention on data accrual — measuring reactions, identifying neural networks and discovering neuro-chemical pathways. It has moved decidedly away from larger philosophical questions of how we think, or what is human consciousness or how human thoughts are evolving.

Some of those questions inspired the earlier generation of researchers to embark on psychedelic studies in the first place.

We may now have more sophisticated tools for advancing the science of psychedelics. But psychedelics have always inspired harmony between brain and behaviour, individuals and their environments, and an appreciation for western and non-western traditions mutually informing the human experience.

In other words, scientific pursuits need to be coupled with a humanist tradition — to highlight not just how psychedelics work, but why that matters.

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Blazing Fireball 40 Times Brighter Than A Full Moon Streaks Across Alabama Sky [Video]

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On Friday morning, a bright meteor came tumbling down from the heavens in Alabama and disintegrated right above the small town of Grove Oak, in DeKalb County, reports the Alabama Newscenter.

According to Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office (MEO), the fireball was “at least 40 times as bright as the full moon” and caused quite the commotion, “triggering every camera and sensor” that MEO operates in the region.

The falling meteor lit up the Alabama sky and was bright enough to be spotted “through partly cloudy skies,” notes Cooke. Several witnesses reported the “extremely bright event,” which occurred right after midnight.

The fireball was also caught on camera both by the space agency, which has six meteor cameras installed in the area, and by private security cameras belonging to residents.

The video above shows the bright meteor streaking down the sky as captured by security and doorbell cameras in Alabama and Georgia, reports the local media outlet.

The first official sighting of the flaming meteor took place at 12:19 a.m. CT some 58 miles (93 kilometers) above Turkeytown, northeast of Gadsden. From there, the fireball zipped across the Alabama sky at dizzying speeds of 53,700 miles per hour (86.4 kilometers per hour), moving west of north, showed the MEO report.

Its journey ended in the sky over Grove Oak, where the meteor broke apart some 18 miles (29 kilometers) above the town.

For now, it remains unknown whether the Alabama meteor left behind meteorites scattered on the ground, Cooke mentioned in his report. What we do know is that the space rock is believed to have come from a small asteroid no more than 6 feet (2 meters) wide.

As reported by AL.com, NASA released a video of the Alabama meteor as well, uploaded on YouTube by the media outlet.

Footage of the fireball falling from the skies was posted on Facebook and Twitter by meteorologist James Spann, courtesy of four camera owners whose equipment recorded the Alabama meteor. One video, shared by Spann on Twitter several hours before the rest of the footage, was captured at 12:22 a.m. CT in Kennesaw, Georgia.

News of the Alabama meteor comes after another space rock penetrated Earth’s atmosphere on July 25, detonating over U.S.’s Thule Air Base in Greenland, per a previous Inquisitr report. That particular meteor almost sparked a war after exploding with 2.1 kilotons of force, since it could have been mistaken for an incoming missile, the media reported at the time.

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The space police there. And it protects not only the Earth

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When you hear the phrase “space police”, imagine the Hollywood sci-Fi film. The reality is not so far from the movie.

The so-called space police is part of the international Committee on space research (COSPAR), established under the International Council for science. It was his submission in space research, the notion of planetary quarantine. For compliance just watching the police, reports rusjev.

In a recent interview with biologist Natalia Novikova told me that before sending into space the unit of the Russian-European mission “Eczemas-2020” must be checked for sterility. This happens with all instruments of the apparatus, to exclude man-made panspermia — that is entering the earth’s life forms to other planets. The sterilization process is very tedious, stringent requirements apply to all staff involved in the work.

According to Gerhard Kminek, who headed until recently the expert group on planetary protection COSPAR, if someone from staff working with the spacecraft, gets sick and becomes a source of infection, it is temporarily excluded from work. Plus the unit itself contain and tested in a special “clean” room.

Bi-bi-si has spoken to the successor of Cineca, Athena Coustenis, the current head of the Commission on planetary protection on the basis of COSPAR. Astrophysicist spoke about what planet we need to protect and from what, and why, you first need to send space mission robots and then humans.

Athena Coustenis: We ship the Rover, which will be in contact with the surface of Mars. The main goal is to find organic material preserved on this planet since ancient times. The Rover will be able to dig two meters deep into the surface in search of specimens of ancient Martian soil. It is in these deep samples are likely to detect the biomarkers, because thin atmosphere of Mars is poorly protects its surface from radiation.

In the case where the purpose of the mission is the search for alien life, we need to be very careful and carefully this planet to protect. Because otherwise you can detect it the life that we ourselves on this planet and brought.

Космическая полиция существует. И защищает она не только Землю

The holder иллюстрацииNASA/JPL-CALTECH/MSSS / HANDOUT
Image captionМиссии with landing on Mars receive the highest category of planetary protection

Bi-bi-si: Why do I need to disinfect vehicles traveling into space?

A. K.: You’d be surprised how long microorganisms can remain in extreme conditions! Over them carried out tests in the laboratories, contain them in a vacuum. Scientists can, for example, to simulate the condition of space travel to figure, they will survive it or not. And microbes do it!

You know the theory of panspermia? According to her, life on Earth has been brought through space with other objects. Am skeptical, but the conditions that you can experience a simple form of life, is impressive. It seems that we are the most vulnerable beings on the planet.

Special issue — what happens if we send people to Mars in order to settle there. About it really didn’t until Elon Musk promised to send a man to Mars. Of course, we do not fully sterilize the astronauts would be harmful to their health. But this is a new and important question that we still have no answer.

In this sense, it is helpful to first conduct robotic missions before sending people. Because a robot will tell you that, for example, on the studied object not found life, including the signs of any extinct forms of life. When we receive a response from the robotic mission, then we can say: “OK, we can go there, there’s nothing there”. If the robot will confirm that there are signs of life, then we will treat this mission quite differently, we will be different to train people who will be there to send.

Космическая полиция существует. И защищает она не только Землю

The holder иллюстрацииPATRICK AVENTURIER/GETTY IMAGES
Image captionМарсоход mission “Eczemas-2020” will be able to dig 2 meters deep into the surface and will be able to detect biomarkers produced in the Martian soil

Bi-bi-si: do all missions the same level of security?

A. K.: Initially it is important to understand whether there would be planned for the spacecraft landing and likely an emergency. The spacecraft may bring on themselves with some organic matter. And even the orbital module can always fail and then have to make its emergency landing [though it was not planned].

The Mars mission are in the higher categories is as follows: third, fourth or fifth. Missions that do not represent a particular threat — for example, when you simply fly past an object, or launch a satellite, or when we think that the space object is anything not living (for example, if the asteroid) — it is the first category. If you fly to a planet, like Venus (but we do not think that I can face life on Venus), or, for example, if it is a mission to the giant planets, have no surface on which to detect life there is no chance, it is the second category of planetary protection.

Mission to the icy moons or to Mars without landing — this is the highest category a third. The fourth category — it is mission landing. And the fifth category is if the spacecraft returns to Earth.

When we don’t return to Earth samples of soil space, e.g. the moon or Mars (which we do not do, but I’m sure that will do in the future), we should concentrate on how not to accidentally bring together with the ground life on other planets. At this point there are very strict requirements that determine the duration of the mission, and the amount of biological load of the apparatus as it will be a debate and what they will be the lifetime.

Often the answers to these questions depend on where you sit. Mars we call a “special area”. Here is a great chance to find living organisms.

Each time we have made more discoveries that affect subsequent missions. For example, after the interplanetary probe Cassini found on Saturn’s moon Enceladus water source which can be an underground reservoir, we realized that the moon also will be subject to a high level of planetary protection.

Космическая полиция существует. И защищает она не только Землю

The holder иллюстрацииROBYN BECK/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Image captionДо as the probe “Cassini” found on Enceladus water scientists and not thought to relate to the missions on the moon with greater caution

Bi-bi-si: What is wrong is to bring earth life to other terms,do you?

A. K.: It will hurt our ability to do science. But I can only speak on his own behalf, that is, from the face of the scientist. Suppose you want to know if there is somewhere else in the Solar system life. Everyone wants to know. If it exists somewhere, that means that it was a unique development, different from the earth. We also can accidentally kill extraterrestrial life — she may be unprepared to defend themselves.

If we don’t give her a chance to develop in a unique way if we will fly and infect it, the goal is to find alien life would be unattainable. We don’t know how life appeared on Earth, why we are different or Vice versa — similar to life anywhere else. We just get no chance to answer all these questions. We will lose an entire academic term.

Bi-bi-si: What would happen if we found alien life?

A. K.: If we find alien life, we will adhere to quarantine and will not immediately deliver it to Earth and study in laboratories. Why all these precautions? Because we don’t want to infect our planet, our own life. It works both ways.

If we find alien life… Actually I have no idea what it could be! Scientists agree that this would be primitive life form. I wouldn’t expect it to be something developed and possess intelligence.

Bi-bi-si: whether different countries have different policies of planetary protection?

AK: just the role of my expert group is to provide a dialogue between the space agencies of different countries. After all, if the Agency of one country will say that he wants one level of safety, and the Agency of the other country wants another, twice as large, it will be a mess. If we fail to coordinate our efforts, it may be that the norm for one is not normal for another. And it will affect security, and the ensuing research results.

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