Scientists explore why identity and history matter in science
You may wonder what the bizarre subatomic world of quantum physics or the fates of distant stars have to do with our everyday lives.
But even the strangest aspects of the universe make us who and what we are. And who we are, and where we come, from shape what we know and how we know it.
Quantum physicist Shohini Ghose at Wilfrid Laurier University, and Mi’kmaq astrophysicist Hilding Neilson at Memorial University were interviewed for the Conversations at the Perimeter podcast, produced by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. They discussed the connections between identity and science.
Perimeter Institute’s Lauren Hayward and Colin Hunter interviewed both scientists.
Shohini Ghose on a quantum social revolution
You wrote a really nice article for Morals and Machines, and the theme was how quantum can help us go beyond the binary. So what are some of the the ways that we can learn about non-binary thinking inspired by quantum mechanics?
Well, everything in quantum mechanics is about letting go of specifics and precision. The idea that science and the way we think about science can impact society is not new. As our science evolves, our social thinking also evolves.
For example, the Industrial Revolution and thinking around possessions and mass marketing and scales of how we think about things, as well as knowing exactly one thing or another — that has all absolutely shaped the way we behave socially. So to me, it feels like whether we like it or not, this whole new revolution with new quantum technologies that actually harnesses these stranger properties of quantum…all of that is based on quantum ideas. But now we’re getting to the parts that we were kind of ignoring, like the uncertainty and entanglement.
Perhaps in society too, we will naturally start expanding our choices from right and wrong to a more broader spectrum and not just right or wrong, or any time we try to have polar opposite kind of thinking — I think perhaps that we will start evolving and we will get to newer ways and new approaches which can influence so many aspects of our behaviour, whether we’re choosing what we want to eat at a restaurant versus our politics and our policies, and so many, many aspects of our identities.
We are at the intersection of so many different environments and influences and our own human characteristics that if you think about it that way, it feels narrow that we’ve not really embraced that kind of thinking already.
Ghose’s forthcoming book, Her Time, Her Space: How Trailblazing Women Scientists Decoded the Universe, will be published this fall.
Hilding Neilson on the legacy of colonalism in astronomy
Can you talk about what astro-colonialism is?
When we talk about astronomy and science and space, we talk about them in terms of a certain perspective, and that perspective tends to be Eurocentric.
So for instance, the constellations in the northern hemisphere, we have the Big Dipper or Ursa major. We have Cassiopeia, Cepheus, we have Draco, and they all come from this one historical context, largely Greek and Roman astronomy.
And the Greeks and Romans told great stories about these things. And as you travel through time, those constellations sort of get maintained through star maps and European courts. It became part of the navigation in the oceans when we had first colonization of the Americas and then the slave trade. And they kept existing until the 20th century when the International Astronomical Union formed, which was great. It was supporting astronomy worldwide, but at the time it was essentially a bunch of white dudes from Europe, and they formed a committee to simplify the night sky and have 88 constellations.
There are people around the world, whether it’s in Asian countries, in Asian regions, in the North, Northern Europe, Indigenous peoples in the Americas, Indigenous peoples who have their own stories — [their] own constellations. We don’t see them anymore. I open a textbook. I see Ursa major — I don’t see my constellations from Mi’kmaq or Haudenosaunee constellations or Salish or Inuit constellations. That’s erasing our stories, and that’s colonialism.
Then we have the future of colonialism, which is going to space. The way we do space exploration and space settlement is the exact same narrative that we did when Canada, the U.S., was being settled — the pioneer, the frontiersmanship, man versus nature element.
Tell us just a little bit about your own personal relationship with the night sky.
I’m Mi’kmaq from Newfoundland. And we didn’t grow up in an Indigenous community because lost settlements were more spread out across the island. So I grew up basically in suburbia watching Mr. Dressup and MuchMusic. So I didn’t really have a strong connection with my heritage and where I come from.
One of the best parts of the Western coastline other than Gros Morne and the skiing is the clear night skies, seeing the Milky Way and all the stars, meteor showers and you feel you see this blanket of stars, it feels like home.
Listen to both of these interviews wherever you get your favourite podcasts or click on the play button above
*This episode was produced by Chris Wodskou.
Campi Flegrei volcano edges closer to possible eruption – Phys.org
The Campi Flegrei volcano in southern Italy has become weaker and more prone to rupturing, making an eruption more likely, according to a new study by researchers at UCL (University College London) and Italy’s National Research Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV).
The volcano, which last erupted in 1538, has been restless for more than 70 years, with two-year spikes of unrest in the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s, and a slower phase of unrest over the last decade. Tens of thousands of small earthquakes have occurred during these periods and the coastal town of Pozzuoli has been lifted by nearly 4 m (13 ft), roughly the height of a double-decker bus.
The new study, published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, used a model of volcano fracturing, developed at UCL, to interpret the patterns of earthquakes and ground uplift, and concluded that parts of the volcano had been stretched nearly to breaking point.
Lead author Professor Christopher Kilburn (UCL Earth Sciences) said, “Our new study confirms that Campi Flegrei is moving closer to rupture. However, this does not mean an eruption is guaranteed. The rupture may open a crack through the crust, but the magma still needs to be pushing up at the right location for an eruption to occur.”
“This is the first time we have applied our model, which is based on the physics of how rocks break, in real-time to any volcano.”
“Our first use of the model was in 2017 and since then Campi Flegrei has behaved as we predicted, with an increasing number of small earthquakes indicating pressure from below.”
“We will now have to adjust our procedures for estimating the chances of new routes being opened for magma or gas to reach the surface.”
“The study is the first of its kind to forecast rupture at an active volcano. It marks a step change in our goal to improve forecasts of eruptions worldwide.”
Dr. Nicola Alessandro Pino from the Vesuvius Observatory, which represents the INGV in Naples, said, “Our results show that parts of the volcano are becoming weaker. This means that it might break even though the stresses pulling it apart are smaller than they were during the last crisis 40 years ago.”
Campi Flegrei is the closest active volcano to London. It is not an obvious volcano because, instead of growing into a traditional mountain, it has the shape of a gentle depression 12-14 km (7.5-8.5 miles) across (and thus is known as a caldera). This explains why 360,000 people now live on its roof.
For the past decade, the ground below Pozzuoli has been creeping upwards at about 10 cm (4 in) a year. Persistent small earthquakes have also been registered for the first time since the mid-1980s. More than 600 were recorded in April, the largest monthly number so far.
The disturbance has been caused by the movement of fluids about 3 km (2 miles) beneath the surface. Some of the fluids may be molten rock, or magma, and some may be natural volcanic gas. The latest phase of unrest appears likely to be caused by magmatic gas that is seeping into gaps in the rock, filling the 3 km-thick crust like a sponge.
The earthquakes occur when faults (cracks) slip due to the stretching of the crust. The pattern of earthquakes from 2020 suggests the rock is responding in an inelastic way, by breaking rather than bending.
Dr. Stefania Danesi from INGV Bologna said, “We cannot see what is happening underground. Instead we have to decipher the clues the volcano gives us, such as earthquakes and uplift of the ground.”
In their paper, the team explained that the effect of the unrest since the 1950s is cumulative, meaning an eventual eruption could be preceded by relatively weak signals such as a smaller rate of ground uplift and fewer earthquakes. This was the case for the eruption of the Rabaul caldera in Papua New Guinea in 1994, which was preceded by small earthquakes occurring at a tenth of the rate than had occurred during a crisis a decade earlier.
Campi Flegrei’s current tensile strength (the maximum stress a material can bear before breaking when it is stretched) is likely to be about a third of what it was in 1984, the researchers said.
The team emphasized that an eruption was not inevitable. Dr. Stefano Carlino from the Vesuvius Observatory explained, “It’s the same for all volcanoes that have been quiet for generations. Campi Flegrei may settle into a new routine of gently rising and subsiding, as seen at similar volcanoes around the world, or simply return to rest. We can’t yet say for sure what will happen. The important point is to be prepared for all outcomes.”
Professor Kilburn and colleagues will now apply the UCL model of volcano fracturing to other volcanoes that have reawakened after a long period of time, seeking to establish more reliable criteria for deciding if an eruption is likely. Currently, eruptions are forecast using statistical data unique to each volcano, rather than drawing on fundamental principles that can be applied to multiple volcanoes.
Potential for rupture before eruption at Campi Flegrei caldera, Southern Italy, Communications Earth & Environment (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s43247-023-00842-1
University College London
Campi Flegrei volcano edges closer to possible eruption (2023, June 9)
retrieved 9 June 2023
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Geoengineering is Shockingly Inexpensive – Universe Today
Despite decades of warnings and international climate agreements, global carbon emissions are still rising. Carbon emissions seem like an unstoppable juggernaut as energy-hungry humans keep breeding and pursuing more affluent lifestyles. Reducing emissions won’t be enough to confront the climate crisis; we need additional solutions.
Geoengineering, also called climate engineering, could be the solution we seek. But is it financially feasible?
Geoengineering includes two broad categories of methods to deal with climate change. One is carbon dioxide removal, and the other is managing solar radiation. Carbon capture, direct air capture, and accelerated weathering remove carbon dioxide. Cloud brightening, injecting aerosols into the clouds, and solar shades are methods to manage solar radiation.
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Geoengineering is a contentious subject. Many people are frightened of messing with nature in these ways. The potential for unpredictable consequences causes concern in many people’s minds. They seem extreme to many.
But whether they’re potentially extreme or not, there may be no way to avoid them altogether. That’s because even if various solutions come along and we significantly lower our carbon emissions, that doesn’t change the fact that there are teratons of carbon in the atmosphere that will be there long after we reduce our emissions. The Earth will keep heating up. We need a way to deal with the ongoing heating of Earth even after we lower our emissions.
People in Eastern Canada or the Northeastern United States are confronting the reality of the climate crisis right now. Smoke from an intense and early wildfire season in Canada is blanketing some of America’s largest cities in thick, hazardous smoke. Flights have been postponed, sporting events cancelled, schools are struggling, and authorities are urging people to stay indoors to safeguard their health. We’re living through the forecasts scientists made decades ago.
So what can we do?
Casey Handmer is the founder of Terraform Industries, a company that focuses on using solar power to extract carbon from the atmosphere and use it as fuel. They call it ‘Giga scale atmospheric hydrocarbon synthesis.’
“Terraform Industries is scaling technology to produce cheap natural gas with sunlight and air,” their website says by way of introducing themselves. “We are committed to cutting the net CO2 flux from crust to atmosphere as quickly as possible. As solar power gets cheaper, there will come a time when it is cheaper to get carbon from the atmosphere than an oil well. That time is now.”
Handmer has a Ph.D. in astrophysics from CalTech and has published papers and articles on various topics. On his blog, Handmer writes about space exploration and different aspects of technology. Much of his writing centers on technology that affects carbon emissions in one way or another. Recently, he wrote about climate engineering in a post titled “We should not let the Earth overheat!”
Handmer makes a critical distinction between legacy CO2 and new emissions in his article. He’s optimistic that we can reduce emissions by decarbonizing our energy systems. The technology he’s developing at Terraform Industries is one way that we can lower our emissions. His system generates carbon-based fuels from atmospheric CO2, rather than from fossil fuels in the Earth’s crust.
Once we get to a place where our emissions stop rising and begin to drop, we’ll be in a much-improved situation. We can pause for a breath, and recognize our collective ability to deal with climate change. But there’s still the problem of all that legacy carbon in the atmosphere and all the damage it will cause. Plants can absorb some, and weathering can remove some, but those processes take time and have limitations.
In his blog post, Handmer asks the question we should all be asking.
This is where Handmer makes his point about climate engineering. The Earth will continue to heat even after we lower our emissions, and we’ll need to do something. Putting aside, for now, the debate over whether or not we should embrace climate engineering, Handmer digs into the expense of climate engineering.
“Synthetic fuel takes care of new CO2 emission, and two specific kinds of geoengineering can take care of legacy warming in a way that safeguards our planet’s wellbeing for future generations and staunches the bleeding for the next couple of crucial decades while we get the job done,” Handmer writes.
The two types he’s referring to are enhanced weathering and solar radiation management.
Enhanced weathering is taking something that happens naturally and engineering it to be more effective. It’s sometimes called accelerated weathering, but that’s confusing because accelerated weathering is a type of testing associated with engineering and industry.
On Earth, carbonate and silicate minerals combine with rainwater and groundwater to form carbonic acid. Carbonic acid is harmless to plants and animals. But it has a deleterious effect on rocks. The acid contacts minerals and forms carbonate ions in the water. Then the minerals, ions, and water recombine. The end result is altered minerals that now contain more atmospheric carbon. This action is a key part of Earth’s carbon cycle, taking atmospheric carbon out of circulation and sequestering it into rock, which is eventually buried on the ocean floor and subducted into the mantle.
Enhanced weathering increases the surface area between carbonic acid and rock so that the natural chemistry that removes carbon from the atmosphere has a larger area to work in. Certain minerals are more susceptible to this weathering, so they remove more atmospheric carbon more quickly. In enhanced weathering, these minerals are mined, crushed to increase their surface area, then left exposed. Earth’s natural chemical activity takes care of the rest.
The desired rocks are called mafic rocks, which contain significant amounts of magnesium and iron. Basalt is a common and widespread mafic rock.
“There are a bunch of ways of doing this, but the easiest and cheapest seems to be to grind up a couple of tropical volcanic mountains and sluice the resulting rock flour into the warm, shallow oceans,” Handmer writes. “The rock dust floats around for a few weeks absorbing CO2 before sinking, permanently sequestering the CO2.”
Other ways include mining, crushing, and spreading it on farm fields. This has the added benefit of improving the soil. We already mine, crush, and spread things like potash and phosphorous on our farm fields, so this is not a huge leap.
At Bowles farm, 6 acres of rock dust (meta basalt) addition to cropland soil, large scale CO2 capture project underway, 40 more acres to go!!!! @ucdavis @UCDavisJMIE pic.twitter.com/Ub2WoCiLfJ
— Benjamin Z Houlton ? (@BenHoulton) October 15, 2019
But a critical piece of combatting climate change is the expense.
In his blog, Handmer refers to work by Campbell Nilsen, an independent researcher in the US. According to Nilsen’s calculations, the cost of implementing enhanced weathering is about $20/T-CO2. If there are two teratons of excess CO2 in our atmosphere, enhanced weathering can remove one teraton for about $400 billion US per year, over the next forty years. The result would be an atmospheric CO2 level of 350 ppm. (We’re currently at 421.) Of course, the value of this calculation relies on us stabilizing and reducing our new emissions.
Handmer also talks about the other category of geoengineering: managing solar radiation. In the scenario where we lower our emissions and implement enhanced weathering, the Earth will still get hotter. That could lead to a lot of problems, and the worst one might be mass starvation. If we allow Earth to become so hot that crops suffer a widespread inability to grow, then things will get ugly for humanity. We all want to avoid that pandora’s box of suffering, with all its unpredictable effects, including warfare.
“How do we keep the world cool for the next few decades while we upgrade our industry to a post-carbon world and scale up CO2 removal?” Handmer asks.
This is where things can get difficult in the civilizational discussion about Earth’s climate and what to do about it. Mining, crushing, and spreading rock on fields is something people can easily grasp. But blocking out the Sun? That sounds like a supervillain trope.
But it might be necessary, and that’s something we all have to contend with if we really want to prevent suffering. If it makes your anger rise, you may have to sort through those emotions. Facts and clarity can help out.
“It does us no good to be stable at 350 ppm by 2060 if we’ve already lost Greenland, the West Antarctic ice sheet, and 7 m + 4 m of coastline, respectively,” Handmer writes. He’s correct, of course, and this is where managing solar radiation comes in. “What we need is a short-term tourniquet to take the edge off global heating while we give the long-term fixes time to work.”
Managing solar radiation is the short-term tourniquet, a kind of first-aid for the climate. There are multiple proposed methods of managing solar radiation. At the top of the list, and the atmosphere, are clouds. “In aggregate, the most reflective feature of the Earth is its clouds, which reflect some of the Sun’s light back into space,” Handmer writes.
The most well-known method of solar engineering is stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI.) This involves introducing aerosols into the stratosphere, probably with tethered balloons, to make the upper atmosphere more reflective.
It doesn’t take a vast quantity of sulphate aerosols to produce the desired effect. A side effect would be more vivid sunsets and sunrises. Instagram would never be the same.
Some people find this idea very upsetting, but usually not because they’ve looked into it. Often people recoil from the idea of “messing with Nature” like this. You can’t really blame them, because some of our other interventions have caused problems.
But this is where we’re at. There’s no going back. We were warned decades ago, and now we’re living through the results of our collective inability to heed those warnings. Sometimes solutions make us uncomfortable, but there’s a precedent for this one.
SAI is exactly what volcanoes do. The Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991 injected about 17,000,000 t of aerosols into the atmosphere. It lowered the global temperature by 0.5 C for one year.
Handmer lays out some of the facts about SAI that many might not be aware of.
For one thing, sulphate aerosols don’t stick around long. After one to three years, they rain out of the atmosphere. So they’re easy to implement and monitor. “As a rough rule of thumb, 1 g of stratospheric SO2 offsets the warming of 1 T of CO2 for 1 year,” Handmer explains, which sounds like a good deal.
Handmer mentions the startup Make Sunsets, which is already using weather balloons to inject sulphates into the stratosphere, though the amounts are trivial. Anybody can buy in, and the effort shows how feasible it is.
Like enhanced weathering, SAI is not expensive, considering what’s at stake. In fact, it’s way cheaper.
“1 kg of SO2 offsets 1000 T of CO2 for 1 year. With enhanced weathering, 1000 T of CO2 would cost at least $20k to deal with, and existing DAC+sequestration methods currently cost more like $1m. 35c! Now we’re talking,” writes Handmer. (DAC stands for Direct Air Capture, another method of removing carbon from the atmosphere.)
Handmer does some more calculations showing that if only 10,000 people around the world were willing to spend $2,000 each, SAI with balloons could offset heating by CO2 until we get emissions and sequestration under control.
Going deeper, he calculates what it would cost to use SAI to offset one teraton of excess CO2 in the atmosphere. He says that it would cost $350 million per year. “This costs less than 0.1% on an annual basis of the 40-year program to sequester a trillion tonnes of CO2,” Handmer writes, and would use only 5% of the US’s annual sulphur production.
Keen readers that do some searching will find that sulphate aerosols cause acid rain, which would seem to disqualify it as a solution. “Stupid scientists!” some will think. “How can they be so evil!” As if people trying to come up with solutions to prevent suffering are supervillains.
But the acid rain we’re familiar with came from industrial smokestacks, not from stratospheric aerosols. The difference? Altitude, amount, and concentrations.
There are strict regulations on ground-level sulphate emissions because they create acid rain concentrations in one area. Sulphates from smokestacks quickly fall as acid rain and have no cooling effect. But we don’t need to put much sulphate in the stratosphere for cooling, plus it stays there longer. “SO2 stays in the stratosphere for much longer,” Handmer writes, “so the relatively small quantities needed for cooling don’t cause concentrated acidic fallout as they would near, eg, a factory or refinery.”
Handmer makes a strong case that climate engineering methods are not necessarily that expensive. Of course, there’s lots more detail to it than can be discussed in this article. Some of the people raising objections are very knowledgeable, so there’s an ongoing discussion. There are all types of projects being implemented to test and develop potential climate engineering methods, and we’ll keep learning more about them.
But we need to take action. In the modern world, we rely on inexpensive, mass agriculture and long supply chains to provide populations with food. Climate change threatens to disrupt all that and cause widespread suffering. It has the potential to create failed states where only the strong and ruthless survive. Who knows what type of apocalyptic hell it can unleash? Students of human history can vividly imagine how people might respond, and what depths some might sink to as the idea of collective humanity is left behind.
The solutions might be controversial in some corners, but as Handmer’s analysis shows, they’re not necessarily expensive. Eventually, we’ll have to embrace and implement some of these methods and put aside our fears, at least the unfounded ones.
Then we can move on to the next problem, whatever it may be.
These fish from Thailand glow from the inside out
Purpose of rainbow shimmer is unknown
From the darkness of a fish tank comes a blur of movement, followed by shimmering rainbow light.
That’s what it looks like when ghost catfish go for a swim.
The species appear transparent, or clear, at first, but as they move, the fish begin to glow with a rainbow light.
A new study found why: Ghost catfish reflect light from within.
That’s different from other animals that change colours as they move.
Those animals reflect light off outer surfaces like feathers and scales.
What is a ghost catfish?
Ghost catfish are a species of fish with no scales.
They measure just a few centimetres in length. That’s a bit smaller than a paperclip.
Their exposed skin is so transparent that about 90 per cent of light can pass through.
Ghost catfish are sometimes called glass catfish because of their transparent skin. (Image credit: Qibin Zhao/The Associated Press)
Though they’re native to Thailand’s rivers, ghost catfish are sold in pet stores all over the world.
How do they make rainbows?
The muscles inside ghost catfish are able to bend light.
This produces a shimmering rainbow as the fish swim.
Their muscles move as they swim, resulting in flashes of colours that look like a shimmering rainbow.
This process was discovered in a study led by physicist Qibin Zhao at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science journal on March 13.
Light passes through a ghost catfish in a fish tank, revealing a rainbow of colour. (Image credit: Xiujun Fan, Qibin Zhao/The Associated Press)
Why is this unique?
There are many iridescent animals that make a shimmer, such as beetles, hummingbirds, butterflies and other types of fish.
These species mostly reflect light off external skin, scales or feathers.
Ghost catfish are also iridescent, but they are different because they reflect light from inside their bodies.
In other animals, iridescence is often used to communicate warnings, according to biologist Ron Rutowski at Arizona State University.
But scientists still don’t know what purpose ghost catfishes’ rainbows serve.
Click play to see the ghost fish glow!
Check out these other animal news videos:
Have more questions? Want to tell us how we’re doing? Use the “send us feedback” link below. ⬇️⬇️⬇️
With files from The Associated Press
TOP IMAGE CREDIT: Qibin Zhao/Associated Press with graphic design by Philip Street/CBC
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