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Messages - vox_mundi

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Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: Today at 04:21:45 PM »
Biden’s Covid Team Grapples With a Basic Question: Where’s All the Vaccine?

On Thursday, Biden rolled out a 200-page national strategy to curtail the coronavirus, part of an effort to show a clean break from the Trump administration, which shirked responsibility for vaccine distribution and created a patchwork system across the country.

"What we're inheriting from the Trump administration is so much worse than we could have imagined,” Jeff Zients, Biden’s Covid-19 coordinator, told reporters Wednesday night.

Just about half of the nearly 38 million Covid-19 shots distributed by the federal government have been administered to date, according to Centers for Disease Control data. That indicates there’s a glut of unused doses around the country.

But states are warning they're running out of the vaccine, with little sense of when more will arrive.

... Health officials have also struggled with extensive data problems that have hampered states’ ability to update the government on its day-to-day vaccine supply, a lag that’s made it difficult at times to convince federal officials that they’re running low – or track where new shipments are being delivered.

The federal government further alarmed some state officials on Thursday, when the Centers for Disease Control indicated it would begin counting Pfizer's vaccine vials as the equivalent of six doses -- up from five, according to an email from the agency obtained by POLITICO.

Those vials require specific syringes to extract all six doses, and that type of syringe is in such high demand that the Biden administration said Thursday it may use the Defense Production Act to ramp up its manufacturing.



Biden Inheriting Nonexistent Coronavirus Vaccine Distribution Plan and Must Start 'From Scratch,' Sources Say

Newly sworn in President Joe Biden and his advisers are inheriting no coronavirus vaccine distribution plan to speak of from the Trump administration, sources tell CNN, posing a significant challenge for the new White House.

The Biden administration has promised to try to turn the Covid-19 pandemic around and drastically speed up the pace of vaccinating Americans against the virus. But in the immediate hours following Biden being sworn into office on Wednesday, sources with direct knowledge of the new administration's Covid-related work told CNN one of the biggest shocks that the Biden team had to digest during the transition period was what they saw as a complete lack of a vaccine distribution strategy under former President Donald Trump, even weeks after multiple vaccines were approved for use in the United States.

"There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch," one source said.

Another source described the moment that it became clear the Biden administration would have to essentially start from "square one" because there simply was no plan as: "Wow, just further affirmation of complete incompetence."

... The effort to obstruct the Biden team, led by senior White House appointees at the Pentagon, is unprecedented in modern presidential transitions and will hobble the new administration on key national security matters.

People involved with the transition, both on the Biden team and the Pentagon side, gave POLITICO a more detailed picture of what was denied, saying briefings on pressing defense matters never happened, were delayed to the last minute, or were controlled by overbearing minders from the Trump administration's side.

The Pentagon initially rebuffed the transition’s request to meet with Gen. Gustave Perna, Operation Warp Speed’s chief operating officer.

Perna was present at a meeting between the Pentagon and Health and Human Services transition teams in mid-December, but he did not answer any questions.
It wasn’t until last week that the DoD transition team got to meet with Perna in a smaller setting.

... Biden aides for weeks were unable to access Tiberius, the central government database used to monitor vaccine distributions, according to one transition official. They were also denied access to certain standing meetings related to the government’s response until a few days before Biden was sworn in.

Transition officials said the delay in getting answers about Warp Speed will hamper the Biden administration’s plan to dramatically scale up the nation’s vaccination distribution effort over the next three months.

... Meanwhile, every request for information the Biden team filed had to be reviewed by the general counsel’s office, and many were scrubbed of all useful information. Many requests were never answered, and the ones that did come back were thoroughly “sanitized.”


“Complete Incompetence:” Biden Team Slams Trump’s COVID Work


Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: January 21, 2021, 08:17:09 AM »
Executive Order on Organizing and Mobilizing the United States Government to Provide a Unified and Effective Response to Combat COVID-19 and to Provide United States Leadership on Global Health and Security

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: January 20, 2021, 09:28:28 PM »
S.Africa Virus Strain Poses 'Re-Infection Risk': Study

The coronavirus variant detected in South Africa poses a "significant re-infection risk" and raises concerns over vaccine effectiveness, according to preliminary research Wednesday, as separate studies suggested the British strain would likely be constrained by immunisations.

... It is one mutation in particular—known as E484K and present in the variants detected in South Africa and Brazil but not the one from Britain—that has experts particularly worried about immunity "escape".

... Two other preliminary studies posted online on Wednesday found that the antibodies from previously-infected patients are largely effective against the variant detected in Britain and that the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine appears to be guard against it as well.

Trevor Bedford @trvrb · 13h
Important new study by Wibmer et al ( ) of neutralization by convalescent sera on wildtype vs 501Y.V2 variant viruses circulating in South Africa. It shows that mutations present in 501Y.V2 result in reduced neutralization capacity. 1/10

Here, I've replotted data from the preprint to make effect size a bit more clear. Each line is sera from one individual tested against wildtype virus on the left and 501Y.V2 variant virus on the right. Note the log y axis (as is common with this type of data).

It's clear that 501Y.V2 often results in reductions of neutralization titer, quantified as "fold-reduction" where, for example, a 2-fold reduction in titer would mean that you need twice as much sera to neutralize the same amount of virus in the assay.

Here, I'm plotting distribution of fold-reduction across the 44 individuals tested. You can see there is a median 8-fold reduction in titer when comparing wildtype to 501Y.V2 virus, though some individuals show no reduction and other individuals show a 64-fold reduction.

To put an 8-fold drop in context, the @WHO uses an 8-fold threshold when deciding to update the seasonal influenza vaccine (note this is a different virus and neutralization results may not be directly comparable, but it at least gives a ballpark comparison).

Also note that the mRNA vaccines in particular are really good vaccines and elicit strong immune responses. A reduction in neutralization from a high starting point will have less of an impact than a reduction from a lower starting point.

Additionally, single mutations will generally have small impacts on polyclonal immune responses and the strong immune response to the mRNA vaccines would suggest that a large antigenic change would be needed to significantly reduce efficacy.

We urgently need "immune correlates of protection" determined for COVID-19 vaccination. This would allow extrapolation from reductions in neutralization into expected effects on vaccine efficacy. At the moment, it's guesswork.

However, if these results are confirmed by further studies, my guess based on the seasonal influenza comparison is that we need to investigate the manufacturing timeline and regulatory steps required to update the "strain" used in the vaccine.

501Y.V2 is still largely restricted to South Africa, but it (or other antigenically drifted variants) may spread more widely in the coming months. I would be planning this potential "strain" update for fall 2021.

And all this said, I'll be getting the vaccine as soon as I'm able. We have an amazing vaccine now that works against currently circulating viruses. And if it becomes necessary, this emerging situation can be dealt with through a forthcoming vaccine update.

Consequences / WEF: Global Risk Report 2021
« on: January 20, 2021, 03:44:11 AM »
WEF The Global Risks Report 2021


In the Global Risks Report 2021, we share the results of the latest Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS), followed by analysis of growing social, economic and industrial divisions, their interconnections, and their implications on our ability to resolve major global risks requiring societal cohesion and global cooperation.

... Among the highest likelihood risks of the next ten years are extreme weather, climate action failure and human-led environmental damage; as well as digital power concentration, digital inequality and cybersecurity failure. Among the highest impact risks of the next decade, infectious diseases are in the top spot, followed by climate action failure and other environmental risks; as well as weapons of mass destruction, livelihood crises, debt crises and IT infrastructure breakdown.

When it comes to the time-horizon within which these risks will become a critical threat to the world, the most imminent threats – those that are most likely in the next two years – include employment and livelihood crises, widespread youth disillusionment, digital inequality, economic stagnation, human-made environmental damage, erosion of societal cohesion, and terrorist attacks.

Economic risks feature prominently in the 3-5 year timeframe, including asset bubbles, price instability, commodity shocks and debt crises; followed by geopolitical risks, including interstate relations and conflict, and resource geopolitization. In the 5-10 year horizon, environmental risks such as biodiversity loss, natural resource crises and climate action failure dominate; alongside weapons of mass destruction, adverse effects of technology and collapse of states or multilateral institutions.

Climate change—to which no one is immune—continues to be a catastrophic risk. Although lockdowns worldwide caused global emissions to fall in the first half of 2020, evidence from the 2008–2009 Financial Crisis warns that emissions could bounce back. A shift towards greener economies cannot be delayed until the shocks of the pandemic subside. “Climate action failure” is the most impactful and second most likely long-term risk identified in the GRPS.

Responses to the pandemic have caused new domestic and geopolitical tensions that threaten stability. Digital division and a future “lost generation” are likely to test social cohesion from within borders—exacerbating geopolitical fragmentation and global economic fragility. With stalemates and flashpoints increasing in frequency, GRPS respondents rated “state collapse” and “multilateralism collapse” as critical long-term threats.

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: January 20, 2021, 01:10:10 AM »
Israel's Virus Czar: First Dose Of Vaccine Less Effective Than Pfizer Data Shows

The first dose of the Pfizer vaccine offers less protection against COVID-19 than US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer originally claimed, Israel's coronavirus czar told Hebrew media on Tuesday. 

"Many people have been infected between the first and second injections of the vaccine," Nachman Ash told Army Radio, adding that the first dose is "less effective than we thought" and "lower than [the data] presented by Pfizer."

Pfizer itself says a single dose of its vaccine is about 52% effective.

By contrast, those who had received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine had a six- to 12-fold increase in antibodies, according to data released by Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer on Monday.

Nachman Ash reportedly says it's not certain vaccines can protect against mutated coronavirus strains; 12,400 Israelis were infected with virus after receiving 1st shot; this figure includes 69 people who have received the second dose.

Over 2 million Israelis have had their first Pfizer shot. Over 400,000 have had the second.

Last week, Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of the Health Ministry’s public health department, announced that the vaccine curbs infections by some 50 percent 14 days after the first of the two shots is administered. She said that the data was preliminary, and based on the results of coronavirus tests among both those who have received the vaccine and those who haven’t, who are are serving as a de facto control group.

At the same time, however, other, somewhat contrary data was released by Israeli health maintenance organizations: According to figures released by Clalit, Israel’s largest health provider, the chance of a person being infected with the coronavirus dropped by 33% 14 days after they were vaccinated; separate figures recorded by the Maccabi health provider showed the vaccine caused a 60% drop in the chances for infection after taking the first shot.

... Amid warnings that 30% to 40% of the new infections were being driven by a Covid-19 variant first identified in the UK, the Israeli cabinet was meeting on Tuesday to consider tightening existing restrictions. Some analysts, however, have put the prevalence of the new variant at lower levels.

The cabinet had been warned by Ash that the new variant was set to become the main source of infections in Israel within weeks.

The politics / Re: The Alt Right
« on: January 15, 2021, 11:37:22 PM »

The politics / Re: The Trump Presidency
« on: January 15, 2021, 11:33:42 PM »

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: January 15, 2021, 11:32:33 PM »

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: January 15, 2021, 07:01:18 PM »
The 432-Year-Old Manual On Social Distancing

Travel back in time more than 400 years to the Italian port city of Alghero. There in 1582, an unusually insightful physician would create some 57 rules for coping with the plague that had descended upon his small city that winter. Among them: “people are advised to keep six feet apart, avoid shaking hands and only send one person per household out to do the shopping.”

The doctor’s name: Quinto Tiberio Angelerio, and his booklet of 57 rules is called “Ectypa Pestilentis Status Algheriae Sardiniae.” The story continues ...

Central Spain Records Temperatures of -25C After Snowstorm

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: January 13, 2021, 12:58:04 AM »
Chinese Covid-19 Vaccine Far Less Effective Than Initially Touted in Brazil

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - A coronavirus vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech was just 50.4% effective at preventing symptomatic infections in a Brazilian trial, researchers said on Tuesday, barely enough for regulatory approval and well below the rate announced last week.

The latest results are a major disappointment for Brazil, as the Chinese vaccine is one of two that the federal government has lined up to begin immunization during the second wave of the world's second-deadliest COVID-19 outbreak.

Several scientists and observers blasted the Butantan biomedical center for releasing partial data just days ago that generated unrealistic expectations. The confusion may add to skepticism in Brazil about the Chinese vaccine, which President Jair Bolsonaro has criticized, questioning its "origins."

... Last week, the Brazilian researchers had celebrated results showing 78% efficacy against "mild-to-severe" COVID-19 cases, a rate they later described as "clinical efficacy."

They said nothing at the time about another group of "very mild" infections among those who received the vaccine that did not require clinical assistance.

Ricardo Palacios, medical director for clinical research at Butantan, said on Tuesday that the new lower efficacy finding included data on those "very mild" cases.

Palacios and officials in the Sao Paulo state government, which funds Butantan, emphasized the good news that none of the volunteers inoculated with CoronaVac had to be hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms. [... polishing a turd?]

Public health experts said that alone will be a relief for Brazilian hospitals that are buckling under the strain of surging case loads. However, it will take longer to curb the pandemic with a vaccine that allows so many mild cases.


Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: January 12, 2021, 10:35:45 PM »
What about straw man arguments? And wild-ass guesses?,3376.msg297808.html#msg297808
Quote from: John Palmer.
Quote from: Rodius
Quote from: John Palmer.
... I agree, but one scenario demands several years of natural virus evolution (accelerated by overpopulation by a factor 10?
Do you have anything to support that claim?
No, I don't. It is a wild ass guess. ...

Policy and solutions / Re: Robots and AI: Our Immortality or Extinction
« on: January 12, 2021, 09:56:54 AM »
Tweaking AI Software to Function Like a Human Brain Improves Computer's Learning Ability

Computer-based artificial intelligence can function more like human intelligence when programmed to use a much faster technique for learning new objects, say two neuroscientists who designed such a model that was designed to mirror human visual learning. They reported their results in the journal Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience

"Our model provides a biologically plausible way for artificial neural networks to learn new visual concepts from a small number of examples," says Riesenhuber. "We can get computers to learn much better from few examples by leveraging prior learning in a way that we think mirrors what the brain is doing."

Humans can quickly and accurately learn new visual concepts from sparse data—sometimes just a single example. Even three- to four-month-old babies can easily learn to recognize zebras and distinguish them from cats, horses, and giraffes. But computers typically need to "see" many examples of the same object to know what it is, Riesenhuber explains.

The big change needed was in designing software to identify relationships between entire visual categories, instead of trying the more standard approach of identifying an object using only low-level and intermediate information, such as shape and color, Riesenhuber says.

"The computational power of the brain's hierarchy lies in the potential to simplify learning by leveraging previously learned representations from a databank, as it were, full of concepts about objects," he says.

Riesenhuber and Rule found that artificial neural networks, which represent objects in terms of previously learned concepts, learned new visual concepts significantly faster.

Rule explains, "Rather than learn high-level concepts in terms of low-level visual features, our approach explains them in terms of other high-level concepts. It is like saying that a platypus looks a bit like a duck, a beaver, and a sea otter."


Research Team Demonstrates World's Fastest Optical Neuromorphic Processor

An international team of researchers led by Swinburne University of Technology has demonstrated the world's fastest and most powerful optical neuromorphic processor for artificial intelligence (AI), which operates faster than 10 trillion operations per second (TeraOPs/s) and is capable of processing ultra-large scale data. Published in the journal Nature, this breakthrough represents an enormous leap forward for neural networks and neuromorphic processing in general.

The team demonstrated an optical neuromorphic processor operating more than 1000 times faster than any previous processor, with the system also processing record-sized ultra-large scale images—enough to achieve full facial image recognition, something that other optical processors have been unable to accomplish.

"This breakthrough was achieved with 'optical micro-combs," as was our world-record internet data speed reported in May 2020," says Professor Moss, Director of Swinburne's Optical Sciences Centre.

While state-of-the-art electronic processors such as the Google TPU can operate beyond 100 TeraOPs/s, this is done with tens of thousands of parallel processors. In contrast, the optical system demonstrated by the team uses a single processor and was achieved using a new technique of simultaneously interleaving the data in time, wavelength and spatial dimensions through an integrated micro-comb source.

"This processor can serve as a universal ultrahigh bandwidth front end for any neuromorphic hardware —optical or electronic based—bringing massive-data machine learning for real-time ultrahigh bandwidth data within reach," says co-lead author of the study, Dr. Xu, Swinburne alum and postdoctoral fellow with the Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering Department at Monash University.

"We're currently getting a sneak-peak of how the processors of the future will look. It's really showing us how dramatically we can scale the power of our processors through the innovative use of microcombs," Dr. Xu explains.

Xingyuan Xu et al. 11 TOPS photonic convolutional accelerator for optical neural networks, Nature (2021).


Machine Learning at the Speed of Light: New Paper Demonstrates Use of Photonic Structures for AI

Light-based processors, called photonic processors, enable computers to complete complex calculations at incredible speeds. New research published this week in the journal Nature examines the potential of photonic processors for artificial intelligence applications. The results demonstrate for the first time that these devices can process information rapidly and in parallel, something that today's electronic chips cannot do.

The researchers combined phase-change materials—the storage material used, for example, on DVDs—and photonic structures to store data in a nonvolatile manner without requiring a continual energy supply. This study is also the first to combine these optical memory cells with a chip-based frequency comb as a light source, which is what allowed them to calculate on 16 different wavelengths simultaneously.

In the paper, the researchers used the technology to create a convolutional neural network that would recognize handwritten numbers. They found that the method granted never-before-seen data rates and computing densities.

"Exploiting light for signal transference enables the processor to perform parallel data processing through wavelength multiplexing, which leads to a higher computing density and many matrix multiplications being carried out in just one timestep. In contrast to traditional electronics, which usually work in the low GHz range, optical modulation speeds can be achieved with speeds up to the 50 to 100 GHz range."

J. Feldmann et al. Parallel convolutional processing using an integrated photonic tensor core, Nature (2021)


Accelerating AI Computing to the Speed of Light

A University of Washington-led team has come up with an optical computing core prototype that uses phase-change material. This system is fast, energy efficient and capable of accelerating the neural networks used in AI and machine learning. The technology is also scalable and directly applicable to cloud computing.

The team published these findings Jan. 4 in Nature Communications.

Changming Wu et al, Programmable phase-change metasurfaces on waveguides for multimode photonic convolutional neural network, Nature Communications (2021).

Policy and solutions / Re: Robots and AI: Our Immortality or Extinction
« on: January 11, 2021, 09:41:01 PM »
Superintelligence Cannot Be Contained

While more progress is being made all the time in Artificial Intelligence (AI), some scientists and philosophers warn of the dangers of an uncontrollable superintelligent AI. Using theoretical calculations, an international team of researchers, including scientists from the Center for Humans and Machines at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, shows that it would not be possible to control a superintelligent AI.

Suppose someone were to program an AI system with intelligence superior to that of humans, so it could learn independently. Connected to the Internet, the AI may have access to all the data of humanity. It could replace all existing programs and take control all machines online worldwide. Would this produce a utopia or a dystopia? Would the AI cure cancer, bring about world peace, and prevent a climate disaster? Or would it destroy humanity and take over the Earth?

Computer scientists and philosophers have asked themselves whether we would even be able to control a superintelligent AI at all, to ensure it would not pose a threat to humanity. An international team of computer scientists used theoretical calculations to show that it would be fundamentally impossible to control a super-intelligent AI

"A super-intelligent machine that controls the world sounds like science fiction. But there are already machines that perform certain important tasks independently without programmers fully understanding how they learned it. The question therefore arises whether this could at some point become uncontrollable and dangerous for humanity," says study co-author Manuel Cebrian, Leader of the Digital Mobilization Group at the Center for Humans and Machines, Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

Scientists have explored two different ideas for how a superintelligent AI could be controlled. On one hand, the capabilities of superintelligent AI could be specifically limited, for example, by walling it off from the Internet and all other technical devices so it could have no contact with the outside world—yet this would render the superintelligent AI significantly less powerful, less able to answer humanities quests. Lacking that option, the AI could be motivated from the outset to pursue only goals that are in the best interests of humanity, for example by programming ethical principles into it. However, the researchers also show that these and other contemporary and historical ideas for controlling super-intelligent AI have their limits.

In their study, the team conceived a theoretical containment algorithm that ensures a superintelligent AI cannot harm people under any circumstances, by simulating the behavior of the AI first and halting it if considered harmful. But careful analysis shows that in our current paradigm of computing, such algorithm cannot be built.

"If you break the problem down to basic rules from theoretical computer science, it turns out that an algorithm that would command an AI not to destroy the world could inadvertently halt its own operations. If this happened, you would not know whether the containment algorithm is still analyzing the threat, or whether it has stopped to contain the harmful AI. In effect, this makes the containment algorithm unusable," says Iyad Rahwan, Director of the Center for Humans and Machines.

Based on these calculations the containment problem is incomputable, i.e. no single algorithm can find a solution for determining whether an AI would produce harm to the world. Furthermore, the researchers demonstrate that we may not even know when superintelligent machines have arrived, because deciding whether a machine exhibits intelligence superior to humans is in the same realm as the containment problem.

Manuel Alfonseca et al. Superintelligence Cannot be Contained: Lessons from Computability Theory, Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research (2021).


Samsung is Making a Robot That Can Pour Wine and Bring You a Drink

The politics / Re: The Trump Presidency
« on: January 10, 2021, 08:23:08 PM »

The politics / Re: The Trump Presidency
« on: January 10, 2021, 04:41:19 AM »

The politics / Re: The Trump Presidency
« on: January 09, 2021, 09:21:30 PM »

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: January 08, 2021, 04:05:47 PM »
30 years of antibacterial soap, 2 showers a day and 'don't play in the dirt' - vs - no running water, no soap, and open sewage in the streets can cause a divergence in results.

The politics / Re: Empire - America and the future
« on: January 08, 2021, 11:51:12 AM »
FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States

WASHINGTON—Putting the nation on alert against what it has described as a “highly credible terrorist threat,” the FBI announced today that it has uncovered a plot by members of al-Qaeda to sit back and enjoy themselves while the United States collapses of its own accord.

Multiple intelligence agencies confirmed that the militant Islamist organization and its numerous affiliates intend to carry out a massive, coordinated plan to stand aside and watch America’s increasingly rapid decline, with terrorist operatives across the globe reportedly mobilizing to take it easy, relax, and savor the spectacle as it unfolds.

“We have intercepted electronic communication indicating that al-Qaeda members are actively plotting to stay out of the way while America as we know it gradually crumbles under the weight of its own self-inflicted debt and disrepair,” FBI Deputy Director Mark F. Giuliano told the assembled press corps. “If this plan succeeds, it will leave behind a nation with a completely dysfunctional economy, collapsing infrastructure, and a catastrophic health crisis afflicting millions across the nation. We want to emphasize that this danger is very real.”

“And unfortunately, based on information we have from intelligence assets on the ground, this plot is already well under way,” he added.

A recently declassified CIA report confirmed that all known al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations—from Pakistan to Yemen, and from Somalia to Algeria—have been instructed to kick back and enjoy the show as the United States’ federal government, energy grid, and industrial sector are rendered impotent by internal dissent, decay, and mismanagement. According to statements made by top-level informants and corroborated by leading Western terrorism experts, if seen through to its conclusion, al-Qaeda’s current plot could wreak far more damage than the events of 9/11.

In the past year, money transfers to al-Qaeda cells around the world have reportedly been accompanied by instructions to use the funds to outfit safe houses with the proper equipment to receive American cable news broadcasts and view top U.S. news websites, allowing terrorists to fully relish each detail of the impending demise of the last global superpower.

Additionally, FBI officials made public an internal al-Qaeda video today in which the terrorist organization’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri chillingly exhorts his followers to “take a load off” and “unwind” in the name of jihad, and really cherish the victory over their enemy.

... Al-Zawahiri, who is seen in the video reclining back in his chair, putting his feet up, and flipping on CNN, later shouts “Allahu Akbar!” when a story is aired about the decade-long trend of stagnant wages among American workers.

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: January 07, 2021, 11:18:28 PM »
At Least Eight US States Have Now Confirmed a Case of the UK Covid-19 Variant

Officials in Texas and Connecticut have announced that the UK variant of Covid-19 has been identified in their states.

The variant appears to spread more easily, although there's no evidence that it's any more deadly or causes more severe disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Harris County Public Health in Texas said in a statement Thursday the first patient was a male between 30 and 40 with no travel history, which implies the variant has been transmitted locally.

... Later, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said health officials in his state had identified two cases of the variant, which would bring the count for the US to at least 56 cases. [... 5 miles down the road ...]

“The two individuals are between the ages of 15 and 25 and both reside in New Haven County. Both individuals recently traveled outside Connecticut – one to Ireland and the other to New York State – and both developed symptoms within 3 to 4 days of their return,” Lamont’s office said in a statement.

“Genetic sequencing of the virus has confirmed that the two cases are unrelated. The individuals’ specimens were collected earlier this month and subsequently tested positive.”

... At least eight states have now confirmed a case of the variant. The others are California, Florida, Colorado, Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania.


Pennsylvania Reports First Confirmed Case of COVID-19 Variant

HARRISBURG, Pa. - The new COVID-19 variant first discovered in the UK has made its way to Pennsylvania.

Someone in Dauphin County, which is near Harrisburg, tested positive for the variant, the first confirmed case in Pennsylvania, said the state Department of Health in a news release Thursday.

The person had known international exposure, and suffered mild symptoms, but has since recovered, officials said. Contact tracers have reached out to anyone who was in close contact with the person.


Los Angeles Is Reporting One Covid Death Every Eight Minutes

... Cases have increased 941% since November 1 and so far, the rate of new cases in January is double what it was in December, according to Ferrer. In the past two months, the positivity rate in LA County has jumped from 3.8% to 21.8%.

Hospitalizations are 10 times higher than they were on November 1, and Health Services Director Christina Ghaly warns that yet another surge is expected within the next two weeks. More than 8,000 people are currently hospitalized, with 20% in intensive care units and 19% on ventilators.


Patients In Intensive Care In the UK to Receive Arthritis Drugs as Trial Shows Reduction In Mortality

Results from the government-funded clinical trial — published online on Thursday, but not yet peer-reviewed — showed the drugs, Tocilizumab and Sarilumab, reduced the relative risk of death by 24%, when either were administered to patients within 24 hours of entering intensive care, the Department of Health said in a press release. They also reduced time in hospital by an average of seven to 10 days.

The government will update its guidance on Friday to encourage the use of these drugs for Covid-19 patients in intensive care. The drugs are typically available in UK hospitals.

During the trial, the drugs were administered in addition to a corticosteroid, such as dexamethasone, which is already provided in the standard of care, the press release said. 

Patients receiving the current standard of care alone experienced a mortality rate of 35.8%. This was reduced to 27.3% using tocilizumab or sarilumab, a 24% relative reduction in risk of mortality.


London "May Run Out of [Hospital] Beds" In Next Few Days, Mayor Says

London “may run out of [hospital] beds” in the “next few days” due to the surge in Covid-19 cases in the capital, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Thursday.

... Khan, when asked by LBC Radio if Covid-19 was “out of control” in London, said: “Yes. This virus is out of control."
He added: "The NHS is on the cusp of being overwhelmed. There has been no time during this pandemic where I’ve been more concerned than I am today.”
Khan implored Londoners to “stay home” and said National Health Service (NHS) workers “are stretched, they are overworked, many of them are suffering trauma that may take years to recover from.”


English City Set to Run Out of Pfizer/BioNTech Vaccine Doses By Friday

The English city of Birmingham will run out of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses on Friday with "no clarity on when further supplies will arrive," local officials warned on Thursday in a letter sent to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

... Birmingham "has not yet been supplied with any AstraZeneca [vaccine] stock." ...  "In addition, it remains unclear who is responsible for overseeing the vaccination programme in Birmingham and whom we should hold to account for progress and delivery," the letter reads.


Infection Rates Were Sharply Higher In Counties Where Universities Held Classes In Person.

Incidence rates in those counties rose more than 50 percent in the first three weeks after classes started, compared with the previous three-week period, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By contrast, infection rates declined in counties without large universities or where large universities held classes remotely last fall, the study said.

... Infection rates went on falling — by an average of 18 percent — where large universities chose to teach remotely, the researchers found, but the rates shot up where in-person instruction was underway.

The findings come as many students who were home for the holidays prepare to return to campus. They will converge on college towns at a time when the virus is surging in many parts of the country, overwhelming hospitals and straining health care services.


As Americans were transfixed by the spectacle of the Capitol under siege, the coronavirus continued to sweep across the United States.

Officials reported at least 3,964 new coronavirus deaths in the United States on Wednesday, a new single-day record.

... “Most Americans don’t want to know, don’t want to acknowledge, don’t really want to recognize, and certainly — even as it’s descending upon us — do not appear to understand the dire circumstances that we are facing,” said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the chief clinical officer at Banner Health, a major hospital network in Arizona.

With an average of 118.3 new cases per 100,000 people, Arizona has become what health officials call the latest “hotspot of the world” because of soaring case loads.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has declined to institute a statewide mask mandate even as the state reports the highest rate of new cases in the US

... And with no good system in place to identify genetic variations of the virus, experts warn, the government will be hard pressed to track the UK & SA variants, leaving health officials in the dark.


JERUSALEM — Israel faces a tightened lockdown this week as officials fear that the more transmissible British variant of the virus is spreading rapidly and its vaccine supplies are running low.

“We are at the height of a global pandemic that is spreading at record speed with the British mutation,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video statement late Tuesday, justifying the government’s decision to impose a full national lockdown that will shutter most schools and all nonessential workplaces for at least two weeks.

“Every hour we delay, the quicker the virus is spreading, and it will exact a very heavy price,” he added.


Australian State Enters Lockdown After UK Strain Detected

Australia’s Queensland state enforced a three-day lockdown in Brisbane, the state capital, from Friday evening after a hotel quarantine worker tested positive for the more contagious variant of Covid-19 that emerged in Britain last month.

The politics / Re: The Trump Presidency
« on: January 07, 2021, 02:09:47 AM »

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: January 06, 2021, 06:46:49 PM »
“Shkreli Award” Goes to Moderna for “Blatantly Greedy” COVID Vaccine Prices

One of the leading developers of COVID-19 vaccines has now been placed in the ranks of people like Martin Shkreli—the disgraced pharmaceutical executive infamous for jacking up the price of an old, life-saving drug by more than 5,000 percent. He is now serving an 84-month prison sentence from a 2017 conviction on fraud counts unrelated to the drug pricing.

Moderna, maker of one of only two vaccines granted emergency authorizations to prevent COVID-19 in the US, has been shamed with a 2020 “Shkreli Award” by the Lown Institute, a healthcare think tank. The awards, announced annually for four years now, go to “perpetrators of the ten most egregious examples of profiteering and dysfunction in health care.”

Award judges cited Moderna’s pricing of its COVID-19 vaccine, which was developed with $1 billion in federal funding. Still, despite the tax-payer backing, Moderna set the estimated prices for its vaccine significantly higher than other vaccine developers.

In August, the company set the estimated price range of $32 to $37 per dose, making the two-dose regimen $64 to $74 per person. At the time, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its partner BioNTech—which now have the other US-authorized COVID-19 vaccine—had inked a deal with the US government to supply doses at $19.50 each, for a two-dose regimen of $39 per person. Notably, Pfizer and BioNTech developed their vaccine without any federal funding. Also, Johnson & Johnson had a deal to supply the US government with doses of its vaccine—still in the works—at a rate of $10 per dose.

In November, amid criticism, Moderna reportedly lowered its estimated cost to range in price from $25 to $37 per dose. And, in the end, it signed a deal with the US government to provide the vaccine at a price of $15 per dose, or $30 for a two-dose regimen per person.

Still, the Lown Institute’s judges wrote that, “given the upfront investment by the US government, we are essentially paying for the vaccine twice.”

Award judge Deborah Blum added, “This is so blatantly greedy from a company that has no track record in producing vaccines and built its current one with taxpayer help.” Blum is a Pulitzer Prize winning science journalist and director of the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Moderna made another appearance on the award list. Judges noted that Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, CEO of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a member of Moderna’s board, penned an op-ed in February defending high drug prices. Nabel did not disclose her role at Moderna in the op-ed. She also faced questions of conflicts-of-interest after Brigham and Women’s Hospital was selected as a trial site for Moderna’s vaccine.

Award judges noted that Nabel had received $487,500 in Moderna stock options and other payments in 2019 and sold $8.5 million worth of Moderna stock in 2020 after the company’s stock nearly quadrupled amid fanfare around its COVID-19 vaccine. Nabel resigned from Moderna's board amid criticism in July.

Policy and solutions / Re: Robots and AI: Our Immortality or Extinction
« on: January 06, 2021, 05:36:57 PM »
New Module for OpenAI GPT-3 Creates Unique Images from Text

"an armchair in the shape of an avocado”

A team of researchers at OpenAI, a San Francisco artificial intelligence development company, has added a new module to its GPT-3 autoregressive language model. Called DALL·E, the module excerpts text with multiple characteristics, analyzes it and then draws a picture based on what it believes was described.

On their webpage describing the new module, the team at OpenAI describe it as "a simple decoder-only transformer" and note that they plan to provide more details about its architecture and how it can be used as they learn more about it themselves.

GPT-3 was developed by the company to demonstrate how far neural networks could take text processing and creation. It analyzes user-selected text and generates new text based on that input. In this new effort, the researchers have extended this ability to graphics. A user types in a sentence and DALL·E attempts to generate what is described using graphics and other imagery.

Try it: DALL·E: Creating Images from Text:

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: January 06, 2021, 10:08:54 AM »

The politics / Re: The Trump Presidency
« on: January 04, 2021, 11:31:11 PM »

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: January 03, 2021, 05:07:51 PM »

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: January 03, 2021, 06:32:28 AM »

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: January 01, 2021, 08:53:14 AM »
The Mutated Virus Is a Ticking Time Bomb

There is much we don’t know about the new COVID-19 variant—now called B.1.1.7—but everything we know so far suggests a huge danger.

Increased transmissibility can wreak havoc in a very, very short time—especially when we already have uncontrolled spread in much of the United States.   

... A more transmissible variant of COVID-19 is a potential catastrophe in and of itself
. If anything, given the stage in the pandemic we are at, a more transmissible variant is in some ways much more dangerous than a more severe variant. That’s because higher transmissibility subjects us to a more contagious virus spreading with exponential growth, whereas the risk from increased severity would have increased in a linear manner, affecting only those infected.

To understand the difference between exponential and linear risks, consider an example put forth by Adam Kucharski, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who focuses on mathematical analyses of infectious-disease outbreaks. Kucharski compares a 50 percent increase in virus lethality to a 50 percent increase in virus transmissibility. Take a virus reproduction rate of about 1.1 and an infection fatality risk of 0.8 percent and imagine 10,000 active infections—a plausible scenario for many European cities, as Kucharski notes. As things stand, with those numbers, we’d expect 129 deaths in a month. If the fatality rate increased by 50 percent, that would lead to 193 deaths.

In contrast, a 50 percent increase in transmissibility would lead to a whopping 978 deaths in just one month—assuming, in both scenarios, a six-day infection-generation time.

... Trevor Bedford, a scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a board member for the Covid Tracking Project, also notes that this new variant seems to have a higher secondary-attack rate—meaning the number of people subsequently infected by a known case—compared with “regular” COVID-19.

... Given that this new variant is already here in America, are we too late? ... The United States does not have extensive genomic surveillance, or a rapid turnaround with what surveillance it has, so in some ways, we are flying without a map. We have some indications that the variant is—so far—probably relatively rare in the United States.

This could, of course, change extremely quickly, before we can even detect that change, but that highlights the importance of early action.

... “delaying cases has always been valuable, but right now it is especially valuable. Buying even a bit of time to ramp up vaccination could avert a great deal of mortality and morbidity.”

... If cases are growing from a very large base number, however, that means the state of the world is changing very quickly, so small mistakes are magnified. ... “You can’t finesse the steep part of an exponential.”

How we react in the next few weeks will matter immensely.


In the UK ...

We fitted a mathematical model to the growth of VOC 202012/01 in these three regions of England. If current trends continue, the new variant could represent 90% of cases by mid-January.

We project the potential impact of the spread of this new variant throughout England and look at possible control policies. Achieving 2 million vaccinations/week could substantially reduce the burden. 200,000 vaccinations/week does not have much impact

... The most chilling finding from this piece of research is that the November lockdown in England, hard though it was for many people, would not have stopped the variant form of the virus spreading. The same severe restrictions that saw cases of the previous version of the virus fall by a third, would see a tripling of the new variant. This is why there has been such a sudden tightening of restrictions across the country.

It is unclear whether the current restrictions will be enough to control the spread of the virus. Given the fact that it has taken two lockdowns to stop the earlier version of the virus overwhelming the NHS, many scientists fear that further tightening will be necessary.

Policy and solutions / Re: Robots and AI: Our Immortality or Extinction
« on: December 30, 2020, 09:55:41 PM »
AI-Controlled Vertical Farms Promise Revolution In Food Production

These upright farms take up only 2 acres yet produce 720 acres worth of fruit and vegetables. Lighting, temperature and watering are controlled by AI-controlled robots. Sunlight is emulated by LED panels, so food is grown in optimal conditions 24/7. And water is recycled and evaporated water recaptured so there is virtually no waste.

The operation is so efficient it uses 99 percent less land and 95 percent less water than normal farming operations.

"Imagine a 1,500-acre farm," Storey says. "Now, imagine that fitting inside your favorite grocery store, growing up to 350 times more.

It is so efficient that these rows of hanging plants produce 400 times more food per acre than a traditional farm.

... In October, Driscoll's, a leading producer of fresh berries, reached an agreement with Plenty to produce strawberries year-round in its Laramie, Wyoming-based farming operation, currently the largest privately-owned vertical farming and research facility in the world.

The Plenty website lists several products currently offered in stores, including lettuce, arugula, bok choy, mizuna and kale.


... just don't ask how many tons of  protein it produces per acre ...

The rest / Re: R's sudden, 100% insincere 'concern' about US debt
« on: December 30, 2020, 09:23:14 PM »

The politics / Re: The Trump Presidency
« on: December 30, 2020, 12:01:53 AM »

Science / Re: Satellite News
« on: December 29, 2020, 05:00:02 PM »
... got to love that Japanese joinery ...

Japanese Looking Into Using Wood to Build Satellites

Japanese company Sumitomo Forestry has announced a joint development project with Kyoto University to test the idea of using wood as a component in satellite construction.

Some of the major components in most satellites include aluminum, Kevlar and aluminum alloys, which are able to withstand both temperature extremes and constant bombardment by radiation—all in a vacuum. Unfortunately, these characteristics also allow satellites to remain in orbit long after their usefulness has ended, resulting in constant additions to the space junk orbiting the planet.

There are currently approximately 6,000 satellites circling the Earth but only 60% of them are still in use. Some in the field have predicted that nearly 1,000 satellites will be launched into space each year over the coming decade. Considering their lifespan, this suggests there could be thousands more dead satellites orbiting the planet in the coming years. This space debris poses a significant threat to other satellites (they all travel thousands of miles per hour) and also to manned space missions.

And there is more bad news—the aluminum used in satellites has been found to break apart when a satellite returns to Earth, creating hundreds or thousands of tiny alumina particles that wind up floating in the upper atmosphere for many years, possibly posing an environmental problem. For all these reasons, the researchers with this new project are looking to replace these materials with wood.

The major benefit of wood-based satellites is they would burn up completely when returning to Earth. But another major bonus of using wood to create the outer shell of a satellite is that electromagnetic waves would pass right through it, which means antennas could be placed inside of satellite structures, making them simpler to design and deploy. The researchers plan to look for appropriate wood candidates and then to conduct experiments to see it they could be treated to stand up to space conditions. They predict they will have a product ready for testing by 2023.


... I've got some old cigar boxes if they need them...

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: December 26, 2020, 11:14:26 PM »
U.K. Variant of Coronavirus Appears in Canada, Elsewhere, Despite Containment Efforts

The highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus first detected in England had by Saturday been documented in several European countries, as well as Canada, Japan, Australia and Lebanon, despite efforts to curb its spread through massive global disruptions in travel and movement.

The variant has also been detected in France, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.

In Canada, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer announced Saturday that they had confirmed two cases, the first detection of the variant in North America. The patient, a couple, had no known travel history, meaning it was likely a case of community spread.

While the United States has not yet reported a case, experts say it is probably due to the nation’s very low rate of genetic sequencing of the virus to check for such changes, despite Americans leading the world in coronavirus infections and deaths.

... Scientists are additionally closely following news of another variant of the novel coronavirus first detected in South Africa that experts say also appears to be highly transmissible. British health officials have already documented cases of the South African variant in the United Kingdom.


25 December 2020 (Desdemona Despair) – The per-capita death rate from Covid-19 in the United States exceeded 100 for the first time today, according to mortality data from John Hopkins University. The milestone comes on the heels of this week’s announcement from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) stating that the U.S. death toll may rise to well over a half million by 1 April 2020, exceeding 567,000, with no peak in sight.

Total Covid-19 mortality in the United States, 4 February 2020 – 24 December 2020 and projected To 1 April 2021. Graphic: IHME

The number 100 isn’t significant from the epidemiological perspective, but it’s a grim milestone that puts the U.S. in the same company as nations like Andorra and Slovenia.

The IHME model also projects that the daily death rate will peak at nearly 4,000 per day in January:

“In our reference scenario, which represents what we think is most likely to happen, our model projects 567,000 cumulative deaths on April 1, 2021. This represents 252,000 additional deaths from December 20 to April 1. Daily deaths will peak at 3,890 on January 11, 2021.”

Even in the best-case scenario, the vaccines won’t arrive in time to abate the pandemic in the U.S. this winter.


Black Doctor’s Death Becomes a Symbol of Racism In Coronavirus Care

A Black doctor who died battling Covid-19 described racist medical care in widely shared social media posts days before her death, prompting an Indiana hospital system to promise a “full external review” into her treatment.

... The case of Dr Susan Moore has become a powerful and stark symbol of that inequity, garnering coverage in publications from the New York Times to USA Today and major television networks.

Moore, 52, tested positive for Covid-19 late last month and was admitted to IU Health North Hospital in Carmel, Indiana, according to a Facebook post. Acutely aware of her condition and medical procedures, the physician said she had to repeatedly ask for medication, scans and routine checks while admitted at a hospital in Carmel, Indiana.

She noted a white doctor in particular who seemingly dismissed her pain and said she didn’t trust the hospital.

... Black Americans are more vulnerable because of systemic racism, inequity in health care access and economic opportunity and the fact that many work in jobs that put them on the front lines of the pandemic.

Many Black Americans also report that medical professionals take their ailments less seriously when they seek treatment.

Antarctica / Re: Antarctic Icebergs
« on: December 26, 2020, 01:13:19 PM »
A-68A Iceberg Thinning at 2.5 cm per Day

Using data from four different satellites, scientists from the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds have produced the first assessment of the iceberg's changing shape.

The team first built a map of the icebergs initial thickness from measurements recorded by ESA's CryoSat satellite radar altimeter in the 12 months before it calved. This detailed map reveals that A-68 was originally, on average, 232 m thick, and 285 m at its thickest point. The berg has 30 m deep channels oriented parallel to its narrow side following the direction Larsen ice shelf was flowing out to sea before it snapped—a common feature related to ocean melting.

Since it has been drifting in the ocean, the iceberg's position and shape have been captured in a sequence of 11 images taken by two different satellites—the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission, which has an all-weather and year-round imaging radar, and NASA's MODIS, which records images that are visible to the naked eye.

The imagery shows that the iceberg has halved in size from an initial area of 5664 sq km to its present extent of just 2606 sq km. A large proportion of this loss has been through the creation of smaller bergs, some of which are still afloat.

On average, the iceberg has thinned by 32 m, and by over 50 m in places—around a quarter of its initial thickness. When combined, the change in thickness and area amount to a 64% reduction in the iceberg's volume from 1467 to 526 cubic kilometers.

At its thickest section, the A-68A iceberg currently has a 206 m deep keel, and so the main section is unlikely to travel much closer to the island until it thins or breaks apart. However, two relatively large fragments which broke away on 21 December are considerably thinner, with keels that are up to 50 m shallower, and so these pose the greatest immediate threat.

Since it broke free, the average melting rate of A-68 has been 2.5 centimeters per day and the berg is now shedding 767 cubic meters of freshwater per second into the surrounding ocean—equivalent to 12 times the outflow of the River Thames.

The politics / Re: The Trump Presidency
« on: December 24, 2020, 01:53:02 PM »

The forum / Re: Forum Decorum
« on: December 23, 2020, 09:52:09 PM »
Conspiracy theories may seem irrational – but they fulfill a basic human need

... many irrational beliefs are attempts to protect mental health by responding to the human need for control, understanding and belonging.

Why do people fall for a plot? At the bottom, there is a powerful drive for causal understanding. In a novel situation, people need a causal map to navigate the environment. They may settle for an explanation before they have all the relevant information, because uncertainty is hard to tolerate.

People tend to prefer explanations that make reference to a person's intentions over explanations that present the event as accidental. In particular, they tend to blame a threat on "agents" they may already have reason to distrust.

Seeing the event as planned rather than accidental allows people to maintain a sense of control over a reality that is confusing and unpredictable. If there is someone to blame, we can restore some kind of balance to the universe by seeking to punish the culprits for their evil conduct. Also, we can prevent them from harming us next time.

The conflict with an official version arises from distrust towards institutions such as governments, scientists, the media and medical authorities. This distrust drives the belief in a conspiracy and is central to the identity of groups that people already associate with.

Echo chamber

This typically happens in self-selected social media networks like Facebook groups or Twitter exchanges where those with a different view are blocked. Within these bubbles, theories about COVID-19 become something that defines who the people are and what they stand for.

A study, published in the journal Telematics and Informatics, also found that levels of worry about COVID-19 increased the strength of people's belief in that misinformation.

Two factors weakened beliefs in false information: having faith in scientists and a preference for "discussion heterogeneity," meaning people liked talking with others who held different views.

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: December 23, 2020, 03:46:29 PM »


Arctic sea ice / Re: What's new in the Arctic ?
« on: December 23, 2020, 01:02:03 AM »
Mosaic On Steroids: Russia’s New Project 00903 Long-Endurance Arctic Research Vessel is Expected to Operate On Research Missions In the Arctic region, for Up to Two Years at a Time.

Russia has launched a new Arctic research vessel, named the North Pole. The Project 00903 ship is described as an “ice-resistant self-propelled platform” and is intended to drift through the waters of the frozen north, conducting geological, sonar, geophysical, and oceanographic surveys. It is also far from pretty.

The vessel’s distinctly egg-shaped hull, constructed from special high-durability steel, stems from its requirement to deal with light ice, being propelled along at a speed of around 10 knots. This ship is not an icebreaker, however, and its reinforced hull is designed to be better able to shrug off ice rather than plow through it. Instead, its overall design has been optimized for endurance and autonomy.

Measuring 276 feet long by 74 feet wide, and with a displacement of 10,225 tons, the North Pole is intended to be the first vessel of its kind to be permanently based in the high Arctic.

Previously, Russia, and before that the Soviet Union, made use of drifting ice stations for supporting Arctic research teams. These were built on naturally occurring ice packs or glacier fragments. Beginning in 1937, a total of 40 expeditions had been run, normally in the months of September to October. One of these ice stations provided the U.S. intelligence community with a rare windfall when, in May 1962, under Project Coldfeet, they investigated an abandoned Soviet research station high in the Arctic.

However, the effects of global climate change since the early 2000s means that these kinds of stations are no longer a practical proposition since solid ice is increasingly hard to find.

So, now Russia has turned to the “ice-resistant self-propelled platform,” or Project 00903, which will be able to venture into the Arctic region under its own power, or with the help of an icebreaker, before beginning its “autonomous” mission. In this case, the autonomy refers to being able to operate independently of resupply for extended periods of time, enabling researchers to study the Arctic region for up to two years at a time, without having to dock in port.

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: December 22, 2020, 02:19:24 AM »
Trevor Bedford @trvrb

There has been an open question to the degree to which SARS-CoV-2 will behave like influenza and require vaccine updates. Emerging evidence suggests that antigenic drift is likely.

First off, we have new studies on antigenic drift in seasonal coronaviruses. Katie Kistler and I have shown abundant adaptive evolution in the spike proteins of viruses OC43 and 229E consistent with antigenic drift (  ).

We also now have direct serological evidence of antigenic drift in 229E from @eguia_rachel, @jbloom_lab et al, suggesting that reinfection by seasonal coronaviruses that occurs every ~3 years is in part due to evolution of the virus.

For SARS-CoV-2, we only expect antigenic variants to spread once enough people have been infected to give these variants a transmission advantage gained by the ability to reinfect some portion of individuals immune to the original variant.

At this point, many countries have had perhaps 10% to 20% of their population infected ( ), and so we expect some weak evolutionary pressure for antigenic drift.

We've now seen the emergence and spread of several variants that may have some antigenic impact. These variants are generally labeled based on the mutation to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. For example N439K has a change from asparagine (N) to lysine (K) at site 439 in spike.

This variant N439K is now present in ~5% of recent viruses from Europe ( and shows evidence of escape from some monoclonal antibodies and decreased reactivity to some convalescent sera (@emcat1, @robertson_lab et al )

Recent announcements have focused on spread of N501Y in the UK ( ) and independent emergence and spread of N501Y in South Africa ( ).

The UK variant in particular has several mutations that are of biological interest and deserves close attention (
@arambaut, @pathogenomenick et al ).

Independent emergence and spread of variants is suggestive of natural selection where in addition to N501Y we see for example S477N emerging independently in Europe (,439,477) and in Australia

@firefoxx66 is maintaining a list of mutations of interest with associated @nextstrain views and relevant publications at 14/18

All this said, I'm not concerned that these variants will significantly reduce vaccine efficacy in the 2021 rollout. Most circulating SARS-CoV-2 viruses do not have any mutations in the spike receptor binding domain (,477,484,501 ). 15/18

Additionally, single mutations will generally have small impacts on polyclonal immune responses and the strong immune response to the mRNA vaccines would suggest that a large antigenic change would be needed to significantly reduce efficacy. 16/18

However, we may see modest reductions in vaccine efficacy due to antigenic drift and will likely need a process in the coming years by which we update the spike variant used in the vaccine to best match circulating viruses.

Going forward, I suggest:
1. Emerging variants should be assayed against sera from recovered and vaccinated individuals to test for antigenic effects
2. Immunization records should be connected to genomic surveillance to identify variants involved in breakthrough infections


Consequences / Re: Global Surface Air Temperatures
« on: December 22, 2020, 12:15:40 AM »
Threshold for Dangerous Climate Warming Will Likely Be Crossed Between 2027–2042

The threshold for dangerous global warming will likely be crossed between 2027 and 2042—a much narrower window than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's estimate of between now and 2052. In a study published in Climate Dynamics, researchers from McGill University introduce a new and more precise way to project the Earth's temperature. Based on historical data, it considerably reduces uncertainties compared to previous approaches.

... Until now, wide ranges in overall temperature projections have made it difficult to pinpoint outcomes in different mitigation scenarios. For instance, if atmospheric CO2 concentrations are doubled, the General Circulation Models (GCMs) used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), predict a very likely global average temperature increase between 1.9 and 4.5C—a vast range covering moderate climate changes on the lower end, and catastrophic ones on the other.

"Our new approach to projecting the Earth's temperature is based on historical climate data, rather than the theoretical relationships that are imperfectly captured by the GCMs. Our approach allows climate sensitivity and its uncertainty to be estimated from direct observations with few assumptions," says co-author Raphael Hebert, a former graduate researcher at McGill University, now working at the Alfred-Wegener-Institut in Potsdam, Germany.

In a study for Climate Dynamics, the researchers introduced the new Scaling Climate Response Function (SCRF) model to project the Earth's temperature to 2100. Grounded on historical data, it reduces prediction uncertainties by about half, compared to the approach currently used by the IPCC. In analyzing the results, the researchers found that the threshold for dangerous warming (+1.5C) will likely be crossed between 2027 and 2042. This is a much narrower window than GCMs estimates of between now and 2052. On average, the researchers also found that expected warming was a little lower, by about 10 to 15 percent. They also found, however, that the "very likely warming ranges" of the SCRF were within those of the GCMs, giving the latter support.

Raphaël Hébert et al, An observation-based scaling model for climate sensitivity estimates and global projections to 2100, Climate Dynamics (2020)

Abstract: ... Projecting to 2100, we find that to keep the warming below 1.5 K, future emissions must undergo cuts similar to RCP 2.6 for which the probability to remain under 1.5 K is 48 %. RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5-like futures overshoot with very high probability

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: December 21, 2020, 03:06:06 PM »
kassy, harpy

Viral load, also known as viral burden, viral titre or viral titer, is a numerical expression of the quantity of virus in a given volume of fluid.

copies/mL - milliliter (milliltre) for those who can't spell  :P

That can be any fluid: blood, urine, sputum, water, sewage, etc.

The numbers may be different in blood or nasal mucus because of viral distribution, but the term 'viral load' is used in both.

If you want a reference ... I worked in clinical labs for 40 years ... This is basic knowledge.

Consequences / Re: Forests: An Endangered Resource
« on: December 18, 2020, 11:12:35 PM »
Some Tropical Forests in Brazil Are Already Releasing More Carbon Than They Absorb

For years, climate scientists have been sounding the alarm about the increasing likelihood that the Amazon rainforest, now one of the biggest absorbers of carbon in the world, could actually become a source of carbon within just 15 years. New research shows that for some other kinds of tropical forests nearby, that’s already happening.

That’s due in large part to intentional forest burning. In South America, mining, cattle ranching, and soybean farming industries frequently set trees ablaze to make room for their operations, turning forests into open pastures.

That means forests contain less foliage to suck greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere. To make matters worse, when a tree catches fire, it releases all the carbon it sequestered in its lifetime, meaning the forests become a source of planet-warming emissions. And amid the climate crisis, this problem is even more severe, because amid hotter and drier conditions, the forests don’t produce enough humidity to quickly put out the flames, meaning more area burns with less effort.

A new study, published in Science Advances on Friday, aimed to see how South American forests’ carbon intake has changed in recent years. To do so, the authors analyzed greenhouse gas monitoring data from 1987 to 2020 on 32 deciduous, semi-deciduous, and evergreen forests—each of which has seen deforestation—in the lush state of Minas Gerais in southeastern Brazil. Altogether, the area they examined spanned some 81.5 acres (33 hectares).

By plugging this data into statistical models, the authors found that on average, these forests are now sucking up 2.6% less carbon per year than they were 33 years ago. At the same time, the forests’ carbon output from fires increased by 3.4% per year, meaning overall, they’re losing their ability to absorb the gas. These changes were enough to push the forests over the edge from carbon sinks to carbon sources. The authors fear their findings may be able to be extrapolated to tropical forests in the region as a whole.

The data shows that the switch happened in 2013. That year, on average, the examined forests released 0.14 U.S. tons per 2.5 acres (0.13 metric tons of carbon per hectare), or the equivalent output of driving 323 miles in a diesel car.

The authors’ findings are particularly troubling because separate research recently found that the importance of tropical forests’ carbon sequestering is nearly as important as that of the Amazon rainforest.

Vinícius Andrade Maia,, The carbon sink of tropical seasonal forests in southeastern Brazil can be under threat, Science Advances, (2020)

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: December 17, 2020, 04:59:35 AM »
Tyson Foods Fires 7 Plant Managers Over Betting Ring On Workers Getting COVID-19

Tyson Foods has fired seven managers at an Iowa pork plant after investigating allegations they bet on how many workers there would get sick from the coronavirus. Over 1,000 workers were infected and at least 4 died from the virus.

... - Managers allegedly allowed or encouraged workers suspected of having COVID-19 to keep working. This includes one worker who allegedly vomited on the production line.

- Sick workers tested at the facility were allegedly ordered back to work until they were told the test was positive.

- Tyson failed to provide employees masks or PPE

- Managers allegedly told supervisors to deny they knew of COVID-19 cases at the plant.

- Managers and supervisors, fearful of contracting the virus, allegedly stayed off the plant floor and delegated responsibilities to low-level supervisors who had little training or experience.

- Plant manager Tom Hart allegedly organized a cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool for supervisors and managers. The bet was to see how many employees would test positive for COVID-19.

- An upper-level manager named John Casey allegedly told supervisors to ignore COVID-19 symptoms, told supervisors to continue showing up for work if they were showing symptoms, and told them to make the people working under them showed up if they had symptoms. In one instance, Casey allegedly stopped a sick supervisor who was going to get tested and said "we all have symptoms -- you have a job to do."

- Tyson allegedly offered $500 bonuses to employees who showed up for every scheduled shift for three months. The suit claims this incentivized sick workers to show up.

- At or around the time this was happening, Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson visited the plant on April 10 and allegedly said the working conditions he saw "shook (him) to the core." Thompson and other local officials allegedly asked Tyson to close the plant, but the company kept it open.

The company reportedly claimed it had remained open "at the direction of a federal officer” -- namely President Donald Trump due to his April 28 order for such plants to keep operating.

... The company, one of the country's largest meat suppliers, launched an independent investigation into the complaints last month, suspending without pay the managers allegedly involved. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder led the investigation.

A spokesperson for Tyson, Gary Mickelson, told NPR that there isn't a report to share from the investigation, but "we can tell you that Mr. Holder and his team looked specifically at the gaming allegations and found sufficient evidence for us to terminate those involved."


... not a lot of separation between art and life ...


Rep. Joe Wilson Tests Positive for Covid-19

Washington(DC) - US Rep. Joe Wilson announced Wednesday evening that he has tested positive for Covid-19 and will go into isolation through the holiday

Wilson, 73, joins a considerable number of lawmakers from both parties and chambers of Congress who have announced they've tested positive for Covid-19 in recent weeks

Rep. Rick Allen, a Georgia Republican, and Rep. Susie Lee, a Nevada Democrat, announced separately last month that they had contracted the virus.

Their announcements came just days after two other lawmakers -- Reps. Bryan Steil, a Republican from Wisconsin, and Joe Courtney, a Democrat from Connecticut -- said they had been diagnosed with Covid.

In all, at least 11 senators and 36 members of the House have tested positive for the coronavirus or for its antibodies since the start of the pandemic.

The rise in cases on Capitol Hill comes as the pandemic continues to reach new heights across the country, with the US averaging about 212,000 new cases every day, according to the Covid Tracking Project.


Lie of the Year: Coronavirus Downplay and Denial

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: December 16, 2020, 04:00:36 PM »

Hopefully, in a few months, those of us with access to a vaccine will have less to worry about. Unfortunately, it seems many on this planet will not see a vaccine till 2022, 23, or even 2024.

Locally, here in Connecticut, hospitals population profile was 26-33% COVID-19 patients as of last week. Occupancy is approaching 85-90%. Significant nursing shortage due to illness or quarantine. A friend who works as an EMT with the local fire dept. said one of our largest hospitals is no longer taking patients.

Meanwhile, we're expecting 15-20 in. (40-50 cm.) of snow over the next 2 days. Never a good combination when you have an emergency and need an ambulance. No MedEvac flights either. Fortunately, I'll be binge watching movies (as long as the power stays on).



Re: Rebekah Jones

She's on Twitter:

1 in 3 adults in the USA has been arrested, even if they're never convicted of a crime or formal charges filed against them.

I am among those people who have been arrested only to have charges dropped.

The problem here is not people.  It's policing.

.... Kind of like "round 'em up and let the system sort them out". What a country.

... And that arrest goes with you even if the charges are dropped. ... And what about the innocent who plea bargained so they could take care of their families? ... Or those who didn't have the financial means or the heart to fight


Thought for the day ...

You know the two awesome vaccines that will tame the pandemic?

Pfizer's vaccine developed by two Turkish immigrants

Moderna's vaccine developed by a black woman virologist (@KizzyPhD) @NIH

Another reason for diversity in STEM

It makes science better


Most recent White House Coronavirus Task Force reports for all 50 states! You can find them all here:

White House: “Vaccine implementation will not substantially reduce viral spread, hospitalizations, or fatalities until the 100 million Americans with comorbidities can be fully immunized, which will take until the late spring.”


Trump Appointees Describe the Crushing of the C.D.C.

ATLANTA — Two Trump-appointed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials this week revealed the lengths to which President Donald Trump's White House went to meddle with the agency's public health guidelines.

In interviews with the New York Times, former CDC chief of staff Kyle McGowan and his deputy, Amanda Campbell, detailed how multiple White House officials who had no expertise in public health would regularly order changes to the CDC's pandemic protocols.

"Mr. McGowan and Ms. Campbell mediated between [CDC Director Robert] Redfield and agency scientists when the White House's requests and dictates would arrive: from … Kellyanne Conway, the former White House adviser, on choirs and communion in faith communities, or suggestions from Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and aide, on schools," reports the Times.

According to McGowan, the CDC routinely watered down its guidance under pressure from the Trump political team. ... “Every time that the science clashed with the messaging, messaging won,” McGowan said

McGown also called out the White House for its treatment of Dr. Nancy Messonnier, who angered Trump this past February when she publicly acknowledged that the novel coronavirus would become a major public health crisis.

"There's not a single thing that she said that didn't come true," McGowan said. "Is it more important to have her telling the world and the American public what to be prepared for, or is it just to say, 'All is well?'"


Head of White House security office has his right foot amputated because of severe COVID-19 and is facing 'staggering medical bills,' new report says

The head of the White House security office, Crede Bailey, had a part of his lower right leg and the big toe of his left foot amputated because of COVID-19, Bloomberg reported on Monday.

Bailey, whose office handles White House credentials and works with the Secret Service, contracted the coronavirus in September. He's been hospitalized for three months but is said to be recovering from the illness.

Friends of Bailey's have raised over $35,000 through a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for his rehabilitation and "staggering" healthcare costs.

... no antibody cocktail for him ...

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: December 16, 2020, 01:08:09 PM »
COVID-19 Patients at Higher Risk of Death, Health Problems Than Those With Flu: Study

From the beginning, most scientists have said that COVID-19 is deadlier than the seasonal flu, while fringe theories have circulated widely, suggesting it is less deadly or flu's equal. Evidence is accumulating, however, to show just how much deadlier COVID-19 is compared with the flu and the extent of complications related to the two illnesses.

The new research—a deep dive into federal data by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System—reveals a clearer distinction between the two contagious viruses: Among hospitalized patients, COVID-19 was associated with an increased need for ventilators, more admissions into intensive care units (ICUs), longer hospital stays and nearly five times the risk of death than faced by those with the flu.

And although both illnesses attack the lungs, the analysis showed COVID-19 also can damage other organs. It revealed that COVID-19 was associated with a higher risk of complications such as acute kidney and liver damage, as well as heart disorders, stroke, severe septic shock, low blood pressure, excessive blood clotting and new-onset diabetes.

The findings are published online Dec. 15 ET in the journal The BMJ.

... "Our research represents an apples-to-apples comparison between the two diseases."

... One of the biggest surprises in the study was the finding of a higher risk of developing diabetes among COVID-19 patients than flu patients—nine more cases per 100 people. "These patients didn't have diabetes until they got COVID-19," Al-Aly said. "Then their blood sugar spiked, and they needed huge doses of insulin. Is the diabetes reversible, or will it require long-term management? Will it be Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes? We just don't know because COVID-19 barely existed a year ago.

The researchers also found that, when compared with the flu, COVID-19 was associated with a higher risk of acute kidney damage and severe sepsis shock—both at six more cases on average per 100 hospitalized patients.

Compared with flu patients, people with COVID-19 also required more medications to treat severely low blood pressure, a condition that can lead to organ damage and death—11.5 more people per 100 people.

"We can call COVID-19 a respiratory virus all we want, but if you look at the associated clinical consequences, it can cause significant damage to the brain, liver, heart, kidneys and blood-clotting systems," Al-Aly said. "It's a destructive virus."

Al-Aly continued: "It's quite possible that a year or five years from now there could be COVID-19 complications that we haven't considered. Already, we're aware of the long-haulers, or people who get COVID-19 but never fully recover. ... Even for people who are fortunate to survive the acute COVID-19 illness, they may be forever scarred by the lasting impact of its long-term clinical complications."

Yan Xie et al, Comparative evaluation of clinical manifestations and risk of death in patients admitted to hospital with covid-19 and seasonal influenza: cohort study, BMJ (2020)

...Results: Compared with seasonal influenza, covid-19 was associated with higher risk of acute kidney injury (odds ratio 1.52, 95% confidence interval 1.37 to 1.69), incident renal replacement therapy (4.11, 3.13 to 5.40), incident insulin use (1.86, 1.62 to 2.14), severe septic shock (4.04, 3.38 to 4.83), vasopressor use (3.95, 3.46 to 4.51), pulmonary embolism (1.50, 1.18 to 1.90), deep venous thrombosis (1.50, 1.20 to 1.88), stroke (1.62, 1.17 to 2.24), acute myocarditis (7.82, 3.53 to 17.36), arrythmias and sudden cardiac death (1.76, 1.40 to 2.20), elevated troponin (1.75, 1.50 to 2.05), elevated aspartate aminotransferase (3.16, 2.91 to 3.43), elevated alanine aminotransferase (2.65, 2.43 to 2.88), and rhabdomyolysis (1.84, 1.54 to 2.18). Compared with seasonal influenza, covid-19 was also associated with higher risk of death, mechanical ventilator use, and admission to intensive care (hazard ratio 4.97, (95% confidence interval 4.42 to 5.58), 4.01 (3.53 to 4.54), and 2.41 (2.25 to 2.59), respectively) and 3.00 (2.20 to 3.80) additional days of hospital stay. Differences in rates of death per 100 patients between covid-19 and seasonal influenza were most pronounced in people over 75 years of age with chronic kidney disease or dementia and those with black race and obesity, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.

Arctic sea ice / Re: Arctic Ocean salinity, temperature and waves
« on: December 15, 2020, 10:30:15 PM »
Oceanographers Find Explanation for the Arctic's Puzzling Ocean Turbulence

Eddies are often seen as the weather of the ocean. Like large-scale circulations in the atmosphere, eddies swirl through the ocean as slow-moving sea cyclones, sweeping up nutrients and heat, and transporting them around the world.

In most oceans, eddies are observed at every depth and are stronger at the surface. But since the 1970s, researchers have observed a peculiar pattern in the Arctic: In the summer, Arctic eddies resemble their counterparts in other oceans, popping up throughout the water column. However, with the return of winter ice, Arctic waters go quiet, and eddies are nowhere to be found in the first 50 meters beneath the ice. Meanwhile, deeper layers continue to stir up eddies, unaffected by the abrupt change in shallower waters.

This seasonal turn in Arctic eddy activity has puzzled scientists for decades. Now an MIT team has an explanation. In a paper published today in the Journal of Physical Oceanography, the researchers show that the main ingredients for driving eddy behavior in the Arctic are ice friction and ocean stratification.

By modeling the physics of the ocean, they found that wintertime ice acts as a frictional brake, slowing surface waters and preventing them from speeding into turbulent eddies. This effect only goes so deep; between 50 and 300 meters deep, the researchers found, the ocean's salty, denser layers act to insulate water from frictional effects, allowing eddies to swirl year-round.

The results highlight a new connection between eddy activity, Arctic ice, and ocean stratification, that can now be factored into climate models to produce more accurate predictions of Arctic evolution with climate change.

"As the Arctic warms up, this dissipation mechanism for eddies, i.e. the presence of ice, will go away, because the ice won't be there in summer and will be more mobile in the winter," says John Marshall, professor of oceanography at MIT. "So what we expect to see moving into the future is an Arctic that is much more vigorously unstable, and that has implications for the large-scale dynamics of the Arctic system."

... Now that they have confirmed that ice friction and stratification have an effect on Arctic eddies, the researchers speculate that this relationship will have a large impact on shaping the Arctic in the next few decades. There have been other studies showing that summertime Arctic ice, already receding faster year by year, will completely disappear by the year 2050. With less ice, waters will be free to swirl up into eddies, at the surface and at depth. Increased eddy activity in the summer could bring in heat from other parts of the world, further warming the Arctic.

At the same time, the wintertime Arctic will be ice covered for the foreseeable future, notes Meneghello. Whether a warming Arctic will result in more ocean turbulence throughout the year or in a stronger variability over the seasons will depend on sea ice's strength.

Regardless, "if we move into a world where there is no ice at all in the summer and weaker ice during winter, the eddy activity will increase," Meneghello says. "That has important implications for things moving around in the water, like tracers and nutrients and heat, and feedback on the ice itself."

Genesis and decay of mesoscale baroclinic eddies in the seasonally ice-covered interior Arctic Ocean, Journal of Physical Oceanography, (2020)

Arctic sea ice / Re: What's new in the Arctic ?
« on: December 15, 2020, 10:28:40 PM »
Oceanographers Find Explanation for the Arctic's Puzzling Ocean Turbulence

Eddies are often seen as the weather of the ocean. Like large-scale circulations in the atmosphere, eddies swirl through the ocean as slow-moving sea cyclones, sweeping up nutrients and heat, and transporting them around the world.

In most oceans, eddies are observed at every depth and are stronger at the surface. But since the 1970s, researchers have observed a peculiar pattern in the Arctic: In the summer, Arctic eddies resemble their counterparts in other oceans, popping up throughout the water column. However, with the return of winter ice, Arctic waters go quiet, and eddies are nowhere to be found in the first 50 meters beneath the ice. Meanwhile, deeper layers continue to stir up eddies, unaffected by the abrupt change in shallower waters.

This seasonal turn in Arctic eddy activity has puzzled scientists for decades. Now an MIT team has an explanation. In a paper published today in the Journal of Physical Oceanography, the researchers show that the main ingredients for driving eddy behavior in the Arctic are ice friction and ocean stratification.

By modeling the physics of the ocean, they found that wintertime ice acts as a frictional brake, slowing surface waters and preventing them from speeding into turbulent eddies. This effect only goes so deep; between 50 and 300 meters deep, the researchers found, the ocean's salty, denser layers act to insulate water from frictional effects, allowing eddies to swirl year-round.

The results highlight a new connection between eddy activity, Arctic ice, and ocean stratification, that can now be factored into climate models to produce more accurate predictions of Arctic evolution with climate change.

"As the Arctic warms up, this dissipation mechanism for eddies, i.e. the presence of ice, will go away, because the ice won't be there in summer and will be more mobile in the winter," says John Marshall, professor of oceanography at MIT. "So what we expect to see moving into the future is an Arctic that is much more vigorously unstable, and that has implications for the large-scale dynamics of the Arctic system."

... Now that they have confirmed that ice friction and stratification have an effect on Arctic eddies, the researchers speculate that this relationship will have a large impact on shaping the Arctic in the next few decades. There have been other studies showing that summertime Arctic ice, already receding faster year by year, will completely disappear by the year 2050. With less ice, waters will be free to swirl up into eddies, at the surface and at depth. Increased eddy activity in the summer could bring in heat from other parts of the world, further warming the Arctic.

At the same time, the wintertime Arctic will be ice covered for the foreseeable future, notes Meneghello. Whether a warming Arctic will result in more ocean turbulence throughout the year or in a stronger variability over the seasons will depend on sea ice's strength.

Regardless, "if we move into a world where there is no ice at all in the summer and weaker ice during winter, the eddy activity will increase," Meneghello says. "That has important implications for things moving around in the water, like tracers and nutrients and heat, and feedback on the ice itself."

Genesis and decay of mesoscale baroclinic eddies in the seasonally ice-covered interior Arctic Ocean, Journal of Physical Oceanography, (2020)

Consequences / Re: COVID-19
« on: December 15, 2020, 06:32:45 AM »

Permafrost / Re: Arctic Methane Release
« on: December 14, 2020, 08:05:35 PM »
The Moon Controls the Release of Methane in Arctic Ocean

Small pressure changes affect methane release. A recent paper in Nature Communications even implies that the moon has a role to play.

The moon controls one of the most formidable forces in nature—the tides that shape our coastlines. Tides, in turn, significantly affect the intensity of methane emissions from the Arctic Ocean seafloor.

"We noticed that gas accumulations, which are in the sediments within a meter from the seafloor, are vulnerable to even slight pressure changes in the water column. Low tide means less of such hydrostatic pressure and higher intensity of methane release. High tide equals high pressure and lower intensity of the release," says co-author of the paper Andreia Plaza Faverola.

"It is the first time that this observation has been made in the Arctic Ocean. It means that slight pressure changes can release significant amounts of methane.

Plaza Faverola points out that the observations were made by placing a tool called a piezometer in the sediments and leaving it there for four days.

It measured the pressure and temperature of the water inside the pores of the sediment. Hourly changes in the measured pressure and temperature revealed the presence of gas close to the seafloor that ascends and descends as the tides change. The measurements were made in an area of the Arctic Ocean where no methane release has previously been observed but where massive gas hydrate concentrations have been sampled.

"This tells us that gas release from the seafloor is more widespread than we can see using traditional sonar surveys. We saw no bubbles or columns of gas in the water. Gas burps that have a periodicity of several hours won't be identified unless there is a permanent monitoring tool in place, such as the piezometer," says Plaza Faverola

These observations imply that the quantification of present-day gas emissions in the Arctic may be underestimated. High tides, however, seem to influence gas emissions by reducing their height and volume.

"What we found was unexpected and the implications are big. This is a deep-water site. Small changes in pressure can increase the gas emissions but the methane will still stay in the ocean due to the water depth. But what happens in shallower sites? This approach needs to be done in shallow Arctic waters as well, over a longer period. In shallow water, the possibility that methane will reach the atmosphere is greater," says Knies

... The question remains whether sea-level rise due to global warming might partially counterbalance the effect of temperature on submarine methane emissions.

Nabil Sultan et al, Impact of tides and sea-level on deep-sea Arctic methane emissions, Nature Communications (2020).

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