Archive for November, 2010

NASA – NASA Sets News Conference on Astrobiology Discovery; Science Journal Has Embargoed Details Until 2 p.m. EST On Dec. 2

November 30, 2010
Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington                               

  Cathy Weselby
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Nov. 29, 2010


NASA Sets News Conference on Astrobiology Discovery; Science Journal Has Embargoed Details Until 2 p.m. EST On Dec. 2

WASHINGTON — NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.

The news conference will be held at the NASA Headquarters auditorium at 300 E St. SW, in Washington. It will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency’s website at

Participants are:
–     Mary Voytek, director, Astrobiology Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington
–     Felisa Wolfe-Simon, NASA astrobiology research fellow, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif.
–     Pamela Conrad, astrobiologist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
–     Steven Benner, distinguished fellow, Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, Gainesville, Fla.
–     James Elser, professor, Arizona State University, Tempe

Media representatives may attend the conference or ask questions by phone or from participating NASA locations. To obtain dial-in information, journalists must send their name, affiliation and telephone number to Steve Cole at or call 202-358-0918 by noon Dec. 2.

For NASA TV streaming video and downlink information, visit:


For more information about NASA astrobiology activities, visit:


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Plants flowering later on the Tibetan Plateau : Nature News

November 29, 2010
Flowers blooming in the valley, Tibetan Plateau, Tibet, ChinaThe Tibetan Plateau is blooming later than it did 30 years ago.TAO Images Limited / Alamy

In many regions, climate change has advanced the timing of spring events, such as flowering or the unfolding of leaves. But the meadows and steppes of the Tibetan Plateau are bucking that trend — plants are starting to bloom later in spring, making the growing season shorter. This change could threaten the livelihood of the thousands of nomads who survive by raising cattle on the plateau.

“I’ve worked in the Tibetan Plateau region for 25 years,” says Jianchu Xu, an ethnoecologist at the World Agroforestry Centre in Kunming, China, and a professor at the Kunming Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who led the study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1. Xu says he expected that plants on the plateau would follow the same pattern of early flowering seen elsewhere. In Europe, for instance, spring flowerings in 2000 occurred about 8 days earlier than they did in 1971 on average, and autumn events, such as changes in leaf colour, about 3 days earlier2.

“But then my PhD student Haiying Yu looked at more recent data” and discovered that the opposite was the case. The finding “contradicted the linear link” that is often seen between warming temperatures and an earlier start to the growing season, Xu says.

Locals on the Tibetan plateau with cattle.Land for grazing may be in short supply in future.Jianchu Xu

The group used satellite data to identify the start, end and length of the growing season for the meadow and steppe vegetation of the Tibetan Plateau between 1982 and 2006, and linked it to temperature change. During this time, the mean temperature rose about 1.4 ºC on the steppes and 1.25 ºC on the lower-lying meadows.

The study showed an initial advance in the timing of the growing season or its ‘phenology’ for both the meadow and steppe for the first 15 years. But from 2000 until 2006 that trend was reversed. The net effect was a shortening of the growing season by about one month for steppe plants and three weeks for meadow vegetation.

Grass impasse

Plants that have evolved in cold-weather climates become dormant in the winter to avoid frost damage. But the warmer winters on the plateau are delaying spring growth, the authors say, because plants are not meeting their chilling requirements — a minimum period of time that plants must experience cold before they break winter dormancy.

“The idea has been out there, but I don’t think very many people would have expected to see this sort of reverse response to warmer spring this soon,” says Arthur Weis, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Toronto, Ontario.

Martin Lechowicz, a plant ecologist at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec is not surprised, however. Lechowicz and his colleagues have analysed and modelled the timing of leaf-bud burst in 22 North American tree species throughout the twenty-first century3. Almost all species showed earlier bud burst, but some had years of abnormal bud-burst timing because they had not chilled enough over the winter. “Many models of climate change’s effects on the growing season don’t deal with the internal climate-control system by which plants respond to seasonal temperature changes,” says Lechowicz.

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The Tibetan alpine meadow grassland is used by local people to graze their yaks and sheep. “The change in the growing season may mean there is less grassland biomass available for grazing,” says Xu. “They will have to come up with local adaptive strategies to make sure the animals have enough grazing land.”

“Although I’m not surprised, it is very interesting,” says Lechowicz, But more detailed data would be useful, he says. “It would be nice to put people on the ground and have them do a species-by-species tracking. That would help resolve what is going on in the plant communities.”

Xu says he has plans to study the reaction to warmer winter temperatures at the species level to understand the phenology changes in detail — and perhaps suggest possible strategies for dealing with diminishing opportunities for nomads grazing their animals on the plateau. 

  • References

    1. Yu, H. et al. Proc Natl Acad. Sci. USA doi:10.1073/pnas.1012490107 (2010).
    2. Menzel, A. et al. Glob. Change Biol. 12, 1969-1976 (2006).
    3. Morin, X. et al. Glob. Change Biol. 15, 961-975 (2009).

The Importance of a Compassionate Attitude

November 25, 2010

S9G Next Generation Reactor

November 17, 2010

S9G Next Generation Reactor

The Navy now is well into designing the New Attack Submarine — a technologically robust ship that provides the best balance between cost and capability. This new submarine will cost about the same as a new improved LOS ANGELES Class ship while retaining SEAWOLF quieting — an essential military feature in a submarine. The ship will achieve the lowest cost possible commensurate with required military capability. For example, reduced speed allows lower acquisition and life cycle costs through simplification, producibility improvements, and new technology (e.g.,fewer components, enhanced modular construction, new electric plant design, and life-of-the-ship reactor core).

The S9G Next Generation Reactor and associated components which will have increased energy density. The core that is under development for the New Attack Submarine is expected to last the life of the ship. Eliminating the need for a refueling will reduce life cycle costs, cut down the radiation exposure of shipyard workers, and lessen the amount of radioactive waste generated. This is possible because of many developments such as use of advanced computers to perform three-dimensional nuclear, thermal, and structural calculations; further exploitation of the modified fuel process; and better understanding of various reactor technologies which permits more highly optimized designs. Performance improvements are gained through advances in such areas as thermal-hydraulics and structural mechanics, and by optimizing reactor-to-systems interfaces.

The new reactor which will have increased energy density, and new plant components, such as the new concept steam generator, with improved corrosion resistance and reduced life-cycle costs. The new steam generators will also allow greater plant design flexibility and decreased construction costs due to smaller size, spatial orientation, and improved heat transfer efficiency which reduces coolant flow requirements. A new concept steam generator will alleviate the corrosion concerns encountered in existing designs of steam generators, while reducing component size and weight and providing greater flexibility in overall arrangement.

Navy stations 3 nuclear Virginia Class attack submarines in Hawaii

So much for establishing Hawaii as a nuclear free zone

Quarantine On Kona Coffee Recommended – Honolulu News Story – KITV Honolulu

November 17, 2010
HONOLULU — A state advisory committee has recommended a quarantine on green coffee beans from Kona. It’s an emergency effort to stop the spread of a devastating pest. The committee has recommended a two-tiered quarantine, one for the Big Island as a whole and tighter restrictions around South Kona. A quarantine would restrict the exportation of unroasted coffee beans.

The tiny coffee berry borer has gained the reputation of being the world’s most devastating coffee pest for causing about $500 million in damage a year to the coffee industry worldwide.

Twenty-one coffee farms in South Kona have already been found to be infected with the bug.

At a meeting Wednesday before the members of the Department of Agriculture’s Advisory Committee on Plants and Animals, Plant Quarantine Branch manager Carol Okada said a quarantine would give them time to find a way to control the threat of the insect.

“The coffee berry borer likely cannot be contained, even with the establishment of quarantine zones. However, its general dissemination, which is slow, can be retarded for many years if an effective quarantine is established and maintained,” said Okada.

Tom Greenwell’s Kona coffee farm is among those infected and said the bug is a serious threat and he supports a quarantine.

“I’m not asking please put more financial impact on my company, but I’m thinking about the farmer through the state of Hawaii,” said Greenwell.

Coffee processor Jim Wayman supports the quarantine despite the increased cost to treat the Kona beans, which he estimates would be $50,000 to $60,000 a year, and would likely be passed along to consumers.

“If we have to err on the side of being conservative and say we need to put this up right away until we know how fast it’s going to spread, then I believe that’s what we need to do,” said Wayman.

But the Kona Coffee Farmers Association testified the quarantine would devastate the organic coffee farmers.

“The risk is that Kona coffee’s reputation in those markets will be permanently damaged and the price that we receive may plummet and coffee may no longer be a profitable crop,” said Bruce Corker, Kona Coffee Farmers Association president.

The committee did not recommend the use of pesticides to treat the beans with the quarantine, which is an effort to help those organic farmers.

The quarantine still must be approved by the ag department’s full board, which meets next Tuesday.

TED | Profile

November 17, 2010 – National Science Foundation (NSF) Discoveries – Digital Organisms Shed Light on Mystery of Altruism – US National Science Foundation (NSF)

November 15, 2010

California Condors May Face Threat From DDT

November 15, 2010