A WINTER STORM IS COMING

A WINTER STORM IS COMING photo Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 11.41.33 PM_zps2r5slxjg.png

By Anjleena Sahni
Staff Writer

In recent years, the global climate has been an increasingly dominant topic of conversation. As floods, typhoons, and hurricanes plague nations around the world, a close watch has been kept on any abnormal weather patterns. One of these observed patterns is El Niño, a centuries old phenomenon characterized by a warming of the surface layers in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Generally, El Niño is known as the warming of waters along the Pacific equator. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), El Niño occurs about every two to seven years, developing from April through June and manifesting in December through February. During El Niño, the physical relationships between trade winds, currents, and oceanic/atmospheric temperature break from their regular patterns, wreaking havoc on the biosphere and weather conditions around the world (“The TAO Project…”). I will explain what causes El Niño, and how this inexplicable phenomenon affects different parts of the globe.

The normal pattern of Pacific trade winds are to blow from east to west, dragging warm surface water westward with them. Just east of Indonesia, the warm surface waters form a deep pool. In a process known as upwelling, colder waters containing essential nutrients rise to the surface, nourishing organisms that would otherwise not survive. However for unknown reasons, the trade winds occasionally relax, or even reverse direction. In response, the warm surface waters from the pool formed east of Indonesia begin to shift eastward (“NOAA/PMEL/TAO…”). These warm surface waters essentially act as a cap, preventing the nutrient rich cold water from upwelling. Phytoplankton, the foundation of the marine food chain, starve, along with dependent fish and mammals higher up on the food chain (“What is El Niño…”).

The most recent forecast, put forth by Colombia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), confirms, “All atmospheric variables strongly support the El Niño pattern, including weakened trade winds and excess rainfall in the east-central tropical Pacific” (“2015 October Quick Look”). The consensus of prediction models is that strong El Niño conditions will continue through the season, with peak temperatures in January or February. Currently, this year’s El Niño is forecasted to be on par with the El Niño of 1997, the strongest on record. The general prediction, based on patterns of the past, is that North and South America will experience more precipitation and possible storm-like conditions, while East Africa, Australia, and Indonesia face drought (“NOAA/PMEL/TAO…”).

The significance of El Niño lies with its wide reaching global effects; the disruption of local weather patterns have profound consequences around the world, often affecting the most vulnerable groups. In 1982, 25% of the adult fur seal and sea lion populations along the coast of Peru starved to death. All of the pups in both populations died, and fish populations were similarly affected. In the western Pacific, changes in sea level exposed the upper layers of many coral reefs in surrounding islands, allowing air to erode and destroy them (“NOAA/PMEL/TAO…”). Economic impacts are equally critical. The El Niño of 1982-83 is estimated by the NOAA to have caused about 8 billion dollars in damages due to floods, severe storms, droughts, and fires around the world. In the same year, wildfires killed an estimated 75 people and burned 2,500 houses in Australia alone. Countries with fewer resources to cope with the climate conditions, such as nearby Papua New Guinea, are affected even more drastically (“ (“‘Super’ El Niño…”). Largely rural areas in Africa and Central America, already suffering from problematic climate conditions and persistent drought, face aggravated circumstances with the predicted “super” El Niño. In the worst-case scenario, drought and starvation could become push factors, driving people out of their countries in search of refuge(“‘Super’ El Niño…”). With the current migration crises in Europe and the Middle East, additional thousands of displaced migrants would cause pandemonium, exacerbating the precarious political and economic situations in each region. It is impossible to make an exact prediction, but this year’s event could potentially bring drought, typhoons, landslides, or any number of the weather conditions that have been observed in the past. Although its effects are unpredictable, the patterns of the past indicate that this year’s “super” El Niño could have some serious ramifications worldwide, both ecologically and economically.

Works Cited

“2015 October Quick Look.” International Research Institute for Climate and Society. 15 Oct.       2015. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.

“NOAA/PMEL/TAO: The El Niño Story.” NOAA/PMEL/TAO: The El Niño Story. Web. 24 Oct.  2015.

“‘Super’ El Niño Looks Set to Ruin the Lives of Many of the World’s Most Vulnerable People |    VICE News.” VICE News RSS. VICE News. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.

“The TAO Project: Definitions of El Nino.” The TAO Project: Definitions of El Nino. Web. 24      Oct. 2015.

“What Is El Nino? Fact Sheet: Feature Articles.” What Is El Nino? Fact Sheet: Feature Articles.    Web. 24 Oct. 2015.

https://news.vice.com/article/super-el-nio-looks-set-to-ruin-the-lives-of-many-of-the-worlds-most-vulnerable-people

http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/ElNino/

http://iri.columbia.edu/our-expertise/climate/forecasts/enso/current/

http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/tao/elnino/el-nino-story.html

http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/tao/proj_over/ensodefs.html

Image by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

SCIENCE MATTERS: PERSPECTIVES ON “PERSONAL” POLLUTION

By Siru Rose Zhu
Staff Writer

“Under the Dome,” a recently released “TED-like documentary” focusing on the “air pollution crisis” in China has gone viral with more than 100 million viewers within 24 hours after the release. According to the New York Times, “Before it was taken down from Internet sites, more than 200 million Chinese had viewed it (out of approximately 600 million with Internet access),” not including the viewers overseas. It seems like the documentary “found a ready audience in China,” and the topic of pollution also found audiences worldwide. “Pollution, after all, has become personal;” it is true that people are becoming more aware of the pollutions that we can see, feel or touch–global warming, smog, chemical-filled water, pesticides, etc., but there are problems that are easily overlooked which are even more personal than those.

In early March this year, a court case, Firstenberg v. Monribot, has once again reminded the public about the ongoing discussion about artificial Electromagnetic Field (EMF) pollution. Arthur Firstenberg sued his neighbor Raphaela Monribot for causing him suffering such as “dizziness, nausea, amnesia, insomnia, tremors, heart arrhythmia, acute and chronic pain,” by insisting on using “her cell phone, computers and other ordinary electronic equipment,” on top of her “dimmer switches and compact fluorescent bulbs,” which “emitted their own painful rays.” Mr. Firstenberg also argued that sharing the same electric utility connection between the two houses “intensified the effect.”

However, this was not the first time Mr. Firstenberg filed a case regarding the damages done to him due to his “electromagnetic hypersensitivity.” He once attempted and failed to “block the installation of Wi-Fi in the city library and other public places” in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

What is this “electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS)?”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “EHS is characterized by a variety of non-specific symptoms, which afflicted individuals attribute to exposure to EMF. The symptoms most commonly experienced include dermatological symptoms (redness, tingling, and burning sensations) as well as neurasthenic and vegetative symptoms (fatigue, tiredness, concentration difficulties, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitation and digestive disturbances).” The WHO report claimed that many well-conducted studies have shown no correlation between EHS symptoms and EMF exposure, and concluded that EHS “has no clear diagnostic criteria” and no scientific basis to show the link between the two.

However, many of these “well-conducted” studies are deemed as problematic and invalid by many people who claimed to suffer from EMF exposure. One of these studies is titled “Hypersensitivity Symptoms Associated with Electromagnetic Field Exposure” conducted by Professor Elaine Fox from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex. The study used double-blind tests to expose two groups of people (one EMF-sensitive group, and one EMF-nonsensitive group) to the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) signal and the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) signal respectively, and observed the participants. The study concluded that GSM signal has no effects [on the participants], and [participants’] level of arousal increased during UMTS condition but “the number and severity of symptoms experienced did not increase,” “cognitive functioning [of the participants] was not affected” by exposure to either signal, and “physiological measures did not differ” across the three conditions.

Brian Stein, an electrosensitivity sufferer in the United Kingdom, claimed this study by Professor Fox was problematic because they turned the signal mask in the lab on for 10 minutes and off for 10 minutes to see if people reacted to the switch. Stein said that electrosensitivity does not work like that. It usually takes much longer time for the symptoms to appear and also sometimes even longer for the symptoms to disappear. Graham Lamburn from Powerwatch, an independent EMF and health risks research organization, also pointed out that there are EHS patients who are sensitive to different things. Some people may be sensitive to 3G mobile phones, while some people may be more sensitive to wi-fi signals,etc. None of this kind of differentiation was done in the study. It is problematic to expose participants to only one or two kinds of signals. Most importantly, this study carried out in 2004-2006 was funded by Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) – a company that is organized by the mobile communications industry.

The disputes among scholars regarding the health risks of electromagnetic radiation are ongoing. George Johnson, a New York Times columnist, argues that “the radiation emitted and received by wireless devices is far too low in frequency to shake apart the molecules in living cells.” They said that only in the extreme intense exposures such as inside of a microwave oven, the radiation waves are harmful because the generation of heat. On the other hand, other experiments pointed out that the magnetic part of the electromagnetic radiation changes “some functioning in cells and altered the action of neurotransmitters,” and the oscillation of the radiation (60 hertz) “increased the number of abnormal embryos in chicken eggs.” A study published in 1989 in the The New York Times Science section suggested the possibility that “this ubiquitous background radiation might cause cancer.” An epidemiological study compared children in Denver who died of cancer from 1950 to 1973 and found that the children “who lived near electrical distribution lines were twice as likely to develop the disease as those who did not,” and a subsequent study which set up to eliminate the flaws in the previous study “had nearly identical conclusions.”

Regardless of what scholars have said, there exists relevant information qualified by extensive research.

Hans Berger, known as the inventor of the Electroencephalography (EEG) brain electrical activity machine, discovered “Alpha brain waves” in 1929, which are the first recorded electrical frequencies transmitted by the human brain. Alpha waves are “most present in a wakeful state that is characterized by a relaxed and effortless alertness,” and alpha states “have been described variously as sublime, flying, floating, lightness, peace, and tranquility.” Alpha waves also control our creativity, performance, stress and anxiety levels, and immune system.

Almost 25 years after the discovery of alpha waves, Professor W. O. Schumann of the University of Munich confirmed through scientific tests that the resonant oscillation of the Earth Ionosphere resonates exactly at 7.83 Hertz, which was eventually named “Schumann Resonance.” After the publication of the discovery of Schumann Resonances, a physician named Dr. Ankermueller found out that the vibrational pulse of the Earth Ionosphere – Schumann Resonance, is exactly identical to the Alpha spectrum of human brain waves.

Is it just a coincidence that one of the most important brain waves of our relaxed state is tuned in with the pulse of the Planet Earth? A German scientist Rütger Wever from the Max Planck Institute, who studied the effects of light and frequency on human’s circadian rhythms, carried out an experiment in a specially-built underground bunker that was completely shielded from the natural frequency of the Earth. The study lasted over a 30-year period. In each experiment, the student volunteers “agreed to live in the bunker for up to four weeks.” The study discovered that when the Schumann resonance was filtered out of the bunker, mental and physical health of the students sufferred. The students felt sick, had headaches and upset circadian rhythms. Interestingly, every time Wever secretly introduced Schumann resonance through a man-made magnetic pulse generator, the ill effects suffered by the volunteers disappeared or decreased. The reduced level of stress, headaches and emotional distress, and the restored sense of well-being were also observed by the experimenters. Wever’s bunker experiment has shown the importance of natural resonant frequency to the mental and physical well-being of humans.

Dr. Wolfgang Ludwig, a leading physicist and researcher on earth/mind connection, said that “measuring Schumann resonance in or around a city has become absolutely impossible. Electromagnetic pollution from cell phones has forced us to make our measurements at sea.” Meanwhile, Ludwig discovered that “the Earth’s vibration could be clearly measured in nature and on the ocean,” because the artificial electromagnetic signals in the cities interfere with and block out the natural Schumann resonance. Louis Slesin, a Manhattan industry watchdog who has been reporting on electromagnetic radiation for three decades, said, “you have four billion people using cellphones and we’re living next to towers, and as more than one person has said, this is the world’s largest biological experiment. You are an electrical being. You wouldn’t have a thought in your head or move your fingers without an electrical impulse. The idea that any of these external fields have no influence on you seems to me preposterous.”

The EMF “pollution” is so personal that we are exposed to it 24/7 almost inescapably. Scientists are still debating the health risks of all the invisible electromagnetic radiation. Regardless what the official conclusion might be, we can at least educate ourselves on the “pollution,” research the correct information, connect the dots, make better decisions and voice our solutions.

Photo by Patrick Emerson

SCIENCE MATTERS: EVOLUTION OF EYESPOTS

Lepidopteran with eyespots in Costa Rica

By David Dannecker
Senior Editor

Readers of Prospect Journal’s Week of Photo Journals last week may have noticed a striking example of defensive eyespots in one of the photos in the Central America article. These visual patterns are a particular type of mimicry that can be found in many species of butterflies and caterpillars, and a diverse array of other kinds of animals. They can be a handy disguise, allowing an animal to appear bigger or more dangerous than they really are, or letting a predator blend in with its prey. Sometimes the level of detail achieved in eyespots is astounding. Particularly convincing eyespots, like the pair in the cover photo, can have extra levels of details – notice how each eyespot has a small white pattern within it, which mimics light shining off of a cornea, making it look even more like a genuine eye. How and why might such a trait evolve? And why might they resemble eyes in the first place?

In order for a trait to be selected, it must be hereditary (able to be passed on to offspring), and it must confer some competitive benefit to the individual. In general, that benefit could be the ability to more easily find a mate, or have greater numbers of offspring, or find food or other resources more easily. In this particular case, eyespots often promote easier survival by repelling predators, which we will discuss in more detail later. For a trait like this to develop in the first place, there must have been some variable patterns of pigmentation to begin with. Random pattern variations are fairly common throughout nature, but why do these patterns look like eyes? Spots, speckles, rosettes, and other circular shapes are generally pretty common throughout the animal kingdom. Think about cheetahs, leopards, many kinds of fish, salamanders, seals, hyenas, deer, etc. Spotted patterns crop up all over the place, and while they don’t typically resemble eyes all that closely, it is possible to see how they might evolve gradually from generic spot to eyespot.

Zebra long-wing caterpillar

Let’s consider a few different species of caterpillar to illustrate different calibers of eye-mimicry in naturally occurring spots. Pictured here is the caterpillar of the zebra longwing butterfly (Heliconius charithonia). As you can see by its numerous spines, it has gone for an entirely different type of defensive strategy, but underneath that prickly shield is a smattering of spots that don’t look like eyes much at all. However, spots similar to these must have been the original foundation, the starting point of many of the detailed eyespots that eventually evolved.

Elephant hawk-moth caterpillar

Pictured above is the caterpillar of the elephant hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor). This is a pretty good example of a caterpillar with spots that are much closer to eyespots in size and position, but still rather unconvincing. The spots are certainly there, but they don’t really look very much like eyes, and they are probably less likely to scare off a predator. However, if genetic variation caused some of the individuals in the population to have spots that were even closer to the right shape, or size, or color or position to start resembling eyes, thus causing the whole animal to look more like a snake, then it would start to be effective at repelling predators.

Lepidopteran with eyespots in Costa Rica

Like this guy, the caterpillar of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly (Papilio troilus). This species’ eyespots are very lifelike, and definitely give the impression that the caterpillar is both larger and more potentially dangerous than it actually is.

The selective pressure acting on the eyespotted animal here relies less on how the individual utilizes the trait, and more on how the predator interacts with the potential prey. Typically, eyespots are exclusively visual traits. Although some kinds of butterflies and moths do flash them to momentarily surprise predators, it is unlikely that they know except by instinct that a predator might react to them the way they do. Nevertheless, the action of displaying eyespots has been shown to startle predators and give the would-be prey an opportunity to potentially escape.

The notion of eyespots repelling predators has been theorized to be based on risk assessment on the part of the predator. Consider a scenario where you are walking along a trail and see something coiled up on the side of the path. It might be a snake, or it might be a pile of rope. You can’t see it well enough to tell what it is. If there is a small possibility that it is a snake and not a rope, it would generally be a bad idea to go and pick it up. Sure it might be a harmless rope, but it also *might* be a deadly snake, and you have a lot more to lose than to gain if that’s the case. It’s a similar phenomenon at work with eyespots. With the caterpillar example, if you are a predator, such as a mantis, and you are looking for a meal, when you see an eyespotted caterpillar, there is a chance that it is a harmless tasty caterpillar, but also a chance that it is a well-defended snake that might do you harm. Really the only way to determine what it is would be attempting to attack it, but if there are other prey options available, why on earth would you take that risk?

With eyespotted butterflies, the disparity is even greater. If it is a butterfly, it would make a good meal, but if the eyespots are instead the face of a larger animal, you’d be walking or flying right into a trap. If the eyespots are flashed suddenly, the benefit of surprise would be conferred as well, forcing the predator to pause and process the new stimulus, allowing the butterfly an extra moment to escape. A predator would be smart not to take the risk at all, especially if there are other, more clearly vulnerable prey options out there. The risk avoidance behavior in predators discussed here is one of the selective forces that would allow eyespots that passively resembled eyes to become more common in the population. Individuals without eyespots would lack that defense and hence become more accessible prey options for predators, while individuals with eyespots would benefit from the risk avoidance behavior. By further random variation, and selective predation, the eyespots that are most effective would become more common over time. Since individuals without any protective eyespots are gradually weeded out of the population, some species have evolved to have eyespots as a universal characteristic.

There are species of flies that utilize a similar strategy of disguise. Many species of hoverfly in the family Syrphidae passively resemble bees for the same reason – why should a bird try to eat a fly that might be a stinging bee? It’s just not really worth the risk.

Lepidopteran with eyespots in Costa Rica

Conversely, there are some species of spiders that mimic ants for the opposite reason; they want to look benign and blend in until the last possible moment when they reveal they are actually dangerous. More of a “wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing” example. Amazingly, the organism pictured below is a spider, not an ant. Another spider disguises itself abdomen-first as an ant, complete with abdominal eyespots, which are intended here to make it look harmless rather than dangerous. This species of crab spider’s resemblance to its weaver ant prey is pretty incredible.

Lepidopteran with eyespots in Costa Rica

Among moths and butterflies, there are a few other examples of patterns besides eyes. Any pattern could theoretically work as a defense as long as it is perceived as scary by a predator. The main reason eye patterns are so commonly evolved is that circles are a comparatively common shape in nature. More complicated shapes are less likely to appear in random variation, but they still can happen. As is the case with this recently-discovered moth, whose wing patterns strongly resemble a spider, complete with hairy body and eight spindly legs.

Cover photo by David Dannecker, Prospect Senior Editor

Authors of additional images linked here, in order of appearance: First caterpillar by DeadEyeArrow; Second caterpillar by Richerman; Third caterpillar by Michael Hodge; Bee-mimicking fly by Bruce Marlin; First spider by Sean Hoyland; Link to photo gallery by Alexander Wild.

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