Antarctic leopard seals, new research

This 2013 video says about itself:

Face-to-Face with a Leopard Seal | Nat Geo Live

Photographer Paul Nicklen receives an unexpected gift … free food from a major predator.

From the British Antarctic Survey:

Secret life of an enigmatic Antarctic apex predator

June 5, 2018

Scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have, for the first time, tracked the lives of leopard seals as they migrate around Antarctica. The team followed these formidable predators as they move from the frozen Antarctic sea-ice to the more northerly sub-Antarctic islands where they prey on penguins, seals and krill. The study is published this week (Tuesday 5 June) in the journal PLOS ONE.

During the harsh polar winter, leopard seals are regularly sighted on islands such as South Georgia, where BAS scientists have studied them for over 20 years. However, very little is known about their behaviour during the long Antarctic night.

Seal ecologist Dr Iain Staniland, lead author of the study says:

Leopard seals are notoriously difficult to study because they live and hunt in inaccessible places: they are relatively scarce, lead solitary lives and live mostly in the water or ‘hauled out’ on sea ice around Antarctica.

“As one of the Antarctic’s apex predators, leopard seals can have large local impacts on their prey populations. They could be limiting the recovery of some fur seal colonies, for example, and are known to take a significant proportion of penguins from some smaller colonies — around 15% of the colony of gentoo penguins at one study site*. As ocean sentinels, they can reveal a lot about the health of an ecosystem and alert us to problems further down the food chain.”

To find out more about the leopard seal’s distribution and behaviour, the team attached 31 miniature tags to leopard seals between 2003 and 2012. The tags record sunrise and sunset times and have a wet/dry sensor. The tags have a long battery life, enabling them to track leopard seals for extended periods, but they do not transmit data so recovering the data is challenging. It requires that the seals are located and their tags removed while they are sleeping.

To date the BAS team has succeeded in recovering tags from five of the leopard seals. The data recovered shows that during the summer, the seals move south in and around the Antarctic sea ice where they feed on krill and fish and breed. In the winter, as sea ice around Antarctica expands, the seals return to the shallow coastal waters around the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands, where penguins, seals and krill provide them with the food they need to survive the long dark Antarctic winter.

As well as recording the complete migration of leopard seals for the first time, the study also reveals they spend up to one-third (31%) of their time out of the water but this behaviour changes markedly throughout the year. This fact will help improve the accuracy of population counts conducted using aircraft and drones.

Dr Iain Staniland continues:

“This study presents several important breakthroughs in our study of these fearsome predators. This is the first long-term deployments of tracking devices on leopard seals, the first opportunity to record the complete annual migration of leopard seals between the Antarctic pack ice and sub-Antarctic islands, and the first to record their haul-out behaviour.

“These findings will enable more robust population size estimates and to assess the role of leopard seals within the Southern Ocean ecosystem. It is a major advance in our knowledge about the secret life of one of the Antarctic’s true ‘apex’ predators.”

When I was in the Antarctic, I was privileged to see a leopard seal on an ice floe.

United States police invade Chelsea Manning’s home with guns

This video from the USA says about itself:

Police Broke Into Chelsea Manning‘s Home With Guns Drawn — in a “Wellness Check”

5 June 2018

Shortly after Chelsea Manning posted what appeared to be two suicidal tweets on May 27, police broke into her home with
their weapons drawn as if conducting a raid, in what is known as a “wellness” or “welfare check” on a person experiencing a mental health crisis. Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst turned whistleblower and U.S. Senate candidate, was not at home, but video obtained by The Intercept shows officers pointing their guns as they searched her empty apartment.

“This is what a police state looks like”, Manning said. “Guns drawn during a ‘wellness’ check.”

Welfare checks like this, usually prompted by calls placed to 911 by concerned friends or family, too often end with police harming — or even killing — the person they were dispatched to check on.

Manning was out of the country at the time of the incident, said Janus Cassandra, a close friend who was on the phone with her that night. “If Chelsea had been home when these cops arrived with guns drawn, she would be dead.”

Read the full story here.

Video of Chelsea Manning “wellness check” highlights threat posed by police to mentally ill in US: here.

CANBERRA MULLS CHELSEA MANNING VISIT The Australian government is considering whether to refuse entry to whistleblower Chelsea Manning just days ahead of her speaking tour. [HuffPost]

‘IT DOESN’T LOOK RIGHT’ Four Mesa, Arizona, cops have been placed on paid leave after they were caught on video brutalizing unarmed Robert Johnson, 33, repeatedly kicking and punching him in the head during a May 23 arrest. [HuffPost]

SHOT IN THE BACK Antwon Rose, an unarmed 17-year-old, was shot three times in the back while running away from a traffic stop in Pittsburgh. [HuffPost]

NSA leaker Reality Winner sentenced to more than five years in prison: here.

London Grenfell Tower disaster, tributes to victims

This video from England says about itself:

Grenfell refurbishment firms branded ‘inhumane’ | ITV News

5 June 2018

Firms involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower have faced a barrage of criticism at the public inquiry.

By Robert Stevens in London, England:

“My mum and my sister were murdered and cremated on 14 June last year”

UK: Final tributes to victims of Grenfell fire denounce corporate and political elite

The first phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry ended last week with final commemorations by relatives of the victims of the fire.

Testimony has repeatedly included denunciations of the ruling elite for the social murder that claimed at least 72 lives last June 14.

Eslah Elgwahry and her daughter Mariem lived in flat 196 of the tower. Eslah’s son and Mariem’s brother, Ahmed Elgwahry, himself a former Grenfell resident, spoke in tribute.

Ahmed highlighted the catastrophic implications of the use of flammable cladding during a cosmetic refurbishment carried out by the management body of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) council, and changes made to the surrounding areas restricting [fire brigade] vehicular access to the tower.

After being alerted to the fire and speaking to Mariem, Ahmed told her he was on his way. He then received a call from a “friend who I consider a brother who lived in that building for over 30 years. He has experience of living in that building and having experienced some fires before the refurbishment. Now I’m certain the building was compromised.

“My mum and sister lived on the 22nd floor and he lived on the 5th. To have the building covered in flames top to bottom just verified my concerns, that my family were in real danger. Having lived myself in the tower for over 20 years I just knew something wasn’t right this time. Before the refurbishment there had been several fires, but none the way she was describing. Furthermore, they never spread; they were always contained in the flat where they started, not that I know of any spreading previously so rapidly.”

Arriving at the tower Ahmed had “seen the backlog, the congestion, the gridlock of emergency vehicles and got out the car …

“So, having already lost my dad, with the exception of my wife, I lost the two most important women in my life that night, my mum Eslah and my sister Mariem. My mum and my sister were murdered and cremated on 14 June last year. To be more specific, my mum and sister were poisoned by the smoke, they were burnt, they were cremated, and I had to listen to them suffer and I had to listen to them die. I had to watch Grenfell Tower burn for a couple of days, but particularly the top floors. If that’s not torture, then I’m not really sure what else is.

“How did the fire start? Why didn’t anyone save them? What if there’s a fire in our home? What would we do? When is Grenfell going to finish? What is justice? How do you answer these questions from your five-year-old son? What would your answer be? We are still waiting for answers almost a year later. How does not having answers make you feel?”

Of his sister, Ahmed said, “On the night of the fire I heard her voice for the last time. Today Mariem has no voice, now I am her voice, now I am voicing my concerns for safer homes across the country to ensure we don’t have another Grenfell or another Lakanal [fire]. We’ve been here before. Let’s not kid ourselves. This is a lot bigger than just getting justice for me, whatever that may be, it is about accountability and addressing institutional failings. No family—and I mean no family—should have to experience such a catastrophic event which was entirely preventable. This was not an accident.”

The inquiry had already heard the statement of Hisam Choucair, who lost six members of his family in the fire. Among those speaking on the final day of commemorations of Sirria Choucair, Nadia Choucair, Bassem Choukair, Mierna Choucair, Fatima Choucair and Zainab Choucair was Nabil Choucair, a close relative.

During the course of Nabil’s testimony, a relative of the family collapsed, overcome by grief. The inquiry had to break while the woman received medical attention. Grief-stricken, Nabil struggled to give his tribute. An ambulance was required, with paramedics assisting him. In a video tribute that included footage of the family funerals and shots of the tower on fire, Nabil said, “We will fight for justice plus seek the truth and find out who is accountable for the crimes committed.”

He told the inquiry, “What was done on 14 June 2017 was very inhumane, barbaric and beyond an atrocity. Three generations of my family wiped out due to arrogance, who knows best, out-of-date laws, regulations and legislation. Yet they still don’t listen and wake up and smell the coffee. A loss to one is a loss to all. This affects everybody, for we are all equal, regardless of sex, ethnic origin, colour.”

The fire would never have happened had the lessons been learned from two earlier fires in the capital, Nabil said. “Had they resolved issues from the Lakanal House fire on 3 July 2009, the Shepherd’s Bush tower block fire on 19 August 2016, Grenfell Tower would have never happened.”

He concluded, “For today we will start to make a change … United we stand, divided we fall. In solidarity, with dignity and pride, to get the overdue justice.”

Nazanin Aghlani gave a tribute to her mother, Sakineh Afrasiabi, who died on the 18th floor of Grenfell Tower alongside her older sister Fatemeh, who had been visiting her.

Sakineh was a 65-year-old grandmother who had arrived in the UK from Iran in 1997. Due to the Home Office refusing him an immigration application, Fatemah’s husband was unable to pay tribute to the mother of five.

When the blaze started, and they realised there was no way of escaping by going down, they climbed to the 23rd floor, with Nazanin saying “she believed that help was coming from above to rescue her.”

Nazanin said, “As early as 2003, the RBKC housing department formally recognised and stated that, due to my mum’s disability and deteriorating health, she should not be housed in a lifted property above a fourth floor …

“After being refused many suitable properties, after 16 years of waiting, she was rehoused in 2016 into flat 151 on the 18th floor of Grenfell Tower. By this point, my mum was partially sighted and could only get around with the aid of a tri-walker. The move to Grenfell was out of desperation and pressure from the council. She was to take Grenfell Tower or to be suspended from allocations for one year …

“Our mum lost her life not only to the fire that night but to the corporate negligence by the very people who were to ensure her safety, the very people who said years before that she was not to be housed above the fourth floor of a lifted building. She couldn’t go down 18 floors of stairs on a good day, let alone in a fire. Her human right to escape was denied even before the fire happened.”

She concluded, “Grenfell was a gross criminal negligence. If we settle for this then we deserve it.”

The author also recommends:

Testimony to Grenfell Fire inquiry paints devastating picture of social murder
[24 May 2018]

Lakanal House: Prelude to the Grenfell Tower inferno—Part 1
[16 September 2017]

Lakanal House: Prelude to the Grenfell Tower inferno—Part 2
[18 September 2017]

The Grenfell Fire Forum, initiated by the Socialist Equality Party, will be holding the next of its regular meetings on Sunday, June 17, at 2 p.m. at the Maxilla Social Club in North Kensington, London. All are welcome to attend.

Grenfell Fire Forum meeting

Sunday, June 17, 2 p.m.
Maxilla Social Club, 2 Maxilla Walk
London, W10 6SW (nearest tube: Latimer Road)
For further details visit:

Spacecraft New Horizons in Kuiper Belt

This 27 December 2018 video is called Spacecraft to go beyond Pluto on New Year’s Day cosmic rock flyby.

A 4 June 2018 Sky News video used to say about itself:

The New Horizons spacecraft is about to leave hibernation to begin preparations for its January 2019 flyby of the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) 2014 MU69, nicknamed “Ultima Thule”.

The flyby, set to occur in the early morning of January 1, 2019, will be the second for New Horizons, following its historic 2015 Pluto flyby.

It will also be the furthest flyby from Earth ever performed by a spacecraft.

Initial searches for a post-Pluto flyby target for New Horizons began in 2011, 4 years before its flyby of Pluto. The New Horizons team was aiming for potential KBOs around 50-100km in diameter.

At first, only large ground-based telescopes were used in the search but were unable to find any KBOs that New Horizons could reach with its limited fuel supply.

Eventually, the Hubble Space Telescope took over the search, and discovered three possible targets for the flyby, given the temporary names “PT1”, “PT2”, and “PT3”, with the “PT” standing for “Potential Target”. PT1 and PT3 were seen as the best targets, while PT2 was dropped due to it being further away from New Horizon’s path than the two others.

Both PT1 and PT3 had their advantages and disadvantages. For example, PT1 would require less fuel to get to than PT3, but is likely smaller than PT3.

On August 28, 2015, the New Horizons team announced they had chosen PT1 – which was given the temporary name “2014 MU69” – as the flyby target. From multiple observations by Hubble and other ground-based telescopes, MU69 was determined to be red, around 30km in diameter, and potentially a binary system.

By observing MU69’s shape as it passed in front of background stars – called on occultation – astronomers found that MU69 may be double-lobed – meaning that it could be comprised of two large, connected sections – or a binary system, composed of two similar objects orbiting each other.

An example of a binary system is Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. Although they are not the same size, both objects orbit around a barycenter – a point of gravity between the two objects.

In October and November 2015, four maneuvers were performed by New Horizon’s hydrazine-fueled engines to set it up for a flyby of MU69 in January 2019.

In 2017, two small correction maneuvers were performed with the engines in order to further refine the flyby. On March 13, 2018, using public input from online polls and user-submitted names, MU69 was given the nickname “Ultima Thule” by the New Horizons team – meaning beyond the borders of the known world.

New Horizons will begin its approach phase of the MU69 flyby on August 16, 2018, when it will begin imaging MU69 and the area around it to begin acquiring data about the KBO and its surroundings. Also, New Horizons will look for potential debris that could pose a hazard to itself, such as moons or rings. Should any potential dangers be found, New Horizons has four planned opportunities to make trajectory changes from early October to early December 2018.

By Lisa Grossman, 10:51am, June 5, 2018:

New Horizons wakes up to begin Kuiper Belt exploration

The spacecraft will fly past a small rock nicknamed Ultima Thule on New Year’s Day

The spacecraft that raced past Pluto is back and ready to explore a whole new world.

NASA’s New Horizons probe woke up at 10:55 p.m. EDT on June 4 after a nearly six-month slumber, and news of the event reached Earth several hours later. The craft is now getting ready to fly past a small Kuiper Belt object called Ultima Thule (SN Online: 3/14/18).

New Horizons went into the last of a series of sleep modes on December 22, 2017, resting before continuing its exploration of the Kuiper Belt, the zone of small icy celestial bodies beyond Neptune (SN: 6/27/15, p. 16).

Hibernation is part of normal spacecraft operations, says mission principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute who is based in Boulder, Colo. “It saves wear and tear on the system, and it frees up personnel to do flyby planning.”

“IT’S HAPPENING! IT’S HAPPENING!” Stern tweeted in the early hours of June 5. “Flyby preparations for Ultima Thule begin shortly!”

In its next act, New Horizons will fly past the distant rock of Ultima Thule (also known as 2014 MU69) on New Year’s Day in 2019. Earlier observations suggest that Ultima Thule, no more than 30 kilometers long, could actually be two smaller objects orbiting each other (SN Online: 12/12/17). The team will know more when New Horizons’ first images after waking up arrive at Earth in August 2018.

Scientists think that Ultima Thule has existed near its current orbit 6.5 billion kilometers from Earth, at a temperature of –240° Celsius, for most of the solar system’s 4.6-billion-year history. “As such, MU69 will be the most primitive body ever studied by any spacecraft,” the team writes in the June Space Science Reviews.

New Horizons may have seen a glow at the solar system’s edge. The ultraviolet signal may mark a wall of hydrogen where the sun’s influence wanes. By Lisa Grossman, 7:00am, August 9, 2018.

Red spruce comeback in American forests

This video from the USA says about itself:

Restoring Red Spruce in the Southern Appalachians

10 November 2015

Sue Cameron from the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife] Service’s Asheville Field Office recently joined staff from the Southern Highlands Reserve collecting red spruce cones on Pisgah National Forest, near Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the Eastern United States. The cone collection is the first step in a multi-year process to restore red spruce to areas where it was found before the extensive logging and burning at the turn of the 20th century.

The Southern Appalachians are home to the highest peaks in the eastern United States and red spruce is a key part of the forests on those mountain-top areas. Unfortunately, the amount of red spruce found there today is a fraction of what stood 150 years ago. These forests were decimated by logging, which was followed by intensive fires which burned the thick layer of organic material the spruce needed to re-establish themselves, allowing a northern hardwood forest, with trees like maple and birch, to expand into new areas.

The collected cones will be divided among partners who will then extract the seeds and begin growing new trees, which will eventually be planted on public lands where red spruce once grew. Planting efforts will also be focused on connecting patches of red spruce.

In addition to helping conserve red spruce trees themselves, this effort will benefit wildlife, as high-elevation conifer trees are important sources of food and shelter for a variety of animals, including the endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel.

From the USDA Forest Service – Northern Research Station in the USA:

Surprising resurgence of red spruce likely result of cleaner air and warmer winters

June 5, 2018

Summary: When scientists found a resurgence of red spruce in northeastern forests, they had a lot of questions. Fifty years ago, red spruce was the equivalent of a canary in the coalmine signaling the effects of acid rain on forests. Researchers have identified two factors behind the tree’s surprising recovery: reduced inputs of acid rain and warmer fall, winter and spring temperatures.

Red spruce, for decades the forest equivalent of the canary in the coal mine signaling the detrimental effects of acid rain on northeastern forests, is making a comeback. New research by a team of scientists from the USDA Forest Service and the University of Vermont suggests that a combination of reduced pollution mandated by the 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act and changing climate are behind the resurgence.

The study, “The surprising recovery of red spruce growth shows links to decreased acid deposition and elevated temperature” by lead author Alexandra Kosiba of the University of Vermont with co-authors Paul Schaberg of the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and University of Vermont researchers, was published this week in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

The research team assessed the relationship between red spruce growth and factors that may influence growth such as tree age and diameter, stand dynamics, plot characteristics (elevation, slope, aspect, geographical position), and environmental variables including temperature, precipitation, a suite of climate indices, and sulfur and nitrogen pollution deposition that cause acid deposition. In a study that encompassed 658 trees in 52 plots spanning five states, they found that more than 75 percent of red spruce trees and 90 percent of the plots examined in the study exhibited increasing growth since 2001.

“Our research suggests that the reductions we’ve seen in acid rain are making a difference to forests in the Northeast”, said Schaberg. “Acid rain decline has helped red spruce recover, as well as higher temperatures in the fall, winter, and spring. Higher temperatures help some species and hurt others — right now, red spruce are benefiting, but they could be vulnerable to change in the future.”

Red spruce have unique characteristics that make them particularly susceptible to acid rain. For example, they have little genetic variation and they have only moderate tolerance to the cold. But they are also able to “wake up” and photosynthesize during warm interludes of the dormant season, a characteristic that may better position the species to take advantage of recent climate shifts that extend the functional growing season. Yet the study notes that future changes in habitat suitability may not be as favorable to red spruce as those already experienced — it will likely depend on how extreme future changes are.

Scientists are confident that their research represents the state of red spruce in the entire region, according to Kosiba. “Our study included a broad range of tree ages and sizes as well as a variety of plot locations and characteristics,” she said. “We are confident that we are capturing the regional status of red spruce forests, not just a snapshot of a specific location.”

“More broadly our work demonstrates the importance of using research to identify ecosystem problems that inform policy to mitigate those issues, and result in biological recovery”, noted Kosiba.

Dinosaur age dinoflagellates discovery in Australia

This 2015 video from the USA says about itself:

Dino Pet is a clear plastic dinosaur figure [toy] that houses living organisms called dinoflagellates that come from the ocean. For full review and shopping info: here.

Product Info: The dinoflagellates photosynthesize during the day and glow blue at night when shaken. This is called bioluminescence and is a naturally occurring process seen in many sea creatures. The Dino Pet’s instruction booklet provides more information on the science behind bioluminescence.

From the University of Adelaide in Australia:

Red tide fossils point to Jurassic sea flood

June 5, 2018

Dinosaur-age fossilised remains of tiny organisms normally found in the sea have been discovered in inland, arid Australia — suggesting the area was, for a short time at least, inundated by sea water 40 million years before Australia’s large inland sea existed.

The fossils are the egg-like cysts of microorganisms known as dinoflagellates, best known for producing red tides or algal blooms that can turn the sea water blood red. The cysts rest on the sea floor before hatching new dinoflagellates.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide, in collaboration with geological consultancy MGPalaeo, discovered these microfossils in Jurassic rocks of south-western Queensland, near the town of Roma.

Described in the journal Palynology, the fossils have been dated to the late Jurassic period, 148 million years ago. This is a time when Australia was joined to Antarctica, and where dinosaurs roamed across ancient rivers, floodplains and swamps.

“We have plenty of evidence from the 110 million-year-old vast inland Eromanga Sea, which covered a large swathe of central, eastern Australia during the Cretaceous period (following on from the Jurassic)”, says Dr Carmine Wainman, Postdoctoral Fellow in the University of Adelaide’s Australian School of Petroleum.

“We’ve seen the opalised fossils sold in Adelaide’s Rundle Mall, and the spectacular ancient marine reptiles on display in the South Australian Museum — all from the later Cretaceous period.

“However, this new microfossil evidence from the same region suggests there was a short-lived precursor to this sea 40 million years earlier.”

Dr Wainman believes these microfossils must have been brought inland by an incursion of sea water and then evolved quickly to adapt to the freshwater or brackish conditions as the sea waters slowly receded.

“There is no other feasible explanation for how they managed to reach the interior of the Australian continent when the ancient coastline was thousands of kilometres away,” Dr Wainman says.

“It was probably a result of rising sea levels during a time of greenhouse conditions before the establishment of the Eromanga Sea. With further investigations, we may find more of these microorganisms or even fossilised marine reptiles that uncover untold secrets about how this part of the world looked in the Jurassic.”

Some dinoflagellate plankton species are bioluminescent, with a remarkable ability to produce light to make themselves and the water they swim in glow. Now, researchers have found that for one dinoflagellate species (Lingulodinium polyedra), this bioluminescence is also a defense mechanism that helps them ward off the copepod grazers that would like to eat them: here.