A recent paper in Science (abstract) examines the insurance industry's reaction to climate change. The industry rakes in trillions of dollars in revenues every year, and a shifting climate would have the potential to drastically cut into the profits left over after settlements have been paid. Hurricane Sandy alone did about $80 billion worth of damage to New York and New Jersey. With incredible amounts of money at stake, the industry is taking climate projections quite seriously. From the article: "Many insurers are using climate science to better quantify and diversify their exposure, more accurately price and communicate risk, and target adaptation and loss-prevention efforts. They also analyze their extensive databases of historical weather- and climate-related losses, for both large- and small-scale events. But insurance modeling is a distinct discipline. Unlike climate models, insurers’ models extrapolate historical data rather than simulate the climate system, and they require outputs at finer scales and shorter time frames than climate models."
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At John Scalzi's blog, astronomer and science fiction author Diane Turnshek writes about spending the holidays at the Mars Desert Research Station, a place in Utah where The Mars Society is running test missions to figure out proper procedures for living in a habitat on Mars. She says, "In sim, we eat rehydrated/dehydrated food, have a 20-minute lag time for communication, spend time in airlocks before going out on the surface and conserve water (Navy showers every three days). A row of parked ATVs out in front awaits us for our more distant EVAs. We have to be careful–the nearest hospital is forty miles away on back roads and there’s no cell service here on Mars. Reports are sent via email to Mission Support every evening in which we have to clearly explain any technical or medical problems and they respond in kind. I’ve been working in the Musk Observatory, taking CCD photometry of eclipsing binary stars." You can also read the mission's daily crew reports and browse through their photostream.
dcblogs writes "China is on track to overtake the U.S. in spending on research and development in about 10 years, as federal R&D spending either declines or remains flat. The U.S. today maintains a large lead in spending over China, with federal and private sector investment expected to reach $424 billion next year, a 1.2% increase. By contrast, China's overall R&D spending is $220 billion next year, an increase of 11.6% over 2012, a rate similar to previous years. This finding is shared by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. 'China's investment as a percentage of its GDP shows continuing, deliberate growth that, if it continues, should surpass the roughly flat United States investment within a decade,' it said in a report last month."
An anonymous reader writes with a story about the possibility of genetically engineered salmon showing up on your table. "A controversial genetically engineered salmon has moved a step closer to the consumer's dining table after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday the fish didn't appear likely to pose a threat to the environment or to humans who eat it. AquAdvantage salmon eggs would produce fish with the potential to grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon. If it gets a final go-ahead, it would be the first food from a transgenic animal - one whose genome has been altered - to be approved by the FDA."
SternisheFan writes "NASA scientists are planning to capture a 500 ton asteroid, relocate it and turn it into a space station for astronauts to refuel on their way to Mars. From the article: 'The 1.6bn-pound plan will be considered by the White House's Office of Science and technology in the coming weeks, as it prepares to set its space exploration agenda for the next decade, the Daily Mail reported. According to a report prepared by NASA and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) scientists, an, 'asteroid capture capsule' would be attached to an old Atlas V rocket and directed towards the asteroid between the earth and the moon. Once close, the asteroid capsule would release a 50ft diameter bag that would wrap around the spinning rock using drawstrings. The craft would then turn on its thrusters, using an estimated 300kg of propellant, to stop the asteroid in its tracks and tow it into a gravitationally neutral spot. From here space explorers would have a stationary base from which to launch trips deeper into space. Though NASA declined to comment on the project, it is believed that technology would make it possible within 10-12 years. The technology would also open up the possibility of mining other asteroids for their metals and minerals. Some are full of iron which could be used in the making of new space stations, others are made up of water which could be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen to make fuel. It is hoped that the project will increase our understanding of asteroids, and even shed new light on the origin of life on Earth.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Researchers have discovered four wooden water wells in the Greater Leipzig region, Germany, which are believed to be the oldest known timber constructions in the world. A team of experts led by Willy Tegel and Dr. Dietrich Hakelberg from the Institute of Forest Growth of the University of Freiburg, Germany, uncovered the wells built during the early Neolithic period between the years 5206 and 5098 B.C." The (quite short) paper itself, and some cool pictures of the artifacts, are freely available.
dryriver writes "The BBC reports that cosmetic products using bee venom as an ingredient are a new 'hot seller' in the cosmetics market. Bee venom is said to have an effect on female skin similar to Botox injections, tightening the skin and making wrinkles and other signs of aging appear less pronounced than before. Unlike Botox, however, bee venom does not need to be injected, and can be absorbed through the skin naturally as an ingredient of cosmetic skin creme. Now comes the kicker: A special electrified device that causes bees to sting a synthetic membrane and release their venom can harvest about one gram of bee venom from 20 bee hives. That one gram of bee venom is worth a whopping 350 dollars. This makes bee venom almost seven times more valuable than gold, which, in comparison, is worth only about 53 dollars per gram."
New submitter dgrobinson writes "NY Times reports that West Antarctica has warmed more over the last half century than was first thought. A paper released Sunday by the journal Nature Geoscience (abstract) found that the temperature at a research station in the middle of West Antarctica has warmed by 4.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1958. That is roughly twice as much as scientists previously thought and three times the overall rate of global warming, making central West Antarctica one of the fastest-warming regions on earth."
SternisheFan writes with a snippet from Science Recorder: "Reporting in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, researchers at Brigham Young University say that the Hawaiian Islands are slowly dissolving. Eventually, Oahu's Koolau and Waianae mountains will dwindle to little more than a flat, low-lying island like Midway. While erosion is certainly a guilty party, researchers contend that the mountains of Oahu are, in fact, dissolving from within. Researchers spent several months collecting samples of groundwater and stream water to determine which source removed more mineral material. They also put to use surface water estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey to calculate the quantity of mass that vanished from the island each year. Researchers point out that Oahu is actually rising in elevation at a slow but steady rate due to plate tectonics. [BYU geologist Steve Nelson] and colleagues believe that Oahu will continue to grow for as long as 1.5 million years. Beyond that, the force of groundwater will eventually win and Oahu will begin its transformation to a flat, low-lying island like Midway." (If you have journal access, or don't mind forking over $40, you can read the original paper.)
dryriver writes with a report from CNN that the asteroid known as 2011 AG5 will not hit Earth in 2040 as early calculations had led some to fear when it was first spotted last year. "To narrow down the asteroid's future course, NASA put out a call for more observation. Astronomers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa took up the task and managed to observe the asteroid over several days in October. 'An analysis of the new data conducted by NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, shows that the risk of collision in 2040 has been eliminated,' NASA declared Friday."
resistant writes "A limited study from China offers the tantalizing possibility that targeting specific gut bacteria in humans could significantly reduce the scope of an epidemic of obesity in Western countries: 'The endotoxin-producing Enterobacter decreased in relative abundance from 35% of the volunteer's gut bacteria to non-detectable, during which time the volunteer lost 51.4kg of 174.8kg initial weight and recovered from hyperglycemia and hypertension after 23 weeks on a diet of whole grains, traditional Chinese medicinal foods and prebiotics.' As usual, sensationalist reports have been exaggerating the import of this very early investigation, and one wonders about that 'diet of whole grains.' Still, there could be meat in the idea of addressing pathogenic bacteria for the control of excessive weight gain. After all, it wasn't too long ago that a brave scientist insisted in the face of widespread ridicule that peptic ulcers in humans usually are caused by bacterial infections, not by acidic foods."
theodp writes "The BBC News' Laura Gray reports on a juggling notation system developed in the 80's called Siteswap (aka Quantum Juggling and Cambridge Notation) and how it has helped jugglers discover and share thousands of new tricks. Frustrated that there was no way to write down juggling moves, mathematician Colin Wright and others helped devised Siteswap, which uses sequences of numbers to encode the number of beats of each throw, which is related to their height and the hand to which the throw is made. 'Siteswap has allowed jugglers to share tricks with each other without having to meet in person or film themselves,' says James Grime, juggling enthusiast and math instructor for Cambridge University. Still unclear on the concept? Spend some time playing around with Paul Klimek's most-excellent Quantum Juggling simulator, and you too can be a Flying Karamazov Brother!"
An anonymous reader writes "One of the most powerful supercomputers in the world has now been fully installed and tested at its remote, high altitude site in the Andes of northern Chile. It's a critical part of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the most elaborate ground-based astronomical telescope in history. The special-purpose ALMA correlator has over 134 million processors and performs up to 17 quadrillion operations per second, a speed comparable to the fastest general-purpose supercomputer in operation today."
Hugh Pickens writes "Jamal Khan reports that the United Nations has suspended its polio vaccination drive in Pakistan after eight people involved in the effort were shot dead in the past few days. The killings dealt a grave blow to the drive to bring an end to the scourge of polio in Pakistan, one of only three countries where the crippling disease still survives. Militants accuse health workers of acting as spies for the U.S. and claim the vaccine makes children sterile. Taliban commanders in the troubled northwest tribal region have also said vaccinations can't go forward until the U.S. stops drone strikes in the country. Insurgent opposition to the campaign grew last year after it was revealed that a Pakistani doctor ran a fake polio vaccination program to help the CIA track down and kill Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in the town of Abbottabad in the country's northwest. The Pakistani government has condemned the attacks against aid workers, saying they deprive Pakistan's most vulnerable populations — specifically children — of basic life-saving health interventions. A total of 56 polio cases have been reported in Pakistan during 2012, down from 190 the previous year, according to the U.N. Most of the new cases in Pakistan are in the northwest, where the presence of militants makes it difficult to reach children. Clerics and tribal elders were recruited to support polio vaccinations in an attempt to open up areas previously inaccessible to health workers. 'This is undoubtedly a tragic setback,' says UNICEF spokeswoman Sarah Crowe, 'but the campaign to eradicate polio will and must continue.'"
Lasrick writes "For the first time since 1946, Congress is seriously debating whether the U.S. nuclear weapons complex should be under civilian or military control. That the article is in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is significant, as it was many of the scientists who founded BAS who argued for civilian control in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They believed that atomic energy was too destructive, and the military too secretive, which would possibly thwart scientific discovery and erect a major obstacle to international control and cooperation. The article talks about how management has changed over the decades and explains the discussion that needs to happen before Congress acts."