A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, July 29, 2016, Vol. 17, No. 149
world but only temporarily
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
The World Meteorological Organization says a La Niña event may develop later this year, but this weather phenomenon, which ushers in cooler temperatures, will have no long-lasting impact on climate change.
The El Niño/La Niña weather phenomenon has worldwide regional impacts on rainfall and temperature on a seasonal scale. El Niño causes a warming of the tropical eastern and central sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean and is characterized by warmer temperatures.
Indeed, the strong 2015-16 El Niño that ended in May broke all temperature records for the first six months of the year, putting 2016 on track to be the hottest year on record.
La Niña has the opposite effect. The World Meteorological Organization says La Niña causes large-scale cooling of the ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, which tends to cool the atmosphere slightly.
Maxx Dilley is the agency’s Climate Prediction and Adaptation Branch chief. He said next year is unlikely to set any heat records if a La Niña does occur later this year.
“This does not mean global warming is not happening anymore if it is not the hottest year on record. These are just slight adjustments to the global temperature that occur due to this oscillation between El Niño and La Niña," he said. "So, if a La Niña occurs, we might see just a little bit of attenuation of what we have been seeing, which is record temperatures year after year after year globally.”
The agency says the world now is in a neutral phase, but there is a 50 to 65 percent probability that La Niña will develop in the third quarter of 2016 and last through the end of the year.
Meteorologists say La Niña, which brings above average rain, is likely to offer relief to drought stricken areas including South Asia, eastern Australia, southern and eastern Africa.
E-cigarettes prompt warning
about toxic fumes, chemicals
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
While less harmful than regular cigarettes, the electronic substitutes, the so-called e-cigarettes, contain toxic chemicals whose levels vary with temperature, type and age of the device.
According to a new study done at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, smoking e-cigarettes exposes the smoker’s lungs to a number of respiratory irritants and carcinogens, such as acrolein and formaldehyde.
Researchers also found the level of toxic chemicals emitted by an e-cigarette rises with the use of the device as well as with its internal temperature.
Variations in toxicity were also related to types of e-cigarettes, voltage of their batteries and whether they had one or two heating coils.
E-cigarettes were introduced in 2004, touted as an almost harmless replacement to regular tobacco. As such, they quickly gained wide popularity, especially among the younger generation.
Many long-time tobacco users claim e-cigarettes helped them quit smoking, but according to researchers users only switched to a less potent mixture of nicotine, propylene glycol and glycerine contained in the e-cigarette’s fluid.
The study was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
In August the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will start regulating the content of e-cigarettes, cigars, nicotine gels and other tobacco-based products sold in the United States.
Superfast vacuum tube car
being constructed in Vegas
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Ground transportation that's much faster than modern planes made another major step forward with the announcement that a U.S. Company, Hyperloop One, opened its first factory this week outside Las Vegas.
Its 170 engineers, technicians and highly skilled workers are expected to build a working prototype of a superfast vacuum tube transportation device by 2017.
The name Hyperloop was introduced in 2012 by the U.S.-based South African billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, the owner of Tesla Motors and SpaceX Corp.
According to his idea, passengers sitting in a closed capsule would travel at high speed through a near-vacuum tube with very low air resistance, while magnetic levitation would keep the pod friction-free. The underground or above ground travel would be immune to weather changes and collisions and would require little energy.
The projected top speed is set to be 1,220 kilometers per hour (750 miles per hour).
A pre-feasibility study envisages a Hyperloop tube built between Stockholm and Helsinki, cutting the travel between the two cities from 3½ hours to about 30 minutes.
Brisk hour of exercise said
to offset sedentary lifestyle
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
A new study recommends that people who work in a sedentary, office situation should get an hour of brisk exercise every day to offset the risk of early death.
The recommendations were published in the journal Lancet, which also reported that heart disease, diabetes and some cancers caused by a sedentary lifestyle cost the global economy $67.5 billion every year.
Lack of activity is also linked to some 5.3 million deaths each year, even more than smoking.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week in addition to two hours of muscle strengthening per week.
"For many people who commute to work and have office-based jobs, there is no way to escape sitting for prolonged periods of time,” said lead author Ulf Ekelund of the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, Norway and the University of Cambridge. “For these people in particular, we cannot stress enough the importance of getting exercise, whether it's getting out for a walk at lunchtime, going for a run in the morning or cycling to work. An hour of physical activity per day is the ideal, but if this is unmanageable, then at least doing some exercise each day can help reduce the risk."
For the study, researchers looked at 13 previous studies on the impact of inactivity. Study subjects were classified according to the amount of activity they reported, with some reporting less than five minutes a day to from 60 to 75 minutes a day.
They found that those who sat for eight hours a day, but got the recommended amount of exercise reduced their chances of a premature death compared even to those who sat less but were not active.
"There has been a lot of concern about the health risks associated with today's more sedentary lifestyles," says Ekelund. "Our message is a positive one: it is possible to reduce or even eliminate these risks if we are active enough, even without having to take up sports or go to the gym."
U.N. expert reports racism
affecting U.S. aspirations
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Racism and social and economic inequality are keeping the United States from living up to its ideals, including the right to freedom of assembly and association, a U.N. human rights expert says.
Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai reported on his 17-day trip to the U.S. Thursday, where he visited several large cities including Baltimore, Washington, New York and Philadelphia.
"People have a good reason to be angry and frustrated at the moment," Kiai said.
He said that while his fact-finding missions are not supposed to include issues of race, it was impossible to carry out his tour of the U.S. without racism coming up in the discussions.
Kiai said understanding racism means looking back on 400 years of U.S. history which included slavery and legal segregation that marginalized African-Americans, subjecting millions to lives of "misery, poverty, and persecution."
While slavery is long-since dead and segregation illegal, Kiai says discrimination in the U.S. is now cloaked in different language such as the war on drugs and three strikes sentencing policies that include long jail terms for even minor crimes.
He says it makes finding good jobs and quality housing difficult for many African-Americans.
Kiai said the justifiable and palpable anger in the black community over these injustices gave birth to the Black Lives Matter movement that has grown after a series of deadly police shootings of young black men.
He also criticized the situation of migrant workers in the U.S., saying they are exploited and fearful of taking action to improve working conditions because of possible retaliation.
But Kiai said the U.S. is a nation of struggle and resilience and that its civil society is one of the country's greatest strengths.
The Obama administration has not yet commented on Kiai's report, which will be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in June.
Logos Technologies photoThis the Simera, a new exportable wide-area
sensor featuring 13 cameras.
Rio will have eyes in sky
keeping track of crowds
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
When this year’s Rio Olympics begin next week, more than 130,000 police, soldiers and security guards will be working to keep the games safe, with the help of eye-in-the-sky monitors using cutting-edge, high-tech cameras.
Developed for the U.S. military and tested in Iraq and Afghanistan, a high-resolution imaging system called Simera will provide real-time video surveillance of an area of about 40 square kilometers.
From balloons anchored 200 meters above the ground, 13 high-resolution, 120-megapixel cameras will monitor the activity below. Operators will be able to aim the cameras in all directions and zoom in on vehicles and individuals. All video footage will be recorded, so any suspicious activity can be traced to its origin.
Simera’s manufacturer, U.S. company Logos Technologies, expects four of its systems to be deployed over four Olympic venues. A Brazilian aerospace company specializing in lighter-than-air aerostats, such as balloons or blimps, holds an $8 million contract to supply the cameras and associated equipment.
The opening ceremony for the 2016 Olympics will take place a week from today in Rio de Janeiro.
Second-hand pot smoke
found to affect blood flow
By the American Heart Association news staff
Rats’ blood vessels took at least three times longer to recover function after only a minute of breathing second-hand marijuana smoke, compared to recovery after a minute of breathing second-hand tobacco smoke, according to new research in Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.
When rats inhaled second-hand marijuana smoke for one minute, their arteries carried blood less efficiently for at least 90 minutes, whereas similar exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke caused blood vessel impairment that recovered within 30 minutes, said the research report.
“While the effect is temporary for both cigarette and marijuana smoke, these temporary problems can turn into long-term problems if exposures occur often enough and may increase the chances of developing hardened and clogged arteries,” said Matthew Springer, study senior author and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
Blood vessel function was examined in rats before and after exposure to second-hand marijuana smoke at levels similar to real-world second-hand tobacco smoke.
“Arteries of rats and humans are similar in how they respond to second-hand tobacco smoke, so the response of rat arteries to second-hand marijuana smoke is likely to reflect how human arteries might respond,” Springer said.
Researchers also found the mere burning of the plant material appears responsible for the impaired blood vessels, not chemicals like nicotine and tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, or rolling paper.
“There is widespread belief that, unlike tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke is benign,” Springer said. “We in public health have been telling the public to avoid second-hand tobacco smoke for years, but we don't tell them to avoid second-hand marijuana smoke, because until now we haven’t had evidence that it can be harmful.”
Springer also noted that the increasing number of states legalizing medicinal and recreational marijuana, along with increasing potential for corporate expansion within the cannabis industry, makes it important to understand the health consequences of second-hand marijuana smoke exposure.
The inhalation of smoke should be avoided, regardless of whether it comes from tobacco, marijuana, or other sources. Inhaling smoke is bad for you, researchers said.
Challenges speed process
of evolution, new study says
By the University of British Columbia news staff
New research suggests that evolution is a driving mechanism behind plant migration, and that scientists may be underestimating how quickly species can move.
The study, published in the journal Science, builds on previous research that has shown some plants and animals are moving farther north or to higher altitudes in an effort to escape rising global average temperatures due to climate change.
"We know from previous research that evolution might play a role in how fast a species can move across a region or continent," said Jennifer Williams, the study's lead author and an assistant professor in the University of British Columbia. "But what our study suggests is that evolution is not only a factor in movement, but that it can, in fact, accelerate the spread and can do so predictably."
For the study, researchers used a small flowering plant (Arabidopsis thaliana), a common model organism in plant biology, to test the role of evolution in plant migration. Individual plants with different traits were cultivated together to create two sets of populations, one in which evolution was acting and another in which evolution was stopped.
They found that, after six generations, evolving plant populations dispersed seeds and migrated 11 per cent farther than non-evolving populations in landscapes with favorable conditions. Meanwhile, in landscapes where conditions were more challenging for the plants to disperse seeds, the evolving plant populations spread 200 per cent farther.
The findings suggest that evolution accelerates the speed of migration, said Williams.
However, more research is needed to determine why the researchers saw a larger effect of evolution under the more challenging conditions, which in this case increased the speed of movement.
"We know, for example, that there are some species of butterflies and plants that are expanding their ranges with climate change and moving north or up in elevation," she said. "What our results suggest is that, with evolution, the species can move faster and faster because the traits that make them better at moving are becoming more common at the front of the invasion. In the case of our plants, in the evolving populations, their seeds can disperse a bit further."
Williams said the findings underscore the importance for scientists to account for evolutionary change when predicting how quickly native species will be able to move as the Earth's climate continues to warm.
Legacy of deforestation
lingers for years, study says
By the Cell Press news staff
Even if people completely stopped converting tropical forests into farmland, the impacts of tropical deforestation would continue to be felt for many years to come. That's the conclusion of researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology. They used historical rates and patterns of tropical deforestation around the globe to estimate the resulting carbon emissions and species losses over time.
The findings highlight the importance of accounting for the time lag between deforestation and its environmental impacts in meeting conservation goals.
"We show that even if deforestation had completely halted in 2010, time lags ensured there would still be a carbon emissions debt equivalent to five to 10 years of global deforestation and an extinction debt of more than 140 bird, mammal, and amphibian forest-specific species, which, if paid, would increase the number of 20th century extinctions in these groups by 120 percent," says Isabel Rosa of the Imperial College of London. "Given the magnitude of these debts, commitments to reduce emissions and biodiversity loss are unlikely to be realized without specific actions that directly address this damaging environmental legacy."
It takes time after trees are cut down before the wood and other plant matter left at the site fully decay, releasing carbon into the atmosphere. The resulting loss of habitat also leads to species losses, but those effects also tend to occur gradually.
In the new study, Ms. Rosa and her colleagues used a spatially explicit land cover change model to reconstruct the annual rates and spatial patterns of tropical deforestation from 1950 to 2009 in the Amazon, Congo Basin, and Southeast Asia. Using those patterns, they estimated the resulting gross vegetation carbon emissions and species losses.
The findings show that current emissions and species extinctions are mostly tied to past actions. As a result, the researchers explain, changes in annual deforestation rates will initially have a smaller than expected effect on annual carbon emissions. For example, they write, a 30 percent reduction in deforestation rates as seen in the Brazilian Amazon between 2005 and 2010 only cut carbon emissions over the same time period by 10 percent.
The researchers also show that modern deforestation has left an estimated extinction debt of 144 vertebrate species found only in tropical forests. That's 20 percent more than the number of extinctions known to have occurred in vertebrate groups in more than a century.
"I expected an increase in both carbon emissions and species extinctions debts, but the magnitude of these debts was surprising," Ms. Rosa says.
The findings show that reaching national and global emissions targets will be even more challenging than anticipated.
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