Climate Change: Warming Oceans Set Heat Record in 2018

A team of Chinese and U.S. scientists estimated that the world’s oceans are warming by up to 40% faster than previously thought.

The oceans are warming faster than previously estimated, setting a new temperature record in 2018 in a trend that is causing major damage to marine life, a Science article published Thursday warns.

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"How fast are the oceans warming?" was the main question addressed by a team of Chinese and U.S. scientists in a research which demonstrates that "global warming is here and has major consequences already. There is no doubt, none!"

New measurements, aided by an international network of 3,900 floats deployed in the oceans since 2000, showed more warming - since 1971 - than calculated by the 2013 UN assessment of climate change.

According to Lijing Cheng, a scientist from China's Institute of Atmospheric Physics, "2018 was the warmest year on record for the global ocean" as marine temperatures as far down as 2,000 meters rose about 0.1 degree Celsius. 

"Observational records of ocean heat content show that ocean warming is accelerating," the team of scientists stated and also explained that greenhouse gas emissions warm the atmosphere, and a large part of the heat gets absorbed by the oceans.

The heat absorption process, in turn, changes the physical-chemical properties of marine ecosystems, which displaces marine like forcing them to flee to cooler waters.

Ocean warming: past and future! Ocean warming has already been detected in the past 60 years, and is accelerating now and well projected in the future! Read our new science study:

Deep ocean temperatures are less influenced by annual variations in weather and can take more than 1,000 years to adjust to changes like regions closer to the surface. "The deep ocean reflects the climate of the deep and uncertain past," Kevin Trenberth, a co-author of the study, said.

Among effects, extra warmth can reduce oxygen in the ocean and damage coral reefs that serve as nurseries for fish, the scientists said. While warmer seas release more moisture that can stoke more powerful storms.

Despite growing evidence of the human-driven global climate change, some heads of state and government across the globe - mainly far-right administrations - deny the existence of a problem.

In that sense, for example, U.S. President Donald Trump and his allies, such as Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, have, recently, questioned and make advancements towards terminating some multilateral agreements and shuttering institutions that could help contain environmental threats to humanity.

 

California Fires, Hurricane Michael 2018's Costliest Disasters

California experienced back-to-back worst-ever wildfire seasons, contributing US$24 billion to the overall 2018 natural catastrophe loss burden.

California bushfires and Hurricane Michael were named the most costly global disasters of 2018 among typhoons, hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, earthquakes and other catastrophes, according to Munich Re - one of the world’s leading insurer - annual report.

RELATED: Trump Threatens to Cut Emergency Aid to California Fire Victims

“Many scientists see a link between these developments and advancing climate change. This is compounded by man-made factors such as burgeoning settlements in areas close to forests at risk from wildfire,” Ernst Rauch, head of Climate and Geosciences at Munich Re, said in a release.

In 2018, the natural catastrophe bill clocked in at an overall global price tag of US$160 billion below 2017’s loss total of US$350 billion, the reinsurer explained, adding that some half of 2018’s ‘loss total’ was recoverable through insurance claims.

“The casualties and losses are immense, and measures to prevent fires and damage are vital. Insurers also need to take account of the rising losses in their risk management and pricing,” Rauch explained.

California, the firm further detailed, experienced back-to-back worst-ever wildfire seasons, contributing US$24 billion to the overall 2018 natural catastrophe loss burden.

“Our data shows that the losses from wildfires in California have risen dramatically in recent years. At the same time, we have experienced a significant increase in hot, dry summers, which has been a major factor in the formation of wildfires,” Ernst Rauch, head of Climate and Geosciences at Munich Re, said in a release.

Additionally, Hurricane Michael logged overall losses of US$16 billion and insured losses of US$10 billion against the U.S. states’ US$16.5 billion losses against insured losses of US$12.5 billion.

Globally, cyclones - including hurricanes Michael and Florence as well as typhoon which struck Japan - caused an above-average total loss of about US$56 billion, in 2018. The most severe was Typhoon Jebi with overall losses of US$12.5 billion and insured losses of around US$9 billion.

“It would certainly make sense to have higher insurance density against flood losses given that studies have shown the influence of climate change on torrential rainfall events on the Gulf of Mexico coast, such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017,” Munich Re said.

Florence had estimated insured losses of US$5 billion out of a total of US$14 billion in overall losses.

The German company ranks 2018 as the fourth-costliest year since 1980 in terms of insured losses.

 

Risky decisions: Excessive social media use is comparable to drug addiction

Bad decision-making is a trait oftentimes associated with drug addicts and pathological gamblers, but what about people who excessively use social media? New research from Michigan State University shows a connection between social media use and impaired risky decision-making, which is commonly deficient in substance addiction.

"Around one-third of humans on the planet are using social media, and some of these people are displaying maladaptive, excessive use of these sites," said Dar Meshi, lead author and assistant professor at MSU. "Our findings will hopefully motivate the field to take social media overuse seriously."

The findings, published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, are the first to examine the relationship between social media use and risky decision-making capabilities.

"Decision making is oftentimes compromised in individuals with substance use disorders. They sometimes fail to learn from their mistakes and continue down a path of negative outcomes," Meshi said. "But no one previously looked at this behavior as it relates to excessive social media users, so we investigated this possible parallel between excessive social media users and substance abusers. While we didn't test for the cause of poor decision-making, we tested for its correlation with problematic social media use."

Meshi and his co-authors had 71 participants take a survey that measured their psychological dependence on Facebook, similar to addiction. Questions on the survey asked about users' preoccupation with the platform, their feelings when unable to use it, attempts to quit and the impact that Facebook has had on their job or studies.

The researchers then had the participants do the Iowa Gambling Task, a common exercise used by psychologists to measure decision-making. To successfully complete the task, users identify outcome patterns in decks of cards to choose the best possible deck.

Meshi and his colleagues found that by the end of the gambling task, the worse people performed by choosing from bad decks, the more excessive their social media use. The better they did in the task, the less their social media use. This result is complementary to results with substance abusers. People who abuse opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, among others -- have similar outcomes on the Iowa Gambling Task, thus showing the same deficiency in decision-making.

"With so many people around the world using social media, it's critical for us to understand its use," Meshi said. "I believe that social media has tremendous benefits for individuals, but there's also a dark side when people can't pull themselves away. We need to better understand this drive so we can determine if excessive social media use should be considered an addiction."

Gently stroking babies before medical procedures may reduce pain processing

Researchers found that gently stroking a baby seems to reduce activity in the infant brain associated with painful experiences. Their results, appearing December 17 in the journal Current Biology, suggest that lightly brushing an infant at a certain speed -- of approximately 3 centimeters per second -- could provide effective pain relief before clinically necessary medical procedures.

"Parents intuitively stroke their babies at this optimal velocity," says senior author Rebeccah Slater, professor of pediatric science at the University of Oxford, who worked alongside collaborators from Liverpool John Moores University. "If we can better understand the neurobiological underpinnings of techniques like infant massage, we can improve the advice we give to parents on how to comfort their babies."

Slater and her team measured newborns' pain responses to medically necessary blood tests by observing their behavior and detecting their brain activity using electroencephalography (EEG), a technique that measures tiny bursts of electrical activity from the surface of the brain. For half of the babies, a scientist on Slater's team stroked their skin gently with a soft brush right before the blood test.

Slater's previous work showed that EEG activity increases in the infant brain immediately after a blood test. This pattern of pain-related activity can be lowered by interventions, such as the application of a local anesthetic prior to the procedure. In her most recent experiment, she found that the babies who received light stroking touch showed lower pain-related EEG activity. However, the babies still reflexed their limbs away from the stimulus.

"We hypothesized that stroking would reduce pain-related brain activity, so we were pleased to see it. But we didn't see a reduction in how they reflex their limbs away from the heel lance," says Slater. "That could mean our intervention is perhaps causing a dissociation between limb movement and brain activity."

The optimal pain-reducing stroking speed of approximately 3 centimeters per second is the same frequency that activates a class of sensory neurons in the skin called C-tactile afferents, which have been previously been shown to reduce pain in adults. Up until now, it was unclear whether this sensory response occurred in newborns or developed over time.

"There was evidence to suggest that C-tactile afferents can be activated in babies and that slow, gentle touch can evoke changes in brain activity in infants," says Slater.

Slater says that the pain-reducing power of stroking appears to be clinically useful, and it could explain anecdotal evidence of the soothing power of touch-based interventions such as infant massage and kangaroo care -- the practice of holding premature babies against the skin to encourage parent-infant bonding and possibly reduce pain. Slater and her group plan to repeat their experiment in premature babies, whose sensory pathways are still developing.

"Previous work has shown that touch may increase parental bonding, decrease stress for both the parents and the baby, and reduce the length of hospital stay," says Slater. "Touch seems to have analgesic potential without the risk of side effects."

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Fighting obesity: Could it be as plain as dirt?

It costs the global economy an estimated US$2 trillion annually and has been dubbed a modern day health epidemic, but new research from the University of South Australia has unearthed a possible cure for obesity -- and it is as plain as dirt!

Investigating how clay materials can improve drug delivery, UniSA researcher and PhD candidate, Tahnee Dening serendipitously discovered that the clay materials she was using had a unique ability to "soak up" fat droplets in the gut.

Dening says this accidental discovery could potentially be a cure for obesity.

"It's quite amazing really," Dening says. "I was investigating the capacity of specifically clay materials to improve the oral delivery and absorption of antipsychotic drugs, when I noticed that the clay particles weren't behaving as I'd expected.

"Instead of breaking down to release drugs, the clay materials were attracting fat droplets and literally soaking them up.

"Not only were the clay materials trapping the fats within their particle structure, but they were also preventing them from being absorbed by the body, ensuring that fat simply passed through the digestive system.

"It's this unique behaviour that immediately signalled we could be onto something significant -- potentially a cure for obesity."

Being overweight can cause serious health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, obesity is increasing with almost two in three adults, and one in four children, now overweight or obese. And if its prevalence continues, we can expect nearly half the world's population to be overweight or obese by 2030.

With few effective drugs existing to counteract obesity, many companies are investing huge amounts to discover and develop alternative treatments for obesity.

Dening's research investigated the effects of montmorillonite -- a natural clay material, purified from dirt and laponite -- a synthetic clay -- in rats fed a high-fat diet, comparing against placebo and a leading weight loss drug -- orlistat. Monitoring over a two-week period, she found that while both the engineered clay formulations and orlistat delivered weight loss effects, the clay material outperformed the drug.

Dening says the findings offer new insights for obesity and weight-management, particularly when used in combination with the commercial drug, where there is potential for synergy.

"Our processed clay has an unusually high surface area which means it has a huge capacity to interact with and soak up digested fats and oils present in the foods we eat," Dening says.

"Orlistat on the other hand, is an enzyme inhibitor that blocks up to 30 per cent of dietary fat digestion and absorption, which leads to weight loss, but has unpleasant side effects such as stomach aches, bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea, which limits its use in weight loss as people choose to stop using it.

"What we're researching now is a synergistic approach with both the clay material and orlistat: the orlistat blocks the enzyme that digests fat molecules, and the clay particles trap these fats so they're excreted out of the body without causing gastrointestinal disturbances.

"We're essentially attacking fat digestion and absorption in two different ways and we hope this will lead to greater weight loss with fewer side effects."

UniSA Professor Clive Prestidge, and Dening's research supervisor, says the research has already captured the attention of potential investors.

"This is a significant discovery that provides new and exciting avenues for weight loss research which naturally attracts potential commercial partners," Prof Prestidge says.

"With a finding like this, people will naturally be keen to find out when they can try it. Given that the material is generally considered safe and is widely used in food and nutraceutical products, it is feasible that human clinical trials could start reasonably soon.

"Watch this space."

Stunning ‘erotic’ fresco unearthed in Pompeii bedroom (PHOTOS)

A “sensual” depiction of a legendary Spartan queen having sex with a swan has been unearthed in the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. Further evidence, not that it was needed, that people just love erotic pictures.

The newly discovered fresco, which captures a scene from classical mythology, was found in a bedroom in the town that was destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.

READ MORE: New Pompeii remains reveal final moments of people trying to escape horrifying volcano

It depicts the figure of Leda being impregnated by the Roman god Jupiter, who has taken the form of a swan. The incredibly detailed artwork shows Leda protecting the swan with her cloak as he sits on her lap.

Archaeologists uncovered the, incredibly vivid, fresco on Friday during works to bolster Pompeii’s structures after rains and wear-and-tear caused some ruins to collapse, the body that oversees the ancient site said.

Depictions of Leda and Jupiter were not uncommon in Pompeii but the archaeological park’s director Massimo Osanna praised the discovery as exceptional because the skilled artist had painted it to make it appear that Leda was looking at whoever entered the bedroom.

READ MORE: Exploding heads & boiling blood: Vesuvius eruption deaths far grislier than previously believed

“Leda watches the spectator with a sensuality that's absolutely pronounced,” Osanna told Italian news agency ANSA.

He noted the fresco's context in the Greek “myth of love, with an explicit sensuality in a bedroom where, obviously beside sleep, there could be other activities.”

The painting was found in an opulent house where another splendid fresco was discovered earlier this year. Osanna said one theory is that the owner was a rich merchant who wanted to display his good taste by filling his house with myth-inspired art.

Leda is an important figure in classical mythology. She was said to have borne children fathered by the god Zeus, the Greek version of Jupiter, and by a mortal king of Sparta. She is the mother of Helen of Troy and the twins Castor and Pollux.

Centuries after the destruction of Pompeii the story of the swan's seduction of Leda became a favoured subject in Renaissance Italy and inspired works by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

The fresco is the latest in a series of impressive recent finds in Pompeii. Last month graffitti was discovered that shifted the timeline of the catastrophic eruption by several months while the separate discovery of six skeletons huddled together shed further light on how people reacted as Vesuvius laid waste to their world.

READ MORE: Ancient graffiti shows we’ve been wrong about Pompeii doomsday date all along

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VIDEO depicts disturbing extent of Antarctic ice melt since 1976

Scientists have been issuing apocalyptic-level warnings over the melting ice caps for years, and now a new data-based animation highlights just how much ice has broken off Antarctica in recent decades.

The visualization by science animators Pixel Movers & Makers shows the accelerated level at which Antarctic icebergs have been melting since 1976 in just 51 seconds.

Pixel Movers & Makers @PixelMnM

Replying to @PixelMnM

We've been looking forward to making this!

Iceberg flux from Antarctica from 1976-2017.

Most icebergs travel counter-clockwise around Antarctica before travelling north through "Iceberg Alley" to the ACC. @kevpluck @MarloWordyBird

The alarming clip highlights the region’s recent disastrous climate change events, such as the journey of B-15, the world’s largest iceberg. It broke away in 2000, measuring a colossal 3,250 square kilometers wide (1,250 square miles) – or about the size of Connecticut.

READ MORE: Build that wall: Climate scientists propose walling off Antarctic ice sheets to protect them

Also captured is the collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002 – a 3,250 square kilometers (1,250 square mile), 20 meter (720 ft) thick area of the Antarctic Peninsula that splintered and collapsed over a month.

Insufficient sleep in children is associated with poor diet, obesity and more screen time

A new study conducted among more than 177,000 students suggests that insufficient sleep duration is associated with an unhealthy lifestyle profile among children and adolescents.

Results show that insufficient sleep duration was associated with unhealthy dietary habits such as skipping breakfast (adjusted odds ratio 1.30), fast-food consumption (OR 1.35) and consuming sweets regularly (OR 1.32). Insufficient sleep duration also was associated with increased screen time (OR 1.26) and being overweight/obese (OR 1.21).

"Approximately 40 percent of schoolchildren in the study slept less than recommended," said senior author Labros Sidossis, PhD, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. "Insufficient sleeping levels were associated with poor dietary habits, increased screen time and obesity in both genders."

The study results are published in the Oct. 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep nine to 12 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health. Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep eight to 10 hours.

Population data were derived from a school-based health survey completed in Greece by 177,091 children (51 percent male) between the ages of 8 and 17 years. Dietary habits, usual weekday and weekend sleeping hours, physical activity status, and sedentary activities were assessed through electronic questionnaires completed at school. Children who reported that they usually sleep fewer than nine hours per day, and adolescents sleeping fewer than eight hours per day, were classified as having insufficient sleep. Anthropometric and physical fitness measurements were obtained by physical education teachers.

A greater proportion of males than females (42.3 percent versus 37.3 percent) and of children compared with adolescents (42.1 percent versus 32.8 percent) reported insufficient sleep duration. Adolescents with an insufficient sleep duration also had lower aerobic fitness and physical activity.

"The most surprising finding was that aerobic fitness was associated with sleep habits," said Sidossis. "In other words, better sleep habits were associated with better levels of aerobic fitness. We can speculate that adequate sleep results in higher energy levels during the day. Therefore, children who sleep well are maybe more physically active during the day and hence have higher aerobic capacity."

The authors noted that the results support the development of interventions to help students improve sleep duration.

"Insufficient sleep duration among children constitutes an understated health problem in Westernized societies," Sidossis said. "Taking into consideration these epidemiologic findings, parents, teachers and health professionals should promote strategies emphasizing healthy sleeping patterns for school-aged children in terms of quality and duration."

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