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Ancient tree tells chaotic tale of Earth’s magnetic field reversal

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A perfectly preserved ancient tree fossil has offered scientists a unique peek into a moment 42,000 years ago when the Earth’s magnetic field went haywire. The impressive study paints a picture of temporary environmental chaos, potentially influencing everything from an increase in cave paintings to the extinction of the Neanderthals.

Without the Earth’s magnetic field we’d have a pretty hard time living on the planet. Beyond helping us simply navigate around the world with a compass, the Earth’s magnetic field is fundamental to the existence of life. It helps deflect harmful solar winds and keeps our protective atmosphere in place.

But our planet’s magnetic field is far from static. In fact, it is profoundly dynamic, consistently shifting and fluctuating over time. Every few hundred thousand years it completely flips, with magnetic north switching places with magnetic south.

The last major geomagnetic reversal occurred 780,000 years ago, and plenty of scientists suggest we are well overdue for a similar event. In between these full geomagnetic reversals, which can last up to 10,000 years, we find shorter disruptions to the Earth’s magnetic field. These events are known as geomagnetic excursions.

Geomagnetic excursions are short-lived, and involve temporary changes to the Earth’s magnetic field lasting anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand years. The most recent recorded geomagnetic excursion is known as the Laschamps excursion and it took place around 42,000 years ago.

“The Laschamps Excursion was the last time the magnetic poles flipped,” explains Chris Turney, co-lead author on a landmark new study investigating this transformative event. “They swapped places for about 800 years before changing their minds and swapping back again.”

Scientists have known about these dramatic magnetic pole events for a long time but it’s never been clearly understood what kind of impact they have on life or the environment. That is until a few years ago, when an ancient fossilized tree was discovered in New Zealand.

Another look at the ancient tree unearthed in New Zealand
Another look at the ancient tree unearthed in New Zealand

Nelson Parker

Workers preparing a site for a new power-plant unearthed the massive kauri tree trunk, perfectly preserved for 42,000 years, with its rings offering up an incredible 1,700-year record of the Earth’s environmental conditions exactly spanning the period of the Laschamps Excursion.

“For the first time ever, we have been able to precisely date the timing and environmental impacts of the last magnetic pole switch,” says Turney. “Using the ancient trees we could measure, and date, the spike in atmospheric radiocarbon levels caused by the collapse of Earth’s magnetic field.”

In a bold new study, published in the journal Science, the research team used the detailed radiocarbon data from the ancient tree to create a novel timeline of the Earth’s atmosphere across the period spanning the Laschamps Excursion. The team then ran a global climate model, incorporating previously gathered data from all over the world, to explore what acute effects this type of magnetic field disruption had on the environment.

Life, the Universe and Everything

The results reveal an incredibly dramatic period of environmental change, particularly in the stretch of time leading up to the few hundred years the Earth’s magnetic field was reversed. The study calculated a depleted ozone layer, higher levels of ultraviolet radiation and increased atmospheric ionization all coalesced about 42,000 years ago. In tribute to author Douglas Adams – in whose book The Hitchhiker’s Guide the the Galaxy, the supercomputer Deep Thought calculates the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is “42” – the researchers named this specific period the “Adams Transitional Geomagnetic Event.”

“The more we looked at the data, the more everything pointed to 42,” says Turney. “It was uncanny.”

Alan Cooper, co-lead author on the study, suggests a number of novel environmental conditions would have appeared during the so-called Adams Event. Auroras, for example, would have been widespread across the entire planet, alongside extraordinary volumes of electrical storms due to increases in ionized air.

“Early humans around the world would have seen amazing auroras, shimmering veils and sheets across the sky,” says Cooper. “It must have seemed like the end of days.”

Handprints in red ochre – which may have been used as an ancient form of sunscreen – are a common cave art motif. The centre of this cave art from Spain is believed to be almost 42,000 years old.
Handprints in red ochre – which may have been used as an ancient form of sunscreen – are a common cave art motif. The centre of this cave art from Spain is believed to be almost 42,000 years old.

Paul Pettitt courtesy Gobierno de Cantabria

Perhaps the most controversial part of the new study is the degree of hypothetical speculations the researchers make between the Adams Event and evolution of life on Earth. One link raised in the study suggests the magnetic field disruption led to an influx of cave art, underpinned by the need for humans to seek shelter from the increase in ultraviolet rays.

“We think that the sharp increases in UV levels, particularly during solar flares, would suddenly make caves very valuable shelters,” suggests Cooper. “The common cave art motif of red ochre handprints may signal it was being used as sunscreen, a technique still used today by some groups.”

Other bold speculations in the study are that the Adams Event both prompted the extinction of several megafauna species in Australia and hastened the end for Neanderthals. Chris Stringer, from the Natural History Museum of London, calls the new study important but also questions some of its broad hypotheses.

“The authors also make a link with the physical extinction of the Neanderthals around 40,000 years ago and I think it could certainly have contributed to their demise,” he said in an interview with The Guardian. “But they did survive longer and ranged more widely than just Europe, and we have a very poor fix on the timing of their final disappearance across swathes of Asia.”

Shifting to what the research can tell us about life on Earth today, Alan Cooper cautiously suggests his team’s research offer novel insights into how the world would be affected if something like the Adams Event were to happen nowadays. He points to current movements of the north magnetic pole across the Northern Hemisphere as a potential warning sign.

“This speed – alongside the weakening of Earth’s magnetic field by around nine per cent in the past 170 years – could indicate an upcoming reversal,” says Cooper. “If a similar event happened today, the consequences would be huge for modern society. Incoming cosmic radiation would destroy our electric power grids and satellite networks.”

The new study was published in the journal Science, and the short video below narrated by Stephen Fry gives an overview of the Adams Event.

Paleopocalypse! – Narrated by Stephen Fry.

Source: UNSW

Source: https://newatlas.com/environment/ancient-tree-geomagnetic-field-shift-environment-chaos/

NEWATLAS

Street-based radar system designed to save pedestrian lives

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Many cars are now equipped with pedestrian-detecting radar systems, but those systems can still be blocked by obstacles such as buildings or other vehicles. A new setup is intended to get around that problem, by taking the radar to the streets.

The system is currently being developed as part of the HORIS project, by three separate branches of Germany’s Fraunhofer research group. It incorporates infrastructure-connected MIMO radar sensors, which could be installed at pedestrian-heavy locations such as bus stops, school zones or crosswalks.

Continuously scanning the area 100 times per second, each sensor unit is capable of first identifying an object as being a person, and then ascertaining the speed and direction in which they’re walking or running … if they’re moving at all, that is. Should the system determine that the person is heading toward the road at too fast of a speed – so that they’re about to step out in front of oncoming traffic – it emits a warning signal.

Such a wireless signal would be picked up by the vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) system in cars close by, causing an audio/visual alarm to sound/appear in any vehicles that might be about to hit the pedestrian. The system could perhaps even automatically activate those cars’ brakes.

One of the MIMO radar sensors utilized in the system
One of the MIMO radar sensors utilized in the system

A. Shoykhetbrod/Fraunhofer FHR

Additionally, even if no one were about to step onto the road, the system could still warn drivers to slow down if they were approaching an area where numerous people were milling about on the sidewalk. And because no cameras are involved, there shouldn’t be any privacy concerns.

Although the technology is still in development, it is already being demonstrated at a bus stop on the campus of the Technische Hochschule Ingolstadt university. There, a setup incorporating two radar sensors is able to monitor up to eight people at once, determining if any of them are moving toward the road.

Source: Fraunhofer

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Source: https://newatlas.com/good-thinking/street-radar-pedestrian-warning/

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NEWATLAS

Tree-fungus supplement could reduce fertilizer use in tomato crops

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Although Ceriporia lacerata fungus causes tree wood to rot, it also has a good side. According to a new study, adding the fungus to agricultural soil allows tomatoes to be grown using much less fertilizer.

Partially because they have such a long growth period, tomato plants require more nutrients than many other crops. As a result, farmers typically apply large quantities of chemical fertilizer to their fields.

Not only is this time-consuming and expensive, but it also reduces populations of beneficial microbes in the soil, plus it causes pollution as excess fertilizer runs out of the soil and into waterways. Additionally, even though chemical fertilizers may indeed boost tomato yields, they often reduce fruit quality.

Led by Jianguo Huang, scientists at China’s Southwest University instead looked to a specific strain of the Ceriporia fungus which is harmless to tomatoes.

Ordinarily, when growing on trees and when present in the soil, it emits enzymes such as proteases and phosphatases to obtain nutrients from the immediate environment. In the course of doing so, it frees up nutrients – including those previously delivered in fertilizer – which would otherwise have remained “locked up” within naturally occurring compounds in the soil. Those nutrients can then be taken up by plants.

In field tests, it was found that when the HG2011 strain of Ceriporia lacerata was added to both fertilized and unfertilized soil, it improved the nutrient uptake and thus the yield of tomato plants growing in that soil. Importantly, the fungus also enhanced the nutritional value and flavor of the fruit by increasing its sugar-to-acid ratio along with its soluble sugar and vitamin C content.

It is now hoped that compost incorporating the fungus could be used in an inexpensive supplement, which would reduce the need for traditional fertilizers.

A paper on the research was published this week in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Source: American Chemical Society via EurekAlert

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Source: https://newatlas.com/science/tree-fungus-less-fertilizer-tomatoes/

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NEWATLAS

Spongey filter releases purified lake water when set in the sun

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Ironically, many of the places that most require water purification have the least-developed infrastructure. That’s where a new filtration device comes in, as it’s activated by the sun – and it’s said to perform better than other solar-powered purification systems.

One of the most common ways of using the sun to purify water involves setting up what’s known as a solar still. Although there are several different types of solar still, they’re all based around the concept of collecting pure condensed water vapor that evaporates out of tainted liquid water as it’s heated by the sun.

While such setups are effective, they can sometimes take a long time to produce a decent amount of drinkable water. Seeking a faster-acting alternative, scientists at Princeton University have developed an inexpensive flat sponge-like device that draws in water from a lake or pond, then releases purified water when subsequently set in the sunlight.

At the heart of the filter is a polymer gel with a mesh-like microstructure. That gel is surrounded by a layer of a dark-colored material called polydopamine, which is in turn covered with a clear layer of an algae-derived substance known as alginate.

When the device is left to float in relatively cool water, the gel’s mesh remains loose and open. Water flows in through pores in the two outer layers, drawn to hydrophilic (water-attracting) molecules within the gel. The alginate’s pores are small enough, however, that they don’t allow pollutants or pathogens to pass through.

When the filter is subsequently removed from the water and placed in the sunlight, the dark polydopamine boosts its solar gain, causing it to heat up. As it does so, hydrophobic (water-repelling) molecules in the gel are drawn toward one another. This causes the gel to contract, essentially wringing the purified water out of the spongey material. That water is collected in a container placed below the filter.

In a test of the device, it was initially placed in the 25 ºC (77 ºF) water of the Princeton campus’ Lake Carnegie for an hour. It was then taken out and set in the sunlight for another hour, over the course of which it heated to 33 ºC (91 ºF) and released the water that it had soaked up. That water proved to be free of toxins and pathogens, including potentially harmful microbes that are found in the lake.

A paper on the study, which is being led by Prof. Rodney Priestly and postdoctoral research fellow Xiaohui Xu, was recently published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Source: Princeton University via EurekAlert

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Source: https://newatlas.com/good-thinking/water-purification-filter-sun/

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The newest Casio G-Shock smartwatch is the first to run Wear OS

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Google’s Wear OS platform could certainly use some more actual smartwatches to run on, and Casio has obliged with the GSW-H1000 – the first G-Shock smartwatch from the brand to come with Wear OS on board.

The watch has all the ruggedness you would expect from a Casio G-Shock timepiece: it’s shock-resistant and water-resistant down to a depth of 200 meters (656 feet).

It’ll handle more extreme pursuits like snowboarding and surfing as well as the usual running, cycling and indoor activity tracking. The titanium carbide finish on the back of the smartwatch is designed to resist scratches and damage, but the wearable is also designed to be comfortable, with a soft urethane strap intended to be both flexible and durable.

This is a smartwatch packed with sensors, too. Of course it can track your location via GPS, and how many steps you’re taking per day, but it also packs in a heart rate sensor, a compass, and an altitude and air pressure sensor. A total of 15 activities and 24 indoor workout options are covered in total.

There’s a neat trick with the display, as well – it’s a dual-layer affair that can switch between monochrome and color, so you can save battery life when you need to. Depending on how you use the screens and the sensors, battery life can reportedly be anywhere between one-and-a-half days and a month.

The display also features a customizable three-tier layout, so you can pick which bits of information you want to see at a glance – from heart rate to lap times. That’s on top of all the customizations Wear OS gives you, too.

The smartwatch tracks location, steps, heart rate and much more
The smartwatch tracks location, steps, heart rate and much more

Casio

This being a device running Google software, Google Assistant integration is baked right in, and you can use it to see notifications and to control media on your connected smartphone (both Android and iOS are supported by Wear OS, though the integration with Android and its apps is much tighter).

The Casio G-Shock GSW-H1000 is scheduled to go on sale in mid-May with a retail price of around US$700 – your color options are black with gray highlights, black with blue highlights, and black with red highlights and a red strap. While there are some decent Wear OS smartwatches out there, another one is very welcome.

Product page: Casio G-Shock GSW-H1000

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Source: https://newatlas.com/smartwatches/casio-g-shock-smartwatch-wear-os/

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