Hexbyte Glen Cove Preparing for climate's impact on renewables thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Preparing for climate’s impact on renewables

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A team of researchers explored the impacts of climate change on a variety of renewable energy sources, focusing their study on Latin America and the Caribbean, a region that already has embraced renewables. This forest is in the El Yunque national forest in Puerto Rico. Credit: Dennis van de Water | Shutterstock.com

Reducing the impacts of climate change will require substantial investments in renewable energy sources. But climate change itself could affect those renewable alternatives: changing yields for biomass crops, reduced streamflow for hydropower, diminished sunlight and increasing temperatures for solar, and altered air density and wind speed patterns for wind power.

“As energy planners evaluate a wide variety of scenarios, there’s a risk of misrepresenting climate change’s effect on the electric power sector if impacts on all renewables aren’t accounted for,” said Chris Vernon, a senior data scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). “Lead author Silvia R. Santos da Silva demonstrated that planners need to account for climate impacts on during capacity development planning to fully understand investment implications to the power sector.”

Vernon was among a team of researchers who explored the impacts of climate change on a variety of , focusing their study on Latin America and the Caribbean, a region that already has embraced renewables. In 2017, renewable sources represented about 56 percent of the region’s electricity generation versus a of 26 percent, the study notes. Fossil fuels, the authors point out, remain the dominant source of total energy.

The renewables mix

“It’s an under-studied region since the climate impacts literature has largely focused on the U.S. and Europe,” said Vernon, “but of great interest due to its strong role in international climate mitigation and vulnerability to climate change.” Past studies have focused on hydropower and biomass, providing an incomplete renewables picture, which is why the study’s authors include solar and wind.

Solar and wind have experienced rapid growth in the region, from slightly less than 1 gigawatt in 2008 to about 27 gigawatts by 2017. “This growth is expected to continue due to strong policies and the strategic role of renewable energy in many Latin American and Caribbean countries’ climate goals,” said Santos da Silva, the lead author who is a graduate student in the University of Maryland Department of Atmospheric & Oceanic Science. Santos da Silva noted that Brazil plans to promote non-hydropower renewable sources, Mexico intends to focus on wind, solar and hydropower, and Argentina is particularly interested in promoting biofuels.

It was essential to study renewables beyond hydropower, said co-author Matthew Binsted, a PNNL Earth scientist.

In 2017, renewable sources represented about 56 percent of the electricity generation in Latin America and the Caribbean, versus a global average of 26 percent. This forest is in Ecuador. Credit: Eva Kali | Shutterstock.com

“Hydropower is a high visibility and high priority source of renewable energy throughout much of the region we studied,” said Binsted, who is based at the Joint Global Change Research Institute in College Park, Md. “We wanted to also understand the impact of climate change on wind power production, solar power production, and biofuels. The interaction among these impacts can have implications that are greater than the individual sum of their parts.” Binsted added that Latin American and Caribbean countries are expected to rely heavily on renewables to reduce , while the role of carbon capture and sequestration and nuclear power in the region is less clear.

A need for investment

The study, published in February in Nature Communications, points out the need for attention to renewables’ role in Latin America and the Caribbean and the need for investment in renewables as the region attempts to meet its carbon reduction goals. Importantly, the study highlights the need for taking the potential climate change impacts on renewables into consideration during the decision-making process. This is particularly relevant for the planning of strategies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector, which are largely reliant on renewable energy.

For hydropower alone, prior studies have shown increased production for Uruguay and the southernmost basins of Brazil and decreases in northern Brazil, Colombia, northern South America, Argentina, and southern South America.

The projections from the study offer an opportunity to plan for each country, the study authors suggest. In Argentina, for example, adding renewables such as wind power could be part of a plan to prepare for projected hydroelectricity losses. Even still, it’s possible climate change could affect in the country.

In addition to Vernon, Santos da Silva, and Binsted, the study included co-authors Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm of George Mason University; and Mohamad I. Hejazi, Gokul Iyer, Thomas Wild, Pralit Patel, and Abigail Snyder, all of the Joint Global Change Research Institute, which is a DOE partnership between PNNL and the University of Maryland.

The study’s authors noted that theirs was among the first to glean insights into the potential implications of on renewable energy supply and investments in Latin America and the Caribbean. They also noted that their methodology could be applied to other regions around the globe.

More information:
Silvia R. Santos da Silva et al. Power sector investment implications of climate impacts on renewable resources in Latin America and the Caribbean, Nature Communications (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-21502-y

Preparing for climate’s impact on renewables (2021, April 22)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Australia plans to spend $417 M on hydrogen, carbon capture thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Australia plans to spend $417 M on hydrogen, carbon capture

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In this July 2, 2014, file photo, gasses billow from chimneys at a steel factory in Port Kembla, south of Sydney. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday, April 21, 2021, proposed spending an additional 539 million Australian dollars ($417 million) on hydrogen and carbon sequestration projects in an announcement that bolsters his government’s green credentials ahead of a climate summit to be hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith, File)

Australia’s prime minister has proposed spending an extra 539 million Australian dollars ($417 million) on hydrogen and carbon sequestration projects, seeking to burnish his government’s green credentials ahead of a climate summit to be hosted by President Joe Biden.

The money to be spent on building new hydrogen-producing hubs and carbon capture technologies would create more than 2,500 jobs while reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday.

“It is essential we position Australia to succeed by investing now in the technologies that will support our industries into the future, with lower emissions energy that can support Australian jobs,” Morrison said.

“We cannot pretend the world is not changing. If we do, we run the risk of stranding jobs in this country, especially in regional areas,” he added.

The funding will be detailed in the government’s economic blueprint for the next fiscal year which will be made public on May 11. The spending requires Parliament’s approval.

A little over half the money would be spent on increasing the number of hydrogen-producing hubs in regional Australia from one to five. A hub is a region where hydrogen producers, users and exporters are located together.

Australia is already one of the world’s largest exporters of liquified natural gas and coal, both polluting fossil fuels. The government wants Australia to become a major global hydrogen supplier by 2030, aiming to reduce production costs to less than AU$2 ($1.54) a kilogram (2.2 pounds).

While hydrogen can be produced by burning fossil fuels, Morrison said Australia can export the clean gas without creating greenhouse emissions.

Australia is home to the world’s largest carbon capture and storage facility at Chevron’s Gorgon natural gas project on Barrow Island off its northwest coast. The project has stored more than 4 million metric tons (4.4 million U.S. tons) of carbon emissions since it started operating in 2019. New money would be spent on accelerating development of a new carbon capture hub and technologies.

Australia’s oil and gas industry said the investment in new hydrogen and carbon capture projects would be a massive boost for the sector.

But The Australia Institute think tank described the proposed funding as disappointing.

“The announcements are a poor showing ahead of the Biden Summit when so many countries are making substantial increases in their climate action and targets in the next 10 years,” the institute’s climate and energy program director Richie Merzian said.

Biden will pledge to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions at least in half by 2030 as he convenes a virtual climate summit on Thursday with 40 world leaders, including Morrison, according to three people with knowledge of the White House plans.

The 50% target would nearly double the nation’s previous commitment and help the Biden administration prod other countries for ambitious emissions cuts as well. Earlier this week, Morrison pledged to protect industry on Australia’s road to net zero carbon emissions, which he wants to reach “preferably by 2050.”

Morrison is under pressure from lawmakers within his conservative government not to commit to a 2050 target.

Senator Matt Canavan, a former resources minister, likened Australia pursuing a net-zero emissions target to a “10-year-old boy who thinks he is superman and jumps off his parent’s roof.”

“He doesn’t have the technology, and he is going to fall flat on his face,” Canavan tweeted.

Morrison said Australia was on track to beat its target of a reduction of emissions by 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Morrison was a member of the coalition government that in 2014 repealed a carbon tax that the former center-left Labor Party administration had levied on Australia’s worst industrial polluters. His government’s commitment to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions has been widely questioned since.

Australia is forecast to experience some of the worst weather extremes caused by global warming. Australia’s hottest and driest year on record, 2019, ended with unprecedented wildfires that killed at least 33 people and destroyed more than 3,000 homes.

Towns in Australia’s southeast last month recorded 50- or 100-year record rains falls, causing widespread flooding in some of the areas still rebuilding from the fires.

© 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Australia plans to spend $417M on hydrogen, carbon capture (2021, April 21)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Augmented reality in retail and its impact on sales thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Augmented reality in retail and its impact on sales

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Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that superimposes virtual objects onto a live view of physical environments, helping users visualize how these objects fit into their physical world. Researchers from City University of Hong Kong and Singapore Management University published a new paper in the Journal of Marketing that identifies four broad uses of AR in retail settings and examines the impact of AR on retail sales.

The study, forthcoming in the Journal of Marketing, is titled “Augmented Reality in Retail and Its Impact on Sales” and is authored by Yong-Chin Tan, Sandeep Chandukala, and Srinivas Reddy. The researchers discuss the following uses of AR in retail settings:

* To entertain customers. AR transforms static objects into interactive, animated , helping marketers create fresh experiences that captivate and entertain customers. Marketers can use AR-enabled experiences to drive traffic to their physical locations. For example, Walmart collaborated with DC Comics and Marvel to place special thematic displays with exclusive superhero-themed AR experiences in its stores. In addition to creating novel and engaging experiences for customers, the displays also encouraged customers to explore different areas in the stores.

* To educate customers. Due to its interactive and immersive format, AR is also an effective medium to deliver content and information to customers. To help customers better appreciate their new car models, Toyota and Hyundai have utilized AR to demonstrate key features and innovative technologies in a vivid and visually appealing manner. AR can also be used to provide in-store wayfinding and product support. Walgreens and Lowe’s have developed in-store navigation apps that overlay directional signals onto a live view of the path in front of users to guide them to product locations and notify them if there are special promotions along the way.

* To facilitate product evaluation. By retaining the physical environment as a backdrop for virtual elements, AR also helps users visualize how products would appear in their actual consumption contexts to assess product fit more accurately prior to purchase. For example, Ikea’s Place app uses AR to overlay true-to-scale, three-dimensional models of furniture onto a live view of customers’ rooms. Customers can easily determine if the products fit in a space without taking any measurements. Uniqlo and Topshop have also deployed the same technology in their physical stores, offering customers greater convenience by reducing the need to change in and out of different outfits. An added advantage of AR is its ability to accommodate a wide assortment of products. This capability is particularly useful for made-to-order or bulky products. BMW and Audi have used AR to provide customers with true-to-scale, three-dimensional visual representations of car models based on customized features such as paint color, wheel design, and interior aesthetics.

* To enhance the post-purchase consumption experience. Lastly, AR can be used to enhance and redefine the way products are experienced or consumed after they have been purchased. For example, Lego recently launched several specially designed brick sets that combine physical and virtual gameplay. Through the companion AR app, animated Lego characters spring to life and interact with the physical Lego sets, creating a whole new playing experience. In a bid to address skepticism about the quality of its food ingredients, McDonald’s has also used AR to let customers discover the origins of ingredients in the food they purchased via story-telling and three-dimensional animations.

The research also focuses on the promising application of AR to facilitate product evaluation prior to purchase and examine how it impacts sales in online retail. For example:

* The availability and usage of AR has a positive impact on sales. The overall impact appears to be small, but certain products are more likely to benefit from the technology than others.

* The impact of AR is stronger for products and brands that are less popular. Thus, retailers carrying wide product assortments can use AR to stimulate demand for niche products at the long tail of the sales distribution. AR may also help to level the playing field for less-popular brands. With the launch of AR-enabled display ads on advertising platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, less-established brands could consider investing in this new ad format because they stand to benefit most from this technology.

* The impact of AR is also greater for products that are more expensive, indicating that AR could increase overall revenues for retailers. Retailers selling premium products may also leverage AR to improve decision comfort and reduce customers’ hesitation in the purchase process.

* Customers who are new to the online channel or product category are more likely to purchase after using AR, suggesting that AR has the potential to promote online channel adoption and category expansion. As prior research has shown that multichannel customers are more profitable, omni-channel retailers can use AR to encourage their offline customers to adopt the online channel.

Taken together, these findings provide converging evidence that AR is most effective when product-related uncertainty is high. Managers can thus use AR to reduce uncertainty and improve sales.

More information:
Yong-Chin Tan et al, EXPRESS: Augmented Reality in Retail and Its Impact on

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Hexbyte Glen Cove NASA NeMO-Net video game helps researchers understand global coral reef health thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove NASA NeMO-Net video game helps researchers understand global coral reef health

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Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Marine ecosystems are in the midst of a conservation crisis, with coral reefs in particular facing numerous challenges as a result of climate change. In an effort to better understand these environments and the threats they face, researchers collect huge image libraries of these underwater environments, using 3D imagery collected from divers and snorkelers, as well as 2D images collected from satellites. These approaches provide researchers with huge amounts of data, but to extract value from these libraries requires a method to quickly analyze for patterns or ‘classifications’.

In a new study in Frontiers in Marine Science, researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center’s Laboratory for Advanced Sensing automated this process through the use of an artificial intelligence tool called a convolutional neural network (CNN), as lead author Jarrett van den Bergh of the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute explains:

“Vast amounts of 3D coral imagery need to be classified so that we can get an idea of how coral reef ecosystems are faring over time. Making this classification process as efficient as possible drove us to look at automation with CNNs.”

CNNs are an artificial intelligence model loosely based on biological neurons and brains that are used to analyze images and look for features, such as different coral species on a reef, or even fish swimming through an underwater scene, as well as where these features are in relation to everything else in the image. This layered depth is what makes CNNs such a good fit for analyzing complex images, such as coral reefs.

Jarrett van den Bergh explains, however, that using CNNs can also present additional challenges when classifying data: “CNNs require lots of training data to function correctly, so it was vital for us to build a large database of data that we could use to train the CNN on how to classify these complex 3D images of coral reefs.”

To overcome this challenge, the researchers used a citizen science approach in the form of a video game called NeMO-Net, which harnesses the power of citizen scientists to generate training datasets. As players explore virtual underwater worlds, they can learn about and classify coral species, and their classification labels are then used to train NeMO-Net’s CNN.

Mr van den Bergh also highlights the more rewarding aspects of the NeMO-Net project: “NeMO-Net collects data primarily, but it is also an educational tool that gives people a more intimate understanding of our coral reefs. To date the game has reached over 300 million people in the 7 months since release.”

The researchers are hopeful that their work in developing the NeMO-Net video game and CNN will be valuable for other conservation and mapping projects, and further research into the potentials of machine learning should be explored:

“As our technology progresses, machine learning might be able to give us a good estimation of what our will look like 2 or 5 years from now. This could be extremely useful for coral reef conservationists who want to see the impact of their work. We are only just beginning to see the impacts of machine learning in conservation.”

More information:
Jarrett van den Bergh et al, NeMO-Net – Gamifying 3D Labeling of Multi-Modal Reference Datasets to Support Automated Marine Habitat Mapping, Frontiers in Marine Science (2021). DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2021.645408

NASA NeMO-Net video game helps researchers understand global coral reef health (2021, April 21)

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Research inside hill slopes could help wildfire and drought prediction thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Research inside hill slopes could help wildfire and drought prediction

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Jackson School Assistant Professor Daniella Rempe directing the drillers on a ridgetop borehole. Credit: Michelle Pedrazas/ UT Jackson School of Geosciences

A first-of-its-kind study led by The University of Texas at Austin has found that rock weathering and water storage appear to follow a similar pattern across undulating landscapes where hills rise and fall for miles.

The findings are important because they suggest that these patterns could improve predictions of wildfire and landslide risk and how droughts will affect the landscape, since and influence how and nutrients flow throughout landscapes.

“There’s a lot of momentum to do this work right now,” said study co-author Daniella Rempe, an assistant professor at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences Department of Geological Sciences. “This kind of data, across large scales, is what is needed to inform next-generation models of land-surface processes.”

The research was led by Michelle Pedrazas, who conducted the work while earning a master’s degree at the Jackson School. It was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface.

Despite the importance of what’s happening inside hills, most computer models for simulating landscape behavior don’t go deeper than the soil due to a lack of data that can scale to large areas, Rempe said.

This study helps fill that knowledge gap, being the first to methodically sample the interiors of a sequence of slopes. The research focused on investigating the “critical zone,” the near surface layer that includes trees, soils, weathered and fractures.

“This study helps to unravel a mystery in the critical zone research community, the linkage between bedrock weathering, topography and storage of water in mountainous watersheds,” said Eric Pierce, the director of the Environmental Sciences Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory who was not involved with the study.

In 2018, researchers from the Jackson School of Geosciences and other institutions travelled to Northern California to conduct a first-of-its-kind field study to sample the interiors of a sequence of hillslopes. The research revealed that rock weathering and water storage appear to follow a similar pattern across undulating landscapes where hills rise and fall for miles. Since weathering and water storage influence how water and nutrients flow throughout landscapes, the research could help improve predictions of wildfire and landslide risk and how droughts will affect the landscape. Credit: Michelle Pedrazas/UT Jackson School of Geosciences

The research site is in Northern California and is part of a national network of Critical Zone Observatories. The scientists drilled 35 boreholes across a series of hill slopes and their valleys to collect subsurface samples and other data. They also collected a core sample at the peak of each hill slope that captured the entire height of the hill—a distance that varied from 34 to 57 feet (10.5 to 17.5 meters).

The samples revealed deeper weathering and fracturing in hilltops and thinner weathering in valleys, in addition to weathering that penetrates deeper into shorter hill slopes than taller ones.

This finding is important because it suggests that computer models could use this scaling trend to model the extent of weathering in similar undulating terrain.

Where water is stored in the weathered rocks of hill slopes is an important question, especially during the arid summers experienced in the field area. Research led by Rempe in 2018 revealed that trees tap into water stored as “rock moisture” in the fractures and pores of critical zone rocks during droughts.

This study also revealed rock moisture in the critical zone—but only within the first 20 feet of weathered rock.

Learning more about how hill slopes store their water can help researchers determine what areas are most at risk of becoming wildfire hazards. Pedrazas said that the wildfire connection was clear when they collected the field data in 2018. Wildfires blazing in other parts of California turned the sun red and filled the sky with smoke. The setting underscored the fact that knowing what’s happening at the surface is closely connected to what’s happening within the hills.

“We were really seeing the potential impact of our research, [the importance of] where is the water, and when are trees really going to dry up, and what risk that is for society,” Pedrazas said.

More information:
Michelle A. Pedrazas et al, The relationship between topography, bedrock weathering, and water storage across a sequence of ridges and valleys, Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface (2021). DOI: 10.1029/2020JF005848

Research inside hill slopes could help wildfire and drought prediction (2021, April 19)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove New algorithm uses online learning for massive cell data sets thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove New algorithm uses online learning for massive cell data sets

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Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The fact that the human body is made up of cells is a basic, well-understood concept. Yet amazingly, scientists are still trying to determine the various types of cells that make up our organs and contribute to our health.

A relatively recent technique called single-cell sequencing is enabling researchers to recognize and categorize by characteristics such as which genes they express. But this type of research generates enormous amounts of data, with datasets of hundreds of thousands to millions of .

A developed by Joshua Welch, Ph.D., of the Department of Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics, Ph.D. candidate Chao Gao and their team uses , greatly speeding up this process and providing a way for researchers world-wide to analyze using the amount of memory found on a standard laptop computer. The findings are described in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

“Our technique allows anyone with a computer to perform analyses at the scale of an entire organism,” says Welch. “That’s really what the field is moving towards.”

The team demonstrated their proof of principle using data sets from the National Institute of Health’s Brain Initiative, a project aimed at understanding the human brain by mapping every cell, with investigative teams throughout the country, including Welch’s lab.

Typically, explains Welch, for projects like this one, each single-cell data set that is submitted must be re-analyzed with the previous in the order they arrive. Their new approach allows new datasets to the be added to existing ones, without reprocessing the older datasets. It also enables researchers to break up datasets into so-called mini-batches to reduce the amount of memory needed to process them.

“This is crucial for the sets increasingly generated with millions of cells,” Welch says. “This year, there have been five to six papers with two million cells or more and the amount of memory you need just to store the raw data is significantly more than anyone has on their computer.”

Welch likens the online technique to the continuous data processing done by like Facebook and Twitter, which must process continuously-generated data from users and serve up relevant posts to people’s feeds. “Here, instead of people writing tweets, we have labs around the world performing experiments and releasing their data.”

The finding has the potential to greatly improve efficiency for other ambitious projects like the Human Body Map and Human Cell Atlas. Says Welch, “Understanding the normal compliment of cells in the body is the first step towards understanding how they go wrong in disease.”

More information:
Chao Gao et al, Iterative single-cell multi-omic integration using online learning, Nature Biotechnology (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41587-021-00867-x

New algorithm uses online learning for massive cell data sets (2021, April 19)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Learning about system stability from ants thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Learning about system stability from ants

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The army ant Eciton burchellii. Credit: James Herndon

A new type of collective behavior in ants has been revealed by an international team of scientists, headed by biologist Professor Iain Couzin, co-director of the Cluster of Excellence “Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behavior” at the University of Konstanz and director at the co-located Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, and Matthew Lutz, a postdoctoral researcher in Couzin’s lab. Their research shows how ants use self-organized architectural structures called ‘scaffolds’ to ensure traffic flow on sloped surfaces. Scaffold formation results from individual sensing and decision-making, yet it allows the colony as a whole to adjust dynamically to unpredictable environmental challenges.

Who does not know this situation? You are stuck in a traffic jam due to road construction, or you wanted to take the train instead of your car, but it did not show up. A problem common to many complex artificial systems, be they traffic infrastructures or other technological systems, is a lack of robustness in the face of disturbances. These systems are often rigid and inflexible, and centralized or hierarchical control structures make them vulnerable to single-point perturbations. Biological systems, on the other hand, often employ forms of distributed control and can be astonishingly robust to environmental challenges.

To learn more about the underlying stability and resilience in natural systems, Konstanz-based biologist Iain Couzin and his lab, together with international colleagues from Australia and the US, investigated how coordinate traffic during foraging. Their study, published in PNAS, describes how ants of the species Eciton burchellii organize into living architectural structures termed “scaffolds” on sloped surfaces, to avoid traffic disruption and conserve resources. The researchers propose a mechanism for formation in which each ant adjusts its behavior based on its own experience, without a need for group-level communication. This simple but effective mechanism of proportional system control from the animal world may inspire designs for artificial systems, from autonomous vehicles to future forms of resilient infrastructure that respond to changing conditions.

Voracious predators and gifted architects

For their study, the scientists traveled to Panama, where the species under investigation—the army ant Eciton burchellii—inhabits the tropical forest of Barro Colorado Island. Eciton army ants are social insects, living in large colonies with hundreds of thousands of workers. During the day, they hunt for prey in massive swarm raids that can sweep out an area of four tennis courts in a single day. Among the many evolutionary adaptations that rank these ants among the top invertebrate predators in the tropical forest is their remarkable ability to self-organize into living architecture. For the benefit of the colony, individual ants join forces to temporarily modify the environment and ensure the flow of traffic during the colony’s hunts.

The PNAS study describes one type of architecture these ants construct—called ‘scaffolds’ by the authors—for the first time in detail. Under natural conditions, scaffolds form when E. burchellii trails cross inclined surfaces, such as branches or rocks, and individual ants stop and cling to the surface, remaining fixed in place. The authors discovered that, in doing so, the ants provide additional grip for other ants, which continue along their path, marching over the immobile conspecifics.

Scaffolds were shown to be highly adaptable, growing to different shapes and sizes depending on the context—from just a few dispersed ants arranged like a climbing wall, to dense aggregations of ants forming a protruding shelf. “Scaffolds form rapidly in response to disruption, preventing ants from slipping and falling along the foraging trail. This is especially important when you are transporting valuable resources like prey through dense traffic, and your trail leads through an unpredictable rainforest environment with all kinds of slopes and obstacles,” Couzin describes.

Group-level coordination without communication

To experimentally investigate collective scaffolding behavior, the authors designed an apparatus that allowed for the introduction of defined slopes into the raiding trails of wild ant colonies in the field. With repeated experiments on slopes of different angles, the researchers found the ants to reliably organize into scaffolds when crossing surfaces inclined more than 40 degrees. The steeper the slope, the more ants initially slipped or fell from the platform, and in response, the larger the scaffolds grew. Once a scaffold had formed—a few minutes after ants began crossing—the number of slipping and falling ants returned to a low level, thanks to the support structure.

In accordance with their field observations and supported by theoretical modeling, the scientists suggest a surprisingly simple mechanism for scaffold formation: When an animal slips on a sloped surface and then regains its footing, it has a certain probabilistic tendency to claw the ground and remain in place. In doing so, it either starts or joins a scaffold. The more animals show the behavior, the less slippery the tilted surface becomes, as the scaffold grows. The structure eventually stops growing, because the trailing ants can use the existing scaffold to cross unhindered. “In a way it surprised even us how simple the mechanism is. If you observe these collective phenomena for the first time, you intuitively think that there has to be some sort of communication among the ants. However, in this particular case, there is no need for it. Each individual adjusts its behavior based on its own experience as it crosses,” Couzin explains.

Taking inspiration from nature

As human technological and social systems increase in complexity, it is crucial to find and implement mechanisms that robustly and rapidly correct for errors, increasing stability. The example of scaffolding in Eciton army ants offers one such mechanism. Due to its simplicity—only requiring information about the state of individual elements instead of complex group-level communication—this may serve as a blueprint for robust yet flexible engineered systems with similar distributed forms of control. Lutz, an architect whose fascination with self-organized patterns in biology led to his Ph.D. and postdoctoral research on collective behavior and self-assembly in Couzin’s lab, concludes: “Because the mechanism is quite simple in terms of sensing and communication, it may be useful for applications at many scales, across disciplines. These range from swarm robotics, where restrictions on sensing and communication can be limiting factors, to the design of self-healing materials, bio-fabrication techniques, and new models of responsive infrastructure.”

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Hubble watches cosmic light bend thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Hubble watches cosmic light bend

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Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, D. Coe

This extraordinary image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope of the galaxy cluster Abell 2813 (also known as ACO 2813) has an almost delicate beauty, which also illustrates the remarkable physics at work within it. The image spectacularly demonstrates the concept of gravitational lensing.

Among the tiny dots, spirals, and ovals that are the galaxies belonging to the cluster, there are several distinct crescent shapes. These curved arcs of light aren’t curved galaxies. They are strong examples of a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing.

Gravitational lensing occurs when an object’s mass causes light to bend. The curved crescents and “S” shapes are light from galaxies that lie beyond Abell 2813. The galaxy cluster has so much mass that it acts as a gravitational lens, bending light from more distant galaxies around it. These distortions can appear as many , such as long lines or arcs.

This visual evidence, that mass causes light to bend, is famously used as proof of Einstein’s .

The image is a compilation of observations taken with the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3. 

Hubble watches cosmic light bend (2021, April 18)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Parker Solar Probe sees Venus orbital dust ring in first complete view thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Parker Solar Probe sees Venus orbital dust ring in first complete view

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Images from the WISPR instrument — short for Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe — on board NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft have provided the first complete view of the ring of dust along Venus’ orbit. The dust ring stretches diagonally from the lower left to the upper right of the image. The bright objects are planets: from left to right, Earth, Venus, and Mercury. Part of the Milky Way galaxy is visible on the left side. The four frames of this composite image were captured on Aug. 25, 2019. Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Laboratory/Guillermo Stenborg and Brendan Gallagher

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission has given scientists the first complete look at Venus’ orbital dust ring, a collection of microscopic dust particles that circulates around the Sun along Venus’ orbit. Though earlier missions have made some observations of Venus’ orbital dust ring, Parker Solar Probe’s images are the first to show the planet’s dust ring for nearly its entire 360-degree span around the Sun.

Parker Solar Probe’s WISPR instrument—short for Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe—is designed to study the solar wind, the Sun’s constantly outflowing material. Space is teeming with , which reflects so much light that it typically shines at least a hundred times brighter than the solar wind. (The light reflected from space dust is what creates the zodiacal light, sometimes visible from Earth as a faint column of light rising upward from the horizon.)

In order to see the solar wind with WISPR, scientists use image processing to remove the dust background and stars from the images. This process worked so well that Venus’ orbital dust ring—which appears as a bright band stretching across the images—was subtracted as well. It wasn’t until Parker Solar Probe performed rolling maneuvers to manage its momentum on its way to its next solar flyby, which changed the orientation of its cameras, that the static dust ring was noticed by scientists. Based on the relative brightness, scientists estimate that the dust along Venus’ orbit is about 10% more dense than in neighboring regions. The results were published on April 7, 2021, in The Astrophysical Journal.

This animation shows the geometry of the dust rings along the orbits of Mercury, Venus, and Earth, along with Parker Solar Probe’s trajectory. Only the dust along these planets’ orbital paths is shown — the dust near the Sun and between the planets’ orbits is omitted for clarity. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ben Smith

The German-American Helios spacecraft and NASA’s STEREO mission—short for Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory—have both made earlier observations of the dust ring along Venus’ orbit. Those measurements have allowed scientists to develop new models of the origins of dust along Venus’ orbit. Parker Solar Probe’s sensitive imagers and unique orbit have given scientists an unprecedented peek at Venus’ —something the science team aimed for since the mission’s early days.

As Parker Solar Probe flies ever-closer to the Sun over the course of its mission, the science team also expects to make the first observations of a long-hypothesized dust-free zone, a region close to the Sun where dust has been heated and vaporized by the intense sunlight. If there is a dust-free zone near the Sun—an idea supported by regions of thinning dust that Parker Solar Probe has already observed from afar—this would not only confirm theories about the interaction between our star and its nearby dust, but could also help astrophysicists who study more distant objects: Just as can interfere with seeing the , it can also muddle measurements of stars and galaxies.

However, for many scientists, the dust itself is what’s interesting. For example, the exact origins of the dust that fills the solar system isn’t settled science. For decades, scientists have largely thought the dust is debris from comets and asteroids—but new research using data from NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter suggests that on Mars could be the source of much of the solar system’s dust.

Space dust may also form the building blocks of stars and planets, carry gases between star systems, and provide a nurturing environment for young planets. These were some of the questions in mind for scientists on the DUST sounding rocket mission—short for Determining Unknown yet Significant Traits—which launched in 2019 to investigate how dust grains coagulate in the microgravity of space.

More information:
Guillermo Stenborg et al. Pristine PSP/WISPR Observations of the Circumsolar Dust Ring near Venus’s Orbit, The Astrophysical Journal (2021). DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/abe623

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Hexbyte Glen Cove NASA's Mars copter flight could happen as soon as Monday thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove NASA’s Mars copter flight could happen as soon as Monday

Hexbyte Glen Cove

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, with all four of its legs deployed, is pictured before dropping from the belly of the Perseverance rover in March 2021

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter could make its first flight over the Red Planet as soon as Monday, the US space agency reported, following a delay of more than a week due to a possible technical issue.

The mini-helicopter’s trip will mark the first-ever powered, controlled flight on another planet, and will help NASA reap invaluable data about the conditions on Mars.

“NASA is targeting no earlier than Monday, April 19, for the first flight of its Ingenuity Mars Helicopter,” the reported Saturday.

Data will return to Earth “a few hours following the autonomous flight,” which would take off at approximately 3:30 am (0730 GMT), NASA said.

Ingenuity’s first trip was initially set for last Sunday, but was delayed after a potential issue emerged during a high-speed test of the four-pound (1.8 kilogram) helicopter’s rotors.

NASA calls the unprecedented helicopter operation highly risky: The flight is a challenge because the air on Mars is so thin—less than one percent of the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere.

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s carbon fiber blades can be seen in this video taken by the Mastcam-Z instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover on April 8, 2021, the 48th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. They are performing a wiggle test before the actual spin-up to ensure they were working properly. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

The helicopter arrived on Mars attached to the underside of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on February 18.

After the helicopter’s flight, Ingenuity will send Perseverance technical data on what it has done, and that information will be transmitted back to Earth.

The helicopter mission is be the equivalent on Mars of the first powered flight on Earth—by the Wright brothers in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. A piece of fabric from that plane has been tucked inside Ingenuity in honor of that feat.

© 2021 AFP

NASA’s Mars copter flight could happen as soon as Monday (2021, April 18)
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