Hexbyte Glen Cove Satellites reveal Ethiopian elephants under threat, study shows

Hexbyte Glen Cove

African Savannah Elephant in the Babile Elephant Sanctuary. Credit: E. Greengrass.

Tens of thousands of illegal human settlements pose a real threat to the continued existence of an endangered elephant population, according to satellite analysis of the Babile Elephant Sanctuary in eastern Ethiopia by University of Oxford researchers and the Born Free Foundation.

Researchers from Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment and Born Free found, in the 11 years to 2017, that the number of illegal houses in the sanctuary soared from 18,000 to more than 50,000. Of these, some 32,000 houses are in the area in which elephants range.

According to the researchers, unless the integrity of the sanctuary can be restored, and security and resolved, the elephants of the Babile Elephant Sanctuary will be lost within a short time. The sanctuary is home to Africa’s northeasternmost population of African Savannah Elephants—one of only six populations recognized in Ethiopia.

The country’s human population now stands at more than 110 million and there is a chronic shortage of land and a high demand for natural resources.

Previous studies have found that in Ethiopia, the integrity and effectiveness of many protected areas are being compromised by increasing human-related pressures, inadequate government support, and .

Emily Neil, a postgraduate researcher with Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment, says, “The situation in the Babile Elephant Sanctuary is critical. There are now only around 250 elephants left. Without the rapid resolution of the many human issues putting pressure on the elephants it is difficult to foresee a future in which this population of survives.”

Human pressure on the elephant population comes from different directions. Between 2015 and 2019, the Born Free Foundation ran a field project in the sanctuary, mobilizing Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority rangers to conduct daily monitoring of the elephant population. This helped researchers to understand better the elephant’s range and established that in addition to poaching, human-elephant conflict is a significant cause of elephant mortality.

Within a context of a burgeoning rural human dependent on scarce natural resources, chronic civil instability, poverty and , the team believes that the environmental, poverty, and security challenges in the must be addressed jointly.

The article will be published in Oryx, The International Journal of Conservation.



More information:
Illegal settlement in the Babile Elephant Sanctuary is threatening the resident elephant population, Oryx (2021). DOI: 10.1017/S0030605320001088

Journal information:
Oryx



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Satellites reveal Ethiopian elephants under threat, study shows (2021, November 29)
retrieved 30 November 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-11-satellites-reveal-ethiopian-elephants-threat.html

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Can lithium cure what ails the Salton Sea?

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Studying the complexity of mud on the ocean floor is a life’s work for Timothy Lyons, so when the tall and lean biogeochemist asks you to join an expedition in search of chemical mysteries buried deep beneath the waves, be prepared to get wet and dirty.

On a recent foray onto California’s largest and most troubled lake, Lyons rode a Zodiac skiff with a 15-horsepower engine across the Salton Sea against a backdrop of desolate mountains, dunes and miles of shoreline bristling with the bones of thousands of dead fish and birds.

As he approached the center of the lake with a clutch of passengers including two members of his laboratory at the University of California, Riverside, Lyons said, “Cut the engine. Let’s grab some mud.”

Moments later, Caroline Hung, 24, and Charles Diamond, 36, dropped a coring device over the side, then hauled up a sample of sediment that was gray on the bottom, dark brown on top, and as gooey as peanut butter.

“The big problem at the Salton Sea is intermingled with that organic brown layer on top—and to be honest, it’s scary,” said Lyons, 63. “It’s loaded with pesticides and —molybdenum, cadmium and selenium—that linger in greatest concentrations in deeper water.”

“That should worry people, because the Salton Sea is shrinking and exposing more and more of this stuff to scouring winds that carry them far and wide,” he added. “Our goals include mapping where these hazardous materials are located, and determining where they came from and what may become of them if trends continue.”

For Lyons’ research team, filling blanks in existing data is an obsession, and it could have significant implications at a time when the air practically crackles with a volatile mix of environmental danger and economic opportunities promised by ongoing efforts to tap immense reserves of lithium, a key ingredient of rechargeable batteries.

Few dispute the need for swift action at the 343-square-mile lake straddling Imperial and Riverside counties, about 150 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Clouds of salty, alkaline toxic dust containing heavy metals, agricultural chemicals and powdery-fine particulates linked to asthma, respiratory diseases and cancer are rolling off newly exposed playa, threatening the health of thousands of nearby residents.

Delays and costs are mounting for many projects that were designed to be showcases of restoration and dust mitigation. Scientists say it’s because the projects were developed without consideration for heat waves, severe droughts and water cutbacks due to climate change, or for the constantly evolving underlying geology at the hyper-saline landlocked lake at the southern end of the San Andreas Fault, where shifting tectonic plates bring molten material and hot geothermal brine closer to Earth’s surface.

Now, investing in proposals to suck lithium out of the brine produced by local geothermal operations have revived hopes of jobs and revenue from land leases, with lithium recovery projects potentially supporting internships, education programs and environmental restoration projects for years to come.

The big question during a recent meeting sponsored by the Lithium Valley Commission, a group of lawmakers and organized to help guide decisions that could affect low-income communities surrounding the Salton Sea, was this: What’s in it for us?

“The lithium rush at the Salton Sea cannot be stopped,” said Frank Ruiz, Audubon California’s program director for the lake and a member of the lithium commission. Communities surrounding the Salton Sea, he said, “see that as a victory—a ticket to a better life.”

“If done correctly,” he said, “it will elevate the region by creating jobs, benefit the state and the nation by making geothermal energy more affordable, and lay the groundwork for negotiations aimed at ensuring that some of the royalties from lithium production and related land leases are used to support dust reduction and environmental restoration projects.”

Jonathan Weisgall, a spokesman for Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which was recently awarded a $6-million California Energy Commission grant for a demonstration project at a geothermal facility in the nearby community of Calipatria, agreed, but stopped short of guarantees.

“My passion is workforce development and economic opportunities in the clean energy sector,” Weisgall said. “We don’t want to bring in a workforce from outside Imperial County if we don’t have to.”

The Salton Sea was created in 1905 when the Colorado River broke through a silt-laden canal and roared unimpeded for two years into a basin near Brawley then known as the Salton Sink.

Fishermen flocked to its barnacle-covered shores to catch corvina, croaker and sargo. Birds flocked to its wetlands, turning it into one of the most important stops along the Pacific Flyway for species including 90% of the migration’s white pelicans.

But the Salton Sea is a non-draining body of water—which is what makes it technically a sea and not a lake—with no ability to cleanse itself. Trapped in its waters are salt and selenium-laden agricultural runoff as well as heavy metals deposited over the last 116 years, authorities say.

Some scientists believed that 2018 would be the start of a profound environmental, public health and economic disaster for California.

The change was predicted in 2003 when the state Legislature promised to slow the shrinking of the lake as part of a successful effort to persuade the Imperial Irrigation District to sell some of its water to San Diego. Under the agreement, the district stopped sending fresh water into the lake on Dec. 31, 2017.

With relatively little water flowing in, the salinity level continues to rise. It is now at about 68 parts per thousand, authorities say. That’s nearly twice as high as the salinity of the Pacific Ocean, which is about 35 parts per thousand.

The Salton’s high salinity has made it inhospitable to tilapia, a primary food source for migrating birds; the fish has all but stopped reproducing. Visiting bird populations are a small fraction of what they once were.

The only fish in the Salton Sea today are inch-long desert pupfish and hybrid tilapia. Scientists say even these will survive only near the mouths of rivers and canals once the salinity level reaches 70 parts per thousand, which is expected within the next few years.

A study by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation concluded that doing nothing to keep the Salton Sea viable could end up requiring nearly $10 billion in mitigation projects.

Critics point to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Red Hill Bay project on the Salton Sea as an example of what has not been accomplished. The restoration program was designed to create more than 500 acres of shallow marine habitat for migratory shorebirds at the sea’s southern end in Imperial County, using water from a nearby river and a 183,000-pound steel barge equipped with pumps anchored a mile offshore.

Six years of delays have added costs to the project’s original $5.3-million budget. But it may never cross the finish line because of a series of unforeseen problems that have cropped up as the Salton Sea recedes and the flows of its tributaries decline. For example, the Alamo River is no longer considered a source of water for the project because its flows have fallen below an inlet that was designed to guide water into the proposed marine habitat.

As of November, the Fish and Wildlife Service has spent roughly $1 million in grants and budget allocations on the project, federal officials said. A $3.3-million grant awarded by the California Wildlife Conservation Board to help complete the work requires that the Fish and Wildlife Service secure a 25-year lease agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District by Dec. 31, said Pam Bierce, a spokeswoman for the federal agency.

On top of that, a year ago the Imperial County Air Pollution Control District slapped the irrigation district, which owns the property, with an order to deal with dust emanating from the work site. The irrigation district responded with surface-roughening techniques that reduced dust by 90%.

“The Red Hill Bay project was a solution to a problem that existed 15 years ago,” said Tina Shields, water department manager at the irrigation district. “The design doesn’t work anymore because it is a dynamic place and conditions have changed.”

Beyond that, CalEnergy Resources Ltd., a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, has a preexisting lease for the entire surface area of the project.

In a recent response to questions from Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., the irrigation district said it “will work with CalEnergy to incorporate their plans for geothermal energy and lithium development on a commercial scale for the benefit of the local community and the rest of California.”

The Salton Sea remains an environmental war zone like no other. Lyons’ team aims to collect information that can help stakeholders make the best decisions moving forward.

His team members’ recent venture into the Salton Sea got off to a wobbly

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Stem cell memories may drive wound repair, and also chronic disease

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A trifling paper cut is a site of frenzied activity. Within it, a squad of epidermal stem cells briskly regenerate to patch up the wound. A closer inspection of this war-torn swath of epidermis will reveal that while some of the stem cells are native to the area, others are newcomers—former hair-producing stem cells, that—upon sensing nearby injury—migrated from the hair follicle to the wound bed, where they transformed to resemble indigenous epidermal stem cells.

Now, a new study demonstrates that within their genetic material, these relocated retain memories of how to travel from the follicle to the skin’s surface, repair damaged skin, and finally adapt to their new home. These seasoned stem cells are largely indistinguishable from naive epidermal stem cells. But the new research, published in Science, suggests that they are primed to heal faster, and after repeated wounds, may develop memories that could lead to chronic disease and cancer.

“Hair -derived epidermal stem cells look the same as normal epidermal stem cells,” says Rockefeller’s Elaine Fuchs. “But the memory of their migration, and their enhanced plasticity, has consequences.”

Beyond inflammatory memory

In recent years, scientists have found that immune cells acquire epigenetic changes when fending off pathogens, sensitizing them to further inflammation in a process known as trained immunity or inflammatory memory.

Fuchs and colleagues began investigating inflammatory memory in skin back in 2017, seeking to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and chronic wounding. They discovered that epidermal stem cells, like immune cells, can draw on epigenetic memories of inflammation to muster non-specific, short-term responses to inflammation and injuries.

“Memory was once thought to be a privilege of T cells and B cells of the immune system,” Fuchs says. “But our findings have show that it’s a more widespread phenomenon.”

Practically, this means that skin inflamed once will heal faster when damaged a second time, thanks to proteins that serve as molecular bookmarks tucked into the cell nucleus. The bookmarking reminds each cell which genes it had to activate or silence to defeat a prior challenge, empowering it to respond more efficiently to future injuries. No longer a privilege of immune cells, inflammatory memory has since been found in airway and intestinal epithelia, with implications for asthma and inflammatory bowel disease.

In this new study, Fuchs’ team focused on minor everyday skin injuries. Sixty days after such an injury, they found that the mouse’s epidermal stem cells were indeed capable of remembering inflammation and learning from it to improve wound healing. But these stem cells, which had abandoned the hair follicles to rise to the surface and maintain the skin’s inner layer, also contained a number of markers in their that are not seen in run-of-the-mill trained immunity. Memories of their previous and current jobs gave the stem cells newfound flexibility—they could regenerate either hair or epidermis when challenged to do so. And memories of their migration to the skin’s surface enabled the immigrant epidermal stem cells to mobilize more efficiently than native epidermal stem cells in response to fresh injuries.

“We were surprised by the wide diversity, and cumulative nature, of memories that stem cells can retain,” says Kevin Gonzales, a postdoc in the Fuchs lab and first author on the study. “Thus far epigenetic memory has mainly been shown to record events of , but our experiments suggest that stem cells can potentially remember other things as well, perhaps every major stimulus that they encounter.”

Bad memories

Although speedy wound repair is usually a good thing, studies have raised the possibility that epigenetic may lead to chronic disease. “We know that inflammatory bouts of psoriasis often occur on the same sites, and in cancer, we know that tumors often arise at sites of previous injury,” Gonzales says. “This suggests that the diversity of memories accumulated over time could be culpable for a variety of chronic diseases that arise later in life.”

Fuchs adds that in mice, potentially dangerous stem-cell memories form after even minor injuries, and persist for at least six months—the equivalent of five or six years of human life. “It probably happens to most of us several times a week. It is likely that these memories originated in evolution to help animals heal wounds faster and defend themselves against future encounters with pathogens. However, humans live longer, and it is disconcerting to think that each time, we are developing long lasting memories of our injuries and exposure to pathogens and other irritants.”

This recent study contributes to a larger body of work that is teaching scientists about a bevy of inflammatory diseases, many of which develop in the epithelial tissues that are our first line of defense from the outside world. “The prevailing treatment for chronic inflammatory disorders of these epithelial tissues are immunosuppressive drugs, and while those may help, there is mounting evidence that suppressing the immune system may not target the roots of the problem,” says Fuchs.

In the future, Fuchs hopes to provide better treatment alternatives by drilling down to the fundamental mechanisms behind the formation of maladaptive stem-cell memories. “Ideally, we would eventually be able to get rid of bad memories and keep only the good ones,” she says. “We’re not there yet, but these new discoveries have created an explosion of interest in a broad variety of research fields, and are already guiding us toward novel approaches to treating disease.”



More information:
Kevin Andrew Uy Gonzales et al, Stem cells expand potency and alter tissue fitness by accumulating diverse epigenetic memories, Science (2021). DOI: 10.1126/science.abh2444

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Hexbyte Glen Cove New study shows the largest comet ever observed was active at near-record distance

Hexbyte Glen Cove

The comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein (BB), represented in this artist rendition as it might look in the outer Solar System, is estimated to be about 1000 times more massive than a typical comet. The largest comet discovered in modern times, it is among the most distant comets to be discovered with a coma, which means ice within the comet is vaporizing and forming an envelope of dust and vapor around the comet’s core. Credit: NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / J. da Silva / Spaceengine

A new study by University of Maryland astronomers shows that comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein (BB), the largest comet ever discovered, was active long before previously thought, meaning the ice within it is vaporizing and forming an envelope of dust and vapor known as a coma. Only one active comet has been observed farther from the sun, and it was much smaller than comet BB.

The finding will help astronomers determine what BB is made of and provide insight into conditions during the formation of our solar system. The finding was published in The Planetary Science Journal on November 29, 2021.

“These observations are pushing the distances for active comets dramatically farther than we have previously known,” said Tony Farnham, a research scientist in the UMD Department of Astronomy and the lead author of the study.

Knowing when a becomes active is key to understanding what it’s made of. Often called “dirty snowballs” or “icy dirtballs,” comets are conglomerations of dust and ice left over from the formation of the solar system. As an orbiting comet approaches its closest point to the sun, it warms, and the ices begin to vaporize. How warm it must be to start vaporizing depends on what kind of ice it contains (e.g., water, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide or some other frozen compound).

Scientists first discovered comet BB in June 2021 using data from the Dark Energy Survey, a collaborative, international effort to survey the sky over the Southern hemisphere. The survey captured the bright nucleus of the comet but did not have high-enough resolution to reveal the envelope of dust and vapor that forms when the comet becomes active.

At 100 km across, comet BB is the largest comet ever discovered by far, and it is farther from the sun than the planet Uranus. Most comets are around 1 km or so and much closer to the sun when they are discovered. When Farnham heard about the discovery, he immediately wondered if images of comet BB had been captured by the Transient Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which observes one area of the sky for 28 days at a time. He thought TESS’s longer exposure times could provide more detail.

Farnham and his colleagues combined thousands of images of comet BB collected by TESS from 2018 through 2020. By stacking the images, Farnham was able to increase the contrast and get a clearer view of the comet. But because comets move, he had to layer the images so that comet BB was precisely aligned in each frame. That technique removed the errant specks from individual shots while amplifying the image of the comet, which allowed researchers to see the hazy glow of surrounding BB, proof that BB had a and was active.

To ensure the coma wasn’t just a blur caused by the stacking of images, the team repeated this technique with images of inactive objects from the Kuiper belt, which is a region much farther from the sun than comet BB where icy debris from the early solar system is plentiful. When those objects appeared crisp, with no blur, researchers were confident that the faint glow around comet BB was in fact an active coma.

The size of comet BB and its distance from the sun suggests that the vaporizing ice forming the coma is dominated by carbon monoxide. Since carbon monoxide may begin to vaporize when it is up to five times farther away from the sun than comet BB was when it was discovered, it is likely that BB was active well before it was observed.

“We make the assumption that comet BB was probably active even further out, but we just didn’t see it before this,” Farnham said. “What we don’t know yet is if there’s some cutoff point where we can start to see these things in cold storage before they become active.”

According to Farnham, the ability to observe processes like the formation of a cometary coma farther than ever before opens an exciting new door for astronomers.

“This is just the beginning,” Farnham said. “TESS is observing things that haven’t been discovered yet, and this is kind of a test case of what we will be able to find. We have the potential of doing this a lot, once a comet is seen, going back through time in the images and finding them while they are at farther distances from the sun.”



More information:
Tony L. Farnham et al, Early Activity in Comet C/2014 UN271 Bernardinelli–Bernstein as Observed by TESS, The Planetary Science Journal (2021). DOI: 10.3847/PSJ/ac323d

Citation:
New study shows the largest comet ever observed was active at near-record distance (2021, November 29)
retrieved 30 November 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-11-largest-comet-near-record-distance.html

This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no

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