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Study: New Crop Failure Strategies Needed

LEEDS, England, Oct. 7 (UPI) — Large-scale crop failures like that which caused the recent Russian wheat crisis are likely to become more common with climate change, a British study shows.

However, researchers at the University of Leeds say improved farming and the development of new crops could lessen the worst impacts of these events on world agriculture, a university release said.

A summer of drought and wildfires dramatically hit harvests across Russia this year, leading the government to institute a ban on wheat exports. But the authors of the new study argue that adaptation to climate change is possible through a combination of new crops that are more tolerant to heat and water stress, and by changes in farming practices and investment.

“Due to the importance of international trade, crop failure is an issue that affects everyone on the planet, not just those in crop-growing regions,” Andy Challinor from the University of Leeds School of Earth and Environment said.

“More extreme weather events are expected to occur in the coming years due to climate change and we have shown that these events are likely to lead to more crop failures,” he said.

“It is highly unlikely that we will find a single intervention that is a ‘silver bullet’ for protecting crops from failure,” Challinor said. “What we need is an approach that combines building up crop tolerance to heath and water stress with socio-economic interventions.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Second Asteroid Found to Contain Water

PASADENA, Calif., Oct. 7 (UPI) — The discovery of water on a second asteroid suggests water and ice may be more common in the solar system than previously believed, U.S. researchers say.

Researchers at the University of Central Florida, who caused excitement among scientists in April for showing the first evidence of water ice and organic molecules on an asteroid, have discovered a second asteroid contains the same material, a university release said Thursday.

“This discovery suggests that this region of our solar system contains more water ice than anticipated,” University of Central Florida Professor Humberto Campins says. “And it supports the theory that asteroids may have hit Earth and brought our planet its water and the building blocks for life to form and evolve here.”

The newly discovered asteroid, 65 Cybele, is somewhat larger than 24 Themis, the first one discovered by the researchers. Cybele has a diameter of 180 miles, while Themis has a diameter of 124 miles.

Both are in the same region of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Campins will present the teams’ findings during the 42nd-annual Division of Planetary Sciences Conference in Pasadena, Calif., which concludes Friday.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Other, Solar0 Comments

Probe to Eye Martian Atmosphere 'theft'

BOULDER, Colo., Oct. 7 (UPI) — A NASA mission to Mars will study how the sun has stolen the planet’s atmosphere, condemning it to a cold and sterile existence, researchers say.

Mars once had a thicker atmosphere and was warm enough for liquid water to flow on the surface, scientists believe, but somehow that thick atmosphere got lost in space, a NASA release says.

The sun with its solar wind is the principal suspect.

All planets in our solar system are constantly blasted by the thin stream of electrically charged gas that continuously blows from the sun’s surface into space. Earth’s global magnetic field shields our atmosphere by diverting most of the solar wind around it.

“Mars can’t protect itself from the solar wind because it no longer has a shield, the planet’s global magnetic field is dead,” said Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado, Boulder, principle investigator for NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission) probe.

Earlier Mars spacecraft missions such as NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft have caught glimpses of the phenomenon.

“Previous observations gave us ‘proof of the crime’ but only provided tantalizing hints at how the sun pulls it off — the various ways Mars can lose its atmosphere to solar activity,” said Joseph Grebowsky of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

“MAVEN will examine all known ways the sun is currently swiping the Martian atmosphere, and may discover new ones as well,” he said.

MAVEN is scheduled for launch between Nov. 18 and Dec. 7, 2013, NASA says.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Other, Solar, Wind0 Comments

U.S. Approves 'power Tower' Solar Project

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 (UPI) — The United States has approved the first large-scale solar energy project on public lands that will use “power tower” technology, government officials said.

The proposed project, to be located in San Bernardino, Calif., could produce up to 370 megawatts of clean energy, enough to power 111,000 to 277,500 American homes when it is completed in 2013, a U.S. Department of the Interior release said Thursday.

“Power tower” technology uses fields of mirrors to focus solar energy on tower receivers near the center of each array. Steam from solar boilers in the towers drive a turbine that generates electricity for the transmission grid.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System after an extensive review that significantly altered the proposal in response to public comments in order to minimize environmental impacts.

“I am pleased with the changes we have made to improve this project,” Salazar said. “It is important that we learn from our experience to ensure that environmentally-responsible clean energy is developed wisely and in the right places.”

“Ivanpah is one of several renewable energy projects in the pipeline that will help California and this nation build a clean energy economy,” Salazar said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Electricity, Other, Solar0 Comments

Sun Study Yields Unexpected Results

LONDON, Oct. 6 (UPI) — The sun’s activity has recently affected the Earth’s atmosphere and climate in unexpected, unpredictable ways, U.K. and U.S. researchers say.

Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Colorado found that a decline in solar activity does not always mean the Earth becomes cooler.

It is well known the sun’s activity increases and decreases in an 11-year cycle, and the study of activity from 2004 to 2007, when the sun was in a declining part of its cycle, yielded the unexpected result, an Imperial College release said.

Contrary to expectations, the amount of energy reaching the Earth at visible wavelengths increased rather than decreased as the sun’s overall activity declined, causing a warming effect, researchers said.

After this surprising finding, researchers say they believe it is possible the reverse is true and periods of increasing overall activity on the sun tend to cool, rather than warm, the Earth.

“These results are challenging what we thought we knew about the sun’s effect on our climate,” said Professor Joanna Haigh, head of the Department of Physics and member of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London.

“However, they only show us a snapshot of the sun’s activity and its behavior over the three years of our study could be an anomaly.

“We cannot jump to any conclusions based on what we have found during this comparatively short period.”

“However, if further studies find the same pattern over a longer period of time, this could suggest that we may have overestimated the sun’s role in warming the planet, rather than underestimating it.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Solar Physics Installation to Get Upgrade

NEWARK, N.J., Oct. 6 (UPI) — An array of radio antennas in California will be upgraded to help answer questions about solar flares and their impact on Earth, researchers say.

A $5 million National Science Foundation grant will be used to upgrade and expand the antennas at the Owens Valley Solar Array near Big Pine, Calif., operated by the New Jersey Institute of Technology, an institute release said Wednesday.

“Space weather incidents such as coronal mass ejections and solar flares can cause problems with cellphone reception, GPS systems, power grids and other technologies,” NJIT Professor Dale Gary, an expert in solar radio physics and instrumentation, said. “We hope that by improving radio frequency observations of the Sun we can learn better information and make new discoveries about the nature of these phenomena.”

Images of the Sun taken at radio frequencies are the only way to measure the magnetic fields that power flares, he said.

“Radio observations can also track solar eruptions longer and at greater distance from the sun than other ground-based techniques, so researchers can visualize them better,” said Gary.

The three-year grant will increase the size of the existing telescope array from seven to 15 radio antennas.

“When the expansion of this facility is completed three years from now, it will be the largest of its kind in the U.S.,” he said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Skin Color Cited in Mexican Inequality

AUSTIN, Texas, Oct. 6 (UPI) — A U.S. study says skin color leads to profound social inequality in Mexico despite state-promoted ideology denying the existence of such prejudice.

The study from the University of Texas at Austin found individuals with darker skin tones have less education, have lower status jobs, are more likely to live in poverty, and are less likely to be affluent, a university release said Wednesday.

The study by Andres Villarreal, an associate professor of sociology, was published in the October issue of the American Sociological Review.

The study showed a high level of agreement among respondents of a nationally representative survey of more than 2,000 participants about who belongs to three basic skin color categories: blanco/guero, or white; moreno claro, or light brown; and moreno oscuro or dark brown.

Respondents who are light brown have 29.5 percent lower odds of having a college education compared with those who are white. Those who are dark brown have 57.6 percent lower odds.

Respondents in the lowest occupational categories, such as domestic workers, manual workers, drivers, and security guards, were much more likely to be in the dark-brown category and less likely to be in the white category than were respondents in the highest status occupations such as office supervisors, professional workers and employers, the study found.

“These differences in socioeconomic outcomes are, of course, insufficient to demonstrate the persistence of discriminatory practices against individuals based on the color of their skin,” Villarreal said.

“However, the fact that differences in occupational status across skin color categories cannot be fully explained by other factors suggests that Mexicans with darker skin tones may in fact face discrimination in the labor market.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Education, Other0 Comments

Solar Probe to Study Sun's Atmosphere

NEWARK, Del., Oct. 6 (UPI) — A Delaware researcher says he is helping design scientific instruments to be sent on a one-way expedition — directly into our sun.

William Matthaeus, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Delaware, is taking part in NASA’s Solar Probe Plus project, slated to launch by 2018, a university release said.

The unmanned spacecraft will plunge directly into the sun’s atmosphere to help answer perplexing mysteries about our sun.

“The experiments selected for Solar Probe Plus are specifically designed to solve two key questions of solar physics — why is the sun’s outer atmosphere so much hotter than the sun’s visible surface, and what propels the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system?” Dick Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, said.

An unmanned mission to the sun has been discussed for years, Matthaeus says, but had to wait for carbon-fiber and other technology that could protect a space probe from the sun’s intense heat.

“At the Solar Probe’s closest approach, the light from the sun will be more than 500 times as intense as at Earth, and the surrounding gas, although very tenuous, will likely be at hundreds of thousands of degrees,” Matthaeus said.

Matthaeus leads the effort to develop instruments for monitoring the electrons, protons and ions that continuously stream from the sun, known as solar wind. The radiation can cause magnetic storms capable of knocking out electrical power grids.

“The more we rely on satellite technology, such as GPS, the more vulnerable to magnetic storms we become. So we need to understand how they work in order to protect societal assets such as satellites in space, as well as humans who explore or work in space,” Matthaeus said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Other, Radiation, Solar, Wind0 Comments

No Downside if All Try for College

MANHATTAN, Kan., Oct. 6 (UPI) — There is nothing wrong with encouraging students — even less academically promising students — to pursue college, U.S. researchers say.

Chardie Baird, a Kansas State University assistant professor of sociology, and John Reynolds, a Florida State University professor of sociology, used the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health — both national data sources — for their study.

They challenge many social-psychological theories that suggest if people do not realize their plans, they’re likely to be depressed.

“The big story is that we shouldn’t really discourage students from shooting for the stars,” Baird says in a statement. “At least in terms of mental health, there are no real consequences for trying and failing to meet educational plans.”

The researchers coined the term “adaptive resilience,” which means people will adapt their reactions to prevent depression if they don’t meet their educational plans.

“Considering that there are material and psychological rewards for getting more education, there is just no reason to discourage students or your children from trying, even if it looks like they don’t show academic potential,” Baird says.

The findings, published in the American Sociological Review.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Education, Other0 Comments

Condoms Used in 1/4 of U.S. Intercourse

BLOOMINGTON, Ind., Oct. 5 (UPI) — Twenty-five percent of acts of vaginal intercourse are condom protected in the United States — one in three among singles, a study finds.

“These data, when compared to other studies in the recent past, suggest that although condom use has increased among some groups, efforts to promote the use of condoms to sexually active individuals should remain a public health priority,” Michael Reece, director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University’s School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation in Bloomington, says in a statement.

Condom use is higher among black and Hispanic-Americans than among white Americans or those from other racial groups. U.S. adults age 40 and older have the lowest rates of condom use, the study says.

“People may not be as concerned about pregnancy, but the finding suggest the need to enhance education efforts for older people regarding sexually transmitted infection risks and prevention,” Reece says.

“The findings show that condoms are used twice as often with casual sexual partners as with relationship partners, a trend that is consistent for both men and women across age groups that span 50 years,” Debby Herbenick, associate director of the CSHP, says.

The findings, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, used data from 5,865 adolescents and adults ages 14-94.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Education, Other0 Comments

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