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The Sub-Mariner's Not Going to Like This

Canadian mining firm Nautilus Minerals says it plans to lead the way with the world's first commercial deep-sea mining project, scheduled to get underway within the next few years off the coast of Papua New Guinea.
Only recently has deep-sea mining become technologically and financially feasible, thanks to using remotely operated subs and other technologies developed for deepwater oil and gas production. Proponents say higher ore grades mean deep-sea mining would be more cost-effective than land-based operations, with a smaller ecological footprint that would be less visible.

But these are uncharted waters, says Cindy van Dover, director of the Duke University Marine Laboratory in Beaufort, N.C. "We do not know where the tipping points are with regard to how much damage deep-sea systems can sustain and still maintain the health of the ocean," she says.


One likely test case is Nautilus's Solwara 1 Project, which will target a massive sulfide deposit 1,500 meters deep in the Bismarck Sea northeast of New Guinea. Nautilus estimates the site could produce more than 72,500 metric tons of copper and more than 4.5 metric tons of gold. The copper ore grade--the concentration of a valuable mineral within an ore--averages nearly 8 percent, compared with 0.6 percent on land in 2015, says Nautilus chief executive Mike Johnston.

To collect this treasure Nautilus has designed a trio of huge, remote-controlled underwater machines that would not look out of place in a Terminator movie. Two "cutters"--weighing 308 and 250 metric tons, respectively--will crawl across the seafloor on tank treads and grind the ore into slurry using spinning toothed wheels. A 2,200-metric-ton collecting machine will feed the slurry into an enclosed pumping system to the surface. Operators in a support vessel control the cutters and collecting machine using joysticks, sonar and live streaming video. Onboard the support vessel the slurry will be drained and transferred to another ship for processing in China. The wastewater will be filtered of impurities and pumped back down to the seafloor.


Richard Steiner, a conservation biologist and former University of Alaska professor who is not involved in the Solwara project, is unconvinced. "There's no question this will pose massive environmental impacts," he says--from bright lights, noise and potential toxic leaks to sediment plumes that could clog the filters many kinds of sea life use for feeding. The deep ocean is the largest and least understood biological habitat on Earth and deep-sea vents--discovered as recently as 1977--may be one of the rarest of all ecosystems, says Steiner, who heads up the conservation consultancy Oasis Earth. Only about 300 vent sites are known and estimates of the total number that exists range between 500 and 5,000.

Impact reports that use land-based mines as a benchmark are comparing apples and oranges, Steiner says--and our environmental track record in deepwater oil and gas recovery is not exactly inspiring. The deep ocean is unforgiving, even to experts; in 2014 Woods Hole's Nereus robotic sub imploded in the Kermadec Trench, a 10-kilometer-deep rut in the Pacific Ocean floor where two tectonic plates meet northeast of New Zealand. "There's a dangerous combination of ignorance, arrogance, greed and very poor scientific understanding," Steiner says. "Humans are terrestrial primates; we just don't get underwater."


As seen with fracking, we are experts at pulling things out of the ground and then pumping water back into the holes without incurring horrible consequences. And it's all totally contained. No worries. What are the chances anything could leak out?

By min | August 11, 2016, 8:43 AM | Science | Link

Tunneling Through a Singularity

What the hell does that mean? Physicists seem to think they can just casually throw that out there as if it explains something.

"We found that the universe passes smoothly through the singularity and out the other side. That was our hope, but we'd never really accomplished this before."
"We know that in the first 50,000 years the universe was essentially just filled with radiation," says Anna Ijjas, a physicist at Princeton University who was not involved in the research. "The normal matter we see now was not really very significant. I think a scaleless early universe is actually very much suggested by our current measurements."

Under those conditions Turok and Gielen found that the contracting universe would never actually become a singularity--essentially it would "tunnel through" the worrisome point by hopping from a state right before it to a state right after it. Although such sidestepping sounds like cheating, it is a proved phenomenon in quantum mechanics. Because particles do not exist in absolute states but rather hazes of probability there is a small but real chance they can "tunnel" through physical barriers to reach locations seemingly off-limits to them--the equivalent, on a microscopic scale, of walking through walls. "The fuzziness in space and time and the matter conspires to make it uncertain where the universe is at a given time," Turok explains. "This allows the universe to pass through the singularity."

They're talking about the fuzziness of space and time and matter. And this somehow makes it possible to just skip over that annoying part of the calculation that can't be solved. It totally sounds like cheating. Although, most of quantum physics sounds like cheating to me, so shows what i know.

Of lesser fantasticness to me is the main thrust of the article which is the theory that the universe didn't start with a bang, but initially contracted before expanding out.

But an underdog idea posits that the birth of this universe was not actually the beginning--that an earlier version of spacetime had existed and contracted toward a "big crunch," then flipped and started expanding into what we see today. Now a new study suggesting a twist on this "bounce" scenario has supporters excited and inflation proponents newly inflamed over a "rival" they say they have repeatedly disproved, only to have it keep bouncing back.

By min | August 3, 2016, 9:15 AM | Science | Link

Now Who's Gonna Get the Tall Stuff for Me?


According to a new study, American men were the third-tallest people on the planet a century ago but now rank 37th in the league table of tall--and some researchers think height would be a better tool for measuring sustainable human development levels than the standard economic indicators.
The researchers found that Dutch men are tallest today, followed by those from Belgium, Estonia and Latvia. Latvian women rank highest in stature, with Dutch, Estonian and Czech women also standing tall. The biggest increase among women was in South Koreans, who have shot up a whopping 20.2 centimeters, whereas Iranian men have grown the most, adding 16.5 centimeters. The gap between the tallest and shortest women has stayed constant, at 20 centimeters and the gap between men has increased by four to 23 centimeters.

Height is still increasing in some Latin American and southern European countries but it has plateaued in many other places in the last few decades. North America was the first to stop growing, around 30 or 40 years ago, and the U.S. has experienced the smallest increase of any high-income country (five centimeters for women, six centimeters for men). Other countries that have leveled off include the U.K. and Japan.

Arggh! The metric system! Theoretically, i can picture a centimeter in my mind, but once i start having to compare lengths, forget it.

The team compared changes in height with changes in risk of dying between ages 50 to 70, finding that countries that had grown most tended to have declined most in risk of premature death. "In the case of men, countries that gained 10 to 12 centimeters in height had about [a] 20 to 30 percent decline in risk of premature dying," Ezzati said. "Slightly smaller for women, about 10 to 20 percent, but those are big changes."
It also found that the U.S. plateaued earlier--and shorter--than many European countries. "The west European welfare state creates the best conditions for optimal growth of the human organism," says Komlos, who was not involved in the Imperial College-WHO study. "That's a major finding of this research."

Komlos has also studied obesity--and has found that not only are Americans falling short, they are also getting wider. Given there is no shortage of access to food in the U.S., studies like these suggest that, in high-income countries, it is not quantity so much as quality of food that matters. Komlos also suggests that financial inequality matters across the board because rich children increase in height less than poor children decline--so more inequality may mean a shorter population, especially if there are more poor children. "The U.S. has fallen behind because of the delivery of medical care; a large segment of the population is uninsured, and doesn't get good nutrition and health care early in life," Komlos says. "The U.S. has the greatest poverty rate in the developed countries: about 20 percent of children grow up in poverty; in the Netherlands it's probably about half that." Height has also been linked to educational attainment and higher incomes and Komlos says links to both health and wealth are consistently found. "There's no exception: higher income--taller population; higher mortality rate--shorter population; more inequality--shorter population," he says. "It's undeniable."

By min | August 2, 2016, 8:53 AM | Science | Link

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