Tag Archives: World

Chinese Workers Face Competition From Robots

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One of the defining narratives of modern China has been the migration of young workers — often girls in their late teenage years — from the countryside into sprawling cities for jobs in factories. Many found work at Foxconn, which employs nearly 1 million low-wage workers to hand-assemble electronic gadgets for Apple, Nintendo, Intel, Dell, Nokia, Microsoft, Samsung and Sony.

So it was a surprise when Terry Guo, the hard-charging, 61-year-old billionaire CEO of Foxconn, said last July that the Taiwan-based manufacturing giant would add up to 1 million industrial robots to its assembly lines inside of three years.

The aim: to automate assembly of electronic devices just as companies in Japan, South Korea and the United States previously automated much of the production of automobiles.

Foxconn, one of China’s largest private employers, has long played an outsize role in China’s labor story. It has used cheap labor to attract multinational clients but now faces international scrutiny over low pay and what some see as inhumane working conditions.

“Automation is the beginning of the end of the factory girl, and that’s a good thing,” says David Wolf, a Beijing-based strategic communications and IT analyst. Wolf, who has visited many Chinese factory floors, predicts an eventual labor shift similar to “the decline of seamstresses or the secretarial pool in America.”

Since the announcement, Guo hasn’t offered more details, keeping observers guessing about whether Foxconn’s plans are real. (Through its public-relations firm, Burson-Marsteller, Foxconn declined to describe its progress.) Trade groups also haven’t seen the huge orders for industrial robots that Foxconn would need, although some experts believe the company may be developing its own robots in house.

“Guo has good reasons for not waving his flag about this too much,” says Wolf. Keeping quiet could give Foxconn a jump on competitors. What’s more, with the Chinese economy slowing down, “it is politically inadvisable to talk too much about replacing people with robots,” he says.

China’s leaders see employment as essential to maintaining a harmonious society. The imperative of creating jobs often trumps that of efficiency. For instance, Wang Mengshu, deputy chief engineer at China Railway Tunnel Group, says that labor-saving equipment isn’t always used even when it’s available. “If all the new tunnels were built with the advanced equipment, that would trim the need for the employment of about six million migrant workers,” he says. “In certain fields we don’t want to have fast development in China, in order to solve the national employment problem.”

About 300,000 Chinese workers currently live in dormitories at Foxconn’s Longhua factory complex, where Apple products are assembled. Most spend their days seated beside a conveyer belt, wearing white gowns, face masks and hairnets so that stray hairs and specks of dust won’t interfere as they perform simple but precise tasks, again and again.

Each worker focuses on a single action, like putting stickers on the front of an iPhone or packing a finished product into a box. As managers told ABC’s Nightline — which aired a rare look inside the factory in February — it takes five days and 325 steps to assemble an iPad.

Such highly structured and predictable tasks are well suited to automation, says Jamie Wang, a Taipei-based analyst for the research firm Gartner. Industrial robots, typically equipped with a movable arm, use lasers or pressure sensors to know when to start and finish a job. A robot can be operated 160 hours a week. Even assuming competition from nimble-fingered humans putting in 12-hour shifts, a single robot might replace two workers, and possibly as many as four.

Wang stresses that Foxconn can’t replace human workers right away because automating assembly lines would require rejiggering its entire manufacturing process. Larger changes in China also won’t occur overnight. Smaller Chinese factories can’t afford to invest in robotics, and factory wages are still relatively low — about $315 to $400 per month in the Pearl River Delta, according to Liu Kaiming, director of a Shenzhen-based labor organization called the Institute of Contemporary Observation.

Despite that, Foxconn isn’t the only Chinese manufacturer betting on robots. The International Federation of Robotics, based in Frankfurt, tracked a 50% jump in purchases of advanced industrial robots by Chinese manufacturers in 2011, to 22,600 units, and now predicts that China will surpass Japan as the world’s largest market in two years. It’s obvious, Wolf says, that industrial robotics “is about to get very hot in China.”

Image courtesy of iStock, loonger

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/17/industrial-robots-china-workers/

Genetically Modified Mice May Be Landmine-Sniffing Heroes

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Scientists are engineering a real-life Mighty Mouse that will scurry through fields sniffing out hidden landmines thanks to olfactory superpowers.

The researchers, at Hunter College of the City University of New York, have genetically engineered the animals to be 500 times better equipped than their normal counterparts to sniff out landmine explosives. They hope that these “hero mice” could warn of buried bombs.

Hidden landmines are a deadly reality in nearly 70 countries globally, and detection and removal are expensive and dangerous. Currently, metal detectors, radar, magnetometers and sniffer dogs are used to search for them.

A Belgian organization called APOPO already uses giant African pouched rats as a cheaper way to sniff out landmines. The rats are not genetically modified, but their sense of smell is sharp enough to detect TNT. The bomb-sniffing rats are taught to scratch the ground when they detect a hidden mine (fortunately, they are small enough not to set off the explosives). While the furry minesweepers are effective (with two handlers, they can cover a field in one hour that would take two full days for metal detectors), they need nine months of training to become reliable, a process that costs around 6,000 euros per rat.

The genetically engineered mice, however, are so sensitive to TNT that encountering the molecule is likely to change their behavior involuntarily, so they would need little to no training. Charlotte D’Hulst, a molecular neurobiologist at Hunter College who presented her work at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, used genetic modification to ensure that the mice have 10,000 to 1,000,000 odor-sensing neurons with a TNT-detecting receptor compared with only 4,000 in a normal animal, “possibly amplifying the detection limit for this odor 500-fold,” she says.

Each odor-sensing neuron in a mouse’s nose is spotted with one kind of odor receptor. Usually, each specific receptor is found in one out of every thousand odor-sensing neurons, but about half the scent-detecting neurons in D’Hulst’s mice have the TNT-detecting receptor.

This particular odorant receptor was originally identified by Danny Dhanasekaran, a molecular biologist at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. Dhanasekaran says that a given odor is usually detected by a handful of different kinds of odorant receptors, which helps natural noses more easily and accurately discern smells. However, by engineering a great abundance of one receptor that detects TNT, D’Hulst and colleagues “could enhance the sensitivity of the system so it can be easily used in operations to detect landmines,” says Dhanasekaran, who is continuing to look for other TNT-type receptors.

D’Hulst hopes this overwhelming dedication to just one odor will provide an easy way to know whether or not the engineered mice have encountered TNT. Recent research suggests that sudden and intense stimulation of the olfactory system will trigger seizures, she says. “We can only hope that our mice will show a seizure behavior … upon detecting landmines. We won’t have to work with food rewards; we will probably use some radio signaling system. A chip implant may track, report, and record their behaviors.” The researchers still need to test the mice in behavioral studies.

Roger Hess, director of field operations for Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, a charity that develops technologies to aid landmine removal, says that while this mine-sniffing method could show promise, it would still depend on detection of trace vapors from the mine. The release of the odor from the ground can depend on soil and water conditions, and the trace of an explosive could be several meters away from where the mine is actually buried, he says. The technique will also not work for mines that have no gaps for the scent of explosives to escape.

“Due to the risk of missing an item, a secondary method would need to be employed,” he says.

Image courtesy of Flickr, jessdamen

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/10/19/mice-landmine-sniffing/

Biggest Threat to the Economy Could Come From Outer Space

Spaceweather

Imagine waking up just after midnight to a sky so bright you swear it must be early morning. Imagine seeing the Northern Lights as far south as Cuba or Hawaii. Imagine that the same phenomena behind both has also generated electric fields in the ground strong enough to power small electronics. That’s what happened in 1859, when the earth was struck by the most severe geomagnetic storm ever recorded.

Forget asset bubbles, recessions, or hurricanes—space weather could prove far more economically harmful. A severe geomagnetic storm—a sudden, violent eruption of gas and magnetic fields from the sun’s surface—could prove particularly devastating. If the 1859 storm, known as the “Carrington event,” were to recur today it could cause trillions of dollars in economic damage and take years to recover from, according to estimates.

The sun would sneeze and the economy could shatter.

That’s a worst-case scenario, of course. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was less dramatic at a space-weather conference hosted by the agency last week, though he did say such events can be “just as punishing as a tornado” and are “a problem that crosses all borders.” Magnetic storms can force Earth’s magnetic fields to go temporarily haywire, overwhelming power grids.

The 1859 event didn’t cause as much damage as it would today—electrical engineering was in its infancy—but it was globally felt. Here’s how a 2008 space-weather report from the National Academy of Sciences described that year’s storm:

From Aug. 28 through Sept. 4, auroral displays of extraordinary brilliance were observed throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia, and were seen as far south as Hawaii, the Caribbean and Central America in the Northern Hemisphere and in the Southern Hemisphere as far north as Santiago, Chile.

Even after daybreak, when the aurora was no longer visible, its presence continued to be felt through the effect of the auroral currents. Magnetic observatories recorded disturbances in Earth’s field so extreme that magnetometer traces were driven off scale, and telegraph networks around the world—the “Victorian Internet”—experienced major disruptions and outages…. In several locations, operators disconnected their systems from the batteries and sent messages using only the current induced by the aurora.

In other words, they literally ran the telegraphs from the electrical fields generated by the storm.

The 1859 event may be an extreme case, but there are more-recent examples of such space weather: In March 1989 a geomagnetic storm took down northeastern Canada’s Hydro-Quebec power grid in just 90 seconds, leaving millions without power in the cold for up to nine hours. And a set of “Halloween” solar storms between October and November of 2003 sparked a National Academy of Sciences-led meeting on the societal and economic impact of space weather, which served as the basis of the report.

But it’s not just scientists who are concerned about space weather. Lloyd’s of London, the giant insurer, issued a report on the issue in 2010. In the foreword to the report, Lloyd’s Tom Bolt warned of a scientist-predicted spike between 2012 and 2015. “In terms of cycles, we are in late autumn and heading into winter,” he wrote then. A severe space-weather event could prove devastating, according to the Lloyd’s report.

In the worst case it can permanently damage transformers. In most cases, systems protecting power grids will detect problems and switch off before serious damage occurs. However, this may lead to a cascade effect in which more and more systems are switched off, leading to complete grid shutdown. In these situations it will take many hours to restore grid operation, causing disruption to operations and services, and potential loss of income.

The 1989 storm permanently damaged a $12 million New Jersey transformer. In 1921, a storm 10 times as bad struck. Today, that storm would permanently damage roughly 350 transformers, causing blackouts that would affect as many as 130 million people, according to a Metatech estimate.

An outside analysis conducted by Metatech for the Electromagnetic Pulse Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency found that the effects of a severe geomagnetic storm would not only be widespread, but long-lived. Such an event has “not only the potential for large-scale blackouts but, more troubling … the potential for permanent damage that could lead to extraordinarily long restoration times,” Metatech’s John Kappenman told the NAS report’s authors.

In a globalized world, all kinds of sectors would be impacted by a power failure. Fuel, food, water, sanitation, communications, medical/health, finance, and transportation would all feel cascading effects. Many businesses rely solely on satellite navigation for transportation on land and sea, and cell phones would be vulnerable to interference.

“Impacts would be felt on interdependent infrastructures, with, for example, potable water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in about 12-24 hours; and immediate or eventual loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, transportation, fuel resupply, and so on,” the NAS report found.

Hurricane Katrina caused roughly $80 billion to $125 billion in damage, according to the report. A future geomagnetic storm like the 1859 event could cost 10 to 20 times as much and take up to a decade to fully recover from, according to Metatech’s estimates.

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at National Journal
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/13/threat-economy-outer-space/

Look Up: Milky Way Galaxy at its Best in July

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It’s possible that most people on Earth have never seen the Milky Way, the galaxy in which we live. The Milky Way used to be a part of every human’s life experience, but now that the majority of mankind lives in cities, with their light pollution, the Milky Way is rarely seen.

Our Milky Way galaxy is at its best for the next couple of weeks, but most of you will need to make a special effort to see it. It will probably require a drive of an hour or more to reach a dark enough location, where the Milky Way will be visible. Then it will require another 20 minutes for your eyes to become adjusted to the dark.

What will you see? Not the brilliant array of stars you see in photographs made with long exposures. The real Milky Way looks like a faint band of moonlit cloud arcing across the sky. Your eyes cannot resolve it into individual stars.

No one knew it was made up of stars until Galileo first turned his telescope on it in 1609 — this was one of his major discoveries. It wasn’t until a couple of centuries later that astronomers began to realize that this band of stars was in fact the local version of the “spiral nebulae” that astronomers were discovering all over the sky. [Our Milky Way Galaxy Explained (Infographic)]

The final clue to the puzzle was the realization that stars were all grouped into huge islands called galaxies, each containing many billions of stars. The Milky Way is our local galaxy.

Even today, beginners in astronomy often get confused by the two meanings of “Milky Way.” It can be used in its original sense to refer to the faint band of glow arching across the sky, or in its modern sense referring to the galaxy in which the sun resides.

Seeing the Milky Way

When amateur astronomers refer to the Milky Way, they usually refer to the faint band in the sky, although any time you look anywhere in the sky, all the stars you see are part of the Milky Way because we are in the Milky Way.

To see what the ancients called the Milky Way, you must first find a truly dark location. The maps on this web site show the areas in the world with the brightest and darkest sky. If like most people on Earth you live in a city, you can probably identify it as one of the white splotches. Use the maps to identify a green, blue, or black location near you — that’s where you must go if you want to find the Milky Way. [Best Telescopes for Night Sky Beginners (Reviews)]

But wait! Don’t try to spot the Milky Way tonight, because there is still an almost full moon in the sky. Wait a few nights until the moon has moved on in its monthly trip around the Earth.

When you get to your dark night sky, you may still need to block any nearby lights from your view. Then you will need to wait about 20 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark. Then, look towards the south in the sky.

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, the center of the Milky Way will be low in the southern sky, and the band of the Milky Way will sweep upwards in an arch across the eastern sky to the northern horizon. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, the center of the Milky Way will be almost overhead, and the band will sweep from your sothwestern horizon to your northeastern horizon.

Look for a faint silvery or milky cloud. Some parts will be brighter than others, giving a faintly mottled effect. These are star clouds, concentrations of millions of stars too faint to see as individual stars. You may also see some “holes” in the Milky Way: clouds of interstellar dust blocking our view of the stars beyond.

If you have a small binocular with you, say a 7×50 or 10×50, you can recreate Galileo’s discovery that stars make up the “glow” of the Milky Way. Even that small amount of magnification will be enough to resolve the Milky Way into thousands of stars.

What to See in the Milky Way Galaxy

Start your tour of the Milky Way by looking for the constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius. Unlike many constellations, these form clearly recognizable patterns.

Scorpius looks like the scorpion it’s named for, complete with long curving tail with stinger at the end. Its heart is marked by the red giant star Antares. Sagittarius looks nothing like a centaur archer, but rather like a prosaic teapot, complete with handle, spout, and lid. If you live in the north, you will find these low in the southern sky. If you live in the south, they will be almost overhead.

Because the center of the Milky Way is the richest part of the sky, it is crammed with nebulas and open star clusters. To give you some idea of this richness, the chart shows the names of some of these objects. The brightness of the name indicates the brightness of the nebula or cluster.

The brightest objects are gathered around the center of our galaxy, right on the border between Scorpius and Sagittarius, between the scorpion’s stinger and the teapot’s spout.

But for now, don’t worry about the names. Just take in the rich clouds of light as you sweep upward from Scorpius and Sagittatius (in the Northern Hemisphere) or either left or right from overhead (in the Southern Hemisphere). You don’t need to put a name to sheer beauty.

Image courtesy of Starry Night Software

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/05/milky-way-galaxy-best-in-july/

The Underwater Drone Helping Search for Flight MH370

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Bluefin-21 is in the water after being craned over the side of Australian Defense Vessel Ocean Shield to begin using its side-scan sonar in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on April 14.

If wreckage from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is ever discovered, an underwater drone could very well be the first thing to spot it.

The Bluefin-21 was contracted by the U.S. Navy to dive into the southern Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia and scan the ocean floor for pieces of the plane that went missing on March 8 with 239 people onboard.

The drone was forced to resurface on April 16 due to a technical issue, according to a press release provided to Mashable by the Joint Agency Coordination Center, a search organization the Australian government created to help find the missing Malaysia airliner. Officials downloaded the drone’s memory once it was above water but, so far, Bluefin-21 has turned up nothing significant.

Built by Bluefin Robotics but owned and operated by Phoenix International, this autonomous underwater vehicle takes instructions from a ship’s radio before diving up to around 2.8 miles underwater. The remains of flight MH370 might be much farther down, but at that depth Bluefin-21 can blast the ocean floor with a sonar beam.

Data picked up from the sonar will be delivered once the drone resurfaces. Jim Gibson, General Manager of Phoenix International, told Mashable that if Bluefin-21 finds what might be a debris field, someone will switch out the vehicle’s sonar instruments with photo-taking equipment and send it back down to see if the clutter comes from the Malaysia Airlines plane. Bluefin-21 scans from side-to-side, and can spend about 16 hours at the bottom before coming up to re-juice.

The ability to swap equipment is key to why this particular drone wound up searching for flight MH370.

“It’s easily transported, unlike a lot of the other AUVs that are one piece,” Gibson said. “You can’t disassemble them, you need a special launch and recovery system to get them in and out of the water and everything else, and they’re quite heavy.”

The ’21’ refers to the drone’s 21-inch diameter, according to the Bluefin Robotics website. It’s a little over 16 feet long and weighs around 1,650 pounds when it’s not in the water. Once it hits its lowest depth, the vehicle travels about three nautical miles per hour and can scan about 15 square miles of ocean floor per day. It stores all that information into its four gigabytes of memory.

Despite the technical hiccup early on April 16, Bluefin-21 was redeployed later that day.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/04/16/underwater-drone-mh370/

Drone Beat: Amazon Drones in India, National Parks Bans and More

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Pakistan’s cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan talks on the phone as a camera-equipped drone hovers outside a parliament in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Aug. 21, 2014.
Image: B.K. Bangash/Associated Press

Drone-Beat

The U.S. government uses them to bomb alleged terrorists in far-away places. Tech companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook are all toying with the idea of incorporating them into their businesses, and now they’re a photographer’s secret weapon.

Drones are a big part of our lives, whether we see them or not. Drone Beat collects the best and most important stories every week.

If you want more on Drones, subscribe to the Center for the Study of the Drone’s Weekly Roundup, which features news, commentary, analysis and updates on drone technology.

Drone Beat’s coverage areas this week

Last update: August 22, 11:45 a.m. ET

Will India be the launchpad for Amazon’s drones?

The cities of Mumbai and Bagalore in India might become the test sites for Amazon’s much hyped drone delivery program, known as Prime Air, according to a report by India’s newspaper the Economic Times.

In the United States, drone regulations are thorny and not business friendly for now. In late June, the Federal Aviation Administration specifically called out delivery by flying robot as something that is not allowed. India, on the other hand, would be an ideal candidate for Amazon because the country has no rules regarding the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

“Amazon will not be breaking any laws in India,” Bharat Malkani, an aviation expert and CEO of Mumbai-based Max Aerospace, told Quartz.

Amazon could be planning to start delivering packages via drone as early as October, taking advantage of the days ahead of the shopping-friendly festivity of Diwali.

More U.S. national parks ban drones

In June, the National Park Service issued a memorandum to ban drones from parks across the U.S. But that was just the first step, each park then needed to issue its own ban for it to be effective. Zion National Park in Utah and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona were the first ones to do so.

This week, more have joined in. The National Park Service’s office in Moab, Utah, officially banned drones in the Arches and Canyonlands national parks and in the Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments.

The National Park Service also banned drones from flying over the entire Appalachian Trail.

Yosemite National Park was the first to attempt to ban the flying robots, even before the rule was issued by the National Park Service.

It seems it’s just a matter of time before others join in. As a result, we might miss out on videos like these.

Rescuers use drones in aftermath of earthquake in China

First responders used drones to survey the areas hit by a 6.1-magnitude earthquake earlier this month in China’s Yunnan province.

After the quake, rescuers from the China Association for Disaster and Emergency Response Medicine got some help from a team of pilots at DJI, a large manufacturer of commercial unmanned aerial vehicles based in Hong Kong, as Motherboard reported.

“Aerial images captured by the team were used by workers in the epicenter area of Longtoushan, where most of the traditional buildings in the area collapsed,” the company told Motherboard. “The dense rubble and vegetation have made ground surveying extremely difficult, so using aerial images has helped identify where relief teams can focus on searching for survivors.”

Australian football team uses drones to film trainings

A team in the Australian Football League (AFL) has bought two small drones to film its training from above, according to local newspaper The Age.

The Hawthorn Football Club, also known as the Hawks, bought the drones in an attempt “to find an edge in technology to improve its on-field performance.”

There aren’t a lot of details on how the team plans to use its drones, but the newspaper said they’ll use them to analyze their strategies and plays from a better vantage point.

How will drone photography change society? A look into the past can help predict the future

In a fascinating, must-read article, author Clive Thompson opined that drones — with their high-resolution photo and video cameras — might change photography and society just as much as the first personal camera and the rise of the so-called “snapshot” in the late 19th century.

Drones “allow for entirely new forms of voyeurism: peering into windows, over fences or zooming above public crowds to pick out individuals,” but they are also “creating new aesthetics for picture-taking by everyday people — some of which are strikingly lovely and useful,” Thompson wrote in the Smithsonian article.

“For good and ill, photography is being born anew,” he said.

Read the full article here.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/08/25/drone-beat-amazon-parks/

Social Good Summit, Day 2: Watch the Global Conversations Live

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The Social Good Summit continues Sunday in New York — but you can still join in the global conversation even if you couldn’t make it to New York. This year’s livestream is available in seven languages — English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Russian and Hebrew.

This year’s Social Good Summit expands beyond the 92nd Street Y’s New York walls. Partner events, forming The Global Conversation are taking place in Beijing, China; Nairobi, Kenya; and Mogadishu, Somalia on Monday.

One of the early Meetups took place Sunday morning in Madagascar:

All Meetups in dangerous regions of the world have been cleared with U.N. security officials, who are taking responsibility.

Are you taking part in a community Social Good Meetup? Let us know what’s taking place your region in the comments.

About Ericsson

Read more of Mashable’s coverage of the 2012 Social Good Summit:

Day One:

Day Two:

Day Three:

Thumbnail image courtesy of iStockphoto, skegbydave

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Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/23/social-good-livestream-summit/

West Antarctic Glaciers Speeding Toward the Sea, Study Finds

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This aerial photo of Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, shows the New York skyline and harbor after Superstorm Sandy struck the city.
Image: Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

Bad news from the Southern Hemisphere: the West Antarctic ice sheet is shedding ice at an accelerating rate, with six large glaciers in this region discharging nearly the same amount of ice as the entire Greenland ice sheet, according to a new study.

The study is the first to combine observations from satellites, radar data, and other remote sensing methods to construct a long-term record of ice movement trends for six of the fastest-flowing glaciers in Antarctica.

Published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the study examines glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment of West Antarctica. The glaciers in this region include the Pine Island Glacier, which made headlines in recent years by discharging massive icebergs into the ocean.

This region also encompasses the Thwaites, Haynes, Smith, Pope and Kohler glaciers, each of which are behemoths in their own right.

A research team from the University of California at Irvine and NASA found that the total amount of ice coming off these glaciers has increased by 77 percent since 1973, with much of that increase coming since 2000. Together, these glaciers drain one-third of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, or about 158 million square miles of ice, the study said.

We need to know how quickly and extensively parts of Antarctica as well as the Greenland ice sheet are melting in order to accurately project how high global sea levels are likely to rise during the next several decades. It’s melting land-based ice, not the melting North Pole sea ice, that contributes to rising seas.

Pine Island Glacier

A massive crack running about 18 miles Pine Island Glacier’s floating tongue in 2011.

Image: NASA

According to a 2013 report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), average global sea level rise will likely be in the range of 10.2 to 32 inches by the end of the century, depending on the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions between now and then.

If emissions continue on a business as usual path, which has been the trend in recent years, the IPCC said global average sea level rise could be closer to 40 inches — which would doom some low-lying coastal cities and nations, from Bangkok to Miami and Bangladesh.

Illustrating the high stakes involved in the fate of West Antarctica, the study found that these six glaciers contributed about 10% of all the global average sea level rise that occurred between 2005 and 2010. If all six glaciers were to melt completely (which is not expected to happen during this century), global average sea level would rise by a catastrophic 3.9 feet, the study said.

The new study also found, for the first time, that West Antarctic glaciers are not only flowing faster at the point where their base meets the ocean, which is known as the grounding line. Instead, areas as far inland as nearly 160 miles are also speeding up their march to the sea.

Until this study, it was not known that sections of glaciers deep into the interior are also speeding up their movement. This is a troubling sign because of what it implies for sea level rise in the future, according to the study’s lead author, Jeremie Mouginot of the University of California at Irvine.

“Increased ice discharge will have an impact on how [much] the sea level is going to rise,” Mouginot told Mashable.

Mouginot says most of the action is taking place at the grounding line, then having ripple effects inland.

In the same way that plaque slowly rots a tooth until it falls out, mild ocean temperatures are thought to be causing ice to thin and retreat where these glaciers meet the sea. This is likely setting in motion a chain of events that results in a far more unstable glacier.

Sea level rise

Projections of global mean sea level rise over the 21st century, depending on greenhouse gas emissions.

Image: U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The grounding line positions of these glaciers have been retreating at a rate of 0.6 miles per year, the study found, which is among the fastest rates of glacier retreat in the world.

According to Mouginot, all six of the glaciers in this study come into contact with the same body of water, which indicates that higher sea surface temperatures are likely playing a role in speeding up melting. Other studies have found evidence for this in other parts of the globe, including Greenland, and in other parts of Antarctica.

“I think there is more warm ocean going beneath the ice shelf,” Mouginot says.

It’s not absolutely clear exactly what is causing ocean temperatures to increase in that area — but global warming from the increased amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, is almost certainly playing a role.

“What I can say is, if you look at Greenland, it is changing, and West Antarctica is changing a lot,” Mouginot says. “And they are really far apart from each other. I don’t think it’s a regional change occurring. I think it’s more global.”

The IPCC is scheduled to release another major climate report on Sunday evening eastern time, which is expected to detail some of the likely impacts of global sea level rise during the next several decades, among other findings.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/03/28/west-antarctic-ice-melting-sea-level/

Warp Drive May Be More Feasible Than We Thought

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A warp drive to achieve faster-than-light travel — a concept popularized in television’s Star Trek — may not be as unrealistic as once thought, scientists say.

A warp drive would manipulate space-time itself to move a starship, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light. A concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, however subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy.

Now physicists say that adjustments can be made to the proposed warp drive that would enable it to run on significantly less energy, potentially brining the idea back from the realm of science fiction into science.

“There is hope,” Harold “Sonny” White of NASA’s Johnson Space Center said at the 100 Year Starship Symposium, a meeting to discuss the challenges of interstellar spaceflight.

Warping Space-Time

An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind.

(SPACE.com)

Meanwhile, the starship itself would stay inside a bubble of flat space-time that wasn’t being warped at all.

“Everything within space is restricted by the speed of light,” explained Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar, a non-profit group of scientists and engineers devoted to pursuing interstellar spaceflight. “But the really cool thing is space-time, the fabric of space, is not limited by the speed of light.”

With this concept, the spacecraft would be able to achieve an effective speed of about 10 times the speed of light, all without breaking the cosmic speed limit.

The only problem is, previous studies estimated the warp drive would require a minimum amount of energy about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.

But recently White calculated what would happen if the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring. He found in that case, the warp drive could be powered by a mass about the size of a spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977.

Furthermore, if the intensity of the space warps can be oscillated over time, the energy required is reduced even more, White found.

“The findings I presented today change it from impractical to plausible and worth further investigation,” White told SPACE.com. “The additional energy reduction realized by oscillating the bubble intensity is an interesting conjecture that we will enjoy looking at in the lab.”

Warp-Drive Laboratory Tests

White and his colleagues have begun experimenting with a mini version of the warp drive in their laboratory.

They set up what they call the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer at the Johnson Space Center, essentially creating a laser interferometer that instigates micro versions of space-time warps.

“We’re trying to see if we can generate a very tiny instance of this in a tabletop experiment, to try to perturb space-time by one part in 10 million,” White said.

He called the project a “humble experiment” compared to what would be needed for a real warp drive, but said it represents a promising first step.

And other scientists stressed that even outlandish-sounding ideas, such as the warp drive, need to be considered if humanity is serious about traveling to other stars.

“If we’re ever going to become a true spacefaring civilization, we’re going to have to think outside the box a little bit, were going to have to be a little bit audacious,” Obousy said.

Image courtesy of Harold White

This article originally published at Space.com
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Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/17/warp-drive-may-be-more-feasible-than-we-thought/

See the Rare Photo of Neil Armstrong on the Moon

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There is only one photograph of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, and in it, he has his back to the camera.

The first man to set foot on a planetary body other than Earth was not camera shy. It was just that for most of the time he and Buzz Aldrin were exploring the moon in July 1969, the checklist called for Armstrong to have their only camera.

When the news broke Saturday that Armstrong, 82, had passed away, it is likely that many people’s memories of the first man on the moon were of black and white television images or color film stills. If they did recall a photo captured during the Apollo 11 moonwalk, it was almost certainly one of Aldrin, whether it was of him saluting the flag or looking down at his bootprint.

In fact, perhaps the most iconic photo taken of an astronaut on the surface of the moon is also of Aldrin. A posed shot, he is facing the camera with the reflection of his photographer, Armstrong, caught in Aldrin’s golden helmet visor.

Of course, there were photographs taken of Neil Armstrong at other points during the moon flight, and on his previous mission, Gemini 8. Cameras were ready when he was named an astronaut seven years before walking on the moon, and were more than ever present after he returned to Earth as a history-making hero.

A few of those other photos ran alongside obituaries in the numerous newspapers that told of Armstrong’s death in their Sunday editions. But they — the photos, not necessarily the obituaries — only told part of the story. A great many lesser seen photos capture Armstrong as the research pilot, astronaut, engineer and, as his family described in a statement, “a reluctant American hero.”

To help illustrate that record, collectSPACE.com asked RetroSpaceImages.com to search its extensive archives of NASA photographs and pick out those that showed the Armstrong that the public didn’t always get to see. The three dozen photos they chose have been presented chronologically, with one exception: The gallery begins with the rare photo of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. Where are space shuttle Atlantis’ launch director and mission management team today? Continue reading at collectSPACE.com.

This article originally published at Space.com
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Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/27/rare-photo-neil-armstrong/