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New Virus Means Deadlier Flu Season Is Possible 163 writes Donald McNeil writes in the NYT that this year's flu season may be deadlier than usual because this year's flu vaccine is a relatively poor match to a new virus that is now circulating. "Flu is unpredictable, but what we've seen thus far is concerning," says Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. According to the CDC, five U.S. children have died from flu-related complications so far this season. Four of them were infected with influenza A viruses, including three cases of H3N2 infections. The new H3 subtype first appeared overseas in March but because it was not found in many samples in the United States until September, it is now too late to change the vaccine. Because of the increased danger from the H3 strain — and because B influenza strains can also cause serious illness — the CDC recommends that patients with asthma, diabetes or lung or heart problems see a doctor at the first sign of a possible flu, and that doctors quickly prescribe antivirals like Tamiflu or Relenza. "H3N2 viruses tend to be associated with more severe seasons," says Frieden. "The rate of hospitalization and death can be twice as high or more in flu seasons when H3 doesn't predominate."

UN Study Shows Record-High Increases For Atmospheric CO2 In 2013 427

Figures released Tuesday by a United Nations advisory body reveal that 2013 saw new recorded highs for both carbon dioxide and methane, as well as the largest year-over-year rise in carbon dioxide since 1984, reflecting continuing worldwide emissions from human sources but also the possibility that natural sinks (oceans and vegetation) are near their capacity for absorbing the excess. From the Washington Post's account: The latest figures from the World Meteorological Organization’s monitoring network are considered particularly significant because they reflect not only the amount of carbon pumped into the air by humans, but also the complex interaction between man-made gases and the natural world. Historically, about half of the pollution from human sources has been absorbed by the oceans and by terrestrial plants, preventing temperatures from rising as quickly as they otherwise would, scientists say. “If the oceans and the biosphere cannot absorb as much carbon, the effect on the atmosphere could be much worse,” said Oksana Tarasova, a scientist and chief of the WMO’s Global Atmospheric Watch program, which collects data from 125 monitoring stations worldwide. The monitoring network is regarded as the most reliable window on the health of Earth’s atmosphere, drawing on air samples collected near the poles, over the oceans, and in other locations far from cities and other major sources of pollution. The new figures for carbon dioxide were particularly surprising, showing the biggest year-over-year increase since detailed records were first compiled in the 1980s, Tarasova said in an interview. The jump of nearly three parts per million over 2012 levels was twice as large as the average increase in carbon levels in recent decades, she said.

If Fusion Is the Answer, We Need To Do It Quickly 305

Lasrick writes: Yale's Jason Parisi makes a compelling case for fusion power, and explains why fusion is cleaner, safer, and doesn't provide opportunities for nuclear smuggling and proliferation. The only downside will be the transition period, when there are both fission and fusion plants available and the small amount of "booster" elements (tritium and deuterium) found in fusion power could provide would-be proliferators what they need to boost the yield of fission bombs: "The period during which both fission and fusion plants coexist could be dangerous, however. Just a few grams of deuterium and tritium are needed to increase the yield of a fission bomb, in a process known as 'boosting.'" Details about current research into fusion power and an exploration of relative costs make fusion power seem like the answer to a civilization trying to get away from fossil fuels.

US Climate Report Says Global Warming Impact Already Severe 627

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: "Darryl Fears reports in the Washington Post on the U.S. government's newest national assessment of climate change. It says Americans are already feeling the effects of global warming. The assessment carves the nation into sections and examines the impacts: More sea-level rise, flooding, storm surge, precipitation and heat waves in the Northeast; frequent water shortages and hurricanes in the Southeast and Caribbean; more drought and wildfires in the Southwest. 'Residents of some coastal cities see their streets flood more regularly during storms and high tides. Inland cities near large rivers also experience more flooding, especially in the Midwest and Northeast. Insurance rates are rising in some vulnerable locations, and insurance is no longer available in others. Hotter and drier weather and earlier snow melt mean that wildfires in the West start earlier in the spring, last later into the fall, and burn more acreage. In Arctic Alaska, the summer sea ice that once protected the coasts has receded, and autumn storms now cause more erosion, threatening many communities with relocation.' The report concludes that over recent decades, climate science has advanced significantly and that increased scrutiny has led to increased certainty that we are now seeing impacts associated with human-induced climate change. 'What is new over the last decade is that we know with increasing certainty that climate change is happening now. While scientists continue to refine projections of the future, observations unequivocally show that climate is changing and that the warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.'"

IPCC's "Darkest Yet" Climate Report Warns of Food, Water Shortages 703

The Australian reports that "UN scientists are set to deliver their darkest report yet on the impacts of climate change, pointing to a future stalked by floods, drought, conflict and economic damage if carbon emissions go untamed. A draft of their report, seen by the news organisation AFP, is part of a massive overview by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, likely to shape policies and climate talks for years to come. Scientists and government representatives will meet in Yokohama, Japan, from tomorrow to hammer out a 29-page summary. It will be unveiled with the full report on March 31. 'We have a lot clearer picture of impacts and their consequences ... including the implications for security,' said Chris Field of the US’s Carnegie Institution, who headed the probe.

The work comes six months after the first volume in the long-awaited Fifth Assessment Report declared scientists were more certain than ever that humans caused global warming. It predicted global temperatures would rise 0.3C-4.8C this century, adding to roughly 0.7C since the Industrial Revolution. Seas will creep up by 26cm-82cm by 2100. The draft warns costs will spiral with each additional degree, although it is hard to forecast by how much."

FSF Responds To Microsoft's Privacy and Encryption Announcement 174

An anonymous reader writes "Microsoft announced yesterday their plans to encrypt customer data to prevent government snooping. Free Software Foundation executive director John Sullivan questions the logic of trusting non-free software, regardless of promises or even intent. He says, 'Microsoft has made renewed security promises before. In the end, these promises are meaningless. Proprietary software like Windows is fundamentally insecure not because of Microsoft's privacy policies but because its code is hidden from the very users whose interests it is supposed to secure. A lock on your own house to which you do not have the master key is not a security system, it is a jail. ... If the NSA revelations have taught us anything, it is that journalists, governments, schools, advocacy organizations, companies, and individuals, must be using operating systems whose code can be reviewed and modified without Microsoft or any other third party's blessing. When we don't have that, back doors and privacy violations are inevitable.'"

NYC Is Tracking RFID Toll Collection Tags All Over the City 314

In the northeast U.S., most of the tolls people encounter when driving make use of a system called E-ZPass to let them pay the tolls electronically. Drivers are given small RFID transponders that are scanned in tollbooths, at which point the toll is automatically deducted from a pre-paid account. One hacker got curious whether the RFID tags were being scanned elsewhere, so he tweaked his E-ZPass to blink a light and make a noise every time it was read. He tested the streets of New York City, and wasn't surprised to see it light up in plenty of places where there were no tollbooths to be found. From the article: "It’s part of Midtown in Motion, an initiative to feed information from lots of sensors into New York’s traffic management center. A spokesperson for the New York Department of Transportation, Scott Gastel, says the E-Z Pass readers are on highways across the city, and on streets in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island, and have been in use for years. The city uses the data from the readers to provide real-time traffic information, as for this tool. The DoT was not forthcoming about what exactly was read from the passes or how long geolocation information from the passes was kept. Notably, the fact that E-ZPasses will be used as a tracking device outside of toll payment, is not disclosed anywhere that I could see in the terms and conditions. When I talked to the E-ZPass Inter-agency Group — the umbrella association that oversees the use of the pay-toll-paying tags in 15 different states — it said New York is the only state that is employing this inventive re-use of the tags. ... 'If NYDOT can put up readers, says [the hacker], 'other agencies could as well.'"

Hanford Nuclear Waste Vitrification Plant "Too Dangerous" 292

Noryungi writes "Scientific American reports, in a chilling story, that the Hanford, Washington nuclear waste vitrification treatment plant is off to a bad start. Bad planning, multiple sources of radioactive waste, and leaking containment pools are just the beginning. It's never a good sign when that type of article includes the word 'spontaneous criticality,' if you follow my drift..." It seems the main problem is that the waste has settled in distinct layers, and has to be piped through corroded old tubes, leading to all sorts of exciting problems (e.g. enough plutonium aggregating to start a reaction).

As US Cleans Its Energy Mix, It Ships Coal Problems Overseas 275

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Thomas K. Grose reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that greenhouse gas emissions in the US have fallen 8 percent from their 2007 peak to 6,703 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, due largely to the drop in coal-fired electricity which in 2012 generated 37.4 percent of US electricity, down from 50 percent in 2005. But don't celebrate just yet. A major side effect of that cleaner air in the US has been the further darkening of skies over Europe and Asia as US coal producers have been shipping the most carbon-intensive fuel to energy-hungry markets overseas. US coal exports to China were on track to double last year and demand for US metallurgical coal, the high-heat content coking coal that is used for steelmaking, is so great in Asia that shipments make a round-the-world journey from Appalachia as they are sent by train to the port of Baltimore, where they steam to sea through the Chesapeake Bay, then south across the Atlantic Ocean and around Africa's Cape of Good Hope to reach Asian ports. The Tyndall Center study estimates that the burning of all that exported coal could erase fully half the gains the United States has made in reducing carbon emissions and if the trend continues, the dramatic changes in energy use in the United States — in particular, the switch from coal to newly abundant natural gas for generating electricity — will have only a modest impact on global warming, observers warn. 'Without a meaningful cap on global carbon emissions, the exploitation of shale gas reserves is likely to increase total emissions,' write Dr John Broderick and Prof Kevin Anderson. 'For this not to be the case, consumption of displaced fuels must be reduced globally and remain suppressed indefinitely; in effect displaced coal must stay in the ground (PDF).'"

26 Nuclear Power Plants In Hurricane Sandy's Path 392

pigrabbitbear writes "Hurricane Sandy is about to ruin a bunch of people's Mondays. In New York City alone, the storm has already shut down public transportation, forced tens of thousands to relocate to higher ground and compelled even more office jockeys to work from home. (Okay, that last part might not be so bad, especially for the folks that don't actually have to work at all.) But if it knocks out power to any of the 26 nuclear power plants that lie directly in its path, the frankenstorm of the century will ruin Tuesday, too. Heck, a nuclear meltdown would be a much bigger problem."

Little Ice Age: It Was Not the Sun 375

vikingpower writes "The Little Ice Age, lasting from the end of the Middle Age into the 17th century, may very likely have been caused by the combined effects of four major volcanic eruptions and increased sunlight reflection by increasing sea ice, the so-called Albedo effect. ... The University of Boulder has a press release with maps and photographs. Bette Otto-Bliesner, one of the scientists behind the 'volcano + sea ice' thesis, fields an earnest warning against drawing conclusions too quickly from this research: 'I think people might look at the Little Ice Age and think that all we need to save us from rising temperatures are some volcanic eruptions or the geo-engineering equivalent [...] But when you see what happened when global temperatures dropped by just one degree and you look at current predictions of six or seven degree increases for the future, you realize how precarious things are for life as we know it.'"

Power Grid Change May Disrupt Clocks 439

hawguy writes with an AP story about upcoming tests of greater allowed variation in the frequency of the current carried on the U.S. electric grid: "A yearlong experiment with the nation's electric grid could mess up traffic lights, security systems and some computers — and make plug-in clocks and appliances like programmable coffeemakers run up to 20 minutes fast."

New Superbug Strain Found In Cows and People 144

sciencehabit writes "A novel form of deadly drug-resistant bacteria that hides from a standard test has turned up in Europe. Researchers found the so-called MRSA strain in both dairy cows and humans in the United Kingdom, suggesting that it might be passed from dairies to the general population. But before you toss your milk, don't panic: The superbug isn't a concern in pasteurized dairy products."

Nuclear Risk Expert: Fukushima Fuel May Be Leaking 500

An anonymous reader writes "Three weeks after the nuclear crisis began at Japan's Fukushima Dai-1 power plant, there's still a real danger of melted nuclear fuel escaping the reactor buildings and releasing a large dose of radiation. So says Theo Theofanous, an engineer who spent 15 years studying the risks of nuclear reactors. Theofanous believes that melted nuclear fuel has already leaked through the reactor vessels and accumulated at the bottoms of the primary containment structures. All attempts to keep the reactor buildings cool may not be enough to prevent the overheated fuel from eating through the concrete floors, he says."

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