vinces99 writes: If a volcano erupts at the bottom of the sea, does anyone see it? If it is Axial Seamount, about 300 miles offshore and 1 mile deep, the answer is "yes." Thanks to high-tech instruments installed last summer by the University of Washington to bring the deep sea online, what appears to be an eruption of Axial Volcano on April 23 was observed in real time by scientists on shore.
“It was an astonishing experience to see the changes taking place 300 miles away with no one anywhere nearby, and the data flowed back to land at the speed of light through the fiber-optic cable... in milliseconds,” said John Delaney, a UW professor of oceanography who led the installation of the instruments as part of a larger effort sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
Delaney organized a workshop on campus in mid-April at which marine scientists discussed how this high-tech observatory would support their science. Then, just before midnight on April 23 until about noon the next day, the seismic activity went off the charts. The gradually increasing rumblings of the mountain were documented over recent weeks by William Wilcock, a UW marine geophysicist who studies such systems. During last week’s event, the earthquakes increased from hundreds per day to thousands, and the center of the volcanic crater dropped by about 6 feet in 12 hours.
“The only way that could have happened was to have the magma move from beneath the caldera to some other location,” Delaney said.
vinces99 writes: Researchers are installing three seismometers in Seattle's CenturyLink stadium to monitor shaking from Seahawks fans during Saturday's NFL playoff game. The new, faster data transmission will show crowd motion on the website before a touchdown shows up on the 10-second delayed TV broadcast. Researchers dub these "Early Earthquake Rowdiness Warnings." A guaranteed shaking and intense public interest gives the seismologists a unique opportunity to test new technology that gives seconds to minutes warning of a real earthquake.
vinces99 writes: Off the U.S. West Coast, methane gas is trapped in frozen layers below the seafloor. New research from the University of Washington shows that water at intermediate depths is warming enough to cause these carbon deposits to melt, releasing methane into the sediments and surrounding water. Researchers found that water off the coast of Washington is gradually warming at a depth of 500 meters (about a third of a mile down), the same depth where methane transforms from a solid to a gas. The research suggests that ocean warming could be triggering the release of a powerful greenhouse gas.
Scientists believe global warming will release methane from gas hydrates worldwide, but most of the focus has been on the Arctic. The new paper estimates that, from 1970 to 2013, some 4 million metric tons of methane has been released from hydrate decomposition off Washington's coast. That’s an amount each year equal to the methane from natural gas released in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout off the coast of Louisiana, and 500 times the rate at which methane is naturally released from the seafloor.
vinces99 writes: Planets orbiting close to low-mass stars — easily the most common stars in the universe — are prime targets in the search for extraterrestrial life. But new research led by an astronomy graduate student at the University of Washington indicates some such planets may have long since lost their chance at hosting life because of intense heat during their formative years.
Low-mass stars, also called M dwarfs, are smaller than the sun, and also much less luminous, so their habitable zone tends to be fairly close in. The habitable zone is that swath of space that is just right to allow liquid water on an orbiting planet’s surface, thus giving life a chance. Planets close to their host stars are easier for astronomers to find than their siblings farther out, either because of the slight reduction in light when they transit, or pass in front of. their host star; or because the star wobbles slightly in response to the planet’s gravity.
In a paper to be published in the journal Astrobiology, doctoral student Rodrigo Luger and co-author Rory Barnes, a UW research assistant professor of astronomy, find through computer simulations that some planets close to low-mass stars likely had their water and atmospheres burned away when they were still forming because they were exposed to high temperatures from their parent stars.
vinces99 writes: The U.S. economy has long been powered in part by the nation’s ability to attract the world’s most educated and skilled people to its shores. But a new study of the worldwide migration of professionals to the U.S. shows a sharp drop-off in its proportional share of those workers – raising the question of whether the nation will remain competitive in attracting top talent in an increasingly globalized economy.
The study, which used a novel method of tracking people through data from the social media site LinkedIn, is believed to be the first to monitor global migrations of professionals to the U.S., said co-author Emilio Zagheni, a University of Washington assistant professor of sociology and fellow of the UW eScience Institute. Among other things, the study, presented recently in Barcelona, Spain, found that just 13 percent of migrating professionals in the sample group chose the U.S. as a destination in 2012, down from 27 percent in 2000.
vinces99 writes: A couple of years ago a scientist looking at dozens of MRI scans of human brains noticed something surprising: A large fiber pathway that seemed to be part of the network of connections that process visual information that wasn't mentioned in any modern-day anatomy textbooks. “It was this massive bundle of fibers, visible in every brain I examined,” said Jason Yeatman, a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. “... As far as I could tell, it was absent from the literature and from all major neuroanatomy textbooks.”
With colleagues at Stanford University, Yeatman started some detective work to figure out the identity of that mysterious fiber bundle. The researchers found an early 20th century atlas that depicted the structure, now known as the vertical occipital fasciculus. But the last time that atlas had been checked out was 1912, meaning the researchers were the first to view the images in the last century. They describes the history and controversy of the elusive pathway in a paper published Nov. 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
vinces99 writes: Within weeks of publishing surprising new insights about how zebrafish get their stripes, the same University of Washington group is now able to explain how to “erase” them. The findings – the first published Aug. 28 in Science and the latest in the Nov. 6 issue of Nature Communications – give new understanding about genes and cell behaviors that underlie pigment patterns in zebrafish that, in turn, could help unravel the workings of pigment cells in humans and other animals, skin disorders such as melanoma and cell regeneration.
“Using zebrafish as a model, we’re at the point where we have a lot of the basic mechanisms, the basic phenomenology of what’s going on, so we can start to look at some of these other species that have really different patterns and start to understand them,” said David Parichy, a UW professor of biology and corresponding author on both papers.
Zebrafish, a tropical freshwater fish about 1.5 inches long, belongs to the minnow family and is a popular addition to home aquariums. Adults have long horizontal blue stripes on their sides, hence the reference to “zebra.” These patterns have roles in schooling, mate selection and avoiding predators. Given their importance, scientists have long wanted to know where these pigment cells come from and how they make stripes and other arrangements.
vinces99 writes: What if our brains could communicate directly with each other, bypassing the need for language? University of Washington researchers have successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain connection between pairs of people as part of a scientific study following the team’s initial demonstration a year ago. In the newly published study, which involved six people, researchers were able to transmit the signals from one person’s brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal.
At the time of the first experiment in August 2013, the UW team was the first to demonstrate two human brains communicating in this way. The researchers then tested their brain-to-brain interface in a more comprehensive study, published Nov. 5 in the journal PLOS ONE.
“The new study brings our brain-to-brain interfacing paradigm from an initial demonstration to something that is closer to a deliverable technology,” said co-author Andrea Stocco, a research assistant professor of psychology and a researcher at UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. “Now we have replicated our methods and know that they can work reliably with walk-in participants.”
The research team combined two kinds of noninvasive instruments and fine-tuned software to connect two human brains in real time. One participant is hooked to an electroencephalography machine that reads brain activity and sends electrical pulses via the Web to the second participant, who is wearing a swim cap with a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil placed near the part of the brain that controls hand movements. Using this setup, one person can send a command to move the hand of the other by simply thinking about that hand movement.
vinces99 writes: Freshwater fish with bellies full of shrews – one trout a few years back was found to have eaten 19 – aren’t as random as scientists have thought. In some years, probably when shrew populations boom, the small mouse-like land animals end up in the stomachs of a quarter of rainbow trout and Arctic grayling larger than a foot, according to University of Washington-led research in the coastal lakes and streams of Southwest Alaska.
“Not all the fish could eat shrews even if they were abundant. A fish must be larger than 12 inches to have a mouth big enough to swallow these prey whole,” said Pete Lisi, lead author of a paper in the October issue of Ecology of Freshwater Fish. “However, in pools where almost every fish was large enough to eat a shrew, it was only the largest fish that had shrews – often six to eight in their stomachs – many more than the next largest fish,” he said. “Big fish don’t share their treats.”
The work, which Lisi did while earning his doctorate at the UW, is a part of a larger ongoing project monitoring salmon and other fish and learning their life histories, including what they eat by examining stomach contents.
“Our data suggest a few of the fish are really good at getting shrews,” said Lisi, now at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Like the one trout that had 19 shrews in its gut, found in a neighboring river basin by fish and wildlife researchers."
vinces99 writes: A new study shows that the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide that contributed to the end of the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago did not occur gradually but rather was characterized by three abrupt pulses. Scientists are not sure what caused these abrupt increases, during which carbon dioxide levels rose about 10 to 15 parts per million – or about 5 percent per episode – during a span of one to two centuries. It likely was a combination of factors, they say, including ocean circulation, changing wind patterns and terrestrial processes. The finding, published Oct. 30 in the journal Nature, casts new light on the mechanisms that take the Earth in and out of ice ages.
“We used to think that naturally occurring changes in carbon dioxide took place relatively slowly over the 10,000 years it took to move out of the last ice age,” said lead author Shaun Marcott, who did the work as a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon State University and is now at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “This abrupt, centennial-scale variability of CO2 appears to be a fundamental part of the global carbon cycle.”
Previous research has hinted at the possibility that spikes in atmospheric carbon dioxide may have accelerated the last deglaciation, but that hypothesis had not been resolved, the researchers say. The key to the new finding is the analysis of an ice core from the West Antarctic that provided the scientists with an unprecedented glimpse into the past.
vinces99 writes: Under the rule of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, thousands of Romanian children were placed in overcrowded orphanages with bleak conditions and minimal human contact, a legacy that continued even after the 1989 revolution. Only recently have research and public concern caused policy changes.
University of Washington research on children who began life in these institutions shows that early childhood neglect is associated with changes in brain structure. A paper published this month in Biological Psychiatry shows that children who spent their early years in these institutions have thinner brain tissue in cortical areas that correspond to impulse control and attention. “These differences suggest a way that the early care environment has dramatic and lasting effects for children’s functioning,” said lead author Katie McLaughlin, a UW assistant professor of psychology.
Since 2000, the Bucharest Early Intervention Project has worked to document and treat the children’s health. McLaughlin joined the team about six years ago to focus on brain development. This study is among the first in any setting to document how social deprivation in early life affects the thickness of the cortex, the thin folded layer of gray matter that forms the outer layer of the brain. The study provides “very strong support” for a link between the early environment and ADHD, McLaughlin said.
vinces99 writes: The largest migration on the planet is the movement of small animals from the surface of the open ocean, where they feed on plants under cover of darkness, to the sunless depths where they hide from predators during the day. University of Washington researchers have found that this regular migration helps shape our oceans. During the daylight hours below the surface the animals release ammonia, the equivalent of our urine, that turns out to play a significant role in marine chemistry, particularly in low-oxygen zones. Results are published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“I’m very fascinated by these massive migrations,” said lead author Daniele Bianchi, a postdoctoral researcher in the UW School of Oceanography. “To me, it’s exciting to think about the effects of animal behavior on a large scale in the ocean.”
One might not think that peeing into the vastness of the oceans could have an effect. But the animals – which include tiny zooplankton, crustaceans such as krill, and fish such as lanternfish up to a few inches long – compensate for their small size with huge abundance throughout the world’s oceans. After a nighttime feast near the surface, these small creatures take a couple of hours to swim about 650 to 2,000 feet (200 to 600 meters) deep. Solid waste falls as pellets. The liquid waste is emitted more gradually.
vinces99 writes: Fusion energy almost sounds too good to be true – zero greenhouse gas emissions, no long-lived radioactive waste, a nearly unlimited fuel supply. Perhaps the biggest roadblock to adopting fusion energy is that the economics haven’t penciled out. Fusion power designs aren’t cheap enough to outperform systems that use fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.
University of Washington engineers hope to change that. They have designed a concept for a fusion reactor that, when scaled up to the size of a large electrical power plant, would rival costs for a new coal-fired plant with similar electrical output. The team published its reactor design and cost-analysis findings last spring and will present results Oct. 17 at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Fusion Energy Conference in St. Petersburg, Russia.
vinces99 writes: Children as young as 15 months can detect anger when watching other people’s social interactions and then use that emotional information to guide their own behavior, according to new University of Washington research. The study, published in the October/November issue of the journal Cognitive Development, is the first evidence that younger toddlers are capable of using multiple cues from emotions and vision to understand the motivations of the people around them.
“At 15 months of age, children are trying to understand their social world and how people will react,” said lead author Betty Repacholi, a faculty researcher at UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences and an associate professor of psychology. “In this study we found that toddlers who aren’t yet speaking can use visual and social cues to understand other people – that’s sophisticated cognitive skills for 15-month-olds.”
The findings also linked the toddlers’ impulsive tendencies with their tendency to ignore other people’s anger, suggesting an early indicator for children who may become less willing to abide by rules.
vinces99 writes: Brain cells that multiply to help birds sing their best during breeding season are known to die back naturally later in the year. For the first time researchers have described the series of events that cues new neuron growth each spring, and it all appears to start with a signal from the expiring cells the previous fall that primes the brain to start producing stem cells.
If scientists can further tap into the process and understand how those signals work, it might lead to ways to exploit these signals and encourage replacement of cells in human brains that have lost neurons naturally because of aging, severe depression or Alzheimer’s disease, said Tracy Larson, a University of Washington doctoral student in biology. She’s lead author of a paper in the Sept. 23 Journal of Neuroscience on brain cell birth that follows natural brain cell death.
Neuroscientists have long known that new neurons are generated in the adult brains of many animals, but the birth of new neurons – or neurogenesis – appears to be limited in mammals and humans, especially where new neurons are generated after there’s been a blow to the head, stroke or some other physical loss of brain cells, Larson said. That process, referred to as “regenerative” neurogenesis, has been studied in mammals since the 1990s. This is the first published study to examine the brain’s ability to replace cells that have been lost naturally, Larson said.