Nine feet tall is gigantic by human standards, but when researcher and conservationist Michael Brown spotted a giraffe in Uganda's Murchison Falls National Park that measured nine feet, four inches, he was shocked.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
Like many other plant-based foods and products, CBD oil is one dietary supplement where "organic" labels are very important to consumers. However, there are little to no regulations within the hemp industry when it comes to deeming a product as organic, which makes it increasingly difficult for shoppers to find the best CBD oil products available on the market.
Charlotte's Web<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDcwMjk3NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MzQ0NjM4N30.SaQ85SK10-MWjN3PwHo2RqpiUBdjhD0IRnHKTqKaU7Q/img.jpg?width=980" id="84700" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a2174067dcc0c4094be25b3472ce08c8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="charlottes web cbd oil" data-width="1244" data-height="1244" /><p>Perhaps one of the most well-known brands in the CBD landscape, Charlotte's Web has been growing sustainable hemp plants for several years. The company is currently in the process of achieving official USDA Organic Certification, but it already practices organic and sustainable cultivation techniques to enhance the overall health of the soil and the hemp plants themselves, which creates some of the highest quality CBD extracts. Charlotte's Web offers CBD oils in a range of different concentration options, and some even come in a few flavor options such as chocolate mint, orange blossom, and lemon twist.</p>
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Ask a Scientist: What Should the Biden Administration and Congress Do to Address the Climate Crisis?
By Elliott Negin
What a difference an election makes. Thanks to the Biden-Harris victory in November, the next administration is poised to make a 180-degree turn to again address the climate crisis.
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By Jessica Corbett
In an example to the rest of the scientific community and an effort to wake up people — particularly policymakers — worldwide, 17 scientists penned a comprehensive assessment of the current state of the planet and what the future could hold due to biodiversity loss, climate disruption, human consumption and population growth.
Six climate scientists who are also mothers have launched Science Moms, a $10 million campaign to educate moms about climate change and help them take action.
By Jessica Corbett
A collection of new scientific papers authored by 56 experts from around the world reiterates rising concerns about bug declines and urges people and governments to take urgent action to address a biodiversity crisis dubbed the "insect apocalypse."
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It's a common truism that there are only 24 hours in a day, but, according to precise measurements, that isn't exactly true.
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By Jessica Corbett
One year after over 11,000 scientists from 153 countries came together to declare a climate emergency and urge ambitious action, the Oregon State University researchers who launched that effort said on Wednesday that an urgent massive-scale mobilization is necessary to address the human-caused global crisis.
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By Gabriel Filippelli
The Trump administration has worked to weaken U.S. environmental regulations in many areas, from water and air pollution to energy development and land conservation. One of its most controversial actions is known as the "secret science" rule because it would require scientists to disclose all of their raw data, including confidential medical records, for their findings to be considered in shaping regulations. This measure has just been finalized.
Despite steps such as phasing out leaded gasoline, lead poisoning is still a serious public health problem across the U.S. AZDHS
Using Child Health Records to Map Lead Exposure<p>My work is made possible because researchers can obtain confidential patient records, under strict regulations and oversight to ensure their confidentiality throughout analysis. These controls are mandated under <a href="https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-individuals/guidance-materials-for-consumers/index.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">federal regulations</a> that were rightly instituted to protect people's identities and health data pursuant to the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.</p><p>I started researching lead exposure hot spots in U.S. cities almost 15 years ago, well before thousands of kids were poisoned by lead in Flint. Pediatric exposure to lead results in permanent neurological effects – namely, reduced IQ and deficits in attention, learning and memory compared with nonintoxicated peers. These impacts <a href="https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/lead-poisoning-and-health" target="_blank">are permanent</a>, so it is critical to identify and eliminate lead exposure sources before children are poisoned.</p><p>Because I did not have the resources to obtain and analyze millions of samples of soil, dust and water for lead, I turned to medical records. Children around the country have routine blood tests, and many of them include an assay for blood lead levels. I realized that if I could obtain those records, as well as each child's age, test date and home address, I could map out the distribution of lead poisoning.</p><p>In an ideal world public health experts wouldn't use maps based on kids who have already been permanently poisoned to find exposure sources. Nevertheless, 16,000 medical records later, I was able to produce a detailed block-by-block map of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s10653-012-9474-y" target="_blank">blood levels in children</a> in Indianapolis.</p>
Blood lead levels of children in Indianapolis, Indiana, for the period February 2002 to December 2008 (n = 12,431) for children between ages 0 and 5.99 years (area = 1,044 km2). Filippelli et al, 2012., CC BY
Pinpointing Exposure Sources and Timing<p>This approach led me and my colleagues to two major discoveries that have improved communities and shaped policy at the local and national levels. Neither of these insights could be used to implement solutions under the proposed secret science rule.</p><p>First, we found that the pediatric lead poisoning distribution patterns we identified from medical records <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s10653-012-9474-y" target="_blank">matched a rudimentary map</a> of patterns of legacy lead contamination – lead emitted over decades by sources such as leaded gasoline, lead-based paint and industrial emissions – that we constructed from separate research work on <a href="https://www.mapmyenvironment.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">urban soil and dust</a>. This indicated that at least in Indianapolis, soil and contaminated dust generated from it was likely the major exposure mechanism for lead in children.</p><p>We were able to leverage that finding in some particularly contaminated neighborhoods where the EPA had previously carried out cleanups. Indeed, our work spurred the agency to reanalyze one of these poorly mitigated neighborhoods and reopen the cleanup over a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-completes-cleanup-100-properties-american-lead-site-indianapolis-soil-sampling" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">much broader target area</a>.</p>
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At least twelve deep-sea species were recently discovered in the Atlantic, BBC News reported. After five years of research, scientists of the ATLAS Project, a transatlantic assessment and deep-water management plan for Europe, discovered new species of sea mosses, molluscs and corals.
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By Brett B. Palm
The year 2020 will be remembered for many reasons, including its record-breaking wildfires that turned San Francisco's skies an apocalyptic shade of red and blanketed large parts of the West in smoke for weeks on end.
How We Study Wildfires<p>Large wildfires and the way wind carries their smoke cannot be easily replicated in a laboratory. This makes them difficult to study. One of the best ways to learn about real wildfire smoke chemistry is to sample it directly in the atmosphere.</p><p>In <a href="https://www.eol.ucar.edu/field_projects/we-can" target="_blank">2018</a> and <a href="https://csl.noaa.gov/projects/firex-aq/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019</a>, my colleagues and I crisscrossed the sky over active wildfires in specialized airplanes loaded with scientific instruments. Each instrument is designed to sample a different part of the smoke, often by literally sticking a tube out the window.</p>
To sample smoke as it moves downwind, scientists flew back and forth across smoke plumes. The gray lines are the flights from 2018. They turn red where the path crossed a smoke plume. Brett Palm/University of Washington, CC BY-ND
Scientific aircraft used for these experiments are filled with instruments that measure wildfire smoke in different ways. Brett Palm/University of Washington, CC BY-ND<p>Wildfire smoke is far more complex and dynamic than meets the eye. It contains thousands of different compounds, most of which are molecules containing various amounts of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen atoms. There are gases (individual molecules) as well as particles (millions of molecules coagulated together).</p><p>No single instrument can measure all of these molecules at once. In fact, some specific compounds are a challenge to measure at all. Many scientists, including myself, dedicate their careers to designing and building new instruments to improve our measurements and continue to advance our understanding of the atmosphere and how it affects us.</p>
Smoke plumes from western wildfires reached across the U.S. in mid-September 2020. Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory
PM2.5 particles are tiny at less than 2.5 microns across. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency<p>Chemical reactions control how much PM2.5 is in wildfire smoke as it is transported away from the fires and into population centers. Using our aircraft measurements to understand these processes, we chemists can better predict how much PM2.5 will be present in aged smoke.</p><p>Combined with meteorology forecasting that predicts where the smoke will go, this could lead to improved air quality models that can tell people downwind whether they will be exposed to unhealthy air.</p><h3>Better Air Quality Forecasting</h3><p>With wildfires increasingly in the news, more people have become aware of their own air quality. Resources such as <a href="https://gispub.epa.gov/airnow/" target="_blank">AirNow</a> from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provide current and forecasted air quality data, along with explanations of the health hazards. Local information is often available from state or regional agencies as well.</p>
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