BBC: The Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) is beginning the installation of an expanded network of monitors and sensors as part of the FutureVolc project. Funded in part by the European Union, the project is a response to the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull, which shut down air traffic across Europe. The IMO is adding a range of monitors that will be looking for small movements or tremors in the ground or the curving of Earth’s surface that could indicate a magma buildup. Other sensors will detect changes in gas emissions. All of the installations will provide real-time data to the IMO’s offices in Reykjavik. The IMO hopes to increase its ability to detect imminent eruptions several hours to days early. At many sites, residents are currently lucky to have 1 to 2 hours’ warning. The scientists will also be studying ash types and dispersal patterns to better plan for future air traffic disruptions. An Airbus report says the 2010 eruptions resulted in $5 billion in lost business revenue worldwide.
New Scientist: A new $22 000 rifle that is available to civilians comes equipped with a high-resolution color display integrated into the scope and paired with a laser rangefinder and onboard computer. The system, built by TrackingPoint in Austin, Texas, allows the user to select a target on the display and then calculates the location to aim at in order to hit that target. The computer takes into account range, humidity, wind, bullet drop due to gravity, and many other factors that affect accuracy. Using the system, even novices were able to hit targets up to 900 m away. The rifle also is equipped with Wi-Fi to stream images to smartphones or tablets, and the associated app allows the targeting to be activated from the mobile device. The rifle is specifically designed for target shooting but faces some criticism from hunters for making the sport too easy. More vocal criticism is coming from those who believe that it puts easy sniper capability in the hands of potential criminals. But despite their current availability, rifles, including the one favored by military snipers, are rarely used by criminals.
BBC: When an underwater earthquake generates a tsunami, every second counts because it takes only a few minutes before a wall of water can hit a shoreline. The current early warning system for tsunamis relies on seismographs to measure Earth movement and hence calculate the amount of energy dissipated into wave energy, but the technique is not reliable. A team from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences says that GPS sensors placed around the coastlines of vulnerable countries could make highly precise measurements of how underwater tremors shift the ground. In turn, the data could be used to reconstruct the source of the earthquake and calculate its magnitude. ”You can then predict the tsunami and see how high a wave could be expected, with some accuracy,” says Andreas Hoechner, one of the researchers.
Guardian: Researchers, journal editors, and those who provide funding have joined together to create the San Francisco Declaration of Research Assessment (DORA). The declaration argues that journal impact factors—rankings of journals determined by the number of citations they receive over a given period—do not necessarily reflect the quality of individual articles or authors and should not be used in hiring and promotion decisions. Impact factors are being blamed for having driven researchers to avoid potentially groundbreaking work in favor of work that is considered to be more publishable. Furthermore, researchers are more likely to favor highly rated journals over those that might be more appropriate for their work. In turn, what gets published, and even what gets submitted, can be affected. Those considerations can encourage participants to try to game the system, which can skew the ranking. DORA is part of a growing effort to increase scientific diversity and to evaluate research, researchers, and journals on their individual merits.
Telegraph: Ivanka Barzashka of King’s College London believes that the Stuxnet computer worm may have encouraged Iran to increase the security of its nuclear enrichment program. Stuxnet is believed to have been developed by the US and Israel to target Iran’s industrial equipment. In a report published in the journal of the Royal United Services Institute, Barzashka, who analyzed data collected by the International Atomic Energy Agency, claims that the worm revealed vulnerabilities that would have otherwise remained hidden. She also shows that since the discovery of the worm in August 2010, the number of centrifuges in Iran has increased and the levels of enrichment that Iran has attained are even higher than before. Barzashka’s analysis has drawn some criticism from intelligence agencies, which claim that Stuxnet undoubtedly slowed Iran’s production.
Independent: A large, unmapped, densely forested area of eastern Honduras may be the site of an ancient city called Ciudad Blanca, first reported by Hernán Cortés in 1526. Cortés never found the city and neither have any subsequent explorers. Now Steve Elkins, a filmmaker and amateur archaeologist, has teamed with archaeologists from Colorado State University to use lidar to map part of the area. Lidar creates a 3D topological map of the ground and structures on it by firing billions of pulses of laser light that can penetrate the organic forest canopy. From data collected over one week, the researchers mapped a 155-km2 area, which revealed what may be a network of plazas and pyramids. Possibly dating back to 500 CE, the city also appears to have had paved roads, parks, and advanced irrigation systems. To prevent looting, the city’s precise location has not been revealed. In partnership with the Honduran government, Elkins plans to lead a ground expedition to explore the area and make a documentary film of the effort.
Spectroscopy Now: In 1286 a storm washed a large part of the English town of Dunwich into the North Sea and deposited significant amounts of silt in the mouth of the Dunwich River. Over the next 200 years, further storms continued to silt up the harbor and eat away parts of the city until most of the inhabitants abandoned the area. In the half-millennium since, most of the rest of the city has been washed into the sea. David Sear of Southampton University and his colleagues used high-resolution acoustic imaging technology to map the city’s underwater remains. Primarily used for imaging shipwrecks, the acoustic imaging was necessary because of the generally muddy nature of the water in the area. The imaging revealed that the city covered 1.8 km2, almost the area of present-day London. The coastal erosion that Dunwich experienced was due to storms that occurred during a period of significant global climate change. A better understanding of erosion processes caused by storms may help countries and towns prepare for potential effects of rising oceans and changing weather patterns due to global warming.
Scientific American: The Hanford Site in Washington State began storing nuclear waste created by the Manhattan Project and continued stockpiling waste until its last reactor shut down in 1987. Of the 177 underground tanks holding 208 million liters of waste, 60 have leaked in the past, though only 6 are currently leaking. The US Department of Energy began construction of the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant in 2000, with a plan to separate the various types of waste and store them via vitrification—turning each radionuclide into stable glass rods and wrapping them in steel. However, the methodology of that process was not fully established when construction began, and many difficulties have arisen. Because the waste has self-separated into solids, liquids, and gases of varying densities, each type has to be handled differently, and some of them pose significant safety concerns. Until the safety issues are addressed, construction of the plant is at a standstill. It will likely not begin operating until at least 2022.
Science: Soon after the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Ryugo Hayano of the University of Tokyo began to use his Twitter account to share information from one of the radiation monitors at the plant. He also became aware of the public’s concerns over radionuclide levels in food and the government’s apparent failure to share information regarding the issue. Beginning in January 2012, he began testing school lunches for radiocaesium, the most common radionuclide near Fukushima. However, he found no evidence of dangerous levels of radioactivity in the food. He also assisted in full-body scans of local residents and helped determine that the local hospital’s scanner was not shielded from environmental radiation. Shielded full-body scanners found no evidence of radiocaesium in any of the 10 000 children scanned. And the four adults who had significant levels had eaten food that had bypassed the mandatory testing in markets. The government has welcomed Hayano’s findings, but he is still critical of their haphazard testing and information sharing.
Ars Technica: Conjunction assessment (CA) is the jargonistic term for monitoring satellites and debris in orbit around Earth and identifying likely major collisions. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center began monitoring for potential collisions in 2004, and NASA formalized a policy in 2007: All hardware with maneuver capability in low Earth orbit (LEO) or geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) must have CA performed regularly. To do that, NASA partnered with the Department of Defense’s US Strategic Command, which tracks objects in Earth orbit as part of its missile launch detection and monitoring mission. Goddard’s CA system is now heavily automated. Downloads of updated tracking data are processed daily, with analyses of future paths run forward 7 days for LEO and 10 days for GEO. The system uses Matlab to perform two-dimensional, Monte Carlo, and nonlinear analyses to determine collision probabilities, which are flagged for monitoring. If a probability doesn’t decrease, the system can also calculate the necessary maneuvers to move the threatened satellite.