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If movie history for the last hundred years or so is any indication, we LOVE to be scared. Ghosts, vampires, zombies and hideous aliens seem to be the most popular ‘heroes’ on the block. I’m a notable exception, I haven’t seen a scary movie since I was a teenager and I’m very happy about it. But I’m obviously in the minority on that point.
So since you all love to be scared I’m going to share some stories that, to me, are a lot more scary than vampires and zombies. They’re scary stories from the world of science and they could REALLY happen!
Global warming is real scary all by itself, but what makes it so terrifying are its inevitable consequences like sea rise making our neighbor islands uninhabitable and eventually making most coastal cities submerged ghost towns. (See, that’s where the ghosts come in!)
Scientists have recently uncovered another consequence of global warming proving once again that the scariest thing is ignorance.
Up AND Down
An inescapable fact of nature is that ice is heavy and when you have lots and lots of ice in one place it compresses the land below it. The ice sheets that covered North America and northern Europe and Asia 10,000 years ago are long gone, but the land continues to slowly rise as the weight is removed.
Scientists are using POLENET, a growing network of GPS sensors and seismic detectors implanted beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet to discover that as ice melts away from Antarctica, parts of the continental bedrock are rising, just as we would expect them to do as the overburden of ice disappears. But they are also finding that, inexplicably, other parts of the continent are sinking.
Much of the data from Antarctica comes from satellites. These orbiting eyes tell us the height of the visible ice above sea level. Scientists then calculate ice thickness by subtracting the height of the earth beneath it. To do this, they must take into account whether the bedrock is rising or falling. Ice weighs down the bedrock, but as the ice melts, the earth slowly rebounds.
Gravity measurements, too, rely on knowledge of the bedrock. As the crust under Antarctica rises, the mantle layer below it flows in to fill the gap. That mass change must be subtracted from the satellite measurements done by GRACE (the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) in order to isolate gravity changes caused by the thickening or thinning of the ice.
Before POLENET, scientists had few direct measurements of the bedrock. They had to rely on computer models, which now appear to be incorrect. The models don’t match what scientists see is actually happening. There are places where the models predicted no uplift and in fact the uplift is occurring much faster than the Ice Age rebound in the northern hemisphere. And even more interesting they are also seeing evidence that other places in the Antarctic are sinking, an outcome that wasn’t predicted by any of the computer models.
POLENET’s GPS sensors measure how much the crust is rising or falling, while the seismic sensors measure the stiffness of the bedrock — a key factor for predicting how much the bedrock will rise in the future.
POLENET scientists have been implanting sensors in Antarctica since December 2007. The network will be complete in 2010 and will record data into 2012. Selected sites may remain as a permanent Antarctic observational network. Their findings will give much needed perspective to satellite instruments that measure ice loss on the continent, and help improve estimates of future sea level rise.
Eric Kendrick, a senior research associate at Ohio State, shown at a POLENET GPS site in West Antarctica. He is standing in front of solar panels, battery boxes, and wind generators used to power the GPS station. (Credit: Photo courtesy of Ohio State University.)
Another scary thing that can be triggered by rebounding bedrock is earthquakes. Virtually all the small earthquakes in northeastern Canada are triggered by the lingering effects of the huge ice mass that covered the north in the last Ice Age.
And there’s more scary news about what earthquakes can trigger. Read on for more of your scare of the day and you won’t even have to go to the movies.
We all remember the great tsunami of 2004. I am a subscriber to the USGS site Big Quake which give you e-mail alerts of major earthquakes world-wide and when I logged on to my e-mail that day I said “Something horrible has happened in Indonesia” because there was almost a full page of nothing but earthquake reports.
Of course the really bad thing about that earthquake was the tsunami it triggered. I got those e-mails early enough that if I’d realized a tsunami had been triggered and I had friends or relatives living in Madagascar, I could have warned them. But according to some new research, a tsunami wasn’t all the great Indian Ocean earthquake triggered. It also set off tremors nearly 9,000 miles away in the San Andreas fault at Parkfield, Calif.
Abhijit Ghosh, a University of Washington doctoral student in Earth and space sciences reports, "We found that an earthquake that happened halfway around the world triggered a seismic signal in the San Andreas fault. It’s a new kind of seismic phenomenon".
The phenomenon is called a non-volcanic tremor and the 2002 Denali earthquake in Alaska triggered a similar seismic signal but geologists are amazed that such tremors can be triggered by an event that was 9,000 miles away.
The Indian Ocean earthquake on Dec. 26, 2004, was measured at magnitude 9.2 and it generated tsunami waves that killed 250,000 people. But scientists are still amazed that even an earthquake of that magnitude could set off non-volcanic tremors so far away.
The San Andreas fault in the Parkfield region is one of the most studied seismic areas in the world. Since a 6.0 earthquake occurs there on an average of every 22 years and the fault passes near heavily populated areas, a variety of instruments have been deployed to record all seismic activity.
The non-volcanic tremors occurred at precisely the time that seismic waves from the Indian Ocean earthquake were passing the Parkfield area. These waves were recorded on a number of instruments as far as 125 miles apart.
Scientists are still uncertain whether non-volcanic tremors are related to actual slippage within an earthquake fault or is caused by the flow of fluids below the Earth’s surface. Recent research supports the idea that tremor is caused by fault slippage.
"If the fault is slipping from non-volcanic tremors in one place, it means stress is building up elsewhere on the fault, and that could bring the other area a little closer to a big earthquake," Ghosh said. "If that fault is closer to failure, then even a small amount of added stress likely can produce tremor," he said. "If the fault is already at low stress, then even high-energy waves probably won’t produce tremor."
"Our biggest finding is that even very small amounts of stress can trigger these tremors," Ghosh said. "Finding tremor can help to track evolution of stress in the fault over space a
nd time, and therefore could have significant implications in seismic hazard analysis."
The great Indian Ocean earthquake that struck off the Indonesian island of Sumatra on the day after Christmas in 2004 set off such tremors nearly 9,000 miles away in the San Andreas fault at Parkfield, Calif. (Credit: iStockphoto/Matt Matthews)
And I know that distant earthquakes can trigger local phenomena. The great Alaska Earthquake of 1964 apparently caused the collapse of the top of a 100-foot tall cavern in the Missouri Ozarks. It was in the middle of a farmer’s field and he discovered it when he was plowing. At first, he couldn’t understand why someone had dug a five-foot wide hole in the middle of his field or what they had done with the dirt. Then he looked into an abyss.
Local geologists said that the collapse of the top of the cavern which had been no more than 3-5 feet wide was triggered by the great Alaska earthquake several thousand miles away. The farmer said “I plowed over that thing for 30 years and never knew.” Scary indeed!
And now for possibly the scariest story of all. Why? Because this one may be where the zombies get real!
There are many ‘black boxes’ in science. ‘Black boxes’ are places where things happen that remain hidden from human eyes and understanding. In the human body, the liver has traditionally been a ‘black box’. Stuff goes in and stuff comes out and we don’t still don’t have a really clear idea of what all goes on in there.
But of course, the most mysterious ‘black box’ in the human body is the human brain. Just where and how is thought generated? How is information stored? And we’re still asking the question “Just where is the human ‘soul’”? But ongoing research continues to pry at the ‘black box’ and new findings suggest that the black box of the brain could be a Pandora’s box in disguise.
The brain acts as a computer to both store and process information. In a computer, separate devices perform these roles; while a hard disk stores information, the central processing unit (CPU) does the processing. But the brain is thought to perform both these functions in the same cells – neurons – leading researchers to ask if distinct molecules within the brain cells serve these different functions.
Researchers at SUNY Downstate Medical Center have recently discovered that a molecule known to preserve memories – PKMzeta – specifically stores complex, high-quality memories that provide detailed information about an animal’s location, fears, and actions, but does not control the ability to process or express this information. This finding suggests that PKMzeta erasure that is designed to target specific debilitating memories could be effective against the offending memory while sparing the computational function of brain.
One of the researchers says that PKMzeta stores only high quality memories that provide detailed information rather than general abilities. He says that if further work confirms this view we can expect to one day see therapies based on PKMzeta memory erasure. Negative memory erasing not only could help people forget painful experiences, but might be useful in treating depression, general anxiety, phobias, post-traumatic stress, and addictions, he adds.
Well, well, well. We may soon have the ability to erase unwanted memories. What a wonderful idea! But . . . what if it’s someone else who doesn’t want them?? What if you know something that someone else is desperate that you forget? Brainwashing takes on a whole new meaning doesn’t it? And what happens if you just keep right on erasing the memories? See what I mean about zombies???
Researchers have found a molecule that stores complex, high-quality memories, in a discovery that may one day lead to the ability to erase debilitating painful memories and addictions from the brain. (Credit: iStockphoto/Sebastian Kaulitzki))
Cruise on over to the Deep Website at www.thedeepradioshow.com to discover more scary scenarios! Enjoy!