Tag Archive: Columbia University

Pot in Washington (AP Images)

(HealthDay News) — The legalization of marijuana is an idea that is gaining momentum in the United States, but there may be a dark side to pot becoming more commonplace, a new study suggests.

Fatal crashes involving marijuana use tripled during the previous decade, fueling some of the overall increase in drugged-driving traffic deaths, researchers from Columbia University‘s Mailman School of Public Health report.

“Currently, one of nine drivers involved in fatal crashes would test positive for marijuana,” said co-author Dr. Guohua Li, director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia. “If this trend continues, in five or six years non-alcohol drugs will overtake alcohol to become the most common substance involved in deaths related to impaired driving.”

The research team drew its conclusions from crash statistics from six states that routinely perform toxicology tests on drivers involved in fatal car wrecks — California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia. The statistics included more than 23,500 drivers who died within one hour of a crash between 1999 and 2010.

Alcohol contributed to about the same percentage of traffic fatalities throughout the decade, about 40 percent, Li said.

But drugs played an increasingly prevalent role in fatal crashes, the researchers found. Drugged driving accounted for more than 28 percent of traffic deaths in 2010, up from more than 16 percent in 1999.

Marijuana proved to be the main drug involved in the increase, contributing to 12 percent of 2010 crashes compared with 4 percent in 1999.

The study authors also noted that the combined use of alcohol and marijuana dramatically increases a driver’s risk of death.

“If a driver is under the influence of alcohol, their risk of a fatal crash is 13 times higher than the risk of the driver who is not under the influence of alcohol,” Li said. “But if the driver is under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana, their risk increases to 24 times that of a sober person.”

The researchers found that the increase in marijuana use occurred across all age groups and in both sexes. Their findings were published online Jan. 29 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

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Impaired Driving: Get the Facts

Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This amounts to one death every 48 minutes.1  The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $51 billion.2

Thankfully, there are effective measures that can help prevent injuries and deaths from alcohol-impaired driving.

How big is the problem?

  • In 2010, 10,228 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (31%) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.1
  • Of the 1,210 traffic deaths among children ages 0 to 14 years in 2010, 211 (17%) involved an alcohol-impaired driver.1
  • Of the 211 child passengers ages 14 and younger who died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2010, over half (131) were riding in the vehicle with the alcohol-impaired driver.1
  • In 2010, over 1.4 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.3 That’s one percent of the 112 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year.4
  • Drugs other than alcohol (e.g., marijuana and cocaine) are involved in about 18% of motor vehicle driver deaths. These other drugs are often used in combination with alcohol.5

CDC Vital Signs: Drinking and Driving: A Threat to Everyone

US adults drank too much and got behind the wheel about 112 million times in 2010. Alcohol-impaired drivers* are involved in about 1 in 3 crash deaths, resulting in over 10,000 deaths in 2010.

*These drivers had blood alcohol concentrations of at least 0.08%. This is the illegal blood alcohol concentration level for adult drivers in the United States.

Learn more

Who is most at risk?

  • Young people:
    • At all levels of blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the risk of being involved in a crash is greater for young people than for older people.6
    • Among drivers with BAC levels of 0.08 % or higher involved in fatal crashes in 2010,  more than one out of every 3 were between 21 and 24 years of age (34%). The next two largest groups were ages 25 to 34 (30%) and 35 to 44 (25%).1
  • Motorcyclists:
    • Among motorcyclists killed in fatal crashes in 2010, 28% had BACs of 0.08% or greater. 1
    • Nearly half of the alcohol-impaired motorcyclists killed each year are age 40 or older, and motorcyclists ages 40-44 have the highest percentage of deaths with BACs of 0.08% or greater (44%).7
  • Drivers with prior driving while impaired (DWI) convictions:
    • Drivers with a BAC of 0.08% or higher involved in fatal crashes were four times more likely to have a prior conviction for DWI than were drivers with no alcohol in their system? (8% and 2%, respectively).1

A Closer Look

  • Sobriety checkpoints: traffic stops where law enforcement officers assess drivers’ level of alcohol impairment. These checkpoints consistently reduce alcohol-related crashes, typically by 9%.
  • Ignition interlocks: devices that are installed in the vehicles of people who have been convicted of driving while impaired. They prevent operation of the vehicle by anyone with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above a specified safe level (usually 0.02% – 0.04%). When installed, interlocks are associated with about a 70% reduction in arrest rates for impaired driving.

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democracynow democracynow


Published on Jan 6, 2014

http://www.democracynow.org – As we continue our conversation on the nationwide shift towards liberalizing drug laws, we are joined by the groundbreaking neuro-psycho-pharmacologist Dr. Carl Hart. He is the first tenured African-American professor in the sciences at Columbia University where he is an associate professor in the psychology and psychiatry departments. He is also a member of the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse and a Research Scientist in the Division of Substance Abuse at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. However, long before he entered the hallowed halls of the Ivy League, Hart gained first hand knowledge about drug usage while growing up in one of Miami’s toughest neighborhoods. He recently wrote a memoir titled, “High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society.” In the book, he recalls his journey of self-discovery how he escaped a life of crime and drugs and avoided becoming one of the crack addicts he now studies.

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900,000 Reasons Obamacare Is Bad: Moving Americans from Work to Welfare

Medicaid Food Stamps Waiting Room



A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research by professors from Columbia University, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago argues that, as a result of Obamacare, between half a million and 900,000 Americans may leave the workforce and receive welfare. The bill grants free or heavily subsidized public health insurance to hundreds of thousands of working Americans who are not currently eligible.

Americans who currently remain employed in order to receive health insurance may decide to leave the workforce when insurance is provided to them by Obamacare. According to the report, this would cause a decline in the aggregate employment rate of 0.3–0.6 percentage points, posing significant harm to a still-recovering economy.

This growth in the welfare state would represent just another step the Administration has taken toward encouraging dependence. As Heritage experts Robert Rector and Katherine Bradley note, “Government should encourage constructive behaviors leading to self-reliance and prosperity rather than rewarding counterproductive behaviors leading to costly dependence and poverty.”


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Bernie Marcus, Home Depot Co-Founder: Obamacare Will ‘Kill Off Small Business’ (VIDEO)

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 04/11/2013 7:40 pm EDT


Rather than serve as a cure-all for a broken health care system, Obamacare will be a harbinger of death, says Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus. The death of main street, that is.

Rising costs from providing expanded health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act will be too much to bear for mom and pop operations, Marcus told Newsmax TV Thursday at a summit for Job Creators Alliance, a group he established after retiring from and severing ties with Home Depot in 2002.

“Obamacare is going to kill off small business,” Marcus said, while simultanesouly criticizing other forms of government regulation, such as Dodd-Frank and the Environmental Protection Agency. Such programs, he argues, only stand in the way of small business growth.


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Earth Watch Report  –  Biological Hazards


Aug 21, 2013

Egyptian Tomb Bat  (Taphozous perforatus)

 EcoHealth Alliance 2013

Scientists reported today that they found strong evidence of the MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) in a bat from Saudi Arabia, suggesting that, as suspected, bats are the virus’s natural reservoir.

But the hunt for an intermediate vehicle—animal, food, or something else—that channels the virus from bats to humans will continue, said Ziad Memish, MD, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister for public health, during a webinar from Washington, DC, today.

“I think we suspected from day 1 that bats had something to do with this,” said Memish, the first author of the report on the bat finding. “It was important to document the bats. . . . We’ll continue to try to find the relationship between bats and humans. There must be something in the middle.”

Writing in Emerging infectious Diseases, Memish and colleagues said a fragment of a coronavirus found in a fecal sample from an Egyptian tomb bat (Taphozous perforatus) was a 100% match for MERS-CoV. The sample was collected just a few kilometers from the home of one of the first MERS victims.

The research team included scientists from Columbia University and the EcoHealth Alliance, both in New York City, as well as Saudi Arabia, with W. Ian Lipkin, MD, of Columbia as senior author.

Today’s report comes less than 2 weeks after the report that a number of camels in Oman and the Canary Islands tested positive for antibodies to MERS-CoV, suggesting past exposure to the virus.

“There have been several reports of finding MERS-like viruses in animals. None were a genetic match,” Lipkin commented in a Columbia press release today. “In this case we have a virus in an animal that is identical in sequence to the virus found in the first human case. Importantly, it’s coming from the vicinity of that first case.”

The bat discovery prompted calls today for increased testing of other animals to figure out how the virus is moving from bats to humans and find a way to block its path. At the webinar, Memish said Saudi Arabia is waiting for clear guidance from the World Organization for Animal health (OIE) on which animals to test and how to go about it.

Two sampling forays

Bats have long been suspected as the source of MERS-CoV because of genetic likenesses between betacoronaviruses found in bats and the MERS virus in humans. The new finding was the fruit of two sampling expeditions conducted by the research team last October and in April of this year.

During the October trip, the team interviewed the family of an index MERS patient in Bisha, Saudi Arabia, and collected samples from bats in an abandoned date palm orchard less than 12 kilometers from his home and also from a site near the hardware store where he worked, according to the report. The researchers captured 96 bats of seven species and took various samples from them.

In the April investigation, the scientists collected fecal samples at bat roosting sites around Bisha, Unaizah, and Riyadh and captured representative bats at each location for sampling. All the samples were frozen and sent to Columbia in New York.

Memish noted today that analysis of the samples was delayed because they had to be tested for foot-and-mouth disease before they could be admitted into the United States. Earlier reports said the samples were tested by the US Department of Agriculture at its Plum Island lab off Long Island, New York.

Using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, the researchers found coronavirus sequences from 220 of 732 bat-roost fecal samples and 7 of 91 rectal swab samples or fecal pellets. PCR amplification of nucleic acid from a fecal pellet from a T perforatus bat in Bisha was 100% identical to the MERS-CoV isolate cloned from the patient from the same town.

The scientists said they couldn’t recover any other viral sequences besides the 190-nucleotide fragment they tested, but they are confident that what they found was MERS-CoV. One reason is that there is no precedent for a 100% match between a bat sequence and a human MERS-CoV sequence. Another is that the Columbia lab had no MERS-CoV samples when the team started its research, which excludes contamination of the bat samples by viral material already in the lab.

Given the wide distribution of MERS cases in the Middle East, the virus probably exists in other hosts besides T perforatus, the authors note. The press release said that in coming days the team will be releasing the results of their search for the virus in camels, sheep, goats, and cattle.

“There is no evidence of direct exposure to bats in the majority of human cases of MERS,” Memish commented in the release. “Given that human-to-human transmission is inefficient, we speculate that an as-yet-to-be determined intermediate host plays a critical role in human disease.”

Others welcome the findings

Two other experts welcomed the findings today and called for more testing of animals.

“I think we’ll need additional corroborative information, but it makes great biological sense,” said Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, which publishes CIDRAP News. “I think the picture is becoming clearer that it’s very possible that there’s a bat reservoir for this virus, as we might’ve expected, and there are other species that may be intermediaries, such as camels.”

He predicted that more studies supporting a role for bats as the reservoir will be published soon.

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“Vitamin C can truthfully be designated as the antitoxic and antiviral vitamin.” (C.W. Jungeblut, MD)

The polio virus, which causes poliomyelitis.

As if the Cuban missile crisis wasn’t enough, I had even more to be worried about as a child at the turn of the 1960’s. When all of us in first grade had been told that we were to be vaccinated against polio, I for one didn’t want to go near the school on that day. Regardless of my fear of needles, I had no choice in the matter. So, like all the rest of the kids, I braced up, got in line, and marched down the tiled hallway to meet my fate. When I got to the school nurse’s office, I was astounded to be handed a lump of sugar with a drop of something soaking into it. I was told to eat it. I did. Then I was told I could go. Escape without a shot? What a fantastic turn of events! Life could begin anew.

In time, my classmates and I would all learn the name of our painless benefactor, Dr. Albert Sabin. With more time, I would find that his live oral vaccine had become the leading cause of polio in the US. What surprised me most was that the strongest criticism originated from the most eminent of sources: the other polio hero, Dr. Jonas Salk. On September 24, 1976, the Washington Post reported Dr. Salk’s assertion that the Sabin live oral virus vaccine had been the “principal if not sole cause” of every reported polio case in the United States since 1961. (1) Salk repeated this accusation July 6, 1977, when he was interviewed on CBC television (2), saying: “(W)e have known now since 1961 in the United States, and prior to that in other countries, that the live virus vaccine for polio does cause the disease itself.”

In 1996, one year after Salk died, the US Centers for Disease Control began a turn-away from the oral live vaccine and recommended killed virus injections for the first two rounds of infant polio immunization. By 2000, CDC stated that “To eliminate the risk for vaccine-associated paralytic poliomyelitis, an all-Injected Polio Virus schedule is recommended for routine childhood vaccination in the United States.” (3) Thus only after two decades would orthodoxy at last take heed of the cautionary words of Dr. Salk, the man credited with creating the first polio vaccination.

From fame to ascorbate to obscurity

Sabin and Salk had media visibility, a professional rivalry, and a personal animosity spanning decades. Everyone today knows their names. By contrast, the public and orthodox medicine are yet to pay proper attention to the work of Dr. Claus Washington Jungeblut. In his New York Times obituary (4), we learn that Claus Washington Jungeblut received his M.D. from the University of Bern in 1921 and, between 1921 and 1923, conducted research at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin. After employment as a bacteriologist for the New York State Department of Health from 1923 until 1927, he became Associate Professor at Stanford University from 1927 until 1929, when he joined the faculty at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons as Associate Professor of Bacteriology. Named a full professor in 1937, Jungeblut retired June 30, 1962. He died February 1, 1976, aged 78, at home in Westport, Connecticut.

In his day, Jungeblut was justly regarded as an important player in polio research. While recent revisionist history of the fight against polio has generally downplayed his contribution to the crusade, it has totally sidestepped what was arguably his most important discovery: that ascorbate is prevention and cure for polio. Amazingly, Jungeblut first published this idea in 1935. (5) His research on ascorbate was sweeping and profound, extending well beyond the topic of polio.In 1935, he also had shown that vitamin C inactivated diphtheria toxin. (6) By 1937, Jungeblut demonstrated that ascorbate inactivated tetanus toxin. (7) John T. A. Ely, PhD, writes: “In the 1930’s, the remarkable Claus W. Jungeblut, MD . . . first reported that ascorbic acid in concentrations, attainable in humans by a high intake, could inactivate and or protect against numerous viral and bacterial pathogens and their toxins. These include the polio, hepatitis and herpes viruses. . . One of (Jungeblut’s) earliest research findings was ascorbic acid’s ability to neutralize and render harmless many bacterial toxins, such as tetanus, diphtheria, and staph toxins.” (8)

Unlike oral polio vaccination, vitamin C has never caused polio. Yet how many people have you met, physicians included, who know vitamin C has been known to prevent and cure poliomyelitis for nearly 70 years? It was never really a secret. On September 18, 1939, Time magazine reported that “Last week, at the Manhattan meeting of the International Congress for Microbiology, two new clues turned up. (One is) Vitamin C.” (9) The article describes how Jungeblut, while studying statistics of the 1938 Australian polio epidemic, deduced that low vitamin C status was associated with the disease.

After that, Jungeblut is rarely highlighted by the popular or professional media. And, where he and his work are memorialized, there is no mention of ascorbate. The US National Library of Medicine has the broadest collection of his papers and laboratory data encompassing 42 years, 1922 to 1964. Oddly enough, the six boxes of documents are incongruously housed in NLM’s Tropical Medicine Manuscript Collection. (10) Perhaps the only flag for the nutritionally curious is a note that the contents description names Albert Szent-Gyorgyi among Jungeblut’s correspondents. Even at Columbia University, where he taught for 33 years (1929-1962), records are scanty. “We have very little on Claus W. Jungeblut, which is odd considering how long he served on the faculty,” said Stephen E. Novak, head of archives at the Columbia University Medical Center’s Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library. (11)

Of Dr. Jungeblut’s many research reports, 22 were published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. They are archived and available for free online access here.

Key papers regarding vitamin C include:

Jungeblut CW. Inactivation of poliomyelitis virus in vitro by crystalline vitamin C (ascorbic acid). J Exper Med, 1935. October; 62:517-521
Jungeblut CW. Vitamin C therapy and prophylaxis in experimental poliomyelitis. J Exp Med, 1937. 65: 127-146.
Jungeblut CW. Further observations on vitamin C therapy in experimental poliomyelitis. J Exper Med, 1937. 66: 459-477.
Jungeblut CW, Feiner RR. Vitamin C content of monkey tissues in experimental poliomyelitis. J Exper Med, 1937. 66: 479-491.
Jungeblut CW. A further contribution to vitamin C therapy in experimental poliomyelitis. J Exper Med, 1939. 70:315-332.

Whatever happened to vitamin C therapy for polio?

When discussion about poliomyelitis turns towards megascorbate prophylaxis and treatment, there is no more frequent rejoinder than this: “If vitamin C therapy were so good, all doctors would be using it.”

In his book The Healing Factor, Irwin Stone explains why they’re not:

“The application of ascorbic acid in the treatment of poliomyelitis is an incredible story of high hopes that end in disappointment . . . And then, when a worker finally seemed to be on the right path and had demonstrated success, hardly anyone believed his results, which were systematically ignored. . . Within two years after the discovery of ascorbic acid, Jungeblut showed that ascorbic acid would inactivate the virus of poliomyelitis. This was followed, in 1936-1937, in rapid succession by other workers showing similar inactivation of other viruses: by Holden et al., using the herpes virus; by Kligler and Bernkopf, on the vaccina virus, by Lagenbusch and Enderling, with the virus of hoof-and-mouth disease; by Amato, on the rabies virus; by Lominski, using bacteriophage; and by Lojkin and Martin, with the tobacco mosaic disease virus. Thus, at this early date it was established that ascorbic acid had the potential of being a wide-spectrum antiviral agent. Here was a new “magic bullet” that was effective against a wide variety of viruses and was known to be completely harmless. . . (T)his work was being carried out in the pre-Salk days. Then, all a doctor could do in a polio case was apply symptomatic relief and hope for the best. An epidemic could run its course without much interference from medicine and an effective, harmless virucide would have been a priceless commodity. Jungeblut continued his work and published a series of papers from 1936 to 1939 in which he showed that the administration of ascorbic acid to monkeys infected with poliomyelitis produced a distinct reduction in the severity of the disease and enhanced their resistance to it. Sabin, attempting to reproduce Jungeblut’s work on monkeys, failed to obtain these partially successful results. In further efforts to explain their variable clinical results, both scientists got bogged down chasing the technical details of the tests. It may be easy for us to look back now and say that the size and the frequency of the dosages were insufficient to maintain high levels of ascorbic acid in the blood during the incubation of the disease. The upshot was that the negative findings of Sabin effectively stifled further research in this field for a decade. . . In his 1952 paper, Frederick R. Klenner, MD . . . comments on Jungeblut’s earlier work, stating that his results were indecisive because the amount of vitamin C given was inadequate to cope with the degree of infection. Sabin’s results were not as suggestive as Jungeblut’s because he, Sabin, used a greater dose of virus and less vitamin C. If high blood and tissue levels of ascorbic acid are continuously maintained, an extremely unfavorable environment for viral growth and reproduction is created in the human body.” (12)

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Earth Watch Report  –  Extreme Weather



Dry spell projected for southwest US

by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP)

Southwestern areas of the United States, reeling from its worst drought in 50 years, may have 10 percent less surface water within a decade due to global warming, a study said Sunday.

While rainfall is forecast to increase over northern California in winter and the Colorado River feeding area, warmer temperatures will outstrip these gains by speeding up evaporation, leaving the soil and rivers drier, a research paper said.

Texas will likely be dealt a double blow with declining rainfall and an increase in evaporation, said the paper based on weather simulations and published in Nature Climate Change.

Overall for the area, “annual mean runoff in 2021-2040 is projected to be 10 percent less than in the second half of the 20th century,” co-author Richard Seager of Columbia University told AFP.

This “is a very significant decline given the stress on Colorado River-based water resources” for agriculture and household use, he added.

Runoff is rainfall not absorbed by the soil, running overland or in rivers.

According to the paper, California obtains most of its water from snow on the Sierra Nevada mountain range, while the Colorado River is fed from tributaries created by melting winter snowfall and summer rainfall.

The river provides water to seven US states and Mexico.

Texas, for its part, uses water from rivers and groundwater within its own borders, said the paper.

Average annual runoff for the region overall should drop by about 10 percent, and about 25 percent in spring for the Colorado tributary headwaters.

“Drying intensifies as the century advances,” added the paper.

“These projected declines in surface-water availability for the coming two decades are probably of sufficient amplitude to place additional stress on regional water resources.”



Related Links
Climate Science News – Modeling, Mitigation Adaptation

Crossroads News : Changes In The World Around Us And Our Place In It



Anthropology & Climate Change



Wynne Parry, LiveScience Senior Writer


A temple in Tikal, one of the Mayan city states.

A temple in Tikal, one of the Mayan city states.
CREDIT: Zap Ichigo, Shutterstock

The city states of the ancient Mayan empire flourished in southern Mexico and northern Central America for about six centuries. Then, around A.D. 900 Mayan civilization disintegrated.

Two new studies examine the reasons for the collapse of the Mayan culture, finding the Mayans themselves contributed to the downfall of the empire.

Scientists have found that drought played a key role, but the Mayans appear to have exacerbated the problem by cutting down the jungle canopy to make way for cities and crops, according to researchers who used climate-model simulations to see how much deforestation aggravated the drought.

“We’re not saying deforestation explains the entire drought, but it does explain a substantial portion of the overall drying that is thought to have occurred,” said the study’s lead author Benjamin Cook, a climate modeler at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in a statement. [Dry and Dying: Images of Drought]

Using climate-model simulations, he and his colleagues examined how much the switch from forest to crops, such as corn, would alter climate. Their results, detailed online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, suggested that when deforestation was at its maximum, it could account for up to 60 percent of the drying. (The switch from trees to corn reduces the amount of water transferred from the soil to the atmosphere, which reduces rainfall.)

Other recent research takes a more holistic view.

“The ninth-century collapse and abandonment of the Central Maya Lowlands in the Yucatán peninsular region were the result of complex human–environment interactions,” writes this team in a study published Monday (Aug 20) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team, led by B.L. Turner, a social scientist at Arizona State University, concurs that by clearing the forest, the Mayans may have aggravated a natural drought, which spiked about the time the empire came to an end and population declined dramatically.

But this is just one contributing factor to their demise, Turner and colleagues write, pointing out that the reconfiguration of the landscape may also have led to soil degradation. Other archaeological evidence points to a landscape under stress, for instance, the wood of the sapodilla tree, favored as construction beams, was no longer used at the Tikal and Calakmul sites beginning in A.D. 741. Larger mammals, such as white-tailed deer, appear to have declined at the end of empire.

Social and economic dynamics also contributed. Trade routes shifted from land transit across the Yucatán Peninsula to sea-born ships. This change may have weakened the city states, which were contending with environmental changes. Faced with mounting challenges, the ruling elites, a very small portion of the population, were no longer capable of delivering what was expected of them, and conflict increased.

“The old political and economic structure dominated by semidivine rulers decayed,” the team writes. “Peasants, artisan – craftsmen, and others apparently abandoned their homes and cities to find better economic opportunities elsewhere in the Maya area.”

Follow Wynne Parry on Twitter @Wynne_Parry or LiveScience @livescience. We’re also on Facebook & Google+.

Bird flu has jumped to baby seals, scientists discover

By the CNN Wire Staff
The virus developed the ability to attack mammalian respiratory tracts, scientists learned.
The virus developed the ability to attack mammalian respiratory tracts, scientists learned.

  • A new strain of avian flu has mutated and is killing baby seals, scientists say
  • More than 160 dead seals washed up on the New England coast last year
  • The new virus could theoretically be a threat to human health, scientists say

(CNN) — A new strain of avian flu that jumped from birds to mammals is responsible for the death of more than 160 seals off the New England coast last year, scientists announced Tuesday.

The virus could theoretically pose a threat to human health, they said.

Harbor seals — most of them babies less than 6 months old — began appearing with severe pneumonia and skin lesions in September of last year, the researchers said.

Over the next few months, at least 162 dead seals were recovered along the coast from Maine to Massachusetts, they said.

Mutant bird flu would be airborne, scientists say

Bird flu research published
2011: Concerns about bird flu strain

Testing pointed at a new strain of the H3N8 flu virus being called seal H3N8.

“When initial tests revealed an avian influenza virus, we asked the obvious question: How did this virus jump from birds to seals?” lead researcher Simon Anthony of Columbia University said.

The virus developed the ability to attack mammalian respiratory tracts, scientists learned.

It may also have developed enhanced virulence and transmission in mammals, they said, but they need to do more tests to be sure.

Avian flu has spread to humans before, most notably H1N1 and H5N1, so the new strain could pose a threat to public health, scientists warned.

“HIV/AIDS, SARS, West Nile, Nipah and influenza are all examples of emerging infectious diseases that originated in animals,” said W. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University.

“Any outbreak of disease in domestic animals or wildlife, while an immediate threat to wildlife conservation, must also be considered potentially hazardous to humans,” he said.

The research is published in the journal mBio.

It was carried out by scientists from the Center for Infection & Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, New England Aquarium, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, SeaWorld and EcoHealth Alliance.

CNN’s Miriam Falco contributed to this report.

Tropical plankton invade Arctic waters

by Staff Writers
New York NY (SPX)

Terra Daily


Researchers lower plankton nets over the side during a scientific expedition in northern waters. Credit: Beth Stauffer/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

For the first time, scientists have identified tropical and subtropical species of marine protozoa living in the Arctic Ocean. Apparently, they traveled thousands of miles on Atlantic currents and ended up above Norway with an unusual-but naturally cyclic-pulse of warm water, not as a direct result of overall warming climate, say the researchers.

On the other hand: arctic waters are warming rapidly, and such pulses are predicted to grow as global climate change causes shifts in long-distance currents.

Thus, colleagues wonder if the exotic creatures offers a preview of climate-induced changes already overtaking the oceans and land, causing redistributions of species and shifts in ecology. The study, by a team from the United States, Norway and Russia, was just published in the British Journal of Micropalaeontology.

The creatures in question are radiolaria-microscopic one-celled plankton that envelop themselves in ornate glassy shells and graze on marine algae, bacteria and other tiny prey.

Different species inhabit characteristic temperature ranges, and their shells coat much of the world’s ocean bottoms in a deep ooze going back millions of years; thus climate scientists routinely analyze layers of them to plot swings in ocean temperatures in the past. The new study looks at where radiolarians are living now.

In 2010, a ship operated by the Norwegian Polar Institute netted plankton samples northwest of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, about midway between the European mainland and the North Pole. When the coauthors analyzed the samples, they were startled to find that of the 145 taxa they spotted, 98 had come from much farther south-some as far as the tropics.

Furthermore, the southern radiolaria were in different sizes and apparently different stages of growth for each species, indicating they were reproducing, despite the harsh conditions.

It was the first time since modern arctic oceanographic research began in the early 20th century that researchers had spotted a living population of such creatures in the northern ocean.

Coauthor O. Roger Anderson, a specialist in one-celled organisms at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said, “When we suddenly find tropical plankton in the arctic, the issue of global warming comes right up, and possible inferences about it can become very charged. So, it’s important to examine critically the evidence to account for the observations.”

He said the invaders were apparently swept up in the warm Gulf Stream, which travels from the Caribbean into the north Atlantic, but usually peters out somewhere between Greenland and Europe. Oceanographers have previously shown that sometimes pulses of warm water penetrate along the Norwegian coast and into the arctic basin; such pulses have occurred in the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s.

Further, the authors say that well-dated fossils of foraminifera-protozoans closely related to radiolaria-found on the arctic seafloor suggest that warm-water plankton may have temporarily established themselves at least several times before-around 4200 and 4100 BC, and again around 220, 370 and 1100 AD.

“All the evidence is that this isn’t necessarily immediate evidence of global warming of the ocean,” said Anderson. Lead author Kjell Bjorklund, of the University of Oslo Natural History Museum said of the invaders, “This doesn’t happen continuously-but it happens.”

That said, oceanographers have noted that such pulses seem to be coming more often and penetrating further-“exactly what one would expect from global warming,” said Rainer Froese, an oceanographer at the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research who tracks fish global populations. Could this be the start of a switch in currents predicted by climate models?

The most recent pulse began in the early 1980s, and has lasted more or less to the present. Even without that, the arctic ocean itself is warming rapidly; with progressive loss of summer sea ice over past decades, average surface temperature has gone up as much as 5 degrees centigrade (9 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1950 in some patches.

Physical oceanographers have different ideas on the mechanics of how more southerly water–and the things living in it–may arrive in the arctic. However, most agree that it will happen if climate keeps warming, said Arnold Gordon, head of Lamont’s division of ocean and climate physics, who was not involved in the research.

For one, a countercurrent running near Greenland, the North Atlantic Polar Gyre, normally wards off the Gulf Stream; but that gyre is predicted to slow with warming. Atlantic currents might also respond to changing wind patterns, or to the increasing fresh water now pouring into the northern ocean from melting sea ice and glaciers. Either way, this could draw more southerly water into the north, said Gordon.

Louis Fortier, an arctic oceanographer at Laval University in Quebec, said of the recent injections of southerly waters, “Whether or not [such] intrusions are signs of this predicted increased advection in response to climate change, nobody can tell yet, I believe. But for me, the observations so far certainly support the models.”

Paul Snelgrove, a specialist in cold-ocean studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland, agreed. “The question is, are these kinds of incursions becoming more frequent and stronger? If it continues, the case would become more persuasive. Right now, this study is not a definitive test, but it seems like an intriguing teaser as to what might happen.”

Whatever the answer, this is the first time a living population of southern radiolaria has been found so far north. Radiolaria live only about a month, so it must have taken 80-some generations for some species to make the five- to seven-year trip, say the authors. On the way, successive generations could have adapted to colder waters.

In 2009, the surface water in the sample area measured an extraordinary 7.5 degrees C (about 45.5F). A year later, when the samples were taken, it was down to a more normal level of 3.5C (38F), and yet the radiolarians were still there.

However, the fast-changing nature of the ocean makes their presence in the arctic hard to interpret, said Paul Wassman, an arctic biologist at the University of Tromso in Norway. Marine creatures routinely travel vast distances on currents.

Water temperatures may vary widely in the same latitude. Populations of some creatures may live for a while in a narrow tongue of temperate water, then wink out once that gets too diluted, he said.

Bjorklund, Anderson and their coauthor Svetlana Kruglikova of the P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanography in Moscow note that it is uncertain whether the southern invaders are still there; they have not gotten any new samples since 2010.

In any case, changes in global ocean ecology are already being detected in many places. Warmer-water species are marching poleward, much as creatures are on land, where butterflies have been shifting ranges northward about 6 kilometers per decade, and amphibians and migratory birds are breeding an average of two days earlier.

A 2011 global study on the impact of climate change on fisheries says that many marine species are moving poleward or into deeper, cooler waters in response to warming–among other places, along the U.S. east coast, the Bering Sea, and off Australia.

The North Sea, off Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, has warmed about 2 degrees F in the last 50 to 100 years; there, 15 of 36 fish species studied have moved northward; fish more common nearer the Mediterranean-anchovy, red mullet, sea bass-are being caught by commercial fishermen, while cod, which prefer colder waters, are moving out.

There is also evidence that zooplankton similar to the radiolaria are shifting northward in the North Atlantic. In the Pacific, poisonous algal blooms harmful to the shellfish industry are being detected farther north, into Alaskan waters.

In the arctic itself, earlier and faster melting of sea ice in the summer appears to be shifting plankton species assemblages toward smaller types. This could ultimately damage the food web that feeds much larger creatures, including seals, walruses and whales, said Jody Deming, a biologist at the University of Washington who studies arctic microbes.

In an email, Deming said the new paper “presents an intriguing observation (warmer species making it into Arctic waters and surviving at least on the short term), but without more knowledge of how living radiolarians fit into the larger ecosystem, as both prey and predator, potential impacts on the whole ecosystem cannot be predicted reliably or at all really.”

The big question, said Bjorklund, is what happens next. In the future, radiolaria may serve as useful indicators of how currents, and ecology, are changing. There are at least 60-some radiolaria species peculiar to the arctic; they may be quite different from the new arrivals, but too little is known about the life cycles of either group to say how either will react if they meet on a long-term basis, and how this might affect arctic ecosystems.

Of the southerly radiolaria, Bjorklund said, “Will they adapt? Will they perish? Will they mix with the native fauna?” He said that he and his colleagues are anxious to receive new samples to find out.

Copies of the paper, “Modern incursions of tropical Radiolaria in the Arctic Ocean” are available from the authors or the Earth Institute press office.


Related Links
The Earth Institute at Columbia University
Beyond the Ice Age

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