Source of Antarctica’s Eerie ‘Bleeding Glacier’ Found

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Source of Antarctica’s Eerie ‘Bleeding Glacier’ Found

Antarctica’s Dry Valleys are the most arid places on Earth, but underneath their icy soils lies a vast and ancient network of salty, liquid water filled with life, a new study finds.

The Dry Valleys are almost entirely ice-free, except for a few isolated glaciers. The only surface water is a handful of small lakes. Inside the canyons, the climate is extremely dry, cold and windy; researchers have stumbled upon mummified seals in these gorges that are thousands of years old.

Yet there is life in this extreme landscape. For instance, bacteria living under Taylor Glacier stain its snout a deep blood red. The rust-colored brine, called Blood Falls, pours into Lake Bonney in the southernmost of the three largest Dry Valleys. The dramatic colors offer shocking relief to senses overwhelmed by the glaring white ice and dull brown rocks. [The 10 Driest Places on Earth]

Now, for the first time, scientists have traced the water underneath Taylor Glacier to learn more about the mysterious Blood Falls. In the process, the researchers discovered that briny water underlies much of Taylor Valley. The subsurface network connects the valley’s scattered lakes, revealing that they’re not as isolated as scientists once thought. The findings were published today (April 28) in the journal Nature Communications.

“We’ve learned so much about the dry valleys in Antarctica just by looking at this curiosity,” said lead study author Jill Mikucki, a microbiologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “Blood Falls is not just an anomaly, it’s a portal to this subglacial world.”

Mikucki led an international research team that tested a newly developed airborne electromagnetic sensor in Taylor Valley. The flying contraption is a large, six-sided transmitter suspended beneath a helicopter. The instrument creates a magnetic field that picks up conductivity differences in the ground to a depth of about 1,000 feet (300 meters).

“Salty water shone like a beacon,” Mikucki said.

A helicopter flies a transmitter across Lake Frxyell, Antarctica.
Credit: L. Jansan

The researchers found liquid water underneath the icy soil in Taylor Valley, stretching from the coast to at least 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) inland. The water is twice as salty as seawater, the scientists reported. There is also briny water underneath Taylor Glacier as far back as the instrument could detect, about 3 miles (5 km) up the glacier, the researchers said. Eventually, the ice was too thick for the magnetic field to penetrate.

“This study shows Blood Falls isn’t just a weird little seep,” Mikucki told Live Science. “It may be representative of a much larger hydrologic network.”

Water underneath Taylor Valley could have turned extremely salty in two ways: The brines could be due to freezing and evaporation of larger lakes that once filled the valley. Or, ocean water may have once flooded the canyons, leaving remnants behind as it retreated. The new findings will help researchers pin down the valley’s aquatic history.

“I find it a very interesting and exciting study because the hydrology of the Dry Valleys has a complicated history and there’s been very little data abut what’s happening in the subsurface,” said Dawn Sumner, a geobiologist at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the study.

Scientists are also intrigued by the new results because the Dry Valleys are considered one of the closest analogs to Mars that are located on Earth. Similar briny groundwater could have formed on Mars when the planet transitioned from having liquid water to a dry environment, Sumner said.

Finally, the findings may change views of Antarctica’s coastal margins, Mikucki said. Now that scientists know Taylor Valley’s groundwater seeps into the ocean, further research may reveal that coastal regions are important nutrient sources for Antarctica’s iron-depleted seas, she said.

Follow Becky Oskin @beckyoskin. Follow Live Science @livescience,Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

Shrinking Mount Everest: How to Measure a Mountain

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Shrinking Mount Everest: How to Measure a Mountain

The magnitude-7.8 earthquake that rocked Nepal on Saturday (April 25) may have caused the world’s tallest mountain to shrink a bit. But just how do scientists measure that change?

Official measures put Mount Everest at 29,029 feet (8,848 meters) above sea level, but recent satellite data suggest the sky-scraping peak may have shrunk by about 1 inch (2.54 centimeters), because the underlying tectonic plates have relaxed somewhat.

Accurately measuring miniscule changes in a mountain that is more than 5 miles up is no easy feat, but surprisingly, measurements rely on geometric formulas and surveying techniques that haven’t changed all that much since the 1800s, said Peter Molnar, a geologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. [Photos: The World’s Tallest Mountains)

Historic effort

At heart, measuring a mountain relies on basic ninth-grade math. To calculate the elevation of a mountain, scientists would measure the distance between two points on the ground and then measure the angles between the top of the mountain and each point.

“If you have two angles, you know the third, because the sum of the angles is 180 [degrees],” Molnar told Live Science.

To carry out these measurements, surveyors must identify a horizontal surface using a level (which, like the kind at a hardware store, relies on a trapped air bubble that, under the influence of gravity, slides closer to or farther away from a central region as it tilts). From there, surveyors eye the summit and measure the angle with the assistance of a glorified, highly accurate protractor — a telescopic device known as a theodolite. With two angles and one side of a triangle, trigonometry reveals the lengths of the other sides, and thereby, the height of the triangle (the mountain).

Welsh surveyor and geographer Sir George Everest used just this repetitive technique to measure the height of the world’s tallest mountain located in the Himalayas in the 1840s. Of course, one measure could be mistaken, so teams of geographers calculated the dimensions of the mountain from myriad different stations at the base of the mountain, averaging out the heights calculated with many, many triangles.

Legend has it that when the team took the average of all of those measurements, they found the mountain was exactly 29,000 feet (8,839 m) tall, Molnar said.

“They didn’t expect anybody to believe it, so the story is they added 2 feet [0.6 m], just to make it look more believable,” Molnar said.

The official height of Mount Everest is based on a survey conducted in 1955.

Minor adjustments

Nowadays, however, basic trigonometry gets a boost from an army of satellites circling the globe. When a satellite pings a receiver tower on Earth, it can calculate that point’s location in a given coordinate system with incredible precision; the calculation relies on two known factors: the radio signal travels at the speed of light; and the satellite is located at a known position relative to the Earth’s center at a given time. Because geographers placed a receiver tower near the top of Everest, they were able to get a more precise measure of its height.

In addition, the Earth is curved. That means the distance between two points on the ground is actually an underestimate, and the error is proportional to the distance between the two points divided by the radius of the Earth. That means two surveying stations can’t be more than a few miles apart before reasonable amounts of error creep in, Molnar said. [50 Amazing Facts About Earth]

And even that is an approximation. The Earth isn’t perfectly spherical; it has a bulge at the equator, making the poles 16 miles (26 km) closer to the center of the Earth than a point on the equator. To account for that discrepancy, surveyors need to add another correction term, Molnar said.

Carrying sea level

Based on tradition, mountains are typically measured not from their bases, but from sea level, which is typically considered the average of the low and high tides in an area.

Unfortunately, “sea level is not level,” Molnar said.

The distance from the center of the Earth to the coastline is different around the world, not only because of winds and weather, but also as a result of the Earth’s midsection bulge, which causes water (and everything else) to spread out at the equator, Molnar said. In addition, Earth is lumpy, with massive topographical features (such as mountains) altering the gravity in surrounding areas.

“If you measured sea level coming from Calcutta to Nepal, or coming from Bombay, you might wind up with a different answer,” Molnar said, referring to the Indian cities that are now called Kolkata and Mumbai, respectively.

The sea level in reference to Everest was first measured during the Great Trigonometric Survey, a Herculean effort to survey the height of the world’s tallest mountains, to measure the curvature of the Earth and mean sea level in British India. People “carried in” sea level , bringing the measurement done at the coast inland by marching miles and miles from the coast to Nepal with two bars. They measured the elevation change over a given ground distance by calculating the difference between the height of the two bars using a mounted, swiveling level,according to the Himalayan Club, a climbing and expedition club that provides scholarly information and history on the Himalayas.

Nowadays, geographers use a mathematical expression to estimate sea level. They imagine what would happen if there were no winds or tides, and all the water from the seas could reach interior continental areas by means of tiny, narrow channels. This creates an idealized bumpy, irregularly shaped spheroid that represents mean sea level, called a geoid, from which elevations can then be measured, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Despite sophisticated gravimeters, complicated equations and fancy tools like global positioning systems, the elevation of Mount Everest is only precise to within a foot or two.

“All of our elevations have an error,” Molnar said.

Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter and Google+. Follow Live Science@livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

In Photos: Google Earth Reveals Sprawling Geoglyphs in Kazakhstan

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In Photos: Google Earth Reveals Sprawling Geoglyphs in Kazakhstan

Ring-shaped geoglyph

Credit: Image copyright DigitalGlobe, courtesy Google Earth
This geoglyph is in the shape of a ring. While the geoglyphs are often difficult to see on the ground in northern Kazakhstan, they can be seen clearlyfrom the sky and were detected using Google Earth imagery. [Read full story]

Cross-shaped geoglyph

Credit: Image copyright DigitalGlobe, courtesy Google Earth
This geoglyph is in the shape of a cross. The geoglyphs in northern Kazakhstan range between 90 meters 400 meters (295 feet and 1,312 feet) in diameter. [Read full story]

Box-shaped geoglyph

Credit: Photo courtesy Irina Shevnina and Andrew Logvin
This geoglyph is in the shape of a box with an X running through it. The researchers are conducting a program of aerial photography, excavation, dating and ground-penetrating radar to learn more about the geoglyphs. The excavations unearthed the remains of structures and hearths at the geoglyphs, suggesting rituals took place there. Another idea is that ancient tribes may have used the geoglyphs to mark ownership of the land. [Read full story]

Multiple geoglyphs

Credit: Image copyright DigitalGlobe, courtesy Google Earth
This image shows a geoglyph that looks like a line. There is also a ring located nearby. [Read full story]

Large geoglyphs

Credit: Image in public domain, courtesy US Navy
The geoglyphs are as long as 400 meters (1,312 feet) in diameter. To put this in perspective the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, pictured here, is only342 meters (1,122 feet) in length. [Read full story]

Many countries have geoglyphs

Credit: Image copyright DigitalGlobe, courtesy Google Earth
Kazakhstan is one of a growing list of countries that have geoglyphs. Structures like these have been discovered in Peru, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Jordan, Syria, Russia and the United States among other countries. The introduction of high-resolution Google Earth imagery in the past decade has allowed both professional archaeologists and amateurs to study these enigmatic structures in greater depth. This image shows a close-up of the swastika geoglyph from Kazakhstan. [Read full story]

Stone Wheels

Credit: David D. Boyer APAAME_20080925_DDB-0237
For instance, archaeologists have discovered such “Nazca Lines” called “wheels” in the Middle East. These stone structures show a variety of designs, with a common one being a circle with spokes radiating inside. Here, a cluster of wheels in the Azraq Oasis. Researchers think the wheels were created at least 2,000 years ago. [Read more about the wheel structures]

Russian Geoglyph

Credit: Image copyright 2012 Geoeye, copyright 2012 GIS Innovatsia, courtesy Google Earth.
An animal-shaped stone structure that may predate Peru’s Nazca Lines was discovered in Russia, near Lake Zjuratkul in the Ural Mountains, north of Kazakhstan. The sprawling “elk,” which extends some 900 feet (275 meters) at its farthest points, excluding a possible tail, was discovered using Google Earth (shown here in a 2007 image). [Read more about the Russian Nazca Lines]

Mysterious Nazca Line Geoglyphs Formed Ancient Pilgrimage Route

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Mysterious Nazca Line Geoglyphs Formed Ancient Pilgrimage Route

SAN FRANCISCO — The Nazca Lines, a series of fantastical geoglyphs etched into the desert in Peru, may have been used by two separate groups of people to make pilgrimage to an ancient temple, new research suggests.

But the purpose of the desert etchings may have changed over time.

The earliest Nazca Lines were created so pilgrims could view the markings along a ritual processional route, the researchers said. But later people may have smashed ceramic pots on the ground where the lines intersected as part of an ancient religious rite, according to a study presented here on April 16 at the 80th annual meeting of the Society for American Archeology.

nazca lines the spider

The Nazca Lines were first brought to the world’s attention in the 1920s, when commercial airlines brought their passengers over the Nazca Pampa, an arid region of Peru locked between the Andes and the coast. Ancient people made the mysterious lines, shapes, otherworldly beings and animals between about 200 B.C. and A.D. 600 by removing the white rocks on the surface of the desert, revealing the reddish hued Earth underneath. Here, one of the iconic etchings, of “The Spider.”

What’s more, the Nazca Lines may have been created by at least two different groups of people who lived in different regions of the desert plateau, researchers said. [See Images of the Mysterious Nazca Lines]

Mysterious carvings

In one of the driest places on Earth, locked between the Andes Mountains and the coast, more than a thousand geoglyphs dot the landscape. People from an ancient civilization created the shapes between 200 B.C. and A.D. 600, by removing the reddish rocks on the surface of the desert, revealing the white-hued earth beneath.

The strange shapes in the desert include animals such as camelids, dogs and monkeys, as well as fanciful supernatural beings, scenes of decapitation and trophy heads, and geometric designs such as trapezoids, lines and triangles. Though the mysterious shapes gained widespread attention in the 1920s, when plane passengers saw them from above, people who lived there likely saw them even earlier while walking the hilltops in the Nazca plateau.

the condor geoglyph of the nazca lines

Researchers at Yamagata University have analyzed hundreds of the geoglyph. Based on their analysis, they have found multiple types of etchings. Many of those images are Some, such as “The Condor,” shown here, tend to use subject matter such as animals.

Archaeologists have long puzzled over the purpose of the Nazca Lines. Some researchers have argued the Nazca lines form a labyrinth. Others have said the lines and figures matched up with the constellations in the sky or with subterranean water routes. And still others have said the Nazca Lines were part of an ancient pilgrimage route.

Two cultures?

In recent years, researchers at Yamagata University in Japan have uncovered 100 geoglpyhs, as well as shards of broken ceramics at the intersection points of some of the lines.

To understand exactly how all of these images fit together, Masato Sakai of Yamagata University and his colleagues analyzed the location, style and method of construction for some of these newfound geoglpyhs. Sakai found that about four different styles of geoglyphs tended to be clustered together along different routes leading to a vast pre-Incan temple complex in Peru known as Cahuachi. Archaeological evidence, such as several temples and pyramids, as well as a trove of severed heads, suggests that Cahuachi was once a religious center where pilgrims brought offerings.  [12 Strangest Sights on Google Earth]

nazca lines the monkey

The researchers have also noticed differences in how certain etchings were constructed. For some, people removed rocks from the interior of the shape, while in others people removed rocks from the exterior to form the outline. Here, an image called “The Monkey,” which is grouped with many biomorphic images in a certain region of the Nazca Plain.

In addition to showing different content, the geoglyphs were also constructed differently from each other, made by removing rocks from the interior of the images in some cases and the border in others, Sakai said. For instance, images of animals such as condors and camelids were found along a route that started from the Ingenio River, which the team roughly categorized as type A and type B, respectively.

“The geoglyphs of type A and B are located not only in the area adjacent to the Ingenio Valley but along the pathway to Cahuachi. Therefore it seems reasonable to assume that type A and B geoglyphs were drawn by the group from the Ingenio Valley,” Sakai told Live Science.

Meanwhile, a separate style of images, such as the supernatural beings and the trophy heads, were concentrated in the Nazca Valley and its route to Cahuachi, likely made by a distinct group of people who lived in that region. A third group of geoglyphs, likely made by both groups, was found in the Nazca Plateau between the two cultures.

astronaut the nazca lines

This image, called “The Astronaut,” is considered a kind of supernatural being, and is one of the most well-known of the geolgyphs. It was rediscovered in the 1960s. The Astronaut is found along with several other geoglyphs of other supernatural beings, trophy heads and camelids animals, the researchers said.

Changing uses

The purpose of the geoglyphs may have also changed over time from what archaeologists call the final Formative period, which spanned until A.D. 200, to the early Nazca period, which ended in A.D. 450. The smashed ceramics dated to the later period.

“Our research revealed that the Formative geoglyphs were placed to be seen from the ritual pathways, while those of the early Nazca period were used as the loci of ritual activities such as intentional destructions of ceramic vessels,” Sakai said.

dog nazca lines image

Here, another one of the iconic images in the Nazca Plain, called “The Dog.” Certain types of animal images tended to clump in one region, along a path leading to an ancient temple complex of Cahuachi. Researchers now hypothesize that two separate groups of people, one living in the INgeio Valley, and another living in the Nazca River Valley, both took pilgrimage routes along the geoglyphs.

And the ancient desert inhabitants continued making the lines beyond that time, Sakai said.

“Even after the collapse of the Cahuachi temple, trapezoids and straight lines continued to be made and used,” Sakai said.

nazca lines spiral

Not all the lines show images of people or animals. Some of the geoglyphs are wavy lines, spirals intersecting lines and trapezoids. Researchers believe that at least some of the lines were meant to be walked as a labyrinth. Still others see it as a guide to the constellations, with one 1940s American scientist calling them the “largest astronomy book in the world.” Still others have argued that the images were meant to reveal the paths of subterranean water sources in the incredibly parched region, which gets an average of just 0.16 inches (4 mm) of rainfall a year. (Photo credit: Jess Kraft/

Follow Tia Ghose on Twitterand Google+. Follow Live Science@livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

‘Wired’ Underwater Volcano May Be Erupting Off Oregon

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‘Wired’ Underwater Volcano May Be Erupting Off Oregon

An underwater volcano off the coast of Oregon has risen from its slumber and may be spewing out lava about a mile beneath the sea.

Researchers were alerted to the possible submarine eruption of the Axial Seamount, located about 300 miles (480 kilometers) off the West Coast, by large changes in the seafloor elevation and an increase in the number of tiny earthquakes on April 24.

Geologists Bill Chadwick, of the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and Oregon State University, and Scott Nooner, of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, successfully forecast the eruption in a blog post in September 2014, though they had presented their ideas at a meeting before then. [Axial Seamount: Images of an Erupting Undersea Volcano]

2011 axial seamount eruption

The last time Axial erupted was in 2011. Researchers discovered the eruption by chance, while they were surveying the area for their instruments. (Image credit: Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University, Copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Axial Seamount is an underwater mountain that juts up 3,000 feet (900 meters) from the ocean floor, and is part of a string of volcanoes that straddle the Juan de Fuca Ridge, a tectonic-plate boundary where the seafloor is spreading apart.

Chadwick and Nooner have been monitoring the seamount for the past 15 years by measuring tiny movements in the seafloor as the volcano inflates with magma and then deflates. During that period, the volcano has erupted two other times — once in 1998 and again in 2011.

“It’s kind of like a balloon — as magma is going into the balloon, it’s inflating, and it pushes the seafloor up,” Chadwick told Live Science. “As more and more magma gets in, the pressure builds. Eventually, it reaches some critical pressure where [the seamount] can’t hold it in anymore, and then it squirts out.”

After the volcano erupts, the seafloor drops very rapidly, “like letting air out of a balloon,” he said.

World’s first ‘wired volcano’

For the first time, Chadwick and his colleagues were able to observe the eruption in real time, thanks to a set of instruments connected to shore by a fiber-optic cable, installed last summer by the University of Washington and paid for by the National Science Foundation.

“This is the first place in the world where we have a wired volcano on the seafloor,” Chadwick said.

Last week, the center of the volcanic crater dropped by about 6.5 feet (2 m) over a period of 12 hours, and the number of tiny earthquakes increased from hundreds per day to thousands per day, Chadwick said. On April 24, there were 8,000 earthquakes in one day, he said. (The earthquakes are too small to cause any harm to coastal residents or to trigger a tsunami, the researchers noted.)

Atop Juan de Fuca, axial seamount eruption

Axial Seamount is an underwater mountain that juts up 3,000 feet (900 meters) from the ocean floor, and is part of a string of volcanoes that straddle the Juan De Fuca Ridge, a tectonic plate boundary where the seafloor is spreading apart. (Image credit: Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University)

The measurements came from eight seismometers installed around the edge of the Axial Seamount’s large caldera, as well as sensors that measure changes in water pressure as the volcano’s surface inflates or deflates.

“If the seafloor is going up, there’s less ocean above you, so there’s a little less pressure,” Chadwick said. “It’s not much, but our instruments are so sensitive [that] we can measure to within a millimeter of vertical motion.”

Ongoing rumblings

The seamount last erupted in April 2011. Scientists discovered the eruption by accident, on a routine expedition to the seamount in late July. They were planning to retrieve some instruments they had left there the year before, when a robotic vehicle sent down to explore the site revealed a fresh lava flow that was more than 12 feet (4 m) thick in places.

Nooner and Chadwick have been monitoring the Axial Seamount since its previous eruption in 1998. Back in 2006, they forecast the seamount was due for another eruption again before 2014, which then occurred in 2011.

axial Seamount, Contents under pressure

The scientists monitored the seamount’s activity by measuring tiny changes in water pressure due to movements in the seafloor as the volcano inflates and deflates as magma moves in and out of the underlying chamber. A number of these are installed on the volcano’s caldera. (Image credit: NSF-OOI/UW/CSSF)

Chadwick and Nooner plan to return to the seamount this summer by ship, to confirm that an eruption occurred (Nooner said it would probably finish erupting before then), and to retrieve data stored on instruments that aren’t connected to the cable observatory.

“The goal is to understand the basic behavior of volcanoes, because we really don’t understand how magma chambers work and how magma works its way up through the crust,” Nooner told Live Science.

In addition to the volcano, the site is home to hydrothermal vents and an entire biological ecosystem, which many different scientists are studying.

axial Seamount, Glassy coating

After the 2011 eruption, a layer of glass formed atop the dark black flow (right), as the lava, which is more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,100 Celsius), came into contact with the close-to-freezing seawater. (Image credit: NSF-OOI/UW/CSSF)

Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 7:51 p.m. ET May 2, to correct the distance the crater center dropped in a 12-hour period, and to clarify an earlier eruption prediction.

Follow Tanya Lewis on Twitter. Follow us @livescience, Facebook &Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Insomnia Can Worsen Chronic Pain Conditions

Pre History Green Axe Stone

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Insomnia Can Worsen Chronic Pain Conditions

People who have problems sleeping may also be more sensitive to pain, thus potentially worsening the effects of chronic pain conditions, new research from Norway shows.

In the study, researchers measured pain sensitivity in more than 10,000 adults who were participants in the Tromsø Study, anongoing public health study in Norway that began in 1974.

The results of the study showed that people who had insomnia were more sensitive to pain than people who didn’t have sleep problems. In particular, people who were experiencing chronic pain and who also had insomnia showed a greater increased sensitivity to pain. Pain sensitivity was also linked to the amount of time it took to get to sleep.

The findings show that “the need to improve sleep among chronic pain patients, and vice versa, is evident,” the study authors, led by Børge Sivertsen of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Bergen, Norway, wrote in their article.

In the study, the researchers first asked questions of the participants about their experience with insomnia, how long it took them to fall asleep and other sleep issues. For example, participants rated their experiences with insomnia during the previous year on a four-point scale, ranging from “never” to “more than once a week.” Out of all of the participants, 10.5 percent had what the researchers considered an insomnia disorder. [7 Strange Facts About Insomnia]

The participants then completed the cold-pressor test — a standard method used to mimic chronic pain in which people are asked to place their hands in cold water for a set period of time. People who remove their hands early show a decreased tolerance to pain. In this study, the participants were asked to keep their hands in water at 3 degrees Celsius (37 degrees Fahrenheit) for 106 seconds.

The results showed that 42 percent of patients who had insomnia took their hands out of the water before the 106 seconds were up, whereas only 31 percent of all of the participants did so. This increased sensitivity to pain was greater in those with more severe or more frequent insomnia. For example, people who had insomnia once a week were 52 percent more likely to take their hands out of the water early, compared to those without insomnia. Moreover, patients who had insomnia monthly were 24 percent more likely to take their hands out of the water early.

The total amount of time that people spent sleeping showed no effect on their pain tolerance, according to the study.

The link between sleep problems and chronic pain appeared especially pronounced, according to the study. The patients with both severe insomnia and chronic pain were more than twice as likely to take their hands out of the water earlyas participants who had neither condition. This effect was “synergistic,” meaning the two conditions combined had a greater effect than one would expect from just summing their individual effects, the study authors reported.

That synergy between chronic pain and sleep disorders suggests health care providers should consider jointly treating the two conditions in some patients, the authors stated. Both cognitive-behavioral therapy and medications are used to treat the two conditions separately, the authors noted, so further studies should look at using these methods to treat the conditions together.

Future research should look into not only clinical implications, but also the role of neurotransmitters in the co-occurrence of sleep disorders and pain, the authors said.

The study was published April 30 in the journal Pain.

Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

Deadly, Lesser-Known Head and Neck Cancers Can’t be Ignored (Op-Ed)

Pre History Green Axe Stone

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Deadly, Lesser-Known Head and Neck Cancers Can’t be Ignored (Op-Ed)

Dr. Kavita Pattani and Dr. Rafael Torro-Serra, surgical oncologists at UF Health Cancer Center-Orlando Health, contributed this article to Live Science’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

The public doesn’t hear about head and neck cancers as often as other cancers, possibly because they comprise about three percent of all forms of the disease.

But, the statistics are still shocking. According to an estimate from the National Cancer Institute, in 2012 alone, more than 52,000 men and women were diagnosed with head and neck cancers in the United States.

Realizing the risks

The reality is, the risk for head and neck cancer is present in more Americans than you might think, particularly those of us who smoke and drink alcohol, the two biggest risk factors for head and neck cancers of the mouth, oropharynx, hypopharynx and larynx.

In fact, at least 75 percent of head and neck cancers are caused by tobacco and alcohol use, according to the National Cancer Institute. However, environmental exposures may also play a role. For instance, individuals working in some jobs in the construction, textile, ceramic, wood and metal industries could have an increased risk of paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer. Exposure to smoking and Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) is a risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer, while certain other industrial exposures, like asbestos and synthetic fibers, have been linked to larynx cancer.  [Smoking Causes 14 Million Medical Conditions in US Yearly, Study Finds  ]

Human papillomavirus virus (HPV) is also a big risk factor for some kinds of head and neck cancers, specifically ones that involve the tonsils or base of the tongue. In fact, a large amount of oropharyngeal cancers, even reaching back 40 years, have actually been from HPV-positive tumors. Today in the United States, cancers caused by HPV infection are rising while cancers caused by smoking are falling.

Additionally, sun exposure to the head and neck is a risk factor for skin cancers, and genetics can also play a role. Extended periods of sun exposure, history of prior sunburns and cumulative lifetime exposure to the sun can result in various forms of skin cancers. This is especially true for patients with fair skin, and those who may not use sun precautions. Patients with a family history of skin cancers such as melanoma are at increased risk of being predisposed to developing skin cancers, as well. And, a prior history of radiation exposure or metastatic disease from skin cancers can result in cancers of the salivary glands.

A cancer with subtle warning signs

By definition, head and neck cancer arises in the head or neck region, impacting such sites as the nasal cavity, sinuses, oral cavity, salivary glands, throat and larynx or voice box.

When patients get screened for cancer, it’s usually because that individual felt pain in a certain area of the body. Unfortunately, there is little warning that someone may have a head or neck cancer, because often pain is not involved, which may lead to delay in care. As surgical oncologists at Orlando Health, we’ve seen patients who think they simply have a sinus infection or allergic rhinitis that can be treated with antibiotics and medical management. Many times, however, they actually have sinus cancer.

While something like a sinus infection is not always cancerous, there a few telltale signs that it may be more than just an infection, like pain or numbness in the teeth, decreased sense of smell, difficulty opening the mouth, a lump or sore inside the nose that does not heal, or pain and swelling in the face. When these warning signs persist or worsen over several weeks, it’s time to schedule a detailed physical exam with a doctor.

Many of these symptoms can be caused by other noncancerous health conditions, but that’s why it’s so important to receive regular health and dental exams, especially if you routinely smoke or drink alcohol. It’s much easier to successfully treat sinus cancer when detected early.

According to a Harris Interactive survey on behalf of the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance, 71 percent of Americans say they have not been examined by a medical professional for oral, head or neck cancer. Given the rise in oropharynx cancers related to human papillomavirus (HPV), routine examinations for early detection of this disease are more important than ever.

If any abnormality is suspected, such as difficulty swallowing, persistent pain, a mass in the neck, changed or muffled voice and non-healing ulcers or sores, it is necessary to make an appointment with a dentist, oral surgeon, primary care physician, and when appropriate, an Ear-Nose-Throat (ENT)/head and neck specialist.We recommend routine checkups at least annually, but in addition to this, further evaluation is recommended with any worrisome or persistent findings.

Symptoms of head and neck cancers

Understanding some of the different kinds of head and neck cancers and their symptoms is the first step in prevention. Here are the main types everyone should be aware of:

HPV (Human Papillomavirus) Induced Cancer HPV is a type of virus that more commonly causes abnormal tissue growth, like warts, and other changes to cells. Certain strains of HPV are associated with oropharynx cancers in the head and neck. This type of infection can also lay dormant for many years and even decades prior to manifesting as a malignancy. A large majority of sexually active people will have some lifetime exposure to HPV. Most tend to clear the virus from the system and only a small percentage of the population exposed will develop cancer. At this time a routine screening is not performed for the HPV virus for head and neck cancers. The HPV is tested for its prognosticator value in those patients who develop oropharyngeal cancer.

Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer The paranasal sinuses are small, narrow spaces in the bones of the head around the nose. The most common type of paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer forms in the squamous cells (thin, flat cells) lining the inside of the paranasal sinuses and the nasal cavity. Some risk factors can include environmental exposures such as exposure to wood or nickel dust or formaldehyde. Some of the most likely symptoms of this type of cancer are blocked sinuses that do not clear, or frequent sinuses that do not respond to treatment with antibiotics, bleeding through the nose, headaches, and pain in the upper teeth. Many of these symptoms are not always cancerous, but it’s still key to get regular examinations, especially for people who routinely smoke or drink alcohol. These individuals should actually receive a physical exam at least once a year even if symptoms do not surface. Even if you don’t consistently drink alcohol or smoke, if you notice pain, swelling or blockage that continues for a few weeks or a month, schedule an appointment with a specialist.

Oropharyngeal Cancer The oropharynx is the middle part of the pharynx (throat) behind the mouth. It includes the back one-third of the tongue (base of tongue), the soft palate, side and back walls of the throat and the tonsils. Some common symptoms of this cancer include a sore throat that does not go away, trouble swallowing and opening the mouth fully, or difficulty moving the tongue. Other signs include a change in voice like persistent hoarseness and/or continuous ear pain. Many times, the presenting symptoms will be a lump or swelling in the neck.

Salivary Gland Cancer This type of cancer may be found during a regular dental check-up or physical exam. The major salivary glands are in front of the ear (parotid), at the bottom of the mouth (sublingual) and near the jawbone (submandibular). Minor salivary glands line the entire aerodigestive tract. A persistent lump (usually painless) occurs in the area in front of or just below the ear, cheek, jaw, lip, or inside the mouth. Sometimes there is numbness or pain in the face that does not go away or the facial nerve can lose function.

Avoiding cancer risks

Alcohol and tobacco use are two of the biggest risk factors for head and neck cancers. In fact, a huge majority of the patients we see use, or formerly used, these substances. Oral, head and neck cancers tend to form in the areas where tobacco or alcohol has had the most contact. For example, where a cigarette sits on the lip, where the chewing tobacco is placed in the mouth, and other areas of inhalational contact.

The best way to prevent oral, head and neck cancer is to avoid these substances altogether, or to work with your doctor on figuring out how to quit. [Top 10 Cancer-Fighting Foods  ]

A red or white patch in the mouth, a non-healing ulcer or a sore throat can also be the first signs of cancers of the mouth and throat. Hoarseness or a change in the voice can be the first sign of cancer of the voice box.

The bottom line is, when pain, swelling, soreness and other abnormalities persist over a reasonable period of time, which is usually no more than a few weeks to a month, it’s time to see a doctor. Some of our patients have allowed pain to persist for several months at a time — and that’s not normal. Earlier detection could mean detecting the cancer at an earlier stage. This, in turn, would pose a better prognosis, in general.

While taking courses of antibiotics will help curb pain and swelling, and in many cases it is the appropriate course of first action, if a physician is indeed dealing with cancer, antibiotics won’t actually treat the cancer. Further antibiotic courses may just be delaying the treatment process. Ignoring the pain, nodule or lump is the largest factor that leads to delay of care; listening to your body is key in prevention of head and neck cancers.

We can’t stress enough the importance of early detection. If you start to notice any of these signs, don’t wait. See a specialist right away.

To find screening locations in your area, visit the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance website.

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