Using a powerful supercomputer, meteorologists have simulated the “El Reno” tornado—a category 5 storm that swept through Oklahoma on May 24, 2011.
A research team led by Leigh Orf from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) has used a high-efficiency supercomputer to visualize the inner workings of tornados and the powerful supercells that produce them. As part of the project, the researchers recreated a tornado-producing supercell that devastated the Great Plains six years ago. Their new models are providing fresh insights into these monstrous storms and how they form.
During a four-day stretch in late May 2011, several tornadoes touched down over the Oklahoma landscape. One of these storms, dubbed “El Reno,” registered as an EF-5—the strongest category on the Enhanced Fujita scale. This beast of a tornado touched down near Hinton, Oklahoma, where it proceeded to blaze a trail of destruction for nearly two hours. By the time it was over, the storm caused extensive damage along a 63-mile (101 km) long path, killing nine people and injuring 161 others.
To simulate the incredibly complex set of meteorological factors required to produce this particular tornado, Orf’s team was given access to the Blue Waters Supercomputer, located at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Orf’s team used real-world observational data to recreate the conditions at the time of the storm, including a vertical profile of temperature, air pressure, wind speed, and moisture. Together, these ingredients contribute to “tornadogenesis”—the conditions required for a supercell to spawn a tornado.
Unlike a conventional computer program, where code is written to churn out predictable results, the researchers sought to create a “true” representation by feeding archived weather data into software that simulates weather. This provided a degree of variability that’s reflective of how weather works in nature; no two storms are exactly alike. In total, it took the machine more than three days to compile the tornado—a task that would have taken decades for a conventional desktop computer.
Looking at the simulation, the researchers observed numerous “mini tornadoes” that formed at the onset of the main tornado. As the main funnel cloud took shape, the smaller tornadoes began to merge, adding strength to the superstructure and boosting wind speeds.
Eventually, a new structure known as the streamwise vorticity current (SVC) formed within the tornado. “The SVC is made up of rain-cooled air that is sucked into the updraft that drives the whole system,” said Orf in a statement. “It’s believed that this is a crucial part in maintaining the unusually strong storm, but interestingly, the SVC never makes contact with the tornado. Rather, it flows up and around it.”
From here, Orf would like to share his team’s data with scientists and meteorologists across the United States. “We’ve completed the EF-5 simulation, but we don’t plan to stop there,” says Orf. “We are going to keep refining the model and continue to analyze the results to better understand these dangerous and powerful systems.”
These 3 Superbugs Pose the Greatest Threat to Human Health
By Stephanie Bucklin, Live Science Contributor | March 17, 2017 05:16pm ET
The World Health Organization is issuing a warning about a group of deadly bacteria: Recently, the WHO released its first-ever listof “priority pathogens,” a list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that the organization says pose the greatest threat to human health.
The list is divided into three categories: critical-, high- and medium-priority. Three pathogens made it into the critical-priority group. These bacteria are resistant to multiple antibiotics and pose a high risk to people in hospitals and nursing homes, the WHO says.
Multidrug-resistant bacteria, sometimes called “superbugs,” are a critical priority because infections with these germs can be deadly, according to the WHO. For example, people who get infections from a type of multidrug-resistant bacterium called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) have a 64 percent greater chance of dying than people who contract the same infection in its nonresistant form, according to the WHO. [6 Superbugs to Watch Out For]
All of the top three pathogens on the list are resistant to a group ofantibiotics called carbapenems. These antibiotics are sometimes referred to as “last resort” medications, because if they don’t work, very few options are left.
“It is important the WHO take this on, because with travel and now widespread communication, an antibiotic-resistant organism … is going to get around the world pretty quickly,” said Dr. Kenrad Nelson, a professor of infectious-disease epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Nelson was not involved in compiling the WHO’s list.
Overall, the WHO’s list is good, Nelson told Live Science. He noted, however, that he would have included the pathogen Clostridium difficileon the list. C. diff can occur in patients who receive antibiotics and is difficult to treat and get rid of completely, he said.
Here are the top three germs the WHO is worried about:
A. baumanniioccurs primarily in hospitalized patients. It spreads through either person-to-person contact, or contact with a contaminated surface, the CDC says. Although the pathogen doesn’t pose a big threat to healthy people, it’s very dangerous for patients with compromised immune systems or chronic diseases, the CDC says.
Outbreaks of A. baumannii typically take place in hospital settings such as intensive care units (ICUs) or long-term health care facilities with sick patients, such as nursing homes, according to the CDC. [27 Devastating Infectious Diseases]
It’s unclear how common this pathogen is in many countries around the world; however, A. baumannii is estimated to cause between 2 and 10 percent of multidrug-resistant bacterial infections in ICUs in Europe and the U.S., according to the WHO.
Carbapenem-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa
P. aeruginosa infections most often occur in the hospital. For patients withP. aeruginosa infections,pneumonia or infections following surgery can become extremely dangerous, and even life-threatening. But these bacteria can also live in hot tubs and swimming pools, and have been linked to serious ear infections and skin rashes, according to the CDC.
P. aeruginosainfections occur most often in hospitals; patients can become infected with the bacteria from contact with a breathing machine or a catheter, or through a surgical wound, according to the CDC.
The infection is most dangerous to those with weakened immune systems.
The CDC estimates that about 51,000 P. aeruginosa infections occur in health care settings in the U.S. each year; of these infections, more than 6,000 are from multidrug-resistant forms of the bacteria. About 400 deaths in the U.S. per year are linked to this infection, the CDC says.
Infections with carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)most often occur in hospitals or long-term health care settings, the CDC says. Similar to A. baumannii, CRE usually does not pose a risk to healthy people; rather, it is most dangerous to people with compromised immune systems, according to the CDC.
CRE can spread through person-to-person contact or through medical devices such as ventilators, the CDC says.
In a 2015 study published in the journal JAMA, researchers found that CRE affected approximately 3 in 100,000 people in the U.S. Of the 599 cases studied, 51 patients died.
Other concerning germs
In the other two categories on the priority-pathogens list, the WHO included germs that are resistant to certain antibiotics and those that cause diseases including gonorrhea and Salmonella food poisoning.
Six pathogens were included in the high-priority category, and three pathogens were listed in the medium-priority category. The six high-priority pathogens are: Enterococcus faecium, vancomycin-resistant;Staphylococcus aureus, methicillin-resistant, vancomycin-intermediate and resistant; Helicobacter pylori, clarithromycin-resistant; Campylobacterspp., fluoroquinolone-resistant; Salmonellae, fluoroquinolone-resistant; and Neisseria gonorrhoeae, cephalosporin-resistant, fluoroquinolone-resistant. The three medium-priority pathogens are: Streptococcus pneumoniae, penicillin-non-susceptible; Haemophilus influenzae, ampicillin-resistant; and Shigella spp., fluoroquinolone-resistant.
The WHO list was developed in collaboration with the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Tübingen in Germany. To determine which bacteria to include, researchers looked at a few factors, including how deadly the infections caused by the bacteria are, how resistant the bacteria are to existing antibiotics, how easily the bacteria spread, the number of treatment options available, and how preventable infections caused by the bacteria are, according to the WHO.
One of the main goals of the list is to drive more research into thedevelopment of new antibiotics and inspire governments to invest in this research and development, WHO officials said.
In addition, better prevention and the appropriate use of existing antibiotics are required in order to adequately address this threat, they added.
Indeed, “one issue is that one of the things that promotes antibiotic resistance is use of an antibiotic,” Nelson said. “In general, antibiotics tend to be overused, and that’s one of the things that leads to resistance.”
The Most Interesting Science News Articles of the Week
By Live Science Staff | March 18, 2017 12:02am ET
Each week we uncover the most interesting and informative articles from around the world, here are 10 of the coolest stories in science this week.
Microscopic, blobby-bodied tardigrades — also known as “water bears” — are famed for their ability to survive in extreme conditions, even appearing to come back from the dead.
Now, a new study reveals that special proteins coded into tardigrade DNA may be the secret to the creatures’ resuscitation superpowers. [Read more about the superpowers.]
Setting high records
The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane is just eight days away from setting a record on its current clandestine mission.
If the robotic vehicle stays aloft until March 25, it will break the X-37B mission-duration mark of 674 days, which was established back in October 2014. [Read more about the near record.]
Any way you slice it, cheese is considered by many to be a favorite food, whether cut into cubes as a snack, grated over pasta, layered in a sandwich or melted as a topping for pizza.
In a recent study, scientists 3D-printed cheese and conducted a series of tests evaluating its texture, resilience and “meltability,” to see how this cheese from the future would stack up — on a structural level — against regular processed cheese. [Read more about printable cheese.]
After decades spent slowly disintegrating in high-security vaults, thousands of historic films of U.S. nuclear weapons tests have been salvaged, including some that have been newly declassified. The incredible footage shows enormous mushroom clouds ballooning over the horizon in what could be a doomsday flick.
About 6,500 of the films have been located so far, and now, an initial collection of 64 videos, all showing tests conducted by the LLNL, have been made available online. [Read more about the declassified footage.]
First time users
The chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana is known to trigger responses in brain regions related to thinking, perception, coordination and memory, and to have a lasting impact on users when taken frequently over time.
“We don’t really know what happens to a first-time user — we don’t know if one use will change the brain and make you more vulnerable to taking other drugs, for example,” Weiss told Live Science. [Read more about pot brain.]
Hungry, hungry arachnids
Each year, about 27 million tons of spiders consume somewhere between 440 million and 880 million tons of insects, new research finds.
Spiders are a very successful group of arthropods. They’re found everywhere from deserts to grasslands to forests to Arctic tundra. More than 45,000 individual species have been identified so far, Nyffeler and Birkhofer wrote. Scientists estimate that there are around 131 spiders per every square meter of land on the globe, and in some places up to 1,000 individuals in that area (about the size of a single mattress). [Read more about their voracious appetites.]
Health and climate change
Climate change is poised to affect the health of Americans in every part of the country, a new report says.
But few Americans are aware of the impact climate change has on health, according to the report. Only about a third of Americans can name a specific way climate change affects people’s health, according to the report. [Read more about climate change’s affects.]
Life without the EPA
Acid rain devouring New England forests. Homes built on toxic sites. Unswimmable rivers and cities cloaked in smog. The United States looked very different before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) arrived, but a recent Congressional bill calls for the agency’s abolition.
Scientists have discovered what may be the world’s oldest plant-like fossils, found in sedimentary rocks in central India. The preserved specimens are estimated to be 1.6 billion years old, and contain structures like those found in red algae.
The two types of fossils that researchers recently identified resembled red algae — one specimen was composed of filaments and another was made of more robust structures. The ancient specimens are 400 million years older than previous fossil algae discoveries, and hint that multicellular life evolved on Earth far earlier than was once thought. [Read more about the oldest fossils.]
A 1,000-year-old circular tomb, whose walls are decorated with colorful murals, has been discovered in Datong City, in northern China.
The murals on the walls show servants, cranes and numerous articles of clothing that hang on several stands, their colors still vibrant despite the passage of a millennia. [Read more about the vibrant murals.]
Living and boning in space—particularly on Mars—has fascinated our degenerate species for decades. Recently, SpaceX founder Elon Musk decided to put his very large amount of money where his mouth is by announcing his plans to colonize the Red Planet. NASA also likes to bloviate about its Journey to Mars in the 2030s, and there are a handful of other, shadier plans to colonize the Red Planet championed by celebrities, billionaires, and even the UAE.
But there’s a big difference between putting a few boots on the ground and setting up a long-term base on another planet. Regarding human colonization of Mars, there are a host of concerns—in particular, how will humans fare, both physically and psychologically, in such a harsh environment? In a paper published recently in the journal Space Policy, Konrad Szocik, a cognitive scientist at the University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow, Poland, argues that sending astronauts to live aboard the ISS is not adequate training for life on Mars. In fact, Szocik surmises humans will have to alter their bodies in a pretty extreme way in order to physically and emotionally sustain themselves in a Martian colony.
Other Mars enthusiasts, including Elon Musk, disagree.
“My idea is that [the] human body and mind is adapted to live in the terrestrial environment,” Szocik told Gizmodo in an email. “Consequently, some particular physiological and psychological challenges during [the] journey and then during living on Mars probably will be too difficult for human beings to survive. For instance, we should take into account the high risk of health problems during that mission and no direct professional medical support and care.”
In his paper, Szocik explores some of the preventative treatments other researchers have suggested astronauts undergo before heading to Mars. He notes that some have suggested “placing the crew into a coma before the journey,” which could reduce energy requirements, prevent muscle atrophy, and provide extra shielding from deep space radiation, and even “removing the appendix to avoid great dangers.”
Indeed, in 2012, researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) enumerated the potential risks and rewards of performing appendectomies and cholecystectomies—the removal of the gallbladder—before sending astronauts into extended periods of spaceflight. The logic is pretty simple: If someone’s appendix or gall bladder bursts in space, surgery could more worse than unpleasant—it could be impossible.
Szocik also argues that the first crewed missions to the Red Planet could take a heavy psychological toll. Though early colonizers would presumably undergo intense psychological screening, the pressures of isolation in a high-risk environment are daunting. But early results from NASA’s HI-SEAS experiment, which mimics this isolation by sealing off small crews in a dome near the top of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, are promising. Recently, a crew that spent a year in this pseudo-Martian environment emerged pretty upbeat and positive, despite being trapped among each other’s foul odors and character flaws.
“It is true that psychological issues (“behavioral health” in NASA’s terminology) will be a major concern,” Mark Shelhamer, former chief scientist at NASA’s human research program, told Gizmodo. “In that sense, the ISS is not a great venue for simulating a Mars mission. ISS is isolated and confined (though not as much as a Mars spacecraft will be). However, crews rotate so that there is a set of new faces every three months, and there is a very robust and effective psychological support structure in place (astronauts can speak to friends, family, physicians, and psychologists on Earth at any time, with no communication lag).”
Overall, Szocik argues that no Earthly preparation can necessarily give someone everything they need to survive Mars in the longterm. “I think that medicine can be insufficient and that there will be necessary some permanent solutions like genetical and/or surgical modifications,” Szocik said, adding that we should use the idea of transhumanism—that by harnessing science and technology, we can enhance ourselves to survive in vastly different environments—to prepare.
This concept isn’t exactly new: futurists have long proposed that humanity will need to use biology, nanotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science to make us more equipped for life in space. But while accelerating our own biological evolution in order to boost our chances of survival on Mars admittedly sounds badass, not everyone’s convinced it’s feasible, ethical, or necessary.
“Already, people have suggested selecting astronauts for genetic predisposition for such things as radiation resistance,” Shelhamer said. “Of course this idea is fraught with problems. For one, it’s illegal to make employment decisions based on genetic information. For another, there are usually unintended consequences when making manipulations like this, and who knows what might get worse if we pick and choose what we think needs to be made better.”
While he admits Szocik’s ideas are interesting, Shelhamer feels they’re ultimately unnecessary. “I think we can give astronauts the tools—physical, mental, operational—so that they are, individually and as a group, resilient in the face of the unknown,” he said. “This is what I’m working on now, but it’s still in the very early stages. What kind of person thrives in an extreme environment? What types of mission structures are in place to help that person? This needs to be examined systematically.”
Would-be future Martian president Elon Musk was even blunter when asked to comment on the idea that humans would have to alter their biology to survive on Mars, calling the entire premise “ridiculous.” “Being in deep space or Earth orbit for long periods is far worse than Mars,” Musk told Gizmodo over a Twitter DM. “Buzz Aldrin is still doing fine, as are the other astronauts.”
Even if the optimists in the room are right, and we don’t have to modify ourselves to live out healthy adult lives on Mars, a salient question remains when it comes to colonization: How will we reproduce? Although not nearly as bad as deep space, the surface of Marsreceives some intense radiation, owing to the fact that its atmosphere is much thinner than Earth’s, and it has no global magnetic field todeflect energetic particles. This is particularly concerning for women looking to get pregnant, as even small doses of ionizing radiation can have severe health consequences for developing fetuses. In all likelihood, long term settlements would have to be built beneath the planet’s surface to protect folks, particularly the young, old, sick and pregnant, from solar energetic particles and galactic cosmic rays.
“We do not know how reduced gravity and radiation will affect the process of human reproduction,”Szocik said. “We can suppose that this impact could be deleterious.”
Szocik added that in order to maintain a colony that can sustain itself without inbreeding, we’ll have to send a ton of people to Mars, which could be difficult. Therefore, he suggests “taking into account an opportunity of human cloning or other similar methods,” in order to keep the colony going. Hmm.
Stretching humanity across several planets sounds exciting. It also sounds terrifying! Hopefully, upcoming missions like NASA’s 2020 rover will give us more insight into how we can live (and fuck) on such a cold, unfeeling planet.