Monster ‘Fatberg’: 143 Tons of Grease and Garbage Clog UK Sewer

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Monster ‘Fatberg’: 143 Tons of Grease and Garbage Clog UK Sewer

Monster 'Fatberg': 143 Tons of Grease and Garbage Clog UK Sewer

What’s as hard as cement and is currently blocking 820 feet of sewer network in the U.K.? A disgusting mass of solid waste called a “fatberg.”

Credit: Thames Water

Writer Neil Gaiman’s 1997 urban fantasy novel “Neverwhere” imagined sewers underneath large cities as magical shadow worlds, each a home to a host of peculiar individuals and monstrous beasts. However, the reality of what lies below cities in their waste networks is much more disgusting, as a team of Thames Water engineers in the United Kingdom recently found out.

In a sewer region located about 11 feet (4 meters) under the Whitechapel neighborhood in London, workers are just beginning to dismantle an inanimate but uniquely revolting inhabitant — a vast and rock-solid plug of oily waste charmingly known as a “fatberg.”

Composed of stinking garbage and grease and weighing in at 143 tons (130,000 kilograms), the Whitechapel fatberg sprawls for 820 feet (250 m) — about the length of two English football fields. This means the blob is more than twice as long as the nefarious iceberg responsible for sinking the Titanic, which was estimated to measure a mere 200 to 400 feet (61 to 122 m) long. [In Photos: The World’s Grossest Things]

Remote inspections using CCTV cameras showed that sewer passages were blocked by the fatberg, according to a statement released by Thames Water, the agency directing the cleanup effort.

Removing the mountainous mass — a three-week project — requires a crew of eight people working seven days a week from 8 a.m. local time until 5 p.m. Workers will blast the ‘berg with high-powered water jets to break it down, and then vacuum up the chunks — about 22 to 34 tons (30,844 to 19,958 kg) per shift — for removal to a recycling site, Thames Water representatives announced in the statement.

An infographic shows how far the Whitechapel fatberg extends underground — the length of two British football fields.

An infographic shows how far the Whitechapel fatberg extends underground — the length of two British football fields.

Credit: Thames Water

The enormous and slimy blockage built up over time, from grease and oils that were poured down sink drains, joining forces along the way with diapers, condoms, sanitary products, hand wipes and other waste that was flushed down toilets, Matt Rimmer, Thames Water’s head of waste networks, said in the statement.

Once these gloppy discards found their way into the sewers, they accumulated and solidified into the consistency of concrete, Rimmer explained, describing the Whitechapel fatberg as “the biggest we’ve ever seen.”

Because in case you were wondering — yes, there have been more.

A 15-ton (13,607 kg) fatberg made headlines in 2013, when it was discovered in a sewer serving the London suburb of Kingston. A supervisor for Thames Water said in a statement that while the agency had removed greater volumes of gloppy garbage from sewers previously, they’d never seen “a single congealed lump” this size.

The more recent — and bigger — Whitechapel fatberg far outweighs the Kingston glob, granting it the dubious honor of being the largest sewer-grown fatberg in British history, according to Thames Water.

Unlike icebergs, which emerge when large sections of ice calve from glaciers near the North and South poles, these greasy, monumental fatberg sewer plugs are formed by people — and only people can prevent fatbergs, Rimmer said in the statement.

“Everyone has a role to play. Yes, a lot of the fat comes from food outlets, but the wipes and sanitary items are far more likely to be from domestic properties. The sewers are not an abyss for household rubbish,” Rimmer said.

Original article on Live Science.


‘Coffee-Ring Effect’ Could Reveal What’s in Your Tap Water

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‘Coffee-Ring Effect’ Could Reveal What’s in Your Tap Water

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'Coffee-Ring Effect' Could Reveal What's in Your Tap Water

Tap-water droplets from two buildings on the Michigan State University campus leave behind different coffee-ring patterns; “hard” water is shown on the left, and water treated with a softener is shown on the right.

Credit: Xiaoyan Li

The physics of the so-called “coffee-ring effect” — how particles in liquid cause darkened areas to form at the perimeter of a spill — is helping scientists to quickly and cheaply identify the mineral contents of tap water, according to new research.

Residues left behind when tap water evaporates are “like fingerprints” for the water’s properties and contents, Rebecca Lahr, an assistant professor in the chemistry department in Lyman Briggs College at Michigan State University, told the American Chemical Society (ACS) in a statement.

Compared to coffee rings, the patterns and whorls produced by minerals in tap water are highly intricate. And while you may not be able to detect the specific blend of beans that produced a coffee ring, Lahr and her colleagues are finding a wealth of information in the mineral traces from water droplets, she told the ACS. [Why Does My Water Taste Weird?]

Testing methods for tap water can be expensive and time-consuming, and the researchers wanted to find a way that would allow anyone, anywhere in the world, to rapidly and inexpensively identify certain signatures in drinking water, using the water’s own residue patterns, Lahr said in a video.

The researchers sampled tap water from different sources. Then, they dried water droplets on aluminum strips and used a cellphone camera enhanced with a jeweler’s loupe to magnify and photograph the residue. In the patterns, the researchers identified distinctive markers representingwater hardness and alkalinity, as well as the presence of dissolved solids and metals, according to the ACS.

Over time, recognizable patterns emerged for water quality, and the patterns that the researchers saw were consistent across tap-water samples gathered from the same communities across the southern Michigan area, the ACS reported.

These techniques could be effective ways to engage people in examining their own water, Lahr said in the statement. They also could be used to build a database of known residue patterns created by tap water under normal conditions that could help people quickly spot anomalies that may affect their water quality.

The findings were presented at the 254th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, held Aug. 20 to 24 in Washington, D.C.

Original article on Live Science.

How Do Palm Trees Withstand Hurricanes?

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How Do Palm Trees Withstand Hurricanes?

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How Do Palm Trees Withstand Hurricanes?

Palm trees sway in the strong wind at Santa Lucia Beach, in Cuba, on Sept. 9, 2017, during Hurricane Irma.

Credit: Str/Xinhua/Zuma

Trees generally snap, or at least lose a few branches, when faced with hurricane-strength winds. Not palm trees. These staples of the tropics typically bend during gusty weather.

How does the mighty palm usually stay standing, swaying — sometimes violently — in storms?

For starters, unlike traditional trees, palm trees are not made of wood. “Instead, you’ll find a jumble of spongy tissue, scattered instead of arranged” inside a palm, geochemist Hope Jahren wrote in her autobiography “Lab Girl” (Vintage, 2016). [Are Trees Vegetarian?]

Most trees lay down rings as they grow every year. But not the palm tree; some of its cells are malleable, and others can easily flex and then return to their original position.

A palm tree cross section

A palm tree cross section

Credit: Cheng Wei/Shutterstock

“[Its] lack of conventional structure is what gives the palm its flexibility and makes it supremely adapted … to the gentle island breezes that periodically coalesce into ruthless hurricanes,” Jahren wrote in her book.

This arrangement has helped the palm tree flourish in warm and windy tropical areas the world over. There are 188 known genuses of palm, and 2,585 species, said Judy Jernstedt, a professor of plant sciences at the University of California, Davis.

“I think that suggests that it’s a successful growth form, and they’ve been successful in the environmental niches that they’ve occupied,” Jernstedt said.

However, not all palms are alike. A palm planted in a new area might not fare as well as a palm in its native home, Jernstedt said. Moreover, if the ground is wet — from a hurricane surge, for instance — that could weaken the ground where the palm’s roots extend and make it easier for powerful winds to uproot the tree, she said.

While the palm tree is technically a tree, palms are actually more closely related to grass, corn and rice than they are to other trees, Jernstedt said. They’re also quite old. Palms belong to the Arecaceae family, a group that emerged about 100 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, when nonavian dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, according to the Angiosperm Phylogeny website, run by Peter Stevens, a professor of biology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Original article on Live Science.

Alleged Massacre of Uncontacted Tribe Members Spurs Probe in Brazil

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Alleged Massacre of Uncontacted Tribe Members Spurs Probe in Brazil

Alleged Massacre of Uncontacted Tribe Members Spurs Probe in Brazil
Uncontacted Indians in the Brazilian Amazon, filmed from the air in 2010.

Credit: Survival International

Brazilian authorities are investigating reports that gold miners killed about 10 members of an uncontacted tribe in the Amazon rainforest.

The alleged killing took place last month along the Jandiatuba River, in a remote part of the Amazon near Brazil’s border with Peru, according to FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous affairs department.

The probe began after two illegal gold miners, known as “garimpeiros,” were overheard talking about the attack in São Paulo de Olivença, a town in the state of Amazonas. [Gallery: Images of Uncontacted Tribes]

The miners allegedly bragged about the killings in a bar, showing off a carved paddle taken from the tribe as a trophy, The New York Times reported.

The miners were arrested but so far no physical evidence has been found to prove the massacre, according to a statement from FUNAI.

The indigenous rights group Survival International warned that such an attack could mean that a large percentage of the tribe has been wiped out.

Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, said in a statement that the Brazilian administration under President Michel Temer would “bear a heavy responsibility for this genocidal attack” if the reports are confirmed.

These burnt communal houses of uncontacted Indians were seen in December 2016 and could be signs of another massacre in the so-called Uncontacted Frontier.

These burnt communal houses of uncontacted Indians were seen in December 2016 and could be signs of another massacre in the so-called Uncontacted Frontier.

Credit: Survival International

The Guardian reported in July that FUNAI’s budget under the current administration was nearly halved this year, forcing the agency to close dozens of its regional offices and three bases that are involved in protecting isolated tribes. One FUNAI official told The Guardian that land grabbers, loggers and miners were taking advantage of the situation to encroach on indigenous territories.

“All these tribes should have had their lands properly recognized and protected years ago,” Corry said. “The government’s open support for those who want to open up indigenous territories is utterly shameful, and is setting indigenous rights in Brazil back decades.”

In recent years, groups like Survival International have raised the alarm about an increase in sightings of uncontacted tribes in Brazil, warning that encounters with loggers, miners, drug smugglers and tourists could be deadly for tribe members, not only due to violence but also disease.

Original article on Live Science

3 People Die After Falling into Volcanic Crater

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3 People Die After Falling into Volcanic Crater

3 People Die After Falling into Volcanic Crater
Solfatara Crater, near Naples, Italy, is a dormant volcano that last erupted in 1198.

Credit: Dmytry Sukrov/

Three members of a family have died after falling into a volcanic crater in Italy, according to news reports.

The family of four from northeastern Italy was on vacation in Pozzuoli, viewing the sulfurous Solfatara crater. Their 11-year-old son ran through a safety barrier and went onto an unstable portion of the crater that is made of crumbling quicksand.

The boy’s mother and father rushed to save him and caused the crater to collapse, forming a small hole. All three dropped into the hole, fell unconscious and died, likely by inhaling the noxious fumes, the BBC reported. The couple’s other son, who is 7 years old, stayed put and survived. Rescue workers did manage to retrieve the bodies and reported that the pit was filled with boiling mud.

The Solfatara crater is one of many now-dormant volcanoes in a field of volcanic activity west of Naples. It formed about 4,000 years ago but last erupted in 1198, the BBC reported. Despite being dormant, Solfatara still emits sulfur and steam, and is a popular tourist attraction.

Originally published on Live Science.

Photos: 2,000-Year-Old Tombs Found in Egyptian Oasis

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Photos: 2,000-Year-Old Tombs Found in Egyptian Oasis

Egyptian oasis

Credit: Egypt Ministry of Antiquities

AI Could Predict Alzheimer’s Disease Two Years in Advance

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AI Could Predict Alzheimer’s Disease Two Years in Advance

Credit: agsandrew/Shutterstock

An artificial-intelligence-driven algorithm can recognize the early signs of dementia in brain scans, and may accurately predict who will developAlzheimer’s disease up to two years in advance, a new study finds.

The algorithm — which accurately predicted probable Alzheimer’s disease 84 percent of the time — could be particularly useful in selecting patients for clinical trials for drugs intended to delay disease onset, said lead study author Sulantha Sanjeewa, a computer scientist at McGill University in Canada.

“If you can tell from a group of of individuals who is the one that will develop the disease, one can better test new medications that could be capable of preventing the disease,” said co-lead study author Dr. Pedro Rosa-Neto, an associate professor of neurology, neurosurgery and psychiatry, also at McGill University. [6 Big Mysteries of Alzheimer’s Disease]

The technology is still in its early stages, but the findings suggest that AI analysis of brain scans could offer better results than relying on humans alone, Rosa-Neto told Live Science.

The findings are detailed in a new study, which was published online in July in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

Developing drugs that slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease requires that the drugs be tested in clinical trials that run between 18 and 24 months, Rosa-Neto said. But if people who are selected for the trial never develop Alzheimer’s during that time, it’s impossible to say whether a drug was effective, he said.

“You want to include people who will be progressing from mild cognitive impairment to dementia in the time of the clinical trial,” Rosa-Neto said. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

But selecting the best patients for these trials is a challenge, because it is difficult to predict who will develop the condition, Rosa-Neto said. Scientists know that the buildup of a protein called amyloid, which accumulates in various regions of the brain, can lead to cognitive impairment. But piecing together the complex patterns of where and how much of the protein builds up, and then using that information to predict when a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease is difficult to do by reading PET scans alone. (These scans are imaging tests that use a radioactive dye to identify certain diseases in the body.)

The presence of amyloid in the brain, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that a person will develop Alzheimer’s within a certain time; for some, it may take five to 10 years for the symptoms of dementia to appear, Rosa-Neto said. Others may never develop the disease, he said. But once a person has developed dementia, it is very difficult to return the brain to normal cognitive function, Rosa-Neto added.

The artificial intelligence program that Rosa-Neto’s team developed could help doctors identify the best participants for Alzheimer’s drug clinical trials by predicting who is likely to develop the disease within a two-year window.

Creating an effective AI algorithm involves three main steps: writing the software, training it and then testing it to see how well it works, the researchers said.

As they were writing the software, the software engineers gave the algorithm some hints to help it analyze the PET images, Rosa-Neto said. The engineers designed it to take into consideration a common problem that pops up when studying people with mild cognitive impairment: In any given population, only a small fraction of a people will develop dementia.

The programmers also designed the algorithm to consider that the buildup of amyloid protein can occur at different rates, in different concentrations and at different locations in the brain, according to the study. [10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Brain]

During the training portion of the study, the scientists used the algorithm to analyze the presence of amyloid in PET scans from nearly 200 patients who had mild cognitive impairment. The algorithm was then shown images from up to 24 months before the patients had developed the disease.

Once the program learned from this information, it was shown an entirely new set of amyloid PET brain scans from more than 270 individuals who had mild cognitive impairments. Of them, 43 were diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s disease after the 24-month follow-up. However, the algorithm was shown only the images taken before the disease had fully developed. Using what it had learned, the AI algorithm predicted with 84 percent accuracy which individuals would develop the disease, according to the study.

In the study, the authorsnoted that no system that predicts Alzheimer’s disease based on images alone can be 100 percent accurate. In about 10 percent of diagnoses of “probable Alzheimer’s diseases,” for example, people actually have a different form of cognitive impairment.

The researchers also noted the group of people included in the study described themselves as having some loss of memory and may not represent the general public. The authors added that it would be highly desirable to replicate the findings in a general population.

Based on this study, the team also created a pilot version of a real-time prediction tool that will analyze individuals’ PET brain scans and spit out probabilities of when the individuals may develop dementia within a 24-month period. The tool is available to the public online.

Originally published on Live Science.