Canadian Scientists Rally for Science

Recently, thousands of scientists and concerned citizens participated in rallies across Canada, voicing their concern for the state of science in the public interest. Speakers highlighted that the health of public science impacts all of us and called on the federal government to make transparent, evidence-based decisions for the health and prosperity of all Canadians.

In addition to a large rally in Ottawa, rallies were held from coast to coast including Vancouver, Salmon Arm, Edmonton, Yellowknife, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener – Waterloo, Montreal, Fredericton, St. Andrews, and Halifax, making this one of the largest nationwide pro-science rallies in Canadian history.

Speakers highlighted the crucial need for funding basic or fundamental science and allowing federal researchers to communicate their scientific findings freely with the public.

“It was public science that provided compelling evidence that smoking was harmful when tobacco manufacturers were claiming that cigarettes were safe,” said Ottawa-based physician Dr. Kapil Khatter. Applied research and technological innovation have great value, but this cannot come at the expense of science and evidence gathering institutions that provide the data critical to keeping Canadians informed about their health and wellbeing.

Recently, Canada’s federal government has been heavily criticized by the global science community for its strict communication policies imposed on government scientists, de-funding major research public science programs (including the internationally-renown Experimental Lakes Area), and making changes to laws governing fisheries management and crime prevention that are inconsistent with existing scientific evidence.

“It is not too late for this government to provide effective leadership on science,” Dr. Béla Joós a professor of Physics at the University of Ottawa, told the crowd. “As they prepare for a speech from the throne in October, we hope that they will show their support for public science by making decisions that are informed by the best available evidence, letting government scientists speak to the public and adequately funding science – including basic research.”

This year’s events build on the 2012 ‘Death of Evidence’ gathering on Parliament Hill, marking a mounting concern among Canadians about the state of science in Canada. The rallies were initiated by Evidence for Democracy (E4D), a non-partisan organization advocating for the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making, and supported by groups representing students and scientists including the Canadian Federation of Students and The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

New Technique for Leaving Your Body

Leaving the body behind while the mind travels has been a goal of many and new research shows another technique for doing so.

The idea of an out-of-body experience (OBE) first gained widespread popularity with the publication of Robert Monroe’s book  “Journeys Out of the Body” in 1971. After Mr. Monroe awoke one night to find himself floating on his ceiling he learned that he could actually travel without his body and started a life-long quest to understand the phenomenon and help others learn to leave their bodies at will. He founded the Monroe Institute which used sound to stimulate specific brainwave patterns. Unfortunately, the Monroe Institute was co-opted by US military intelligence and the more meaningful research and development remains secret. The Monroe Institute became the boot-camp for the military’s psychic spying (remote viewing) program and was also used to help some military scientists improve their intuitive skills.

This author was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Monroe at the Monroe Institute a couple of months before he journeyed out of his body for the last time and experience his out-of-body presence first hand.

When aerospace engineer Jack Houck held his psychokensis (PK) (spoon-bending) parties some participants were lucky enough to try his electronic out of body device that enabled them to hear their own brain waves. Because most frequencies in the brain are below the range of human hearing, Houck’s device modulated white noise with the lower frequency brain-waves. A significant number of people had out-of-body experiences upon hearing their own brain-waves. Unfortunately, few were aware of Mr. Houcks research and it too was buried deep in the military.

Recent research carried out by Dr. Jane Aspell, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, and Dr Lukas Heydrich at Olaf Blanke’s lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne found that an out-of-body experience can also be generated through the visual projection of human heartbeats.

Volunteers were fitted with a head mounted display (HMD), which served as ‘virtual reality goggles’. They were filmed in real time by a video camera connected to the HMD, which allowed them to view their own body standing two metres in front of them.

By also recording the volunteers’ heartbeat signals using electrodes, the timing of the heartbeat was used to trigger a bright flashing outline which was superimposed on the virtual body shown via the HMD.

After watching the outline flash on and off in sync with the heartbeat for several minutes, the subjects experienced a stronger identification with the virtual body (it felt more like their own body) and also perceived that they were at a different location in the room than their physical body (closer to their double). The experiment also showed that the volunteers experienced touch at a different location to their physical body.

Dr Aspell said:

“This research demonstrates that the experience of one’s self can be altered when presented with information about the internal state of one’s body, such as a heartbeat.

“This is compatible with the theory that the brain generates our experience of self by merging information about our body from multiple sources including the eyes, the skin, the ears, and even one’s internal organs.”

It has long been known that gazing into a mirror can enhance intuition. The prophet Nostradamus is reported to have gazed at his reflection in a bowl of water to experience an expended state of consciousness and view the future. Near-death-experience (NDE) researcher and the late psychic Ingo Swann both recommended sitting in a dark room in front of a dimly lit mirror to enhance intuitive perception.

While many in the mainstream refuse to consider that the human mind can exist separately from the brain, the evidence clearly shows that the mind can operate independently of the body. Perhaps the mind is automatically drawn to the body and by tricking the mind by projecting an image of the body, the beat of the heart or the sound of the brain, one can pull the mind away from the actual body. One can only imagine what the U.S. military has done with such technology after 60 years of R&D.

Severe Weather Human Caused, Mostly

Human influences are having an impact on some extreme weather and climate events, according to the report Explaining Extreme Events of 2012 from a Climate Perspective released September 5, 2013 by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Scientists from NOAA served as three of the four lead editors on the report. Overall, 18 different research teams from around the world contributed to the peer-reviewed report that examined the causes of 12 extreme events that occurred on five continents and in the Arctic.

The report shows that the effects of natural weather and climate fluctuations played a key role in the intensity and evolution of many of the 2012 extreme events. However, in several events, the analyses revealed compelling evidence that human-caused climate change was a secondary factor contributing to the extreme event. “This report adds to a growing ability of climate science to untangle the complexities of understanding natural and human-induced factors contributing to specific extreme weather and climate events,” said Thomas R. Karl, LHD, director of NCDC. “Nonetheless, determining the causes of extreme events remains challenging.”

In addition to investigating the causes of these extreme events, the multiple analyses of four of the events—the warm temperatures in the United States, the record-low levels of Arctic sea ice, and the heavy rain in both northern Europe and eastern Australia—allowed the scientists to compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of their various methods of analysis. Despite their different strategies, there was considerable agreement between the assessments of the same events.

Thomas Peterson, PhD, principal scientist at NCDC and one of the lead editors on the report, said, “Scientists around the world assessed a wide variety of potential contributing factors to these major extreme events that, in many cases, had large impacts on society. Understanding the range of influences on extreme events helps us to better understand why extremes are changing.” See more of what Dr. Peterson has to say on global warming and weather in this Climate Q&A from

Cell Phones Increase Cancer Risk

While the independent research on the effects of microwave radiation emitted by wifi, cell phones and other mobile devices is clear and more than sufficient to prove that exposure at low levels causes DNA damage that can lead to cancer, the wireless industry has paid for studies designed to sow confusion and make people feel comfortable about the risks from microwave radiation.

Even though the World Health Organization classifies microwave radiation as carcinogenic, national health agencies have not taken measures to protect the public nor has the public shown much interest in the risks to their health. The massive lobbying and advertising by the wireless industry holds sway over public opinion and govt. regulation.

A new study published in the journal Antioxidants and Redox Signaling may provide health advocates with more ammunition in the case against microwave radiation.

The study looked for cancer clues in the saliva of cell phone users. Since the cell phone is placed close to the salivary gland when in use, researchers hypothesized that salivary content could reveal whether there was a connection to developing cancer. Comparing heavy mobile phone users to non-users, they found that the saliva of heavy users showed indications of higher oxidative stress — a process that damages all aspects of a human cell, including DNA — through the development of toxic peroxide and free radicals. More importantly, it is considered a major risk factor for cancer.

For the study, the researchers examined the saliva content of 20 heavy-user patients, defined as speaking on their phones for a minimum of eight hours a month. Most participants speak much more, Dr. Hamzany says, as much as 30 to 40 hours a month. Their salivary content was compared to that of a control group, which consisted of deaf patients who either do not use a cell phone, or use the device exclusively for sending text messages and other non-verbal functions.
Compared to the control group, the heavy cell phone users had a significant increase in all salivary oxidative stress measurements studied.

This suggests that there is considerable oxidative stress on the tissue and glands which are close to the cell phone when in use. The damage caused by oxidative stress is linked to cellular and genetic mutations which cause the development of tumors.  However, it can take more than 10 years before the damage results in tumors or other symptoms of illness that a person would notice.


Ocean Level Rise Detailed

A new study estimates that global sea levels will rise about 2.3 meters, or more than seven feet, over the next several thousand years for every degree (Celsius) the planet warms.

This international study is one of the first to combine analyses of four major contributors to potential sea level rise into a collective estimate, and compare it with evidence of past sea-level responses to global temperature changes.

Results of the study, funded primarily by the National Science Foundation and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, are being published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The study did not seek to estimate how much the planet will warm, or how rapidly sea levels will rise,” noted Peter Clark, an Oregon State University paleoclimatologist and author on the PNAS article. “Instead, we were trying to pin down the ‘sea-level commitment’ of global warming on a multi-millennial time scale. In other words, how much would sea levels rise over long periods of time for each degree the planet warms and holds that warmth?”

“The simulations of future scenarios we ran from physical models were fairly consistent with evidence of sea-level rise from the past,” Clark added. “Some 120,000 years ago, for example, it was 1-2 degrees warmer than it is now and sea levels were about five to nine meters higher. This is consistent with what our models say may happen in the future.”

Scientists say the four major contributors to sea-level rise on a global scale will come from melting of glaciers, melting of the Greenland ice sheet, melting of the Antarctic ice sheet, and expansion of the ocean itself as it warms. Several past studies have examined each of these components, the authors say, but this is one of the first efforts at merging different analyses into a single projection.

The researchers ran hundreds of simulations through their models to calculate how the four areas would respond to warming, Clark said, and the response was mostly linear. The amount of melting and subsequent sea-level response was commensurate with the amount of warming. The exception, he said, was in Greenland, which seems to have a threshold at which the response can be amplified.

“As the ice sheet in Greenland melts over thousands of years and becomes lower, the temperature will increase because of the elevation loss,” Clark said. “For every 1,000 meters of elevation loss, it warms about six degrees (Celsius). That elevation loss would accelerate the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.”

In contrast, the Antarctic ice sheet is so cold that elevation loss won’t affect it the same way. The melting of the ice sheet there comes primarily from the calving of icebergs, which float away and melt in warmer ocean waters, or the contact between the edges of the ice sheet and seawater.

In their paper, the authors note that sea-level rise in the past century has been dominated by the expansion of the ocean and melting of glaciers. The biggest contributions in the future may come from melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which could disappear entirely, and the Antarctic ice sheet, which will likely reach some kind of equilibrium with atmospheric temperatures and shrink significantly, but not disappear.

“Keep in mind that the sea level rise projected by these models of 2.3 meters per degree of warming is over thousands of years,” emphasized Clark, who is a professor in Oregon State University’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “If it warms a degree in the next two years, sea levels won’t necessarily rise immediately. The Earth has to warm and hold that increased temperature over time.

“However, carbon dioxide has a very long time scale and the amounts we’ve emitted into the atmosphere will stay up there for thousands of years,” he added. “Even if we were to reduce emissions, the sea-level commitment of global warming will be significant.”

Giant Iceberg Leaves Antarctica

This week a European Earth-observing satellite confirmed that a large iceberg broke off of Pine Island Glacier, one of Antarctica’s largest and fastest moving ice streams. The rift that led to the new iceberg was discovered in October 2011 during NASA’s Operation IceBridge flights over the continent. The rift soon became the focus of international scientific attention. Seeing the rift grow and eventually form a 280-square-mile ice island gave researchers an opportunity to gather data that promises to improve our understanding of how glaciers calve.

“Calving is a hot topic in cryospheric research. The physics behind the calving process are highly complex,” said Michael Studinger, IceBridge project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Although calving events like this are a regular and important part of an ice sheet’s life cycle—Pine Island Glacier previously spawned large icebergs in 2001 and 2007—they often raise questions about how ice sheet flow is changing and what the future might hold. Computer models are one of the methods researchers use to project future ice sheet changes, but calving is a complicated process that is not well represented in continent-scale models.

Days after spotting the rift, IceBridge researchers flew a survey along 18 miles of the crack to measure its width and depth and collect other data such as ice shelf thickness. “It was a great opportunity to fly a suite of instruments you can’t use from space and gather high-resolution data on the rift,” said Studinger.

Soon after, researchers at the German Aerospace Center, or DLR, started keeping a close eye on the crack from space with their TerraSAR-X satellite. Because TerraSAR-X uses a radar instrument it is able to make observations even during the dark winter months and through clouds. “Since October 2011, the evolution of the Pine Island Glacier terminus area has been monitored more intensively,” said Dana Floricioiu, a DLR research scientist, Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany.

When IceBridge scientists returned to Pine Island Glacier in October of 2012, the rift had widened and was joined by a second crack first spotted that May. The close-up data gathered by the instruments aboard NASA’s DC-8 gave a view of the ice that added to TerraSAR-X observations. “It’s a perspective I hadn’t had before,” said Joseph MacGregor, a glaciologist at the Institute for Geophysics at The University of Texas at Austin, one of IceBridge’s partnering organizations. “Before, I was always looking nearly straight down.”

In the time since discovering the rift scientists have been gathering data on how changes in the environment might affect calving rates. For ocean-terminating glaciers like Pine Island Glacier the calving process takes place in a floating ice shelf where stresses like wind and ocean currents cause icebergs to break off. By gathering data on changes to ocean temperature and increasing surface melt rates, researchers are working toward implementing the physics of calving—a calving law—in computer simulations.

The data collected since 2011 is one step in building an understanding of calving and further research and cooperation is needed to understand not only calving but how Antarctica’s ice sheets and glaciers will change in the future. The unique combination of airborne and orbiting instruments that closely watched this recent calving event was the result of a spontaneous collaboration between researchers in the field. “It was at the level of colleagues coming together,” said Studinger. “It was a really nice collaboration.”

Ozark Snakes Reduce Mosquito-Eating Birds

Many birds feed on mosquitoes that spread the West Nile virus, a disease that killed 286 people in the United States in 2012 according to the Centers for Disease Control. Birds also eat insects that can be agricultural pests. However, rising temperatures threaten wild birds, including the Missouri-native Acadian flycatcher, by making snakes more active, according to University of Missouri biologist John Faaborg. He noted that farmers, public health officials and wildlife managers should be aware of complex indirect effects of climate change in addition to the more obvious influences of higher temperatures and irregular weather patterns.

“A warmer climate may be causing snakes to become more active and seek more baby birds for food,” said Faaborg, professor of biological sciences in MU’s College of Arts and Science. “Although our study used 20 years of data from Missouri, similar threats to bird populations may occur around the world. Increased snake predation on birds is an example of an indirect consequence that forecasts of the effects of climate change often do not take into account.”

In the heart of Missouri’s Ozark forest, cooler temperatures usually make snakes less active than in the edge of the forest or in smaller pockets of woodland. However, during abnormally hot years, even the interior of the forest increases in temperature. Since snakes are cold-blooded, warmer temperatures make the reptiles more active and increase their need for food. Previous studies using video cameras found that snakes are major predators of young birds.

Over the past twenty years, fewer young Acadian flycatchers (Empidonax virescens) survived during hotter years, according to research by Faaborg and his colleagues published in the journal Global Change Biology. Survival of young indigo buntings (Passerina cyanea) also decreased during warmer years. Faaborg suggested that a likely reason for decreased baby bird survival in hot years was an increase in snake activity. Faaborg, his colleagues and his former students, collected the data used in the study during two decades of fieldwork.

“Low survival in the Ozark nests harms bird numbers in other areas,” Faaborg said. “Birds hatched in the Ozark forest spread out to colonize the rest of the state and surrounding region. Small fragments of forests in the rest of the state do not support successful bird reproduction, so bird populations in the entire state depend on the Ozarks.”

Some Trees Trying to Adapt to Rising CO2

Studies have long predicted that plants would begin to use water more efficiently as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose. A research team led by Research Associate Trevor Keenan and Assistant Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Andrew Richardson, however, has found that forests across the globe are becoming more efficient than expected. 

Using data collected from forests in the northeastern US and elsewhere around the world, Keenan and Richardson, found increases in efficiency larger than those predicted by even the most state-of-the-art computer models. The research, which was done in collaboration with researchers from the Harvard’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, the USDA Forest Service, Ohio State University, Indiana University, and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, is described in a July 10 paper in Nature.

“This could be considered a beneficial effect of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide,” said Keenan, the first author of the paper. “What’s surprising is we didn’t expect the effect to be this big. A large proportion of the ecosystems in the world are limited by water – they don’t have enough water during the year to reach their maximum potential growth. If they become more efficient at using water, they should be able to take more carbon out of the atmosphere due to higher growth rates.” 

While increased atmospheric carbon dioxide may benefit forests in the short term, Richardson emphasized that the overall climate picture would remain grim if levels continue to rise. 

“We’re still very concerned about what rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide mean for the planet,” Richardson cautioned. “There is little doubt that as carbon dioxide continues to rise – and last month we just passed a critical milestone, 400 ppm, for the first time in human history – rising global temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns will, in coming decades, have very negative consequences for plant growth in many ecosystems around the world.”.

How do increasing carbon dioxide levels lead to more efficient water use? 

The answer, Keenan said, is in the way photosynthesis works. To take in the carbon dioxide they need, plants open tiny pores, called stomata, on their leaves. As carbon dioxide enters, however, water vapor is able to escape.

Higher levels of carbon dioxide, however, mean the stomata don’t need to open as wide, or for as long, meaning the plants lose less water and grow faster. To take advantage of that fact, Keenan said, commercial growers have for years pumped carbon dioxide into greenhouses to promote plant growth.

To test whether such a “carbon dioxide fertilization effect” was taking place in forests, Keenan, Richardson and others turned to long-term data measured using a technique called eddy covariance. This method, which relies on sophisticated instruments mounted on tall towers extending above the forest canopy, allows researchers to determine how much carbon dioxide and water are going into or out of the ecosystem.

With more than 20 years of data, the towers in the Harvard Forest – which have the longest continuous record in the world – are an invaluable resource for studying how forests have responded to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Though more than 300 towers have since sprung up around the globe, many of the earliest – and hence the longest data record – are in the northeast U.S.

When Keenan, Richardson and colleagues began to examine those records, they found that forests were storing more carbon and becoming more efficient in how they used water. The phenomenon, however, wasn’t limited to a single region – when they examined long-term data sets from all over the world, the same trend was evident.

“We went through every possible hypothesis of what could be going on, and ultimately what we were left with is that the only phenomenon that could cause this type of shift in water-use efficiency is rising atmospheric carbon dioxide,” Keenan said.

Going forward, Keenan (now based at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia) said he is working on a proposal to get access to data collected from even more sites around the world, including several that monitor tropical and Arctic systems.

“This larger dataset will help us to better understand the extent of the response we observed,” he said. “That in turn will help us to build better models, and improve predictions of the future of the Earth’s climate. Right now, all the models we have under-represent this effect by as much as an order of magnitude, so the question is: What are the models not getting? What do they need to incorporate to capture this effect, and how will that affect their projections for climate change?”


Can Global Warming Be Reversed?

This is according to a new study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, which shows that ambitious temperature targets can be exceeded then reclaimed by implementing BECCS around mid-century.

The researchers, from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, show that if BECCS is implemented on a large-scale along with other renewable energy sources, temperature increases can be as low as 1.5°C by 2150.

Co-author of the study, Professor Christian Azar, said: “What we demonstrate in our paper is that even if we fail to keep temperature increases below 2°C, then we can reverse the warming trend and push temperatures back below the 2°C target by 2150.

“To do so requires both large-scale use of BECCS and reducing other emissions to near-zero levels using other renewables – mainly solar energy – or nuclear power.”

BECCS is a greenhouse gas mitigation technology based on bioenergy that produces fuel for power plants or transportation while simultaneously removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Trees and crops give off carbon dioxide when they are burnt as fuel, but also act as a carbon sink as they grow beforehand, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These two processes cancel each other out, resulting in net zero emissions of carbon dioxide.

When combined with carbon capture and storage – techniques that aim to pull carbon dioxide out of the flue gases from power plants and redirect it into geological storage locations – the overall carbon dioxide emissions are negative. If applied on a global scale, this could help to reverse global warming.

In their study, the researchers developed an integrated global energy system and climate model that enabled them to assess the most cost-effective way forward for a given energy demand scenario and temperature target.

They find that stringent temperature targets can be met at significantly lower costs if BECCS is implemented 30 to 50 years from now, although this may cause a temporary overshoot of the 2°C target.

“The most policy relevant implication of our study is that even if current political gridlock causes global warming in excess of 2°C, we can reverse the temperature trend and reach targets later. This means that 2°C targets or even more ambitious targets can remain on the table in international climate negotiations,” Azar continues.

However, the authors caution against interpreting their study as an argument for delaying emission reductions in the near-term.

Azar says: “BECCS can only reverse global warming if we have net negative emissions from the entire global energy system. This means that all other CO2 emissions need to be reduced to nearly zero.

“Also, temperatures can only be reduced by about 0.6°C per century, which is too slow to act as an ’emergency brake’ if climate damages turn out to be too high. The more we reduce emissions now, the more ambitious targets we can achieve in the long term – even with BECCS.”

From Thursday 11 July, this paper can be downloaded from

For more articles on climate change visit

Rapid Changes Seen on Antarctic Sea Bottom

A report appearing in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, on July 11 reveals the discovery of a surprisingly fast-growing community of glass sponges in an area formerly covered by permanent ice. With the ice at the surface disappearing, those little-known sponges are launching a seafloor takeover.

That’s a surprise, given that glass sponges were thought to have very long and slow lives, the researchers say. The boldest estimates suggest lifetimes of more than 10,000 years.

“By comparing identical tracks video-surveyed by remotely operated underwater vehicle in one of the least accessible parts of the Antarctic, we found two- and three-fold increases in the biomass and abundance of glass sponges, respectively, from 2007 to 2011,” says Claudio Richter of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany. “This is much faster than any of us would have thought possible.”

“A general principle to be learned from our study is that benthic communities are very dynamic, even under the extreme environmental conditions prevailing in the Antarctic,” says the study’s first author, Laura Fillinger. “Only four years ago, the study area was dominated by a species of sea squirt. Now this pioneer species has all but disappeared, giving way to a community dominated by young individuals of a glass sponge.”

Richter and Fillinger plan to keep going back to this polar site, to see what might happen next. They suspect the seafloor there will ultimately reach a climax community that looks like those in other shallow and seasonally ice-covered Antarctic waters; at this rate, that could happen within decades, not centuries.

Exactly what this will mean for the rest of the Antarctic or the planet is impossible to say. Glass sponges serve as important habitat for diverse communities of fish and invertebrates, but there is still a lot that no one really knows about them.

Ultimately, the future is anyone’s guess. If you are a glass sponge, it does appear to be good news. “If the alarming rate of ice shelf disintegration continues… glass sponges may find themselves on the winners’ side of climate change,” the researchers write.