World News

Exact Moonlight Measurements Could Aid Earth-Observing Missions

As our nearest neighbor in space, the Moon is one of the most familiar objects in our sky. Yet there are still things we don’t know about it—like exactly how bright it is. In a new project, scientists will seek to make the most accurate measurements to date of lunar irradiance, the amount of light coming from the Moon.

The findings should interest more than just lovers and poets. For Earth-observing satellites, which use the Moon as a calibration tool, better moonlight measurements could mean more accurate observations of climate, land, and weather phenomena.

At the heart of the new project lies a 150-millimeter telescope under construction at Mauna Loa Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii. In 2018, the new instrument is expected to start taking measurements of the Moon’s reflected sunlight with unprecedented accuracy for 3–5 years. Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are conducting the project.

Lunar calibration experts say that those measurements will make it easier for Earth-observing satellites to coordinate and share data. That’s because although satellites are now able to use the Moon to set their own internal baselines for brightness and color measurements, they don’t have a standardized, absolute set of lunar light measurements to use as a shared reference.

The NIST project will change that, said Tom Stone of the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Robotic Lunar Observatory (ROLO) in Flagstaff, Ariz. “The Moon potentially can be a very accurate absolute calibration reference,” Stone said. “This is beyond current capabilities, but it is technically feasible. It requires new, high-accuracy absolute measurements of the lunar irradiance. Acquiring those measurements is what the NIST project is about.”

Losing Calibration

Imagers like those aboard USGS’s Landsat satellite series, which look at Earth’s land surfaces, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather-observing GOES-16 spacecraft are calibrated in laboratories before launch, but they lose calibration over time. What started out as “white” or “yellow” may gradually be perceived as “off-white” or “green.”

“If you’re looking at a part of the Earth and it appears to be changing, but your reference is actually changing, you’ve got a problem.”Such satellites carry a flat white panel, called a diffuser, that they use as a reference to recalibrate cameras and other instruments to a baseline white of a known reflected brightness. Over time, however, gases released by the satellite condense on the panel’s surface, changing its color and reflectivity.

That’s a problem if you’re trying to observe subtle, gradual changes on Earth, like warming oceans or deforestation. “If you’re looking at a part of the Earth and it appears to be changing, but your reference is actually changing, you’ve got a problem,” said physicist Joe Rice, group leader of the Remote Sensing Group at NIST.

A Stable Reference

“The Moon is the most stable reflectance thing up there, and that’s in large part because it doesn’t have an atmosphere.”That’s where the Moon comes in. In the late 1980s, scientists at USGS realized that satellite-based imagers could use the Moon as a reference because the light it reflects stays nearly constant. “Basically, the Moon is the most stable reflectance thing up there, and that’s in large part because it doesn’t have an atmosphere,” Rice said.

USGS developed a model based on observations from ROLO, and the agency provides satellite operators with model-generated predictions of lunar spectral irradiance, the intensity of the Moon’s reflected sunlight at various wavelengths. Satellite operators check their own observations of the Moon against these predicted values. Often these checks revealed that something was off. “Some of these satellites have seen tens of percent of degradation over time to their diffuser panel, and if it wasn’t for the Moon, they wouldn’t know that,” Rice said.

Mauna Loa Observatory at nightTwo domes on the campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., await transport to Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, where they will house a new 150-millimeter telescope to measure lunar irradiance for the next 3–5 years. Credit: Jennifer Lauren Lee/NIST

But the technological capability of ROLO didn’t allow it to make measurements as accurate as scientists would like. “They did a great job, but the uncertainty in their measurements in an absolute sense is thought to be somewhere between 5% and 10%,” Rice said.

That’s not a problem for keeping one satellite calibrated to itself. Because the Moon’s relative brightness and color change little over time, the imager can keep its “white” the same from year to year by recalibrating to the Moon at regular intervals.

But if different satellites want to combine or share data, they don’t have a common reference point, Rice said.

The same problem arises when scientists want to compare data from satellites that operated at different periods of time. In those cases, satellite operators currently must verify their satellite data against simultaneous measurements taken from aircraft or the ground or arrange for some orbital overlap during which the different satellites fly for at least a little while over the same terrain at the same time so that differences between imagers become apparent and can be corrected for, NIST scientists said.

Measuring Absolute Brightness

“Our goal is to get that absolute number. So that when you look at the spectrum of the Moon, it would be known within 1% how much light is coming from the Moon at any wavelength, compared to 5% to 10%.”With its new project, NIST hopes to “beat down” the uncertainty in lunar irradiance measurements, Rice said. “Our goal is to get that absolute number,” he said. “So that when you look at the spectrum of the Moon, it would be known within 1% how much light is coming from the Moon at any wavelength, compared to 5% to 10%.”

The NIST telescope will take in a broader spectrum of moonlight than ROLO, from ultraviolet wavelengths through the visible spectrum and into shortwave infrared. The telescope’s calcium fluoride lens, unlike glass lenses, can focus the full range of wavelengths onto a detector. To make certain that its observations are tied to the International System of Units (SI), the NIST team will use an SI-calibrated light bulb as a reference point. Linking the measurements to SI in this way connects them with an absolute standard. Previously, ROLO used the star Vega as its reference.

By observing the Moon over several years, the team will be able to measure the brightness of the Moon at every phase of the lunar cycle and through all the seasons, as well as through part of the Moon’s libration cycle, a pattern of oscillations that slightly shifts the Moon’s angle to Earth. Although the cycle repeats every 20 years, Rice said that scientists should be able to observe 95% of the Moon’s angles over the course of the experiment. “We want to get about 2 to 3, 4, or 5 years to get statistics on those types of effects,” he said.

Overcoming Atmosphere

The biggest challenge? The atmosphere. Even at 3,300 meters above sea level and with Hawaii’s famously clean and stable air, the atmosphere can cause some distortion to the measurements, Rice said. The solution? More calibration, of course. In addition to instruments that can help measure and correct for factors like humidity, temperature, and aerosols in the line of sight, Rice’s team hopes to fly a spectrograph on one of NASA’s high-altitude aircraft to take measurements of the Moon above the atmosphere. “If we get a couple of those points, we can check the atmospheric corrections we’re planning to do from Mauna Loa,” he said.

—Ilima Loomis (email:, Freelance Journalist

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A New Model Yields a Better Picture of Methane Fluxes

Peat-forming wetlands, including bogs and fens, can switch between acting as sources and sinks of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. Which process wins out depends on a multitude of factors, including climate, vegetation type, water table levels, nutrient inputs, microbe communities, hydrology, and the day-to-day conditions of the ecosystem. Current models can approximate net methane emission in these areas, but clearer predictions in the face of a changing climate require a more detailed model.

Methane is created when simple carbon-containing molecules, such as carbon dioxide and acetate, are reduced in the soil; that is, the carbon gains electrons and attracts neighboring hydrogen ions to form methane. Methane is destroyed when its carbon is oxidized, losing its electrons to nearby oxygen molecules. Both processes are mediated by soil microbes.

The formation of methane in soil occurs in highly reducing environments with no oxygen. In contrast, the reaction that destroys methane requires an environment where oxygen is present. The latter reaction is limited by the amount of methane and oxygen available.

This means that, generally speaking, methane is produced below the water table, where there is little to no oxygen, and it is destroyed above the water table, especially right at the boundary, where the most methane accumulates. When the water table is high, a greater proportion of the soil falls into methane-producing conditions. Likewise, when the water table drops, more soil is exposed to oxygen and thereby able to destroy methane. Current models commonly use this relationship to predict net methane production essentially on the basis of water table height.

New modeling reveals a clearer picture of how methane behaves above and below the water table in wetlandsPeatlands can switch from methane sources to methane sinks when the water table drops, but recent studies suggest that the controls on methane dynamics are not so simple. A new conceptual model, tested at this drained peatland pasture on Sherman Island, Calif., takes into account heterogeneity in methane dynamics through the vertical soil profile to provide a more accurate understanding of net methane emissions. Credit: Wendy Yang

Now Yang et al. suggest updating this classical conceptual model to include new information on methane dynamics gleaned from recent studies: For example, oxygen-poor pockets within the soil produce methane even above the water table, and methane can be destroyed below the water table in the absence of oxygen, depending on the presence of specific microbes and molecules in the soil that can play the role of oxygen to gain the electrons lost by methane.

The researchers proposed a new, heterogeneous conceptual model that takes into account the intricacies of methane dynamics for a more accurate picture of net methane emissions. They tested their model on a drained peatland in northern California, considering both the vertical soil profile and topography across the landscape. They found that although water table level can give a good general picture of methane emissions, the most accurate predictor of net methane production includes the abundance of oxygen-poor pockets.

This updated model provides researchers with a better tool for predicting methane emissions and feedback loops in relation to climate change. As our world continues to change, updating models to incorporate all the knowledge available will help scientists predict how the future, and the changes we make to our environment, will play out. (Global Biogeochemical Cycles,, 2017)

—Elizabeth Thompson, Staff Writer

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Facebook turns to AI to help prevent suicides

Facebook is turning to artificial intelligence to detect if someone might be contemplating suicide.

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Freezing electrons makes them get in line

New research published in Nature Communications suggests that electrons in a two-dimensional gas can undergo a semi-ordered (nematic) to mostly-ordered (smectic) phase transition, which has been discussed in physics theory but never seen in practice before.

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Thousands of carob trees planted as Cyprus revives ‘black gold’

Nearly 6,000 carob trees were planted on Sunday in Cyprus as the Mediterranean island seeks to revive its tradition of producing “black gold”.

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Navy wants small warships that pack a bigger punch

The Navy’s fast-and-maneuverable littoral combat ship was criticized for lacking enough firepower and armor to survive a maritime battle. The Navy is addressing those concerns with a new class of small-but-powerful frigates that will pack a bigger punch.

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Reporter’s Notebook: Fukushima face-lift masks morass inside

Above ground, the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant has had a major face-lift since the 2011 disaster. Inside and underground remains largely a morass.

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Russia opens commission into ‘nuclear incident’ report

A Russian scientific commission will investigate reports of radioactive pollution almost 1,000 times above normal levels in the southern Urals, state nuclear company Rosatom said Friday.

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Firm becomes first in US to offer online virtual sport betting

The company behind internet gambling website became the first in the U.S. to let gamblers bet real money online on the outcome of virtual sports events.

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High-speed quantum encryption may help secure the future internet

Recent advances in quantum computers may soon give hackers access to machines powerful enough to crack even the toughest of standard internet security codes. With these codes broken, all of our online data—from medical records to bank transactions—could be vulnerable to attack.

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The psychology of Black Friday – how pride and regret influence spending

Black Friday is upon us once again. Deals for cut-price clothes, televisions, appliances – you name it – are popping up. And for a limited time only. While stocks last, you could snag a bargain before Christmas.

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Can passion make better teachers and cure Indonesia’s poor learning level?

After decades, 89% of Indonesian children are in schools. But only a few are actually learning well as shown in the results of Indonesian National Assessment Program. Indonesia was also still ranked in the lowest ten in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Thus, following a recent global trend in education, Indonesia should shift its education goal from enrolment to include learning. How?

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Deep-Seabed Mining May Come Soon, Says Head of Governing Group

“All the indications are that we are at a decisive point in the long history of attempts to mine the deep seabed,” said Michael Lodge, secretary-general of the International Seabed Authority.The world is “on the threshold of a new industry,” the head of an international body that governs deep-seabed mining said last week. At a 14 November forum in Washington, D. C., Michael Lodge, secretary-general of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), laid out environmental and other challenges to deep-sea mining while maintaining that a new regulatory system could allow the seabed operations to proceed in a sustainable manner. “All the indications are that we are at a decisive point in the long history of attempts to mine the deep seabed,” he said.

Although commercial exploitation of seafloor materials has not yet begun and could be years off, Lodge told the joint meeting of several boards of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) that ISA has approved 29 exploration contracts covering more than 1.3 million square kilometers of the seabed in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans. He distinguished deep-seabed mining from shallow-water mining for gold, sand, and other materials, which has gone on for centuries. Also, ISA distinguishes between exploration and exploitation activities.

Technology for underwater mining, including remotely operated vehicles and other tools, has advanced enormously during the past few years, Lodge noted. Still to be developed, however, are a regulatory regime for mineral exploitation and reliable ways of knowing if a region of the seabed contains sufficient resources—such as manganese nodules, ferromanganese crusts, massive sulfides, or metal-rich muds—to support major capital investments, he said.

Developing New Regulations

ISA currently is crafting regulations, open for comment until 20 December, on the exploitation of deep-sea mineral resources.Established under the 1982 United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea, ISA oversees mining in the deep sea beyond the exclusive economic zone jurisdictions of individual countries. The organization currently is crafting regulations, open for comment until 20 December, on the exploitation of deep-sea mineral resources. Lodge said that ISA “must develop environmental regulations that ensure that exploration and exploitation take place in a manner that recognizes the need to protect the environment, both on the ocean floor and in the water column.”

Among those submitting comments, the Deep-Sea Minerals Working Group of the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI) called the consultative approach to developing ISA’s mining code “commendable” but urged more openness. “Exploitation of the Seabed will affect all nations in perpetuity. A clear, open process to develop these Regulations is necessary,” reads the 16 November comments from DOSI, a network of more than 700 experts from about 40 countries. DOSI’s letter, provided to Eos, also recommends that the regulation preamble reflect language from the UN convention about the need to “ensure effective protection for the marine environment from harmful effects which may arise from such activities.”

At the forum, Conn Nugent, director of the seabed mining project for Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D. C., said his group’s goal is to help ensure passage of a mining code that reserves large no-mining areas and adopts a precautionary code to govern activities where mining is allowed.

Environmental Issues

Other speakers in a panel discussion also addressed environmental concerns. “All mining has an impact,” said Mark Hannington, head of the marine mineral resources group at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research. “You’re either impacting society or land-based ecosystems or water quality or you’re affecting ecosystems on the bottom of the ocean.”

He said some mineral deposits should be off limits. “Obviously, the hydrothermal vents that are still active are unique ecosystems, and nobody intends to mine those,” Hannington noted. He said inactive hydrothermal vents might be attractive for mining but are harder to locate, and “we don’t know what kind of ecosystems might be associated with inactive vents.”

Dozens of scientists, however, last month expressed concern about a recent ISA decision to grant a contract for massive sulfide mineral exploration in a region of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge with active vents. “These unique hydrothermal vent sites”—known as Lost City, TAG, and Broken Spur—“are irreplaceable, and their vulnerability to nearby exploration, let alone seabed mining, is entirely unknown,” reads a 27 October letter, provided to Eos, which was signed by Beth Orcutt, senior research scientist with the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine, and cosigned by nearly 50 other scientists.

“A critical thing is to understand what our environmental goals are. Clearly, there is going to be habitat destruction, so what is it we are trying to protect?”Cindy Van Dover, professor of biological oceanography at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment in Durham, N.C., and a panelist at the forum, said that it’s “upside down” for exploration contracts to be awarded “before we understand what our regional environmental management plans are.”

Van Dover, who said she is neither pro- nor anti-mining, noted that mining degradation won’t just include “what you scrape up.” She said a sediment plume could affect the benthic and pelagic environment, and sound and light disturbances and toxic heavy metals also could disturb the marine environment. “A critical thing is to understand what our environmental goals are. Clearly, there is going to be habitat destruction, so what is it we are trying to protect?” she said.

Moving Forward

Hannington cautioned that although the number of areas with evidence of some valuable minerals is “astounding,” there is a big difference between a potential mineral resource and just a mineral occurrence. Global mining companies, he observed, currently are on the sidelines and don’t necessarily view deep-seabed mining as something of immediate interest.

Once new regulations governing exploitation are approved, possibly within a few years, mining likely would start slowly at relatively small scales, according to Lodge and others. “I think it will start off with a few operators who are willing to take the risk and invest that capital,” said Lodge. However, at least one expert attending the seafloor mining forum disagreed with that forecast. Larry Meinert, deputy associate director for energy and mineral resources at the U.S. Geological Survey, told Eos that he doesn’t see “a viable way to develop deep-sea mining as an industry.”

“No company could afford to put in a billion dollars of assessment to figure out whether this could be done,” said Meinert, who spoke about minerals at an earlier session of the NASEM meeting. “There’s no economic model that could pay for that.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

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Lightning Data Improves Precipitation Forecasts

Forecasting the timing and location of heavy precipitation in thunderstorms has been a challenge in the numerical weather prediction community. Wang et al. [2017] demonstrate how a new data type can be used in models to improve prediction of heavy precipitation. They use lightning data and a relationship between lightning and graupel mixing ratio to modify the freezing rate of rain droplets in the model. The authors perform three case studies using this method. Their results suggest that incorporating lightening data improves the simulations of updrafts, cold pool and front locations, and the forecasts of lightning and precipitation. The study can lead to better short-term forecasts of extreme weather events.

Citation: Wang, H., Liu, Y., Cheng, W. Y. Y., Zhao, T., Xu, M., Liu, Y., Shen, S., Calhoun, K. M. & Fierro, A.O. [2017]. Improving Lightning and Precipitation Prediction of Severe Convection using Lightning Data Assimilation with NCAR WRF-RTFDDA. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 122.

—Minghua Zhang, Editor-in-Chief, JGR: Atmospheres

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Forest Service weighs changes to protections for sage grouse

The U.S. Forest Service is rethinking protection plans for sage grouse in six Western states after a U.S. court agreed with mining companies and others that the agency illegally created some safeguards in Nevada.

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What happens once ‘net neutrality’ rules bite the dust?

The Federal Communications Commission formally released a draft of its plan to kill net-neutrality rules, which equalized access to the internet and prevented broadband providers from favoring their own apps and services.

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AGU’s Developer Contest Unlocks Scientific Research

With a goal of making the latest research in Earth and space science more discoverable, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) recently conducted a contest that awarded cash prizes to Earth and space scientists and software developers who found the most interesting new ways to visualize scientific papers, presentations, and data presented at AGU’s annual Fall Meeting. The winning entry is a new tool for exploring meeting abstracts by geographical location or scientific topic that was developed by two Oregon data scientists.

The AGU Open API Challenge encouraged participants to create new ways to expose and use data from the Fall Meeting, the world’s largest Earth and space science meeting.The AGU Open API Challenge encouraged participants to create new ways to expose and use data from the Fall Meeting, the world’s largest Earth and space science meeting. A software utility known as an application program interface (API) gave those taking part in the challenge controlled access to multiple sets of nonpersonal data from past Fall Meetings. The API, which was developed by AGU, provided access to data including abstracts, presenter information, and scheduling information from the 2014 to 2016 Fall Meetings as well as to available data from the upcoming 2017 Fall Meeting, which is to take place from 11 to 15 December in New Orleans.

The challenge: Create new ways to visually represent the depth and breadth of the research presented, find new ways for people to discover relevant research, explore new collaboration opportunities, or identify emerging areas of science.

Such a large amount of data is an invaluable resource, but on its own, “it wasn’t very easy to search,” said AGU meetings chair and head challenge judge Rick Murnane, an independent consultant for the World Bank regarding natural hazard risk assessments.

An essential part of the challenge was to open it to developers and scientists outside of the AGU community. Annie Burgess, one of the judges, emphasized the value of reaching outside our own circles: “Let’s see what others can come up with rather than continue to do the same thing.”

“People rose to the challenge.”Judges were impressed by the submissions, and Murnane appreciated how people used pieces of existing open source software. “They moved beyond what they had in existing apps and leveraged it to their needs,” he said.

Burgess and Murnane both acknowledged that finding new ways to visualize data is a tall order, especially when the challenge asked participants to create something mobile friendly that could scale to mass use in such a short period of time. Nonetheless, “people rose to the challenge,” Burgess said.

The Winners!

A husband and wife team of science data analysts, Bennett Battaile and Meenakshi Rao of Portland, Ore., took first place with their app AGU Explorer. They used multiple visualization tools that give users new ways to see the data they’re sifting through. Their home page features a map that breaks down presentations by location. A nested pie chart page reveals meeting data progressively, presenting meetings, then topical areas, then sessions, and, finally, abstracts.

Placing second was AGU Analytics by Tom Narock, Sarah Hasnain, and Ronie Stephan of Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore. They integrated various tools to help users discover emerging topics, relevant research, and new colleagues. Their keyword feature helps users identify new people and authors.

AGU Network captured the third-place honors. In this app by Gerry Rizzo of the University of Southern California, a network of lines interconnects data points, allowing users to explore Fall Meeting research and researchers that are related to one another.

Together, the teams won a combined $30,000 for their novel designs. Each team created interactive ways to navigate Fall Meeting data, and by visualizing those data differently, they may have also succeeded in helping AGU and future app users focus on new opportunities.

“If you can create ways to let people explore things or people that they don’t already know, maybe [they’ll decide] it’s time to go meet that person and collaborate,” said Burgess. “That opens a whole new door of discovery.”

Community Effort

AGU thanks everyone who participated in this first API Challenge for their continued contributions to science. We’d also like to thank our committed selection committee members and reviewers for taking the time to look through each application with careful thought and insight:

Selection Committee

Rick Murnane, Head Judge, Chair of AGU Meetings Committee, Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist, The World Bank

Annie Burgess, Lab Director, Earth Science Information Partners

Peter Brantley, Director of Online Strategy, University of California Davis Library

Xiaogang “Marshall” Ma, Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Idaho

Suzan van der Lee, Associate Professor, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Northwestern University


John Hammersley, CEO, Overleaf

Sarah Ramdeen, recent Ph.D. graduate, School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Liza Daly, Software Engineering Consultant

Andrew Valentine, Fellow, Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University

Geoff McKenna, Oculus Group

William Armstrong, Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Appalachian State University


Just the Beginning

“APIs can be [engineered] for all the different AGU meetings. It can be applicable to all sorts of meetings and maybe even shared with other societies.”All three winning apps are now open to the public online. The apps are open source, allowing continued development on these projects. We plan to grow our API program in the future to include even more data sets, furthering our goal to transform our use of digital technology.

This exploration of data doesn’t end with the challenge. AGU sponsors or cosponsors other meetings such as the Ocean Sciences Meeting and small, single-topic Chapman meetings. “APIs can be [engineered] for all the different AGU meetings. It can be applicable to all sorts of meetings and maybe even shared with other societies,” Murnane said.

We are excited to see the benefits of our API and the opportunities created by the three winning apps. “Each challenge brings lessons learned,” Burgess said. “Getting people engaged and looking at the data themselves is a valuable process”—a process we expect will continue with use and further enhancement of these apps as well as with the next API data set and its app developers.

—Chris McEntee (email:, Executive Director/CEO, AGU

Correction, 21 November 2017: This article has been updated with a corrected name for one of the winning apps’ developers.

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Plumbing the Depths of the Marine Carbon Cycle

To fully understand how the oceans regulate carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, scientists must have detailed knowledge of the marine carbon cycle. A large amount of the carbon emitted from human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, eventually enters the ocean. Some cycles back into the atmosphere relatively quickly (on a timescale of several hundred years), and some sinks down to the seafloor and below before being resurfaced by volcanic activity thousands to millions of years later.

A key link in this cycle is organic matter—material from living or formerly living organisms—that has been dissolved, usually by fire or some kind of heat. Studying this substance, called dissolved black carbon, can tell us a lot about the marine carbon cycle, especially over long periods of time. However, dissolved black carbon is not especially well understood because of sparse data sets across the ocean.

To fill in the gaps, Fang et al. looked at 86 seawater samples in the western South China Sea. The researchers sought to investigate the source and fate of dissolved black carbon in these samples, collected during the prevailing season of the southwest monsoon in southern Asia, which is when the major wind system in this region results in the majority of precipitation.

The researchers used a common method for isolating substances from soil or water samples. They oxidized the seawater samples, transforming the dissolved black carbon into a chemical called benzene polycarboxylic acid, which they could then measure. They found that the concentrations of dissolved black carbon in these samples ranged from about 0.49 to 1.6 units per liter (on average, about 0.95 unit per liter).

The researchers noticed that one region in particular, the Mekong River plume, had higher concentrations of dissolved black carbon in its mixed layer—a layer of seawater about 9–30 meters deep that has a fairly uniform temperature, salinity, and density—compared to its other layers.

The marine carbon cycle is deeply important to human life, as the oceans absorb nearly half of all carbon emitted into the atmosphere, and at least half of the oxygen in the air we breathe is generated by marine plants. By demonstrating an effective way to measure dissolved black carbon and drawing insight from those measurements, this study is an important step toward understanding both the marine and global carbon cycles. (Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences,, 2017)

—Sarah Witman, Freelance Writer

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Comcast, Verizon and maybe Amazon want look at 21st Century Fox assets

First it was Disney and then along came Comcast, but now other industry heavyweights, Verizon and possibly Amazon, are eyeing some of 21st Century Fox’s rich media empire.

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Amazon Key delivery driver could knock out security camera, researchers show

A Seattle-based group of cybersecurity researchers has demonstrated a way to knock’s new security camera offline, a capability that could enable malicious delivery drivers for the online retailer’s new in-home delivery service to snoop around a house undetected.

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Oceans May Produce Twice as Much Organic Matter as Usually Measured

The world’s oceans are one of the biggest carbon pools, or sinks, in the global carbon cycle. Some of this carbon (about 1,000 gigatons) is stored near the ocean’s surface and exchanged rapidly with Earth’s atmosphere. Some of this exchange is mediated by microbial marine organisms through photosynthesis, in which carbon dioxide is converted into organic matter, and respiration, in which the latter is metabolized.

In a new study, Carvalho et al. found that the respiration of freshly photosynthesized carbon dioxide by microorganisms in the water column is approximately constant when compared to the overall daily carbon production.

Surprisingly, this ratio was unaffected by a large range of temperature, irradiance (the amount of radiant energy per unit area), nutrient conditions, and the local microbial community, including diatoms (a type of algae) and flagellates (organisms self-propelled by whiplike appendages).

The team then used previous satellite estimates to calculate the gross carbon productivity—the amount of carbon incorporated into organic matter during photosynthesis—of oceans across the entire globe. The result was about double that of net productivity, which balances photosynthetic carbon uptake in oceans with carbon released by the respiration of primary producers in the ocean. Following these findings, the researchers recommend shorter productivity measurements to help minimize the effect of respiratory and dissolved organic carbon loss and hopefully produce more precise estimates of the ocean’s global carbon productivity over smaller increments of time.

In the course of their study, the researchers also found reason to suggest that autotrophic organisms, which initially fix the carbon dioxide into organic matter via photosynthesis, most likely dominate the ocean’s respiratory release of carbon that was photosynthesized in the previous 24 hours. This respiration is related to metabolic processes that keep the cell alive while photosynthesis occurs.

By studying the oceanic respiration of carbon in such detail, scientists are gaining a more complete understanding of the role that oceans play in the global carbon cycle. (Global Biogeochemical Cycles,, 2017)

—Sarah Witman, Freelance Writer

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Preparing for the Future: Climate Products and Models for India

Scientists have wholeheartedly accepted the existence of an increasing trend in the frequency and intensity of various extreme climate events, many of which are attributed to climate change. This trend is based on evidence from the recent past and is predicted to extend into the future.

Because of its diverse socioeconomic and climatic profile, the rapidly developing Indian subcontinent is highly vulnerable to extreme climate events.Because of its diverse socioeconomic and climatic profile, the rapidly developing Indian subcontinent is highly vulnerable to these extreme climate events. Reducing uncertainty when predicting such extreme climate events has taken on growing importance.

Earlier this year, researchers from India and Norway gathered for a project kickoff workshop to discuss the variability and predictability aspects of extremes. Participants assessed research gaps in the current predictability of extremes over India to target and develop some possible approaches for better forecasting.

They also discussed potential ways to transition these research products into direct use by stakeholders, including decision-makers and policy makers, officers from climate-sensitive ministries, and the general public. The workshop was part of the PREPARE Indo-Norwegian project, which aims to develop a forecasting model on multiple timescales for extreme events in India and to deliver customized climate products to Indian stakeholders to help them prepare under the narrative of growing extreme climate events.

A Need for Customized Products

Given the urgent need for customized climate service products to serve sensitive sectors like Indian water and agriculture, the workshop discussions centered on developing an India-specific, multitemporal forecasting system for various extreme climate indices. This system would help tailor climate services for stakeholders’ and users’ needs, develop future climate products specific for engineering purposes (water management and strategies and planning for building crucial infrastructure and residences, among many other applications), and develop a high-resolution data atlas for policy makers and decision-makers on future hydroextremes over the Indian domain.

A new approach, introduced at this session, could be used to forecast precipitation events 30 days before they happen.A daylong scientific session on intraseasonal and decadal predictability of climate focused on Asian monsoons. Workshop participants agreed that a new approach, introduced at this session, could be very useful in developing India’s multitemporal forecasting model. This approach uses maximum covariance analysis (MCA) and could be used to forecast precipitation events 30 days before they happen since the approach assumed that  the events within a given season are strongly related to extremes of precipitation. One presentation at the workshop focused on a successful pilot experiment for India that used MCA.

Workshop participants took a day-trip to Oslo to attend a talk about how to move away from a carbon-based economy. During this day-trip, attendees met with senior officials from embassies including Brazil, India, Russia, and the Netherlands and officers and researchers from the hydropower, risk assessment, and research and development sectors. These officials took an immediate interest in the outcomes of the workshop, especially the parts that dealt with designing a forecasting model and customized climate products from the project.

The workshop ended with a plan and agenda for the first fully residential Climate Research School on Extremes, which was held 18–22 September 2017.

The lessons learned from the workshop generated a 3-year plan of action for the deliverables under the PREPARE project. The data products that will be created under this project will be presented in an easy-to-use atlas for India, containing high-resolution images and synthesis research outputs in the form of spatial plots and infographics. The stakeholders see the workshop and project outputs as important contributions toward appropriate policy formulation to prepare for future climate extremes.

This workshop was funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in India under Phase 2 of the Norwegian Framework Agreement with The Energy and Resources Institute and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

—Saurabh Bhardwaj (email:; @bhardwajsays), The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi, India; Michel d. S. Mesquita, Uni Research, Bergen, Norway; and Naurinete J. C. Barreto, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais, Belem, Brazil

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