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19 Oct 05:18

Greater Adria, a lost continent hiding in plain sight

by Frank Jacobs

  • Following a 10-year survey, geologists discover a lost continent in the Mediterranean.
  • 'Greater Adria' existed for 100 million years, and was probably "great for scuba diving".
  • Most of it has been swallowed up by Earth's mantle, but bits of it survive.

Complex geology

Topographic map of the Mediterranean Sea basin, once home to the continent of Greater Adria.

Move over, Atlantis. Not all lost continents are myths; here's one whose existence has just been verified by science. Greater Adria broke off from North Africa 240 million years ago. About 120 million years later, it started sinking beneath Southern Europe. But bits of it remain, scattered across local mountain ranges.

It's the geological similarities in those mountains that had led scientists to hypothesize the presence of an ancient continent in the Mediterranean. But the region's geology is so complex that only recent advances in computing—and a 10-year survey by an international team of scientists—were able to produce a geo-historical outline of that former land mass. This is the very first map of the world's latest lost continent (1).

The 100-million-year history of Greater Adria starts nearly a quarter of a billion years ago. The world was a very different place back then. It was just recovering from the Permian-Triassic extinction, which came pretty close to wiping out all life on Earth. The planet was repopulated by the first mammals and dinosaurs.

Supercontinental break-up

All together now: the supercontinent of Pangaea (335-175 million years ago).

Oblivious that biological imperative, Earth's geology was on a course of its own: fragmentation. At that time, the planet's land masses had coagulated into a single supercontinent, Pangaea.

Around 240 million years ago, a Greenland-sized piece of continental plate broke off from what would become North Africa and started drifting north. Between 120 and 100 million years ago, the continent smashed into Southern Europe. Even though the speed of that collision was no more than 3 to 4 cm per year, it ended up shattering the 100-km thick crust.

Most of the continental plate was pushed under Southern Europe and swallowed up by Earth's mantle, a process known as subduction. Seismic waves can still detect the plate, now stuck at a depth of up to 1500 km.

But some of the sedimentary rocks on top were too light to sink, so they were scraped off and got crumpled up—the origin of various mountain chains across the Mediterranean region: the Apennines in Italy, parts of the Alps, and ranges in the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.

Death and birth

Flowing from present to deep past, this time-lapse reconstruction of the geological history of the Mediterranean shows the death and birth (in that order) of Greater Adria in unprecedented amounts of detail.

Some bits of Greater Adria survived both the shave-off into mountainhood and death by subduction. "The only remaining part of this continent is a strip that runs from Turin via the Adriatic Sea to the heel of Italy's boot," says Douwe van Hinsbergen, Professor of Global Tectonics and Paleogeography at Utrecht University, and the study's principal researcher. That's an area geologists call 'Adria', so the team, consisting of scientists from Utrecht, Oslo and Zürich, called the lost continent 'Greater Adria'.

What was the continent like? A shallow continental shelf in a tropical sea, where sediments were slowly turned into rock, Greater Adria possibly resembled Zealandia, a largely submerged continent with bits sticking out (i.e. New Zealand and New Caledonia), or perhaps the Florida Keys, an archipelago of non-volcanic islands. Either way, dotted with islands and archipelagos above the water, and lots of coral below, it was "probably good for scuba diving," Van Hinsbergen says.

It took scientists this long to produce the first map of Greater Adria not just because the Mediterranean is, in the words of Van Hinsbergen, "a geological mess (…) Everything is curved, broken and stacked. Compared to this, the Himalayas represent a rather simpler system." Greater Adria perished by subduction and scraping-off. The Himalayas emerged by the collision of two continents.

Ore deposits

A reconstruction of Greater Adria, Africa and Europe about 140 million years ago. In lighter green, submerged parts of continental shelves.

The region also has a complex geopolitical makeup, obliging the researchers to piece together evidence from 30 different countries, from Spain to Iran, "each with its own geological survey, own maps, own ideas about evolutionary history. Research often stops at national borders."

So what has geology learned from the discovery of Greater Adria?
  • First off, that its hypothesis was right: Geological similarities across the Mediterranean really did point to a lost continent, now found.
  • Secondly, the reconstruction of Greater Adria has also taught geologists that subduction is the basic way in which mountain belts are formed.
  • They've also learned a great deal about volcanism and earthquakes, and "(we) can even predict, to a certain extent, what a given area will look like in the far future," van Hinsbergen says.
  • Finally, and practically, these insights will help scientists and surveyors to identify and locate ore deposits and other useful materials in mountain belts.

Strange Maps #994

Greater Adria map and movie reproduced with kind permission of Utrecht University.

The article 'Orogenic architecture of the Mediterranean region and kinematic reconstruction of its tectonic evolution since the Triassic', by Van Hinsbergen e.a., appeared in the latest issue of Gondwana Research (September 2019).

Got a strange map? Let me know at

(1) There are plenty of these to go around: mythical ones like Atlantis, Mu, Lemuria and Kumari Kandam; and real ones from geological history like Avalonia, Congo Craton, Kalaharia and Laurentia.

25 Sep 07:00

Not convinced on the need for urgent climate action? Here's what happens to our planet between 1.5°C and 2°C of global warming

by Rachel Warren, Professor of Global Change, University of East Anglia

Many numbers are bandied around in climate emergency discussions. Of them, 1.5°C is perhaps the most important. At the Paris Agreement in 2015, governments agreed to limit global warming to well below 2°C and to aim for 1.5°C. By 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the UN body tasked with relaying the science of climate breakdown to the world – had made worryingly clear in a special report how much graver the consequences of the higher number would be.

Together with the University of Queensland’s Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and colleagues around the world, we’ve explored in newly published work just how much sticking to 1.5°C matters.

Climate breakdown is already harming livelihoods, cities and ecosystems. From heatwaves and droughts to cyclones and floods, devastating extreme weather events are more frequent, more intense and more unpredictable than they would be in the absence of global heating. Warming and acidifying oceans are causing severe coral bleaching to occur twice as often as in 1980, leaving many unable to recover.

Shrinking habitats are increasingly forcing wildlife into conflict with human settlements. Increasing wildfires are damaging vital carbon stores in North America and Siberia, while the advance of spring is throwing species who depend on each other out of sync.

The more we destabilise our climate, the greater the risk to human societies and ecosystems. Even at 1.5°C of global heating, tough times are in store for the living planet. But the space between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is a crucial battleground, within which risks to humanity and ecosystems amplify rapidly.

Climate battleground

At 1.5°C of warming, about one in twenty insect and vertebrate species will disappear from half of the area they currently inhabit, as will around one in ten plants. At 2°C, this proportion doubles for plants and vertebrates. For insects, it triples.

A great many risks amplify between 1.5 and 2 degrees of warming. Hoegh-Guldberg, Jacob, Taylor/IPCC

Such high levels of species loss will put many ecosystems across the world at risk of collapse. We rely on healthy ecosystems to pollinate crops, maintain fertile soil, prevent floods, purify water, and much more. Conserving them is essential for human survival and prosperity.

Between 1.5°C and 2°C, the number of extremely hot days increases exponentially. Some parts of the world can also expect less rain and more consecutive dry days, while others will receive more extreme floods. Collectively, this will place agriculture, water levels and human health under severe stress – especially in southern African nations, where temperatures will increase faster than the global average. The Mediterranean is another key area at particular risk above 1.5°C of heating, where increased drought will alter flora and fauna in a way without precedent in ten millennia.

At 1.5°C of warming, we could expect to lose between 70% and 90% of our coral reefs. While this would be catastrophic for the millions of ocean creatures and human livelihoods these beautiful ecosystems support, there would still be a chance of recovery in the long term if oceans warm slowly. But at 2°C of warming, we could kill 99% of reefs. To be clear, this is a line that once crossed cannot be easily uncrossed. It could mean the extinction of thousands of species.

Read more: What climate 'tipping points' are – and how they could suddenly change our planet

Arctic sea ice has been a constant on our planet for hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of years. If we limit global heating to 1.5°C, there’s a 70% chance of it remaining that way. But at 2°C, some Arctic summers will be ice-free. Polar bears and other species who depend on frozen sea ice to eat and breed will be left homeless and struggling to survive.

Studies show that at 1.5°C, we could expect one metre of sea-level rise in 2300, with an extra 26cm at 2°C. However, between these two levels of global heating, the risk of the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets starting a slow process of decline dramatically increases. For the Greenland sheet, this is likeliest to happen at 1.6°C, with the Antarctic ice sheet’s tipping point hovering not far above this mark.

Polar bears depend on Arctic sea ice. FloridaStock/Shutterstock

If these ice sheets melt, seas could rise by up to two metres over the next two centuries. These rises could lead to millions more people being exposed to flooding each year. Many of those living in coastal cities, deltas, or small islands will be faced with little option but to build upwards or relocate.

Way off track

The impacts of climate breakdown are accelerating. The planet has warmed by 1.1°C since 1850-79, but 0.2°C of this warming happened between 2011 and 2015 alone. The last four years were the warmest in the global temperature record.

Despite knowing all the above, many country-level commitments and action are nowhere near enough to limit warming to 2°C, let alone 1.5°C. We’re heading for 2.9°C to 3.4°C of warming. By this point, many dangerous tipping points could be crossed, leading to rainforest die-back, deadly heatwaves, and significant sea-level rise. Half of all insect and plant species are projected to disappear from more than half of the area they currently inhabit, potentially causing widespread ecosystem collapse and threatening organised human civilisation itself.

Read more: Five things every government needs to do right now to tackle the climate emergency

Limiting warming to 1.5°C will save the global economy trillions of dollars in the long run, even accounting for the seemingly gargantuan cost of transitioning our energy systems. But this is more than just an economic or academic issue – its a matter of life and death for millions of humans and animal species, and a severe threat to the well-being of billions.

Tackling climate breakdown is perhaps the tallest order humanity has ever faced, and there is no simple solution. The only way forward is accepting that we must fundamentally change the way we live our lives. It won’t be an easy transition, but there is no alternative if we are to preserve the well-being of humans, wildlife, and ecosystems. The coming year is vital, and there’s too much at stake not to act now.

The Conversation

Rachel Warren receives funding from Natural Environment Research Council, the European Commission, and the UK Department of Business and Industrial Strategy. She was a lead author in the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C.

Sally Brown presently receives funding from funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NE/S016651/1). She previously received relevant funding (on the impacts of a rise in 1.5°C in temperatures) from Natural Environment Research Council (NE/P01495X/1) and similar research projects, and was a lead author in the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C.

09 Jun 07:22

Big storm on the way. Oh wait, no, it’s a cloud of ladybugs

by Nathan Yau

Apparently ladybugs migrate this time of year, and it’s enough to show up on the radar as a giant rain cloud. Yeah.

Tags: ladybugs, weather

27 Mar 06:54

How measurable is online advertising?

New research sheds light on whether common approaches for online advertising measurement are as reliable and accurate as the 'gold standard' of large-scale, randomized experiments.
10 Mar 15:58

Crown Of Life, The by GISSING, George

So what is the crown of life? Follow the journey of Piers and Irene as they attempt to discover. It is both a coming of age novel and love story at the same time, one which would bring delight to philosophers with many conversations for and against imperialism, romantics who would follow the long courtship in the center of the plot, and sociologists who would follow with interest the vivid way in which George Gissing describes the society in which he lived. - Summary by Stav Nisser.
03 Mar 09:37

The power of language: we translate our thoughts into words, but words also affect the way we think

by Guillaume Thierry, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Bangor University
Words shed light on our world. Curioso via Shutterstock

Have you ever worried in your student years or later in life that time may be starting to run out to achieve your goals? If so, would it be easier conveying this feeling to others if there was a word meaning just that? In German, there is. That feeling of panic associated with one’s opportunities appearing to run out is called Torschlusspanik.

German has a rich collection of such terms, made up of often two, three or more words connected to form a superword or compound word. Compound words are particularly powerful because they are (much) more than the sum of their parts. Torschlusspanik, for instance, is literally made of “gate”-“closing”-“panic”.

If you get to the train station a little late and see your train’s doors still open, you may have experienced a concrete form of Torschlusspanik, prompted by the characteristic beeps as the train doors are about to close. But this compound word of German is associated with more than the literal meaning. It evokes something more abstract, referring to the feeling that life is progressively shutting the door of opportunities as time goes by.

English too has many compound words. Some combine rather concrete words like “seahorse”, “butterfly”, or “turtleneck”. Others are more abstract, such as “backwards” or “whatsoever”. And of course in English too, compounds are superwords, as in German or French, since their meaning is often distinct from the meaning of its parts. A seahorse is not a horse, a butterfly is not a fly, turtles don’t wear turtlenecks, etc.

One remarkable feature of compound words is that they don’t translate well at all from one language to another, at least when it comes to translating their constituent parts literally. Who would have thought that a “carry-sheets” is a wallet – porte-feuille –, or that a “support-throat” is a bra – soutien-gorge – in French?

This begs the question of what happens when words don’t readily translate from one language to another. For instance, what happens when a native speaker of German tries to convey in English that they just had a spurt of Torschlusspanik? Naturally, they will resort to paraphrasing, that is, they will make up a narrative with examples to make their interlocutor understand what they are trying to say.

But then, this begs another, bigger question: Do people who have words that simply do not translate in another language have access to different concepts? Take the case of hiraeth for instance, a beautiful word of Welsh famous for being essentially untranslatable. Hiraeth is meant to convey the feeling associated with the bittersweet memory of missing something or someone, while being grateful of their existence.

Hiraeth is not nostalgia, it is not anguish, or frustration, or melancholy, or regret. And no, it is not homesickness, as Google translate may lead you to believe, since hiraeth also conveys the feeling one experiences when they ask someone to marry them and they are turned down, hardly a case of homesickness.

Different words, different minds?

The existence of a word in Welsh to convey this particular feeling poses a fundamental question on language–thought relationships. Asked in ancient Greece by philosophers such as Herodotus (450 BC), this question has resurfaced in the middle of the last century, under the impetus of Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Lee Whorf, and has become known as the linguistic relativity hypothesis.

Linguistic relativity is the idea that language, which most people agree originates in and expresses human thought, can feedback to thinking, influencing thought in return. So, could different words or different grammatical constructs “shape” thinking differently in speakers of different languages? Being quite intuitive, this idea has enjoyed quite of bit of success in popular culture, lately appearing in a rather provocative form in the science fiction movie Arrival.

Although the idea is intuitive for some, exaggerated claims have been made about the extent of vocabulary diversity in some languages. Exaggerations have enticed illustrious linguists to write satirical essays such as “the great Eskimo vocabulary hoax”, where Geoff Pullum denounces the fantasy about the number of words used by Eskimos to refer to snow. However, whatever the actual number of words for snow in Eskimo, Pullum’s pamphlet fails to address an important question: what do we actually know about Eskimos’ perception of snow?

No matter how vitriolic critics of the linguistic relativity hypothesis may be, experimental research seeking scientific evidence for the existence of differences between speakers of different languages has started accumulating at a steady pace. For instance, Panos Athanasopoulos at Lancaster University, has made striking observations that having particular words to distinguish colour categories goes hand-in-hand with appreciating colour contrasts. So, he points out, native speakers of Greek, who have distinct basic colour terms for light and dark blue (ghalazio and ble respectively) tend to consider corresponding shades of blue as more dissimilar than native speaker of English, who use the same basic term “blue” to describe them.

But scholars including Steven Pinker at Harvard are unimpressed, arguing that such effects are trivial and uninteresting, because individuals engaged in experiments are likely to use language in their head when making judgements about colours – so their behaviour is superficially influenced by language, while everyone sees the world in the same way.

To progress in this debate, I believe we need to get closer to the human brain, by measuring perception more directly, preferably within the small fraction of time preceding mental access to language. This is now possible, thanks to neuroscientific methods and – incredibly – early results lean in favour of Sapir and Whorf’s intuition.

So, yes, like it or not, it may well be that having different words means having differently structured minds. But then, given that every mind on earth is unique and distinct, this is not really a game changer.

The Conversation

Guillaume Thierry has received funding from the European Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, the British Academy, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council, and the Arts Council of Wales.

03 Mar 09:28

Brexit uncertainty has hurt UK economy – extending Article 50 could hurt it even more

by Costas Milas, Professor of Finance, University of Liverpool
Britain's future relationship with the EU remains unclear. Amani A /

Three years on from its vote on EU membership and the UK still has little idea what its future relationship with the EU might turn out to be. Under pressure from europhile members of her cabinet, Theresa May has finally decided that running the Brexit clock down is in nobody’s interest. Instead, she has now taken the perhaps equally disappointing decision to kick the Brexit can further down the road, if politically necessary.

Just how far down the road is itself not clear. If May’s withdrawal agreement does not pass on March 12, she has promised a vote on March 13 on whether MPs support a no-deal Brexit. And if that fails, there will be another vote on March 14 on requesting an extension to the Article 50 negotiation process – thereby delaying Brexit. It remains unclear how long this would be for, although EU sources have suggested 21 months as a plausible length for defining the future relationship between the EU and UK.

In the meantime, both consumers and businesses are paying the Brexit price. This is because, in the presence of ongoing economic policy uncertainty, the sterling exchange rate takes a hit as foreign investors become less willing to trust, and therefore invest, in the UK economy. To see this, the following graph plots movements in economic policy uncertainty (which is calculated from newspaper reports regarding policy uncertainty from 11 UK newspapers) and the sterling exchange rate.

The Conversation | Data: Economic Policy Uncertainty Index and Bank of England, CC BY-ND

The graph shows how uncertainty sky rocketed in the aftermath of the EU referendum of June 2016. As policymakers adjusted to the reality of the referendum result, policy uncertainty declined and more so following from March 2017 when Mrs May triggered Article 50 in an attempt to enter “meaningful” negotiations with the EU.

Nevertheless, the never-ending negotiations have definitely taken their toll, as evidenced from the visible spike in policy uncertainty in 2018 and early 2019. Rising policy uncertainty causes the pound to depreciate versus the US dollar. This, in turn, translates into inflation and adds pressure on the Bank of England to either raise interest rates (to combat inflation) or become less unwilling to stimulate the economy by cutting interest rates if a damaging no-deal Brexit becomes reality.

Large swings in the exchange rate, combined with higher policy uncertainty, means that UK exporters face constant uncertainty over their earnings and future investments. This makes them less willing to invest. Not only does this deprive the economy of new jobs, it also undermines the UK’s productivity prospects, adding to the country’s well-known “productivity puzzle” (very weak productivity growth in the aftermath of the 2008-09 financial crisis which leaves little room for strong wage increases).

The Conversation | Data: ONS, CC BY-ND

In other words, the ongoing policy uncertainty affects both ends of the economy: consumers who face lower incomes and export producers who prefer not to make productive investments because looming risk poses a threat to their profits.

Action required

To counteract the adverse impact of increasing policy uncertainty on business investments and productivity, one option the UK government has is to aggressively cut the corporate tax rate. This currently stands at 19% for the UK (and will be cut further to 17% in 2020). This is already much lower than the OECD average of 23.8%. Since the UK’s corporate tax rate is already a lot lower than its competitors, without having much positive impact, I am afraid that May’s government is running out of options to counteract the adverse impact of uncertainty. That is, apart from dealing with the uncertainty itself.

But British politicians seem to be consumed with their own infighting rather than dealing with the real issue of negotiating a future working relationship with the EU. There is little to suggest that, if the Article 50 process is extended, the uncertainty fog surrounding Westminster will lift. So merely extending Article 50 will do little to reassure businesses and consumers that there is light at the end of the Brexit tunnel.

French statesman Charles de Gaulle famously said: “To govern is always to choose among disadvantages.” Delaying every decision instead fuels uncertainty and damages both your credibility and the economy.

The Conversation

Costas Milas does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

24 Jan 07:17

24 Ene 2019 18:00 : La hora del cuento

Vente los jueves a la biblioteca de 18 a 18:30 horas, te contaremos un cuento. Solo tienes que tener más de 4 años y apuntarte en la Sala Infantil (Planta 0) o en el teléfono 942 24 15 50.
01 Oct 04:05

Teachers' Day 2018 (Uzbekistan)

Teachers' Day 2018 (Uzbekistan)

Date: October 1, 2018

Location: Uzbekistan


03 Sep 22:14

Hunting hounds – the not so secret reason farmers can’t control disease

by Mike Nicholas
Hunting hounds – the not so secret reason farmers can’t control disease
Mike Nicholas 3rd September 2018
Teaser Media
03 Jul 17:27

French Bookstore Invites its Instagram Followers to Judge Books by Their Covers

by Laura Staugaitis

In addition to laying claim to the title of France’s first independent bookstore, Librairie Mollat has carved a unique niche on Instagram with its #bookface portraits. The Bordeaux-based bookstore regularly features photographs of book covers held up in front of perfectly scaled, dressed, and nose-shaped people (presumably, some are customers, though some repeated faces seem to indicate a few photogenic employees). You can see more from Mollat—and perhaps even get your next book recommendation—on Instagram. If you enjoy this, also check out Album Plus Art. (via Hyperallergic)


26 Jul 21:40

Christmas Miscellany 2017, A by VARIOUS

A selection of short works about Christmas. (Summary by david wales)
14 Jan 05:35

Que llueva...y que el agua se lleve la mierda

by (David Alvarez)
Por fin llovió en Asturias, y aunque pueda sonar a chiste tratándose de una de las comunidades autónomas con mayor pluviosidad, hacía casi un mes que no caía una sola de gota de agua, cuando diciembre y enero son dos de los meses más lluviosos del año. 

Solo hace falta ver el gráfico anterior, en el que se muestra la lluvia caída en Oviedo durante el mes de diciembre en el periodo 1974-2016, para darse cuenta de que diciembre de 2016 ha sido el diciembre más seco de la serie, con tan solo 1,5 litros de lluvia caída por metro cuadrado en los 31 días del mes, cuando la media durante ese periodo es de 91 litros/m2 (diciembre de 2015 ya había sido el tercer diciembre más seco de ese periodo).

Resultados de los modelos predictivos de los cambios en las precipitaciones para este siglo. España será un desierto.

Cada día son más numerosas las evidencias que nos confirman que el cambio climático no es un futurible, sino que es algo muy real del que ya estamos sufriendo sus consecuencias. Y el cambio climático no afecta solo al incremento de las temperaturas medias, también tiene un efecto muy notable sobre las precipitaciones, tanto en la cantidad como en los cambios en los patrones temporales y en la intensidad de las mismas. En resumidas cuentas, todo apunta a que cada vez serán más frecuentes los episodios de sequías prolongadas pero también los episodios de lluvias torrenciales.

Una de las consecuencias de la falta de lluvias del mes de diciembre ha sido el aumento de los niveles de contaminación en el aire, que hace tan solo un par de días era insoportable, haciendo que el aire fuera prácticamente irrespirable. En algunos momentos del 9 de enero, estos niveles fueron los más altos de la Península ibérica, tal como mostraba la página de Contaminación del aire a tiempo real.

Pero por si esto fuera poco, durante algunos momentos de ese mismo día, Asturias tuvo el dudoso honor de de ser el lugar con peor calidad del aire de Europa occidental, alcanzándose valores dañinos para la salud en varias estaciones del centro de la provincia (Gracias Carlos Solares por los mapas). 

Se podría decir que los datos anteriores son solo una representación puntual de la calidad del aire y que ésta puede sufrir grandes variaciones diarias e incluso a lo largo del mismo día, pero si nos fijamos en el gráfico anterior, extraído del último informe de la Agencia Europea del Medio Ambiente, los valores de las concentraciones diarias de partículas PM10 (menores de 10 μg) en Asturias (círculo azul) a lo largo del año 2014 fueron las más altas de la península ibérica y de las mas altas de toda la Europa occidental. 

Según la directiva 1999/30/CE del Consejo de 22 de abril de 1999 relativa a los valores límite de dióxido de azufre, dióxido de nitrógeno y óxidos de nitrógeno, partículas y plomo en el aire ambiente, que es de aplicación desde el 1 de enero de 2010, el valor límite diario de estas partículas es de 50 μg/m3, que no podrían superarse más de 35 días al año. Y este límite se superó en 2015, lo que tuvo como consecuencia que Oviedo estuviera a punto de ser declarado oficialmente punto negro de contaminación. Finalmente, el Principado de Asturias aplicando un conocido juego de trileros, descontó de esos 35 días aquellos en los que había presencia de polvo sahariano y se libró por los pelos.

A la vista de estos datos, las declaraciones efectuadas hace un par de meses por el Responsable de Epidemiología Laboral y Ambiental del Principado de Asturias, cuando afirmó que "vivimos en una de las mejores zonas del mundo, por la calidad del aire, y vamos mejorando cada vez más", solo pueden tomarse como una tomadura de pelo y una broma de mal gusto.

¿De donde viene la contaminación atmosférica?

La contaminación del aire es debida en su mayoría a la quema de combustibles fósiles, ya sea en medios de locomoción, calefacciones o industrias. Lo cierto es que en Asturias, nuestros representantes políticos llevan varios días desviando la atención hacia el tema del tráfico y la calefacción, que sin duda tienen un efecto sobre la contaminanción que estamos sufriendo, pero apenas hablan de la industria, porque no les interesa.

Y debería interesarles, ya que Asturias es la comunidad autónoma con mayor polución industrial de España, un quinto de toda la del país. En 2015 las industrias asturianas emitieron 188.450 toneladas de contaminantes, 126.212 de las cuales tuvieron origen en Arcelor. También estamos en cabeza en la contaminación por benceno, emitido por la industria y altamente cancerígeno. 

Efectos sobre la salud de la contaminación atmosférica

Según el informe anteriormente citado, la contaminación atmosférica es la responsable de 520.000 muertes anuales en la Unión Europea, 30.000 de las cuales se producen en España, 10 veces más que las muertes en accidentes de tráfico. ¿Como es posible que ante estas cifras no se tomen medidas drásticas para reducir esa tasa de mortalidad? La respuesta parece evidente, y es sencillamente porque la contaminación no causa una muerte directa (salvo en casos extremos), sino que produce complicaciones en otras enfermedades, como las pulmonares o las cardíacas, lo que incrementa las tasas de mortalidad. ¿Podría esto explicar por qué Asturias es a día de hoy la comunidad autónoma con mayor incidencia de gripe?, ¿es coincidencia que el mayor mayor número de casos de gripe se hayan registrado la semana en la que los índices de polución atmosférica fueran más elevados? Podría ser, aunque no se puede confirmar.

¿Habrá alguna relación entre la contaminación ambiental y el hecho de que Asturias tenga la mayor tasa de asma o bronquitis crónica declarada entre los hombres de más de 16 años de toda España, según los datos oficiales del Ministerio de Sanidad? Podría ser.

¿Y qué hacen nuestros representantes para atajar el problema de la contaminación? 

Pues la estrategia seguida durante los últimos meses es siempre la misma y se resume en cuatro premisas:

1) Minimizar el problema: Todo va bien, no hay que exagerar, esto es lo normal así que hay que estar tranquilos. Y cuando esas explicaciones no cuelan, pues se cambia el vocabulario y se emplean otros términos, como hizo ayer mismo la consejera de Medio Ambiente del Principado, que mantenía que en 2016 los niveles de contaminación fueron "razonables".

2) La culpa es del tráfico y de la calefacción: Sin quitar importancia a esta fuente de contaminación, sobre todo la producida por los vehículos diésel, tal como señalan los últimos informes la mayor fuente de contaminación atmosférica en Asturias es la industrial. Hablar del tráfico y de la calefacción hace que nos sintamos culpables (que en parte lo somos, no se puede negar) y de  esta forma se minimice el efecto de la industria y se olvide la responsabilidad de la administración ante las grandes empresas.

Sigue siendo más barato pagar las multas por contaminar que instalar filtros adecuados para reducir las emisiones. Y la tolerancia se incrementa si la industria amenaza con despidos de personal o traslados de factorías si se aumenta la presión sobre ellas.

3) Jugar con los medidores: Como ya he mencionado muchas veces, los datos, como el algodón de Mr. Proper, no engañan. Eso si, los datos hay que tomarlos bien. En el caso de la contaminación, para medir la concentración en el aire de los contaminantes se utilizan medidores que deben ser colocados en puntos estratégicos según los resultados que queramos obtener. Si queremos saber la incidencia de los contaminantes sobre la población de una determinada ciudad, habrá que colocarlos en aquellos lugares donde viva gente y donde haya fuentes de contaminación, algo que parece bastante obvio.

Una de las estrategias para "esconder" los datos de contaminación es alejar esos medidores de las fuentes de contaminación, trasladándolos a zonas ajardinadas. Eso se ha hecho sin ningún recato en algunas ciudades como Madrid, pero también se utilizan estrategias similares en Asturias. Como ya he comentado en un párrafo anterior, Oviedo estuvo a punto de ser declarado por la UE punto negro de contaminación por superar en 2015 el número de días en que la concentración de ciertas partículas contaminantes excedieron un límite máximo establecido.

El caso es que a finales de ese año ya se había superado ese límite durante 31 días, solo quedaban 4 para alcanzar la fatídica cifra. La solución del ayuntamiento fue clara, desviar el tráfico de una de las entradas más concurridas a la ciudad hacia otras entradas menos transitadas. La explicación que dio el ayuntamiento fue que se hacía para reducir los niveles de contaminación. La explicación real fue que se hizo para alejar el tráfico de los medidores.

4) La danza de la lluvia: Uno de los recursos más utilizados por la administración para quitarse el muerto de encima es culpar a los fenómenos climatológicos. Si un grupo de delincuentes quema el monte, la culpa es del viento y el calor; si los pueblos y ciudades se inundan, es culpa de la lluvia, de la madera muerta en los ríos y de los temporales en la mar; y si la contaminación se dispara, la culpa es de la falta de lluvias.

La solución a la contaminación ambiental es rezar para que llueva, al menos eso es lo que piensa el gobierno asturiano, que alza sus manos al cielo pidiendo agua. El problema es que la lluvia no elimina las partículas contaminantes, solo las mueve de sitio, las baja a tierra donde impregnarán las lechugas que comemos y los pastos que pacerán las vacas de las que bebemos su leche. Pero al menos, los puñeteros medidores dejarán de dar la turra y no saldremos en los papeles de Europa, que es lo que importa.

La mala noticia es que ni siquiera las últimas lluvias han logrado eliminar la contaminación ambiental. Ha llovido tan poco que para lo único que han servido es para embarrar los coches y las calles, pero no ha dado tiempo a esconder la mierda debajo de la alfombra.

¿Qué harán ahora nuestros representantes políticos? ¿Rezarán a la virgen de la cueva? ¿nombrarán a un descendiente de un jefe cherokee para que les enseñe los pasos de la danza? ¿Impondrán sanciones y obligarán a las empresas contaminantes a instalar los filtros adecuados?

No se por qué me temo que tendremos a un cherokee como asesor del gran gestor.

NOTA: haced clic en los gráficos para verlos a mayor tamaño
22 Oct 07:42

A shortest-possible walking tour through the pubs of the UK

by Marc Abrahams

A shortest-possible walking tour through the pubs of the United Kingdom — that’s an advanced form of the mathematicians’ favorite, The Traveling Salesman Problem. William Cook and colleagues at the University of Waterloo tackled this nastily complex problem:

Nearly everyone in the UK knows by heart the best path to take them over to their favorite public house. But what about jotting down the shortest route to visit every pub in the country and return home safely? That is what we set out to do….

Using geographic coordinates of 24,727 pubs provided by Pubs Galore and measuring the distance between any two pubs as the length of the route produced by Google Maps, what is the shortest possible tour that visits all 24,727 and returns to the starting point? …

This is the problem we have solved. The optimal tour has length 45,495,239 meters. To be clear, our main result is that there simply does not exist any pub tour that is even one meter shorter (measuring the length using the distances we obtained from Google) than the one produced by our computation. It is the solution to a 24,727-city traveling salesman problem (TSP).

The UK Pubs tour is easily the largest such road-distance TSP that has been solved to date, having over 100 times more stops than any road-distance example solved previously by other research groups.

Here’s one low-resolution sliver of what is a much more detailed map of the tour:


(Thanks to Mason Porter for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS: William Cook’s book on the history of the Traveling Salesman Problem.

20 Oct 19:36

The Neural Bases of Disgust for Cheese: An fMRI Study

by Marc Abrahams

Brain researchers, using advanced fMRI technology, made another unexpected advance toward understanding how the brain does or does not work. Their newly published study is:

The Neural Bases of Disgust for Cheese: An fMRI Study,” Jean-Pierre Royet, David Meunier, Nicolas Torquet, Anne-Marie Mouly and Tao Jiang, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, vol. 10, October 2016, article 511. The authors, at Lyon Neuroscience Research Center, Sorbonne Universités, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Institut de Biologie Paris Seine, and CNRS,  Neuroscience Paris Seine, Paris, France, explain:

“In this study, we show that a higher percentage of people are disgusted by cheese than by other types of food. Functional magnetic resonance imaging then reveals that the internal and external globus pallidus and the substantia nigra belonging to the basal ganglia are more activated in participants who dislike or diswant to eat cheese (Anti) than in other participants who like to eat cheese, as revealed following stimulation with cheese odors and pictures.”

Here are further details from the study:


(Thanks to Neil Martin for bringing this to our attention.)

01 Apr 06:20

El Homo naledi como fósil problemático

representación del Homo nalediEn septiembre del año pasado se publicaba el descubrimiento del Homo naledi, un hominino transicional que, según fue conceptualizado, transgredía la frontera entre los australopitecinos y los primeros miembros del género Homo (entendiendo, aclaremos, "género" y "Homo" en un sentido puramente taxonómico-biológico y circunscribiéndonos momentáneamente a esta subnarrativa particular intrínseca a la subcultura del discurso ""científico"").

Los restos post-materiales se habían encontrado en una cueva de la provincia sudafricana de Gauteng, un territorio en el que discursos subdialécticos opuestos sobre la raza pugnan por la "hegemonía significante" (sensu Derrida) en el seno de diversas expresiones étnico-identitarias. El Homo naledi fue, inevitablemente, señalado como un descubrimiento racista.

Un aspecto crítico pero frecuentemente ignorado de la dimensión humana de la paleoantropología es la relación entre la "verdad" publicada y su impacto en las comunidades etno-culturales. La propaganda del hallazgo, el hallazgo en sí (no los "fósiles", que, como tales, no existen, sino su textualidad re-creada en un discurso académico concreto), la agresividad jerárquica con la que fue impuesto como "realidad total" (según Lacan) a las diversas sub-realidades étnicas, hizo del Homo naledi un hominino que, en su contexto postcolonial, era percibido como despreciativo, ofensivo, abusivo, prejuicioso, intolerante. En definitiva, un hominino problemático.

Sería simplista interpretar estas acusaciones de racismo como el resultado de la "ignorancia científica" (en el sentido ingenuo y ramplón del cientificismo moderno) o de una excesiva influencia del "creacionismo" religioso (incluso ante la persistente negación de la relación evolutiva entre los babuinos (ejemplificación postsemiótica del primate arquetípico) y la humanidad (sublimada en la población nativa sudafricana))))))))). Teniendo esto en cuenta, no deberíamos soslayar la significancia "preconstructiva" del apartheid y la subsecuente desublimación africanista ante la supremacía auto-percibida de los varones blancos (Lee R. Berger, un varón blanco, sin discapacidades, cis y probablemente heterosexual, fue el científico que lideró la campaña de investigación).

Las representaciones artísticas del H. naledi lo expusieron como un individuo visibilizado como hombre, de piel tostada (apropiación cultural) y rasgos alejados del paradigma blanco-privilegiado (aunque el pelaje lacio y los labios finos han sido intepretados por expertos en post-ecología de las minorías como un intento de enmascarar y «auto-negar» el discurso normativo-supremacista solidificado mitopoyéticamente en las esculturas "«""científicas""»").

las mujeres que extrajeron al Homo naledi

El Homo naledi es problemático también, y de un modo intrínsecamente preponderante, desde la perspectiva de género. Berger (quien ha desoído todas las peticiones que, desde diversos espacios neofemininistas, le instaban a clasificar la nueva especie como Mulier naledi), había solicitado para los trabajos de extracción de los fósiles un equipo de espeleólog@s "pequeñ@s". Lxs candidates fueren sometidxs a un casting en el qu@, finalmentx, resultaron escogidas seis personas visibilizadas como mujeres. Sus parámetros físicos (dejando a un lado la endeblez o, mejor dicho, inexistencia de la "medida" con independencia de los diversos "post-subdiscursos" neomaterialistas), aunque los cuerpos no dejen de evidenciarse como constructos sociales, podrían proyectar estándares de belleza difícilmente alcanzables por la bio-mujer actual (y, por tanto, opresivos en el metacontexto heteropatriarcal cis-sistémico).

De poco le sirvió a Berger excusarse mediante alusiones (claramente fálicas) a las estrecheces "objetivas" (de nuevo, en sentido cientificisista ingenuo) de las galerías de la cueva. Varios analistas del masculinismo paleontológico han señalado que estas seis mujeres fueron objetivifivicadas (y, por tanto, sexualmente explotadas). Las propias espeleólogas han confirmado que, durante aquellas jornadas en las que tuvieron que atravesar conductos subterráneos de menos de 16 centímetros de anchura, se habían sentido oprimidas.

La respuesta a la perspectiva simplista y corta de miras (si se nos permite el capacitismo) resumida en la frase "a hominin is just a hominin" ("un hominino es solo un hominino") no puede limitarse a extraer y visibilizar la experiencia de unos individuos-mujer o unos invididuos-negro. Eso permitiría el avance de las barreras, los prejuicios y los privilegios de los que el paradigma postcapitalista es núcleo irradiador. Necesitamos, pues, actuar sobre la "materialidad". El Homo naledi perpetúa el sexismo, el apartheid y la gordofobia, y por tanto quizá sería recomendable, como ya están exigiendo diversos colectivos activistas, que se procediera a la deconstrucción física completa ("física" en sentido premoderno) de todos sus restos "fósiles".

Y a dinamitar la dichosa "cueva".

09 Dec 21:08

Parecidos razonables: perros y escritores

by Érase una vez

Fotografías de perros yuxtapuestas a las de conocidos autores El fotógrafo italiano Dan Bannino ha creado una serie fotográfica en la que yuxtapone fotografías de perros que guardan gran parecido […]

Esta entrada Parecidos razonables: perros y escritores es contenido original del blog Érase una vez....

13 Jun 14:08

A small proportion of the population are responsible for the vast majority of lies

by Christian Jarrett, BPS Research Digest
Obviously some people lie more often than others. What's surprising is new research showing that the spread of lying propensity through the population is uneven. There is a large majority of "everyday liars", and a small minority of "prolific liars".A few years ago Kim Serota and his colleagues put a figure on this. They surveyed a thousand US citizens and found that five per cent of the sample were responsible for 50 per cent of all lies told. Now Serota's group have analysed data from nearly 3000 people in the UK and they've found the same pattern - the existence in the population of a minority of extremely prolific liars.This new online survey is based on data collected as part of a public engagement project by the Science Museum in London in the Spring of 2010. Participants (51 per cent were female; average age 44.5) reported how often they told little white lies and how often they told big lies, as well as sharing their attitudes to, and experiences of lying.The spread of answers was clearly skewed. Serota's statistical analysis showed that 9.7 per cent of the UK sample were prolific liars. They averaged 6.32 little white lies per day and 2.86 big lies per day, compared with an average of 1.16 daily white lies and 0.15 daily big lies (about one per week) by the majority group of everyday liars. This means the prolific liars tell an average of 19 big lies for each single big lie by the everyday liars. The two groups generally agreed what counts as a big lie, with lying about whether you love someone being the most popular example.The research also uncovered some intriguing differences between prolific and everyday liars. Prolific liars were more likely to be younger, male and to work in more senior occupational roles, although note these differences were modest. Prolific liars tended not to see lying as something that people grow out of. They were also most likely to lie to their partners and children (whereas everyday liars were most likely to lie to their mothers). Prolific liars were also more likely to say that their lying had landed them in trouble, including losing jobs and relationships.Caution is required because of the different survey methods used, but this new research also allows a cross-cultural comparison between US and UK lying. Combining everyday and prolific liars, it seems that people lie more frequently in the UK - just over two lies per day on average, compared with an average of between one and two lies per day in the US, based on Serota's earlier research. Another statistic - 24.4 per cent of the UK sample said they didn't lie on a typical day, compared with 59.9 per cent of the US sample.An obvious problem with this research is its dependence on people's honesty about how often they lie. We're in a somewhat bizarre situation of trusting prolific liars' answers about their own lying. However, Serota and his colleague Tim Levine reassure us that past research has generally found self-reported lying to be fairly accurate. When more objective or third-party measures of lying are deployed, these usually correlate well with people's self-reported lying rates. The current survey was anonymous, which would have helped.The finding that lying frequency is distributed unevenly in the population has serious implications for deception research, most of which assumes that lying propensity is a "normally distributed" trait more like height or weight. "These data provide a strong case that the people who tell a lot of lies are not only different," said Serota and Levine, "they are a population that needs to be studied independently of everyday liars in order to better understand the motivation and production of lies." I wonder if future research might find that "prolific liars" are the same people who score highly on the Dark Triad of personality traits - psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism?_________________________________Serota, K., & Levine, T. (2014). A Few Prolific Liars: Variation in the Prevalence of Lying Journal of Language and Social Psychology DOI: 10.1177/0261927X14528804 --further reading--A case of pseudologia fantastica, otherwise known as pathological lyingPost written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest....