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[tt] (NASA) NASA Completes LADEE Mission with Planned Impact on Moon's Surface



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April 18, 2014
RELEASE 14-113
NASA Completes LADEE Mission with Planned Impact on Moon's Surface


Ground controllers at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field,
Calif., have confirmed that NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust
Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft impacted the surface of the
moon, as planned, between 9:30 and 10:22 p.m. PDT Thursday, April 17.

LADEE lacked fuel to maintain a long-term lunar orbit or continue
science operations and was intentionally sent into the lunar surface.
The spacecraft's orbit naturally decayed following the mission's final
low-altitude science phase.

During impact, engineers believe the LADEE spacecraft, the size of a
vending machine, broke apart, with most of the spacecraft's material
heating up several hundred degrees – or even vaporizing – at the
surface. Any material that remained is likely buried in shallow

"At the time of impact, LADEE was traveling at a speed of 3,600 miles
per hour – about three times the speed of a high-powered rifle bullet,"
said Rick Elphic, LADEE project scientist at Ames. "There's nothing
gentle about impact at these speeds – it's just a question of whether
LADEE made a localized craterlet on a hillside or scattered debris
across a flat area. It will be interesting to see what kind of feature
LADEE has created."

In early April, the spacecraft was commanded to carry out maneuvers
that would lower its closest approach to the lunar surface. The new
orbit brought LADEE to altitudes below one mile (two kilometers) above
the lunar surface. This is lower than most commercial airliners fly
above Earth, enabling scientists to gather unprecedented science

On April 11, LADEE performed a final maneuver to ensure a trajectory
that caused the spacecraft to impact the far side of the moon, which is
not in view of Earth or near any previous lunar mission landings. LADEE
also survived the total lunar eclipse on April 14 to 15. This
demonstrated the spacecraft's ability to endure low temperatures and a
drain on batteries as it, and the moon, passed through Earth's deep

In the coming months, mission controllers will determine the exact time
and location of LADEE's impact and work with the agency's Lunar
Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) team to possibly capture an image of the
impact site. Launched in June 2009, LRO provides data and detailed
images of the lunar surface.

"It's bittersweet knowing we have received the final transmission from
the LADEE spacecraft after spending years building it in-house at Ames,
and then being in constant contact as it circled the moon for the last
several months," said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager at Ames.

Launched in September 2013 from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in
Virginia, LADEE began orbiting the moon Oct. 6 and gathering science
data Nov. 10. The spacecraft entered its science orbit around the
moon's equator on Nov. 20, and in March 2014, LADEE extended its
mission operations following a highly successful 100-day primary
science phase.

LADEE also hosted NASA's first dedicated system for two-way
communication using laser instead of radio waves. The Lunar Laser
Communication Demonstration (LLCD) made history using a pulsed laser
beam to transmit data over the 239,000 miles from the moon to the Earth
at a record-breaking download rate of 622 megabits-per-second (Mbps).
In addition, an error-free data upload rate of 20 Mbps was transmitted
from the primary ground station in New Mexico to the Laser
Communications Space Terminal aboard LADEE.

LADEE gathered detailed information about the structure and composition
of the thin lunar atmosphere. In addition, scientists hope to use the
data to address a long-standing question: Was lunar dust, electrically
charged by sunlight, responsible for the pre-sunrise glow seen above
the lunar horizon during several Apollo missions?

"LADEE was a mission of firsts, achieving yet another first by
successfully flying more than 100 orbits at extremely low altitudes,"
said Joan Salute, LADEE program executive, at NASA Headquarters in
Washington. "Although a risky decision, we're already seeing evidence
that the risk was worth taking."

A thorough understanding of the characteristics of our nearest
celestial neighbor will help researchers understand other bodies in the
solar system, such as large asteroids, Mercury and the moons of outer

NASA also included the public in the final chapter of the LADEE story.
A "Take the Plunge" contest provided an opportunity for the public to
guess the date and time of the spacecraft's impact via the internet.
Thousands submitted predictions. NASA will provide winners a digital
congratulatory certificate.

NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington funds the LADEE
mission. Ames was responsible for spacecraft design, development,
testing and mission operations, in addition to managing the overall
mission. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., managed
the science instruments, technology demonstration payload and science
operations center, and provided mission support. Goddard also manages
the LRO mission. Wallops was responsible for launch vehicle
integration, launch services and operations. NASA's Marshall Space
Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., managed LADEE within the Lunar Quest
Program Office.

For more information about the LADEE mission, visit:


For more information about LLCD, visit:



Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington

Rachel Hoover
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Dewayne Washington
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

NASA news releases and other information are available automatically by
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[9]Concept art showing LADEE over the lunar surface
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Page Last Updated: April 18th, 2014
Page Editor: Karen Northon


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[tt] 12 questions about Bitcoin you were too embarrassed to ask

12 questions about Bitcoin you were too embarrassed to ask

* By Timothy B. Lee
* November 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm

This has been a big week for Bitcoin. On Monday, the Senate
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held the
[280]first-ever Congressional hearing on Bitcoin. Later in the day,
the currency's value reached an all-time high of more than $800.

That has left a lot of people scratching their heads. What's
Bitcoin? How do you use it? And why would anyone want to? Read on
for answers. (Inspired by [281]Max Fisher's classic explainer on

1. What's Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is an online financial network that people use to send
payments from one person to another. In many ways, Bitcoin is
similar to conventional payment networks like Visa credit cards or
Paypal. But Bitcoin is different from those and other payment
networks in two important ways.

First, Bitcoin is decentralized. For-profit companies own the Visa
and Paypal networks and manage them for the benefit of their
respective shareholders. No one owns or controls the Bitcoin
network. It has a peer-to-peer structure, with hundreds of computers
all over the Internet working together to process Bitcoin

Bitcoin's decentralized architecture means that it is the world's
first completely open financial network. To create a new financial
service in the conventional U.S. banking system, you need to partner
with an existing bank and comply with a variety of complex rules.
The Bitcoin network has no such restrictions. People don't need
anyone's permission or assistance to create new Bitcoin-based
financial services.

The second thing that makes the Bitcoin unique is that it comes with
its own currency. Paypal and Visa conduct transactions in
conventional currencies such as the U.S. dollars. The Bitcoin
network, however, conducts transactions in a new monetary unit, also
called Bitcoin.

2. That seems really weird! Why would anyone use a payment network
based on an imaginary currency?

It is weird. Almost everyone who encounters the idea for the first
time (including me) has the same reaction: That can't possibly work.
But so far the market has proved the skeptics wrong:


This graph shows the price of one Bitcoin since the start of 2011,
when the currency began to adopt mainstream attention. The price has
been extraordinarily volatile--it lost more than 90 percent of its
value between June and October 2011, for example. But there's also
been an unmistakable upward trend. Notice that the chart is on a
logarithmic scale. It shows the currency's value rising from around
$0.30 at the start of 2011 to around $600 today. There are almost 12
million bitcoins in existence, so the Bitcoin "money supply" is now
worth around $7 billion.

Bitcoin has captured the imagination of venture capitalists. A
startup called Bitpay, which processes Bitcoin payments on behalf of
vendors, [283]raised more than $2 million earlier this year.
Coinbase, a startup that helps consumers buy and sell bitcoins, has
[284]raised $5 million. And last month, a Bitcoin startup called
Circle [285]raised $9 million.

Why are people so excited? Bitcoin enthusiasts believe that
Bitcoin's peer-to-peer architecture and low barriers to entry will
allow the creation of a new generation of innovative financial
services, in much the same way that the Internet's open architecture
led to innovative new online services. There are also many Bitcoin
fans who see the currency as an [286]antidote to the inflationary
tendencies of central banks, though, as we'll see later, this
argument for Bitcoin is misguided.

3. This just sounds like a bubble. Do people use the currency for
anything besides speculation?

I just mentioned Bitpay. It provides a good sign of Bitcoin's
growing popularity for "real" transactions. In September 2012, the
company [287]announced that it had signed up 1,000 merchants to use
its service for accepting Bitcoin payments. Just a year later, the
company said, it [288]passed 10,000 merchants.

Bitpay works with a wide variety of merchants. Some sell online
services like Web hosting or virtual private networks. Others sell
jewelry and electronics. There are even restaurants and cupcake
shops that sell their wares for bitcoins.

And yes, Bitcoin has significant illicit uses. Programs like
[289]Satoshi Dice allow people to gamble online. Until recently, a
Web site called Silk Road helped dealers sell [290]millions of
dollars of illicit drugs.

It's hardly unusual for new payment technologies to attract illicit
use. Pornography was a big draw for both the first VCRs and the
early consumer Internet. New payment technologies often attract
criminals looking for new ways to move their funds without
government scrutiny.

Another application for bitcoins that is expected to become more
important in the future is international payments. Right now, wiring
money internationally involves slow, expensive and inconvenient
services like Western Union. Bitcoin is international, and its fees
can be much lower than conventional wire transfer services. There's
still work to be done to make such a system affordable and
user-friendly. But it has the potential to disrupt the international
payment industry.

4. Who created Bitcoin?

No one knows for sure. The currency was created by a person who
indentified himself as "Satoshi Nakamoto." While the name sounds
Japanese, Bitcoin's creator never provided any personal details. He
collaborated with other early Bitcoin fans through online forums but
never met with other members of the Bitcoin community face to face.
Then, starting in 2010 he gradually reduced his involvement in the
currency's development. His last known communication came in 2011.

We don't know who Satoshi Nakamoto is, but we do know that if he
ever surfaces, he will be an extremely wealthy man. Millions of
bitcoins were created in the currency's first two years, and Satoshi
likely owns [291]hundreds of thousands of them. At today's prices,
he would be a millionaire many times over.

Before leaving the scene, Nakamoto passed his torch to a
mild-mannered developer named Gavin Andressen, who is currently the
project's lead developer. Andressen now works under the auspices of
the Bitcoin Foundation, the closest thing the anarchic Bitcoin
community has to an official public face.

5. Where do bitcoins come from?

In a conventional financial system, new money is created by a
central bank, such as the Federal Reserve. But the Bitcoin network
doesn't have a central bank. So the system needed an alternative
mechanism for introducing currency into circulation.

Bitcoin's designer solved this problem in a clever way. As I said
above, hundreds of computers scattered around the Internet work
together to process Bitcoin transactions. These computers are called
"miners," and Bitcoin's transaction-clearing process is called
"mining." It's called that because every 10 minutes, on average, a
Bitcoin miner wins a computational race and gets a prize. Currently,
that reward is 25 bitcoins, worth around $12,500. These prizes
provide a strong incentive for more people to join in Bitcoin's
transaction-clearing process, helping the currency to remain

This reward declines on a fixed schedule: Every four years the
reward falls by half. So, from 2009 to 2012, it was 50 BTC, now it's
25 BTC, and starting in late 2016 it will fall to 12.5 BTC, and so
forth. If you do the math, you'll find that there will never be more
than 21 million bitcoins in circulation. Right now, there are almost
12 million bitcoins in ciruclation, so the Bitcoin money supply will
never be more than twice its current size.

6. Isn't that a huge problem? I learned in economics class that
deflation can cause economic problems.

It's true that deflation has traditionally been associated with
economic problems, but there's little reason to think this will be a
problem for Bitcoin. That's because deflation is only a problem if
it is what economists call a "unit of account" for a nation's
economic system.

Right now in the United States, salaries, mortgage payments, rents
and other long-term financial commitments are priced in U.S.
dollars. As a result, if the value of the dollar rises unexpectedly,
these "sticky prices" can cause severe economic distortions. Unable
to cut wages, employers have trouble making payrolls. Unable to
renegotiate their debts, homeowners have trouble making their
mortgage payments. Tenants get stuck with rents they can't afford.
The result is a recession.

Hardly anyone uses Bitcoin as a unit of account. You'd be insane to
sign a contract promising to repay a loan of 100 BTC in 10 years or
to take a job where your salary was priced in bitcoins. Even the
Bitcoin Foundation, which pays its employees in bitcoins, still sets
its employees' salaries in dollars, converting employees'
dollar-based salaries into the corresponding number of bitcoins on
each payday. As a result, fluctuations in the value of bitcoins
don't cause the kinds of economic disruptions that fluctuations in
the value of traditional currencies do.

7. How do I get bitcoins?

One option is to mine them yourself, but that's not a good choice
for beginners. For everyone else, your best bet is to purchase them
with a conventional currency. Web sites known as exchanges will let
you trade bitcoins for conventional currencies with other users.
Even more convenient are companies like Coinbase, which will
withdraw cash from your bank account and convert it to bitcoins at
the current exchange rate. A few [292]Bitcoin ATMs are popping up,
which will directly trade paper money for Bitcoins. Here's a video
of someone using a Bitcoin ATM in Vancouver:

IFRAME: [293]

8. Okay, I bought some Bitcoins. Now what?

Next you'll need a place to store them. Bitcoins are stored in
"wallets," which in this case are just files that contain encryption
keys, or secret codes that allow you to transfer your bitcoins to
other people. There are several options. One is to store them
yourself using one of the Bitcoin programs available for Mac, PC and

Another option is to entrust them to a third-party Web site known as
a "online wallet."

A third option is what's known as a "paper wallet," where you print
out your encryption keys and store them in a safe place, such as a
safe deposit box.

Each has risks. If you choose to store your bitcoins yourself, then
you could lose them to a hacker, a hard drive crash or a lost mobile
device. But if you choose to use a third party, you need to worry
about that third party swindling you or becoming bankrupt. The
Bitcoin market is largely unregulated, so there are few legal
protections if you happen to choose the wrong online wallet service.
Paper wallets avoid the pitfalls of other methods, but they're
tricky to set up correctly, and of course you're out of luck if you
lose the piece of paper.

9. Okay, I have some bitcoins and found a secure way to keep them.
What do I do with them now?

There are thousands of Bitcoin merchants online who will sell you
everything from jewelry to electronics to illegal drugs. You can
also spend bitcoins in "real life." To spend them in person, you
need a Bitcoin mobile app. Generally, the store you're buying from
will show you a [294]QR code representing the Bitcoin transaction.
You then scan that QR code with your phone, and the mobile app will
send the required number of bitcoins to the store. Then you walk out
the door with your purchases.

IFRAME: [295]

Of course, right now the options for face-to-face Bitcoin
transactions are rather limited. Earlier this year, Kashmir Hill of
Forbes [296]lived on Bitcoin for a week. Because she lived in
tech-savvy San Francisco, she was able to find enough
Bitcoin-accepting merchants to get by, but just barely. So Bitcoin
is far from being a practical currency for day-to-day use.

10. Should I buy bitcoins?

Probably not. There are two reasons you might want to buy bitcoins:
to purchase goods and services or for speculation.

Right now Bitcoin isn't a very practical payment technology for
ordinary users. The software is too complicated, and the risk of
loss due to hackers, forgotten passwords, hard drive failures and so
forth are too large. Also, Bitcoin is extremely volatile right now,
so your wallet could go from having $100 worth of Bitcoins one day
to $50 the next. And right now, as Hill discovered, the technology
just isn't used widely enough to make it a useful option to have in
your pocket or purse. For most people, conventional payment
technologies like credit cards are going to be more convenient.

What about speculating on Bitcoin? Once again, the currency probably
isn't a good choice for ordinary users. The security and reliability
risks of Bitcoin loom much larger if you invest thousands of dollars
in the currency. You don't want to run the risk of losing thousands
of dollars because you forgot a password or had an unexpected
password failure. And the currency is extremely volatile. It might
keep going up, but it could also lose 90 percent of its value next
week. In other words, you should only jump on the bandwagon if you
have a strong stomach.

11. If people shouldn't buy bitcoins, then what is all the fuss

Once again, the analogy to the Internet is instructive. Until the
1990s, the Internet wasn't a practical technology for ordinary folks
to use, either. It used complicated text-based programs, and you had
to be a computer expert to use it effectively.

But it would have been foolish for an observer in 1990 to dismiss
the Internet as too nerdy for mainstream use. Over time,
entrepreneurs took the basic infrastructure of the Internet and
built innovative and user-friendly online services such as Google,
Facebook and YouTube.

Bitcoin boosters are betting that the same will happen with Bitcoin.
The "raw" bitcoin network isn't very accessible, but startups like
Coinbase and Bitpay are slowly fixing that. Some day soon, someone
may develop Bitcoin's "killer app," a program that provides a
financial service that has clear advantages over conventional
banking. That might be an international money-transfer network with
lower fees, a practical system for online micropayments, or
something else that no one has thought of before.

12. Could bitcoins ever replace conventional money?

It's possible, but it doesn't seem very likely. People want to use
the currency that most other people use, and in the United States
that's going to be US dollars for the foreseeable future. And that's
a good thing: if Bitcoin became the standard currency of the US
economy, then its fixed money supply would create a serious risk of
the next economic downturn snowballing into a depression.

However, there could be a lot of room for Bitcoin to complement
conventional financial networks. After all, Paypal gained traction
because the conventional financial networks of the day weren't
meeting all of users' needs. Bitcoin's open architecture could allow
it to be even more disruptive. People are unlikely to ever eschew
conventional financial networks altogether, but there could be a
substantial market for Bitcoin-based services that perform certain
services more effectively or affordable than conventional


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[tt] NS 2960: Virtual clone: A guinea-pig twin will keep you healthy

NS 2960: Virtual clone: A guinea-pig twin will keep you healthy
* 18 March 2014 by Linda Geddes

A medically accurate digital double will allow doctors to diagnose
complex conditions, test treatments before cutting you open - and
show you your future self

WHEN June slipped on an icy pavement and fractured her wrist, the
doctors treating her thought little of it. She was a fit and healthy
65-year-old. Her wrist was set in a cast and she was sent home. But
two years later, June tripped in the garden and couldn't get up. She
was still there the following morning, when her son found her and
took her to hospital.

June had osteoporosis. She had fractured a bone in her hip and
needed major surgery to put in an artificial replacement. She later
suffered two fractures to her vertebrae, deforming her spine and
restricting her breathing. Confined to bed for six weeks, she
developed a chest infection and died.

Her case is not unusual. Osteoporosis, where bones become weak and
fragile, is often missed first time round. But just four years from
now, such an experience could be entirely different. After that
initial fracture, June's bone density would be measured and she'd be
sent home wearing sensors that continuously recorded her activity
levels, gait and posture. She'd be offered a CT scan to capture the
exact structure of her bones and reveal areas of wear, tear or
weakness. All of this data would then be plugged into a computer
simulation that would create a virtual June, fast-forward her
through the years, and predict her physical destiny.

Welcome to the Virtual Physiological Human, an initiative backed by
the European Union that has attracted £200 million of investment and
more than 2000 researchers. The next decade is already set to bring
personalised drugs and diagnoses based on a growing mass of patient
data covering everything from lifestyle to genetic profile. But the
Virtual Physiological Human project has an even bigger goal in its

Ten years from now each of us could grow a kind of twin. Detailed
simulations of the inner workings of our bodies, from the
interactions of genes and proteins in individual cells up to organs
and whole-body systems, will be combined with data about our medical
histories and the kind of lives we lead. The result will be a
digital body double that could be experimented on, testing outcomes
for different drugs, surgical interventions and lifestyle choices.
We would go through life with a virtual clone.

"Finally, we will be able to say something about you," says Marco
Viceconti at the University of Sheffield, UK. "Not because you are
the same age, or sex, or have the same genetic profile and disease
as a thousand other people, but because you are you with your
condition, your history, your bad habits." With power handed to each
of us, healthcare as we know it would be turned on its head. Armed
with a personal health forecast, we can choose to take charge of our
health rather than accept our fate. But a glimpse of the future
brings a responsibility to act. How will we cope?

Embracing complexity

The Virtual Physiological Human initiative sprang from a 2005 summit
at which European researchers from many different areas of
bioengineering, physiology and clinical medicine agreed that a
common pattern was emerging. Trying to tackle diseases by breaking
them down into smaller parts and then looking at each one
individually was no longer working. "If you look at the big diseases
that plague Western society - cardiovascular disease, cancer,
diabetes, osteoporosis - the one thing they have in common is that
their symptoms cannot be explained by looking at one part of the
body," says Viceconti.

Take osteoporosis. We know that many fractures in elderly people are
the result of reduced bone density, and that this is caused by a
hormone-related shift in the activities of different bone cells. But
fragile bones are only part of the story. Deteriorating eyesight or
hearing, weaker muscles, a person's activity levels and posture all
increase the risk of falling and fracturing bones.

A pure focus on genetics doesn't tell you that much about your
future risk of developing these complex conditions. "You can have a
genomic blueprint, but it will not tell you precisely what's going
to come out at higher organisational levels," says Peter Coveney at
University College London.

Doctors caring for patients with multiple conditions, such as
diabetes and heart failure together, face a similar problem. "The
links between different diseases aren't always made," says Liesbet
Geris at the University of Liège in Belgium. "It's often hard to
envisage what the effect of medication for the heart problem will be
on the diabetes, or how these two diseases will interact."

In short, we have reached a point where it is no longer possible to
ignore complexity. We have to embrace it. That was the conclusion of
those researchers who met back in 2005. And their solution? Build
computer models that can combine the vast amounts of data about
biological processes at the smallest scale - the workings of genes,
proteins, and cells - with our growing understanding of whole-body
systems. The models would simulate how the body's microscopic
machinery gives rise to everything else. This can then be integrated
with a patient's personal data, ultimately creating virtual models
of us all.

Already, researchers have produced digital models of major organs
like the heart and liver, which can be used to design new drugs.
They can even model the forces generated by blood flowing through
the arteries in a person's brain and predict whether an area of
weakness known as an aneurysm is likely to rupture and cause a
stroke. So far, most of these models aim to give a real-time window
on activity in the present, rather than predict the future. But that
is coming.

Viceconti and his colleagues have developed an osteoporosis model
designed to second-guess an individual's risk of sustaining a
fracture, by combining existing patient data with CT scans and
information from wearable sensors. The goal is that by 2018, people
like June whose osteoporosis may be relatively mild, yet have a high
risk of fracturing bones because they are more likely to fall over,
could be better identified. "This would allow us to not only target
therapies that would protect their skeleton, but design exercise
interventions to address an individual's risk of falling," says
Eugene McCloskey at the University of Sheffield, who is preparing
clinical trials to test the bone fracture model.

Other teams are also working on the musculoskeletal system. Geris,
for example, is using computer simulations to try to speed-up the
development of tissue implants to heal bone fractures. She has
modelled the process of bone growth from the bottom up, starting
with the interaction between different genes to identify the key
proteins that influence cell growth. The simulations can then
predict how adding different chemical factors might influence
fracture healing at the level of the whole bone. "It's all about
trying to make better decisions than the ones we've made through
trial and error in the past," says Geris.

The complete patient

One big challenge facing researchers is figuring out how to hook all
these systems together into a complete patient. For now, they remain
a collection of disembodied parts. But we may not be far off. For
example, Robert Hester at the University of Mississippi Medical
Center in Jackson and his colleagues have developed a mathematical
model of the whole body called HumMod, consisting of some 5000
variables that describe factors including measurements of blood
flow, recordings of heart and brain activity, results of blood tests
and scans of our bones, muscles and organs as well as features of
the environment, such as air temperature and humidity. Tweaking the
numbers lets you play out potential scenarios for particular

Maths is only part of the puzzle, though. Models like HumMod will
then need to be stitched together with an ever-growing mountain of
biochemical and physical simulations, personal histories of illness
and injury, and descriptions of diet and lifestyle. The goal is for
Virtual Physiological Human models to be able to integrate different
types of patient information - MRI scans and genetic data, say -
quickly and automatically, even in emergency scenarios (see

But for a doctor or nurse to run such simulations on demand will
require more computing power than most hospitals have at their
disposal. Indeed, several researchers, such as Coveney, who models
blood flow in the brain, currently run their simulations on a
supercomputer. "If you ask me point blank who is using modelling and
simulation to save people's lives, there's very little of it at the
moment," says Coveney. Yet the wheels are turning. The US Food and
Drug Administration, for example, is already considering large-scale
simulations for drug testing.

The toughest challenges are unlikely to be technical, however. For
starters, there could be resistance from the medical community who
may feel their judgement is being taken away.

The hope, though, is that doctors will be more confident that the
treatments they offer will improve patients' health. "At the moment,
doctors often have just one chance to get it right," says Norbert
Graf, a medical director at Saarland University Hospital in Germany.
"But if you have a virtual patient, you could select the treatment
with the highest cure rate and the lowest toxic effect." Doctors
would still need to speak to the patient, make the diagnosis, and
select and administer the treatment - but they'd have another tool
at their disposal. "The difference is that there would now be a
model selecting which is the best treatment for the individual
patient, not a protocol that is the same for hundreds of patients,"
says Graf.

Having a virtual twin should make us pay more attention to our own
well-being, putting responsibility for healthcare into our hands,
say researchers behind the project. But when it comes to looking
after ourselves, our track record is mixed. Not everyone agrees that
this will motivate people to take charge of their health.

Jane Wardle at University College London has investigated the impact
that genetic screening for obesity or lung cancer has had on
people's motivation to eat healthily or give up smoking. "Giving
people more detail about future risk has never produced the effects
that people hoped," Wardle says. Often people feel very motivated in
the short term. "They say that 'It's a wake-up call'," she says.
"However, in the long run, it's not actually achieving any behaviour

Even so, those working on virtual versions of us are optimistic.
Evidence suggests that being confronted with a vision of your own
future - rather than being told you have a 65 per cent chance of
developing lung cancer, say - can have a big impact.

"Visual imagery is more emotionally arousing than non-visual
information," says Hal Hershfield at New York University. Hershfield
is interested in how thinking about our future selves affects our
decision-making. In one recent experiment, he took photos of
volunteers and used them to create aged avatars, complete with
jowls, bags under the eyes and grey hair. The volunteers then took
control of their avatar in a virtual world, where they were
confronted by this aged image of themselves in a mirror.

Decisions, decisions

Later, they were given a choice of four ways to spend $1000: buy a
gift for someone special, have a party, put the money in a current
account, or invest in a retirement fund. Hershfield found that
people who came face to face with an older doppelgänger put nearly
twice as much into the retirement fund as those who saw an avatar
who was the same age as themselves. A related study by Jesse Fox at
Ohio State University in Columbus has shown that watching a
personalised avatar lose weight by exercising can motivate people to
go to the gym within the next 24 hours.

At heart, we're wishful thinkers. Asked to imagine how we would look
and feel if we continue to lead unhealthy lives, it is easy to
conjure up a better future than is realistic. Confronting the future
seems to help. "Imagination can only go so far," says Hershfield.

But as Wardle points out, the challenge is translating short-term
motivational boosts into long-term change. And herein lies another
key difference between genetic screening and individualised
medicine. As a lifelong companion, the virtual twin would allow us
to track our health continuously. Many people already use health
apps on their phones to track their diet, exercise and quality of
sleep. Adding such data to your simulated self would refine the
models and boost their predictive accuracy. "This isn't just a gene
saying you have a 90 per cent chance of getting cancer and there's
nothing you can do about it," says Geris. "Your genetic profile
won't change. But if you change your pattern of behaviour and food
intake, the model can update. If you let yourself go, your prognosis
will change."

Interventions could also be tailored to specific people like June.
By 2023, data from wearable sensors could constantly and
automatically update your risk of fracture. New advice based on
these updates could then be streamed back to a smartphone. Local
weather conditions might be taken into account. If your digital
double deemed you were at risk of falling, it could send you a
reminder to put on the anti-slip shoes it had encouraged you to buy
after noticing that your stability was getting worse.

For some, this may be too much. Ultimately, the biggest roadblock
may be our own unease. For the grand vision to work, all of our
medical data will need to be put online, an idea that has already
met resistance. We may also resent the intrusion of extra
surveillance. And then there's the very real possibility that a
virtual twin may throw up insights that we are not prepared for,
such as a better understanding of how and when we are likely to die.
A diagnosis of terminal cancer, for example, leads some to vow to
fight it and others to lose the will to go on. Deciding how much we
each want to know will need to be decided on a case by case basis.

It may be that our virtual twins will need to mirror more than just
our biology. "There are different personality traits that are going
to predict how people will react to bad news," says Fox. "If you're
going to model the physical body, you really need to think about
modelling a person's psychological state as well."

This article appeared in print under the headline "In sickness and
in health"

Linda Geddes is a features editor at New Scientist

[tt] NS 2960: Evolution's traps: When our world leads animals astray

NS 2960: Evolution's traps: When our world leads animals astray
* 17 March 2014 by Christopher Kemp

From frogs swallowing light bulbs to beetles mating with bottles,
the modern world is hijacking creatures' evolved instincts. Can we
turn the trap into a tool?

ON THE Caribbean island of St Kitts, a colony of exuberant vervet
monkeys patrols the beach, waiting to pounce on unattended drinks.
When they spot one, they scamper acrobatically across the sand to
steal it. They fight. They drink. They overturn tables. Finally, as
the sun slides over the horizon, they slump clumsily onto the sand.

Scientists have been studying the drunken monkeys of St Kitts for
decades, using them to research the neural pathways involved in
alcoholism. But they represent more than just a primate model of

According to biologist Bruce Robertson at Bard College in New York,
the monkeys are caught in an "evolutionary trap". Their enjoyment of
alcohol exists for a very good reason, he says: they evolved to
crave energy-rich foods. But now that piña coladas are easier to
obtain than bananas, it has become a liability. "It's an incorrect
behaviour that happened because we changed the environment too fast
for evolution to catch up," Robertson says.

Evolutionary traps - also called ecological traps - are everywhere.
They have been found in almost every type of habitat, affecting
mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects. Bamboozled
by rapid environmental change, these animals can no longer
accurately assess the suitability of food resources, mates, habitats
or much of anything else. Bad choices look like good ones, and the
animals are lured into an evolutionary dead-end.

In this new world, a male giant jewel beetle lands on a beer bottle
and tries to mate with it. The reflective qualities of the
amber-coloured glass have fooled it into believing the bottle is a
female giant jewel beetle (see below). A Cuban tree frog swallows a
fairy light in a backyard in Florida, responding as if the bulb were
a tasty insect. Our opening photograph shows that frog, lit from
within, dangling like a bizarre Christmas ornament.

Futile embrace

At sea, albatrosses and turtles mistake small pieces of colourful
plastic for food and die, full but starved. Newly hatched turtles
mistake the lights of beachside hotels for the horizon and crawl
away from the sea towards bustling resorts where they perish. Male
California red-legged frogs mistake juveniles of an invasive frog
species for females of their own species, clasping them for hours in
a futile embrace. The list goes on; the effects are catastrophic.

In a recent analysis, Robertson identified 40 types of evolutionary
trap, some of which affect hundreds of species. Traps can be created
by all kinds of human activity, including agriculture, ecological
restoration, buildings and pollution. The worst trap is the
introduction of invasive species (Trends in Ecology & Evolution, vol
28, p 552).

Even when humans try to perform good deeds we can inadvertently set
evolutionary traps. In Israel, in an effort to protect a population
of endangered salamanders, conservationists began planting trees,
gradually turning a desert into a wetland. "No trees previously
existed," says Robertson. "They put them in to help the revegetation
project. And that attracted a bird - a predatory bird." Almost
overnight, the forest provided perches for hungry southern grey
shrikes, turning a salamander-friendly habitat into a death trap.
You can guess what happened to the salamanders.

The concept of an evolutionary trap was first put forward in the
early 1970s but did not attract as much attention as other effects
of environmental change. In a survey published in 2006, Robertson
failed to find many published examples, concluding that the traps
are either rare, difficult to detect, or both (Ecology, vol 87, p
1075). So he set out to develop tools to identify them.

"I was interested in the topic but there were no criteria by which a
scientist could say, 'I have found A, B and C; therefore I have
found an evolutionary trap'," he says. That has changed. "Now we
have some basic tools to say, here's how we find them," says
Robertson. "The one-sentence version would be: Do you prefer the
thing that's worse for you? The slightly more accurate version would
be: the cues you use to make your decisions no longer lead you to
the best decisions - in fact they lead you to make the worst ones."

Having worked out how to identify traps, ecologists are slowly
beginning to understand how they exacerbate human impacts on fragile
and changing ecosystems.

"There's no faster way to crash a population than if it is caught in
an evolutionary trap," says Robertson. For instance, if
deforestation removes half of a rainforest, you would expect half
the animals to be lost. But many species of mammal, bird and insect
are attracted to "edge habitats" on the fringes of forests. Others
find food resources plentiful in areas of freshly cut woodland. But
these habitats are traps: they may offer gains in terms of food but
they also expose animals to predators and other risks, such as
roadways. If the remaining species migrate and relocate to around
the deforested areas, many more than half will vanish.

One of the worst traps affects aquatic insects such as caddis flies
and mayflies. For many insect species, one of the most important
decisions is where to lay their eggs. In the case of aquatic
insects, this means water."When light bounces off water, it gets
polarised," says Robertson. "This polarised light was so uniquely
associated with water that many types of organism evolved eyes that
can see it."

That's how aquatic insects detect suitable egg-laying habitats. But
there's a problem. Modern landscapes now teem with artificial
surfaces that polarise light in exactly the same way that water
does. "Aquatic insects lay their eggs on buildings and solar panels
and asphalt and cars, thinking that they're laying on water," says
Robertson. "They actually prefer to lay their eggs on automobiles
than on a nearby lake, even if they can see the lake." The billions
of insect eggs laid on these objects will never hatch.

People traps

Just like the vervet monkeys and aquatic insects, humans have also
become entangled in evolutionary traps of our own making, says
Robertson. "Probably the most likely evolutionary trap for humans,
or at least the most discussed, would be fast food," he says. But
there are many others: pornography, gambling, video gaming, drugs.
All of these hijack behaviours that evolved to aid survival.

In principle, some traps can be easily fixed. "The things that
polarise light are smooth and black," says Robertson, "so if you
have a building that caddis flies are laying their eggs on, you can
put up white curtains. You can build your building out of something
lighter. If you have an asphalt road that's attracting dragonflies
to lay their eggs, add a little more gravel to it so it's less
smooth. Don't put solar panels near wetlands. There are all kinds of
really simple fixes."

Sometimes, though, you don't want to fix a trap. Robertson thinks
it's possible to set traps on purpose. He calls these virtuous
evolutionary traps.

Every year, in countries across the developing world, hundreds of
millions of people are infected with malaria by mosquitoes carrying
parasitic protozoans. The World Health Organization estimates there
were 207 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2012, which caused
about 627,000 deaths. Could a carefully constructed evolutionary
trap change that statistic, drastically reducing the number of new
infections? Is it possible to funnel the mosquitoes away from people
at risk of contracting the disease? If billions of mayflies can be
fooled into laying their eggs on cars, buildings and solar panels,
perhaps mosquitoes can be fooled too. "I think it is a fantastic
idea and one that I've specifically considered, though the exact way
you would do it would be tricky," says Robertson.

Ken Pienta is thinking along the same lines, but on an even smaller
scale. An oncologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
in Baltimore, Maryland, Pienta wants to set a trap to catch
metastasising cancer cells. "My laboratory is trying to understand
cancer as an ecosystem, and how we can develop what we've termed
eco-therapies," he says.

In other words, an ecosystem isn't just something like a wetland -
it could be a person with metastatic cancer, too. Just as California
red-legged frogs in the wetland can be fooled into attempting to
mate with the wrong species of frog, could cancer cells be lured
into similarly fruitless behaviour?

Pienta thinks so. In the future, he says, doctors could insert a
device filled with a chemokine - a protein that attracts cancer
cells - into a person with cancer to prevent a tumour from
metastasising to other tissues. Or perhaps oncologists will convince
cells to metastasise to a part of the body from which it can easily
be removed.

"Some of it sounds a little bit like science fiction, but there are
many people working on chambers that can be inserted into a vein,"
Pienta says. "You could design a one-way filter to sit in the
bloodstream and just attract circulating tumour cells, and then just
take them out of that trap every couple of days."

For Robertson, the hard work has just begun. "Think about this," he
says. "We have all kinds of invasive species, all kinds of
problematic species that need to have their numbers reduced. Nothing
might work better than creating evolutionary traps to control or
eradicate pest species."

"You could take a catastrophe," Robertson says, "and turn it into a

This article appeared in print under the headline "Trapped!"

Christopher Kemp is a writer based in Grand Rapids, Michigan

[tt] NS 2960: The therapy pill: Forget your phobia in fast forward

NS 2960: The therapy pill: Forget your phobia in fast forward
* 13 March 2014 by Jessica Hamzelou

Talking cures for phobias or addictions take ages to detrain your
brain. What if a memory-boosting drug let you do it in a day?

IT'S happening again. My heart starts pounding and my pulse races. I
can feel my face flush and my palms start to sweat. It is all I can
do to prevent myself from breaking into a full-blown panic attack.
And yet I'm not in any real danger. I'm just at the top of an
escalator, making my way down to a London Underground rail platform,
along with hundreds of other Londoners who don't seem fazed in the
slightest - but the sight of the drop below me is the stuff of my

This scenario will sound familiar to the many other people with
phobias. All it takes is a worrying thought or glimpse - whether of
a steep drop or a spider's web - for the mind and body to race into
panicked overdrive. These fears are difficult to conquer, largely
because the best way of getting over a phobia is to expose yourself
to your fear many times over.

But there may be a short cut. Drugs that work to boost learning may
help someone with a phobia to "detrain their brain", losing the
fearful associations that fuel their panic. This approach is also
showing promise for a host of other problems - from chemical and
gambling addictions to obsessive nail-biting. In a bid to find out
if it really works, I head to West Virginia to take part in a trial.

The brain's extraordinary ability to pick up new memories and forge
associations is so well celebrated that its dark side is often
neglected. In the case of a phobia, it may have been an unpleasant
experience that once triggered a panicked response to spiders, mice
or, for me, heights, leading the feelings to resurge whenever we see
the relevant cue. Former drug addicts have similarly learned
responses when they see something that reminds them of their habit:
the sight of rolled-up bank notes for a cocaine user, for instance.

So how do we overcome such deep-seated associations? One answer is
exposure therapy, a treatment primarily used to deal with anxiety
and phobias. In those initial studies, people gradually expose
themselves to increasingly anxiety-triggering situations - called a
"fear hierarchy" - until they feel at ease with them. In my case,
that would involve scaling a series of ever greater heights. As the
individual becomes more comfortable with each situation, they create
a new memory - one that links the cue with reduced feelings of
anxiety, rather than the sensations that mark the onset of a panic
attack. This process is called extinction learning.

Unfortunately, while it is relatively easy to create a fear-based
memory, expunging that fear is pretty hard work. Each of those
exposure trials will probably involve a great deal of stress and
anxiety, leading some psychotherapists to conclude that the
treatment is unethical.

For that reason, neuroscientists have been looking for new ways to
speed up extinction learning. One such avenue is the use of
"cognitive enhancers". One of the most promising contenders is an
antibiotic originally used to treat tuberculosis. Apart from its
action on germs, D-cycloserine, or DCS, also acts on neurons. The
drug slots into part of the "NMDA receptor" - a site that seems to
modulate the neurons' ability to adjust their signalling in response
to events. This tuning of a neuron's firing is thought to be one of
the key ways the brain stores memories, and at very low doses, DCS
appears to boost that process, improving our ability to learn.

In 2004, Kerry Ressler at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and
his colleagues were among the first teams to test whether DCS could
also help people with phobias. They performed a pilot trial on 28
people undergoing exposure therapy for acrophobia - a fear of
heights. Sure enough, they found that those given a small amount of
DCS alongside their therapy were able to reduce their phobia to a
greater extent than those given a placebo. Since then, other groups
have replicated the finding in many more trials.

Future research may show ways to refine the method still further. It
still takes a long time to accomplish even one of the steps on a
person's fear hierarchy, says Cristian Sirbu, a behavioural
scientist and psychologist at West Virginia University in
Charleston. "You end up with a patient feeling that they failed," he
says. Instead, he thinks that DCS may make it possible to tackle the
problem in a single 3-hour session, which is long enough to make
real headway and end with a feeling of satisfaction. To find out if
Sirbu's approach could work for me and others like me, and if a dose
of DCS could boost the effects, I landed in Charleston to take part
in a trial.

The trial started with a battery of tests. To get a good handle on
my phobia, Sirbu and his colleague interviewed me before giving me
some physical tests. First, the pair hooked me up to electrodes to
measure my heart rate and fingertip sweatiness, before sitting me in
front of a video of a pair of gardeners walking around a rose
garden, discussing its merits. The team were trying to get an idea
of how my body functioned in a relaxed state, before we moved on to
actual heights.

With the electrodes still attached, I was asked to approach a
second-storey balcony. The team recorded increases in heart rate and
sweating as I started to panic - business as usual for me.

The exciting part of the study kicked off a week later, when I am
given a tablet to swallow - I don't know whether it is DCS or merely
a sugar pill - before starting my 3-hour therapy session. The
therapy itself is a gruelling experience to say the least. After
walking down a windowed corridor on the fifth floor of a building,
Sirbu and I head to the hospital's stairwell. With a huge visible
drop to one side of me, it is terrifying. Our voices echo and I try
to focus on the dust bunnies lying on each step. But after an
exhausting 3 hours I start to have a full-blown panic attack which
prevents me from reaching Sirbu's goal of climbing two floors up the

Rewrite or delete

What went wrong? Phobias come in different flavours, and more
intense fears can take more work to overcome. Because I needed
another session, Sirbu pulled me out of the clinical trial. He then
tells me that I had taken the active drug, not the placebo. It is a
disappointing result, particularly after hearing about Sirbu's
promising results with other trial participants, all of whom
experienced some kind of benefit from the session, he tells me.

Ultimately, trying to erase a fear response in a single trial may
just be too ambitious for someone with a phobia as extreme as mine.
What is more Merel Kindt, who studies anxiety disorders at the
University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, is sceptical that its
benefits would last. She points out that although Sirbu's approach
attempts to lay down calmer associations, it doesn't directly undo
the fearful response that is also embedded in our memories, so
there's always a chance to relapse. Indeed, since the therapy had
failed while I took the cognitive enhancer, I am concerned that I
may have instead laid down even more stressful memories - a
potential problem with the method that has troubled some

But there may be another way. Rather than simply trying to overlay
the fearful associations with a new one, Kindt is instead trying to
alter them at their source. To do so, her method targets an entirely
different pathway from the trials using DCS. It is based on the idea
that every time we access a memory, be it of a specific recollection
or a learned reaction, we temporarily put it in a fragile state.
Normally, the updated memory is then re-consolidated by the
formation of new proteins that make the necessary synaptic changes,
and if stress hormones like adrenaline are washing around the body -
as is often the case during the fearful reactions of someone gripped
by a phobia - the original memory's emotional force is maintained.
But a beta-blocker drug called propranolol can block the adrenaline
from binding to the neurons, which Kindt hopes will interfere with
the process to stop the emotional trauma associated with the cue
from being reinforced. "We don't erase the memory, but we can erase
the learned fear response," she says. A similar approach is already
in clinical trials to soothe the fearful flashbacks that haunt
people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Kindt's team is currently testing its effectiveness with
arachnophobia - by giving people propranolol while they look at
spiders, for example. "It's very successful," she claims. "The
participants said they still didn't like spiders, but they were able
to approach a tarantula." Kindt, who is preparing the findings for
publication, says the benefit was still there when she checked three
months later.

As the work to treat phobias gains momentum, others are looking at
whether the same strategies could work with addictions. After all,
phobias and addictions share some similarities. "They are both
habitual, emotional, reflexive responses," says Ressler.

Here, the idea is to expose a person to a "trigger environment"
associated with taking a drug. That might be the sight of a
cigarette for instance. But in therapy sessions, the individual
isn't allowed their substance of choice, leading them to learn how
to resist the urge.

Elizabeth Santa Ana, now at the Medical University of South Carolina
in Charleston, has tested whether DCS could boost this method, using
a group of smokers. "People would sit in a room with a packet of
their favourite cigarettes, take a cigarette and hold it up to their
mouth, but not smoke it," she says. At the same time, Santa Ana
taught them coping skills, and encouraged them with guided imagery.
"For example, I would ask them to imagine having tar all over their
bodies, and then imagine being able to breathe freely once they'd
stopped smoking," she says.

Forgotten cravings

In the group of 25 participants, 13 were given a small dose of DCS
during their time in the lab, while the rest took a placebo. For the
preliminary study, the team did not ask the participants to give up
smoking. Instead, they measured the smokers' cravings a week after
the therapy - by asking them how great an urge to smoke they felt,
and measuring how much they sweated when faced with a cigarette they
were not supposed to light.

The team found that people who had been given a dose of DCS
exhibited a reduced sweating response to smoking cues, and also
reported a lower desire to smoke. "There were both objective and
subjective differences between the two groups," says Santa Ana.
"They were promising findings."

Clearly, it will take more trials to find out if the approach
actually helps people quit smoking for good. In any case, it looks
likely that other strategies would be needed to extinguish cravings
for other drugs; trials of cocaine-addicted people using DCS did not
report reduced desire for a hit, for instance.

Propranolol - the beta-blocker that Kindt was using to "destabilise"
the learned responses of people with arachnophobia - may be more
fruitful. In a study last year, 50 people addicted to cocaine
watched videos of people taking the drug. Half of the group had been
given a small dose of propranolol immediately after watching the
films. A day later, they were asked to watch the films again, but
they reported that the intensity of their cravings had fallen
significantly more than the control group. The participants also
showed a reduced physiological response to the cues. With more
sessions, it may therefore be possible to cut the long-term risk of

One of the reasons that addictive cravings are particularly
difficult to target is that the addictions themselves can make
long-lasting changes to brain chemistry. When people hooked on drugs
like cocaine attempt to withdraw from the substance, they experience
a drop in brain levels of glutamate - a neurotransmitter that acts
to fire up neurons. This imbalance damages communication between the
decision-making prefrontal cortex, and the nucleus accumbens - the
region involved in pleasure-seeking and reward-learning, potentially
explaining why people with addictions find it so difficult to
develop the neural pathways necessary to reverse their habits and
control their cravings.

For this reason, some teams are turning to supplements like n-acetyl
cysteine (NAC), which seems to help return levels of glutamate to
their normal levels. So far, NAC has shown promise in studies that
reversed the drug-seeking behaviours of rats addicted to cocaine and
heroin. In addition, a series of small trials has shown that NAC
also reduces craving in people who are still using cocaine. People
who were considered to have a problematic dependency on cannabis,
meanwhile, were more than twice as likely to show no signs of drug
use in a urine test after taking NAC for eight weeks, compared to
those taking a placebo. The treatment has also shown positive
results for gambling addicts and chronic nail-biters. It is
important to note that the NAC treatments did not involve explicit
forms of exposure therapy however - rather, the participants were
learning to cope with their cravings as they went about their daily
lives. So it would be interesting to know what the results with NAC
would be like if combined with sessions with a therapist that
directly aimed to extinguish the responses to drug cues. Some
research groups are aiming to test the possibility.

It is still early days. The disappointing results of my trial are
enough to convince me that these would-be treatments for phobias and
addiction aren't miracle cures. For most people, changing unwanted
habits or reactions will involve dedication and perseverance. And
since much of the research into drugs such as DCS have been
primarily pilot studies, it will be important to see if similar
results are found in bigger clinical trials. But if just one of
these possible treatments comes up trumps, it could change many
blighted lives.

As it is, I'm going to have to trust that good things come to those
who wait. Although the "flash therapy" for my phobia did not work
for me, I'm now trying a more drawn-out version of exposure therapy.
It's hard going, but right now I'm four steps through my 10-step
programme and happy to say that I'm already reaching new heights.

This article appeared in print under the headline "Erase your

Jessica Hamzelou is the careers editor at New Scientist
tt mailing list

[tt] NS 2960: Huge water pulse to bring Colorado river back from dead

NS 2960: Huge water pulse to bring Colorado river back from dead
* 12 March 2014 by Hal Hodson

[Leader: "US-Mexico deal shows how to make water peace, not war" added.]

A historic US-Mexico deal will see 130 billion litres of water
infuse the river's parched delta, leaving an explosion of life in
its wake

FROM above it looks like a meandering yellow scar. On either side
lie lush green polygons - the irrigated fields of the Mexicali
valley just south of the US border, where tomatoes, cucumbers and
onions grow in what should be a desert. The dusty smear running in
between used to be the Colorado river. It's been decades since it
has reached the sea.

On 23 March, it will begin its journey back from the dead. In an
ecological experiment unprecedented in US history, seven states and
two countries have signed an agreement to unleash a huge pulse of
water designed to bring the river's dwindling delta back to life.

"We're trying to engineer a spring flood," says Karl Flessa, a
geoscientist at the University of Arizona who is leading the team
that will study how the delta responds. "This is a river system that
historically had a huge spring flood every year. We're trying to
recreate that."

Before development of the American south-west led to the widespread
damming of the Colorado from the early 1900s onwards, the floods
that fed the river's delta kept it teeming with life. When explorer
Aldo Leopold canoed the delta in 1922, he marvelled at "a verdant
wall of mesquite and willow" that separated the river from the
desert. Jaguars prowled outside the few human camps that existed.

To try to bring back this lost ecosystem, Flessa and his team are
planning to release a one-time, 130-billion-litre pulse of water.

The water that will make up the pulse is currently being slowly
released from behind the Hoover, Davis and Parker dams. It will
collect behind the most southerly dam on the river, the Morelos,
which sits on the Mexico-US border and normally diverts the last of
the Colorado toward agricultural land.

When the gates of the Morelos open on 23 March, the river will be
reunited with its delta. The eight-week-long pulse will release
enough water into the dry riverbed to fill an area the size of a
Manhattan city block with a column six kilometres high.

After that, the agreement stipulates that a small continuous flow,
totalling an additional 64 billion litres, will infuse the delta
over the next three years. It's a trickle compared with what used to
reach the delta, but researchers still expect the water to bring
around 950 hectares of the delta to life in the weeks after the

The experiment isn't just remarkable for its scale. It is also the
first time water has crossed the US-Mexico border for environmental
purposes - the result of years of negotiations between Mexican and
US water authorities, as well as a host of NGOs. "As far as I know
there has never been an agreement to deliver water for biological
purposes," says Michael Cohen of the Pacific Institute in Oakland,
California. "It's been in the works for arguably 20 years."

Water rights

The agreement, called Minute 319, requires the US to provide $21
million to help improve water-saving measures in Mexico, and for
Mexico to forego some of its water rights this year to free up water
for the pulse. It also provides a legal framework designed to
forestall conflict over how much water the US lets flow into Mexico,
especially during droughts like the one currently gripping the
region. This could prove vital in the coming years as climate models
suggest the region will grow increasingly arid.

When the waters hit, scientists expect the Colorado river delta to
undergo an explosive transformation. It has happened before. El Niño
dumped so much rain on the region for a few scattered years in the
1980s and 90s that officials were forced to let some water flow to
the ocean.

Ed Glenn of the University of Arizona studied the impact on the
delta, and saw native trees growing at speeds that seem
otherworldly. "There's an immediate green response in the satellite
imagery," he says. "You're germinating new generations of all kinds
of plants, including the native trees that are so valuable to

The hope is that this time, with a consistent base flow following
behind the initial pulse, life will be there to stay. One of the
main goals is to encourage native cottonwood and willow trees back
into the delta. Right now, sticky mud flats are dominated by salt
cedar, an invasive species.

Cottonwoods are uniquely adapted to make the most of flood waters.
"The cottonwoods are able to extend their roots as much as a
centimetre a day during the first growing season," says Glenn,
allowing them to continue to tap groundwater stores even after the
pulse is over.

Flessa and his team are planning to make the most of the opportunity
to use the delta as a massive living experiment. They have buried
temperature and moisture sensors across the flood plain to measure
exactly when the pulse arrives. Another set of sensors, buried 10
metres deep in the silty soil, will measure how quickly the water
seeps in. The data gathered will be combined with laser scans of the
flood plain and satellite imagery of vegetation to determine exactly
how the water restores the area.

The outcome will be crucial to the continued life of the delta. The
information the team gather will influence the decision on whether
to renew the water supply when the terms in Minute 319 are
renegotiated in three years' time. Ideally, that will mean more
water, but the long-standing drought in the south-west US may make
that difficult.

While the water pulse enabled by the Minute 319 agreement is
historic, Osvel Hinojosa of Mexican NGO Pronatura Noroeste says it
isn't enough to return the delta to its former glory. The restored
area will be a tiny fraction of the 780,000 hectares of wetlands
that used to exist.

"These things have never been done before for this river," says
Hinojosa. "But it's only a step forward, not the final solution."

The benefits of having a living delta, even one partially restored,
are numerous. The experiment will increase habitat for the 380
species of plants and animals native to the area, including some 30
species of migratory birds that use it as a stopover point. And it
could improve the prospects for two endangered birds native to the
area - the Yuma Clapper Rail and the Southwestern Flycatcher.

"Locally, having a healthy ecosystem improves livelihoods. There is
a significant economy related to tourism, hunting and fishing in the
area," says Hinojosa.

"To be involved with something on this geographic magnitude is
really quite remarkable," says Flessa. "This is a bit of a dream
come true".

This article appeared in print under the headline "Colorado river
back from the dead"

Drying deltas

The Colorado isn't the only great river that has been kept from the

The Indus river delta in Pakistan was drying out when it was rescued
by a natural disaster in 2010. Flooding from monsoon rains killed
thousands of people along the river basin. But when the water
reached the delta, it had a more positive effect. Ecosystems that
people living in the delta depend on were replenished by the massive
influx of fresh water - a dwindling commodity since Pakistan, India
and China began to dam the river in the 1940s.

There were other benefits, too. The Indus delta is home to the
world's largest arid mangrove forest, which needs a regular supply
of fresh water to keep damaging salt water out. The floods also
boosted the habitat of the critically endangered Indus river

Many of the world's largest rivers have the same issues. The mouth
of China's Yellow River maintains its tenuous connection to the
ocean only through massive engineering works. Australia's largest
river, the Murray, fails to reach the sea for 40 per cent of the

Michael Cohen at the Pacific Institute in California points out that
one of the greatest achievements of the project to bring the
Colorado river delta back to life is showing that binational
cooperation is possible. "There are a lot of these international
rivers and people are looking at ways to handle them," he says.
Leader: US-Mexico deal shows how to make water peace, not war
* 13 March 2014

CROSS-BORDER water disputes usually conjure up images of parched
Middle Eastern states such as Jordan and Israel. But one of the
longest running has been between the US and Mexico over the Colorado
river, which travels its final 100 kilometres or so in Mexico before
emptying into the Gulf of California.

Or at least it used to: the river last reached the sea on a regular
basis in the early 1960s, before the Glen Canyon dam was built more
than 1000 kilometres upstream.

That dispute is now largely settled following a historic deal.
Mexico and the US have agreed to share both water and drought - an
increasingly frequent visitor to the region. One of the most
gratifying aspects of the deal is that it includes ecological
restoration (see "Huge water pulse to bring Colorado river back from

The agreement is already being touted as a model for water
agreements elsewhere. Bulgarian, Chilean, Czech and Kazakh water
managers have all visited the region to learn about its successes.

Sixty per cent of the world's fresh water spans international
boundaries, and while dire warnings of escalating "water wars" have
yet to come to pass, managing this vital resource is crucial to
future peace and prosperity. The US and Mexico have shown the way

This article appeared in print under the headline "Water peace, not

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

[tt] (c-punks) Lavabit (fwd)

----- Forwarded message from -----

Date: Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:48:30 -0400
Subject: Lavabit

Lavabit Loses Contempt Of Court Appeal

Failure to hand over encryption keys could land Lavabit founder Levison
with hefty fines
On April 17, 2014 by Thomas Brewster

Lavabit, the email service once used by whistleblower Edward
Snowden, has lost an appeal against a contempt of court ruling
that he delayed the US Government's attempts to gather information
by refusing to hand over encryption keys. the email service,
which has since closed, was eventually forced to comply anyway.

The US government asked for SSL keys to look at the metadata
(dates and other details of communications) for a specific Lavabit
user, believed to be Snowden, The service's founder Ladar Levison
at first refused, and when forced to comply, provided the keys
printed in a tiny typeface.

The court ruled that Lavabit had not followed correct procedures
in its initial hearings, and had not raised a specific challenge
to the district court's authority under the so-called "pen/trap
statute". Levinson could now be fined for contempt.

"Levison's statement to the district court simply reflected his
personal angst over complying with the pen/trap order, not his
present appellate argument that questions whether the district
court possessed the authority to act at all," read a statement
from the fourth US circuit court of appeals Judge G Steven Agee.

"Arguments raised in a trial court must be specific and in line
with those raised on appeal."

The case stems back to June last year, when the US government
sought to acquire private keys for SSL encrypted traffic of a
specific Lavabit user, thought to be Snowden. Officials sought
to put a tap on the communications of that target to collect

Levison, when approached by FBI officials, refused to hand over
the keys, which eventually led to the contempt of court charge.

According to the court filing denying his appeal, Levison suggested
he could provide the content the government was after, rather
than using their interception tools. The government decline the
offer, saying it needed real-time acquisition of the target's

A device to intercept traffic was installed as part of the
pen/trap order, but could not gather usable information as the
encryption keys had not been provided.

Officials did eventually get the keys in August 2013, however.
"The government sought penalties of $5,000 a day until Lavabit
provided the encryption keys to the government. The district
court granted the motion for sanctions that day. Two days later,
Levison provided the keys to the government. By that time, six
weeks of data regarding the target had been lost," the court
ruling read.

Levison could now be fined thousands of dollars.

----- End forwarded message -----
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