Ants Lead the Way on Earthquake Prediction

Ants Lead the Way on Earthquake Prediction - Ants with the world's worst taste in real estate seem to sense earthquakes before they strike, according to research presented today (April 11) at the European Geosciences Union annual meeting in Vienna.

Active faults, fractures where the Earth violently ruptures in earthquakes, are the preferred housing site for red wood ants in Germany. Researcher Gabriele Berberich of the University Duisburg-Essen in Germany has counted more than 15,000 red wood ant mounds lined up along Germany's faults, like candy drops on a conveyor belt.

Ants Lead the Way on Earthquake Prediction
Red wood ant mounds on an earthquake fault in Germany.

For three years, Berberich and her colleagues tracked the ants 24-7 with video cameras, using special software to catalog behavioral changes. There were 10 earthquakes between magnitude 2.0 and 3.2 during the study period, 2009 to 2012, and many smaller temblors. The ants only changed behavior for quakes larger than magnitude 2.0, which also happens to be the smallest quakes that humans can feel.

During the day, ants busily went about their daily activity, and at night the colony rested inside the mound, mirroring human diurnal patterns, Berberich said at a news conference today. But before an earthquake, the ants were awake throughout the night, outside their mound, vulnerable to predators, the researchers found. Normal ant behavior didn't resume until a day after the earthquake, Berberich said.

So how do ants know an earthquake is coming? Berberich suspects the insects pick up changing gas emissions or local shifts in the Earth's magnetic field.

"Red wood ants have chemoreceptors for carbon dioxide gradients and magnetoreceptors for electromagnetic fields," she said. "We're not sure why or how they react to the possible stimuli, but we're planning on going to a more tectonically active region and see if ants react to larger earthquakes," Berberich added. ( )

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Humanity's Closest Ancestor Was Pigeon-Toed, Research Reveals's Closest Ancestor Was Pigeon-Toed, Research Reveals - The most complete investigation of the anatomy of what may be the immediate ancestor of the human lineage is now shedding light on secrets about how it might have behaved, researchers say. 

For instance, the human ancestors may have moved in an entirely new way, with a somewhat pigeon-toed gait with a twisty trunk, the researchers added. 

Thefirst specimens of the extinct species Australopithecus sediba were accidentally discoveredby the 9-year-old son of a scientist in 2008, in an area in South Africa named the Cradle of Humankind, one of the richest fossil sites in Africa. Australopithecus means "southern ape," while sedibameans "fountain" in Sotho, one of the 11 official languages of South Africa, due to how scientists hint the human lineage might spring from this species. 

Au. sedibalived nearly 2 million years ago, about the time when scientists think the human lineage Homooriginated. It possessed a bizarre jumble of human and more apelike traits, perhaps revealing this might be the species from which humans' branch of the family tree originated. 

"These skeletons are just interesting, wonderful blends of characteristics," researcher Steven Churchill, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University, told LiveScience. 

The findings, detailed in six papers in the April 12 issue of the journal Science, firm up the idea that Au. sediba was one of humanity's closest ancestors.
Here a composite reconstruction of Au. sediba, which may be humanity's closest relative. The reconstruction isbased on material from a younger male skeleton (MH1), a female skeleton (MH2) and an adult (MH4), and based upon the research

Who was Au. sediba? 

Now scientists have probed more deeply into the anatomy of the remarkably well-preserved skeletons of Au. sediba. These include a younger male skeleton, commonly referred to as MH1, and a female skeleton, known as MH2, as well as the shinbone of an adult known as MH4. This is the most comprehensive exam yet of the anatomy of an early member of the hominins — the group that includes modern and extinct human species and their direct ancestors. 

Au. sediba possessed long, apelike arms, suggesting it could still climb and possibly hang from trees, perhaps more so than any other australopith — the primates that preceded Homo, and the first to walk bipedally on two feet. 

"Its scapula or shoulder blade is most similar in shape to that of orangutans, the most arboreal or tree-dwelling of all the apes," Churchill said. "This suggests climbing was still an important part of its behavior and ecology." 

However, Au. sediba may have also possessed fingers one might expect of a toolmaker and tool user — ones potentially suited for precision grasping. 

"They're still capable of very powerful grips, which is what you'd need if you were climbing or suspended under a branch," Churchill said. "It looks like a hand good for both tools and climbing." 

"For now, however, we don't have any indications of tool use at the site, no examples of tools," researcher Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, told LiveScience. 

Odd walkers? 

The legs of Au. sediba suggest it moved in an entirely unique way. For instance, its small heel resembled that of a chimp's, hinting it probably walked with an inward rotation of the knee and hip, with its feet slightly twisted. This primitive method of walking might have been a compromise between tree-climbing and upright walking. 

"The implications of this study are that multiple forms of bipedalism were once practiced by our early hominin ancestors," Berger said. "Different species of australopiths utilized their anatomy in different ways — some climbed trees, some walked on the ground, and some did both." 

The extinct species' teeth are a combination of primitive and humanlike traits. Their features suggest Au. sediba was a close relative of another southern African australopith known as Australopithecus africanus. The researchers say both these species appear more closely related to humans than australopiths from east Africa such as Australopithecus afarensis, most famed for the hominid Lucy and at one time thought to be the closest relative of humans. 

"Our research on teeth can't definitively settle if either sediba or africanus is more closely related to humans than the other species," said researcher Debbie Guatelli-Steinberg at Ohio State University. "But our findings do suggest that both are closely related to each other and are more closely related to humans than afarensis." 

Au. sedibastood a little more than 4 feet high (1.2 meters). Analysis of its spine revealed it had a humanlike curvature of the lower back. However, its lower back was longer and more flexible than modern humans, and more like primitive, extinct members of Homo. 

"We think this feature of its lower trunk may have helped with its locomotion," Berger said. "Humans twist their trunk when we walk, a movement we counter by moving our arms. Maybe sediba was twisting its trunk as well when it moved." 

Svelte-chested ancestor 

The remains of the upper rib cage or thorax of Au. sediba suggest it was narrow and apelike, different from the broad, cylindrical chest seen in humans. 

"The broad thorax we have is unique to humans — the only mammal that doesn't have narrowing at the shoulders is humans," Berger said. "We can lift our thorax to breathe, change the capacity for respiration, which is one of the main reasons humans are good long-distance runners. Chimpanzees don't have that." 

However, the less well-preserved lower rib cage fossils were more humanlike. This might have helped accommodate its strange form of walking just as its odd lower back did. 

"Everywhere we look in these skeletons, from the jaws on down to the feet, we see evidence of the transition from australopith to Homo; everywhere we see evidence of evolution," said researcher Darryl de Ruiter at Texas A&M University. 

All in all, these findings provide support that Au. sediba is one of the closest relatives to early humans. 

"We need to find more sediba remains to help fill in the missing pieces of this evolutionary puzzle," Guatelli-Steinberg said. 

Discoveries such as Au. sediba "demonstrate the need for further African-based exploration in the rich fossil fields of southern Africa, and additionally demonstrate the tremendous promise of the paleosciences on the continent," Berger said. ( )

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Mysteriously Shrinking Proton Continues to Puzzle Physicists

Mysteriously Shrinking Proton Continues to Puzzle Physicists — The size of a proton, long thought to be well-understood, may remain a mystery for a while longer, according to physicists. — Speaking today (April 13) at the April meeting of the American Physical Society, researchers said they need more data to understand why new measurements of proton size don't match old ones. 

"The discrepancy is rather severe," said Randolf Pohl, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics. The question, Pohl and his colleagues said, is whether the explanation is a boring one — someone messed up the measurements — or something that will generate new physics theories 

The incredible shrinking proton 

The proton is a positively charged particle in the nucleus of atoms, the building blocks of everything. Years of measurements pegged the proton at 0.8768 femtometers in radius (a femtometer is a millionth of a billionth of a meter). 

But a new method used in 2009 found a different measurement: 0.84087 femtometers, a 4 percent difference in radius. 

The previous measurements had used electrons, negatively charged particles that circle the nucleus in a cloud, to determine proton radius. To make the measurement with electrons, researchers can do one of two things. First, they can fire electrons at protons to measure how the electrons are deflected. This electron-scattering method provides insight into the size of the positively charged proton. 

An alternative is to try to make the electron move. Electrons zing around the nucleus of an atom, where protons reside, at different levels called orbitals. They can jump from orbital to orbital by increasing or decreasing their energy, which electrons do by losing or gaining an elementary particle of light called a photon. The amount of energy it takes to budge an electron from orbital to orbital tells physicists how much pull the proton has, and thus the proton's size. 

Pohl and his colleagues didn't use electrons at all in their measurements of the proton. Instead, they turned to another negatively charged particle called the muon. The muon is 200 times heavier than an electron, so it orbits the proton 200 times closer. This heft makes it easier for scientists to predict which orbital a muon resides in and thus a much more sensitive measure of proton size. 

"The muon is closer to the proton and it has a better view," Pohl said. 

Possible explanations 

These sensitive muon measurements are the ones that gave the smaller-than-expected result for the proton radius, a totally unexpected discovery, Pohl said. Now, physicists are racing to explain the discrepancies. 

One possibility is that the measurements are simply wrong. Pohl said this "boring explanation" is the most probable, but not all physicists agree. 

"I would say it's not the experimental side," said Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist Jan Bernauer. 

The electron-based measurements have been repeated many times and are well-understood, Bernauer said, and muon experiments have the advantage that if they're done wrong, they don't provide results at all. 

If experimental error turns out not to be the culprit, there may be some calculation issue, "so we actually know everything that goes on but we are just not calculating it quite right," Bernauer told reporters. 

Most exciting of all, the discrepancy could reveal some new physics not explained by the dominant physics theory, the Standard Model. Perhaps there is something unknown about how muons and electrons interact with other particles, said John Arrington, a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. 

One possibility is that photons aren't the only particles that carry forces between particles — perhaps an unknown particle is in the mix, causing the proton-measurement discrepancies. 

Next steps 

To find out what's going on, physicists are launching a new set of experiments across multiple laboratories. One major line of research involves testing electron-scattering experiments to be sure they've been done correctly and that all the facets are understood, Arrington said. 

Another goal is to repeat the scattering experiments, but instead of shooting electrons at protons they'll shoot muons at protons. This project, the Muon Scattering Experiment, or MUSE, is set to take place at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland. The facilities there will allow researchers to simultaneously measure electron- and muon-scattering in one experiment. 

"The hope is that on the electron-scattering side, we'll have double-checked all the things that are challenging in these measurements," Arrington said. "If we still have this discrepancy, we'll be able to fill in this last box and look at the muon-scattering and see, independent of how you make the measurement, do electrons and muons give you something different?" 

The plan is to start collecting data in that experiment in 2015 or 2016, Arrington said, meaning the size of the proton will remain in limbo for a little longer. 

"It's not easy," Arrington said. "We hope to do it in a little less than 10 years, but maybe we're being optimistic." ( )

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Two million-year-old creature had mix of ape, human traits

Two million-year-old creature had mix of ape, human traits - A 2 million-year-old ancestor of man had a mixture of ape and human-like features that allowed it to hike vast distances on two legs with as much ease as it could scurry up trees, according to research published on Friday. 

Discovered in cave near Johannesburg in 2008, the fossils of a species named "Australopithecus sediba" have given researchers clues about the evolution of man and which traits in our ancestors fell by the wayside. 

Standing about 1.3 metres (4 ft) tall, sediba had a narrow rib cage similar to apes but a flexible spine more similar to that of a human. Its long arms and powerful torso helped in climbing, according to the research published in the journal Science. 

Sediba's small heel resembled a chimpanzee's and it walked with an inward rotation of the knee and hip on slightly twisted feet with a flat-footed gait that would have helped it cover ground, the researchers said. 

"It is the perfect compromise of something that has the need to walk on the ground efficiently for long distances. At the same time, it is a very capable climber," said Lee Berger, project leader at the Wits Evolutionary Studies Institute in South Africa. 

The researchers plan further studies to see how these fossils of early human relatives known as hominin compare to other remains, to help put together the pieces of evolution. 

"We have more complete specimens of fossils than for any other early hominin species that has ever been discovered. What this means is that we can make assessments of the anatomy and behaviour of this species with a great deal of confidence," Berger told Reuters. ( Reuters )

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64-Million-Year Controversy: Grand Canyon Age Debated

64-Million-Year Controversy: Grand Canyon Age Debated - Since two researchers suggested last year that the Grand Canyon was carved 70 million years ago (much older than the consensus of 6 million years), a rousing debate over the canyon's true age has played out at scientific meetings, through email, and now, in the pages of a respected journal.

In today's (April 11) issue of the journal Science, several geologists who've spent years roaming the Southwest's red rocks and cliffs respond to the original old Grand Canyon study, published in November 2012 in Science. Their critique hinges on two primary points: Assessing the laboratory techniques that revealed when the Grand Canyon's deepest rocks were brought to the surface, and rock evidence that points to a young Colorado River, the waterway now filling the gorge.
Grand Canyon viewed from Hopi Point, on the south rim. New evidence suggests the western Grand Canyon was cut to within 70 percent of its current depth long before the Colorado River existed.
View of the western Grand Canyon and the Colorado River from the canyon bottom. New data suggests most of this portion of the canyon was carved by 70 Ma, more than 60 Ma earlier than generally believed.

"If there was a canyon where the present canyon is, it would have left some evidence at the mouth of the canyon at the Grand Wash trough," said Ivo Lucchitta, an emeritus geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Arizona and one of the technical comment authors. The Grand Wash trough, a basin in the Lake Mead region west of the Grand Canyon, contains a thick pile of gravel, limestone and volcanic rocks that pin down the 6-million-year age of the Colorado River. Geologic evidence for canyon-carving in the present-day Grand Canyon before 6 million years is lacking, Lucchita and his co-authors said.

In a point-counterpoint that's common in Science and other academic journals, the lead author of the initial study, Rebecca Flowers, said the ancient Southwest was an even more arid environment, with different topography than today, which meant older rivers likely left behind less sediment than today's Colorado River. Older materials could also have eroded away when the Colorado River punched through, said Flowers, a geologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "The absence of obvious detritus in the Grand Wash trough does not preclude the ancient Grand Canyon," she told OurAmazingPlanet.

But the case for Flowers' ancient canyon primarily rests on what are called thermochronologic dating techniques that reveal when rock was exposed near the surface. Tiny mineral grains indicated the western Grand Canyon was carved 70 million years ago to within about 1,000 feet (300 meters) of its current depth, and the eastern Grand Canyon was cut more shallowly by about 55 million years ago.

Geologists led by Karl Karlstrom of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, lead author of one of the critiques, said their mineral samples support a young canyon, but Flowers said the opposing side's data could be interpreted in favor of an old canyon too. The argument rests on how the different groups model the escape of elements such as helium, uranium and thorium from the mineral apatite. The apatite measurements point to cooling of the rocks as layers of overlying sediment were removed by erosion.

"I think we have a data set that really provides for ancient canyon carving, and I agree this is going to continue to be controversial," Flowers said. One of the world's natural wonders, though the spectacular setting lays out nearly half of Earth's history in a colorful layer cake of rocks, the age of the Grand Canyon has been debated for a century.

Though the jigsaw puzzle of Colorado Plateau geology has many missing pieces, removed by erosion or tectonics, scientists do believe a consensus on the Grand Canyon's history will emerge.

"It's very complicated, but we have some hope that in the not-to-distant future we may be able to approach a solution," Lucchitta said. ( )

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A Decade on, Most are Critical of the U.S.-Led War in Iraq

A Decade on, Most are Critical of the U.S.-Led War in Iraq - Ten years after U.S. airstrikes on Baghdad punctuated the start of the Iraq war, nearly six in 10 Americans say the war was not worth fighting - a judgment shared by majorities steadily since initial success gave way to years of continued conflict.

Nearly as many in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say the same about the war in Afghanistan. And while criticisms of both wars are down from their peaks, the intensity of sentiment remains high, with strong critics far outweighing strong supporters.
Reuters Videos - The official war in Iraq may be over but the battle scars still remain, both physical and emotional, for those who served, and for their families. Lindsay Claiborn reports.

A key reason: A substantial sense that neither war did much to achieve their goals of enhancing U.S. security. Only about half of Americans say either war contributed to the long-term security of the United States, and just two in 10 say either contributed "a great deal" to U.S. security - clearly insufficient, in the minds of most, to justify their costs in lives and lucre.

WORTH IT? - As such, 58 percent in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, say that considering its costs vs. its benefits the war in Iraq was not worth fighting; 56 percent say the same about the war in Afghanistan.

These results are dramatically different than they were when the wars began long ago. The war in Iraq, a few weeks after its start on March 20, 2003, was supported by 80 percent of Americans; in Afghanistan, in late 2001, support exceeded 90 percent. In neither case, it seems, did the public expect conflicts as long, as complicated and as costly as ultimately transpired.

Similarly, at the time of the fall of Baghdad at the end of April 2003, 70 percent of Americans described the Iraq war as worth fighting - nearly twice as many as do so today.

Nor did the war go over well in Iraq, as shown in a series of six exclusive polls there by ABC and other media partners from 2004 through 2009. Never did a majority of Iraqis support the U.S.-led war; by 2009, given the toll of the invasion and ensuing years of violence, 56 percent said it was wrong for the United States and its coalition allies to invade.

LESSON - The course of U.S. public opinion underscores a consistent political lesson: Hell hath no fury like an unpopular war. Public rejection of the Iraq war, in particular, irreparably damaged the presidency of George W. Bush; declining support for the war and Bush's falling approval rating across his second term correlated almost perfectly - at .95, with 1 a perfect fit. That's perhaps an impetus for the Obama administration's efforts to wind down the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

Criticism of both wars has been higher than it is currently, likely reflecting the U.S. departure from Iraq and the reduced intensity of fighting in Afghanistan. In April 2007, at the height of the post-invasion conflict in Iraq, a peak of 66 percent called that war not worth fighting. Just less than a year ago an identical two-thirds said the same about the war in Afghanistan.

SECURITY - As noted, views of the wars' contribution to security strongly influence these assessments. Just 21 percent say the war in Iraq contributed a great deal to long-term U.S. security; among them, 70 percent say the war was worth fighting. Among those say the war contributed "somewhat" to security, 59 percent say it was worth it. But among those who say it didn't enhance U.S. security at all, a vast 83 percent say the Iraq war was not worth fighting. The breakdowns on Afghanistan are almost identical.

In terms of intensity, 43 percent of Americans feel "strongly" that the Iraq war was not worth fighting, more than twice as many as the number who feel strongly that its benefits did justify its costs, 19 percent. The divisions on Afghanistan, again, are very similar, 38 strongly critical vs. 18 percent strongly in support.

There are lingering political and ideological differences in views on Iraq, with support much higher among Republicans and conservatives compared with others. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans and 55 percent of conservatives say the war was worth fighting; just 35 percent of independents and 27 percent of Democrats, respectively, agree, as do just three in 10 liberals and moderates alike. Results on Afghanistan are similar among partisan groups.

HISTORY - The change in attitudes on the Iraq war, in particular, in many ways sealed the fate of George W. Bush as the most unpopular second-term president in political polling dating back nearly 80 years. Support for the war ebbed after the fall of Baghdad passed, yet the conflict continued; as noted, Bush's popularity faded with it.

By February 2004, just short of a year after it started, 50 percent of Americans said the war was not worth fighting; it reached a majority that June and stayed there, with just three exceptions, in 52 ABC/Post polls across the ensuing nine years.

In one notable exchange, in March 2008, ABC's Martha Raddatz asked then-Vice President Dick Cheney about the public's dissatisfaction with the war. Cheney said: "You cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls." At that point, about six in 10 Americans or more had described the war as "not worth fighting" continuously for two years.

Today, five years later, nearly six in 10 still do.

METHODOLOGY - This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone March 7-10, 2013, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including design effect. Partisan divisions are 33-25-35 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y.

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How to Wear Platform Shoes Like a Star

How to Wear Platform Shoes Like a Star - Platform heels are everywhere - on the runway, in magazines and on the red carpet - but can a real woman wear them?

Absolutely, as long as they're worn with the right look , says Lori Bergamotto contributing style editor of Lucky magazine.

Bergamotto visited " Good Morning America" today to give us the lowdown on how to pull off the high-fashion platform look.

First, Bergamotto revealed three foolproof tips for wearing platform shoes.

1. Try a hidden platform heel to elongate your body without all of the distractions.

2. An ankle strap low and close to the ankle works like a belt, cinching you in at your most narrow part.

3. Pairing the heel with a covered-up outfit gives you balance that reads effortless chic.

On "GMA," Bergamotto featured three models with three different platform shoes, starting with the wrong way to wear a platform heel and working her way to the right way.

Tragic Look: 
With such a bold silhouette as the red and zebra sky-high platform pump, you should try to avoid loud colors and prints that only draw the eye down to your foot. The ankle strap will be big in Spring 2013 but, in this case, the red ankle strap hits too high on the lower shin. The main benefit of a platform shoe is to create an elongating effect, but between the ankle strap, the disruptive silver buckle, and the loud red color, this shoe makes the whole look end with a giant thud.

Middle Look: 
This black and metallic pointy-toe pump is good, but it's still not quite right for an everyday purchase. For starters, the placement of the metallic gold is a dead giveaway that this is a platform shoe. Also, this pump is very similar to what's seen on the red carpet, so the model's cotton shirt dress is too casual and makes the whole outfit disjointed.

Trendy Look: 
This Gyal Platform Pump from Aldo ($74.90 at a hidden platform, so even though it has virtually the same height as the other shoes, it's covered by the outsole of the shoe and elongates the body. The ankle strap is also lower and closer to the ankle, cinching in the leg. The shoe's coloring blends with the model's skin tone, creating a lengthening effect and a glow. Finally, the long sleeves and longer hemline of the model's dress ($56 allow the platform shoes to punctuate the look in a subtly sexy way that reads chic. ( ABC NEws )

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