December 1, 2018
Materil from: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/313/5789/940
Wildfires have gotten worse throughout the western United States over the last decade. Federal agencies now regularly spend upwards of $1billion/year fighting fires, and far less preventing them. Scientists A. L. Westerling, H. G. Hidalgo, D. R. Cayan, & T. W. Swetnam from various Universities, state, and federal agencies including USGS have constructed a database on wildfires in the western U.S. since the 70’s and compared this to hydroclmatic, and land-surface data like this cool NDVI map from NASA and NOAA.
They open by stating that much of the recent discussion around wildfires has been driven primarily by land-use history, and forest management which leads to the conclusion that ecological restoration, and fuel management, should help mitigate these newfound fire risks. Often this means allowing for some sort of controlled burning to promote forest health, and decrease the low-lying shrubs that can build up and lead to unstoppable fires. Though they go on to state that if a changing climate has been the majority cause of these fires in recent decades, that changes in ecological practices might have little desired change. So they. Set up their study to resolve precisely this problem.
Fire suppression began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, largely due to timber interests. This caused changes in forest structure, and ecological habitats across the board as many ecosystems were dependent upon natural low intensity surface fires for regular forest health. However as low-lying shrubs are prevented from regular burning, which can occur naturally anywhere from every 3-20 years, the fuel storage which has built up on the ground then accumulates and leads to more intense fires which not only burn longer, and hotter over a more expansive area before dying out, they also take with them many of the underlying nutrients in the soil as they are so much hotter than a regular surface fire.
Climatic explications are what you might expect with climate change playing a significant factor in the causes of fires in relation to variable moisture conditions, drought frequency, and increased average temperature. Historical records taken from tree ring surveys show that forests and wildfire risks are strongly and positively associated with increased drought conditions, and specially susceptible are ponderosa pine forests which are prevalent in the pacific Northwest.
The greatest increase in wildfires was seen in the Northern Rockies which account for 60% of the increase in large fires despite not being managed in the fire suppressive way which much of the timber industry forests were managed. the next largest increases came from the Sierra Nevada, Southern Cascades, and Coastal ranges of Northern CA, & Southern OR. This indicates that historical forest management played a smaller role than previously thought, though is certainly one of many factors in forests which have been managed in their way.
Researchers also noted a correlation with snowfall, faster snow melt due to earlier springs, and faster runoff times as grounds plagued with droughts do not allow for as much water absorption into creeks, streams, and other riparian zones. This may also lead to a “firehose effect” in floodplains in which rivers are cutting deeper into the land when they are not allowed to flood into floodplains, thus depriving the soils of nutrients and moisture needed to defend against fires.
Their findings and historical data show that since the 1980’s, there has been a shift on average from infrequent large fires with a one week duration towards more frequent longer burning fires with an average time span of five weeks. They say the shift was marked by a shift towards unusually warm springs, longer summers which are more dry leading to dryer vegetation and underbrush. They also state that reduced winter snowfall and precipitation along with early spring snowmelt played a significant role.
They conclude in saying that ecological and forest restoration alone will not be enough to mitigate these wildfires we have been seeing, and that in coming decades warmer summers, earlier springs, and less consistent precipitation are expected, and that vulnerability to these fires will increase. The IPCC’s estimate of between 1.5 degrees and 5.8 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100 is considerably larger than the current warming estimate of 0.9 degrees, so what’s to come could be even more bleak, and while only time will tell, we certainly know enough to take action now.
November 24, 2018
Material from: http://fire.ca.gov/current_incidents/
FIRES IN CALIFORNIA
Fires ravaged California's natural and constructed landscape this past week, burning more than 250,000 acres while the United States government just released a new report stating that climate change is occurring more rapidly than previously thought. The report goes on to state that among other things like droughts, floods, food insecurity, and heat waves, fires will undoubtably become more severe as time goes on, and the temperature rises. The Camp fire in Northern California, originating near the town of Paradise, is now 100% contained after the city has been burned to ashes. The deadliest fire in California's history has burned 153,336 acres, and taken 84 lives. It is suspected that the fire could have been started by downed landlines owned by PG&E, similar to The Cascade Fires of 2017, and while lawsuits have been filed, there is no definitive proof yet. Simultaneously, another exceptionally large fire burned in Southern California's Malibu Mountains. The Woolsey fire which has taken three lives, burned 96,949 acres, and since been 100% contained solidified the notion that fires will become a regular part of Californian's lives for years to come. The National Climate Association Report states that climate change poses new risks to communities which are most vulnerable, and if left unchecked, it will lead to increased inequality in our nation. Furthermore it will lead to hundreds of billions of dollars of costs in clean up and relief efforts, as well as as much as a 10% loss in domestic GDP Production. Experts say that there is no telling what systematic risks could be revealed once the climate and it's temperate zones begin to shift. There will be massive changes to agricultural land, and an increase of pests amidst the continuing sixth mass extinction of species on the planet which is directly caused by habitat destruction, and environmental change. Both water, and food security will decline, and there is no telling how our current systems will react to the instability of the climate. So, with two massive fires burning at the same time, and the U.S. Government saying that climate change is amplifying their causes and longevity, it's hard to ignore.That's why one of our videographers, Tyler Young has taken it upon himself to film an opinion documentary on the affects of the fires smoke and pollution on residents of the Bay Area. Taking to the streets, and talking with those affected, watch the film to see what everyone's thinking about the fires.
November 12, 2018
Material from:Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews
Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews
Exercise Enhances and Protects Brain Function
Cotman, Carl W.; Engesser-Cesar, Christie
Exercise affects every aspect of the human body, and to go without it could be going against evolution itself. Authors of the study have found that exercise is directly linked to changes in gene expression in the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, though also a part of the brain which is tied to diseases like Alzheimers. There has been conclusive evidence that regular exercise leads to further brain plasticity and protects the myelination of neurons, improves cardiovascular health, decreases risk of cancer, stroke, and diabetes.
The authors set forth to determine the best way to promote neural growth factors like BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) which help protect neurons in the brain which will never be replaced unlike red blood cells which are replicated every 120 days. They note that many diets and supplements like ginkgo bloba propose to protect these neurons, though no conclusive studies have been found to corroborate these claims. Scientists performed experiments on mice who were voluntarily able to run on a spinning wheel, much like humans are voluntarily able to put on those old dusty running shoes and take off down the road. So the results must be extrapolated, and taken with a grain of salt. They found that running produced a 20% increase in BDNF mRNA, which they used to measure the abundance of the BDNF itself as BDNF mRNA is necessary for the transport of BDNF. This 20% increase came only after running a minimum of 500meters, and maxed out at “several Kilometers” and while the scientists did not directly translate these into terms of the human scale, it’s clear that you need to probably run at least a mile to start seeing some benefit, thought that is not to say walking two miles does not have a positive effect as well, they say you should get your 10,000 steps in everyday! (That’s five miles if you were wondering, though some studies have questioned the validity of this 10,000 number)
As well, the researchers studied estrogen in female subjects. It is known that increased estrogen can prevent diseases such as dementia and bone loss, though high amounts of estrogen can also cause breast cancer. Since estrogen deficits are known to cause neural degeneration, in a controlled study, the researchers studied subjects which were deprived of estrogen, and those which were not, alongside those given estrogen supplements, and those which were not. They found that those with lower levels of estrogen had lower levels of BDNF, and BDNF returned with exercise, but there was much more with estrogen replacement, and exercise combined. BDNF transport is benefitted by exercise, and with exercise, less estrogen supplementation was needed. Interestingly, they also noted that in terms of voluntary exercise, those with more estrogen chose to exercise more often, and while they say more trials are needed, their study indicated that with the addition of estrogen hormones, more exercise was voluntarily practiced.
There were also statistically significant results that BDNF up regulation was correlated with improvements in depression which was previously known, though they have also concluded that BDNF itself has antidepressant factors, and that exercise likely decreased the time necessary for antidepressants to take effect. They also note that BDNF levels drop to levels lower than normal after an abrupt stopping of regular exercise as in an athlete who is plagued with injury, and they have also found this to have a correlation with a depressive state before returning to normal levels which will slowly decrease overtime as the sedentary lifestyle continues.
Overall, the researchers solidified the understanding that exercise plays a positive role on both human health and brain function. Aerobic exercises like walking and running (or any extended form of cardio) is beneficial for levels of BDNF, and as a result helps prevent the degeneration of neurons in the brain, and allows for better hormone and nutrient transport to the connective tissues of those neurons. So get out there and get goin!
NOVEMBER 5, 2018
Material From: Talks at google, “Professor Matthew walker”
At google’s Seattle office, Matthew walker a professor of neuroscience at UC Berkeley gave an hour long lecture on sleep. His conclusions as you may have guessed are not something you’re likely to enjoy.
The World Health Organization reports that you need 7-9 hours of sleep unless you are a part of the less than 1% of the world population that needs only 5 hours a night.
“ Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep” Evolution has not had sufficient time to solve this problem, and it may decide it doesn't need to.
You need sleep both before and after learning, in a controlled experiment, those who pulled an all-nighter had a 40% lower ability to make new memories than the group that had had a full night’s sleep. There was also a study at a school in Minnesota where the start time for classes was pushed from 7:30 to 8:30 and the students SAT scores were measured both in the years before and after. The students who slept more throughout the year got an average of 250 points more on their test scores. That’s a very significant amount, and cold easily translate to a better college application, and potential life outcome.
With less sleep, emotional swings swing deeper and faster, the destabilization of the amygdala is 60% more responsive to outside input after a lack of sleep meaning that overreactions to normal scenarios, or stressful situations occurs more commonly.Among schizophrenia, depression, suicide, and many more, Walker and colleagues have not found a single psychiatric condition that does not involve disruptions in sleep patterns potentially showcasing what an essential role sleep plays in the function of the body and brain. Sleeplessness is also correlated with increased inflammation, problems with the reproductive system, and after just one week with two hours less of sleep per night, blood sugar levels will on average raise to pre-diabetic levels.
Daylight savings, every year, twice a year, but maybe not for long… Each spring when we loose an hour of sleep, there is a 24% increase in heart attacks, and each fall when we gain an hour of sleep, there is a 21% decrease in heart attacks. Among other things, sleep affects our circadian rhythm and even our cognitive abilities and that’s why even something thought to be simple as driving a car can be far more dangerous as our perception of our abilities does not change after a lack of sleep, though the results do, it’s as if we’re saying “I’m fine to drive after four beers.”
Alcohol and marijuana do not put yourself into natural sleep, you tend to wake up after fragments of sleep, and these block REM sleep, resulting in a sleep that is not as deep, merely a lack of consciousness. Caffeine does a similar thing, and you may not remember the brief periods of waking during the night.
The final study he mentions took those who read on an iPad for an hour before sleep , versus those who read on a regular book in dim light and the ipad clearly delayed the onset of melatonin production and sleep for 2-3 hours longer than the book readers, and the effect of the blue light took more than just one night of regular sleep to return to normal vs the regular book who remained on a normal schedule. He says that the research clearly shows that blue light blocking apps on the phone and computer along with glasses help prevent this, though turning off screens at least an hour before bed is the best way to help boost the onset of sleep. If you would like to sleep less; there are some interesting findings in electromagnetic pulsating masks and headbands, but the FDA is slow to regulate, and as of now they are unsafe, you'll just need to wait, and while you're waiting, might as well get some rest.
Sleep affects health, wellness, longevity, education, and is one of the biggest global problems we are facing in the 21st century.