Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Jul 20, 2017 in Stuff You Should Know

Wildfires Rage Across the West

As summer heats up across the United States, the effects in some areas could be deadly. In the West, exceptionally hot and dry conditions, paired with high winds, have led to an outbreak of wildfires. As of last Thursday, 43 fires were considered out of control in the western United States. Temperatures are expected to reach above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour–all of which will make the problem worse.

Already, red flag warnings have been issued for northern California, southern Oregon, northeastern Utah, and northern Montana. In southern California, 2,700 people have already been evacuated. In Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County, the wildfire has grown to more than 17,300 acres. As of this weekend, it was only about 36 percent contained. California is especially vulnerable because it experienced an historic five-year drought, followed by intense winter rains. This left behind more than 100 million dead trees and lots of thick grasses, which are now drying out and providing the perfect fuel for fire. So far, wildfires have burned up more than twice as much land in California in 2017 than they had by this time last year. On Sunday, California Governor Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency so that the National Guard could be brought in to help fight the fire on land and from the air.

Dig Deeper The United States isn’t the only North American country that has faced a problem with wildfires this year: Canada is busy fighting them as well. Using internet resources, write a short paragraph about the Canadian wildfires. Remember to include details such as how many people have been evacuated, how much land has been destroyed, how many firefighters have been called in, and future predictions for the blaze.

Democratic Hong Kong Legislators Removed from Office

Democracy in Hong Kong has had a complicated history. The city was ruled by the British until 1997, when it was returned to Chinese sovereignty. It is now considered a semi-autonomous state, meaning that it is under Chinese control and yet maintains its own independent legal system. In 2014, pro-democracy protestors took to the streets in a movement that came to be known as the Umbrella Revolution. This caused the authoritarian Chinese government to tighten its control over the city. Since then, the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong has struggled.

Last Friday, the movement was weakened even further when four pro-democracy legislators were removed from the Hong Kong Legislative Council. Chinese authorities claim that this is because the legislators, who were required to declare their loyalty to China when taking their oath of office, did so in an insincere or improper way. Some of the perceived snubs included mentioning democracy; speaking the oath too slowly; or using the wrong inflection or tone when speaking the oath.

Pro-democracy leaders view this as an act of suppression of Hong Kong’s democratic values by the authoritarian Chinese government. Hong Kong’s legal system is based on British common law, which the Chinese legal system is not. The fact that Hong Kong’s courts sided with the Chinese about removing the legislators worries a lot of people, because it seems to show that Hong Kong’s courts are falling under the influence of the authoritarian Chinese government.

At least four other pro-democracy legislators used props or spoke improperly while delivering their loyalty oaths as well. It remains to be seen if they will also be removed from office.

Dig Deeper Using what you’ve read in this article and other internet resources, create a timeline called “Democracy in Hong Kong.” Be sure to include important dates such as Hong Kong’s return to Chinese control; the Umbrella Revolution; and the recent elections.

DNA: Information Storage of the Future?

Have you ever run out of storage space on your phone or computer? What if there was a way to store an infinite amount of data, and to keep it safe and retrievable for virtually forever?

Turns out, you already own this high-tech storage mechanism: it’s your DNA.

DNA molecules on abstract technology background , concept of biochemistriy and genetic theory.

Can DNA be used to store data?

DNA, as you may have learned in science class, stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, the molecule carries your genetic information. If you have blue eyes, or brown hair, it’s because of what’s written in your DNA. It’s made up of just four molecules–adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine–arranged in varied ways. But DNA is much more than that. It also stores huge quantities of information. In fact, DNA can store a million-million times more data than a compact disc in the same space. What’s more: that information is passed down forever through an organism’s offspring. Scientists have been able to retrieve information stored in the DNA of prehistoric insects trapped in amber for millions of years.

If the idea of using DNA as a storage system for data sounds far-fetched, it’s not. Scientists have already recorded all of Shakespeare’s sonnets into DNA. And last week, scientists were for the first time able to encode a movie into the DNA of a living cell. The short film–a galloping horse, filmed in 1878–was encoded into an E. coli cell. As the cell multiplied and divided, the movie remained intact, and scientists were able to retrieve it from the offspring as well as from the initial host.

So why is this an important discovery? Researchers now believe that it may be possible to program bacteria to record information about cells in the human body, so that if a person becomes ill, doctors will be able to access that recorded information to find out exactly what went wrong. All of this is still a long way off, but many scientists believe that it’s just a matter of waiting for the technology to catch up with the concepts.

What Do You Think? Would you be comfortable being injected with bacteria that could essentially take “movies” of your cells? Why or why not?

Huge Iceberg Breaks Loose in Antarctica

A giant iceberg, one of the largest ever recorded, broke away from Antarctica last week. Weighing ten trillion tons and about the square footage of the state of Delaware, the iceberg is moving slowly at the moment but there is the chance that it could eventually drift northward and interfere with shipping traffic.

The berg broke away from a large ice shelf called Larson C. It’s normal for ice shelves to lose chunks from time to time. However, scientists say that Larson C is now the smallest it has ever been since the end of the ice age 11,700 years ago. Other northern ice shelves have become greatly diminished in recent decades as well. The question is whether the break-off was just a random event or if it is the result of some larger problem, like melting at the base of the shelf due to climate change. One thing that’s certain: ocean temperatures around Antarctica are warming, which helps thin the ice. Air temperatures over the Antarctic Peninsula are warming as well. Even more alarming is that this break happened during what is considered to be the dead of winter in Antarctica.

Researchers will continue to monitor the Larsen C ice shelf, which will give them a better idea of the situation. If the shelf continues to collapse, it provides more evidence that climate change is the culprit. And if it doesn’t, then the cleaving of the iceberg is just a natural part of the ice shelf’s life cycle.  Like ice floating on the top of a drink, this iceberg won’t raise sea levels. However, global sea levels are already up about 8 centimeters since 1992, and rising at a rate of 3.4 millimeters per year.

Dig Deeper Using internet resources, locate a map of Antarctica from the last century and a more recent one. Compare the two. What changes do you notice? Based on your observations, would you agree that climate change is having an effect on Antarctica? Why or why not?