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“Urban heat islands” endanger city life and the Earth’s climate, says study

The world’s cities aren’t just hotspots of population growth and commercial activity. They are also, literally, hot spots. The urban “heat island” effect—i.e., concentrated heat in urban environments—is serious enough that cities worldwide could suffer double-digit temperature increases and lose as much as 11% of their economic output as their residents flee stifling heat, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The study’s authors, who were from Great Britain, Mexico, and the Netherlands, surveyed 1,692 cities worldwide and forecasted that 25% of them could undergo temperature increases of up to 44.6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 under the worst-case scenarios.

Climate change exacerbates the heat island effect. But the phenomenon’s underlying drivers are the concrete, stone, and asphalt surfaces that constitute modern city structures. These surfaces absorb large amounts of energy from the sun. Cities could mitigate the heat rises if they redesign roofs and pavements to reflect more of the sun’s heat, the authors suggested.

Cities’ heat-trapping effects are nothing new. The authors noted that from 1950 to 2015, 27% of the world’s cities warmed more quickly than the planet as a whole—and that 27% accounted for more than 65% of the world’s urban population.

If trends continue, the worst-affected cities could be 44 degrees hotter as soon as 2050, the researchers warn. But they also found that changing just one-fifth of a city’s roofs or half its pavements to “cool” versions that reflect sunlight could prevent as much as 33 degrees of this worst-case increase.

“We show that city-level adaptation strategies to limit local warming have important economic net benefits for almost all cities around the world,” said co-author Richard Tol of Sussex University.

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Goldman Sachs receives criticism for buying $2.8 billion of Venezuelan bonds

Venezuela’s socialist government got a major boost from Wall Street financier Goldman Sachs. The company confirmed that it bought $2.8 billion of Venezuelan government bonds, a transaction that Venezuelan opposition leaders condemned as aiding and abetting the country’s authoritarian regime.

The Wall Street Journal first broke the news Sunday in a news story that reported that Goldman Sachs paid $865 million for the bonds, which were issued by Petroleos de Venezuela, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company. That purchase price that equates to 31 cents on the dollar.

Goldman Sachs confirmed the purchase on Monday. But it said that it bought the bonds from a broker and had no interactions with the Venezuelan government. It also argued that the bonds purchase reflected Goldman Sachs’ good will toward Venezuela.

“We recognize that the situation is complex and evolving and that Venezuela is in crisis. We agree that life there has to get better, and we made the investment in part because we believe it will,” a company statement read.

The deal has not gone over well with Venezuelan opposition leaders, however. Julio Borges, head of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress, criticized the cut-rate bonds price as evidence that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro did not have the country’s best interests at heart during the transaction. Borges also charged Goldman Sachs with enabling the regime to the detriment of regular Venezuelans.

“Goldman Sachs’s financial lifeline to the regime will serve to strengthen the brutal repression unleashed against the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans peacefully protesting for political change in the country,” Borges wrote.

NONE TSC_Global Politics

Son of Lockerbie bomber says Britain brought Manchester attack on itself

The son of the Lockerbie bomber has claimed that the United Kingdom brought the Manchester attack on itself.

He has also warned that Britain faces an unprecedented wave of terror attacks from Libya.

Khaled al-Megrahi said that his country had turned into a fertile recruiting ground for terrorists and that there was “only a sea” between them and Europe.

Megrahi said the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) took advantage of the power vacuum left after the West help depose Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi in 2011.

According to Megrahi- whose father Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was the only person ever convicted of the 1998 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing – Isil was then allowed to expand due to the “inaction” of Britain and its allies.

His comments came a week after Salman Abedi, 22, carried out a suicide attack at a pop concert at the Manchester Arena, leaving 22 dead and dozens injured.

Megrahi, the son of Libyan parents who were was granted refuge by the UK from Gaddafi in the early 1990s, is believed to have come back to Britain from Libya just days before the terror attack.

“It was Manchester, but tomorrow it will be some other place. The militants will kill each other here and then come to each city in the west,” Mr. Megrahi said from his home in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

The United Kingdom joined a coalition of countries bombing Libya in support of the opposition, in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

Last year, a parliamentary report that the military intervention in Libya, ordered by former Prime Minister David Cameron, relied on flawed intelligence and hastened the North African state’s economic and political collapse.

Megrahi urged Western powers to resume airstrikes on the militants to curb the terror group’s growing extremist network.

Meghrabi senior was convicted of planting the bomb which downed a plane over Lockerbie, killing 270 people.

He was released from a Scottish jail in 2009 on compassionate grounds because of cancer.


ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope now under construction

Construction of the European Space Organization’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) is officially underway.

Engadget reports that the first foundation stone was laid this week after several years of planning and funding acquisitions.  With a primary mirror measuring 39 meters in diameter, the ELT will be the world’s largest optical/infrared telescope.

The ELT will be capable of imaging extremely distant space objects as well as finding small planets that may have eluded scientists’ searches with existing telescopes.

The telescope’s main building and dome will be completed before 2024, when the ELT is expected to commence basic operations.  After that date, a second construction phase will take place which will bring the ELT up to its full data-gathering capacity within several years.

The European Space Organization conducted a ceremony with the Chilean government to celebrate the laying of the telescope’s first foundation stones.

“With the symbolic start of this construction work, we are building more than a telescope here: it is one of the greatest expressions of scientific and technological capabilities and of the extraordinary potential of international cooperation,” Michelle Bachelet Jeria, President of the Republic of Chile, said in a statement.

“This is a milestone in ESO’s history, the ELT will be the most powerful and ambitious telescope of its kind,” ESO Council president Patrick Roche said. “We have reached this point thanks to the efforts of many people in the Member States of ESO, in Chile and elsewhere, over many years.”

“The ELT will produce discoveries that we simply cannot imagine today, and it will surely inspire numerous people around the world to think about science, technology and our place in the Universe,” Tim de Zeeuw of ESO said.  “This will bring great benefit to the ESO Member States, to Chile, and to the rest of the world.”

Business NONE TECH TECH_Social TECH_Technology

DHS Secretary Kelly considering banning laptops from all international flights

Travelers flying into a U.S. airport from Europe or vice versa may no longer be able to bring their laptops onboard with them if the Department of Homeland Security goes through with a proposed laptop ban. John Kelly, department secretary, said on Fox News Sunday that he has not yet reached a decision on it.

Laptops in carry-on luggage have been off-limits for incoming flights from the Middle East and northern Africa since March. This latest proposal would extend the ban to flights to and from Europe, as well. Homeland Security has not cited any specific threat to justify the proposed ban, but some intelligence analysts have suggested that Islamic State terrorists could hide explosives within laptop batteries.

“That’s really the thing that they’re obsessed with, the terrorists: the idea of knocking down an airplane in flight, particularly if it’s a U.S. carrier, particularly if it’s full of mostly U.S. folks,” Kelly said. He added that carry-on luggage in general will probably be subject to heightened scrutiny, as well.

Kelly did not say when he expects to reach a decision. But his comments follow a May 24 statement by a DHS spokesperson who said to the contrary that the department was not actively considering a laptop ban for flights leaving the United States. That spokesperson acknowledged that the department was, however, considering banning laptops from flights arriving to the United States from Europe.

The United States is not the only country to consider such measures. Great Britain now bans carry-on laptops from flights incoming from Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Tunisia.

NONE NWT_Biology NWT_Earth TSC_Global Politics

Deadly storms wreck Sri Lanka

At least 150 people are dead and hundreds of thousands more displaced amid torrential rainfall that has created deadly floods and mudslides throughout the country. The rains continue and may cause even more havoc, according to officials who call this weather event the worst rainstorms that Sri Lanka has endured since 2003.

The death toll so far is 169, as reported by the nation’s Disaster Management Center. The agency also reports that 95 people are injured, 111 more are missing, and a grand total of nearly 500,000 have been in one way or another affected. Government disaster-relief teams are deploying to retrieve the dead and to rescue stranded survivors, many of whom face further peril from roaming crocodiles who have arrived into their villages with the floods.

Sri Lankan meteorologists forecast rainfalls of more than 100 millimeters in central Sri Lanka within the next day-and-a-half, which would result in more mudslides. The state-run National Building Research Organization urged residents of seven of Sri Lanka’s 25 districts to watch for unstable mud slopes and to evacuate if the rains continue for another 24 hours.

Floods are a recurring phenomenon in Sri Lanka and the whole South Asia region. More than 200 people died in floods in India in 2015, while floods in summer 2016 killed 75 Nepalis. Both storm patterns forced hundreds of thousands of locals to flee their homes. Sri Lanka itself suffered floods and landslides in 22 of its 25 districts last year, and the consequent casualty toll was 104 dead and 95 injured.

NONE NWT_Biology NWT_Earth NWT_Environment SCI Science

Great Barrier Reef succumbing to climate change more quickly than expected

The world’s largest living structure shrank dramatically in the last two years and will continue to do so in the face of warming sea temperatures. The Great Barrier Reef, a 1600-miles-long coral formation off the Australian coast, is dying off from coral “bleaching” at a faster rate than coral researchers had recently projected.

Bleaching is a byproduct of rising sea temperatures brought on by global warming. The rising temperatures cause the coral to expel algae that live inside them and provide them with vital nutrients. As the algae level, the coral’s skeletons are exposed and they die. Many ecologists think that the whole reef could be extinct by 2050 if present trends continue.

Australian officials, citing aerial and surface-level surveys of the coral formations, concluded that around 29% of the reef’s shallow water corals died from bleaching in 2016 alone, an upward revision from earlier estimates of 22%. And two-thirds of the reef have suffered bleaching in just the past two years, with the most coral deaths occurring in the northern areas of the reef. Most of the bleaching took place in two distinct bleaching events that hit the reef in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

The rate at which the reef is now bleaching is unprecedented, according to researchers at James Cool University in Australia, who point out that this is the first time that bleaching has been known to impact the reef two years in a row.

And Russell Reichelt, chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said that more coral decline is likely this year. Ecologists say that coral reefs can recover from bleaching if the waters cool in time, but the pace of the current bleaching trends may make a recovery unattainable. The ecologists call for worldwide action on global warming as a critical first step to saving the reef.

NONE TSC_Global Politics

ISIS-linked militia seizes town in Philippines

A days-long battle between Islamic militants and government security forces erupted this week on Mindanao, an island in the southern Philippines. A militia known as Maute seized the local city of Marawi and forced a Philippine governmental armed response that left 46 or more people dead—including 15 government security personnel and 31 militants—and resulted in thousands of residents evacuating.

Marawi is a Muslim-majority city with around 200, 000 residents. The violence began after the military launched a failed raid to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a senior leader of a jihadi group called Abu Sayyaf, which has been involved in piracy, kidnappings, and taking and beheading hostages. Hapilon is also a member of Maute, an insurgent group that has ties to ISIS.

Following the botched raid, an emboldened Maute invaded Mindanao and proceeded to burn down a school and church and to open a jail and release a hundred inmates. Once they had secured the city, the militants raised the ISIS flag over the city center.

The Philippine government sent in armed helicopters, armored vehicle battalions, and special forces to retake the city. Gun battles continue as of Friday afternoon. The Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, imposed martial law over the island and promised to slaughter those who are responsible.

“If there’s an open defiance, you will die,” he said on Wednesday. “And if it means many people dying, so be it.”

The southern Philippines has been the scene of militant violence in recent years. The armed insurgents may be growing their ranks with volunteers from overseas, according to Jose Calida, solicitor general, who told reporters that some of the militant gunmen fighting in Marawi come from Indonesia and Malaysia, among other countries.

NONE TECH TECH_Technology TSC_Global Politics

Chipotle customers targeted by companywide data breach

Hackers breached Chipotle’s internal systems and stole customer payment data from most of the company’s restaurant chains over a period of three weeks earlier this year, the company said on Friday. Chris Arnold, a company spokesman, said in an email that the company has yet to determine exactly how many customers may have been compromised.

These data breaches all occurred between March 24 and April 18, pilfering individual Chipotle chains individually and for varying lengths of time. The hackers used a malware program to carry out the attack and in the process acquired customer account numbers and internal verification codes, data that they could use to steal funds from debit-card-linked bank accounts, make unauthorized online purchases using the customers’ debit cards, or open new credit cards in the customers’ names.

Chipotle said that it has cleared the malware from its systems since then. It did not personally notify affected customers, according to Arnold, because the company does not collect and store customers’ names and addresses at the time of purchase.

The revelation threatens Chipotle’s sales, which previously took a dip in 2015 when hundreds of customers contracted foodborne infections, including E. coli, salmonella, and norovirus. The company may also be punished with civil fines for having allowed customer data to be so compromised, security analysts told Reuters.

“If your data was stolen through a data breach that means you were somewhere out of compliance” with payment industry data security standards, said Julie Conroy, research director at Aite Group, a research and advisory firm.

NONE SCI Science

Brazilian researchers use fish skin to treat burn victims

Fish skin might look nothing like human skin at first glance. But researchers at Brazil’s Jose Frota Institute have successfully grafted it onto 56 burn victims and attained highly promising results.

The experimental method uses tilapia skin, which the researchers chose because it has a high concentration of collagens. Collagens are proteins that human skin needs collagen to repair damage such as a severe burn and prevent or minimize scars. A standard treatment for a burn victim in most of the world is to cover the burn site with either pig skin or some of the patient’s own skin from another part of his or her body. The collagen from this grafted skin aids healing.

“We got a great surprise when we saw that the amount of collagen proteins, types 1 and 3, which are very important for scarring, exist in large quantities in tilapia skin, even more than in human skin and other skins,” Dr. Edmar Maciel, a burn specialist at the institute told Stat News.

In Fortaleza, Brazil, where the Jose Frota Institute is located, both types of skin tissue are hard to come by. Tilapia, on the other hand, are plentiful in lakes, rivers, and fish farms throughout Brazil. So the institute tested tilapia skin as a potential cost-effective alternative.

Patients reported great benefits, including decreased pain at their burn sites. The skin can also be preserved for up to two years if refrigerated and is cheaper than conventional human or pig skin.

Clinical trials are ongoing, but researchers may export the treatment to hospitals in the United States in the near future.