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Update July 2017


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Update July 22, 2017

This is us: Earliest fossils of our species found in Morocco

Malcolm Ritter

New York (AP) - How long has our species been around? New fossils from Morocco push the evidence back by about 100,000 years.

The bones, about 300,000 years old, were unearthed thousands of miles from the previous record-holder, found in fossil-rich eastern Africa. The new discovery reveals people from an early stage of our species’ evolution, with a mix of modern and more primitive traits.

“They are not just like us,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin, one of the scientists reporting the find. But they had “basically the face you could meet on the train in New York.”

Coupled with other evidence, the Moroccan fossils suggest that Homo sapiens may have reached its modern-day form in more than one place within Africa, said Hublin, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the College of France in Paris.

Previously, the oldest known fossils clearly from Homo sapiens were from Ethiopia, at about 195,000 years old.

It’s not clear just when or where Homo sapiens came on the scene in Africa. Hublin said he thinks an earlier stage of development preceded the one revealed by his team’s discovery.

We evolved from predecessors who had differently shaped skulls and often heavier builds, but were otherwise much more like us than, say, the ape-men that came before them. Our species lived at the same time as some related ones, like Neanderthals, but only we survive.

Hublin and others described the new findings in two papers released by the journal Nature. The discovery could help illuminate how our species evolved, Chris Stringer and Julia Galway-Witham of the Natural History Museum in London wrote in a Nature commentary.

The Moroccan specimens were found between 2007 and 2011 and include a skull, a jaw and teeth, along with stone tools. Combined with other bones that were found there decades ago but not correctly dated, the fossil collection represents at least five people, including young adults, an adolescent and a child of around 8 years old. Analysis shows their brain shape was more elongated than what people have today.

“In the last 300,000 years, the main story is the change of the brain,” Hublin said.

When these ancient people lived, the site in Morocco was a cave that might have served as a hunting camp, where people butchered and ate gazelles and other prey. They used fire and their tools were made of flint from about 25 miles away.

So where did the fully modern human body develop? The researchers say evidence suggests primitive forms of Homo sapiens had already widely spread throughout Africa by around 300,000 years ago. The different populations may have exchanged beneficial genetic mutations and behaviors, gradually nudging each other toward a more modern form of the species, Hublin said. In this way, he said in an interview, modern Homo sapiens may have arisen in more than one place.

So if there’s a Garden of Eden, he said, it’s the continent as a whole.

Some experts who didn’t participate in the research called that idea possible, although not yet demonstrated. But John Shea, an anthropologist at Stony Brook University in New York, said it’s more useful to think of the different local populations as a single one, connected the same way a big city is connected by subway stops.

“These are parts of a network,” through which ideas and genes flowed, he said.

Shea said it made sense to find such old traces of early Homo sapiens in northwestern Africa. He agreed that it doesn’t mean our species first appeared there.

“When it comes to evidence for human origins in northwest Africa versus eastern Africa versus southern Africa, it’s a tie,” he wrote in an email.

Richard Potts of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History said the Morocco fossils “appear to reflect the very early transition to Homo sapiens, very possibly denoting the outset of the lineage to which all people belong.”

The site is about 34 miles southeast of the coastal city of Safi, northwest of Marrakech. Its age was determined chiefly by analyzing bits of flint found there, and the authors concluded they were around 315,000 years old. Hublin said that since a different method suggested a younger age for the site, he considers the bones to be about 300,000 years old.

Richard Roberts of the University of Woollongong in Australia, an expert in determining ages of ancient sites, supported that conclusion.

“I’d say the authors have presented pretty convincing evidence for the presence of early modern humans at this site by 300,000 years ago and perhaps a little earlier,” Roberts wrote in an email.


Update July 15, 2017

UN says world population will reach 9.8 billion in 2050

Edith M. Lederer

United Nations (AP) - India’s population is expected to surpass China’s in about seven years and Nigeria is projected to overtake the United States and become the third most populous country in the world shortly before 2050, a U.N. report said Wednesday, June 21.

The report by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Population Division forecasts that the current world population of nearly 7.6 billion will increase to 8.6 billion by 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100.

It said roughly 83 million people are added to the world’s population every year and the upward trend is expected to continue even with a continuing decline in fertility rates, which have fallen steadily since the 1960s.

John Wilmoth, director of the Population Division, said at a news conference that the report includes information on the populations of 233 countries or areas of the world.

“The population in Africa is notable for its rapid rate of growth, and it is anticipated that over half of global population growth between now and 2050 will take place in that region,” he said. “At the other extreme, it is expected that the population of Europe will, in fact, decline somewhat in the coming decades.”

The U.N. agency forecasts that from now through 2050 half the world’s population growth will be concentrated in just nine countries - India, Nigeria, Congo, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, United States, Uganda and Indonesia. Those nations are listed in the order of their “expected contribution to total growth,” the report said.

During the same period, it added, the populations of 26 African countries are expected to at least double.

Nigeria, currently the world’s seventh largest country, has the fastest growing population of the 10 most populous countries worldwide, and the report projects it will surpass the U.S. shortly before mid-century.

The new projections also forecast that China, which currently has 1.4 billion inhabitants, will be replaced as the world’s most populous country around 2024 by India, which now has 1.3 billion inhabitants.

The report, titled “The World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision,” said fertility has been declining in nearly all regions in recent years.

Between 2010 and 2015, Wilmoth said, “the world’s women had 2 1/2 births per woman over a lifetime - but this number varies widely around the world.”

“Europe has the lowest fertility level, estimated at 1.6 births per woman in the most recent period, while Africa has the highest fertility, with around 4.7 births per woman,” he said.

The report said birth rates in the 47 least developed countries remain relatively high, with population growth around 2.4 percent a year. While this rate is expected to slow significantly in the coming decades, the U.N. said the combined population of the 47 countries is projected to increase by 33 percent from roughly 1 billion now to 1.9 billion in 2050.

More and more countries now have fertility rates below the level of roughly 2.1 births per woman needed to replace the current generation, the report said. During the 2010-2015 period, fertility was below the replacement level in 83 countries comprising 46 percent of the world’s population, it said.

The 10 most populous countries with low fertility levels are China, United States, Brazil, Russia, Japan, Vietnam, Germany, Iran, Thailand and United Kingdom, the report said.

In addition to slowing population growth, low fertility levels lead to an older population, the report noted. It forecasts that the number of people aged 60 or above will more than double from the current 962 million to 2.1 billion in 2050 and more than triple to 3.1 billion in 2100.

A quarter of Europe’s population is already aged 60 or over, and that share is projected to reach 35 percent in 2050 then remain around that level for the rest of the century, the report said.

Online:

http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp


Launch fails for Chinese heavy-lift carrier rocket

Beijing (AP) - A Chinese rocket launch failed on Sunday evening, July 2, due to abnormality during the flight following what appeared to be a successful liftoff, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Experts will investigate the cause of the glitch for the launch of the Long March-5 Y2, China’s second heavy-lift carrier rocket, from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the southern province of Hainan, Xinhua said.

Video from the live broadcast showed the rocket lifting off and shooting into the sky, with a voice-over indicating everything was going well. It was not clear from the live broadcast whether anything had gone wrong. It also was not clear whether the rocket, which was carrying a communication satellite, had entered its orbit.

Several launches of the Long March-5 were scheduled in preparation for China’s lunar probe, manned space station and Mars probe missions, according to Xinhua. Sunday’s launch was to be the last drill before the rocket was to carry a lunar probe later this year. It was not immediately clear how Sunday’s failure will affect planned missions.


Update July 8, 2017

SpaceX launches 10 satellites from California air base

A large contrail is left as a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, left, carrying a set of Iridium communications satellites heads skyward after being launched at the Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on Sunday, June 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a set of Iridium communications satellites heads skyward. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

John Antczak & Christopher Weber

Los Angeles (AP) - A SpaceX rocket carried 10 communications satellites into orbit from California on Sunday, June 25, two days after the company successfully launched a satellite from Florida.

The Falcon 9 rocket blasted off through low-lying fog at 1:25 p.m. PDT from Vandenberg Air Force Base northwest of Los Angeles. It carried a second batch of new satellites for Iridium Communications, which is replacing its orbiting fleet with a next-generation constellation of satellites.

About 7 minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s first-stage booster returned to earth and landed on a floating platform on a ship in the Pacific Ocean, while the rocket’s second stage continued to carry the satellites toward orbit.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 on Friday launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida and boosted a communications satellite for Bulgaria into orbit. Its first stage was recovered after landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

Billionaire Elon Musk, who founded Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, believes reusing rocket components will bring down the cost of space launches.

Iridium plans to put in place 75 new satellites for its mobile voice and data communications system by mid-2018, requiring six more launches, all by SpaceX.

The $3 billion effort by the McLean, Virginia, company involves complex procedures to replace 66 operational satellites in use for many years. Some of the new satellites will be so-called on-orbit spares, or older satellites that remain in orbit on standby for use if the newer ones malfunction.

Swapping out and deorbiting some old satellites has already begun, Iridium CEO Matt Desch said in a pre-launch call with reporters.

Several old satellites have been moved into lower orbits to use up their remaining fuel and configure the solar panels for maximum drag so they will re-enter the atmosphere and burn up.

The first re-entry was believed to have occurred on June 11, Desch said.

“It’s hard to celebrate something like that, but these satellites have put in almost 20 years of service, and making sure we’ve cleaned up after ourselves as we deploy our new constellation is a priority,” he said.

The new satellites also carry payloads for joint-venture Aerion’s space-based, real-time tracking and surveillance of aircraft around the globe, which has implications for efficiency, economy and safety - especially in remote airspace over the oceans.

“This will truly be a revolutionary aspect of air-traffic control,” said Aireon CEO Don Thomas.

The technology, which requires aircraft to be equipped with certain equipment, is undergoing testing involving eight of the initial batch of Iridium NEXT satellites.

The Iridium NEXT program also will bring an end to so-called “Iridium flares,” which space enthusiasts have observed for years. The new satellites will not create visible flashes of reflected sunlight as they passed overhead.


Update July 1, 2017

Trump’s claim that US is cleanest lacks support from studies

A migrant worker listens to radio parked next to a billboard promoting environment protection with the slogan “Environment protection starts from you and me” on display in Beijing. U.S. President Donald Trump said the United States “will continue to be the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth”. But facts muddy that claim. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Seth Borenstein

Washington (AP) - President Donald Trump said the United States “will continue to be the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth” as he announced a U.S. pullout from an international accord designed to curb climate change.

But facts muddy that claim.

Data show that the U.S. is among the dirtiest countries when it comes to heat-trapping carbon pollution. One nation that has cleaner air in nearly every way is Sweden.

“The U.S. is well behind other countries in having the cleanest and most sustainable environment,” University of Michigan environmental scientist Rosina Bierbaum said in an email.

The U.S. emits more carbon dioxide than any other nation except China. In 2014, the U.S. spewed 237 times more carbon dioxide into the air than Sweden, according to figures by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“On pretty much any climate-related indicator, the U.S. will not look good,” said Glen Peters, a Norwegian climate scientist who is part of the Global Carbon Project that ranks worldwide emissions.

The U.S. is No. 2 in per person carbon dioxide pollution, behind Luxembourg, among 35 developed nations plus China, India and Brazil, Energy Department data show. That’s 19.1 tons (17.3 metric tons) of carbon dioxide per year for the average American, compared with 4.9 tons (4.5 metric tons) for the average Swede.

Taking into account economics, the U.S. ranks 10th highest in carbon pollution per gross domestic product behind China, India, Russia, Estonia, Poland, South Korea, the Czech Republic, Mexico and Turkey, according to the International Energy Agency. The U.S. spews almost five times more carbon dioxide per dollar in the economy than Sweden.

Because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for more than a century, scientists and regulators say it’s more important to look at historical emissions. Since 1870, the U.S. has produced about one-quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide - twice as much as China - and that makes it the biggest polluter in the world by far, Peters said.

In some traditional air pollution measurements, the United States is cleaner than most nations, said William K. Reilly, who headed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Republican President George H.W. Bush.

But “when the problem he is dealing with is carbon dioxide, we are notably not better than the rest of the world,” said Reilly, adding that Trump is “just wrong.”

The U.S. is better than most of the world when it comes to dangerous soot or fine particles. Among industrialized countries, the U.S. tied for sixth cleanest, according to the Health Effects Institute.

It’s also tied for sixth smoggiest in the world with Turkey, according to the institute.

“There are a number of countries that have cleaner air in terms of major industrial nations. We are certainly in the top core,” said Dan Greenbaum, the group’s president. “Clearly, countries like China and India are much, much worse than we are.”

The U.S. leads in helping people fight for a clean environment by having laws and procedures that allow citizens to sue to enforce pollution protections and get information, said Princeton University climate scientist and international affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer.

Other countries are far ahead of the U.S. in cleaner energy, especially Germany, which on occasion is fueled fully by renewables, Oppenheimer said.

Reilly, the former EPA head, recalled how the U.S. took environmental leadership 25 years ago this month as it became the first industrial country to ratify the first climate treaty.

“Now we turn the page,” Reilly said. “We’ll see where it goes.”

Online:

Interactive on temperature deviation and global emissions: http://interactives.ap.org/2017/climate-change-temps
 


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

This is us: Earliest fossils of our species found in Morocco


UN says world population will reach 9.8 billion in 2050

Launch fails for Chinese heavy-lift carrier rocket


SpaceX launches 10 satellites from California air base


Trump’s claim that US is cleanest lacks support from studies

 



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