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Zealandia: World’s 8th Continent Now Pieced Together

By Clyde Hughes

Friday, 17 Feb 2017

Zealandia is being called the world’s eighth continent, but has gone unnoticed until researchers recently surfaced the mostly submerged land mass in a study.

New Zealand and New Caledonia, along with several other territories and islands are now part of the 1.9 million-square-mile land mass that was once part of the ancient super continent Gondwana that broke up about 100 million years ago, according to Sky News.

“Today (Zealandia) is 94 percent submerged, mainly as a result of widespread Late Cretaceous crustal thinning preceding supercontinent breakup and consequent isostatic balance,” the researchers said in a Geological Society of America study.

“The identification of Zealandia as a geological continent, rather than a collection of continental islands, fragments, and slices, more correctly represents the geology of this part of Earth. Zealandia provides a fresh context in which to investigate processes of continental rifting, thinning, and breakup.”

The researchers said Zealandia meets the criteria for being called a continent, including elevation above the surrounding area, distinctive geology, a well-defined area, and a crust thicker than the regular ocean floor, noted the BBC News.

New Zealand and New Caledonia were once grouped in an ancient continent that included Australia, noted CNN, and the theory of a possible continent sitting under New Zealand has been around for some time, leading geophysicist Bruce Luyendyk to coin the term Zealandia in 1995.

The study’s lead author, Nick Mortimer, told TVNZ One News he hopes the research, 20 years in the making, will bring more attention what is just beneath the waves of New Zealand.

“If we could pull the plug on the oceans, it would be clear to everybody that we have mountain chains and a big, high standing continent,” said Mortimer said. “What we hope is that Zealandia will appear on world maps, in schools, everywhere.”

“I think the revelation of a new continent is pretty exciting.”

Source: NewsMax.


Colombia’s Santos accepts Nobel, urges shift in drug war

December 10, 2016

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on Saturday, saying it helped his country achieve the “impossible dream” of ending a half-century-long civil war.

A smiling Santos received his Nobel diploma and gold medal at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, for his efforts to end a conflict that has killed 220,000 people and displaced 8 million. “Ladies and gentlemen, there is one less war in the world, and it is the war in Colombia,” the 65-year-old head of state said, referring to the historic peace deal this year with leftist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Santos used his acceptance speech to celebrate the end of the longest-running conflict in the Americas, pay tribute to its victims and call for a strategy shift in another, related war — on drug trafficking worldwide.

Just a few years ago, imagining the end of the bloodshed in Colombia “seemed an impossible dream, and for good reason,” Santos said, noting that very few Colombians could even remember their country at peace.

The initial peace deal was narrowly rejected by Colombian voters in a shock referendum result just days before the Nobel Peace Prize announcement in October. Many believed that ruled out Santos from winning this year’s prize, but the Norwegian Nobel Committee “saw things differently,” deputy chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said.

“The peace process was in danger of collapsing and needed all the international support it could get,” she said in her presentation speech. A revised deal was approved by Colombia’s Congress last week.

Several victims of the conflict attended the prize ceremony, including Ingrid Betancourt, who was held hostage by FARC for six years, and Leyner Palacios, who lost 32 relatives including his parents and three brothers in a FARC mortar attack.

“The FARC has asked for forgiveness for this atrocity, and Leyner, who is now a community leader, has forgiven them,” the president said. Palacios stood up to applause from the crowd. FARC leaders, who cannot travel because they face international arrest warrants by the U.S., were not in Oslo. A Spanish lawyer who served as a chief negotiator for FARC represented the rebel group at the ceremony.

Colombians have reacted to Santos’ prize with muted emotion amid deep divisions over the peace deal. The vast majority didn’t bother to vote in October’s referendum. For many Colombians in big cities, Santos’ overriding focus on ending a conflict that had been winding down for years has diverted attention from pressing economic concerns.

Santos’ speech made a reference to fellow Nobel laureate Bob Dylan, this year’s surprise winner of the literature award, by citing the lyrics of one of his most famous songs, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The president also used the Nobel podium to reiterate his call to “rethink” the war on drugs, “where Colombia has been the country that has paid the highest cost in deaths and sacrifices.”

Santos has argued that the decades-old U.S.-promoted war on drugs has produced enormous violence and environmental damage in nations that supply cocaine, and needs to be supplanted by a global focus on easing laws prohibiting consumption of illegal narcotics.

“It makes no sense to imprison a peasant who grows marijuana, when nowadays, for example, its cultivation and use are legal in eight states of the United States,” he said. The other Nobel Prizes were presented at a separate ceremony in Stockholm to the laureates in medicine, chemistry, physics and economics. Dylan wasn’t there — he declined the invitation, citing other commitments.

The crowd still gave Dylan a standing ovation after a Swedish Academy member praised his work in a speech. An awkward moment ensued as American singer-songwriter Patti Smith, performing Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” forgot the lyrics midway through.

“I apologize. I’m sorry, I’m so nervous,” Smith said, asking the orchestra to start over, as the formally dressed audience comforted her with gentle applause. In a speech read by U.S. Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji at the Nobel banquet later Saturday, Dylan alluded to the debate about whether a songwriter deserved the Nobel Prize in literature.

Dylan said when William Shakespeare was working on “Hamlet,” he probably was thinking about which actors to pick and where he could find a skull. “I’m sure the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was: ‘Is this literature?'” Dylan said.

Like the Bard of Avon, Dylan said, he also deals with “mundane matters” such as whether he’s recording in the right key and not whether his songs are literature. However, he thanked the Swedish Academy for considering that question “and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.”

__ Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

IS drone kills Kurdish fighters, hurts French troops

Washington (AFP)

Oct 12, 2016

A remote-controlled jihadist hobby plane rigged with hidden explosives killed two Kurdish fighters and injured two French special operations troops near Mosul, French and US sources confirmed Wednesday.

While the Pentagon has previously said the Islamic State group uses simple, commercially available drones to conduct surveillance and carry small explosives, this was the first known deadly case.

According to a US defense official, the incident unfolded October 2 when a small plane with a styrofoam body was either shot down or crashed in Erbil in northern Iraq.

Two local Kurdish peshmerga fighters grabbed it and took it back to their camp to inspect and photograph it, when it blew up.

“It looks like the explosive charge was hidden inside of what appeared to be a battery on some sort of a timer,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter.

A French source earlier confirmed the use of a “booby-trapped drone in Iraq,” while another confirmed that two French soldiers were hurt in the incident.

One of the French soldiers has life-threatening injuries. Both have been flown back to France for treatment.

The French military declined to comment.

Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, described the incident as a “Trojan Horse-style” attack.

“There was an improvised device on a drone. And when that was brought back to the camp, it exploded,” he said.

US defense officials said the military was deploying additional anti-drone technologies to the theater, including systems that provide electronic jamming.

“We don’t just let the enemy develop a capability that threatens our forces and those forces of our allies and partners and leave that threat unaddressed,” Dorrian said.

France is part of the international coalition fighting IS, which is preparing for a major offensive to dislodge the jihadist group from Mosul, which lies 85 kilometers (53 miles) from Erbil.

Around 500 French soldiers are based in Iraq, where they advise the peshmerga and train Iraqi elite forces in Baghdad. About 5,000 US troops are in Iraq.

US defense officials stressed IS drones would have zero strategic impact on the upcoming battle to wrest control of Mosul from IS.

“The implications of this are certainly not an existential threat and not something that’s militarily significant in that it’s going to stop anything that needs to happen from happening,” Dorrian said.

The unnamed defense official said the biggest implication was guidance being issued across the coalition to not pick up any drones.

“Treat them as unexploded ordinance,” he said.

“You see a drone sitting on the ground, don’t pick it up,” and call a bomb disposal expert, he added.

Source: Space War.


Colombian leader Juan Manuel Santos wins Nobel Peace Prize

October 07, 2016

OSLO, Norway (AP) — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his efforts to end a five-decade civil war that has killed more than 200,000 people — and said he received the award in the name of the Colombian people.

The award came just days after Colombian voters narrowly rejected the peace deal that Santos helped bring about. Nobel judges conspicuously did not honor his counterpart, Rodrigo Londono, the leader of the rebels.

“The referendum was not a vote for or against peace,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said, insisting the peace process wasn’t dead. “What the ‘No’ side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement.”

Santos said the Colombian people deserved the honor. “Especially the millions of victims that have suffered in this war that we are on the verge of ending,” Santos said in an interview posted on the Nobel Foundation’s Facebook page. “We are very, very close. We just need to push a bit further to persevere.”

Reacting to the award on Twitter, Londono said “the only prize to which we aspire” is one of social justice for Colombia, without far-right militias or retaliation. Santos and Londono — the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko — signed a peace deal last month to end Latin America’s longest-running conflict after more than four years of negotiations in Cuba.

Six days later, Colombians rejected it by the narrowest of margins — less than a half percentage point — over concerns that the rebels, who were behind scores of atrocities, were getting a sweetheart deal. Under the accord, rebels who turned over their weapons and confessed their crimes would be spared jail time and they would be given 10 seats in congress through 2026 to transition to a political movement.

In Bogota, 20 activists camped out in front of Colombia’s congress to demand the peace deal not be scuttled shouted “Peace deal now!” and “Colombia wants peace!” at the news. “This is a big help, but we’re not leaving until there’s peace,” said Juliana Bohorquez, a 31-year-old artist.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it believes that Santos, despite the “No” vote, “has brought the bloody conflict significantly closer to a peaceful solution.” It said the award should also be seen “as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process.”

Committee secretary Olav Njoelstad said there was “broad consensus” on picking Santos as this year’s laureate — the first time the peace prize went to Latin America since 1992, when Guatemalan human rights activist Rigoberta Menchu won.

Santos, 65, is an unlikely peacemaker. The Harvard-educated scion of one of Colombia’s wealthiest families, as defense minister a decade ago, he was responsible for some of the biggest military setbacks for the rebels, known by their Spanish acronym FARC. Those included a 2008 cross-border raid into Ecuador that took out a top rebel commander and the stealth rescue of three Americans held captive by the rebels for more than five years.

Yet awarding Santos alone was a departure from the Nobel committee’s tradition of honoring both sides in a peace process, like it did in 1994 for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord and in 1998 for peace talks in Northern Ireland.

“I can’t think of another time when they didn’t give to both sides,” said Nobel historian Asle Sveen, who isn’t connected to the committee. “But the referendum made it difficult. The opposition who won the referendum would have been provoked. I suspect the committee took the FARC out at the last minute.”

The committee recognized that the referendum result had “created great uncertainty” about Colombia’s future. “There is a real danger that the peace process will come to a halt and that civil war will flare up again,” it said. “This makes it even more important that the parties, headed by President Santos and FARC guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londono, continue to respect the cease-fire.”

Prize committee chair Kaci Kullmann Five said the prize should be seen as encouragement to the FARC as well. “Giving the prize to Santos is not a belittlement to any of the other parties,” she told The Associated Press. “The FARC is obviously a very important part of this process. We note that the FARC has given important concessions.”

Santos and Londono met only twice during the entire peace process: last year when they put the final touches on the most-controversial section of the accord — how guerrillas would be punished for war crimes — and last month to sign the accord before an audience of world leaders and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The Colombian vote Sunday was also seen as a referendum of sorts on Santos, who has staked his presidency on securing peace but in the process, critics say, neglected the economy and other pressing issues. Santos’ approval rating in July was near the lowest it has been since he took office in 2010.

Norway, along with Cuba, has been a sponsor of the Colombian peace process since the outset. The public phase of talks began in Oslo in 2012 and the Norwegian government’s bald-headed, mustached representative to the talks, Dag Nylander, has become a minor celebrity among Colombians, who have followed every announcement from Havana on TV.

A record 376 candidates were nominated for this year’s award, which carries a prize of 8 million Swedish kronor (about $930,000). Last year’s peace prize went to Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet for its efforts to build a pluralistic democracy.

The 2016 Nobel Prize announcements continue with the economics prize on Monday and the literature award on Thursday. All awards will be handed out on Dec. 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.

Ritter reported from Stockholm. Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

Greek islanders, Syrian White Helmets top Nobel Peace bets

October 06, 2016

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Bookmakers taking bets for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize are giving the lowest odds to the Greek islanders who have opened their hearts and homes to hundreds of thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

The award will be announced Friday in Oslo, Norway, and as usual the Norwegian Nobel Committee isn’t dropping any hints about its choice for 2016. The betting site Unibet gave the lowest odds Thursday to Greek islanders while another betting site, Paddy Power, had the White Helmets rescue group in Syria in first place, followed by the islanders.

Others with low odds included Pope Francis, the architects of Colombia’s peace deal and Congolese surgeon Denis Mukwege, who treats victims of sexual violence in that nation’s civil war. Last year the committee surprised the world by picking the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC rebel commander Timochenko were considered hot favorites by many until Sunday, when Colombian voters narrowly rejected their peace deal in a referendum. A Colombia award now seems like a less likely, though it can’t be ruled out.

Another possibility could be a prize linked to last year’s Paris Agreement on climate change, which on Wednesday was ratified by enough countries to enter into force next month. The committee has made the link between climate and peace before, by giving the 2007 award to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and former U.S. vice president Al Gore.

A challenge for a prize honoring the Paris Agreement would be identifying the architects of a deal negotiated by more than 190 countries. The committee could play it safe by awarding outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who made climate change a priority as soon as he took the job, or the U.N. secretariat for climate change.

The committee could also devote the prize to the deal on Iran’s contested nuclear program or the world’s refugee crisis. Options would be many: German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her handling of the refugee crisis or grassroots refugee activists like Russia’s Svetlana Gannushkina or the Rev. Mussie Zerai, a Catholic priest helping asylum-seekers in Italy.

A campaign for the Greek islanders to receive the award focuses on Lesbos locals Emilia (Militsa) Kamvisi, an 85-year-old grandmother and second-generation refugee whose parents fled Turkey in the 1920s, and fisherman Stratis Valiamos, 40, who like many fishermen has rescued refugees from sinking boats.

The committee has dedicated the prize to efforts to help refugees several times before, including with two awards to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, in 1954 and 1981. A refugee prize could also be a way for the committee to reference the Syrian civil war, now in its sixth year. Some say a better way to do that would be to award the volunteer first responders in Syria known as the White Helmets.

Last month the group was honored among the winners of the Right Livelihood Award, a human rights prize sometimes referred to as the “alternative Nobel.” It’s also a distinct possibility that the committee, like so many times before, selects a winner who isn’t in the limelight. Except for Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani children’s rights activist who shared the prize in 2014, the Nobel committee’s choices in the past five years have surprised most observers.

Japanese scientist wins Nobel for study of cell recycling

October 03, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) — Like a busy city, a cell works better if it can dispose of and recycle its garbage. Now a Japanese scientist has won the Nobel Prize in medicine for showing how that happens. The research may pay off in treatments for diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s and Type 2 diabetes.

Yoshinori Ohsumi, 71, of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, was cited Monday for “brilliant experiments” that illuminated autophagy, in which cells gobble up damaged or worn-out pieces of themselves. Autophagy means “self-eating.”

That process helps keep cells healthy by producing nutrients and building blocks for renewal, making way for new cellular structures and clearing out invading germs and clumps of proteins that could cause disease.

Abnormalities in autophagy (aw-TAH’-fuh-jee) occur in several diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and cancer, and more than 40 studies in humans are under way to test drugs to boost or depress the process, Nobel officials said.

Cancer cells, for example, take advantage of autophagy to promote their own survival. Many research groups are exploring a strategy of fighting the disease by reducing these cells’ use of the cleanup process, said Eileen White, a researcher at the Rutgers Cancer Institute in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Ohsumi said he never thought he would win a Nobel for his work, which involved studying yeast under the microscope day after day for decades. “As a boy, the Nobel Prize was a dream, but after starting my research, it was out of my picture,” he told reporters in Tokyo.

“I don’t feel comfortable competing with many people, and instead I find it more enjoyable doing something nobody else is doing,” Ohsumi added. “In a way, that’s what science is all about, and the joy of finding something inspires me.”

The prize is worth 8 million kronor, or $930,000. Ohsumi was honored for work he did in the 1990s. Nobel judges often award discoveries made decades ago, to make sure they have stood the test of time.

Working in yeast, Ohsumi developed a way to identify key genes involved in autophagy and went on to discover the first genes known to play a role. He then showed how autophagy is controlled by specific proteins and complexes of proteins.

“He actually unraveled which are the components which actually perform this whole process,” said Rune Toftgard, chairman of the Nobel Assembly. Scientists were aware of autophagy before Ohsumi’s work, but they “didn’t know what it did, they didn’t know how it was controlled and they didn’t know what it was relevant for,” said David Rubinsztein, deputy director of the Institute for Medical Research at the University of Cambridge.

Ohsumi’s work “opened the door to a field,” he said. “It provided tools to the whole world to start trying to understand how autophagy is important” in mammals. Now “we know that autophagy is important for a host of important mammalian functions.”

For example, scientists said, it springs into action to provide energy when the body is running short on nutrients, such as when a person skips meals or a newborn has not yet begun breastfeeding. Autophagy also removes proteins that clump together abnormally in brain cells, which is what happens in conditions like Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases and some forms of dementia. Animal studies suggest that boosting autophagy can ease and delay such diseases, said Rubinsztein, whose lab is pursuing that approach.

“As time goes on, people are finding connections with more and more diseases,” he said. In Tokyo, Ohsumi said many details of autophagy are yet to be understood and he hopes younger scientists join him in looking for the answers.

“There is no finish line for science. When I find an answer to one question, another question comes up. I have never thought I have solved all the questions,” he said. “So I have to keep asking questions to yeast.”

It was the 107th award in the medicine category since the first Nobel Prizes were handed out in 1905. Last year’s prize was shared by three scientists who developed treatments for malaria and other tropical diseases.

The announcements continue with physics on Tuesday, chemistry on Wednesday and the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. The economics and literature awards will be announced next week. The awards will be handed out at ceremonies in Stockholm and Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.

Periodic table elements named for Moscow, Japan, Tennessee

June 08, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) — You’ll soon see four new names on the periodic table of the elements, including three that honor Moscow, Japan and Tennessee. The names are among four recommended Wednesday by an international scientific group. The fourth is named for a Russian scientist.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, which rules on chemical element names, presented its proposal for public review. The names had been submitted by the element discoverers. The four elements, known now by their numbers, completed the seventh row of the periodic table when the chemistry organization verified their discoveries last December.

Tennessee is the second U.S. state to be recognized with an element; California was the first. Element names can come from places, mythology, names of scientists or traits of the element. Other examples: americium, einsteinium and titanium.

Joining more familiar element names such as hydrogen, carbon and lead are: — moscovium (mah-SKOH’-vee-um), symbol Mc, for element 115, and tennessine (TEH’-neh-seen), symbol Ts, for element 117. The discovery team is from the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

Vanderbilt physics professor Joseph Hamilton, who played a role in the discoveries, proposed naming an element for Tennessee. He had hoped to use the symbol Tn, but it had been used in the past and couldn’t be reassigned to the new element.

— oganesson (OH’-gah-NEH’-sun), symbol Og, for element 118. The name honors Russian physicist Yuri Oganessian. — nihonium (nee-HOH’-nee-um), symbol Nh, for element 113. The element was discovered in Japan, and Nihon is one way to say the country’s name in Japanese. It’s the first element to be discovered in an Asian country.

An official at a Japanese institute involved in the discovery said the name was chosen to recognize government funding for the project. “We wanted to show our research has been supported by the Japanese people,” said Kosuke Morita, a research group director at the RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-based Science.

The public comment period will end Nov. 8.

AP reporters Sheila Burke in Nashville and Satoshi Sugiyama in Wako, Japan, contributed to this report.

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