Friday, January 23, 2009

Clean Air Adds Half Of One Year – Almost

Mexico City -- View from Castillo de Chapultepec, back down the Paseo de la Reforma, the monument in the distance, the Angel del la independencia, is exactly one mile away. Now that is some serious pollution and this is in the morning, it is worse in the afternoon! Caption and Image Credit: rdstoker/flickr

Clean Air Adds Half Of One Year – Almost

The cleaning up of particulate air pollution brought on through emissions from automobiles, factories, aerosols, smoking and etc. has yielded citizens of the United States an extension of 21 weeks in the average life lived from the one lived 20 years ago.

The largest contributing factor to the reduction of air pollution track back to changes in smoking habits. More people are smoking less and those who do smoke are not smoking in confined spaces … they are taking their habit out of doors.

Overall, since the beginning of the effort to reduce fine particles given off by automobiles, diesel engines, steel mills and coal-fired power plants, life expectancy has risen as much as 15 percent of the overall 2.72 years of extra longevity seen in the United States since the early 1980s.

Particulate Air Pollution in Selected Cities, 1990-1995 -- Despite these efforts, however, air pollution remains an extremely serious environmental health problem in China. In fact, a host of recent studies have found China to have some of the worst air pollution in the world. A recent World Bank report, for example, includes four Chinese cities in its list of the 10 urban centers with the lowest air quality. The map also gives a sense of the severity of China's air pollution problem, even when compared with other major polluting cities here on the Oblate Spheroid. Caption (edited) and Image Credit: EarthTrends

This excerpted and edited from Reuters -

Cleaner air equals 21 more weeks of life
By Gene Emery - Thu Jan 22, 2009 3:36pm GMT

BOSTON (Reuters) - Dramatic improvements in U.S. air quality over the last two decades have added 21 weeks to the life of the average American, researchers reported on Wednesday.
Improved socioeconomic conditions, judged partly by the proportion of high school graduates living in an area, rank next. But cleaner air was a big factor.

"It's stunning that the air pollution effect seems to be as robust as it is after controlling for these other things," said Arden Pope, an epidemiologist at Brigham Young University in Utah who led the study, in a telephone interview.

Haze in Seoul, South Korea. 2007 -- It became obvious very quickly that the air quality in Seoul was very poor. Seoulites were frequently coughing and it's no wonder, with the worst air pollution levels in the OECD, Seoul's air quality is worse than other major urban centres such as Rome and Mexico City. Both of which are notorious for high levels of air pollution. Caption and Image Credit: lamkevin/flickr

Using life expectancy, economic, demographic and pollution data from 51 metropolitan areas, Pope and his colleagues found when fine-particle air pollution dropped by 10 micrograms per cubic meter, life expectancy rose by 31 weeks.

Areas such as Akron, Ohio, and Philadelphia showed that kind of drop in air pollution.

The bigger the decline, the longer people began living.

In some areas where fine-particle counts dropped by 13 to 14 micrograms -- such as Buffalo, New York and Pittsburgh -- people typically started living about 43 weeks longer.

The findings show there has been a real dividend from the efforts since the 1970s to improve air quality, said Pope.

In a commentary, Daniel Krewski of the University of Ottawa said the study "provides direct confirmation of the population health benefits of mitigating air pollution and greatly strengthens the foundation of the argument for air-quality management."

Based on earlier research, the World Health Organization has estimated that 1.4 percent of all deaths around the world are caused by air pollution particles.
Reference Here>>

This should be held up as bad news for nations such as China, Korea, India and Mexico due to the lack of particulate controls and personal smoking habits found there.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Methane On Mars – Tracks Of Life?

Methane atmospheric abundance spectrometry overlay on Martian surface. Image Credit: NASA

Methane On Mars – Tracks Of Life?

NASA has issued a press release describing the detection of methane gas on Mars and how this may be evidence of life on the red planet.

NASA cautions, "Right now, we do not have enough information to tell whether biology or geology -- or both -- is producing the methane on Mars," said Michael Mumma of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.. "But it does tell us the planet is still alive, at least in a geologic sense. It is as if Mars is challenging us, saying, 'hey, find out what this means.' "

If microscopic Martian life is producing the methane, it likely resides far below the surface where it is warm enough for liquid water to exist. Liquid water is necessary for all known forms of life, as are energy sources and a supply of carbon.

The process of how the methane gas was detected is in itself a good story.

Conceptual animation demonstrating the process of spectroscopy and how it was applied to the discovery of methane in Mars’ atmosphere (click photo). Image Credit: Chris Smith/NASA

This excerpted and edited from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration –

Discovery of Methane Reveals Mars Is Not a Dead Planet
By: Dwayne Brown - NASA, Nancy Neal-Jones, and Bill Steigerwald of the Goddard Space Flight Center - Jan. 15, 2009

WASHINGTON -- A team of NASA and university scientists has achieved the first definitive detection of methane in the atmosphere of Mars. This discovery indicates the planet is either biologically or geologically active.

The team found methane in the Martian atmosphere by carefully observing the planet throughout several Mars years with NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility and the W.M. Keck telescope, both at Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The team used spectrometers on the telescopes to spread the light into its component colors, as a prism separates white light into a rainbow. The team detected three spectral features called absorption lines that together are a definitive signature of methane.

"Methane is quickly destroyed in the Martian atmosphere in a variety of ways, so our discovery of substantial plumes of methane in the northern hemisphere of Mars in 2003 indicates some ongoing process is releasing the gas," said Michael Mumma of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "At northern mid-summer, methane is released at a rate comparable to that of the massive hydrocarbon seep at Coal Oil Point in Santa Barbara, Calif." Mumma is lead author of a paper describing this research that will appear in Science Express on Thursday.

Methane, four atoms of hydrogen bound to a carbon atom, is the main component of natural gas on Earth. Astrobiologists are interested in these data because organisms release much of Earth's methane as they digest nutrients. However, other purely geological processes, like oxidation of iron, also release methane.
Animation depicting two processes (geochemical and biological) that may have produced the methane plumes now seen in Mars’ atmosphere (click photo). Image Credit: Susan Twardy/NASA

"We observed and mapped multiple plumes of methane on Mars, one of which released about 19,000 metric tons of methane," said co-author Geronimo Villanueva of the Catholic University of America in Washington. "The plumes were emitted during the warmer seasons, spring and summer, perhaps because ice blocking cracks and fissures vaporized, allowing methane to seep into the Martian air."
One method to test whether life produced this methane is by measuring isotope ratios.

Isotopes of an element have slightly different chemical properties, and life prefers to use the lighter isotopes.

A chemical called deuterium is a heavier version of hydrogen. Methane and water released on Mars should show distinctive ratios for isotopes of hydrogen and carbon if life was responsible for methane production.

It will take future missions, like NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, to discover the origin of the Martian methane.

Additional photo and animation assets here.
Reference Here>>

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

MRI Breakthrough - Volume Resolution 100 Million X's Finer

NanoMRI, close-up view graphic - Image Credit: IBM

MRI Breakthrough - Volume Resolution 100 Million Times Finer

Nearly 60 years after IBM played a major role in developing the heart lung machine, scientists and engineers from IBM Research continue to break new ground in modernizing healthcare.

IBM Research scientists, in collaboration with the Center for Probing the Nanoscale at Stanford University, have demonstrated magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with volume resolution 100 million times finer than conventional MRI.

This result signals a significant step forward in tools for molecular biology and nanotechnology by offering the ability to study complex 3D structures at the nanoscale.

NanoMRI of Virus Particles 1 - Image Credit: IBM

NanoMRI of virus particles 2 - Image Credit: IBM

By extending MRI to this resolution, the scientists have created a microscope that, with further development, may ultimately pave the way for new advances in personalized healthcare and targeted medicine.

In the 1960s, IBM invented the first continuous blood separator, used to treat critically ill leukemia patients. IBM has also helped develop the field of relaxometry, which plays a role in medical magnetic resonance imagery (MRI), and invented the method for using excimer lasers that eventually became photorefractive (LASIK) eye surgery.

And this was just the beginning; to this day, IBM continues to make significant contributions to healthcare through technology innovations.

Video Explanation Of IBM's NanoMRI Technology Breakthrough: