Tag: The Conversation

Ancient history of the climate.

Showing that droughts have been in evidence for 1,000 years or more!

It is very easy, well it is for me, to think that the changes we are seeing in the climate are purely recent. There is no question that we are experiencing changes in the global climate. But it would be too easy to think that these changes are only the result of recent times.

My way of an introduction to this post from The Conversation.

ooOOoo

1,000-year-old stalagmites from a cave in India show the monsoon isn’t so reliable – their rings reveal a history of long, deadly droughts.

Published on the 19th September, 2022 by:

  1. Gayatri Kathayat Associate Professor of Global Environmental Change, Xi’an Jiaotong University
  2. Ashish Sinha Professor of Earth and Climate Sciences, California State University, Dominguez Hills

In a remote cave in northeast India, rainwater has slowly dripped from the ceiling in the same spots for over 1,000 years. With each drop, minerals in the water accumulate on the floor below, slowly growing into calcium carbonate towers known as stalagmites.

These stalagmites are more than geological wonders – like tree rings, their layers record the region’s rainfall history. They also carry a warning about the potential for catastrophic multiyear droughts in the future. 

By analyzing the geochemistry of these stalagmites in a new study published Sept. 19, 2022, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we were able to create the most precise chronology yet of the summer Indian monsoon over the past millennium. It documents how the Indian subcontinent frequently experienced long, severe droughts unlike any observed in the last 150 years of reliable monsoon rainfall measurements. 

The drought periods we detected are in striking synchrony with historical accounts of droughts, faminesmass mortality events and geopolitical changes in the region.

They show how the decline of the Mughal Empire and India’s textile industries in the 1780s and 1790s coincided with the most severe 30-year period of drought over the millennium. The depth and duration of the drought would have caused widespread crop failures and the level of famine discussed in written documentsat the time. 

Another long drought encompasses the 1630-1632 Deccan famine, one of the most devastating droughts in India’s history. Millions of people died as crops failed. Around the same time, the elaborate Mughal capital of Fatehpur Sikri was abandoned and the Guge Kingdom collapsed in western Tibet.

Buland Darwaza (Door of Victory) at Fatehpur Sikri, India.

Our findings have important implications today for water planning in a warming world, particularly for India, which, with its vast monsoon-reliant agriculture industry, is on pace to soon be the most populous country on the planet.

Why the monsoon’s history matters

Scientists began systematically measuring India’s monsoon rainfall with instruments around the 1870s. Since then, India has experienced about 27 regionally widespread droughts. Among them, only one – 1985 to 1987 – was a three-year consecutive drought or worse.

The apparent stability of the Indian monsoon in that data might lead one to surmise that neither protracted droughts lasting multiple years nor frequent droughts are intrinsic aspects of its variability. This seemingly reassuring view currently informs the region’s present-day water resource infrastructure.

However, the stalagmite evidence of prolonged, severe droughts over the past 1,000 years paints a different picture.

It indicates that the short instrumental period does not capture the full range of Indian monsoon variability. It also raises questions about the region’s current water resources, sustainability and mitigation policies that discount the possibility of protracted droughts in the future.

Timeline of major societal and geopolitical changes in India and the oxygen isotope record from Mawmluh cave. Gayatri Kathayat

How do stalagmites capture a region’s monsoon history?

To reconstruct past variations in rainfall, we analyzed stalagmites from Mawmluh cave, near the town of Cherrapunji in the state of Meghalaya – one of the wettest locations in the world.

Stalagmites are conelike structures that grow slowly from the ground up, typically at a rate of about one millimeter every 10 years. Trapped within their growth layers are minute amounts of uranium and other elements that were acquired as rainwater infiltrated the rocks and soil above the cave. Over time, uranium trapped in stalagmites decays into thorium at a predictable pace, so we can figure out the age of each stalagmite growth layer by measuring the ratio of uranium to thorium.

The oxygen in rainwater molecules comes in two primary types of isotopes – heavy and light. As stalagmites grow, they lock into their structure the oxygen isotope ratios of the percolating rainwater that seeps into the cave. Subtle variations in this ratio can arise from a range of climatic conditions at the time the rainwater originally fell.

Stalagmite formation are marked inside Mawmluh Cave, where the new study was based. Gayatri Kathayat
A cross-section of a stalagmite shows differences in its ring formation as climate conditions changed. Gayatri Kathayat

Our previous research in this area showed that variations in oxygen isotope ratios in rainwater, and consequently, in stalagmites, track changes in the relative abundance of different moisture sources that contribute to summer monsoon rainfall.

During years when monsoon circulation is weak, rainfall here is primarily derived from the moisture that evaporated from the nearby Arabian Sea. During strong monsoon years, however, atmospheric circulation brings copious amounts of moisture to this area all the way from the southern Indian Ocean.

The two moisture sources have quite different oxygen isotope signatures, and this ratio is faithfully preserved in the stalagmites. We can use this clue to learn about the overall strength of the monsoon intensity at the time the stalagmite formed. We pieced together the monsoon rainfall history by extracting minute amounts of calcium carbonate from its growth rings and then measuring the oxygen isotope ratios. To anchor our climate record to precise calendar years, we measured the uranium and thorium ratio.

Stalagmites grow from the ground, and stalactites grow from above. These are in Mawmluh Cave, where the authors conducted their research. Gayatri Kathayat.

Next steps

The paleoclimate records can usually tell what, where and when something happened. But often, they alone cannot answer why or how something happened. 

Our new study shows that protracted droughts frequently occurred during the past millennia, but we do not have a good understanding of why the monsoon failed in those years. Similar studies using Himalayan ice cores, tree rings and other caves have also detected protracted droughts but face the same challenge. 

In the next phase of our study, we are teaming up with climate modelers to conduct coordinated proxy-modeling studies that we hope will offer more insight into the climate dynamics that triggered and sustained such extended periods of drought during the past millennium.

ooOOoo

So there we are. Droughts are a thing of the ancient past. But only a partial understanding for why the monsoons failed is known. Despite these modern times with so much general access to knowledge there are still things that we do not know!

Finally, one hopes that the next phase of their study will be along in reasonable time! I would love to report on it.

Our climate: Welcome to the New Normal!

An article read on Sunday is the motivation for today’s post.

The article, published by The Conversation blog site, was made public last Wednesday week.

I make no apologies for banging the climate change gong again, it is in my opinion the most important subject going.

Enough from me; now to the article.

(And it had been planned for last Tuesday but because of Pedi it is now today.)

ooOOoo

By Professor Shuang-Ye Wu

This article was written by Professor Shuang-Ye Wu. It is very good.

Professor Wu is the Professor of Geology and Environmental Geosciences at the University of Dayton, USA.

Looking back on America’s summer of heat, floods and climate change: Welcome to the new abnormal!

Much of the South and Southern Plains faced a dangerous heat wave in July 2022, with highs well over 100 degrees for several days. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The summer of 2022 started with a historic flood in Montana, brought on by heavy rain and melting snow, that tore up roads and caused large areas of Yellowstone National Park to be evacuated.

It ended with a record-breaking heat wave in California and much of the West that pushed the power grid to the breaking point, causing blackouts, followed by a tropical storm that set rainfall records in southern California. A typhoon flooded coastal Alaska, and a hurricane hit Puerto Rico with more than 30 inches of rain.

In between, wildfires raged through California, Arizona and New Mexico on the background of a megadrought in Southwestern U.S. that has been more severe than anything the region has experienced in at least 1,200 years. Near Albuquerque, New Mexico, a five-mile stretch of the Rio Grande ran dry for the first time in 40 years. Persistent heat waves lingered over many parts of the country, setting temperature records.

At the same time, during a period of five weeks between July and August, five 1,000-year rainfall events occurred in St. Louis, eastern Kentucky, southern Illinois, California’s Death Valley and in Dallas, causing devastating and sometimes deadly flash floods. Extreme rainfall also led to severe flooding in Mississippi, Virginia and West Virginia.

The United States is hardly alone in its share of climate disasters.

In Pakistan, record monsoon rains inundated more than one-third of the country, killing over 1,500 people. In India and China, prolonged heat waves and droughts dried up rivers, disrupted power grids and threatened food security for billions of people.

In Europe, heat waves set record temperatures in Britain and other places, leading to severe droughts and wildfires in many parts of the continent. In South Africa, torrential rains brought flooding and mudslides that killed more than 400 people. The summer may have come to an end on the calendar, but climate disasters will surely continue.

This isn’t just a freak summer: Over the years, such extreme events are occurring in increasing frequency and intensity.

Climate change is intensifying these disasters

The most recent international climate assessment from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found significant increases in both the frequency and intensity of extreme temperature and precipitation events, leading to more droughts and floods.

A recent study published in the scientific journal Nature found that extreme flooding and droughts are also getting deadlier and more expensive, despite an improving capacity to manage climate risks. This is because these extreme events, enhanced by climate change, often exceed the designed levels of such management strategies.

A girl in rain boots walks through a mud-filled yard. Damaged mattresses and other belongings from a flooded house are piled nearby.
Flash flooding swept through mountain valleys in eastern Kentucky in July 2022, killing more than three dozen people. It was one of several destructive flash floods. Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Extreme events, by definition, occur rarely. A 100-year flood has a 1% chance of happening in any given year. So, when such events occur with increasing frequency and intensity, they are a clear indication of a changing climate state.

The term “global warming” can sometimes be misleading, as it seems to suggest that as humans put more heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the world is going to get a bit warmer everywhere. What it fails to convey is that warming temperatures also lead to a more violent world with more extreme climate disasters, as we saw this past summer.

Climate models showed these risks were coming

Much of this is well-understood and consistently reproduced by climate models.

As the climate warms, a shift in temperature distribution leads to more extremes. The magnitudes of changes in extreme temperature are often larger than changes in the mean. For example, globally, a 1 degree Celsius increase in annual average temperature is associated with 1.2 C to 1.9 C (2.1 Fahrenheit to 3.4 F) of increase in the annual maximum temperature.

A man works on a car with an older mechanic in overalls standing next to him under the shade of a large beach umbrealla.
Heat waves, like the heat dome over the South in July 2022, can hit outdoor workers especially hard. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

In addition, global warming causes changes in the vertical profile of the atmosphere and equator-to-pole temperature gradients, leading to changes in how the atmosphere and ocean move. The temperature difference between equator and the poles is the driving force for global wind. As the polar regions warm at much higher rates then the equator, the reduced temperature difference causes a weakening of global winds and leads to a more meandering jet stream.

Some of these changes can create conditions such as persistent high-pressure systems and atmosphere blocking that favor more frequent and more intense heat waves. The heat domes over the Southern Plains and South in June and the West in September are examples.

The initial warming can be further amplified by positive feedbacks. For example, warming increases snow melt, exposing dark soil underneath, which absorbs more heat than snow, further enhancing the warming.

Warming of the atmosphere also increases its capacity to hold water vapor, which is a strong greenhouse gas. Therefore, more water vapor in the air leads to more warming. Higher temperatures tend to dry out the soil, and less soil moisture reduces the land’s heat capacity, making it easier to heat up.

These positive feedbacks further intensify the initial warming, leading to more heat extremes. More frequent and persistent heat waves lead to excessive evaporation, combined with decreased precipitation in some regions, causing more severe droughts and more frequent wildfires.

Higher temperatures increase the atmosphere’s capacity to hold moisture at a rate of about 7% per degree Celsius.

This increased humidity leads to heavier rainfall events. In addition, storm systems are fueled by latent heat, or the large amount of energy released when water vapor condenses to liquid water. Increased moisture content in the atmosphere also enhances latent heat in storm systems, increasing their intensity. Extreme heavy or persistent rainfall leads to increased flooding and landslides, with devastating social and economic consequences.

Even though it’s difficult to link specific extreme events directly to climate change, when these supposedly rare events occur with increasing frequency in a warming world, it is hard to ignore the changing state of our climate.

A woman with her eyes closed holds a screaming 1-year-old boy in a National Guard helicopter, with a guardsman standing in the open helicopter door.
A family had to be airlifted from their home in eastern Kentucky after it was surrounded by floodwater in July 2022. Michael Swensen/Getty Images

The new abnormal

So this past summer might just provide a glimpse of our near future, as these extreme climate events become more frequent.

To say this is the new “normal,” though, is misleading. It suggests that we have reached a new stable state, and that is far from the truth.

Without serious effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, this trend toward more extreme events will continue. Things will keep getting worse, and this past summer will become the norm a few years or decades down the road – and eventually, it will seem mild, like one of those “nice summers” we look back on fondly with nostalgia.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

ooOOoo

There is growing evidence that things are really changing globally. I used to say that I would be dead before the impacts of climate change really hit home. As in, it would be a good twenty years before things really took a hold. But it is now much more likely that the next five years are going to see a continuation of the changes and that there isn’t time to hang around.

I may not be as sharp as I used to be but the changing climate will affect me and Jean and all those in our area. Will our leaders grasp this nettle now? I wish I knew.

Searching for alien life

Another item about the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

I make no apologies for returning to the JWST in just a week after publishing my first article about the telescope. For I found the latest article, again published on The Conversation, to be incredible and that was all I needed to share it with you.

ooOOoo

To search for alien life, astronomers will look for clues in the atmospheres of distant planets – and the James Webb Space Telescope just proved it’s possible to do so

Published July 14th, 2022.

By Chris Impey University Distinguished Professor of Astronomy, University of Arizona and

Daniel Apai Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Sciences, University of Arizona.

The ingredients for life are spread throughout the universe. While Earth is the only known place in the universe with life, detecting life beyond Earth is a major goal of modern astronomy and planetary science.

We are two scientists who study exoplanets and astrobiology. Thanks in large part to next-generation telescopes like James Webb, researchers like us will soon be able to measure the chemical makeup of atmospheres of planets around other stars. The hope is that one or more of these planets will have a chemical signature of life.

There are many known exoplanets in habitable zones – orbits not too close to a star that the water boils off but not so far that the planet is frozen solid – as marked in green for both the solar system and Kepler-186 star system with its planets labeled b, c, d, e and f. NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech/Wikimedia Commons

Habitable exoplanets

Life might exist in the solar system where there is liquid water – like the subsurface aquifers on Mars or in the oceans of Jupiter’s moon Europa. However, searching for life in these places is incredibly difficult, as they are hard to reach and detecting life would require sending a probe to return physical samples.

Many astronomers believe there’s a good chance that life exists on planets orbiting other stars, and it’s possible that’s where life will first be found.

Theoretical calculations suggest that there are around 300 million potentially habitable planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone and several habitable Earth-sized planets within only 30 light-years of Earth – essentially humanity’s galactic neighbors. So far, astronomers have discovered over 5,000 exoplanets, including hundreds of potentially habitable ones, using indirect methods that measure how a planet affects its nearby star. These measurements can give astronomers information on the mass and size of an exoplanet, but not much else.

Every material absorbs certain wavelengths of light, as shown in this diagram depicting the wavelengths of light absorbed most easily by different types of chlorophyll. Daniele Pugliesi/Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA

Looking for biosignatures

To detect life on a distant planet, astrobiologists will study starlight that has interacted with a planet’s surface or atmosphere. If the atmosphere or surface was transformed by life, the light may carry a clue, called a “biosignature.”

For the first half of its existence, Earth sported an atmosphere without oxygen, even though it hosted simple, single-celled life. Earth’s biosignature was very faint during this early era. That changed abruptly 2.4 billion years ago when a new family of algae evolved. The algae used a process of photosynthesis that produces free oxygen – oxygen that isn’t chemically bonded to any other element. From that time on, Earth’s oxygen-filled atmosphere has left a strong and easily detectable biosignature on light that passes through it.

When light bounces off the surface of a material or passes through a gas, certain wavelengths of the light are more likely to remain trapped in the gas or material’s surface than others. This selective trapping of wavelengths of light is why objects are different colors. Leaves are green because chlorophyll is particularly good at absorbing light in the red and blue wavelengths. As light hits a leaf, the red and blue wavelengths are absorbed, leaving mostly green light to bounce back into your eyes.

The pattern of missing light is determined by the specific composition of the material the light interacts with. Because of this, astronomers can learn something about the composition of an exoplanet’s atmosphere or surface by, in essence, measuring the specific color of light that comes from a planet.

This method can be used to recognize the presence of certain atmospheric gases that are associated with life – such as oxygen or methane – because these gasses leave very specific signatures in light. It could also be used to detect peculiar colors on the surface of a planet. On Earth, for example, the chlorophyll and other pigments plants and algae use for photosynthesis capture specific wavelengths of light. These pigments produce characteristic colors that can be detected by using a sensitive infrared camera. If you were to see this color reflecting off the surface of a distant planet, it would potentially signify the presence of chlorophyll.

Telescopes in space and on Earth

It takes an incredibly powerful telescope to detect these subtle changes to the light coming from a potentially habitable exoplanet. For now, the only telescope capable of such a feat is the new James Webb Space Telescope. As it began science operations in July 2022, James Webb took a reading of the spectrum of the gas giant exoplanet WASP-96b. The spectrum showed the presence of water and clouds, but a planet as large and hot as WASP-96b is unlikely to host life.

However, this early data shows that James Webb is capable of detecting faint chemical signatures in light coming from exoplanets. In the coming months, Webb is set to turn its mirrors toward TRAPPIST-1e, a potentially habitable Earth-sized planet a mere 39 light-years from Earth.

Webb can look for biosignatures by studying planets as they pass in front of their host stars and capturing starlight that filters through the planet’s atmosphere. But Webb was not designed to search for life, so the telescope is only able to scrutinize a few of the nearest potentially habitable worlds. It also can only detect changes to atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor. While certain combinations of these gasses may suggest life, Webb is not able to detect the presence of unbonded oxygen, which is the strongest signal for life.

Animals, including cows, produce methane, but so do many geologic processes. Jernej Furman/Wikimedia CommonsCC BY

Is it biology or geology?

Even using the most powerful telescopes of the coming decades, astrobiologists will only be able to detect strong biosignatures produced by worlds that have been completely transformed by life.

Unfortunately, most gases released by terrestrial life can also be produced by nonbiological processes – cows and volcanoes both release methane. Photosynthesis produces oxygen, but sunlight does, too, when it splits water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen. There is a good chance astronomers will detect some false positives when looking for distant life. To help rule out false positives, astronomers will need to understand a planet of interest well enough to understand whether its geologic or atmospheric processes could mimic a biosignature

The next generation of exoplanet studies has the potential to pass the bar of the extraordinary evidence needed to prove the existence of life. The first data release from the James Webb Space Telescope gives us a sense of the exciting progress that’s coming soon.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the first telescope able to detect chemical signatures from exoplanets, but it is limited in its capabilities. NASA/Wikimedia Commons

ooOOoo

So despite the advances in technology that resulted in the JWST it will still not be possible to detect unbonded oxygen; a sure indicator of life. It will be able to detect many other fascinating aspects of stars and planets beyond the Milky Way. I do not know if “The first data release…” relates to software or whether further launches of Mk 2 ‘JWST’ will be required. I will try and find out!

Science on the business of loving our dogs (and cats).

A fascinating article!

I have long subscribed to The Conversation and shared quite a few stories with you good people. But this recent one was a terrific report.

Read it yourself and I am sure you will agree with me.

ooOOoo

New research suggests cat and dog ‘moms’ and ‘dads’ really are parenting their pets – here’s the evolutionary explanation why.

Pet parenting can provide love and companionship to both human and animal. Willie B. Thomas/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Shelly Volsche, Boise State University

old pug dog in a stroller and harness
A pup out for a stroll, without paws touching the ground. Shelly Volsche, CC BY-ND

Have you noticed more cats riding in strollers lately? Or bumper stickers that read, “I love my granddogs”? You’re not imagining it. More people are investing serious time, money and attention in their pets.

It looks an awful lot like parenting, but of pets, not people.

Can this kind of caregiving toward animals really be considered parenting? Or is something else going on here?

I’m an anthropologist who studies human-animal interactions, a field known as anthrozoology. I want to better understand the behavior of pet parenting by people from the perspective of evolutionary science. After all, cultural norms and evolutionary biology both suggest people should focus on raising their own children, not animals of a completely different species.

More child-free people, more pet parents

The current moment is unique in human history. Many societies, including the U.S., are experiencing major changes in how people live, work and socialize. Fertility rates are low, and people have more flexibility in how they choose to live their lives. These factors can lead people to further their education and value defining oneself as an individual over family obligations. With basics taken care of, people can focus on higher order psychological needs like feelings of achievement and a sense of purpose.

The scene is set for people to actively choose to focus on pets instead of children.

In earlier research, I interviewed 28 self-identified child-free pet owners to better understand how they relate to their animals. These individuals pointedly shared that they had actively chosen cats and dogs instead of children. In many cases, their use of parent-child relational terms – calling themselves a pet’s “mom” for instance – was simply shorthand.

They emphasized fulfilling the species-specific needs of their dogs and cats. For example, they might fulfill the animal’s need to forage by feeding meals using a food puzzle, while most children are fed at the table. These pet owners acknowledged differences in the nutrition, socialization and learning needs of animals versus children. They were not unthinkingly replacing human children with “fur babies” by treating them like small, furry humans.

woman with party hat with dog
Pet parents might celebrate their dog’s big day – but with a doggy treat and not chocolate cake. fotostorm/E+ via Getty Images

Other researchers find similar connections, showing that child-free pet owners perceive their companions as emotional, thinking individuals. This way of understanding the mind of the animal helps lead to the development of a parent identity toward companion animals. In other cases, uncertain individuals find their need to nurture sufficiently fulfilled by caring for pets, cementing their fertility decisions to remain child-free.

Nurturing others is part of being human

Yet, these findings still do not answer this question: Are people who choose pets over children truly parenting their pets? To answer, I turned to the evolution of parenting and caregiving.

Evolutionary anthropologist Sarah Hardy wrote in 2009 that humans are cooperative breeders. This means it is literally in our DNA and our ancestral history to help care for offspring who are not our own. Anthropologists and biologists call this trait alloparenting. It is an evolutionary adaptation that helped human beings who cooperatively raised children survive. For early humans, this ancient environment was likely made up of small, foraging societies in which some people exchanged child care for food and other resources.

I propose that it is this evolutionary history that explains pet parenting. If people evolved to alloparent, and our environment is now making caring for children more difficult or less appealing to some, it makes sense for people to alloparent other species entering their homes. Alloparenting companion animals can offer a way to fulfill the evolved need to nurture while reducing the investment of time, money and emotional energy compared to raising children.

two kids and dog bathing in tub
Do people relate to animals differently in families with children? Mayte Torres/Moment via Getty Images

Untangling differences in caring for pets

To further understand this phenomenon of child-free adults parenting pets, I launched an online survey via social media, seeking responses from U.S.-based dog and cat owners over the age of 18. The survey included questions about attachment and caregiving behaviors using the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale. It also asked a series of questions I developed to probe specific human caretaking behaviors oriented toward pets – things like feeding, bathing and training – as well as how much autonomy companion animals had in the home.

The final sample of 917 respondents included 620 parents, 254 nonparents and 43 people who were undecided or did not answer. Most of the respondents were also married or in a domestic partnership for over one year (57%), between the ages of 25 and 60 (72%) and had at least a bachelor’s degree (77%). They were also mostly women (85%) and heterosexual (85%), a common situation in human-animal interactions research.

Both parents and nonparents reported high amounts of training and play with their pets. This finding makes sense given that all pet owners need to help their dogs and cats learn how to navigate a human world. Survey respondents reported socializing, training and enrichment, including play, for their animals.

Nonparents were more likely to be the one providing general care for the animal. This finding also makes sense since parents often adopt or purchase companion animals as a way to help their children learn responsibility and to care for others. Child-free animal owners invest time, money and emotional energy directly in their pets.

Nonparents reported higher rates of general attachment to their animals. They more frequently viewed their pets as individuals. Nonparents were also more likely to use family terms such as “parent,” “child,” “kids” and “guardians” when referring to their relationships with their pet.

woman on couch petting cat
Caring for another being can be fulfilling and rewarding. Delmaine Donson/E+ via Getty Images

It is this difference, combined with the evidence from my earlier research that these individuals address the species-specific needs of the dogs and cats in their care, that suggests pet parenting is, truly, parenting pets. Though the details may look quite different – attending training classes instead of school functions, or providing smell walks for dogs instead of coloring books for children – both practices fulfill the same evolved function. Whether child or pet, people are meeting the same evolved need to care for, teach and love a sentient other.

My colleagues and I continue to collect data from all over the world about how people live with animals. For now, this study provides evidence that, perhaps rather than being evolved to parent, humans are evolved to nurture. And as a result, who and when we parent is much more flexible than you might initially believe.

[Get our best science, health and technology stories. Sign up for The Conversation’s science newsletter.]

Shelly Volsche, Clinical Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Boise State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

ooOOoo

Shelly does a fabulous job of looking more closely at the science and it is a science that has a very wide appeal. For in the UK, according to the RSPCA, “In the UK, it’s estimated that 12 million (44 percent of) households have pets with around 51 million pets owned.

Here in America The Washington Post reported that: “Google the U.S. pet population, and you’re quickly confronted with two oft-cited, and contradictory, sources. The American Pet Products Association (APPA) found that 68 percent of U.S. households owned some sort of pet in 2016 — “equal to the highest level ever reported,” it gushed in the executive summary. Among those pets were about 90 million dogs and 94 million cats, the group said.

That is just two countries. The worldwide population of dogs and cats must be gigantic.

Darkness!

Chris Impey writes about his specialty in observational cosmology.

This has nothing to do with life, nothing that we are dealing with in our daily affairs, and has nothing to do with our dear dogs. BUT! This is incredibly interesting! Incredibly and beautifully interesting!

ooOOoo

The most powerful space telescope ever built will look back in time to the Dark Ages of the universe

Hubble took pictures of the oldest galaxies it could – seen here – but the James Webb Space Telescope can go back much farther in time. NASA

Chris Impey, University of Arizona

Some have called NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope the “telescope that ate astronomy.” It is the most powerful space telescope ever built and a complex piece of mechanical origami that has pushed the limits of human engineering. On Dec. 18, 2021, after years of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns, the telescope is scheduled to launch into orbit and usher in the next era of astronomy.

I’m an astronomer with a specialty in observational cosmology – I’ve been studying distant galaxies for 30 years. Some of the biggest unanswered questions about the universe relate to its early years just after the Big Bang. When did the first stars and galaxies form? Which came first, and why? I am incredibly excited that astronomers may soon uncover the story of how galaxies started because James Webb was built specifically to answer these very questions.

A graphic showing the progression of the Universe through time.
The Universe went through a period of time known as the Dark Ages before stars or galaxies emitted any light. Space Telescope Institute

The ‘Dark Ages’ of the universe

Excellent evidence shows that the universe started with an event called the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago, which left it in an ultra-hot, ultra-dense state. The universe immediately began expanding after the Big Bang, cooling as it did so. One second after the Big Bang, the universe was a hundred trillion miles across with an average temperature of an incredible 18 billion F (10 billion C). Around 400,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe was 10 million light years across and the temperature had cooled to 5,500 F (3,000 C). If anyone had been there to see it at this point, the universe would have been glowing dull red like a giant heat lamp.

Throughout this time, space was filled with a smooth soup of high energy particles, radiation, hydrogen and helium. There was no structure. As the expanding universe became bigger and colder, the soup thinned out and everything faded to black. This was the start of what astronomers call the Dark Ages of the universe.

The soup of the Dark Ages was not perfectly uniform and due to gravity, tiny areas of gas began to clump together and become more dense. The smooth universe became lumpy and these small clumps of denser gas were seeds for the eventual formation of stars, galaxies and everything else in the universe.

Although there was nothing to see, the Dark Ages were an important phase in the evolution of the universe.

A diagram showing different wavelengths of light compared to size of normal objects.
Light from the early universe is in the infrared wavelength – meaning longer than red light – when it reaches Earth. Inductiveload/NASA via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Looking for the first light

The Dark Ages ended when gravity formed the first stars and galaxies that eventually began to emit the first light. Although astronomers don’t know when first light happened, the best guess is that it was several hundred million years after the Big Bang. Astronomers also don’t know whether stars or galaxies formed first.

Current theories based on how gravity forms structure in a universe dominated by dark matter suggest that small objects – like stars and star clusters – likely formed first and then later grew into dwarf galaxies and then larger galaxies like the Milky Way. These first stars in the universe were extreme objects compared to stars of today. They were a million times brighter but they lived very short lives. They burned hot and bright and when they died, they left behind black holes up to a hundred times the Sun’s mass, which might have acted as the seeds for galaxy formation.

Astronomers would love to study this fascinating and important era of the universe, but detecting first light is incredibly challenging. Compared to massive, bright galaxies of today, the first objects were very small and due to the constant expansion of the universe, they’re now tens of billions of light years away from Earth. Also, the earliest stars were surrounded by gas left over from their formation and this gas acted like fog that absorbed most of the light. It took several hundred million years for radiation to blast away the fog. This early light is very faint by the time it gets to Earth.

But this is not the only challenge.

As the universe expands, it continuously stretches the wavelength of light traveling through it. This is called redshift because it shifts light of shorter wavelengths – like blue or white light – to longer wavelengths like red or infrared light. Though not a perfect analogy, it is similar to how when a car drives past you, the pitch of any sounds it is making drops noticeably. Similar to how a pitch of a sound drops if the source is moving away from you, the wavelength of light stretches due to the expansion of the universe.

By the time light emitted by an early star or galaxy 13 billion years ago reaches any telescope on Earth, it has been stretched by a factor of 10 by the expansion of the universe. It arrives as infrared light, meaning it has a wavelength longer than that of red light. To see first light, you have to be looking for infrared light.

Telescope as a time machine

Enter the James Webb Space Telescope.

Telescopes are like time machines. If an object is 10,000 light-years away, that means the light takes 10,000 years to reach Earth. So the further out in space astronomers look, the further back in time we are looking.

A large golden colored disc with a sensor in the middle and scientists standing below.
The James Webb Space Telescope was specifically designed to detect the oldest galaxies in the universe. NASA/JPL-Caltech, CC BY-SA

Engineers optimized James Webb for specifically detecting the faint infrared light of the earliest stars or galaxies. Compared to the Hubble Space Telescope, James Webb has a 15 times wider field of view on its camera, collects six times more light and its sensors are tuned to be most sensitive to infrared light.

The strategy will be to stare deeply at one patch of sky for a long time, collecting as much light and information from the most distant and oldest galaxies as possible. With this data, it may be possible to answer when and how the Dark Ages ended, but there are many other important discoveries to be made. For example, unraveling this story may also help explain the nature of dark matter, the mysterious form of matter that makes up about 80% of the mass of the universe.

James Webb is the most technically difficult mission NASA has ever attempted. But I think the scientific questions it may help answer will be worth every ounce of effort. I and other astronomers are waiting excitedly for the data to start coming back sometime in 2022.

Chris Impey, University Distinguished Professor of Astronomy, University of Arizona

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

ooOOoo

The dark ages of the universe that lasted for millions of years until gravity started to form some order out of the ‘soup’.

I don’t know about you but the winter nights, when the sky is clear, have me waiting outside for the dogs to come in looking up at the night sky just lost in the sheer wonder of it all.

The very best of luck to NASA on December 18th!

Oh dear, I meant deer!

A timely reminder from The Conversation.

We live in a rural part of Southern Oregon. The number of deer hit on our roads is appalling. Not infrequently when out cycling I come across a deer that seems uninjured. Often I get off my bike and stroke the animal, or drag it from the centre of the road to the shoulder. But it is dead.

Once recently the deer was still warm. What surprises me is that they are always dead. There never seems to be a deer that has been wounded. Probably just as well as I wouldn’t want to leave the animal.

We feed the deer at home on a daily basis and there is a young stag that has become familiar with me and starts eating the COB (corn, oats and barley mixed together) even before I have finished setting out the six piles of food. They are very dear creatures.

So this article has to be shared with you!

ooOOoo

Fall means more deer on the road: 4 ways time of day, month and year raise your risk of crashes

Deer cross roads whenever they wish, but some time periods are higher risk than others. Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Tom Langen, Clarkson University

Autumn is here, and that means the risk of hitting deer on rural roads and highways is rising, especially around dusk and during a full moon.

Deer cause over 1 million motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. each year, resulting in more than US$1 billion in property damage, about 200 human deaths and 29,000 serious injuries. Property damage insurance claims average around $2,600 per accident, and the overall average cost, including severe injuries or death, is over $6,000.

While avoiding deer – as well as moose, elk and other hoofed animals, known as ungulates – can seem impossible if you’re driving in rural areas, there are certain times and places that are most hazardous, and so warrant extra caution.

Transportation agencies, working with scientists, have been developing ways to predict where deer and other ungulates enter roads so they can post warning signs or install fencing or wildlife passages under or over the roadway. Just as important is knowing when these accidents occur.

My former students Victor Colino-Rabanal, Nimanthi Abeyrathna and I have analyzed over 86,000 deer-vehicle collisions involving white-tailed deer in New York state using police records over a three-year period. Here’s what our research and other studies show about timing and risk:

Time of day, month and year matters

The risk of hitting a deer varies by time of day, day of the week, the monthly lunar cycle and seasons of the year.

These accident cycles are partly a function of driver behavior – they are highest when traffic is heavy, drivers are least alert and driving conditions are poorest for spotting animals. They are also affected by deer behavior. Not infrequently, deer-vehicle accidents involve multiple vehicles, as startled drivers swerve to miss a deer and collide with a vehicle in another lane, or they slam on the breaks and are rear-ended by the vehicle behind.

Car on road during the start of leaf colors with road sign reading: Caution: High Hit Area
A sign warns of deer traffic on Route 16 in Franklin County, Maine. Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In analyzing thousands of deer-vehicle collisions, we found that these accidents occur most frequently at dusk and dawn, when deer are most active and drivers’ ability to spot them is poorest. Only about 20% of accidents occur during daylight hours. Deer-vehicle accidents are eight times more frequent per hour of dusk than daylight, and four times more frequent at dusk than after nightfall.

During the week, accidents occur most frequently on days that have the most drivers on the road at dawn or dusk, so they are associated with work commuter driving patterns and social factors such as Friday “date night” traffic.

Over the span of a month, the most deer-vehicle accidents occur during the full moon, and at the time of night that the moon is brightest. Deer move greater distances from cover and are more likely to enter roadways when there is more illumination at night. The pattern holds for deer and other ungulates in both North America and Europe.

Over a year, by far the highest numbers of deer-vehicle accidents are in autumn, and particularly during the rut, when bucks search and compete to mate with does. In New York state, the peak number of deer-vehicle accidents occurs in the last week of October and first weeks of November. There are over four times as many deer-vehicle accidents during that period than during spring. Moose-vehicle accidents show a similar pattern.

That high-risk period is also when daylight saving time ends – it happens on Nov. 7, 2021, in the U.S. Shifting the clock one hour back means more commuters are on the road during the high-risk dusk hours. The result is more cars driving at the peak time of day and during the peak time of the year for deer-vehicle accidents.

Overall, given that most U.S. states and more than 70 countries have seasonal “daylight saving” clock shifts, elevated ungulate-vehicle accident rates caused by clock shift may be a widespread problem.

[Over 100,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletter to understand the world. Sign up today.]

There is a longstanding debate about the benefit of a daylight saving clock shift, given how it disrupts humans’ circadian rhythms, causing short-term stress and fatigue. Risk of deer-vehicle accidents may be another reason to reconsider whether clock shifts are worthwhile.

Deer still cross roads at any time

It’s important to remember that deer-vehicle accidents can occur at any time of day or night, on any day of the year – and that deer can show up in urban areas as well as rural ones.

The insurance company State Farm found that on average, U.S. drivers have a 1 in 116 chance of hitting an animal, with much higher rates in states such as West Virginia, Montana and Pennsylvania. Over the 12 months ending in June 2020, State Farm counted 1.9 million insurance claims for collisions with wildlife nationwide. Around 90% of those involved deer.

Where deer or other ungulates are likely to be present, drivers should always be alert and cautious, especially at dawn, dusk, on bright moonlit nights and during the fall rut.

Tom Langen, Professor of Biology, Clarkson University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

ooOOoo

Nothing else to say but we drivers need to slow down and extra vigilant. Driving safely means always allowing for the unexpected and never following the vehicle in front too close. The minimum safe distance is one vehicle length for every 10 miles per hour in speed!

Yet more of the big question.

Time!

I wasn’t going to publish a post for today but then yesterday I read this article on The Conversation and wanted to share it with you. In fact it shares much of what I posted on the 1st, The Big Question. Because time and infinity are beautifully connected.

ooOOoo

What is time – and why does it move forward?

By Thomas Kitching, Lecturer in Astrophysics, UCL

Imagine time running backwards. People would grow younger instead of older and, after a long life of gradual rejuvenation – unlearning everything they know – they would end as a twinkle in their parents’ eyes. That’s time as represented in a novel by science fiction writer Philip K Dick but, surprisingly, time’s direction is also an issue that cosmologists are grappling with.

While we take for granted that time has a given direction, physicists don’t: most natural laws are “time reversible” which means they would work just as well if time was defined as running backwards. So why does time always move forward? And will it always do so?

Does time have a beginning?

Any universal concept of time must ultimately be based on the evolution of the cosmos itself. When you look up at the universe you’re seeing events that happened in the past – it takes light time to reach us. In fact, even the simplest observation can help us understand cosmological time: for example the fact that the night sky is dark. If the universe had an infinite past and was infinite in extent, the night sky would be completely bright – filled with the light from an infinite number of stars in a cosmos that had always existed.

For a long time scientists, including Albert Einstein, thought that the universe was static and infinite. Observations have since shown that it is in fact expanding, and at an accelerating rate. This means that it must have originated from a more compact state that we call the Big Bang, implying that time does have a beginning. In fact, if we look for light that is old enough we can even see the relic radiation from Big Bang – the cosmic microwave background. Realising this was a first step in determining the age of the universe (see below).

But there is a snag, Einstein’s special theory of relativity, shows that time is … relative: the faster you move relative to me, the slower time will pass for you relative to my perception of time. So in our universe of expanding galaxies, spinning stars and swirling planets, experiences of time vary: everything’s past, present and future is relative. 

So is there a universal time that we could all agree on?

The universe’s timeline. Design Alex Mittelmann, Coldcreation/wikimedia, CC BY-SA

It turns out that because the universe is on average the same everywhere, and on average looks the same in every direction, there does exist a “cosmic time”. To measure it, all we have to do is measure the properties of the cosmic microwave background. Cosmologists have used this to determine the age of the universe; its cosmic age. It turns out that the universe is 13.799 billion years old. 

Time’s arrow

So we know time most likely started during the Big Bang. But there is one nagging question that remains: what exactly is time? 

To unpack this question, we have to look at the basic properties of space and time. In the dimension of space, you can move forwards and backwards; commuters experience this everyday. But time is different, it has a direction, you always move forward, never in reverse. So why is the dimension of time irreversible? This is one of the major unsolved problems in physics. 

To explain why time itself is irreversible, we need to find processes in nature that are also irreversible. One of the few such concepts in physics (and life!) is that things tend to become less “tidy” as time passes. We describe this using a physical property called entropy that encodes how ordered something is.

Imagine a box of gas in which all the particles were initially placed in one corner (an ordered state). Over time they would naturally seek to fill the entire box (a disordered state) – and to put the particles back into an ordered state would require energy. This is irreversible. It’s like cracking an egg to make an omelette – once it spreads out and fills the frying pan, it will never go back to being egg-shaped. It’s the same with the universe: as it evolves, the overall entropy increases.

Unfortunately that’s not going to clean up itself. Alex Dinovitser/wikimediaCC BY-SA

It turns out entropy is a pretty good way to explain time’s arrow. And while it may seem like the universe is becoming more ordered rather than less – going from a wild sea of relatively uniformly spread out hot gas in its early stages to stars, planets, humans and articles about time – it’s nevertheless possible that it is increasing in disorder. That’s because the gravity associated with large masses may be pulling matter into seemingly ordered states – with the increase in disorder that we think must have taken place being somehow hidden away in the gravitational fields. So disorder could be increasing even though we don’t see it.

But given nature’s tendency to prefer disorder, why did the universe start off in such an ordered state in the first place? This is still considered a mystery. Some researchers argue that the Big Bang may not even have been the beginning, there may in fact be “parallel universes” where time runs in different directions

Will time end?

Time had a beginning but whether it will have an end depends on the nature of the dark energy that is causing it to expand at an accelerating rate. The rate of this expansion may eventually tear the universe apart, forcing it to end in a Big Rip; alternatively dark energy may decay, reversing the Big Bang and ending the Universe in a Big Crunch; or the Universe may simply expand forever.

But would any of these future scenarios end time? Well, according to the strange rules of quantum mechanics, tiny random particles can momentarily pop out of a vacuum – something seen constantly in particle physics experiments. Some have argued that dark energy could cause such “quantum fluctuations” giving rise to a new Big Bang, ending our time line and starting a new one. While this is extremely speculative and highly unlikely, what we do know is that only when we understand dark energy will we know the fate of the universe.

So what is the most likely outcome? Only time will tell.

ooOOoo

Let me explain, in part, entropy. Because while I and many others sort of understand it, the principle behind entropy is much more detailed.

It is explained pretty well on WikiPedia, from which I reproduce the first paragraph.

Entropy is a scientific concept, as well as a measurable physical property that is most commonly associated with a state of disorder, randomness, or uncertainty. The term and the concept are used in diverse fields, from classical thermodynamics, where it was first recognized, to the microscopic description of nature in statistical physics, and to the principles of information theory. It has found far-ranging applications in chemistry and physics, in biological systems and their relation to life, in cosmologyeconomicssociologyweather scienceclimate change, and information systems including the transmission of information in telecommunication.[1]

There’s a little bit more to read … 😉

Again, I am going to finish with sharing that image from Unsplash.

Imagine the universe is constant whichever direction one looks in, to 1 in 10,000. That is truly amazing!

The big question!

That I wonder if it will ever be answered?

For the first day of September I wanted to change the topic to an item that was recently published by The Conversation.

Space has always been fascinating to me. One of my enduring memories was standing on the roof of my Land Rover in 1969 during a long journey around the interior of Australia. We were in the Nullabor desert and it was flat, and lonely, for miles and miles. This particular night I clambered up onto the roof and just took in the night sky. There was not a single spot of human-caused light pollution and the night sky was beautiful beyond words.

Later on when I was sailing I used to regard the North Star as my friend.

Anyway, here’s a little question for this day.

ooOOoo

Does outer space end – or go on forever?

It can stretch your mind to ponder what’s really out there. Stijn Dijkstra/EyeEm via Getty Images

Jack Singal, University of Richmond


What is beyond outer space? – Siah, age 11, Fremont, California


Right above you is the sky – or as scientists would call it, the atmosphere. It extends about 20 miles (32 kilometers) above the Earth. Floating around the atmosphere is a mixture of molecules – tiny bits of air so small you take in billions of them every time you breathe.

Above the atmosphere is space. It’s called that because it has far fewer molecules, with lots of empty space between them.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel to outer space – and then keep going? What would you find? Scientists like me are able to explain a lot of what you’d see. But there are some things we don’t know yet, like whether space just goes on forever.

Planets, stars and galaxies

At the beginning of your trip through space, you might recognize some of the sights. The Earth is part of a group of planets that all orbit the Sun – with some orbiting asteroids and comets mixed in, too.

A diagram of the solar system, showing the sun and its orbiting planets.
A familiar neighborhood. Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library via Getty Images

You might know that the Sun is actually just an average star, and looks bigger and brighter than the other stars only because it is closer. To get to the next nearest star, you would have to travel through trillions of miles of space. If you could ride on the fastest space probe NASA has ever made, it would still take you thousands of years to get there.

If stars are like houses, then galaxies are like cities full of houses. Scientists estimate there are 100 billion stars in Earth’s galaxy. If you could zoom out, way beyond Earth’s galaxy, those 100 billion stars would blend together – the way lights of city buildings do when viewed from an airplane.

Recently astronomers have learned that many or even most stars have their own orbiting planets. Some are even like Earth, so it’s possible they might be home to other beings also wondering what’s out there.

An image showing detail of one galaxy, but visually implying there are many more.
A galaxy among many other galaxies. Michael Miller/Stocktrek Images via Getty Images

You would have to travel through millions of trillions more miles of space just to reach another galaxy. Most of that space is almost completely empty, with only some stray molecules and tiny mysterious invisible particles scientists call “dark matter.”

Using big telescopes, astronomers see millions of galaxies out there – and they just keep going, in every direction.

If you could watch for long enough, over millions of years, it would look like new space is gradually being added between all the galaxies. You can visualize this by imagining tiny dots on a deflated balloon and then thinking about blowing it up. The dots would keep moving farther apart, just like the galaxies are.

Is there an end?

If you could keep going out, as far as you wanted, would you just keep passing by galaxies forever? Are there an infinite number of galaxies in every direction? Or does the whole thing eventually end? And if it does end, what does it end with?

These are questions scientists don’t have definite answers to yet. Many think it’s likely you would just keep passing galaxies in every direction, forever. In that case, the universe would be infinite, with no end.

Some scientists think it’s possible the universe might eventually wrap back around on itself – so if you could just keep going out, you would someday come back around to where you started, from the other direction.

One way to think about this is to picture a globe, and imagine that you are a creature that can move only on the surface. If you start walking any direction, east for example, and just keep going, eventually you would come back to where you began. If this were the case for the universe, it would mean it is not infinitely big – although it would still be bigger than you can imagine.

In either case, you could never get to the end of the universe or space. Scientists now consider it unlikely the universe has an end – a region where the galaxies stop or where there would be a barrier of some kind marking the end of space.

But nobody knows for sure. How to answer this question will need to be figured out by a future scientist.

Jack Singal, Associate Professor of Physics, University of Richmond

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

ooOOoo

“But nobody knows for sure. How to answer this question will need to be figured out by a future scientist.”

I wonder if that future scientist will ever be able to answer the question.

Then there’s the thought that the universe may be infinite. That is an astounding idea, that it goes on forever.

There’s only one way to close this post. With this photograph from Unsplash.

Diet and Exercise

And of the two exercise is the most important.

Now of course the majority of people reading the title to today’s post would think of us humans. And what I am about to republish is for us. But dogs require exercise just as much as we humans. The question is whether dog’s brains are better protected with exercise?

Anyone know the answer?

Here is the post republished courtesy of The Conversation.

ooOOoo

The exercise pill: How exercise keeps your brain healthy and protects it against depression and anxiety.

By Arash Javanbakht, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Wayne State University, February 25th, 2021

As with many other physicians, recommending physical activity to patients was just a doctor chore for me – until a few years ago. That was because I myself was not very active. Over the years, as I picked up boxing and became more active, I got firsthand experience of positive impacts on my mind. I also started researching the effects of dance and movement therapies on trauma and anxiety in refugee children, and I learned a lot more about the neurobiology of exercise. 

I am a psychiatrist and neuroscientist researching the neurobiology of anxiety and how our interventions change the brain. I have begun to think of prescribing exercise as telling patients to take their “exercise pills.” Now knowing the importance of exercising, almost all my patients commit to some level of exercise, and I have seen how it benefits several areas of their life and livelihood. 

We all have heard details on how exercise improves musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, metabolic and other aspects of health. What you may not know is how this happens within the brain.

Brain biology and growth

Working out regularly really does change the brain biology, and it is not just “go walk and you will just feel better.” Regular exercise, especially cardio, does change the brain. Contrary to what some may think, the brain is a very plastic organ. Not only are new neuronal connections formed every day, but also new cells are generated in important areas of the brain. One key area is the hippocampus, which is involved in learning and memory and regulating negative emotions.

A molecule called brain-derived neurotrophic factor helps the brain produce neurons, or brain cells. A variety of aerobic and high-intensity interval training exercises significantly increase BDNF levels. There is evidence from animal research that these changes are at epigenetic level, which means these behaviors affect how genes are expressed, leading to changes in the neuronal connections and function.

Moderate exercise also seems to have anti-inflammatory effects, regulating the immune system and excessive inflammation. This is important, given the new insight neuroscience is gaining into the potential role of inflammation in anxiety and depression

Finally, there is evidence for the positive effects of exercise on the neurotransmitters – brain chemicals that send signals between neurons – dopamine and endorphins. Both of these are involved in positive mood and motivation.

Exercise improves clinical symptoms of anxiety and depression

Researchers also have examined the effects of exercise on measurable brain function and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Exercise improves memory function, cognitive performance and academic achievement. Studies also suggest regular exercise has a moderate effect on depressive symptoms even comparable to psychotherapy. For anxiety disorders, this effect is mild to moderate in reducing anxiety symptoms. In a study that I conducted with others among refugee children, we found a reduction in symptoms of anxiety and PTSD among children who attended eight to 12 weeks of dance and movement therapies.

Exercise could even potentially desensitize people to physical symptoms of anxiety. That is because of the similarity between bodily effects of exercise, specifically high-intensity exercise, and those of anxiety, including shortness of breath, heart palpitation and chest tightness. Also, by reducing baseline heart rate, exercise might lead to signaling of a calmer internal physical environment to the brain. 

It is important to note that the majority of studies examined the effects of exercise in isolation and not in combination with other effective treatments of clinical anxiety and depression, such as psychotherapy and medication. For the same reason, I am not suggesting exercise as a replacement for necessary mental health care of depression or anxiety, but as part of it, and for prevention.

Two men using exercise bars outdoors.
Many people have created outdoor gyms during the pandemic. Richard Baker/In Pictures via Getty ImagesCC BY-SA

There are other perks besides the neurobiological impacts of exercise. When going out for a walk, one gets more exposure to sunlight, fresh air and nature. One of my patients befriended a neighbor during her regular walks, leading to regular taco Tuesdays with that new friend. I have made some great friends at my boxing gym, who are not only my motivators, but also a great supporting social network. One might pick a dog as their running mate, and another might meet a new date, or enjoy the high energy at the gym. Exercise can also function as a mindfulness practice and a respite from common daily stressors, and from our electronic devices and TV. 

By increasing energy and fitness level, exercise can also improve self-image and self-esteem .

Practical ways for a busy life

So how can you find time to exercise, especially with all the additional time demands of the pandemic, and the limitations imposed by the pandemic such as limited access to the gyms?

  • Pick something you can love. Not all of us have to run on a treadmill (I actually hate it). What works for one person might not work for another. Try a diverse group of activities and see which one you will like more: running, walking, dancing, biking, kayaking, boxing, weights, swimming. You can even rotate between some or make seasonal changes to avoid boredom. It does not even have to be called an exercise. Whatever ups your heartbeat, even dancing with the TV ads or playing with the kids.
  • Use positive peer pressure to your advantage. I have created a group messaging for the boxing gym because at 5:30 p.m., after a busy day at the clinic, I might have trouble finding the motivation to go to the gym or do an online workout. It is easier when friends send a message they are going and motivate you. And even if you do not feel comfortable going to a gym during the pandemic, you can join an online workout together. 
  • Do not see it as all or none. It does not have to be a one-hour drive to and from the gym or biking trail for a one-hour workout vs. staying on the couch. I always say to my patients: “One more step is better than none, and three squats are better than no squats.” When less motivated, or in the beginning, just be nice to yourself. Do as much as possible. Three minutes of dancing with your favorite music still counts.
  • Merge it with other activities: 15 minutes of walking while on the phone with a friend, even around the house, is still being active.
  • When hesitant or low on motivation, ask yourself: “When was the last time I regretted doing it?”
  • Although it can help, exercise is not the ultimate weight loss strategy; diet is. One large brownie might be more calories than one hour of running. Don’t give up on exercise if you are not losing weight. It is still providing all the benefits we discussed.

Even if you do not feel anxious or depressed, still take the exercise pills. Use them for protecting your brain.

ooOOoo

This is a very good post. Arash Javanbakht is a scientist of the first order and we all should do as she advises. I’m going to close today’s post by republish the first two paragraphs of his bio that is also published by The Conversation:

Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Wayne State University Arash Javanbakht, M.D., is the director of the Stress, Trauma, and Anxiety Research Clinic (STARC; https://www.starclab.org) at Wayne State University. Dr Javanbakht and her work have been featured on the National Geographic, The Atlantic, CNN, Aljazeera, NPR, Washington Post, Smithsonian, PBS, American Psychiatric Association, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and tens of other media.

Her clinical and research work is mainly focused on anxiety and trauma related disorders, and PTSD. She often helps civilians and first responders with PTSD. Her clinic utilizes pharmacotherapy (medication), psychotherapy, exercise, and lifestyle modification to help patients achieve their full capacity for a fulfilling life.

This will make you smile!

A lovely tale from The Dodo.

I was looking through my LfD future posts folder and came across this story about a rescue dog in Kentucky River, in Kentucky, a long way from here ( Merlin, OR).

But that doesn’t diminish in the slightest how beautiful this story is and how generous are the management and staff of Home Depot.

Read it and see what I mean. Thanks to The Dodo for publishing it.

ooOOoo

Dog Is Literally The Cutest Home Depot Employee Ever

“She finds who needs her and gives them that smile” 😍

By Lily Feinn

Published on the 11th June, 2021

When Heaven first went to live with Jackie Rakers, she was scared of everything.

The scruffy rescue puppy from Kentucky River Regional Animal Shelter had had a rough start to life and was nervous around strangers and loud noises.

Luckily, her mom found the perfect place to help her come out of her shell — Home Depot.

JACKIE RAKERS

“The Home Depot runs started as a way to help her with her fears,” Rakers told The Dodo. “She was nervous about new places and new sounds, so we’d go for five minutes and she’d get all the treats. Then we started going longer and longer and exposing her to more and more things within the store.”

The large, dog-friendly store was the perfect place for Heaven to socialize, and the pup was such a good girl on her visits that she earned her own tiny employee apron.

JACKIE RAKERS

Now, Heaven knows that when the apron comes out, she’s about to go to her favorite place.

“I keep it in the car so we are always ready,” Rakers said. “As soon as she can tell we are in the parking lot, she just quivers until I put [the apron] on her and then she takes off towards ‘work.’”

“She walks around like she owns the place,” Rakers added.

JACKIE RAKERS

Heaven has become a bit of a celebrity at her local Home Depot, where all the staff knows her by name, and there’s even a picture of her in the break room.

And while she may not be an official employee, when she’s at her favorite store, she offers excellent customer service.

“She walks around minding her own business and then suddenly insists on meeting someone,” Rakers said. “She just sits and stares. They always end up saying how they needed that pick-me-up. It’s like she has a sense of who needs to be shown they are loved that day — and one of her favorite places to do that is Home Depot!”

JACKIE RAKERS

Heaven loves running errands with her mom, and everywhere they go, she finds someone having a rough day who needs her smile.

“She was scared of everything, but with a lot of training and patience she learned to trust and now it’s like she pays it forward,” Rakers said. “She finds who needs her and gives them that smile and a cuddle.”

JACKIE RAKERS

The only downside of all their Home Depot runs is that every time they visit, Rakers comes up with a new home improvement project. But all the retail therapy is worth it when she sees how happy Heaven is and how far she’s come.

“She’s the perfect example of what happens when you meet someone where they are at and love unconditionally,” Rakers said. “She went from so scared and so sad to the happiest dog.”

ooOOoo

Thank goodness our local Home Depot here in Grants Pass (Oregon) don’t have a Heaven in the store. For if they did Jean and I would be in the store every day of the year. OK, maybe a small exaggeration but only a small one!

Seriously, Home Depot are to be congratulated. It’s good for the store. It’s good for the employees. It’s good for the customers. But it is fantastic for Heaven!

Just love this story!