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US Forecasters: Atlantic Hurricane Season to Get Stronger

The already record-breaking 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is going to get worse, and forecasters could run out of names for storms, government meteorologists say.The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updated its forecast Thursday and is now predicting up to 25 named storms with as many as 11 becoming hurricanes and possibly six building into major hurricanes with winds of 178 kilometers per hour or stronger.An average number of Atlantic storms is 12.”First and foremost, oceanic and atmospheric conditions are now even more hospitable for hurricane formation and intensification,” lead hurricane forecaster Gerry Bell said. “These conditions are predicted to continue for the next several months. Also, weather and climate models are all now indicating an even higher potential for an extremely active season.”NOAA says if the updated forecast pans out, it will run out of names for storms. If that happens, names would be taken from the Greek alphabet.Hurricane Isaias, which hit the Eastern Seaboard this week, was the earliest storm to start with the letter “I” since storms started getting names in 1950.The U.S. Atlantic hurricane season traditionally runs from June 1 until November 30. Weather experts say the most powerful storms usually come in September.

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Twitter Announces Labels for State-Controlled Media

Twitter announced its decision Thursday to label the accounts of state-controlled media outlets.  
 
The new label will apply exclusively to “outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution,” according to a Twitter blog post.  
 
So far, the labels are confirmed to apply to accounts for China Daily, Russia Today, and Sputnik, as well as several other media outlets. According to the company’s post, they “are starting with a limited and clearly-defined group of countries before expanding to a wider range of countries in the future.”  
 
Twitter also has plans to label the accounts of some government leaders, including ambassadors and foreign ministers.  
 
These decisions arrive partially as a response to public criticism for the way social media outlets have dealt with foreign interference and disinformation. Much of this criticism stems from the Russian disinformation campaign prior to the 2016 U.S. election, much of which took place on Twitter.  
 
These announcements could face potential backlash, possibly from U.S. President Donald Trump, who tweets daily on the site.  
 
The company has had issues with the Trump campaign in the past. Twitter locked the president’s campaign account Wednesday for breaking its COVID-19 disinformation rules after the account tweeted a video of the president saying children are “almost immune” to COVID-19.  
 
Some Republicans also have maintained that Twitter and other social media outlets specifically censor conservative views in an effort to suppress their positions on various issues. 
 

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Is It Safe to Reopen Schools During Pandemic?

It depends on how widespread COVID-19 infections are in the community and the safety measures the school takes. In areas where the virus is poorly controlled, public health experts say in-person education would be too risky.
In areas where the virus appears to be under control, experts say schools still need to make adjustments to minimize risk when reopening. A sustained decline in cases and a positive case rate of less than 2% are among the signs the virus is under control, some experts say.
But given the many lingering unknowns about the virus, school districts are approaching the school year in a variety of ways.
Evidence suggests young children don’t spread the disease very easily, while kids aged 10 and up may transmit as easily as adults. But experts say more conclusive proof is needed.
And even though children appear less likely to get infected than adults, and less likely to become seriously ill when they do, severe cases and deaths have occurred.
Children and teens often have only mild illness or no symptoms when infected. That means they could unknowingly pose a risk to other students — who may pass the virus on to their parents and grandparents — or to teachers and other adults who might be vulnerable to severe illness if infected.
To reduce risk, experts say schools should make adjustments when resuming in-person classes.
Recommended safety measures include wearing face coverings in schools and limiting movement so kids stay in the same classroom all day. Placing desks several feet apart is also advised.
Canceling assemblies, cafeteria meals and other gatherings also helps, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some Scandinavian countries with far fewer cases than in the United States reopened schools with adjustments, and have had no outbreaks tied to schools. But in Israel, schools that reopened when virus activity was low ended up shutting down a few weeks later when cases spiked in the community, including among students and teachers.
In the U.S., some school districts are planning a mix of in-person classes and online learning to help maintain social distancing. Other districts, such as those in Atlanta, Houston and Los Angeles, are starting classes online only.

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Facebook, Citing Virus Misinformation, Deletes Trump Post

Facebook has deleted a post by President Donald Trump for violating its policy against spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.
The post in question featured a link to a Fox News video in which Trump says children are “virtually immune” to the virus.
Facebook said Wednesday that the “video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation.”
A few hours later, Twitter temporarily blocked the Trump campaign from tweeting from its account, until it removed a post with the same video. Trump’s account retweeted the video. The company said in a statement late Wednesday that the tweet violated its rules against COVID misinformation. When a tweet breaks its rules, Twitter asks users to remove the tweet in question and bans them from posting anything else until they do.
Twitter has generally been quicker than Facebook in recent months to label posts from the president that violate its policies against misinformation and abuse.
This is not the first time that Facebook has removed a post from Trump, Facebook said, but it’s the first time it has done so because it was spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. The company has also labeled his posts.
Several studies suggest, but don’t prove, that children  are less likely to become infected  than adults and more likely to have only mild symptoms. But this is not the same as being “virtually immune” to the virus.
A CDC study involving 2,500 children published in April found that about 1 in 5 infected children were hospitalized versus 1 in 3 adults; three children died. The study lacks complete data on all the cases, but it also suggests that many infected children have no symptoms, which could allow them to spread the virus to others.

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A First Diagnosis of Cancer in a Dinosaur

Canadian researchers have discovered the first known case of cancer in a dinosaur, according to a study published in the August issue of the scientific journal The Lancet Oncology.A leg bone from a Centrosaurus was discovered by paleontologists in 1989 in the Canadian province of Alberta.Experts initially believed that the deformed bone had suffered a fracture that healed.But recent examinations, under a microscope and using advanced technologies, such as high-resolution tomography, revealed that a lump on the bone, the size of an apple, was in fact a cancerous tumor.”The dinosaurs did not have an easy life, many of them had healing fractures, or bone infections,” one of the study’s authors, Mark Crowther, told AFP.On such ancient bones, “finding evidence of cancer is difficult”, he emphasizes: most tumors develop in soft tissue, poorly preserved by fossilization.Fine analysis of the bone of the prehistoric herbivore revealed a surprise: “oddly, under the microscope, it looked a lot like human osteosarcoma,” a malignant tumor of the bones, says Crowther.”It’s fascinating to see that this cancer existed tens of millions of years ago and still exists,” notes the researcher, who heads the faculty of medicine at McMaster University in Ontario.The tumor of this Centrosaurus, a horned herbivore that lived 76 to 77 million years ago, probably caused metastases that made this giant lizard limp, say the study’s authors.However, the researchers believe that it was not this cancer that killed the Centrosaurus: the bone of its leg was found among a hundred bones in the same herd, probably swept away by a sudden disaster, such as a flood.“The discovery of this cancer makes dinosaurs more real,” says Crowther. “We often imagine them as mythical creatures, walking with a heavy and robust step, but (…) they suffered from diseases like humans.””By discovering an example dating back more than 75 million years, we realize that (cancer) is part of life,” he concludes. “You have an animal that surely did not smoke, so this shows that cancer is not a recent invention, and that it is not exclusively linked to our environment.” 

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Drones with Infrared Cameras Help Track Elusive Koalas

Conservationists in Australia are hoping infrared drones might help save the remaining koala population in New South Wales, one of the regions most affected by recent Australian bushfires. The infrared camera makes it easier to spot the iconic marsupials — not bears — which scientists say could be extinct by 2050. VOA’s Mariama Diallo has this report.

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US Justice Department Asks Court to Block California Net Neutrality Law

The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday asked a federal judge to block California’s net neutrality law, arguing that federal law preempts the state statute.In October, a U.S. appeals court largely upheld the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repeal of landmark U.S. net neutrality rules. In 2018, California agreed not to enforce its own state net neutrality law until a final court decision on the FCC repeal.The Trump FCC in 2017 voted 3-2 to toss out Obama-era rules prohibiting internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes. The California law would reinstate those prohibitions in the state.The U.S. government is seeking a preliminary injunction to block California from being able to enforce its law.The California attorney general’s office said it is reviewing the Justice Department’s filing “and look forward to defending California’s state net neutrality protections.”The 2017 FCC 3-2 vote was applauded by internet service providers (ISPs), as it gave them sweeping powers to recast how Americans use the internet, as long as they disclose changes. The new rules took effect in June 2018, but service providers have yet to change how users access the internet.The California law was applauded by large tech companies and consumer groups that had championed the level playing field of net neutrality.The appeals court, in its October decision, also ruled the FCC had overstepped its legal authority when it expressly declared states cannot pass their own net neutrality laws.The Justice Department said despite that ruling that it still believes California’s net neutrality law is preempted by federal law. A decision on the Justice Department action is not expected before mid-October, according to a court schedule. 

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Study: Heatwaves May Force Fish to Flee Huge Distances

Fish and other marine life may have to flee thousands of kilometers to escape damaging heatwaves, according to research published Wednesday, highlighting the scale of disruption caused by these increasing surges in ocean temperatures.  
 
Hot spells can cause dramatic changes to ocean ecosystems, devastating coral habitats, killing large numbers of seabirds and forcing species like fish, whales and turtles into colder waters.    
 
Researchers said the increasing number of marine heatwaves are a sudden shock to local ecosystems whose effects can last months or in some cases years.  
 
They are an additional stress on oceans that are also seeing long-term warming, says the study published in the journal Nature.  
 
The researchers looked at how far a species caught in a marine heatwave would have to travel to get back to a normal water temperature, in what they term “thermal displacement”.   
 
Previous research focused on measuring the intensity of the temperature change at the location of the heatwave and the effects on static habitats, like kelp forests and coral reefs, researchers said.    
 
Thermal displacement “adds a new dimension” to our understanding of these heatwaves, lead author Michael Jacox of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told AFP.  
 
“It’s important because we know that many marine species can quickly move long distances to find favorable habitat. They won’t just stay in place when the water is too hot, so the question is how far must they go to find cooler water?” he said.   
 37 years of heatwaves 
 
To answer this, researchers analyzed data of marine heatwaves from 1982 to 2019 and looked at the species displacement associated with these events.  
 
In some areas, cooler water would not be far away, such as where different regions of the ocean meet.   
 
But in tropical waters, where variations in temperatures are relatively small, the study found that species would have to travel more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) to find suitable habitat.  
 
This fast-moving displacement of sea life has broad implications, Jacox said.     
 
“Some of the most mobile species — many fish, whales, and turtles — hold great value for humans, whether it’s for fisheries, tourism, or from a conservation perspective,” he said.   
‘The Blob’
 
In 2011, a 10-week ocean heatwave off western Australia shattered the local underwater ecosystem and pushed commercial fish species into colder waters.  
 
At the end of 2013 an unusually warm patch of water that became known as “The Blob” appeared near Alaska and began to expand, stretching all the way to Baja California around 4,000 kilometers away by late 2015.  
 
This vast marine heatwave caused mass strandings of marine mammals and seabirds along the west coast of the United States and Canada and killed off swathes of seagrass meadows and kelp forests.  
 
“Warm-water species such as thresher sharks, hammerhead sharks, and mahi mahi [aka dolphinfish] were sighted farther north than ever before,” said a 2016 report on “The Blob” in the peer-reviewed magazine Oceanography.   
 
Mark Payne of the Technical University of Denmark said marine heatwaves were some “of the most visible signs of an ocean under stress”, in a commentary in Nature.   
 
He noted that species may not always be able to find a suitable habitat to relocate to, or are unable or unwilling to move, such as parents guarding young.   
 
But he said that the study by Jacox and colleagues — which he was not involved in — “expands our perspectives” of these heating events.  
 
These are “expected to increase dramatically in the future, given that the increases are linked to climate change”.  
 
Last year, research published in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences calculated that climate change would empty the ocean of nearly a fifth of all living creatures, measured by mass, by the end of the century.

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